Dr. Ruby Dunlap’s Uganda Fulbright Blog
Kampala and larger Ugandan cities and towns are full of well-dressed folks busy with cell phones and other electronic devices. The streets buzz with vehicles, bodas, and the press of business. Yes, it is a developing country but “develop” is a dynamic word and Uganda is a dynamic country by what the eye can see. Happy hour billboards and slick-paged magazines like “The African Woman,” (http://www.africanwomanmagazine.net/) communicate universal issues of modern life: family, fashion, business, romance, work and leisure. There seems to be a certain cosmopolitan sameness to the world’s urban centers. Perhaps that is where we are all headed in the end: vast cities stratified by economically defined neighborhoods: the posh gated communities, the rows of industrial looking apartment complexes, and the slums.
Poverty, whether wide-spread as in much of the developing world, or in pockets as in the developed world, is difficult and troubling especially when cycles of poverty seem to be locked into multiple generations of people regardless of how much aid flows their way. But the money matter I find most troubling in Uganda is the issue of unreliable pay. How many of us would continue to work if it was a guess as to whether our paychecks would be there or not? I have yet to find any coherent explanation for why nurses, teachers, and other public servants are subjected, year after year, month after month to unreliable pay. And why do they keep working under those conditions? Certainly, whether a culture is present-oriented or future-oriented has something to do with this chronic problem.
A recent “New Vision” news article reported the housekeeping staff at a public hospital went on strike because of no pay for two months. Garbage and filth quickly accumulated in the hospital. “The nurses at the Gulu hospital,” said a Fulbright colleague, “haven’t been paid in three months.” And a few days ago, I received this text message from a student who is a senior nurse in a district hospital: “My salary did not come this month.” I find this unreliability of pay particularly hurtful to the little people, the workers upon whose shoulders the day to day responsibility of caring for the public falls. I have heard many say, “No one trusts anyone in Uganda.” The pay situation is one reason this syndrome diagnosis has credibility.
Similarly, the disparities in the distribution of resources can be quite glaring. Some weeks ago, I attended a “stakeholders” meeting at which Makerere University unveiled its new Masters in Nursing Science midwifery curriculum. At that meeting, we were told that Makerere University school of nursing has 13 faculty for 170 students. A few weeks later, I visited one of my graduate students, a “tutor” at Masaka Comprehensive School of Nursing, which awards a diploma roughly equivalent to an associate degree in nursing. He told me that Masaka School of Nursing has four full time tutors for 265 students. Two of those tutors also work as administrators in the school. Can you imagine 265 students or even half that number with only four full time instructors? They do necessarily rely heavily on hospital nurses functioning as adjunct instructors. But I was told it wasn’t only the scarcity of nursing faculty which explained this situation; it was also the decision of those who distribute money among government institutions how much and when each institution actually gets its allotment. And that is the case with other government hospitals and schools as well. Within those constraints, what I observed at Masaka Comprehensive School of Nursing was dedicated and competent instructors and bright, enthusiastic students. They deserve our respect.
But the money matter picture is mixed. There are extravagant expectations for some things such as weddings. Here is one example.
LIST OF REQUIREMENTS FOR TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE. Funds for weddings in Uganda are solicited from friends and family or anyone the bride and groom think might contribute. The politics of weddings, we have been told, is huge with social capital carefully invested in who contributes, who gets invited, etc. Political careers have been built around weddings. Weddings in Uganda sometimes have three ceremonies, traditional for groom, traditional for bride, and the church or mosque ceremony, each with cost. This one is for the “Introduction,” one of the three. In order to best understand these numbers, calculate roughly 2,000 Uganda shillings for one U.S. dollar. Also, keep in mind that the per capita purchasing power of Americans is around $46,443.00 while the per capita purchasing power of Ugandans is $1,203.00. (Figures are from the International Monetary Fund, 2009). This means as a proportion of per capita purchasing power, the equivalent budget for this wedding in the U.S. would be around $200,000.00. This solicitation came to us recently for these amounts:
2. Opening of ceremony 250,000
3. Show of love between spouse 200,000
4. Envelope 500,000
Moto Moto (Nyama choma)
5. Six goats 160,000
6. Six chickens 90,000
7. One hundred kilograms of cassava flour 100,000
8. Cash USH: 60,000
9. Eight heads of cattle 2,400,000
10. Eight goats 320,000
11. Four sheep 160,000
12. Cash USH 1,200,000
13. Mother-in-law, father-in-law, one cow: 300,000
14. Mother-in-law gown and footwear: 150,000
15. Father-in-law suit and footwear: 200,000
16. One gown and footwear for aunt: 150,000
17. One carton of hoes: (sic) 50,000
18. Allowances: Ladies: 200,000
19. Ropes: 30,000
20. Sitting allowance: 500,000
21. Chairman allowance: 30,000
22. Secretary allowance: 20,000
23. Wedding requests: 50,000
24. Bride: 600,000
25. Ring: 300,000
26. Mates: 200,000
27. Transportation for 20 people: 1,000,000
28. Accommodation for 20 people: 500,000
29. Refreshment: 500,000
30. Spokeperson: 50,000
Total: 11,700,000 USH or roughly $5,900.00.