Mzungu Memoirs

License to Drive

I am happy to announce that I am the proud owner of a Ugandan motorcycle driving permit.  When applying for the permit in March, I might have chosen to dismiss the entire process if I had known it would take nine trips spread over 7 1/2 months before having a permit in hand.  This does not including five trips taken by our office manager on my behalf.  I think this sign could graphically exemplify the process.

The process began in March when we purchased our boda-boda.  I asked Semei, our office manager, to pick up an application for me, since you cannot find them online (Trip 1).  The application required a medical exam, so I walked to find a clinic in Kansanga (Trip 2).  After trying three clinics to find one with a doctor (“the doctor is not in today”), I ended up returning to the clinic another day (Trip 3) when the doctor was actually in.  Semei attempted to submit my application to the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) Vehicle Permitting Office (Trip 4) for me but was told that I could not apply until I had an approved work permit.

Despite applying for a Ugandan work permit in Dec 2010 and being told it would be ready by late January 2011, I did not receive it until late July 2011.  Trying to be as legal as I could, I have full coverage insurance on the boda and carried my international vehicle driving license with me.  I figured I could plead ignorance if I was stopped.  With my motorcycle permit application collecting dust for months, I had forgotten about it until the middle of September.

Now with an approved work permit in hand, I asked Semei to try submitting the motorcycle permit application to URA again.  Semei submitted the application (Trip 5), was told I could have submitted without a work permit, and came back with a payment request slip for the driving test fee.  With the required fee, Semei went (Trip 6) to the only bank that URA allows, paid the fee and went back to the permit office.  That was the extent of what Semei could do on my behalf.

My portion of this saga began with a trip to URA Face Technologies (Trip 7).  Presenting the receipt Semei had given me, I checked in with the front reception window, sat waiting for a while, then was called up to go sit in another sitting area to cue for picture taking.  The woman taking my photo must have been accustomed to darker faces, because she was having some difficulties getting the lights set right.  I then was directed to another counter to pay another fee, then directed to go to the URA testing facility the following day.

The following day, I went to the URA driver testing facility (Trip 8).  Unfortunately, I had some difficulty in finding the place.  I asked several boda drivers and finally asked a motorcycle policeman, who asked me for a full tank of petrol and also wanted “something for himself.”  I took off before he was able to make his request again.  At the testing center, I discovered yet another application I had to fill out, strangely enough the same as the initial application.  I was directed to have a medical test (I thought I already had one), an eye exam and complete the application.

I then embark on (Trip 9) to get another medical exam, which entailed talking to the doctor, who wrote “mentally coherent” on my exam.  Next, I was off to get an eye exam, so I went to an eyeglass store.  Since they didn’t actually administer eye exams, they directed me to an optometrist on the north side of Kampala.  Successfully having completed an eye exam, I headed to a passport photo place for another set of photos for the application.  With the application seemingly complete, I headed back to the testing center where I was told the person who checks applications would be there tomorrow and to come back then.

The following day, I went back to the testing center to submit the application (Trip 10).  The police officer checked the application and told me to come back next week for the test.  I never could find any information on road signs, laws, etc. to prepare for the test.

Returning the following week (Trip 11), I was directed to another office and the officer who does the testing.  While waiting, I noticed a poster with Ugandan road signs.  Waiting in offices is a common occurrence here, so I took advantage of the time to “study” before my test.  Eventually, the officer asked me to sit down with a blank sheet of paper.  He pointed to 20 different signs and asked me to write what each meant.  I only missed one.  He then asked me about my experience at driving a boda.  I thought to myself…”Uh, I’ve learned to drive in one of the craziest traffic cities on the planet…I dodge potholes, bicycles, pedestrians, cows, carts, chickens, other bodas and six headlights coming at you on two lane streets.”  I decided to just tell him I first learned when I was in junior high.  His response, “So, you’ve been driving for ten years or so.”  I said, “That sounds good.”  I was thinking, “Do I really look that young?”  So, without a physical driving test, he stamped my form and told me to go to the main URA office in “a week plus a day” to pay the permit fee.

In a week plus a day, I journey to the URA office (Trip 12) to pay the permit fee.  I had to go through a security checkpoint, stand in line at one counter, submit paperwork, obtain a payment request, go back out of the security checkpoint, go to the specific bank URA uses, stand in line, pay the fee, get a receipt, go back to URA, pass security, stand in another line at another counter and submit the receipt.  Then I was told to go to URA Face Technologies the next week.

The following week, I ventured (Trip 13) to Face Technologies, checked in, waited to be called, sat in another waiting area, and created lighting problems with my light colored face again.  Then I was told to go to another counter and pay another fee.  Finally, I was given a temporary paper permit and told to come back in two weeks.

Two weeks later (Trip 14), I returned to Face Technologies.  I checked in, waited to be called, waited at a counter and signed away my temporary permit to finally receive a real Ugandan motorcycle driving permit.  It only took 14 trips and 7 1/2 months!

We here at eMi strive to do everything by the laws and regulations of our host country, refusing to pay bribes or encourage corruption.  This often means that it takes us much longer to get anything done.  But, we hope the Christian principles and example we set will make an impact for the Kingdom.

But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.  For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps. – 1 Peter 2:20-21

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