Uganda: Government refuses passport to transgender woman

A post by Gay in Uganda last week reveals the discrimination the country's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) population faces when applying for travel documents:

Ugandans know a guy called Brenda. A gal, because Brenda is a trans person. Meaning that biologically the birth was to a male baby, but growing up Brenda was more confortable in the female role, and ultimately embraced the female gender.

Recently, Brenda needed travel documents. They were denied. Reason, they don’t give them to ‘people who have changed themselves’. Julie Victor Mukasa (Note: a Ugandan lesbian activist) tells of the time that she had to prove that she was biologically female at the RDC’s office in Kampala, when she went to get passport forms filled. Use your imagination how she proved that.

Our constitution states that it is a citizens right to get a passport. Brenda is apparently not included in that definition of a citizen. But that is besides the point. Fact is, those of us who are in LGBTI activism, are suddenly finding problems getting travel documents.

Very likely I may have problems traveling next time that I need to do so. My passport may light up or something. Happened in Rwanda last month. Apparently, LGBTI activists need permission to leave the country!

Magintu, denied a passport renewal for entirely different reasons, vents:

I have been trying to get my passport renewed for three weeks now, to no avail. Over 8 years ago when they gave me my first one, I did not even show face in the passport office. And I got it two days later.

Now I want to renew my passport and Uganda is giving me shit about it. You would think they would recognise game and offer me the damn passport before I marry wisely and blow this joint. Or maybe they would nitpick about the fact that I was not born here; but no, they are more concerned about the fact that I have an occupation. Yes, I kid you not: they say that on my first passport I am listed as a student. Now in this application, I say I have a job. And they cannot understand how this can be. Depsite the fact that 8 years have passed between issuance of said first passport and request for a renewal, they still expect me to be a student.

Meanwhile, although Uganda's New Vision boasts several features committed to helping its readers find love, its focus seems to have switched from romance to finance. The View from Kololo's Hannah laments:

Mystery Date: once a portrait of young dreamers looking for love, once filled with anticipation and over-dramatized emotions, now a business opportunity, now filled with indifference.

Take, for example, Julius and Stella, from the March 22 issue. Julius is a videographer; Stella an artiste. Stella has a boyfriend; Julius is married. Stella’s summary amounted to this: “When I told him I was an artiste, he was happy because he is a promoter. He said we could make good money since he knows the trade well.” Julius said, “We exchanged greetings and I realized she was familiar. I had seen her on stage, singing. She said she liked me and I was happy to meet her because, as a promoter, I can benefit from her talent.”

The trend is evident in personal ads as well, Glenna at Uganda's Scarlett Lion reports:

I'm working on a story related to personal adverts in the Ugandan daily newspapers. More details on the story later, but I thought I would share a few highlights I've found perusing “Meeting Point” in the New Vision.

I've removed the contact information from the ads, but should you want one of these winners, just leave me a comment and I'll get it to you.

UNIVERSITY drop out, 29, wants financially stable, caring, lady.

I know that most financially stable, caring ladies want someone whose only description of themselves is related to the fact that they're a University drop out.

DAN, 18 wants a sugar mummy.

Dan, where have you been all of my life??

Several other bloggers also have their minds on money. Nathan of Muzungu! Muzungu! and Chris of Caked in Red Clay both posted this month about continuing to stockpile coins and small bills after leaving Uganda. Chris notes:

I realized, while my weighed-down pockets had me swaggering down the street like John Wayne on his way to a western dust-up, that my Uganda approach to collecting small change is not as effective here in the UK.

In Uganda, small change is worth its weight in gold. It means you can pay a boda-boda or matatu taxi exact change, you can pay for your lunch without feeling bad about the server having to canvas the area for change and you can pay for phone air time without any hassles. The two largest denominations, the 20,000 shilling (about $11) and 50,000 shilling (just under $30) notes, are generally major hassles to break, since they are so much more than most day-to-day expenses. So when a group is out for dinner and all chipping in on the bill, any change and small bills tossed in are highly coveted by all others who want to break their bills.

The abundance of coins is mixed with a different economy, where things are of course more expensive so more money is coming and going from your pocket. In one coffee shop I didn’t have the right change for a 1.25 pound cup of tea and apologized profusely as I gave him a 10 pound note, apologizing for him having to break such a big note.

He laughed.

I was reminded, yet again, that I was not in Uganda any more.

For The-xposer's Kisiki, finding correct change presents more than a reminder of cultural differences: it is an obstacle to entrepreneurship. He explains:

A few minutes before writing this piece, I was in Wandegeya on my way to town, and need for airtime arose. I went to an airtime stand, and order for 5,000 top up. A man in his late 40’s handed back my 20,000 note because he had no ‘chengi’ (change).

I moved to a next stand that was managed by an Asian, and I flashed my 20,000. The attendant took the note, handed me the airtime, and asked me to wait as he sought me ‘chengi’ from the business neighbours. Within two minutes, I was done and I walked away.

In doing a random survey, if both sellers have ten customers loaded big notes within 15 minutes, the earlier seller would have nothing. The second seller would have benefited from customers. Dominance of business mentality of the second seller is what entrepreneurs in Uganda should apply for their businesses realise advancement.

Sometime back, Bank of Uganda ordered the banks not to chase people who seek for change from banks. Today, some banks sell ‘chengi’, even in the Taxi Parks ‘chengi’ vending booms, but 10% off the money need change is quite high.

It will take a long while for Uganda business men and women to notice how much they lose by chase a customer because of ‘chengi.’

1 comment

  • See Australian Passports Determination 2005 Explanatory Notes, section 6.3, para 89.

    People who are denied passports because it is undesirable for them to be allowed to have one include:

    Australian citizens who are transgender, that is are living in the identity of a member of the opposite sex; and
    Australian citizens being repatriated or deported to Australia or extradited;

    Australia is in general a very trans-friendly place: except when it comes to passports. So Uganda is in good company.

Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.