Stories on Depression: The Ugandan Middle-Class Crisis

I’m seated on a wooden bench under a tree shade deep in the heart of a national reserve watching a herd of elephants grazing peacefully below, oblivious of the chaotic world out there. Faced with the biggest dilemma of my life, I travelled down to this remote camping site in the south to strategize on my next step. The decision I’m about to make is to either take the job offered or turn it down and instead follow my passion which happens to be unconventional.

Having interned in more than three different companies in the city where I interacted with the Kampala middle-class citizens on a daily basis, I came to abhor the kind of lives they lead. Nothing scares me like the idea of being sucked into the middle-class vortex, lose my zeal for achieving greatness and getting into a comfort zone should I take the job.

For your edification, the middle class consists of households which spend UGX 720,000 – 3,600,000 per month. The rich class comprises of those who spend more than UGX. 7,000,000 ) a month. To fully understand the nightmare of ending up a rich class wannabe a.k.a middle class, my life would play as follows.

Graduate with a 2nd class upper and get a job in one of the already established companies in the city thanks to my parent’s connections. Having saved some money three months into the job I decide to take a soft loan to supplement the savings in order to move out of the nest. My choice of new digs would be influenced by what my acquaintances consider cool. High chances are that I would end up in an overpriced apartment in Ntinda or Kisaasi instead of a decent house in a less envious part of the city where one gets true value for their money. A huge chunk of the loan would be spent on furniture, home electronics and to throw a house warming party.

Keen to maintain an image, taxis would become my preferred choice of transport until the application I made for a car loan goes through. The next step would be to acquire a noisy Subaru or a serious Toyota like Mark X. The operating costs of the latter car model can be quite gruelling for someone depending on a fixed income. As soon as the word goes around that I have some new wheels the few opportunistic ladies I know from my nascent years would magically regain interest

“Hey, Hun! Haven’t seen you in a while…Can we hook up this Friday?”

As a man, the last thing I want is to turn down a pretty lady so I would agree to meet her at some elegant joint on the outskirts of the city with the aim of impressing her.

On Friday, the said lady makes an entrance with two friends in tow. They go ahead and order pricey liquor with names I’ve never heard before while I squirm in my seat. Nonetheless, we spend the next few hours partying like it’s the end of the world reminiscing the great times we had back on campus. At around 4 am the lass asks me to take her back home which is on the other side of town. Upon reaching her place she gives me a peck on the cheek before scampering upstairs bashing all hopes I had about getting lucky that night.

The next morning I nurse a nasty hangover exacerbated by the thought of having wasted all the money I had planned to invest in the stock market the previous night. There is always next time, I console my troubled soul. Since I don’t have many responsibilities partying all weekend long becomes permanently ingrained in my schedule. No event or cool party within the city ever goes down without my presence.

Five years later I’m approaching 30. My mother’s incessant demands for me to settle down finally get to me. After googling on the best way to propose, I settle on an idea then borrow some money from my friend at Mutaasa to finance it. My On & Off girlfriend and I head to Chobe safari lodge. While on a hot-air balloon ride I go down on my knee and pop the question. “Will you marry me?” Of course, she says yes. Who in their right mind turns down an amazingly romantic guy like me? I ensure every bit of the charade is photographed so that I can later publish the pictures on Facebook to arouse envy especially among the ladies who rejected me…hehe.

This stirs a buzz on social media as young Ugandan ladies call on their men to emulate me while the guys try their best to criticize the whole thing. A few months later I round up 2 dozens of friends and relatives then extract a substantial contribution from them to go towards bankrolling my wedding. The wedding has to be glamorous. Something so grand that everyone will talk about it for days without a care of the kind of damage that would do to my finances.

As the years progress, I sire two beautiful kids. I decide to take a loan to pursue an MBA. A smart move since upon graduating my employer promotes me to middle-level management. Now that the pay is better, I move into a bigger apartment and take yet another loan to buy a bigger ride befitting a man of my stature. The changes don’t stop there. Soon enough I switch joints where I shop, eat and drink for fancier ones. I also transfer my kids to private schools whose annual tuition fee is more than the price of a quarter-acre plot along Entebbe road. The changes put so much pressure on me that I have to take an advance salary almost every month in order to stay afloat.

Life is still good thanks to my employer who occasionally sponsors me for trips abroad where I acquire a phoney accent after a 2 weeks stay. Back in the city, I make a point of attending events like Blankets & Wine with my beautiful wife. During Easter and Christmas holidays I take my young family to Bwindi. All these trips are closely followed by countless pictures uploaded on Instagram for the world to see. As for spiritual growth, my family worships in hip churches whose ministers only preach about prosperity after all who wants to hear about hell? When it comes to gadgets, I would sell a kidney if I have to in order to acquire every new version of the iPhone. It’s official, I’m in the middle-class bubble.

One day I wake up only to realize my potbelly has grown so huge that I can no longer see my junk down there thanks to a decade of leading an unhealthy lifestyle. It also hits me, I ought to plan for retirement and how to put my kids through college. With all the money I borrowed in my youth to support my fancy lifestyle, the future looks grim. I’m left with no choice but to take a mortgage since a man of my age ought to own a house. I start a small business on the side to help me dig myself out of debt. The business goes under in less than a year.

As if aware of my desperate situation the boss puts me on a short leash, threatening to take action should I fail to give in to her unreasonable demands? Fully cognizant of the fact that without the job and incentives it offers my family would sink to abject poverty. I work even harder, wake up at 5:30 am every weekday, manoeuvre through heavy traffic to work, skip lunch then pass through the local bar on my way home. I virtually turn into a robot. Same people, same schedule every single day. Afraid of losing money I only make safe investments which are often less profitable.

Midlife crisis strikes. Career stagnation turns me into a constant grumbler. I find faulty in everything from the country’s governance to my wife’s cooking. I mistreat anyone whom I think is beneath me. It depresses me further to see former classmates’ lead better lives. This resentment grows bigger every single day. I keep wishing I had pursued my dreams when I had a chance instead of choosing the safest option. Sometimes I even contemplate suicide.

To stir some excitement, I go after young impressionable campus girls. The pretty young things laugh at my dry jokes making me feel all young again thanks to my generosity. Tired of my philandering ways and neglect my wife gets a toy boy on the side. Our differences grow exponential to the point we amicably decide to divorce. She takes away my kids.

Loneliness and depression lead me to seek solace in the bottle. One morning after binge drinking I drive into a stationary truck. As life drains out of my mangled body, my whole life flashes before my eyes. Who will take care of my kids? What will I be remembered for? Would things have turned differently had I pursued my passion? Having not lived my life to the fullest, my demise doesn’t even stir a buzz on twitter. Instead of leaving my kids a fortune I leave them with endless debts. They grow up without a father figure and soon enough forget my existence.

Fellow young Ugandans, when did living an average life become so enticing? The only way one can amass real wealth is by applying the law of delayed gratification; planning for the future, cutting on expenses, saving and investing.

Taking endless loans to maintain an image is bound to result in dire financial consequences in the future.

By Niinye Mugisha Kevyn Temer


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