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Predicaments of Uganda’s Middleclass as Portrayed by Three Photographers

by Donnas Ojok
Africa’s middle-class as defined by certain criteria such as secondary schooling completion, decent housing, and skilled employment is rising. Though the Ugandan middle class population accounts a small portion, urban dynamics present opportunities for a significant demographic rise of this social class. As part of the Future Africa Vision in Time (FAVT) Exhibition Opening Events, the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung partnered with the German Cultural Institute, the Goethe-Zentrum Kampala, hosting a public symposium on the challenges and opportunities of a rising middle-class in Africa in general and Uganda in particular.

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FAVT Photo Contest Winner
Panel discussion Session with Chris, Stuart and Jim-Joel
A pre-symposium photo contest was organized to provide a platform for emerging photographers in Uganda to share their perspectives on the vision on and of the middleclass in Uganda. The contest was meant to let the photographers portray their understanding of the concept, opportunities of and challenges faced by the middleclass. Dozens of photos were received and a jury of three top Ugandan photographers - Jjumba Martin, Kibuuka Mukisa, and Tony Muziira selected three best photos.

The best photo prize was awarded to Jim Joel Nyakana whose work was a portrayal of the housing demand of Kampala’s middleclass. According to Nyakana, Kampala’s middleclass prefer residing in the various mushrooming apartments in neigborhoods such as Naalya, Ntinda, Bukoto among others. These are characterized by high perimeter walls and serviced by tarmac roads so that the middle class can live a good, secure and comfortable life. Most of these apartments are in places that still have low-income earners, who benefit from the improved road system and increased security in these areas, as most of these apartments employ security guards and street lights are installed along these roads.

The second winner was Chris Denis Rosenberg whose photo was a portrayal of the sharp contrast of how Kampala’s middleclass are either living on the edge of urban poverty or existing side by side with the urban poor.  Accordingly, many people in Kampala struggling journey to the middleclass promised land with many frustrations along the way. ‘’We work so hard and make many compromise in many ways just to be able to say, "I live in Muyenga" or "I drive a nice car" and so on’’ he remarked.

A main predicament Kampala’s middleclass find themselves in is that on the one hand they can attempt to manage a middleclass consumption pattern and on the other hand, they are struggling to maintain it. The vulnerable position Uganda’s middleclass find themselves in means makes maintaining middleclass lifestyle a big task for the majority. For instance, as Christ notes, ‘’many of us and our children go to great schools only to come back to our slums. Others have great jobs but live in less than great conditions and more often than not many of us live in great houses but have no jobs or income of any kind’’. Unfortunately, that is the growing new reality of middleclass in Uganda, he remarked.

The third winner was Stuart Tibaweswa whose photo portrayed the employment challenges and opportunities of Uganda’s middleclass. Stuart’s winning photo portrayed a barber still stuck to the traditional use of a hand-clipper to do hair shaves under a tree at a fair price of 1,500 UGX in the Northern Ugandan town of Lira. ‘’With this extraordinary skill using simplified tools, he is able to make a living out of this venture as he pays his rent fees and buys himself day to day necessities’’, Stuart said.

While Stuart’s photo depicted a vision for Uganda middleclass’ employment opportunity, it’s still important to ask some questions, argued James Muriuki a Kenyan artist who moderated a panel discussion session with the three winning photographers. For instance, how many shaves can be done in a day with a hand clipper and how much does the barber earn? Can his earnings give him enough income to breakthrough to the middleclass segment and maintain his socio-economic status? In an era of technological advancement, who is still interested in paying for archaic barbering services?   

Although the definition of the a middleclass is confusing, Stuart is certain about is that being an influential person, being productive, being a leader and providing employment opportunity to people are signs that someone belong to the middleclass category. ‘’And these are characteristics that embody the barber in this picture’’ he said.

Stuart, Jim and Chris have shown that maybe photographers really do have some authority to define a class of people through their lenses!


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