The rain fell, and the school wall fell too. Luckily for the affluent school community, their wall fell on the right-wrong side.
Suppose it had fallen on the school side and killed one precious child! Fortunately for the school community, it fell on the other side, where it only killed six homeless children.
But for the media, this was a small story, which got a passing mention and was promptly forgotten. Kampala’s public life was not interrupted.
Besides the media that missed covering a big story of tragedy, the other loser was the church, which recently imposed a 25 per cent levy on all condolence money collected during funeral services.
Imagine a quarter of all money announced at six church-led funerals, which would include millions from State House, millions from business partners of the high-cost school, millions from the wealthy friends of the six bereaved families, if that wall had fallen in the other direction!
Were any funeral services held for the six departed little souls? None that comes to mind. So among the losers, you can also count the city printers, for there were no orders for colourful Order of Service booklets to be printed.
The brief footage from the scene we saw on TV showed relatives who came to collect the bodies carrying bark cloths. Most Kampalans aged below 40 years had never seen a body wrapped in bark cloth, used by the extremely rural poor instead of coffins.
This is not the first perimeter wall of an education institution to fall because of rain. Some years ago, it was the wall of Makerere University, the highest institution for training Uganda’s civil engineers.
The difference from last month’s collapsing wall was that the rain that brought down Makerere’s wall was just a drizzle.
The wall at the school was felled by prolonged rains that have pounded the country and the region, while the one at Makerere fell because the university’s engineers forgot to mix cement in the sand for joining the bricks.
It was like kids’ sand castles, or the Biblical foolish man who built his house upon sand. At the time of the Makerere wall collapse, the 25 per cent church funeral levy hadn’t even been conceived, so no big losers then.
The rain continues to beat us, what with climate change. The annual floods and landslides on the slopes of Mount Elgon are becoming biannual.
Resettlement of people living on the slopes is going on, but the houses the government built for them and launched amid much fanfare started falling apart within months, even before completion of the entire estate.
Civil engineering is still woefully lacking, or unsupported. The other day, the minister for housing commissioned a site where a few “low-cost” houses are to be built. The bill is astronomical.
If low-cost means about $40,000 for a one-room apartment as in the small estate the minister lauded as he laid the foundation stone way out of the city, then more children will certainly remain homeless. And shoddily constructed walls will continue killing them.
But as long as the walls fall on the right-wrong side, life will go on. It will be business as usual.
Joachim Buwembo is a political and social commentator based in Kampala. E-mail: [email protected]