MY first visit to Maputo, in Mozambique, did not allow me to visit the entire city by much measure – certainly not fully in the manner that would allow me to analyse everything it had to offer, but the one street I visited for many days made me quite happy.
It is not a secluded corner of paradise carved out of the usual squalor but it qualified for my pleasant approval for a number of reasons I must share with the people at the Kampala Capital City Authority in whom I have a lot of faith.
My hosts, dealing with more than 200 guests for the week, thought of everything including the proclivity of some of the group to pursue health-related activities such as those said to be essential for the avoidance of cardiovascular diseases.
“Leave the hotel and turn right, then jog or walk along the pavement until the Monument,” read the directions the Coca-Cola Beverages Africa team gave us before we left our various countries across the continent.
I read them with the thought that any instruction of that nature about Kampala City would be incomplete without caveats to do with boda-bodas, mentally challenged motor vehicle operators, disenfranchised pedestrians, and street-side property owners so lacking in scruples that visible infringements on public property laws and regulations have not phased them in decades.
On my first evening, pleasantly relieved that the commercial discussions of the day had ended on time, I changed into health-oriented clothing and followed the given directions.
I was half-willing to give up the minute a boda-boda or tree showed up in my direct path, because the people of Mozambique speak Portuguese and having only learned three words in that language I was not ready to engage in arguments to secure territorial control – especially since I couldn’t sustain successful ones at home in the same scenario in languages I am proficient in.
The memory of finding a series of electricity poles in my footpath along an upmarket road in Kololo has never left my mind, and tempered my patient attitude.
See, the idea that these electricity poles could be smack in the middle of a path – not a pavement – on a street or road that hosts a major Ugandan bank, upmarket restaurants selling expensive food, and real estate properties valued at rates that compete globally with cities like New York, London and Paris, is humbling.
Maputo, though, is not any of the usual ‘developed country’ cities, yet this street I was on actually existed and gave me an experience I believe could exist in Kampala, if not Uganda.
I took off on a gentle trot keeping the ocean to my right being careful not to psychologically burden myself with the expectation that the ocean would be on my right all through. Surely I would occasionally find some blight such as a massive cement structure with a hundred stories facing the road and blotting out the sunset on the sea-side?
Disappointing. My right hand side was clear and my trip kept getting disrupted by the sounds of the ocean waves lapping against the sands, making me turn often to watch the white rush of water breaking and going back towards the Asias.
I kept turning back quickly to the road to ensure that no boda-boda would run into my knees and create a medical emergency or, more worryingly, cause my blood to blot the otherwise clean inter-locking paving stones forming the public pavement.
I went three kilometres before realising the risk of that was absolutely zero. And, unlike places I am used to, without revealing where I live and normally operate such manouvres, even if a boda-boda had sped up towards me using the pedestrian road option we would certainly have had enough space to share the width of the pavement!
It was confusing but I kept my cool all the way and constrained myself to stop my excitement attracting attention from various onlookers. There were quite a number – people jogging, others sitting on public benches as couples in comfortable arrangements and viewing the ocean, street entrepreneurs selling coconuts and other local street snacks, and small crowds waiting for taxis they refer to as ‘My Love’ .
They call these ‘My Love’ explained Sergio Fernandes, Coca-Cola Beverages Africa Public Affairs Supremo, because passengers get squashed in the vehicle and hold onto each other so tightly that they might as well refer to each other as ‘My Love’.
Returning to the wide and clean pavements from that digression was easy because there was so much space to meander in and out of safe spaces without stepping into the road – onto the sandy beaches, into roadside tarmacked parking lots, and following curves built into the road to ease foot (not motor vehicle) traffic.
The Mozambiquans have paid so much attention to pedestrians and non-motor vehicularised activities that along a three-kilometre stretch of ocean-front road they have stopped buildings being erected and even built public metallic exercise and game machines.
I have seen these before in Beijing, China – metallic exercise benches, climbing and lifting frames, swings and what not that everyone and anyone can make use of to achieve physical fitness over time – without paying a gym subscription.
Their very existence encourages residents and visitors to the city to use this circuit for their daily or periodical health routines – besides or on top of the existence of that ocean.
Because such people normally walk around with bottled water and other snacks packaged in disposable, non-degradable materials, at two specific points the Mozambiquans provided creatively designed garbage receptacles for plastics, organic waste and paper (all separate).
And along the route, to cater for the weather, there were trees with canopies providing the type of shade that would have cost a hefty sum if inorganic materials and labour costs had been involved.
It didn’t take me all six kilometres of ocean front to make up my mind about spending time, and therefore money, in Maputo. That one stretch of road was so fulfilling that I would find it difficult to essay another within that city, in case of disappointment, yet it made me believe that they existed.
And that is what I trust that the Kampala Capital City Authority in whom I have a lot of faith will pay keen attention to in due course, for God and MY Country, as well as theirs.