Allan Kaddu is a Ugandan living in the United States and for the last 20 years he has held one drink close to his chest - Uganda Waragi.
“It is a drink I pride in. I wish I was closer home because sometimes I miss it,” he says before taking this reporter through the tale-tell of his love for the drink.
“I had this Mzungu (white) workmate who could ask me to buy him three bottles of the drink every time I would travel home (Uganda). I would ask myself why he was so fascinated with UG (as we popularly called it then) until I started buying myself some bottles.
“I started out as a curious drinker. It was my first time to test it and until now I don’t know why but there is something that keeps pulling me to the drink,” he says capping his conversation with a question “why doesn’t Uganda market this spirit that has such a rich international allure?”
Kaddu is 53 years old, only three years older than the drink that he has enjoyed so dearly since the 90s.
But his question could be a relevant intervention that Uganda Breweries needs to answer as it prepares to organise Uganda Waragi’s 50 years’ anniversary.
In 1965 the tale of the back door gin started on a journey that it would linger on to date.
The gin, according to Juliana Kaggwa, the Uganda Breweries Limited marketing director - spirits was a troublesome one with the then colonialists nicknaming it the “war gin”.
“The assumption was, it would bring energy and wash away the fear within you,” she says, adding it would give what we now call “Dutch Courage”.
The gin is what now Uganda Waragi is and preparations to mark 50 years are already in high gear.
Perhaps this is the special bond that Kaddu has to the drink since the two are in their prime of 50 years.
It is a known fact that this is one drink that is only for the responsible drinkers and is not available to those underage. And for this Kaddu boasts “it is a drink that is only for the sober minds like us”.
However, Kaddu is worried that UG remains a cocooned drink, but which as Nyipindi Mabunda says, the 50 years the spirit has been baby sat is enough to launch it into the international market.
“UG has got what it takes to compete on the world stage,” the Uganda Breweries managing director says.
Uganda Breweries acquired Uganda Waragi from Uganda Distributors in the late 80s making the spirit its flagship brand in their spirits family.
Waragi, from which UG derives its name, is a generic term for domestic distilled beverages.
From this a commercial brand called Uganda Waragi is produced and marketed by East African Breweries Limited, the parent company of Uganda Breweries Limited.
But UG has one major threat that manifests itself in the largely growing informal distiller market that capitalises on low prices and the lack of effective regulation.
Uganda ranks high when it comes to drinking and perhaps it could be the reason why the back door market continues to thrive.
However, there is need for companies like Uganda Breweries to come out strongly on irresponsible drinking.
This, Mabunda says, is a critical issue where they have invested and are willing to invest even more.
“We need our customers alive and continuously living responsibly,” he says.
Carrying the flag beyond
Uganda Waragi, according to Kaggwa has found no match and continues to sore with the view of carrying Uganda’s flag abroad.
“We have grown a potential to popularise our product beyond Uganda. That will be our next assignment that we shall review in the years to come,” she says of the spirit that has informally been in some countries across the globe.