Watching a few hours’ rainfall bringing Kampala city to a messy standstill the other day brought to mind the achievements made in the East African Community since independence. Incidentally, all three original EAC countries celebrate uhuru in the third quarter and Kenya is also turning 60.
Uganda did last year, and the highlight was the centenary of Makerere University, which started off as a technical college in 1922. But Kampala’s “permanent” floods make you wonder if Makerere has ever produced any civil engineers.
Tanzania marked its six decades a couple of years back amid fanfare under a brand-new, first female president. Samia Suluhu succeeded John Magufuli, who was a stickler for fighting corruption and, with an obsession to revamp the aviation sector, had started re-equipping Air Tanzania with Dreamliner planes purchased at a huge price saving.
Just over a year after taking office, Samia found that some people in the country’s aviation sector were back to pre-Magufuli ways and had resumed purchasing planes at heavily padded prices.
In Kenya, after President William Ruto took office, he prioritised the rationalisation of Kenya Airways’ business and appeared to be in a hurry to divest the government from the loss-making national carrier, offering the entire state’s stake to private investors.
This raised chances of Kenyans’ taxes not being jettisoned out of KQ while the “Pride of Africa” performs its duty of linking the country to the rest of the word. May it come to pass before the end of Ruto’s term in office.
These were the thoughts that flashed across my mind, sitting in a motionless car stuck in Kampala’s brown waters as a few cars that had veered off the invisible tarmac tipped into open drainage channels, and strong young men became the preferred means of transport across the marine streets.
Those are moments that can make you remember that commonly shared quote attributed to former South African leader PW Botha justifying why we Blacks shouldn’t have been given independence, and make you pray that we prove that apartheid guy wrong.
The first EAC country to become independent, Tanzania, did so well and nobody would question their patriotism and Pan-Africanism.
The founding leader Mwalimu Julius Nyerere moulded the all-embracing Chama Cha Mapinduzi so well that citizens were barely bothered about political pluralism. He promoted free exchange of ideas and famously advised, “Argue, don’t shout”.
When the country was pressured, like many others, to open up to multipartyism, the development, coincidentally, came with the rise of corruption. Tanzanians, who were not amused but always preferring to settle disputes with words rather than violence, started referring to CCM as Chama Cha Mafisadi (party of corrupt people).
They got more humorous and started calling it Chukua Chako Mapema, meaning “get your cut fast.” May Tanzania keep cleansing so that the CCM maintains cleanliness and Air Tanzania doesn’t fly into storms.
Uganda started off as the most economically centrist EAC state, unlike Kenya and Tanzania, which headed Right and Left respectively. It did well until the bull-in-a-china-shop military government that spanned the ‘70s. Recovery has had mixed results for four decades. Government revenue collection has grown over a hundred times, compared to population growth of four times, but service delivery remains wanting.
The current topic of discussion in the country is a large crowd of politicians who flew to New York for the UN General Assembly, where most had no clear role, at a time government had put a freeze on foreign travel for officials to cut costs. A smaller crowd of officials flew to attend an informal meeting of Ugandans living in North America.
So, while it gets almost impossible to move a kilometre in Kampala on a rainy day, it is easy to fly thousands of kilometres to New York despite an official freeze on non-essential foreign travel. But, even on the driest day, it can take an hour to cover a kilometre by car owing to unplanned road network and use, with no clear provision for mass conveyance for the Greater Kampala’s 3-5 million people. May mass passenger transport one day come to Kampala.
And may EAC’s leaders and transport planners prove PW Botha wrong.