Fact: In Uganda today, if you can’t afford ugali, you eat chapati.
Remember Marie Antoinette who advised the hungry, angry French people to eat cake if they had no bread? If she came to Kampala for the Easter weekend and advised those who cannot afford maize flour to try wheat flour instead, she would be praised for her kind and motherly advice; instead of being beheaded.
The price of maize has been creeping up towards that of wheat over the past several months since the weather started going crazy.
First there was the excessive drought and then as the rains came, so did the army worms. They targeted the maize and by March, its price had overtaken that of wheat, which is mostly imported!
As the Christians emerged from Lent to prepare for Easter, they found that maize flour, which until recent was called posho, was going for almost one dollar a kilo at Ush3,300. Now some cynics have removed the ‘o’ and started calling it “posh”’ instead of posho!
So it now takes a posh family in Kampala to eat posh ugali at Ush3,300/kg.
And you cannot be sure you have got a full kilo because in the accepted anarchy of trade in Kampala, there is almost zero enforcement of standards and measures. So what the shopkeeper’s rusty weighing scale says is a kilo could be 900 grams or even less.
So a real kg of maize flour really costs a dollar.
For us ordinary fellows, we are now going for wheat at Ush2,500 a kilo, which comes in 2kg packets costing Ush5,000. And it could be a blessing in disguise.
You may have heard of the “rolex” promotion where tourism authorities are promoting a “Ugandan delicacy” by that name.
It is not an expensive designer watch. It is an egg roll – “roll-eggs” – that has in recent years become the bachelors’ meal of choice. For Ush1,500 (less than half a dollar) you get your hot fat chapati with two eggs rolled in it, as well as an assortment of vegetable ingredients straight from the pan on the street and you have enough nutrition to take you for a day of 12 to 24 hours.
So with wheat flour becoming more popular and affordable than maize flour, Ugandans are likely to embrace rolex wholesale.
And which better way to promote tourism than by nurturing the domestic market first? We have always been blamed by the authorities for not visiting our national parks. Now we are set to eat the rolex every day and every night. The tourism minister must be smiling.
And once we roll back the army worm invasion – we are told they came from Southern Africa – and also learn to irrigate our maize gardens as our president has been teaching us, our maize output will increase once again. But we shall have developed a taste for wheat products and we shall keep exporting the maize.
Some people are actually blaming Kenyan consumers for the persistent rise of maize prices in Uganda. The Kenyans can continue buying as much maize from Uganda as they wish.
For us, we are shifting to wheat and chapati. In fact, word has it that many maize farms in eastern Uganda belong to Kenyans.
Who cares? I don’t think the Kenyan investors stole any of the farmland at gunpoint; they must be paying Ugandans for use of the land.
And in any case, that is East African integration, with the people moving ahead of their governments as usual.
Joachim Buwembo is a social and political commentator based in Kampala. E-mail: [email protected].