Last week, police arrested over 50 people in downtown Kampala, as part of an investigation into the death of assistant inspector of police, John Ariong. He was killed during a scuffle between police and opposition party demonstrators. A siren sounds on the nearby Entebbe Road. It’s followed by a number of fast running cars, all with flashing lights. They are trailed by another police patrol car. Yet, amid the din, a group of kids remain oblivious as they continue sleeping on a patch of grass under the morning sun.
By this time, a man wearing a khaki uniform appears. He’s holding a stick that he uses to abruptly wake each kid from his peaceful slumber. Their eyes open lazily. “Go away from here,” he bellows. One by one, they slowly begin standing up, stretching their arms to the sky, with mile-wide yawns. The grass blades left marks on their faces and arms. Though they dust themselves off, the dried grass remains stuck on their bare skin. Then grudgingly, they move across the road to stare at the motion ad screen. The man in the khaki uniform also makes his way across the street to enter Conrad Plaza, a comfy office building where he situates himself behind a desk to read newspapers or occasionally glance at computer screen.
I first begin chatting with one of the boys, whose name is Leonard Wasswa. Leonard seems to suffer from a skin rash – evidenced by the powder-like substance that falls from his arm whenever he scratches. “One day, a friend came to our home and convinced me to come to Kampala to make money. So I escaped from home and came with him. But then he disappeared after three days.”
As we continue our exchange, another young boy passes by. He is holding the arm of an elderly blind woman. “The weekend had started very well, I sold boxes near the bus park and earned about Shs 7,000; but older guys caught me and took it all,” he laments. “Now I know the trick – I tie it in a kaveera (plastic bag) and then tie the kaveera around my leg under my pants. Or I roll my pants up, but with the money rolled in. When they search my pockets, they don’t find anything. Out here, you have to learn to be steady,” he says twisting his head sideways.
We begin parting ways. But I’m somehow left with the feeling that, even if our paths never cross again, I know these kids will be o.k. They’re survivors.
They are kids (dogo = small) on the streets of Kampala (“Kla”), Uganda. They’re invisible to most; but this is their Twitter diary, @Kladago, written by Kampala-based journalist Hillary Muheebwa (@MuheebwaH) and sponsored by AddisTunes.com (@AddisTunes).