RCA In-House, Series

The Fruits of Democracy

Uganda-Decides
By Aaron Aroriza, Uganda:

“Who did you vote?” is the youthful boda boda man's instant question after screeching to a halt. A suspicious smirk forms on his beardless sweaty face revealing a broken incisor as his swollen lips part. I hesitate to answer. The helmet that should be on his head is instead carelessly placed where I'm supposed to sit. He must be one of the reckless ones: I think. But then that is over ninety percent of the boda boda riders on Kampala roads. It is four days after presidential elections. The atmosphere is still tense. And I didn't vote. I'm not one of those hopeful people who imagine you can, through a ballot, remove a president who came to power by a gun. I also don't believe my vote would matter to such a man. He already has all he needs to democratically stay in power – guns and those who count the votes.

I think carefully about my answer. The boda boda rider's smirk suddenly transforms into a snarl before I can give a careful answer, “You are the people who keep voting the incumbent back into power. You won't sit on my bike.” He zooms off, leaving me shocked. Anyone who has been in Kampala knows when you are in a hurry, the best mode of transport is boda boda. I'm in a hurry alright. But I change my mind. I will take a taxi. That's what those omnibuses or matatu that carry 14 passengers are called in Kampala.

I find about three taxis at the roadside stage. The taxi touts are competing for passengers, blocking pedestrians and coercing them to enter the taxis. The one whose front tires are entrenched in a porthole the size of a Jacuzzi seems almost full. I let myself be coerced into it and sit next to a lady who looks like she doesn't normally work during the day. She doesn't like the colour of her hair too. Nor does she like its texture. So she has replaced it with a lemon green weave. The weave must have been on her head longer than it should. It doesn't smell nice. But I can handle that. Three more passengers and we will be setting off.

About twenty minutes later, the tout is still calling for passengers. The heat in the taxi is unbearable. The air is stuffy. One of the other taxis that seemed to have fewer people has already left the stage. Something strange is happening in ours. Passengers seem to be coming in but the tout's rhetoric does not seem to change. He is still calling for three more passengers.

A middle aged man with a face almost frozen into a grin comes in. He is the type of man who buckles his trouser not around the waist but somewhere above the naval region. Before he can sit, the lemon green haired madam seated next to me asks to be excused and leaves the taxi. It's then that I notice why the taxi has taken long to fill up. Most of the people that were in at the time I boarded, including lemon green haired madam, were dummy passengers! They made me think that the taxi was almost full. I was a fool. This taxi man has rigged.

As we are about to set off I see the tout haggling with his earlier dummy passengers. He places a coin in each of their hands. Lemon green haired madam shabbily throws hers in her pink purse. She must be looking for money for another weave: I think. Or perhaps she doesn't even buy the weaves. She picks them from saloon dustbins and the money she makes from being a dummy passenger is used to feed her children. May be she has children.

“The president promised us a peaceful election and has lived up to his promise. Look at all the soldiers on the road. They are here to ensure we have peace”, middle aged man of frozen grin interrupts my thoughts. Yes. He promised us peace. I believe him. I got a taste of it in the town center two days to Election Day. It smelt a lot like tear gas: I think. “Yes. They are here to ensure we have peace”, I say, almost absentmindedly.

The rest of the journey is quiet. I get to think of the boda boda rider who couldn't take me because of the choice he thinks I made in the elections. All the passengers in the taxi seem sad, almost angry apart from the middle aged man with a face frozen into a grin who buckles his trouser above the naval. Is it the rigging taxi tout they are angry with? They all seemed to have made a democratic choice to travel in this taxi. Looks quite familiar – the fruits of democracy.

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