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Pepperdine | Caruso School of Law

Life in Kampala

 Just by reading the headlines of the newspapers that the street vendors are selling you know that things are different here.  "Woman forced to breastfeed dogs" was featured the other day.  A man had given his cow as a dowry for his wife and he couldn't buy milk to give his dogs so he made his wife breastfeed them. 

  I saw someone giving out parking tickets the other day so I assume that there are traffic laws but they seem to be ignored.  I saw a traffic light at an intersection but it was broken and I think a bird was living in the red light.  The exhaust fumes stream out of the cars in thick puffs of black smoke.  The air is difficult to breathe and I'm surprised that everyone here isn't dead of lung cancer yet.   The streets are relatively safe.  Guards sit in front of most large buildings wielding AK-47s, shotguns, and various other rifles.  Plus the Ugandans seem to be meek and soft-spoken.  The boda bodas (taxi motorcycles) are the quickest way to travel through the city and taking one is like taking a roller coaster through traffic.  They zigzag between cars, drive on the wrong side of the road and don't stop for red lights or pedestrians.  The saying here is "if you drive straight on Kampala Road then you are drunk".  There are so many potholes, people crossing, cars and other obstacles that it is impossible to stay in one lane. 

There are a few interesting things about Ugandan law that I have noticed so far.  They still have debtors' prisons here which is something the US got rid of a long time ago.  But it is not a separate prison; a debtor is thrown in with ordinary criminals.  But if someone owes you money and you have them thrown in jail, you have to pay for their stay until they pay up.  Since I am working in the Commercial Court, the cases aren't very interesting.  One of my friends in the Constitutional Court was working on a case where a witchdoctor stabbed someone with a spear and hid in the bush for years until he was caught. The interesting thing for me is that I am seeing firsthand the things we only talked about in college.  Justice Kiryabwire, the judge I am clerking for in the Commercial Court is always talking about how the law is essential to the development of the country because if contracts were not enforced, no one would do business.  Justice K is speaking about the planned privatization of the Ugandan pension system at an international forum and we are currently helping him research the topic. 

I think so far we have been insulated from the level of poverty here.  We are staying in Central Kampala which is a modern, urbanized area similar to any other big city in a developing country.  If you are a foreigner, gangs of young barefoot children in tattered clothing chase after you, with their hands outstretched pleading "sir, sir" trying to get a few shillings.  Children who can't be more than two years old sit by themselves on the ground with their hands outstretched for hours at a time at nighttime.  There are also people with mangled and disfigured limbs sitting on the streets begging for money.  But other than that, the streets are filled with shops and restaurants and there is a high level of commerce.  But if you walk down a few blocks away from the city center, things are different.  I haven't had the courage to venture deeply into the ghettos.  The neighborhoods start getting rough.  You start seeing shantytowns with corrugated tin roofs and dirt roads.  Before I leave I plan to go further into the ghettos and see what it is like there. 

- Ali