A Streetcar in Uganda

Bringing Mass Transport to Africa

Fritz Schumann

At first, the Ugandan capital of Kampala seems like a mirage of endless slums. Most of the city is made up of row upon row of temporary houses and huts. Looking closer, though, you’ll see the occasional mansion scattered on the surrounding hills. Those who can afford it guard their houses with towering walls and barbed wire. But not many can afford it.

Although he’s only 26 years old, Julius Kazungu, who lives in Kampala, has managed to escape poverty and move into the upper echelons of society. He grew up in a village in the Kampala district and was one of 15 children. His father, said Kazungu, “would have had a thousand children if he could.” But he died when Kazungu was only five. His death brought about a vicious fight among the relatives for his assets, which continues to this day. At the age of nine, Kazungu took on whatever work he could find: collecting and selling trash, going from house to house peddling bottles of water, stocking shelves at a supermarket, and working in retail. Scars decorate the young man's head, hinting at a more difficult past than he, with his carefree smile, lets on. Some are from stray dogs that bit him as a child. Another—it begins behind his ear, but Kazungu says it ends somewhere down his back—is from a beating he got from a youth gang when he was only 13.

But at the age of ten, Kazungu began playing rugby and showed an exceptional talent for it, enabling him to attend one of Kampala’s more prestigious high schools. There, one of his teachers introduced him to lacrosse. Kazungu had a talent for this sport, too. He eventually played for the national team and became one of the best defenders in the country. Now Kazungu, scars and all, works as a lacrosse coach to the children of foreigners and the Ugandan upper class.

In spite of his rise, Kazungu’s mind remains fixed

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