With several comedians and musicians in the 10th Parliament among other examples, Uganda boasts of a most impressive number of hustlers who would do anything to survive yet another day. Nor far back we were ranked top of the world as most enterprising country which, debatable as it may be, was a good thing indeed.
The idea of hawking on public transport vehicles has long been one of the many ventures shrewd Ugandan business men and women have taken to, further their profits. Last month as I travelled from Mbarara to Kampala on one of the commuter buses, one such hawker hopped on board 20km out of Mbarara town. The strategy of the hustle, aside from a moderate amount of charisma, is hitchhiking on these buses from one stop to another and then back. At most, it is a fully rewarding strategy and at worst, a half rewarding one. Most hawkers pass around roasted maize or hot chapatti concealed in buveeras while the rest vend drinks of a diverse variety. Food stuffs are the basic trade and one way or another, the interest of a desperately hungry passenger is piqued enough to support the cause. Our hawker was a self-proclaimed healer vending health products. From his brown grandfather suitcase, the robust middle aged man retrieved toothpaste and a toothbrush as he launched into a detailed monologue on teeth and dental problems. With a well-researched recommendation for a dental check-up at least once a year, he passed off his product as the “Messi” of all dental products; saviour from all toothache and persistent carries. His magical toothpaste went for a humble 10,000 shs, a sum several passengers were kind enough spend. As a junior medical doctor, I should’ve questioned his exaggerated statements regarding the potency of a single tube of locally made toothpaste for such wide and complex set of human pathologies but even as I contemplated the thought of raising my voice to object, Musawo Fulugensi, as he now referred to himself, pulled out a packet of “Green Healthy Tea” from the suitcase. This, he said, was a cure for hypertension and a longevity portion. At 15,000 shs per 250mg, men and women alike were far too eager to get their hands on it. Musawo Fulugensi was well on the way to convincing the group that his tea cured uterine fibroids (locally called ebizimba mu lubuto) when I finally started asking questions. The tea, a concoction of tea leaves fortified with minerals and vitamins could hardly make a cure for anything. But Musawo Fulugensi insisted that his product contained a secret formula which somehow drained what he called “Amasila mubizimba mubakazi” (pus containing mass). On further percussion, he referred to himself as “Engoma nene” (the master drum in a musical set used in African folk music) in an attempt to shrug me off before he alighted off. I couldn’t hold my amusement like every other passenger in the bus and more when a colleague seated next me had recorded a part of the interesting exchange in an audio. https://soundcloud.com/user6283083/aud-20170830-wa0004
As we celebrate our superior enterprising ranks on the world stage, perhaps a little more caution should be exercised as people purchase products of any kind. Hawkers hoodwink the average Ugandan in a bid to make some money whenever the opportunity presents itself. In a largely illiterate third world country, the poor man only becomes poorer by spending on what he presumes to be an economical health product only to have to spend again, when the product doesn’t work as is advertised. People should educate themselves. When Musawo Fulugensi said fibroids were pus filled swellings, no one batted an eye lash and no one pulled out their smart phone to Google the facts. A pity!