From nsenene culture to boda boda culture


A story about primary schooling in rural Uganda was told to me by a friend who was there in his early years.

He attended lower primary school in greater Masaka before moving to Kenya where he experienced a major culture shock especially regarding how to get things done.

In some ways not a lot has changed! November is here and with rains galore as it has always been! Of course this kind of weather invites grasshoppers, one of Uganda’s great delicacies.

And as the month progresses so do the rains and the forces of demand and supply meaning that more and more can afford the nsenene as prices tumble due to over-supply!

It is this friend that coined the phrase, Nsenene Culture, which aptly describes the practice of catching our grasshoppers. It is generally a waiting game. Most families prepare early for the nsenene season. You need a lantern (known as a hand lamp in Luganda), a large pan and a banana leaf that is encircled around the pan.

You then wait for the nsenene rain. By holding the lamp just above the pan, grasshoppers flop around the banana leaf and slide down into the pan. There is no escape for the grasshoppers when in the pan since they are heavier then. The more modern families of today use torches and foil paper instead of the banana leaf.

The foil is twisted into a funnel channelling all into whatever container is available. Foil paper has the added advantage of reflection, hence attracting more. It is not so different with commercial nsenene harvesters. Only the scale is different because they use larger areas. A flat area is identified and then enclosed by roofing iron sheets with floodlights instead of torches or lanterns providing the bright light.

So whether it is for subsistence, small or large-scale flood-lit harvested nsenene, all the catchers wait for November and December!

My friend, who really has angst against the nsenene culture, once interviewed a November commercial harvester. The lady explained to him that grasshoppers are like angels because they come from heaven! There you have it; what kind of advice do you give to a person who awaits miracles every November? His intention had been to interest this ‘farmer’ into growing the nsenene!

Now, talk of growth and development leads me to the Boda Boda Culture, my own coinage! Whereas the nsenene culture is about simple investment plus waiting for the miracle season, the boda culture is about getting what you want no matter what!

The boda boda will take you where you wish at the time you like; early morning, midnight or whenever! The boda boda does not wait and it does not need to follow any rules. Impunity is a term wasted if used in reference to a boda! Not one boda rider is concerned that they may be stopped or hindered. Their mission is to take you wherever!

‘Successful’ boda riders live by the assumption or motto that they are the only ones who wish to go places and others must wait! So they crowd junctions, block opposite lanes, ride kerbs, carry three or more passengers and worse! All this is done right in front of traffic police and indeed, sometimes it is police officers who are the passengers! In my village bodas have been known to bring burglars and then they bring the rescuers and/or police later.

Motor traffic is the one big equaliser in Uganda! Regardless of one’s academic qualification, when on the road, the boda culture reigns! Gender sensitivity does not come into play here, since many women are equally aggressive on the road. The mentality is the same: “it is important for me to go, which means everyone else must wait”.

It must be something in the Ugandan air – because we know the traffic rules. My brother is now a year in the USA attending a masters degree course and he has been allowed to drive. I bet his Ugandan driving will return on arrival at Entebbe! It would not be surprising since everyone breaks traffic rules including the presidential convoy, political leaders, diplomats, etc.

Last weekend we all mourned Uganda Cranes’ demise after a trouncing by Guinea! It is now official; we cannot make it to the Africa Cup of Nations tournament in January. Foolish fans are blaming a particular player for careless tackles, getting sent off and perhaps for not scoring goals.

What or how much have we invested in football? Instead we seem to be expecting a miracle! The Nsenene Culture thrives on!

The author is one of the founding Kigo Thinkers.

#uganda #nsenene

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