Pareto Efficient

In search of pareto improvements

Posts Tagged ‘kampala

Fires / Riots in Kampala

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Tensions between the Buganda Kingdom, Uganda’s largest and most influential tribe, and the Museveni government have been escalating as Museveni has moved to limit the power and influence of cultural leaders and kings.

With the 2011 elections just around the corner, tensions are mounting.

Yesterday, an unknown arsonist burned the historically significant Bugandan Kasubi Tombs to the ground.  The Tombs were the final resting place for the last 4 kings of Buganda, making it the most hallowed ground of the Buganda.

After the fire started, it didn’t take long before demonstrators and rioters took the streets.  That never ends well…

Most journalists are focusing on the immediate impact of 3 rioters dead and police on the streets.  Unfortunately, the real issue is that the Bugandan people will assume the government had a hand in the fire and rumors extremely powerful regardless of their validity.  Let’s hope everything calms down soon…

Read the NYTimes Story


Written by thetyson

March 18, 2010 at 7:17 am

Day #6: Going off the Script

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I traveled to Uganda with a singular question: Are COUPONGOOD‘s microfinance loans working?

All of the loan recipients are in the south near Kampala, Mukono and Jinja because of its stability, infrastructure and proximity to Kampala, the seat of power.  So, logic says I should spend my time meeting loan recipients there.

One twist…I’ve heard so much about a northern town of Gulu and I’ve made some friends that live there.  One has offered to show me around if I’d like to come.  Hmm…

  • Not much microfinance going on up there
  • The State Department advises against traveling to Gulu
  • My father’s only request “Please don’t go to Gulu”

Yeah.  I think I’ll go to Gulu.  Let’s mix it up a bit.

Good luck to me.

We were late.  This wasn’t good.  The only option that could get us to the bus in time was boda boda.  Problem: My friend had several extremely large bags and a drum.  No matter, we piled on the back of two bodas and hung on for dear life as we zipped in and out of rush hour traffic in Kampala.

Post Bus

8:10 am: We arrived at the Post Office just in time.  The Post Bus is the preferred mode of transpo to Gulu because it leaves on time and the drivers don’t harass you as much as those at the Bus Park.  One-way to Gulu was around $8, a bargain for a 6 hour bus ride.

Quite Culture

I was struck by how quiet everyone was.  People weren’t talking, babies were silent.  Everyone was just sitting peacefully together.  My friend and I were the only people talking on the whole bus — leave it to the muzungus to break the silence – ha.


Very quickly we transitioned from the paved roads to dirt roads and the slums.  It was already very different from what I had seen in the other parts of town.

Slums only 5 minutes from downtown Kampala

Slums only 5 minutes from downtown Kampala


The country side was sprinkled with little curcular huts with thatch roofs.  So interesting, I didn’t expect to see huts this close to Kampala.  I figured they only existed in the bush.  Wish I had pics of it, but the camera died.

Street Vendors

Entpreneurial activity was in full swing at the bus stops en route.  Dozens of street vendors were hawking various foods and bottled water.  Their energy was amazing, I picked out 3 kids who could’ve been superstar salespeople in the US.  You can just see it — their delicate mix of drive, empathy and aggression.  Cool.

Pee time

We also stoped for a communal “short call”.  Everyone, men and women, pile out of the bus and pee in the bushes along side the road.  What’s a “long call”, you ask?  Ha.


I was just remarking about the high quality of the dirt roads when the driver hit a pot hole at what must have been 45 mph.  Being in the back of the bus, we were all launched into the ceiling.  Babies and children sitting in their mothers laps were catapulted forward into other seats and, since my armrest was broken, I gashed my arm on a piece of jagged metal.  That’s cool, just sitting there bleeding on a bus.  No big deal.  These people are tough, though.  None of the kids cried.  They just quietly walked back to their mothers.  In fact, nobody said anything about it at all.  Amazing.

It looks sterile, nothing to worry about, right?

It looks sterile, nothing to worry about, right?

Hotel Florida

We arrived in 5 1/2 hours — record time.  The Hotel Florida gave me the best room, called the St. John Paul (with whom I share a birthdate).  It was $20/night and it had a view of downtown Gulu.  Very nice indeed.

Hotel Florida balcony

Hotel Florida balcony


Bird's eye view of the Gulu market

Well, I’m here.  Tomorrow I’ll reignite my quest for fast internet 🙂

Written by thetyson

October 13, 2008 at 8:44 pm

Day #5: Time to Relax

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Well, sleeping on a bed made for an elf has added more than a few knots into my shoulders.  Today, I decided to head to the mall for a little rehab and R&R.

The Garden City Mall is the muzungu (white people) hang out in Kampala.  See a scale model of it below.

Seriously, just fix the helicopter.  Its kinda weirding me out

Seriously, just fix the helicopter. Its kinda weirding me out

Somehow I managed to resist the siren call of the luxurious Simba Casino.  Thank God.

Ah, yes, the casino.  So many broken promises..

Ah, yes, the casino. So many broken promises..

I decided to get a massage upstairs in the mall.  It was pretty good, def worth the $10 for 90 minutes.

Written by thetyson

October 12, 2008 at 9:01 am

Day #4: Search for Internet

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Thanks to my new found animal friends, I woke up early again today and walked into town.

MY MISSION: Find decent internet.

My search for “high-speed” internet took me down several of the major streets in downtown Kampala.  The ads for miracle drugs were everywhere.  It was like someone just printed out a bunch of email spam and posted it on the walls.


Their targeting was uncanny...(sniffle)

Kampala, not a great place to walk around at night while drunk.  Could you imagine how many lawsuits we’d have if we tried this in the USA?

Walk at your own risk

Just a little barbed wire to protect the shrubberies, no big deal.

Ah yes.  I hear they’re putting one of these stores in downtown Houston, TX next month…

They're not going anywhere...

I asked the clerk if he had a sale on uranium or evil. He asked me to leave. I said I was just kidding. He asked me to leave. I smiled. The armed guard asked me to leave. I left.

I noticed the dominate consumer branding strategy was to use as many superlatives as possible.  Take, for instance, the automobile below.  In the US we know this to be the Toyota Previa, but Ugandans know it as…


The Super Delux 4WD Limited Town Ace

Its just interesting that populations respond differently to branding.  My Ugandan Pizza business would be called “Best, Bester, Bestest Really Good, Most Filing, Most Luxurious Pizza”.  FYI: I’ve already bought the domain — — so better luck next time. 🙂

Oh, I finally found suitable internet: The Sheraton Downtown.  Its expensive, so I’ll keep looking, but at least I could get some heavier duty things done online today.

Written by thetyson

October 11, 2008 at 8:07 am

Branded Boda Idea

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Problem:  Imperfect information about boda drivers (motorcycle taxis) leads to unsafe free-for-all

  • Many bodas drive unsafely and without helmets
  • Many do not know their way around town
  • > 90% actually rent their motorcycle from a local owner and see their earnings impacted accordingly
  • The influx of many new bodas threatens to squeeze margins for the drivers
  • There are no branded fleets of boda drivers — its a wild west…

Solution: Leverage branding, scale and economic incentives to improve driver safety/earnings

Driver Safety:

  • Provide clearly branded well maintained bodas to drivers
  • Provide road/accident safety training to all drivers
  • Provide helmets and day-glow vests for driver/passenger
  • Require drivers to know the major districts, connecting roads, and typical tourist stops
  • Require drivers to speak basic English

Driver Earnings:

  • Revenues: Hopes that branding will cause drivers to stand out in the crowd, and get more fares.
  • Costs: Over time, the drivers will pay less to rent the bodas

Back of the Envelope:

  • There are over 200,000 boda drivers in Uganda
  • 1,000 drivers paying the market rent would be $1.7MM USD/year in revenues (2.8bn Ush)
  • As the bikes are paid off, the cost structure of the business will decrease, which we can pass on to the drivers in the form of lower rental costs.
  • Increased driver earnings will increase the quality of their lives.

Written by thetyson

October 9, 2008 at 3:02 pm

Day #2: Setup Infrastructure

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I awoke early this morning (5:30 am) thanks to the dueling symphony of rooster(s), birds, dogs, goats and monkeys.

Pretty cool

Pretty cool





Despite the 10 hour time change I feel fine.  Perhaps my several month stint with polyphaic sleep has conditioned me to recover quickly with short naps.

Today, I need to get my infrastructure setup:

  • Exchange money
  • Buy a cellphone
  • Locate reliable internet

You can read my recommendations on infrastructure at the bottom of the post.


As I headed into town, it was clear that the labor force of Kampala was over-invested in transportation – especially the motorcycles (boda bodas).

You see, bodas are notorious for dangerous driving habits.  They are usually unskilled, untrained, young men who split lanes, drive into oncoming traffic, hold little regard for human life.  In fact, several months ago, the gov’t passed a law that required bodas to wear helmets and provide helmets for passengers too.  The law was completely ignored.

After talking with some locals, I thought of a way to promote safer boda driving and enhance the earnings of bodas.  You can read about it here if you’re interested.

How to…

Recommendations for currency in Uganda.  Don’t bring very much USD.  Just use your Visa ATM Debit card at the Barclays downtown Kampala.  Its fast, the exchange rate is fair and it reduces the likelihood of serious theft in transit.  Note: Stanbic Bank ATMs didn’t work with my Wells Fargo ATM card.

I was shocked at the ease of setup for mobile phones in Uganda.  I bought a low-end Nokia for $30.  Then, I bought an MTN sim card (the card that actually carries your phone number) for $2.  Then, I bought $10 of airtime and loaded it onto my phone by dialing *155# + the access code.  The entire process took less than 10 minutes.  Amazing.

Follow me! Follow me to freedom!

Security guards in the US carry flashlights.  In Uganda, they carry an AK-47s.  This guy was pretty cool.

I was trying to convince him to get his security guards together and carry out a coup against this store’s competitors.  That’s what I’d do if I had a store front in Kampala — just amass an army of security guards and mount offensives against my competitors.  When you security guard has an AK, who needs an army?

Though Red Chili has internet, it is slow.  So slow, in fact, that I could not even log into Godaddy to setup this blog.  I need fast internet, and, despite searching all day, I was unable to find it.

Written by thetyson

October 9, 2008 at 1:47 pm

Day #1: Travel to Uganda

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I flew SFO to Newark to Brussels to Bujumbura (Burundi) to Entebbe (Uganda) to Kampala (by taxi).

The trip took 22+ hours, but a healthy dose of naps, work, and Uganda research made it fly by.

Concerns before departure:

  1. Missing a connection
  2. Getting lost in foreign airports
  3. Inability to adjust to 10 hour jet lag (most I’ve ever had is 3 hours)

Fortunately, all went smoothly.

Noteworthy observations:

  • The runway in Bujumboyo is extremely narrow – whew!
  • Before departing Bujumboyo, they made an announcement and came through the cabins spraying an unknown aerosol into the air.  Hmm…”I think I have the black lung”
  • On takeoff from Bujumboyo, I noticed a non-trivial forest fire burning out of control within several hundred meters of the airport. This is Africa.


The first person to greet me in Uganda was my driver, James.  He was recommended by my buddy Matt Flannery, and it was very nice to have someone there holding a sign with my name (spelled creatively as Tjysun).

Ugandans are well aware of most things going on in the US as evidenced by James’ questions en route to Kampala:

-Do you know Beyonce, Rhianna, Paris Hilton (met her once…she’s not that great), Brittany Spears…
-Who are you voting for?  He wants me to vote for Obama.
-What is going to happen to Africa if the banks keep failing in the US?  No idea, my man.

While driving fast on an unlit dirt road, I asked him distinctly different questions like:

  • Oh s*#t do you see that pedestrian?
  • Why’s that motorcycle coming right at us in our lane?
  • How many people have you hit while driving at night?

Alas, I arrived.  Time for some sleep, good luck jet lag…

My room

My room



Written by thetyson

October 8, 2008 at 1:27 pm