Several African languages have a saying to the effect that you don’t realise the importance of the part of the body you sit on until you get a boil on it.
That part that you rarely respect constitutes about 20 per cent of your body mass.
The November 24 boat disaster that killed dozens of Kampala’s socialites a mere two hundred metres off the Lake Victoria shore was a rude reminder not to neglect any significant part of your body public.
For twenty per cent of Uganda’s territory is covered by water yet our understanding of marine issues is next to zero.
Sadly but not surprisingly, one hundred of Kampala’s elite who included astute entrepreneurs and keen property developers cheerfully boarded a rickety contraption that was visibly unsafe and overloaded it with their very bodies, their lives.
It is ironical that although a fifth of Uganda is water, fewer than a fifth of Ugandans know how to swim.
It is absurd that with so much fresh surface water and underground water so close to the surface, less than one per cent of agricultural land is under irrigation.
But most shocking is our mule-headed refusal to develop water transport as the cheapest means of moving both persons and goods.
The last leader to understand this was Kabaka Mwanga, who started digging a canal a hundred and thirty years ago to connect the city centre to the lake but was interrupted by the war to resist colonialism.
What remains of the project is Kabaka’s Lake, ever full of water from underground springs that Mwanga had ingeniously identified as a permanent source of water for the canal, independent of rain.
The major towns of Jinja, Kampala, Entebbe and Masaka are close to one another on Lake Victoria but we continue to invest billions of borrowed dollars to build roads linking them, when a hundred million could connect them with ferries.
At the moment, we are looking around for financiers to connect Kampala to Jinja with yet another highway, while speculators grab land where it is expected to pass so they can demand billions in compensation.
God must be boiling with anger as we snub His gift of Lake Victoria that can multiply the transport capacity between Kampala and Jinja by a hundred times at an investment of a hundred million dollars, if the bill is not padded with “air” for enriching corrupt officials.
Lake Victoria is a direct source of livelihoods for 30 million East Africans whose ancestors lived harmoniously with it for centuries.
Now hotels and universities pump tonnes of sewage in into it daily. Interestingly, such investments in the south of Kampala are not far from where the city draws water to supply three million consumers.
So the cost of purifying the water keeps going up as more “universities” and hotels open in Kampala’s Makindye division.
And these investors recklessly destroy wetlands near the lake that have for ages been purifying the water of Nakivubo Channel before it enters the lake.
These wetlands have acted like the body part that evacuates digestive waste, until their destruction by the “developers.” The taxpayer spends millions training experts who can articulate these things better, though heaven knows what they are doing.
Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. Email:[email protected]