When reinventing the wheel brings more harm than good

Tuesday February 01 2022
Boda boda riders

Boda boda riders wait at a round about in Uganda's capital Kampala. One of the square wheels Ugandans invented is the use of boda boda motorbikes as the principle tool of mass transport. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


Some class conscious Ugandan travellers returning from overseas were up to last week still complaining over the collective embarrassment of hearing cabin crew apologising to Entebbe-bound passengers for subjecting them to a dubious procedure of filling out hard copy forms regarding Covid-19 tests after filing the same information online before boarding, as a compulsory requirement by Ugandan authorities.

But the cynical ones say that a few brothers involved in the tenders for printing those hard copy forms need to eat and that in any case, it feels nice to remind travellers from the developed world that we have the right of admission even if the reminder smacks of ineptitude.

But it hasn’t been mere embarrassment nor cynicism for thousands of truckers (of different nationalities) from Kenya who have spent weeks in a kilometres long queue at the Uganda border over some incomprehensible delay occasioned by another inept approach to Covid-19 testing.

And it is certainly more grave than embarrassing for 45 million Ugandans whose welfare has been messed up by the skyrocketing of fuel prices caused by a uniquely Ugandan approach to Covid-19 testing procedures for travellers that caused the weeks-long snarl at the common border.

Curiously and suspiciously too, the mess at the border was instituted after Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni announced that he was going to fully open up the economy following the lengthy lockdown. May God save the president from his friends (officials who devised this new padlock for the economy that he is opening up), for he certainly knows his enemies.

But while the fuel crisis could be the first time every Ugandan directly feels the brunt our bureaucratic ineptitude, the costly tendency to reinvent the wheel seems to be becoming our fulltime occupation.


True, the fuel mess has hurt our pockets and our pride with many people on social media lamenting the departure of our defunct dictator Idi Amin who had expanded the national fuel reserves which are now grossly inadequate — as if he would still have been alive even if he hadn’t been overthrown 42 years ago. And the international Covid-19 tests handling continues also to make us and Entebbe airport look funny as results are sent to travellers after an eternity, or get disputed by passengers who just tested elsewhere a few hours before landing. But these things don’t happen because of officials don’t know how they are done by others. It has become a habit in these parts to try and reinvent the wheel using rudimentary tools in a digital era.

How else would one explain that after losing ‘only’ 2,000 people to Covid-19 in two years, someone can devise a Covid-19 results handling method different from other countries’ which ends up paralysing trade and threatening the economy that was starting to recover, as deliberately determined to make more people die, not from Covid but because of Covid (mis)management? We can invent our unique ways of handling elections and burials which are our internal matters, but not for handling matters that affect other countries.

Anyway, reinventing the wheel has been around here for over two decades. One of the square wheels Ugandans invented is the use of boda boda motorbikes as the principle tool of mass transport. Ugandans neither invented public transport nor did they invent the motor cycle. Two centuries ago steam engines were being used to power trains in Britain while the motorcycle hit the road in Germany in 1885, the year our grandfathers (unsuccessfully) started fighting off the imposition of colonial rule and killing a scores of Christian converts who were accused of spying on Kabaka Mwanga for the empire builders.

It is hard to understand what makes Ugandan innovators think they can use 75cc motorcycles to devise a better public transport system than the British and Germans who have been at the forefront of the automotive industry’s growth alongside Americans and later the Japanese and others. But here we are, using two wheelers to move more passengers than all other means combined.

We have also reinvented the wheel, a square one again, to beat the traffic jam. Other cities have devised different means including changing lane directions at different times of the day, stationing intelligent signal lights and outright imposing a stiff fee for driving a private car into the city. In Kampala, we have devised a system of providing a lead car with powerful siren, carrying several men armed with machine guns to clear the way for cars carrying important men and women.

The number of important men using lead cars to overcome the traffic jam keeps increasing, and since all citizens are equal before the law, we are ideally working towards providing a lead car for every citizen to defeat the traffic jam. This means we need to import some ten million lead cars.

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