The New Love Nest for Western Pensioners?

Why you should care

Love is in the air … in Uganda.

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When 70-year-old Swedish grandmother Mona-Lisa Larsson paraded her 19-year-old Ugandan lover, Aziz Maganda, on social media recently, their difference in age wasn’t the only thing that stunned many.

Larsson married a 21-year-old local singer, Ronald Samawere — popularly known as Guvnor Ace — only about a year ago. After exchanging vows in Uganda, where she had met him, she returned with Samawere to Sweden, where he soon left her for another woman. Yet Larsson returned to Uganda and declared her love for Azizi recently, surrounded by local journalists.

Her case may be extreme, but Larsson is among a growing number of Western pensioners for whom Uganda is emerging as the new capital of love — with opportunities and pitfalls in equal measure. And within Uganda, the three towns of Entebbe, Kabalagala — a suburb of capital Kampala — and Jinja in the south are growing particularly popular among these pensioners. This developing pattern is also sparking a social debate within the country.

The number of pensioners coming … is on the rise.

Edward Mukwaya, Jinja city council official

William Kintu, the local council leader of Kabalagala, a trading town, says the town receives 20 new pensioners from the U.S. and Europe each month. Entebbe is particularly easy to access — it sits 4 kilometers from the country’s main international airport, best known for the dramatic July 1976 counterterrorism operations there by Israeli forces to rescue over 100 airplane hostages. And Jinja is popular as it sits at the source of the Nile, where the world’s longest river draws water from Lake Victoria, say local officials. The city, Uganda’s third largest, hosts about 50 Western tourists each day, and at least five of them stay on in search of relationships, says city council official Edward Mukwaya. Many young men and women move abroad after marriage. Mukwaya says he himself has signed at least 30 applications over the past year for local men and women marrying Western pensioners.

“The number of pensioners coming to Jinja to get lovers is on the rise,” says Mukwaya.

Motivations vary — for visiting pensioners and for local Ugandans entering into relationships with them. On both sides, it’s casual fun and sex for some, seasonal romance with no strings attached for others and a longer-term partnership for a few.

Thomas Hughes, 75 and from the U.K., settled in Ntinda, a village near Kampala, four years ago, after marrying a 27-year-old local woman. “I love Uganda because it is secure with friendly people,” Thomas says.

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A view of Kampala City.

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But that isn’t true for everyone. There have been instances of pensioners robbed of their savings by local women they’ve wound up with. “Some of the pensioners get partners and they get married. Others land with seasoned sex workers who at times rob them,’’ says social worker and researcher Ronald Okoth, citing the recent example of an American pensioner who found money taken from his bank account after revealing his ATM details to his lover.

Some pensioners, Okoth says, use social networks like Facebook and WhatsApp to connect with young women and men before arriving in Uganda, while others travel to the country and meet their lovers once in the East African nation.

The growing trend has its critics. Simon Lokodo, Uganda’s minister of ethics and integrity, says such cross-generation relationships are “fake.”

“Those young men and woman are supposed to be sons and daughters of those elderly people, not their wives or husbands,” Lokodo says. “It is not correct.”

But it is legal in Uganda, where men and women are decreed adult and eligible for marriage once they turn 18. And parents of the young men and women who have married pensioners haven’t mounted any campaign against the growth of the practice.

Economics are involved, say experts. The strength of the dollar, euro and pound means pensioners who may not be very wealthy back home can live comfortable lives in Uganda with their newfound lovers, says Okoth. The lack of opportunities even for educated youth in Uganda makes them easy candidates for a relationship of convenience with wealthier counterparts, he argues. The government too is interested in encouraging tourists and foreigners to visit with foreign exchange, says Okoth. “Pensioners marrying young women does not bother the government,” he says.

There’s occasionally stark opportunism too, as Larsson discovered when Samawere dumped her for a younger woman once they were in Sweden.

But after complaining openly about it on social media, Larsson returned to Uganda, where she met Azizi — and then his parents, for their approval. They haven’t objected. For many Western pensioners and young Ugandan men and women, at least, love or something like it is in the air.

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