Why Ugandans panic when Kenya ‘renovates its roof’ every five years

Saturday May 28 2022

When the seasonal high-flying insects pass for a day in May and again in November, what attracts them to the ground are shiny lights, which get even brighter when reflected on the galvanized roofing sheets. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGA


It is an unfortunate thing to be amputated of any part of your body, but it is simply terrible to happen when you are already an adult. It is hard getting used to, and those of us have lived with amputees know, for example, that they take off their artificial limb if they want to do something quickly, and only put it back on for appearances.

In a way, outstanding individuals become so much part of a society that members don’t want to contemplate their departure.

Fortunately, though, the advancement of science and governance systems is making societies’ need to rely on great individuals less and less. So the era of legends is really coming to an end.

When Queen Elizabeth II goes in the foreseeable future, for example, Great Britain will remain great.

Angela Merkel retired and Germany keeps getting stronger, though many of us don’t even know her successor’s name.

Any person of average education can recognise John F Kennedy and Barack Obama, but many people, myself included, wouldn’t pick Joe Biden out of a group photo of smart, old white men, yet US remains the most powerful nation with him as president.


In the arts, stars are now being made by marketers and producers with computers, and when they fade away they are not missed.

In sport, athletes are actually breaking records set by real legends, thanks to coaches and doctors who supervise their computer-designed training regimes and diets.

Footballers today practically make billions of times more money that Pele ever made, and are followed by half a billion people on social media, but will be forgotten as soon as their sell-by date comes.

In science, teams and companies are inventing life-saving solutions as fast as they are needed and the days of individual scientists saving mankind seem to be over. Systems and science — read Artificial Intelligence — are closing the curtain on legendary inventors.

It is societies that haven’t nurtured strong systems that find it hard to contemplate change from a strong leader to another. From the early 1990s for example, many Kenyan business people, notably of Asian extraction, used to cautiously relocate part of their capital to other states in the neighbourhood as the country approached general elections. These days they no longer do for, chaotic as their politicians are, Kenya’s institutions of democracy and accountability under the constitution are real and reliable.

Interestingly, it is the Ugandan business community who become fearful of approaching Kenya elections and reroute their merchandise away from Mombasa port. But this is understandable, for they are too used to channelling their imports (which usually are three times their exports) through Kenya and haven’t yet done much to develop their own industrial production, despite having humongous potential from mineral and agricultural inputs.

To understand this Ugandans’ preference of things “falling” from outside with minimal effort on their part, you need to know about our delicacy of choice, a small seasonal grasshopper locally called nsenene, and shiny roofing iron sheets.

When the seasonal high-flying insects pass for a day in May and again in November, what attracts them to the ground are shiny lights, which get even brighter when reflected on the galvanized roofing sheets. So these days rich guys invest in those sheets, erect them at a certain orientation and connect powerful bright lights. The poor insects fly into the blinding reflection and slide into collection containers, and off to the market they are taken, via imported second-hand fridges.

This year as we celebrate 100 years of the founding of Makerere University, which has produced tens of thousands of agriculture graduates, we haven’t yet found a way of farming nsenene. So, if you have a neighbour with a shiny roof, you rely on it to get several nsenene into your compound.

Mombasa and Kenya are our shiny roof. Whenever Nairobi does its five-yearly renovation, we fear that they are going to repaint the roof green or black, and we may not get our nsenene falling from the skies.

Ugandans need to erect our shiny roof by exploiting our vast minerals and manpower. That way, even if Kenya removes its shiny roof and puts a black one, we won’t have to panic and feel like amputees.

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