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Emails from Africa, a journey through  Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda and the Congo
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Lower Intestine of Darkness

Wed, 27 Apr 2005

So, here's a tale for you, and never say I don't make an effort for all you people - this tale comes to you from the furthest reaches of the Earth and the lowest depths of human nature.

I'm currently staying in the house of a Ugandan guy called Samuel.

I got his contact details from an American girl I met briefly in a squat in London and he said he would be happy to have me stay.

So here I am staying in his two-room house, where the only supply of water is the daily delivery of jerry-cans from who knows where.

Samuel is a refugee from Rwanda who is now a Ugandan citizen. He used to be a street-kid in Kampala, making money from mugging people in the streets and in brothels.

He was a heroin addict and only gave up the drug and the lifestyle when he became a Christian.

Since then he's made a lot of music and has done a lot of musical work with voluntary organisations.


One particular organisation he worked for was a missionary organisation in Mukono, the town where he lives.

It is sponsored and run by Germans and is overseen by a German guy by the name of Johann (originally it was run by a Kenyan with a German wife but Johann pushed them out by secretly buying the land on which the project was run and declaring himself director).

Samuel worked for Johann for about six months and quickly discovered:
(a) That he doesn't bother to pay his Ugandan assistants and
(b) He's funnelling a lot of the project money into his own business ventures.

Apparently he owns a good proportion of the motorbike taxis in this town. Last time he went to Germany on a fundraising trip he came back via Dubai, bought a few nice vehicles with the new cash, shipped them to Uganda, kept one for himself and sold the others.

All this was well-known among the Ugandan workers Johann employs but none of the German donors (new donors since his vicious takeover of the organisation) ever got to hear of it.

His self-declared history as a professional car thief doesn't bother the donors because of course he has had a miraculous conversion.


Emails from Africa, a journey through  Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda and the Congo
Dawn in the rainforest, Kenya

So, anyway, Samuel was working for Johann and had met some other German missionaries who liked his music. When they got back to Germany they decided to invite him over to do a music tour.

They sent the invite to help him get a visa and even bought the necessary health insurance for him. He had to raise the money for the visa and flight ticket himself though.

Since this was his chance to make it - selling music in Germany he could make as much money in a few months as he could in Uganda in a lifetime and he planned to use the money to set up his own studio when he returned - he sold nearly everything he owned but the bed he slept on to raise the money.

When the German Embassy called him for an interview he decided to ask Johann to accompany him, thinking it would help to have a German-speaker on his side.

At this point Samuel had been working for Johann almost for free for six months. Johann refused to go with him or help him in any way.

Okay, don't help then, thought Samuel, and recruited another German missionary he knew to help him instead.

But during the interview in the Embassy he was listening to his friend and the Embassy official speaking German together when he heard Johann's name come up.

There was no reason for the Embassy to know anything about Johann so Samuel asked what was being said. He was informed that Johann had rung the Embassy and warned them not to let him go to Germany because he wouldn't come back.

Johann, Samuel later realised, was worried that he would inform the donors in Germany what was really happening to their money here in Uganda.

That was the end of Samuel's dream trip. Visa refused, a hundred dollar fee non-refundable. He still hasn't been to Europe and he doesn't have his recording studio yet.


But the tale does not stop there.

Samuel's benefactor, having failed to get Samuel to Germany and still keen to help him, offered to buy a shop for him so that he could make money selling clothes and music until his next big chance comes.

They decided to buy a shipping container and divide it into four shops so that Samuel could rent out the spare ones. But Johann got to hear of the plan and offered to help buy the container.

Somehow the benefactor had not cottoned onto Johann's duplicity and jumped at the offer.

So Johann bought the container, with Samuel's friend's money, in his own name, and now collects rent for the spare spaces himself.

When Samuel tries to tell his friend in Germany he replies - with infinite trust in his countryman - 'You need to talk to Johann about it - I'm sure there's just a confusion'.

A friend of Samuel's had also been working for Johann. He met some Norwegians who invited him to Norway.

Once his German friends (who had previously been on Johann's projects in Uganda) heard he was going to be in Europe they asked him to come to visit them in Germany too.


The guy told this cockroach Johann about it and his reaction was "If you go to Europe you can never work for me again". Since Johann doesn't pay his workers the choice wasn't that hard.

So the chap goes to Norway, where he's a big success, then crosses to Germany, there to become the guest of one of Johann's biggest donors.

Now, unknown to the innocent Ugandan, Johann had emailed his hosts and warned them that he was a liar, a thief, a womaniser and a bad Christian.

His hosts told him nothing of this, but he later found out he had been carefully watched for the period of weeks that he stayed with them - particularly around the host's single daughters...

At the end of his stay the host called him into his office and showed him Johann's email.

The host explained that he'd kept quiet about the mail because he wanted to judge the man for himself. He had reached the conclusion that the email was a tissue of lies, that their guest was a good man and a good Christian, and he wanted to know the explanation for the mail.

For some reason the man chose not to explain Johann's behaviour - whether through some misguided notion of Christian forbearance or fear of not being believed I do not know.

But it does seem that many Ugandans are not prepared to put themselves in a situation where it will be their word against a white man's - they are convinced it is always the white man who will be believed over them.


Samuel's friend did well out of his trip. His German hosts liked him so much they decided to fund him to get a degree at one of the best universities in Africa (in South Africa).

Since then however several other Ugandans have lost out because of Johann.

The German visitors to the project often want to give money to fund the education of people they meet here, but they always consult Johann first, and he always explains to them that it is far more useful to give money to his projects rather than to individual people - so that's what the generous donors do.

So, Samuel of course no longer works for Johann.

If he wishes he can get a donor's address in Germany from his friend.

He has nothing to lose even if he isn't believed, so why doesn't he write to the donors and tell them what's really going on over here?

That's what I thought. However there is another part to the tale.


Samuel met another German over here and became friends with her.

She decided that she would pay for a course he wanted to do in Studio Production.

However, none of the details were worked out while she was still in Uganda so she had to send the money back to Samuel from Germany.

She asked him how she should do it and he told her to use Western Union. She said that she didn't know how to. Samuel pointed out that it would only take her half an hour to sort it out.

She explained that she was a busy woman and it would be easier if she just gave the money to Johann to give to Samuel. Samuel didn't feel he was in a position to press her on the point, so she got in touch with Johann.

Johann - I guess out of pure spite - told her that it wasn't good to actually *give* money to these black boys (or something equivalent) and she should instead give it as a loan.

She agreed to this.


When Johann got the money from her he told Samuel that he would hand over half the money at the beginning of each semester and half at the end.

The school Samuel had planned to go to wouldn't accept that, so he was forced to change to an inferior school where he could pay less.

Why didn't he tell the German friend his problem? Again it seemed to be a reluctance to pit his word against a white person's - he thinks it likely he would come out the loser and so lose his money.

So he's studying now and dependent on the man who ruined his big chance for his course fees. Also, Johann is thinking of selling the container in which Samuel has his shop.

Since it's in his name he's perfectly able to do this. He seems to inspire limitless amounts of trust in his fellow Germans so no doubt the sale will be explained away to the satisfaction of the original donor.

Johann has apparently ruined or attempted to ruin the chances of many Ugandans. It's possible however that one day he may get his comeuppance.

Samuel says he knows a guy who used to be in one of Johann's projects and is now living on the streets of Kampala.

I don't know what Johann did to him, but he has sworn that the next time Uganda is plunged into one of its periods of upheaval, he will take advantage of the chaos to destroy or take everything Johann has, including his wife.

The Ugandan elections are scheduled for next year and some people are predicting widespread violence.



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