Uganda is small-minded while Kenya and Rwanda think big... Size matters

Wednesday June 13 2018

Thinking big - Kenya and Uganda. NMG

The financial games Kenyans play are usually at a scale that Ugandans would find dizzying. But maybe they can make sense to Rwandans, who have a small country but think big. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGAH | NMG 

By JOACHIM BUWEMBO
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Kenyans like big things.

Old East Africans who remember the ideological rivalry between Kenya and Tanzania must have heard this bar joke: A Kenyan elder and a Tanzanian teacher meet in the gents during a conference break, where the Kenyan asks if he could see, you know, a certain part of the Tanzanian’s anatomy.

In the spirit of Ujamaa, the Tanzanian teacher showed him what he wanted to see and in turn asked to see the Kenyan’s instrument of reproduction. But the Kenyan elder laughed dismissively and said, “You think I don’t know you, you teacher, that whenever you see a big thing you want to nationalise it?”

In friendly banter, Kenyans used to tell the joke to taunt Tanzanians and make the point that, under capitalism, all their things were bigger. In some respects things are still very much the same.

Just see the scale at which Nairobi charged the big fish in the latest corruption scandal – four and a half dozen of them last week! All sharks dragged to court in one haul! The figure involved? Almost a hundred million dollars.

But when Uganda loses two million dollars to some dagaa or mukene as we call the tiny silver fish, our parliament spends half a year probing the issue!

Uganda’s little silver fish didn’t even steal the money – they claimed it as a reward for winning a big capital gains tax dispute in an oil transaction.

The financial games Kenyans play are usually at a scale that Ugandans would find dizzying. They had something called a huge gold mountain. It morphed into Anglo Leasing, which was comparable to leasing off the whole Anglo economic empire. This gave birth to the Eurobond, tantamount to holding Europe in bondage.

These things cannot be fathomed by a Ugandan mind. But maybe they can make sense to Rwandans, who have a small country but think big. Right now, Ugandans are still trying to comprehend how Rwanda could buy the mere sleeve of the Arsenal football club for £30 million.

Rwanda’s leaders were mostly born or bred in Uganda. But when they left Uganda they seemed to take away our big dreams and big spirit. Whenever Rwandans pull off something big these days, Ugandans take to social media to denounce and dismiss it as impossible – for the scope of our imagination is a narrow one. We like our things small, both in perception and reality.

So while we sit at the heart of Africa between Kenya and Rwanda, we have spent two decades saying that we don’t need a national airline.

When Kenya Airways was buying Boeing Dreamliners we were trying to buy 10,000 bicycles but the official we entrusted with a million dollars to purchase them found other uses for the money.

It wasn’t until Kenya Airways announced the coming launch of its Nairobi-New York direct flights that we finally set a date for re-launching Uganda Airlines.

Meanwhile that New York flight must have had something to do with Nairobi’s qualifying to host one of the UN’s three global logistical centres. When we heard that the UN was going to shift its regional logistics base from Entebbe to Nairobi we threw a tantrum. Then the UN chief soothingly wrote to our president saying we were not losing the centre.

Some years down the line, it will dawn on us that while we kept a regional “ka”-centre, Kenya got the global centre.

Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. Email:[email protected]