Mobile phone: veni vidi vici

Eva Lubwama

Ugandans have been in love with the “little monsters” ever since they showed up. Despite the high cost of feeding them with airtime, people’s lives now revolve around mobiles.

Nothing has ever hit Kampala’s streets like the craze for the mobile phone. People’s lives have been changed since the little monsters started to arrive around 1998 and quickly captured the minds of Ugandans to such an extent that it is now taboo to exist without one.

They’ve been coming into town in droves. Everywhere you look, people are holding tightly on to their phones as if their lives de­pended on it. Some take a swing on men’s hips while others get dizzy as they hang from necks, worn like necklaces. The lucky ones nestle comfortably in ladies’ bags – sleeping soundly and blithely unaware of all those missed calls. The unlucky ones are in shops all over town, praying for would-be buyers.

The craze is so great that the shine on these gadgets may soon be eroded by the fact that every Tom, Dick and Harry now carries one. But trust Ugandans on this: they are ready to spend to get the best phones possible. Every woman’s son may now hold a phone of some kind, but the afi­cionados are up to the minute with the lat­est technological wizardry and with every detail of styling and cost.

To most people at least, the important thing is that you carry a mobile phone of some kind. If you do not, mouths will gape in horror and people will look at you as if you were from another planet. The question thrown at you would be: “How do you exist without one?”

How quickly we forget. We lived perfectly happy lives without these things, but how did we get in touch with each other? How did we relay information to our friends and family? The notion of living without a mobile phone has already been so completely wiped from our minds that we can’t even remember how we managed. Probably just as important as the wheel in transforming the way we live, the mobile phone is clearly a brilliant inven­tion. And for all it is worth, Kampala’s people have embraced it with an enormous bear hug.

Some people have seriously damaged their pockets in their efforts to acquire a phone, and others have gone beyond the norm to get the latest models. It goes like this: spend all your three-months rent on a phone and try to keep the landlord at bay; or else, you can skip lunch for two months and walk the seven miles to and from your work. Surely this is a small sacrifice for get­ting the latest model.

It may almost be a taboo to be without one, but keeping these monsters going can be a very expensive venture. Rather like wild beasts, they consume huge amounts of food, measured in terms of ‘airtime’; no sooner do you feed them on Monday than you have to do so again on Wednesday and keep it going through the weekend too. They may feed on ‘air’ but their airtime can only be bought with hard cash. So, when times are hard, we have to take desperate measures and we strangle our phones by re­moving the SIM card. This way no one will call and we can’t call either, but at least we will have nothing to pay the folks at MTN or UTL, Uganda’s biggest service provid­ers. And at the end of the day, we still get to keep our phones. The issue is having one regardless of whether it is functional or not.

But many peoples’ lives do now revolve totally around their mobiles. Some lives have been built while others have been shattered. Love and marriages have been generated on the phone just as hate mes­sages have transpired too. But the overall effect is that mobile phones are so much part of our lives they are like the clothes we wear. We can’t be seen without one. When we leave it at home, we spend the whole day feeling empty and naked.

The little monsters have indeed taken over our lives. Mobile phones came, they saw and they conquered. Yes indeed, they have conquered our lives and we don’t feel like booting them out. We truly and blindly love them.

About the author:

Eva Lubwama is Editorial Director of Crane Publishing House, Kampala


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