If you are looking for a windfall invest in Uganda’s ‘death sector’

Saturday April 22 2023

Our nation loves funerals. Unlike Kenyans, Ugandans won’t contribute to your hospital bill, but will rush to pay it if you die.


In Uganda, we treasure death. So we invest more in death than in health. To understand how we cherish death more than health, you need to follow our insurers’ talk. Please note that I said how, not why, for I can’t explain the why.

Since Covid-19 came by three years ago and harassed us, you would have expected that we would all go out and acquire some medical cover fitting our income. But the latest we hear is that it is death driving growth in Uganda’s insurance industry!

Our nation loves funerals. Unlike Kenyans, Ugandans won’t contribute to your hospital bill, but will rush to pay it if you die so your corpse can be released. Here, you may give all the help you can to a person nursing a dear one, but should you fail to turn up for the burial, they won’t forgive you. But they will praise the one who rushed to the graveside even if he ignored their pleas for help during illness.

Traditionally, a proud person here is threatened with questions like, “Who will bury you?” or “Will you bury yourself?”

Respectable funeral

Anyway, since Covid-19 happened, we remembered (as if we had forgotten) that we have to die one day and if there isn’t enough money in the family, the burial might not be beautiful and expensive enough. So we now make arrangements to ensure we get a respectable funeral when we pop.


Again, it is not new, only that formal, corporate insurance is just discovering it. But all Ugandan communities have been having their burial preparations for healthy people, but not financial arrangements to treat the sick not to die. We always had unregistered burial cooperative societies on every village, going under names like Friends Bury One Another or Friendship in Danger and Let’s Help One Another. These societies are sex segregated, with those for men usually sitting once a week around a pot of brew, collecting some money at every sitting.

These monies tend to grow to big sums and there are no reports of embezzlement by the responsible officials. Should a member lose a close relative, they step in and finance the funeral, vigils and burial comprehensively, even giving a hefty envelope to console the bereaved.

The women’s burial groups meet over a cup of tea and collect money for similar purposes.

Undertaker services

What seems to be waking up corporate insurance funeral companies’ formalising and individualising these arrangements. For the past three or so years, undertakers have been promoting their services by advising/advertising that it is better to pay a small amount monthly to them so that should you or a family member die —they use kinder words, of course — you are assured of a respectable funeral. The insurers have seen the business and aren’t about to let the undertakers enjoy it alone.

This comes after investing in health insurance has generally “refused” to take off. The figures for Ugandans with individual health cover are just laughable. A sizeable number, maybe about half a million, have modest health cover paid by the employers as a fringe benefit, which you lose when you lose the job.

But, of the 45 million Ugandans, those who go out to buy their own health policy are in the lower five digits. You can’t blame us when government every year ritualistically tells us during budget time that it can’t afford universal health cover. We conclude that if government cannot afford it, then an individual can’t. So, if treatment is unaffordable and death is a certainty, then we’d rather invest in death. But our leaders in parliament beat us to it; they got about $20,000 provided for their own funeral each paid by the taxpayer, of course.

So, if you have or can borrow some cash, come invest it in the death business here, you won’t go wrong. Come up with beautiful coffins, elegant hearses or digital wreaths. How about flying hearses since 97 percent of our people die without ever boarding a plane (it was 99 percent before our girls started trafficking themselves to go die in the Middle East)!

Offering a helicopter to fly the dead with family members from the mortuary to the burial site would be a hit: –You’ll make profit charging $2,000 a burial flight in this small country and you will never get a rest flying dead fellows around. You just can’t go wrong investing in death stuff here. Thank me later.

Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail: [email protected]