Why Ugandans love Bazungu(Westerners) more than themselves?

I was recently working on a small project with a Mzungu(white) lady when the power went off. The lady having recently arrived from Europe was astounded. She immediately picked up the phone and dialed the number of the electricity company. A bit skeptical, I sat watching the situation, a bit curious about what the outcome would be. On the other line a voice picked up and inquired about the nature of our call. On hearing the accent of my colleague, the tone suddenly became extremely friendly and empathic, promising to personally look into ‘our’ problem and report back immediately. I was bedazzled. What was going through the person’s mind? Was he thinking, oh.. this poor Mzungu lady, has come to Uganda and found us very disorganized, what can I do to elevate the status or reputation of Uganda? Or, this lady might put in a good word for me with my boss or the opposite if I do not treat her well. Or was he simply being what most Europeans describe us as- Friendly. It seems to me a lot of Ugandans aware of the sub standard levels of our service provision in Uganda, are always so keen to ensure that those same conditions that we live in and face on a day to day basis are not extended to our visitors from the West. Reminds me of a story I read in the papers recently about a Mzungu doctor who left his country and came to work in what the writer described as “this God forsaken land” Uganda.

A few months ago, I went to renew my internet subscription at my internet service provider. There was a small queue of people seated and waiting for their turns to be attended to, so I took my place at the end of the line or the last seat to wait. A few minutes later a Mzungu(white) man in his late 30’s walked in and completely disregarding the queue went straight to the counter. I was appalled, and immediately expressed my discontent to the lady he who had immediately started attending to him.

A few Ugandans seemed to be in a form of passive agreement with me, but everyone else remained calmed and seated. A few even stared at me like I was the one being unreasonable and rude to the poor Mzungu ‘who was obviously not used to waiting in long lines and such’. So the lady at the counter speaking in Luganda, which was unusual since we always speak English to each other, suggested that I be next in line and all the others would be dealt with after wards since I was the only customer who seemed to have a problem with our Ugandan way of doing things. Because of the lack of solidarity, I was forced to accept the offer to save my own face. But in retrospect, I should have perhaps walked out in protest or demanded that the Ugandans be treated ‘fairly’. But again, what good would it have done, since I was the only one who seemed uncomfortable with the situation?

I remember a Ugandan politician some years back shamelessly advising young Ugandan women to marry Bazungu men and go abroad and get money. A few years later in a contextually similar note later a Chinese lecturer was advising female Chinese students to stop their ever increasing familiarity and associations with African men (male
students) who usually have more disposable money because of the scholarships they obtain from the Chinese government the complete opposite.

So why do Ugandans love Bazungu so much? Or have we always been courteous and friendly to all outsiders? It would appear to me, that this behaviour is really exclusive to Bazungu or people from the west. But why is this? Why don’t we treat Indians and the Chinese with the same amount of enthusiasm? And is this behaviour reciprocated, or do we even expect it to be?

The answer might be found in the nature of British administration during the colonial era on the one hand, and the dominance of western media and literature as sources of information on the other, meaning that our perceptions about life and reality are shaped to a very big extent by the West. The British used indirect rule to govern Uganda. The ideology of indirect rule for which Fredrick Lugard 1858-1945 may be considered the patron; through his work The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa which describes how Britain was able to administer its colonies many of which were several times its size, by using already existing political and administrative systems.

This meant that the British could save their own labour for less tedious jobs and not get their hands dirty in the complicated business of running a colony. So, from the perspective of most Africans, during the colonial era it would have appeared as though our demise was a result of the greed and in-humanness of our own local leaders and not the colonial masters who only made appearance on festive occasions to give out medals and gifts to ‘good Ugandans’ and never have to deal directly with the disenfranchised majority. The result is that through intelligent systems of control in colonialism, neocolonialism, and the United Nations (which started in 1945 and now has 192 members stated but really evolved out of a necessity to prevent war between the super powers and respect the powers’ spheres of influence or claim to resources within those spheres).

Today Westerners enjoy a very unique position in Ugandan society. Our forefathers most of whom were uneducated peasants regarded them with awe for their knowledge of military affairs and their superiority in medicine and knowledge in general. As a result of the brilliance of the British in administering Uganda as a colony the word Muzungu came to synonymies intelligence and a state of being that Ugandans aspired to but never dared to equal. A Ugandan would be called a Muzungu for demonstrating cleverness or for ability to keep time, and other virutes.

Our forefathers were convinced that it would be more appropriate for us to adopt European (Christian) names, our lakes and national parks were named after or by British dignitaries, we encouraged to put on western clothing, we adopted the English language as our national language, and the use of local languages in schools was prohibited. We were encouraged to discard all things pertaining to our past and we began to lose our identity for the more ‘civilised’
British way of thinking and doing things. The term ‘Local’ originally used by the British to describe indigenous Ugandans-You and me, became a derogatory term used by Ugandans today to describe someone less educated or less sophisticated. We have become second class British citizens in Uganda, aspiring to be British in any way possible, but failing to hit the mark because of one simple reason: We are not British, we are Ugandans.

Denis Mutabazi


13 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Maria Namigadde,

    How true!

    The other day I entered a shop at Garden city, Kampala. The five ladies inside did not stop their conversation or even come up to me at all.

    Just as I walked out, a Mzungu woman was walking in – instinct told me to come back and see how SHE was received.

    Indeed! Two ladies had stood up, come to where she was, and one was asking her, with a big smile “Madam, how can we help you?”

    As I walked out, the same attendant asked me whether I needed anything in particular. I looked at her, smiled and walked out.

    I felt like explaining to her that white or black or yellow, any customer has equal capacity to buy.

    My little niece is called Sanyu Nalubega. Everywhere we go, they ask, annoyedly, “Yes those are her names, but what is her CHRISTIAN name?”

    Where is our self-esteem as Africans.


  2. denis mutabazi,

    But this is my argument exactly. That we see White colour as better than black (reverse racism -racial inferiority complex), just like a lot of white people see white as better than black (racism). Which is why we believe a white person can do a better job than a black person. Maybe it is true, but I have not yet seen the evidence. The reason is we have not practiced critical thinking. We have allowed ourselves to believe these things for so long, they have become true, but is it a permanent predicament?

    And why should British Council be the one to offer courses on Service provision in Uganda? This is exactly what I am advocating against. MUK can do a good job, but the Bureaucracy there is still stuck on the 18th British system of education which has long since evolved. And we are waiting for them to come back and bring about the reforms. Which they will not do unless there are some good incentives, like giving them more of our un-processed resources, so they can add value and send them back at 20 times the price. And the cycle continues until Jesus says OK, Enough…


  3. Obee Dean,

    It is very true. I was carrying out my research in Northern Uganda in 2008. So i decided to ask a few NGO staff for some information on land rights and two out of ten gave me the information. The other eight told me they were busy or found an excuse.

    Two years later i happened to work for School for International Training as a translated for a student carrying out the same research and my God,You would see how Ugandans were so willing to help this white lady, most of them even gave her their business cards. So i told her and she couldn’t believe it, so I did conspired with her and went to this organization and asked for some information and they told me it wasn’t available I moved out, when my white friend came and asked, she was given whatever she wanted with a great smile.

  4. Sean,

    I am a white South African, and read the article and related comments below with great interest.

    Hate to generalise, but I think bazungu South Africans have become more sensitive to the issues described above, particularly in light of our country’s history.

    Personally, I hate seeing discrimination in any form, even if it is as subtle as a white person getting better service than a black counterpart.

    Equality is something that individuals have to strive for continuously. I doubt the planet will ever experience equality as a norm in global society.

    That said, documenting inequality where we see it is healthy for future generations to understand the different forms of discrimination that exist.

  5. Hassan,

    Equality has never existed and probably never will, however a people should have a sense of solidarity. I have noticed, that Ugandans tend not to share any such sentiments save for the few occasions when they watch soccer and cheer their favourite team. Those Nationalities that have old cultures (Ethiopians, Indians. Koreans) know the value of solidarity and thrive because of it.

  6. Hassan,

    It is one thing for people to hate you or be racist torwards you in another country, it is another thing to hate yourself and disrespect your own kind in your own country.


  7. Ugandan like whites not because of their riches and colour but, they are straight forwad, so we are quick too.

  8. maria,

    I want a white man who is mature

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  13. Ali,

    I agree. I am an American born Ugandan and the ways that people were in awe of my foreignness really bothered me. The ways that they think there are no ugly white people is obnoxious. They made me think I was so honored to regularly be among white people. Give me a break it’s bad enough that in America they don’t accept me and when I’m in Uganda they don’t except me in a different way. It’s tiring.

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