Before I left on my latest trip, this time to Uganda, I was speaking to my mother on the phone and she asked: “Why are you going there? There can’t be many expats there, surely?”. While it may be obvious that data is needed for the likes of Shanghai, Dubai, Singapore, New York, Paris, Moscow, for example, it’s important to remember that the non-Western locations are vital too. Okay, so Kampala, Uganda’s capital, may not be the financial centre of Africa, nor have a large port (it’s over 500 km from the Indian Ocean) or a biotechnology park but everywhere I went during my time there I spotted expats milling around. So why are they in Uganda?
Well, there are hundreds of foreign companies with investment in Uganda, most of which need input and expertise brought in from abroad. Banking, logistics, telecommunications, tobacco, mining, infrastructure, breweries, embassies, NGOs… you name it, all of the above are essential to the health of Uganda’s economy. At the same time, having a presence in the country is important for companies in terms of their position in the global marketplace. During my walks around town I was always a head turn away from spotting a recognisable company or organisation, be it Standard Chartered Bank, Heineken, DHL, British American Tobacco or the British Council. Perhaps the most common expat group globally is that of the diplomat. Governments of the world need to have a presence in other countries and certainly, while strolling through the salubrious suburb of Kololo in Kampala, I came across many an embassy, each requiring staff to represent their home country. In any case, I hope when my mum reads this she’ll now understand that expats are an important part of life the world over – even in those less obvious places!
The embassy suburb of Kololo was certainly a pleasant respite from the hubbub and choking fumes of the central area of the capital. All green verges and blooming plants with hardly a car engine in earshot and at the end of my stroll a well-earned vegetable panini and cup of tea at the Endiro Coffee shop. The coffee shop is opposite Kampala’s latest, and ‘sparkliest’, shopping centre, the Acacia Mall, complete with its very own genuine KFC – a rarity in these parts of Africa. From here I headed, via the expat-loved Nakumatt supermarket, for a beer at Bubbles O’Leary to watch my beloved Crystal Palace beamed over the large screen TVs. I arrived back at my hotel just before sunset, which is just as well as the lack of street lighting and ever-present potholes make for an eventful and ankle-testing challenge, as I had found to my dismay the previous night.
I have to say that overall I was surprised by Uganda. I think I was expecting it to be a bit more rundown and neglected. Certainly there are many areas which are – and I witnessed some of these on the way to the airport some 40km away in Entebbe – but the central areas of Kololo and Nakasero are where the majority of foreign workers live and work, and life here is fairly harmonious. One of the hotels in Nakasero has even played host to Queen Elizabeth of England. She stayed at the Serena Hotel during her visit back in 2007 (which I believe is the last time she visited Africa – please correct me if I’m wrong on that!). The hotel today is still the epitome of five star elegance and it is one of the most popular places for expats to relax at the weekend after a tiring week working in the equatorial heat.
The country is not without its problems though. It has one of the highest alcoholism rates globally and one of the highest malaria death rates in the world along with its neighbour Kenya. I’ve been taking my malaria pills and am up to date with all the various jabs but tropical diseases and viruses are all too common a problem in Africa as highlighted recently by the outbreak of Ebola in Western Africa. I’ll be talking more about this in my next blog.