Monday, February 9, 2009

Strange Economics: Soda Pop

An anecdote about the twisted economics of Africa;

I haven't drank pop of any kind in years, but in this hot, dry place, a bottle of Fanta Orange, or even better an African soda called Mirinda, (Fruité, a grape like flavour, is my favourite), is a godsend. When you are sitting at a computer desk in the developed world, sugar water just seems like a way to fatten a herd of pixel-pushing cattle. But after a 15km trek through the Ugandan bush in 45degree heat it seems like one of mankinds great inventions. In fact I have seen remote places where the only electricity in use for miles is a solar panel hooked up to a fridge filled with Mountain Dew (MD btw, is a bit of a novelty here, apparently it's a new product and people take their time to savour their first few sips and then proceed to tell you very seriously what they think). Much socializing, what we call 'having drinks', takes place over pop. In a hot country where many people are religious and don't drink alcohol, pop has a different meaning and takes on a more elevated importance.

So pop, or 'soda' as it's known here, is serious business. However, more serious is the bottles. You see, Uganda imports all it's bottles and then bottles the pop here. Given the sorry state of transport, that means that a premium is placed on bottle recycling. Despite the ground being covered with garbage in many places, I've yet to see a single broken bottle anywhere. Indeed, judging by the bands of white scratches around the middle of a soda bottle, every one has been washed and refilled many many times.

Now the point: this means that the bottle is worth much more than the contents. It costs 400-600ugx (shillings) for a Mirinda, but the deposit for the bottle is often 1000ugx or more. Sometimes a small vendor, who is responsible to return every single bottle that is delivered to them, will not sell you a pop, at any price, without you first giving them empties to replace the full ones you are taking. This can put one in a strange chicken-and-egg position. A vendor will regularly request that you drink the soda right where you bought it, or suspiciously inquire how they can trust you to bring back a bottle. Taking two bottles home might cost 1200ugx for the contents and 2-3000ugx deposit, a lot of money for some.

So, if you find yourself being served soda in a mud- hut in a refugee camp, as I did yesterday, be careful with the bottle. The empties alone are worth more than a weeks worth of food.


1 comment:

  1. Imagine that..recycling at it's best!
    Now how do we implement that in North Americoke?