Is anyone here a Seinfeld fan? I, for one, grew up on the show. From “The Stakeout” to “The Contest” to “The Bubble Boy”, I’ve seen them all. One of my favorite episodes is “The Two Face”. In this episode, Jerry meets a seemingly attractive girl and starts dating her. To his dismay, Jerry quickly learns that his new girlfriend’s attractiveness changes from second to second depending on the lighting; thus, the Two Face. The remainder of the episode is filled with antics that Jerry undergoes to ensure that the Two Face is only seen in the ‘right light’. In one instance, Jerry is forced to abandon his favorite booth in the Diner because he could not tolerate the way his girlfriend looked in that particular lighting. Unfortunately Jerry’s vanity got the best of him and he eventually broke things off with the Two Face.
I’ve been waiting all my life to make a Seinfeld metaphor so here it is: if my experience in Uganda is a Seinfeld episode, then Kampala is the Two Face and I am Jerry. Allow me to explain.
A coworker of mine just said to me that “Uganda is the richest country in the world [in terms of geography, resources, and culture], but the people are the poorest”. In other words, Uganda is divided and its capital city is no exception. Kampala is divided on several fronts and these divides are principally influenced by (drumroll please)… you guessed it, neoliberal globalization! What a word: neoliberal globalization. I will break it down as a recipe for those of you who are sane enough to do something other than study Poli Sci/IDS.
In order to make a batch of neoliberal globalization that will last you nearly a half century of servings, please do the following.
First, add a pinch of Liberalism into a 5 litre ideology bowl. Cover and let stand until the early 1980s. Liberalism’s ingredients include:
- A social and economic theory grounded in enlightenment ideas of individual freedom, rights of the person, and liberty
- Must be developed in the 18th and 19th centuries as a movement of resistance against the self-serving mercantilism of monarchs
- The soundtrack to Les Mis
See, that wasn’t so hard! Now, whisk in two table spoons of ‘neo’ and three shakes of high fat power. If you have trouble finding ‘neo’, just go to your local IMF corner store or World Bank-mart – they should have plenty to go around. For this step, you might need help from Ronald Regan, Margaret Thatcher and Milton Freidman, commonly referred to as “The Axis of Evil”. The Axis of Evil recommends that you use three ingredients to bind ‘neo’ and liberalism:
- Deregulation of markets – i.e., removal of tariffs and other trade barriers
- Liberalization of trade
- Privatization of publically owned entities (like Crown corporations – who needs a robust and responsible state structure, am I right?)
In order for these ingredients to properly bind with liberalism, be sure to invest heavily in hedge funds, fire all of your workers, outsource your company to a developing country, pinch babies until they burst out in tears, and only buy cloths made in sweatshops.
Finally, pour neoliberalism out of the 5 litre ideology bowl into your globalization tin and bake for 35 years. For best results, bake .01% of the tin at 935 degrees fahrenheit and the remaining 99.9% at 2 degrees. If you really want that original home-cooked taste, gold-plate the .01% and throw the rest out in the compost bin. Mmmmmmm, just like momma makes it.
When you put all of these ingredients together, you get what us Poli Sci/IDS junkies call neoliberal globalization. Dr. Robert Huish (“Dr. Bob”) defines neoliberal globalization as: “[a] policy package for greater global connectivity grounded in an ideology of individualism over the public good that systematically distributes wealth and power to the global elite.” Powerful stuff, Dr. Bob. Powerful stuff.
So what does neoliberal globalization look like on the ground? Well, two things have happened in its tenure. Firstly, the 21st century is the wealthiest period in human history. Secondly, the divide between the rich and poor is the largest it has ever been. For example, while Bill Gates is worth five times more than the entire Jamaican economy (his net worth is US $79.3 billion and Jamaica’s GDP is US $14.36 billion), nearly 1/6 of the world’s population lives in absolute poverty (or less than US $1.25/day). Fair isn’t always equal, eh?
Now, back to my Two Face metaphor. Neoliberal globalization has turned Kampala into a Two Face. The divide between the rich and the poor is more pronounced here than in any city I have ever visited. One second you are walking down a paved street with palm trees and mansions with barbed wire fences, and the next you are in a slum with dirt roads and huts made out of sheet metal. This is not to say that there are not people who live in between wealth and poverty, but rather that there are fewer people in the middle than you might expect. The following is a story that illustrates the two faces of Kampala:
As you know, I am a competitive swimmer. When I told my coach that I was heading to Kampala for the summer the first thing he said was, “is there a pool?” Classic. To both of our surprise, the answer turned out to be a “yes”. I ended up connecting with a member of the Ugandan Olympic Swim Team through a girl who I swim with at Dalhousie on the Varsity Team (thanks, Phoebes. Lova ya). The Ugandan was kind enough to inform me about the Kampala Seals Swim Club, one of the top swim teams in East Africa. Two weeks later I was diving the pool as a Kampala Seal.
Swimming is a fantastic sport, but it has one big flaw. Pools. In order to be a competitive swimmer in this day and age, you need to train in a pool. Pools are expensive and require a lot of maintenance. As a result, swimming is an expensive sport and is therefore limited to those who can afford it. Even in Canada, competitive swimming is largely restricted to children whose parents have a lot of disposable income. In Uganda, the phenomenon of competitive swimming as a sport for the wealthy is exacerbated. For instance, the Kampala Seals train out of a pool located in a very up-scale international school and most swimmers attend private schools; the club fees are relatively expensive and training equipment (i.e., caps, goggles, bathing suits) are not cheap either.
It takes me roughly 15 minutes by boda to get from my apartment to the pool. On my way to practice I pass through three or four slums, each bordered by up-scale neighbourhoods; each a different face of Kampala. The contrast between these neighbourhoods is gargantuan. As I wait at an intersection I am surrounded by children begging for money, people yelling “hey muzungu, buy (insert item here) from me”, and people sitting in thatched huts. It is dusty and the smell of exhaust fumes stings your nostrils. No more than one kilometre down the road I am surrounded by supermarkets, shopping malls, banks, and people dressed in business cloths. At the next intersection, I am back in a slum.
When I arrive at the international school it is like I’ve stepped into another world, another face of Kampala. 12 foot concrete walls topped with spikey fences and barbed wire surround green grass, sports fields, modern buildings, and the 6 lane, 25 metre pool. Kids dressed in clean uniforms are accompanied by their parents in business suits. It is as if I am standing out front of the Dalplex before a practice with the Halifax Trojans (notwithstanding the heat and good weather). I complete the swim practice and lightheartedly chat with coaches, parents, and fellow athletes. Those who are old enough to attend university do so and the youngsters are clearly on their way. I step out of the gates of the international school and I am once again confronted by Kampala’s other face; slums and poverty.
I struggle to reconcile the two faces of Kampala as I ride the boda boda back to my apartment every evening. Extreme wealth and extreme poverty. However, I finally think I have an answer. I cannot do what Jerry did in “The Two Face”. That is, I cannot break up with Kampala just because her attractiveness depends on the light she is in. After all, it is not her fault that she is a Two Face, it is her family’s. Kampala’s father is colonialism and her mother is neoliberal globalization; her grandfather is the enlightenment and her grandmother is classical liberalism.
As Canadians, we share the same family as Ugandans, but we look slightly different. We are still Two Faces, however we can afford the expensive cover-up, the products that allow us to appear beautiful no matter what light we are in. Furthermore, we can afford to get plastic surgery, to disconnect the ugly side of our face from the beautiful side. We can afford fed-ex and we use it to ship all of our ugly parts to the ‘developing world’; out of sight and out of mind.
So how do I reconcile the two faces of Kampala? I simply remember that when I see Kampala’s ugly side I am not looking at Ugandans in poverty, I am looking at Canada’s primary export: inequality. Canadians benefit from neoliberal globalization at the expense of less developed countries, quid pro quo.