Escaping the city for a better life upcountry

Monday December 20 2021
Darius Niwagaba moved from Kampala to Kyegegwa in western Uganda.

Darius Niwagaba moved from Kampala to Kyegegwa in western Uganda. PHOTO | COURTESY


At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic containment measures in March 2020, many people chose to relocate from the city to the countryside — either permanently or for an extended period of time.

In Kampala, the main reason for migrating from the city was that many businesses were not operating during the lockdown, leaving people idle and financially strained.

The countryside became attractive because of the relatively low cost of living compared with cities, but some people were also motivated by opportunities for more space, a change of environment, or simply the realisation that they could work from anywhere.

Take Darius Niwagaba. During the Covid-19 lockdown, the 39-year-old tour operator relocated to Kyegegwa district — about 200 kilometres northwest of the capital Kampala — because he was no longer working and yet continued to live an expensive life in Kampala.

He says: “The cost of most goods and services remained the same, while certain items cost more during Covid-19, yet I was not earning any money due to the lockdown. I realised that I was simply wasting time and money in the city, hence the decision to move.”

Cost efficient


Niwagaba says his costs are about 30 per cent of what he used to spend in Kampala, and can now save more money and invest it in other projects.

In Kyegegwa, he is working on building Darius City, a facility that, once complete, will offer a wide range hospitality services.

The project, which is on five acres located about 80 kilometres from Kibale National Park — home to the world-famous chimpanzees — will feature bars, gardens, restaurants, gym and accommodation facilities, among others. He hopes to start welcoming visitors to his new facility by April 2022.

“I know so many people who have realised that businesses can thrive upcountry and have completely relocated from Kampala,” he says. “Some have decided to relocate their factories from the city because the cost of production is cheaper upcountry, especially when you factor in prices of rent and labour.”

Niwagaba says that another advantage of operating a business from the countryside is that during the lockdown they proved to be more resilient than those in the city.

While businesses in Kampala were closing down due to strict measures, those out of the city continued to thrive, he says.

“Most upcountry businesses, such as agriculture and mining, are more resilient than those in the city. They cannot be affected by pandemics. That’s why when Covid-19 struck many city businesses went under. Now I’ve realised that one doesn’t have to be in the city to be financially successful,” he says.

He does not plan to return to the city in the foreseeable future.

As a tour operator, Niwagaba says that all he needs is to communicate with his clients, which he does online.

“A tourist won’t tell — and doesn’t want to know — where I received his enquiry e-mail. And because Kyegegwa is not far from Kampala — it’s a four-hour drive — I can always get there and pick up clients and head back in one day,” he says.

Business prospects aside, Niwagaba says that he now enjoys more space than when he lived in Kampala, which means that he can easily avoid crowds and the risk of contracting contagious diseases such as Covid-19.

“And besides, with the advancements in e-commerce, I can now buy whatever I need online,” he says.