As we bask in the warmth of having had Queen Elizabeth II visit, let us not forget that in Uganda we are royalty in our own right. We are the kings and queens of cheap. Where we bargain till our lungs are sore, where a serving of food goes for a mere Shs100, where a single dose of paracetamol is shared between all family members and where your cosmopolitan magazine comes without a cover. This is Uganda, the land of cheap.
Re-using mineral water bottles
When the more affluent of society dispose of the mineral water bottles that they have used, they are collected and used for the better good repacking water (boiled if you are lucky) and very transparent passion fruit juice that is sold for a bargain price of Shs100. Countless people will be served in these bottles including businessmen, vendors and street children and they will be disposed off only when they develop a leak.
Slicing straws and serviettes
Forget that at the factory, the serviette was intentionally folded in four layers - and for good reason too. At the restaurant, they will have none of that. Even our more affluent restaurants do this. They cut the serviette into two, sometimes four pieces to maximize the profit. And when you buy that juice packed in the now banned polythene bags, do not think that you will be taking the whole straw with you. If that drink is in short packaging, the straw will be cut in half using a rusted pair of scissors, and off you will go.
Some tourism agencies even advise foreigners on how to bargain as a special package. Some others even provide a tour guide to help with the bargaining process. Simply put, Uganda is well known for bargaining. A true Ugandan will even bargain on the price of airtime. So before your throat is hoarse from constant bargaining, before the vendor slices the price of the item by half his asking price, leave that wallet in your pocket.
It is not enough that you get just that which you paid for. A Ugandan will ask to first taste it (jalibu) and even after paying for it, will want (and demand for) a bonus (enyongeza). The victims here are roasted groundnuts, maize and popcorn vendors. This is probably why telecommunication companies introduced the bonus airtime. Last week a man who wanted to buy a nail cutter surprised my sister when he started to trim his fingernails with it before paying for it. On questioning him, he replied smugly that he was checking to see whether it was sharp enough. “I can’t buy it if I do not know whether it is sharp enough,” he said.
Carry your own eats and drinks to outings/ the beach
In Uganda, we subsidise our social life at whatever cost. This happens especially on holidays when families decide to have family outings. You want to celebrate a birthday at the beach, but you are not prepared to meet all the costs. What do you do here? Simple. Prepare a feast at home, squeeze some passion fruit juice, hire a vehicle, and carry your radio and a few CDs and head to the beach. Just pay the entrance fee and get partying.
Introducing the Shs1,000 airtime strips
For a long time telecommunication companies tormented Ugandans with the airtime cards. The cheapest went for Shs5000. But a true Ugandan will want balance on his Shs5000 note and therefore airtime sales were just too low. That is when Mango came up with the Shs4,000 airtime. And when the Shs1000 airtime strip was introduced, Ugandans rushed to buy phones and airtime.
Second hand clothes
This issue even makes the annual budget and causes too much ado among traders and consumers alike. Try taking away second hand clothes from the market and you will feel a Ugandan's true wrath. Ugandans just love their second hand clothes. This relationship is so strong that not even increase in taxes will put it asunder. “What most of us do not realise,” says Lucy, an ardent consumer of these clothes, “is that at the end of the day it may cost equally as much as buying a new garment. With the cost of detergent and bleach to wash out the strong smell, and the time you spend trotting from market to market to find what you are looking for, you are probably better off going to the shops and picking a new garment off the rack.”
Pirated movies and CDs
This is a guilty pleasure that most Ugandans indulge in. Why spend thousands of shillings to purchase a movie you will only most likely just watch once or buy a CD you will get tired of eventually? What most Ugandans do is go to one of the mushrooming computer bureaus and get the CD burnt, or get the latest movie for as little as Shs3,000 never mind that the sound and picture quality is worse than that of UBC, the official Chogm broadcaster.
Never throw away used up tins
This, it appears, is a trait for all Africans. When the cooking oil, the blue band, or that tin of biscuits runs out, do not throw the empty tin away. Wash it, keep it and store salt, seeds and sugar or whatever needs storing. Or just be like my mother and keep them empty, and feel happy just looking at your collection of empty tins on the shelves.
Cutting the kavera in half/ wrapping in newspapers
Especially now that polythene bags do not come as cheap and have been banned, wrapping eats in old newspapers is the norm. And when that polythene wrapping is given it is barely enough to cover the item that you have purchased.
Never mind that the blockbusters showing there are not current box office hits. What matters is that you get to watch them in this lifetime at a subsidised price of Shs200 and if the language is too complex, a funny Luganda commentary is thrown in – real value for money – even if half of what they interpret is not really what the actors are saying.
Mobile pedicure/ manicure fix
You do not have to go to a beauty parlour, in Uganda to get you looking like -well, looking painted - all you have to do is sit at your door step or at your stall and before you know it, your nails will be fixed for as low as Shs500. It does not matter that the manicurist does not look like he ever spent a day at beauty school or that that nail cutter looks
like it could send you straight to the tetanus ward.
No, I have not forgotten that Uganda is a third world country and that a large portion lives on less than a dollar a day. I am just saying that sometimes, you do not have to be a millionaire to live large.
- Geoffrey T. Muhoozi is a Ugandan trained Public Relations Practitioner and Journalist. He Studied at Makerere University Kampala and read Mass Communication with a bias in Public Relations. In between the course, he studied the Art of Public Speaking. He joined Uganda’s Leading Daily, The New Vision during his second year and practiced journalism till he left for The United Kingdom.In the UK, he persued an NCC International Diploma in Computing at London College of Business Studies and Computing. He went on to do a Masters Degree in Business Administration [MBA]specialsing in Marketing. In spite of being in The United Kingdom, he still contributes for The New Vision and The Sunday Vision newspapers when time allows.