Townie guide to… Awava in a manger


Kate von Achen

Kate von Achen, student, Founding Director of Awava, boda boda rider, art appreciator

You live where? Uganda? Isn't that the Olivia Newton John movie about magical roller skates? Tell us more about this wonderful realm of make believe and spontaneous musical numbers!

Well, actually, I do see an amazing amount of roller skaters in Uganda. It’s pretty insane, seeing as the roads are so bad and traffic so insane that I wouldn’t even ride a bicycle. Uganda is in East Africa, surrounded by DR Congo—that’s not “Doctor Congo—Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, and Sudan. The Source of the Nile is in Jinja and it is home to, I would say, most of Lake Victoria. After independence, Uganda experienced a few dictatorial regimes, most famous of those being Idi Amin. Yoweri Museveni is the current president and is in the midst of his third term. He changed the constitution he approved so he could stay in power and one of his sons recently graduated from military school right here in Kansas at Fort Leavenworth.

Northern Uganda has been in a 22-year civil war with the Lord’s Resistance Army. Although a cease fire agreement was signed two years ago, the leader of the LRA, Joseph Kony, still will not finalize the peace deal. Ugandan troops, within the last few days, launched a military offensive against the LRA in their camps in Congo.

I originally went to Uganda to get my MA in Peace and Conflict Studies, after two previous visits to the country, and since have started two successful fair trade businesses between Uganda and the US.

Nice try, but everybody knows Uganda can’t be in Africa because Africa is a country. Score one for us average Joes against the liberal gotcha media! Anyway, do they celebrate Christmas in Uganda? Surely they recognize Jesus died for their jungle heathenism as well.

Yes, Africa totally celebrates Christmas. Well—at least Uganda does. The Christian missionaries have grabbed Uganda by the proverbial balls, and Western consumerism has been and is seeping in all over the country. I generally see Uganda, in the city and in the smaller towns, as a close-up of the clash of civilizations. It’s pretty surreal. In the city, daily, you see people walking down the middle of the road selling things—fruits, airtime for phones, mosquito-killing tennis rackets and, starting in October or November, synthetic Christmas trees. The "Western" stores sell it all, any fake tree you could ever want, ornaments, Christmas music—the works. In the small towns and villages, it’s far less commercial. One of the tailors I’ve been working with for the last year and a half told me last year that she was excited for the extra income because they would have meat for Christmas dinner and that she would be buying all of the kids new used clothes. Just like here, there are families whose gifts are gifts of necessity and a few who give gifts of frivolity.

What are some other traditions observed in Uganda that would make Bill O'Reilly spin his grave? He's bound to die from a broken heart upon hearing that secular humanists have invaded Africa.

Number one, they’re black. Aside from that, and aside from the fact that there is quite a hefty Muslim population, I think he would be relatively pleased. The Christians have taken over and the biggest church is Kampala Pentecostal Church. In fact, I think I saw Tammy Faye up in northern Uganda one day. It was a bit creepy.

Admit it—you miss being able to trample people to death at Wal-Mart with us civilized folk, don't you?

I honestly don’t miss the pre-Christmas frenzy. I have always had a love/hate relationship with shopping, but pre- and post-Christmas is the worst. There are too many people and Christmas music makes me a bit angry. I do have to say that I miss the convenience that is American capitalism. I used to be a bit sickened by mass production but now I embrace it when I’m home.

What's this Awava thing? It sounds suspiciously like socialism. I'm afraid I can only support socialism if it's to bailout corrupt Wall Street executives, thank you very much!

Well, this isn’t the first time in my life someone suggested that I may be a bit socialistic, but Awava really isn’t a socialist organization. Awava is for profit but we’re working on starting a non-profit foundation alongside. So Awava is essentially a fair trade business that I have started working with Women artisans from various conflict and post-conflict areas of Uganda. We offer a wide array of products from baskets to tailored bags to jewelry. Ten percent of our annual profits will go into The Awava Foundation which will provide small grants and holistic grant support to women entrepreneurs in Uganda. Our website is and should be up and running full-speed within the next week!

Is Idi Amin the Ugandan Santa Clause?



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