Any excuse for a party! Kampala has taken Valentine's Day to its heart. Last night, the streets around the redlight district of Kabalagala were heaving with red-and-black-clad young people in search of one other. Indeed, a few, presumably unfortunate, stragglers could still be seen adorning the infamous Al's Bar as I drove to work this morning. Not bad for a Monday night.
What should be a charming celebration of love and affection has been transformed into a marketing feeding frenzy. First commercialised by the American greetings card industry as a much-needed shot in the arm after Christmas, Valentine's Day has spread throughout the world.
Kampala florists peddle overpriced bouquets of red "sweetheart" roses, bred for productivity alone at the cost of size and fragrance. Gift shops sell heart-shaped boxes of chocolates alongside red satin lingerie. Restaurants and Hotels compete to lure couples for Valentine's day dinners and overnight stays. And yesterday, in a piece of stunning marketing, I saw Lifeguard condoms getting in on the act. In the midst of all this tawdry marketing, it's a wonder that the banks have so far failed to push short term unsecured loans out to the amorous to finance the celebrations. I can see it now: "the Lovers' Loan" repayable over six months.
Still, I shouldn't be such a killjoy. After all, the global demand for roses always leads to a spike in prices in the first two weeks in February, providing East African growers with a much-needed contribution towards their profitability. The floriculture industry is a huge employer of unskilled and semi-skilled labour in rural areas and generates considerable foreign exchange inflows to the regional economy.