May 22, 2008
Kwata omudidi kabiriti!
By Jeff Mbanga

Luganda! A couple of years ago our butts were at the receiving end of some of the wildest lashes you can think of because we had broken the primary school’s cardinal sin of speaking that forbidden language, Luganda. Also, years back, speaking fluent English - without the slightest betrayal of your Buganda roots - was the first test to wooing those stunning teenage girls.

For example, boys from Budo, SMACK and Namilyango would try to outwit each other in winning those beauty queens from Gayaza and Namagunga by, among other strategies, splashing the latest word the dictionary had to offer.
Luganda, on the other hand, was left for the backwater schools, who for purposes of saving this paper from a legal suit I shall not name.

But hey, I got news for you. The once demonised Luganda, twisted with the kind of slang spoken by the underground hoodlums of Kampala’s shabbiest ghettos, has made its way into the rich aerated boardrooms of the corporate world. And guess what, the language is winning over hearts and raking in big bucks. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the corporate world of slang!

Companies, desperate to sell their products, have coined all sorts of Luganda phrases that seem to revolutionise the advertising industry.
Forget the days of Hands off my Hyundai, Scratch for cash. Today it is Yoola Omudidi, or Bonga na Coke!

Yoola Omudidi - Standard Chartered Bank

We are still trying to decipher what Stanchart’s message in this slang was, considering it was a car promo, but don’t you just love it! And is it just me or what, but that word Omudidi brings back memories of that decades old local play on radio Uganda with that character, Kadiidi. If you never listened to Kadiidi, consider yourself one of the 1990s baby-boomers or un-Ugandan!
In short, Kadiidi was the in-thing during those days when television sets and electricity at home were a preserve of the rich. For reminding us of the Kadiidi days, thanks Stanchart.

Bonga ne coke - Century Bottling Co. Limited

The word bonga is a greeting for Rastafarians or ghetto boys. Period! Normally, it goes; Ki mwana. Bonga ko awo (Greeting done with tapping each other’s fists). Possibly, a number of us have used this form of greeting - far away from the prying eyes of our parents, lest we are smacked for imitating infidels. Yet, condemn it as much as you want, bonga is one of the commonest slangs around. At one time, bonga, was the most common form of greeting in Kampala. From example when the deadly Ebola came to town last year, sheiks and priests advised their congregations not to hold each others hands during prayer for fear of catching the virus. If need be, God’s holy men told worshippers to…you guessed it, bonga. So Century Bottling; kabongeko awo mwana!

Banange Gyemuli - Dyer and Blair during the Safaricom IPO

If you know Dyer and Blair, believe me, you will wonder what in God’s world convinced them to come up with such a slogan!

Briefly, Dyer and Blair is an investment bank. It is one of Kenya’s oldest companies, dealing in the corporate dominated stock markets, plus offering investment advice. In Uganda, the level of awareness about such products is still low. That is why you have to give it to Dyer and Blair for selling Safaricom shares to the informal sector. Banange Gyemuli simply means ‘Guys, are you there?’

Kabiriti - MTN Uganda

Ah, those days of the sleek Nokia phone adverts! Those models who would stare at us from huge billboards, and almost make us hate our flabby bodies. What we see today is a bling-ed up Bobi Wine, a man we tend to admire more for his music than anything else. But what is with this word Kabiriti, the phone that MTN is promoting?

Ideally, Kabiriti is supposed to mean something that lights up. But then, here is another meaning. Spoken as slang, Kabiriti stands for someone who is good at something, being fit, or an item that can be described in those positive terms.

Kibooko - Celtel

Now, we all know our dear ‘comrade in arms’, the Honourable Minister of Ethics and Integrity, Dr. James Nsaba Butoro, has barred radio stations from playing Master Blaster’s Embooko for reasons, I think, you can guess. So we won’t even bother going there. But we would like to believe that Celtel meant to promote their phone, Kibooko, as a product that is strong and long lasting. Go downtown Kampala and you will find people who describe a nice car or pretty girl as ‘kibooko’!

Katikitiki-Uganda telecom

Take utl’s Katikitiki. What is it with the local dialect? I guess it is their way of bridging the gap between the corporate world and the downtown person. It does not go unnoticed of course that these phones with the ‘catchy’ names are also the cheapest in the telecom companies’ stores! Actually when you buy one Katikitiki (meaning seconds) you get one free!
We are waiting for a similarly catchy name for the Blackberry…

Turning to Luganda

For good measure, the market for telecommunications services in the urban areas is becoming saturated. Selling products to Uganda’s equivalent of a middle class might be a waste of time. This calibre of consumers is exposed.

This leaves the corporate companies to look to the lower end of the market, the kind who are willing to stake a huge chunk of their hard earned savings in promos. By speaking their language and rubbing shoulders with them during those prize give-away ceremonies, the corporates hope to beat their sales target or else their jobs are on the line. So, what more enticement do you need to get cash than… kwata cash, or Yello Kapyata, or Pirelli’s Kacaaca?