The Real Reasons I don’t Give Ugandans Money

“There was a lecturer I had from England who once told me, ‘You are very different, Felix. You never ask me for money’,” the Reverend explained as he rode us on the back of his motorbike on our way to check on my land in Kole District. “It’s very bad when people ask visitors for money.”

But it happens. Every day. At least once.

In less than a week of returning to Uganda, I cannot tell you the number of people who have asked me, a complete stranger in many cases, for money (or vehicles, sewing machines, buildings, or “sponsorship”).

Some misinformed people don’t give out money because “people are lazy,” as if the trials of life were a preferable alternative to not working. To me, that’s a bad motive stemming from a narrow worldview. And there are other bad excuses too.

But my excuses are better. Here they are:

  • I don’t have money. I am in debt and legitimately poorer than many Ugandans (most Ugandans, if you include the asset of land).
  • I don’t want Ugandans to think white people have money, because it makes it difficult for other poor white people to live in or visit Uganda.
  • There has to be a psychological paradigm shift away from the attitude of dependency (with foreign aid as well as interpersonal aid that is a ripple-effect result of colonization) toward community self-reliance and interdependence.
  • I don’t think money, vehicles, sewing machines, buildings, or sponsorship (or whatever else) have a strong capacity to make our world better. We should be moving back toward agrarian life, not away from it.
  • When a white man is seen giving out stuff, the rest of his life can become hell, and unrealistic expectations can be aroused in others, as well as anger (because it be nothing but an ego boost, even if it is a subconscious one – see Freire’s “false generosity”).

One disclaimer: If I have the financial capacity to support someone I know in a way that I am expected to a contribute as an average community member (wedding/introduction expenses, burial expenses, tithes, etc), then I have no problem kicking in whatever I can.

The guy featured in this photo is a good example of someone who does not harass us white folk financially, but displays authentic Ugandan hospitality as it has traditionally been known!

Remember, generosity is not only expressed through paternalistic and capitalistic relations.

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