I recently had a conversation with my father. He shared some insights on inflation, and the spoils of bachelorhood.
In 1970 when John R. Isabirye started working he earned UGX 1,000 a month, teaching at Kitante School. By comparison his father (my grandfather A.W. Kafuko) made a monthly income of UGX 300 as a Gomboloola chief – and yet he had a family to take care of!
My father’s rent was about UGX 150 per month in Makindye, (in his words he was living very large considering his peers paid UGX 40). Transport between Makindye and Kintante was less than a shilling. (I lived in Makindye between 2014 and 2016 and my transport to Bugoloobi was anywhere between UGX 2,000 and UGX 5,000). He went to buy a table, mattress and bed for his rental, and the muyindi trader was impressed with the purchase (a total of UGX 300) that he provided free delivery on his truck.
Image credit: Bank Notes Website
When his friends from MUK and Kyambogo (by then ITEK) needed financial assistance, UGX 3 seemed enough and they would go “singing his praises to their buddies”.
A loaf of bread back then was 50 cents (half a shilling). The Peugeot 403 (must have been the dream car – pijoti) was priced at UGX 30,000, and in those times buying an already used car was rare. Currently that car’s market price – brand new – could be upwards of UGX 100 million.
In 1972 when he was leaving for Canada to study at the University of Calgary, he exchanged UGX 70 for $10. The Kenyan shilling commanded similar rates as the Ugandan shilling.
The economy started going to the toilet around the time Amin expelled the Indians. By 1974, UGX 100 was worth KES 60.
During the era of scarcity of basic supplies during Amin’s regime, the government set up civil service shops where civil servants would buy stuff at a relatively cheaper price compared to the market price. The one in Jinja was located in town (Jinja Central) and was only open on Saturday. By the time, he and his friends got to town from Butiki, those who lived around town would have reached earlier and the queue was already long. (In real estate … location! location!)
As the queue reduced and it reached his turn to buy, the supplies would be greatly reduced and you’d find yourself only acquiring a matchbox! You could spend a month without sugar; people this side (Jinja) would steal Madhvani’s sugar canes and make home-made sugar. The term “chai mugumu“, originated from the tea without sugar that people consumed during Amin’s time. You’d tell a friend, “Muna, nkufumbiire ku mugumu?”
When Museveni came into power in 1986, he carried out a currency reform that divided your bank balance by 100 i.e. if you had UGX 1000 it’d be reduced to UGX 10. If he hadn’t done that adjustment, we would probably be buying the dollar at UGX 20,000 plus right now.
UGX = Ugandan Shilling, KES = Kenyan shilling