Uganda is a beautiful, land-locked country lying just west of Kenya, east of Rwanda and south of Sudan. It is developmentally at least 20 years behind its eastern neighbor, a true testament to the devastating, long-lasting effects of the military dictatorship that destroyed the country in the post-colonial power struggles that ravaged much of Africa. Its people are kind and friendly (except maybe, Charlie, Team Moderate/Savage’s white-water rafting guide – more below)
Today it feels safe and thriving – ready for those who are willing to get in early and set up shop. There is very little infrastructure – roads are mostly unpaved outside of the major cities and many homes still lack power or running water. It was somewhat reminiscent of the poverty one might see in some parts of India, just without all the cows and 80% fewer people.
Kenya/Uganda Chazen 2016/2017 began its trip here. Our first meeting with Prism Construction at their Emin Pasha hotel in Kampala was a great introduction to the entrepreneurial spirit in Uganda. Prism started off as a shipper of foodstuff and supplies to Rwanda and South Sudan, but quickly pivoted to where opportunity lay, first with construction and now micro-finance. Watch these guys, because they seem to be the masters of reinvention and following opportunity.
From Kampala we drove to Jinja, where, according to Ugandans, the source of the Nile River lies. Along the way we stopped at a Shell (now franchised in Africa by Vivo Energy – a joint venture between Vitol Group, Helios Investment Partners and Shell), which offered a tiny and copious array of typical western gas station snacks as well as more typical Ugandan treats, like dried jackfruit and Trinity – a branded version of a popular Western Ugandan drink made of millet and sorghum. Xavier, our tour guide, convinced us to buy one, which after we took one sip of this partially fermenting, watered down porridge, we happily gifted to him. After our snack run, we drove over the Owen Falls Dam, which along with Uganda’s many other hydroelectric dams, helps to generate power for much of East Africa.
Once in Jinja we went straight for the beer – arriving at Nile Brewery and visiting their massive brewery. A model of health & safety – this is the place you need to contact when writing your own health & safety manual. Nothing is left out and everyone is held responsible. We had our first taste of Nile Special, Uganda’s local beer and were ready for the Nile.
We boarded a party boat, which was blasting Rhianna as it docked, and headed out on a peaceful sunset cruise to Samuka Island – a potentially gorgeous resort that is apparently packed with campers and ‘honeymooners’ on Saturday night, but totally deserted on the Friday we arrived. Again, an opportunity waiting to be picked up by some Real Estate PE company comfortable with a 20 year hold.
We spent the night at the Jinja Nile Resort, where armed guards and monkeys made sure we slept safely through the night and greeted us bright and early as we departed for white-water rafting on the Nile. We split in to several groups based on how adventurous we wanted to be in the rapids. My group opted for Moderate – and found ourselves in Charlie’s raft. Charlie was sarcastic and snarky and expertly trained us to paddle and crouch. When we were the only raft not to flip on one of the rapids, we started to see his disdain for us fade a little and by the end we had earned his respect. In addition to our unforgettable guide – our rafting experience was memorable for the tranquil water inbetween rapids as well as the sudden appearance of a baby python in the water that sent all of us who had just jumped in for a swim, scrambling for the raft.
Tired, yet feeling accomplished, we boarded our buses and headed back to Kampala where we rang in the New Year watching fireworks. 2017 is looking pretty fortuitous from this side of the world.