Every five years, Uganda develops breathing problems and its heartbeat becomes erratic as Kenya goes to the polls. But it doesn’t mean Ugandans have a preference between Raila Odinga and whoever he has been contesting against in the past, we don’t know how many, elections. The man on the Kampala street wouldn’t tell between William Ruto and Odinga if there were no names printed on their posters.
What scares the man on the street in Kampala is the possible disruption of transport not only between Uganda and Kenya but also internally in Uganda. For if fuel supplies are disrupted, transport in Uganda is badly affected and charges shoot up and even perishable foods like bananas and milk produced a few miles from the market become very expensive. So by the time the Kenyans went to the polls on Tuesday, Uganda’s body was already a nervous wreck.
So when Ugandans pray for a peaceful election in Kenya, it is less out of concern for fellow man and woman next door and more out of selfish interest. We don’t want our supply lines disrupted, and if Kenyans could fight themselves without some of them blocking roads and uprooting railway lines, we probably wouldn’t remember to petition God so fervently to grant our neighbours a peaceful, machete-free election.
Only God knows how much merchandise crosses the Kenya-Uganda border every day, as the dozens of passenger buses that cross the border in either direction every day are vital cargo vessels as well. For their chassis and engines were made for lorries. When they build them so high, it is not for giving passengers a touristic view of the East African landscape; it is for providing space to accommodate a few tonnes of goods between the wheels and the seats above.
So the spectre of a chaotic Kenya election this year, coming on top of skyrocketing fuel prices occasioned by the bizarre war in Europe hit us like, as our people would say, a boil growing on an elephantiasis-ridden organ. Caught in such a predicament, you cannot walk, let alone run. You have to devise different ways of locomotion. And that is what Uganda has done.
Away with fuel! That is becoming the rallying call of the government. Adopt electric mobility. E-mobility? Those are supposed to be things happening in the developed world; we hear of Tesla but have never touched it, let alone ridden in one. But it is neither science fiction nor fantasy. Already, a few hundred electric motorcycles are on the road doing boda boda business. How did they get here?
Like the biblical Immaculate Conception, the electric bikes were begotten not made. They are not miracles but are designed and made in Kampala using technology acquired from outside the country. Their innovators have, for a few years, been crying out for funding from disinterested financial institutions.
Last week, the Minister of Finance asked the Uganda Development Bank to consider financing them at the lowest possible interest rate in the market of eight per cent, down from the 17.5 publicly considered the lowest you can get a loan at in the country.
Nearly half of the passengers in the country are carried on boda boda. Although the electric bike costs 25 percent more than the petrol one of equivalent strength, it costs half what it takes to power and maintain the fuel one. So after a year on the road, the electric rider is happier and richer than the one who runs on petrol.
For its part, the government had invested in the production of bigger electric vehicles — buses which can carry 90 passengers while emitting zero carbon and giving the people on board the experience of travelling in the first world. Next on the government agenda is electrifying the railway — whatever new sections are built, the focus is to electrify them.
This time if the Ugandans have the discipline to see through the current dream of e-mobility, the 2027 Kenyan elections will pass unnoticed in Uganda.
Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail:[email protected]