Cold, windy, rainy … English!

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I am sitting in a B&B (bed and breakfast) in an English seaside town, where outside it is miserable weather (windy, drizzling and awfully cold!). I am in bed, under my warm blanket working on my laptop wondering what the devil drove me away from the beautiful, ever-green, tropical, warm and sunny Uganda?

Before I went to live and work in Uganda, I lived further west in another seaside town in England. Where I am today is somehow smaller but it seems like a mirror image of the town I used to live – a promenade, half-broken pier, tarmac everywhere and small houses close to each other along the roads. Even the businesses here are the same. There is a Tesco, H&M, McDonalds, Debenhams, Costa and all the other well-known brands.

I need to remind myself now that I am actually not there but in another place where everything looks so similar. It’s strange.

Yesterday, I went for a stroll on the windy beach, despite violent wind and rain. Walking was something I missed badly whilst living in Uganda and this probably led to me putting-on about 15kg in weight.

It is difficult to go for a walk in Uganda as Ugandans seem to live on the roads. Obviously, there is no retreating into heated houses as there is no need for heating; the weather is always so nice! Additionally, we whites do stand out from the crowd and Ugandans like to talk to us and the children like to touch us. Therefore, privacy is something one cannot find when walking in Uganda, not for one minute. As soon as one leaves the house there are people greeting, children gathering, et cetera. Under such circumstances walking is no fun, and in addition the temperature is always mostly over 30 degrees in the shade. No exercise equals steady weight gain, at least in my case!

This is surely one of the things I will enjoy extensively now in England: walking and hiking, despite the miserable weather!

Coming back to England and becoming accustomed to ‘civilisation’ once again (please do not laugh!), I have been missing Ugandan policemen and security guards as I had become so used to seeing hundreds of heavily armed men clustered everywhere in Kampala that the last few days back to England I have somehow felt a little vulnerable.

For example, when I went to a cash-point (which is usually attached on the outside of most banks in Europe and not in closed and heavily armed rooms like in Uganda), I would check in every direction a multitude of times before I would dare pull-out my bank card and take the cash. Paranoia!

What jumps in front of my eyes here, is that each square centimeter seems to be tarmac; nowhere is there any space for trees or greenery. I never noticed this in my past life (before Uganda). And then there are the prohibition signs everywhere: Do not do this, do not do that…

Now some of my regular readers may ask themselves why I am here and not in Uganda… Simple: Uganda is not my homeland, although England is also not, but my husband is English and Germany is not so far away.

Our trip to Uganda was planned for two years and this time has now passed. I must admit that we did on occasion think of settling down in Uganda and considered to establish businesses there, but there were many obstacles in the way.

First of all, Uganda has terribly restrictive regulations for foreigners to gain working permits. They also cost a small fortune (USD $1,500 per year, per person) and then one may also have to bribe in order to get through this process.

Many foreigners solve this dilemma by visiting Tanzania or Rwanda every three months, spending there a few days and then re-entering with a new tourist visa for another quarter year. This is certainly a good and much cheaper option but not if one wishes to open up a company and register a business. In such cases things have to be more official.

In addition, when founding a company, foreigners are expected to invest in Uganda and the minimum amount necessary is USD $100,000 US.

Even if we would have had this money, the risk then is that one connects with the wrong Ugandans (it is advised for a company to have a 50% Ugandan participation), and if this happens, the USD $100,000 vanishes faster than you can say, “ready, steady, go…!”

OK, if we had got over these hurdles (but I admit we did not even try) then after 10-years of residence in Uganda and obviously the work permit payments of USD $1,500 per person, per year (i.e. USD $3,000 for us both per annum), then Ugandan permanent residence could have been applied for, which would at least reduce on the annual expenditure.

However, even if all these restrictions would not have already deterred us and we would have settled down in Uganda and founded a company, then the next hurdle we would have found hard to adjust emotionally to is the issue of bribery and corruption in Uganda. Brown envelopes are part and parcel of almost every business transaction, and businesses tend to keep two sets of books: one for themselves and one for the Uganda Revenue Authority.

Officially speaking, corruption is a crime in Uganda and punishable by imprisonment. Not knowing who to trust is also another barrier to self-security and stories in the expatriate community abound about Mzungus landing in prison after giving bribes to win business opportunities. Kampala is such a small ‘village’ that words and rumours spreads fast.

My husband and I both agreed that we would prefer to avoid any such bribery or corruption and we felt that any business would naturally be vulnerable to the vagaries of Ugandan law. If someone wishes to harm your business, then a call to the Revenue or Immigration with some spurious story can cause a serious intrusion and limit future prospects. The secret of business here in Uganda is to become connected and to stay connected.

This is actually really a shame as Uganda is a most interesting country and needs enterprises and entrepreneurs!

However, there were many other reasons and considerations which finally led us to the decision whereby I now sit today in miserable, rainy, cold weather in an English seaside town, waiting for my second job interview this afternoon…