How to Make it in Kampala

Julie Kriegshaber  KF 18  Uganda

Ahh, Kampala. So charming, so dusty, so chaotic.

Due to a bit of poor planning on my part, I had about 32 hours between landing in Kampala and starting my Fellowship, so my first week here was a bit of a blur.  Somewhere within the disorder of my first days, I met two Ugandans with inspiring stories that stuck out to me, and I want to share their stories here.








So, meet Walter and Destreet.  They don’t know each other and their only common link (aside from meeting me!) is that they both had a vision and decided to make it a reality.  Oh, and they are both young – Walter is 25 and Destreet is only 24!

Walter grew up in the small village of Busia that borders the Kenyan border.  He couldn’t afford to attend university but as luck would have it, he met a businessman who specialized in the medical equipment trade in Juba.  Walter quickly learned the trade and thought he could do it on his own, better.  Thus, an accidental entrepreneur was born.  While dabbling in the medical equipment business with some success, he took a trip to Zanzibar and was captivated by the dala dala industry there.  Dala dalas are shared minibuses that provide a fun way to tour Zanzibar.

Walter got to thinking about how he could apply the “fun” element of dala dalas in his home country.  He saw a wide open opportunity in the tourism market in Kampala.  Why was every tour operator solely focused on safaris and treks outside Kampala when there is so much to see within Kampala itself?  And like that, Walter’s Boda Boda Tours was born.

used with permission from Walter

Walter’s Boda Boda

From starting out as a solo boda driver, Walter now manages 10 boda drivers for his tours.  He worked hard to educate himself on Kampala facts and trivia and come up with different tour offerings that would interest visitors.  With minimal marketing efforts on his own, word began to spread via word of mouth and online reviews and today, Walter is swamped with demand for his tours.  (A fact I begrudgingly admit because he’s always too busy to take me anywhere!)

His success did not come without challenges.   When an imitator tour group began in Kampala, Walter took it as a sign of flattery that he had a great idea.  He stuck to his original game plan, paying attention to details like the safety of his bodas and maintaining a deep knowledge of Kampala, and sure enough, demand for his tours has only grown.  He plans to expand his bustling boda business and is optimistic (with good reason!) about his future.

Destreet grew up in Jinja, and has what he calls a “strong poor background”.  The product of an unbalanced family life, Destreet found an outlet in the arts, specifically in choir.  He began to transition to art, however, after realizing he could sell motifs he designed to university students for their art class exams.  After advancing his skills in an art workshop, Destreet decided to move to Kampala to formally study Industrial Art and Design.   In Kampala, he set up his tiny flat as not only his home, but his studio.  There, he began giving workshops, and as he met many international students and artists, demand for his workshops and art grew.  Destreet decided to formalize his dream of providing access to art for risk youth through his workshops and created the Destreet Art Foundation.

Destreet and his work

Today, the Destreet Art Foundation provides mobile outreach programs to the youth of Kampala for free, as well as workshops and exhibits for the Ugandan and international communities.  Destreet’s  ultimate dream is to have a large, safe, creative space where local youth can stop in at any time of day to make art and have all of their supplies provided.  He plans to make this dream a reality through more exhibitions of his art and a future online store.  Despite his ambitious plans for the future, Destreet is serious about sticking to his original vision, and to not just make art for the purpose of selling it.  His works all have a meaning behind them that he loves to convey to his clients.

So what about Walter and Destreet moved me to tell their stories?   They are both about action, and not letting their background, upbringing or challenges hold them down.  They both saw an opportunity, seized it and haven’t looked back.  Walter made a great observation that “a lot of people have the money, but don’t know how to start anything”.  Neither Walter nor Destreet were formally trained in how to run an organization, much less start an organization but they have surely educated themselves along the way through trial and error.  They, my friends, are part of a young generation in Kampala willing to work hard and persevere in order to realize their goals.

Destreet's Art

a beautiful piece by Destreet

For the next four months, I am excited to work with BRAC Uganda, the largest development NGO in Uganda.  BRAC has innovative community and business development programs including a Small Enterprise Program (SEP) which works specifically with small business owners to help them expand their businesses.  Although Walter and Destreet are not part of this program, the entrepreneurs that BRAC reaches have high hopes for their futures too.  Check out some of BRAC Uganda SEP loans currently on Kiva!

Julie Kriegshaber is a Kiva Fellow in Kampala with BRAC Uganda.  Aside from following trends in entrepreneurship, she enjoys spending her free time attempting to learn Lugandan and boda hopping in pursuit of the best rolex in town.

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