Bugonga village, on the shores of Lake Victoria in Entebbe, bears the characteristics of a typical fishing village in Uganda: Shanty houses, ducks darting about and of course the strong smell of fish. Stay here for a few minutes and another smell will strike you – weed in the air. Authorities say they have been struggling to fight drug abuse at the little village and they are yet to succeed.
On a Monday morning, just as the sun labours to peep through a thick cover of clouds this wet June, I jump off a boda boda right at the gate of the Fisheries Training Institute in Bugonga. In a couple of minutes the friend whose family I have come to visit picks me up.
As we walk along to his home, at just about 9:00am,we pass via the village trading centre I realize that I am seeing so many drunkards, the village small bars are very active, and I can smell marijuana too. I wonder whether this is because of unemployment. A lot of questions linger in my mind. I decide to ask my friend to tell me about the situation in this village.
“Most of these people you are seeing are local drug addicts. Most of them do fishing at the lake shores for a living. They are constantly on alcohol and drugs,” he tells me.
Could this be the life they chose to live or they just have no other choice, how redundant would you be to be in a bar that early? I ask my friend if we can move around the village together and he accepts without hesitation.
As we walk towards the waters, a cool breeze striking our faces and limbs, we meet a man lying there helplessly, by the roadside. In one of his hands is a black plastic bag. He utters words in Luganda that seem to be a curse towards his family.
“You are unappreciative. You give me no help at all. I work had to earn my money so let me enjoy it the way I want, this is much better than spending my money on you idiots” he says.
Out of curiosity I want to pull the bag from his hand to see what is inside. I am scared but I realize that this is a very drunk man. What I find inside is what I expected –weed leaves and chewing gum.
We head for the shores. Almost everyone here is chewing something. Their cheeks are swollen. The place is bushy and looks a bit isolated. It really wouldn’t be safe for a sober person to be here, I tell myself.
Police and the local authorities admit there is a huge problem of drug abuse in the area.
Steven Sebugwawo Binyansi, the LCI Chairperson tells me: “Drug abuse has been rampant in my community. I am working so hard with the police to fight it. It has come down compared to previous years.”
In a recent swoop, Binyansi says, they arrested and dismissed some people from their village.
“We caught Male and his wife with 23 sticks of marijuana in their house. Supi, Kamya, Kibirige Asande and Vita are some of the people we arrested and dismissed for becoming notorious and committing a lot of crimes. This was due to the drugs they got addicted to,” Binyansi tells me.
“These people never even attend village meetings. When we catch them take them to our police station here in Bugonga, and then they are forwarded to Kigo for prosecution. Even when you have served sentence we don’t welcome these people anymore in our village,” Binyansi adds.
Binyansi says that although, as local authorities, are doing their best to fight drug abuse, parents should do more to prevent their children from getting addicted to drugs.
C/ASP Jules G Okuta of Bugonga Police says that there is hope in the current situation.
“We are working with the Intelligence led operations, with the patrols, and we also have informants in the villagewho tell us about these people’s hide outs,” Okuta says.
He says that although they have arrested some of the drug addicts, they have failed to get the distributers of these drugs.
“But we have information they come from Moroto, Mbale, and Lugazi-Jinja,” Okuta adds.
So why do people smoke weed? Emanuel Tusiimire, still at Bugonga tells me that he takes drugs to catch sleep and also forget about his miseries.
“I was abandoned by my parents,” he tells me. “I don’t regret smoking it [marijuana] because it makes me happy.”
Tusiimire says that a stick costs him UGX 500 and in a day he may consume 10 sticks or more.
“These drugs hype us. Sometimes we do things that we ourselves later regret when sober,” Tusiimire tells me.
As I sit on another boda boda to take me to Entebbe town after my brief visit to Bugonga, I look back and see a village struggling with drug abuse amidst poverty. I wonder how life is here during night time.