The first time I traveled to Kampala, capital of Uganda, I was convinced I’d experience Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and meet Kurtz, the ivory trader, and Charles Marlowe the intrepid narrator of this iconic tale of suspense and intrigue up the Congo River into the outer reaches of deepest, darkest 1890 Africa.
With a table-spoonful of dashed expectations, I landed at Entebbe International Airport, on the shores of Lake Victoria, only to find a modern airport with landing gates crowded with the colorful logos of British Airways, Air Qatar, Jordan Aviation, Kenya Air, Air Emirates et al.
The terminal building sparkled as yet another indicator of Uganda’s economic development to go along with her flawless internet service and stunning monuments.
All this to camouflage the reality of her indigenous depression.
Uganda, like so many countries in the developing world, presents a facade to the developed world. She hides the reality of poverty, suppression of human rights, and economic equality. Her government is a faux democracy that enables the political leadership of an elite administration more interested in economic development than in human development, they leave that to foreign aid allocations from the developed world.
The United States has invested millions in the social and economic infrastructure of this impoverished country. Once you leave the commercial bubble of her English speaking capital of Kampala, you find the indigenous tribes making up the majority of her 43 million people who speak Bantu and thirty different languages.
The political elite in Kampala operates as a separate country, they negotiate with western powers who want to establish a presence here for the sole purpose of polishing their foreign aid resume’s and knowingly contribute exorbitantly high percentages of their budget to the “use fees” demanded by the Kampala government which line the pockets of the President and his elite enablers. This is the description of corruption, the cancer infecting the leadership of the developing world.
What’s left of the foreign aid budgets trickles down to the masses in the form of charity, not economic development. The US Peace Corps is well-meaning, established by President John Kennedy in the early 1960’s it provided an opportunity for idealistic young Americans to lend their talent and education to a cause greater than themselves. Unfortunately, the percentage of American aid allocated to the Peace Corps is pittance while the bureaucracy of the USAID program sucks up the lion’s share of the US commitment to the poverty, health, and education of the developing, aka the third, world.
While working as a minor player on a USAID project in Uganda, I had the opportunity to interact with our Peace Corps, I was overwhelmed by the commitment of these young people, men, and women from elite US colleges and universities many with sophisticated family backgrounds living and experiencing the poverty of third world existence. Some would say they’re “do-gooders”, suggesting US funding is better served by local government; I would say they’re heroes in the global war against poverty and oppression.