I pass the Dutch embassy every Monday when driving home from my weekly meeting at the Central Public Health Lab. Whenever I go out for a run, I run past the residence of the Dutch ambassador. I look up to our red-white-and-blue waving proudly and wonder where all my fellow countrymen in Kampala are hiding. This week marked the five month anniversary of my stay in Uganda. Sure, in those five months I have run into a couple of Dutch people here and there. But unlike my previous stays abroad in Spain and Ireland, I have not made any Dutch friends (yet). I am surrounded by Americans, Ugandans and the occasional Brit or Australian. Also, one of my best friends here is from South Africa and him speaking Afrikaans is about the closest I get to the homeland. Somehow I do not seem to move in the same circles.
Dutch entrepreneurs are everywhere
Which does not mean that I do not encounter any Dutch people at all in Uganda. One of my goals is to stay at every guesthouse that is run by Dutch people (in particular ones that I have a connection to) and I am definitely making progress there. Just last weekend we stayed at the Yellow Haven, a beautiful serene guesthouse with ‘frikandellen’ on the menu and Dutch-style attics with great views over Victoria Lake. It is run by a Dutch guy (the father of a friend of one of my best friends) and his Irish wife. Earlier this year I stayed at Rwenzori View Guesthouse in Fort Portal, another lovely place run by a Dutch woman (the aunt of a colleague of mine) and her British husband. I have had drinks at Iguana, a bar in Kampala owned by a Dutch guy who is dating the friend of one of my friends here. Small world… Every week I am getting delicious bread at ‘Brood’ the Ugandan subsidiary of a Dutch sandwich chain. You can find them in Amsterdam, Den Haag, Haarlem and… Kampala.
Unfortunately, so far I have not had the opportunity to attend an event at the Dutch embassy. I had high hopes for the World Cup but these were smashed when I received an email from the embassy stating it would be too dangerous. During the 2010 World Cup final, two locations in Kampala were bombed by Al-Shabaab, killing 70 persons and leaving many more injured. But other than an excuse to cancel on a party, the ambassador does not seem to worry about terrorism much. While all Americans are constantly being harassed by their embassy with updates on possible terror attacks, my embassy sends an email to remind me that I need to have good insurance in case I contract the Marburg virus, die and need to be repatriated. That is one very pragmatic way of taking care of your citizens. Nevertheless, I have faith and am looking forward to invitations for the Sinterklaas and Kingsday parties. To be honest, there are only a few things I really miss in which my international friends cannot provide. One is speaking my native tongue. Even though I keep practicing when talking to my family and friends over Skype and my English is not that bad, I miss speaking without limitations. The other one is obviously having someone backing you up when you try to explain the concept of ‘Sinterklaas and Black Pete’.
From aid to trade
The Dutch government in the meantime, is quite busy transitioning its relation with Uganda from an aid to a trade relation. In recent years, trade relations have deepened and there has been an increase in the export of flowers, fish and tobacco from Uganda to the Netherlands. Dutch investments mainly target the telecom and agro-industries. In 2013, Dutch imports from Uganda were worth €78 million and exports to Uganda had a total value of €53 million. In comparison, the Dutch imports from Rwanda only added up to €700,000, though exports were worth €34 million. Development aid from the Netherlands to Uganda focuses on food security and the rule of law. In 2012, approximately €20 million was spent to improve agricultural productivity and human rights. The Netherlands is one of the donor countries that combined provide about 25% of the Ugandan government budget. On top of that, in the period 2013-2015, civil society organisation contribute €15 million to programmes focused on sexual and reproductive health. Part of this money is actually spent on one of my colleagues, since CHAI receives a grant from Stop AIDS Now for work on reproductive health.
I know they are out there
So even though I might not see them, I know my fellow countrymen are here. And my search for guesthouses ran by Dutch people continues. Who knows who I will encounter on my upcoming trips to Murchison Falls and Zanzibar….