first, let’s focus our irritation on the urban planners


AFTER a three-hour journey covering ten kilometres of a tarmac road last week, I was sufficiently incensed at one group of people in particular, and hereby call for our national attention to be turned straight onto them.

See, there is no way we should be suffering with this phenomenon that links specific and predictable factors to the creation of the heavy traffic that disrupts so many lives in so many ways.

We all know when it is going to rain and we all know when schools are in or out. Rain and other weather patterns are regularly made available to us by way of the internet via mobile phones and computers.

For those still living in the past, every night there are television news bulletins that even show us graphics of raindrops, as if to accommodate those within our society who are so dim-witted they cannot recognise the four letter word ‘rain’.

As for school holiday schedules, those could be harder to identify if one doesn’t have a child resident in a boarding school. But for all the irritation they cause road users, surely we should do what I do and keep checking with parents of these children to mark the dates when they will be thronging the roads to take pilao and Minute Maid juice on visitation dates, or to pick them up for holidays.

My three hour trip last week almost put me in trouble but the person I was going to meet was also delayed, and so we agreed to change our meeting time and venue.

That day school hadn’t yet broken out but I presume most parents had whipped out their extra cars a few days early in order to test their suitability for ferrying teenagers back for the holidays.

This coincided with a rainstorm of significantly heavier proportions than normal suddenly erupting mid-afternoon and trapping us in gridlocks created by the stupidity and selfishness of road-users who couldn’t see or think beyond the number plate immediately in front of them.

A really bad traffic jam – in a photo taken from bloomberg.com and, luckily, NOT in Kampala

Many others suffered worse. My friend, Matthew Lorika, got caught in the horrendous traffic en route to a business meeting along Jinja Road that he couldn’t miss otherwise a large crop upcountry would have suffered.

Assessing the heavy Jinja Road traffic and the rainstorm looming above, he ditched his car and hopped onto a boda-boda so he could get to his destination quickly, finish business and return before the downpour. The traffic was so bad that even the boda-boda got caught in it!

He made his trip and presentation of his sample for processing and export, but had to hang around for hours waiting for the rain and traffic to clear.

In those traffic jam situations I normally join everybody else in giving way to Ambulances and every time I think to myself how unlikely it is that the sufferers inside them will make it to hospital in time to recover.

And last week I considered who those occupants might be, going through many professions. Some made me smile – like if taxi drivers could ever go on one of those life-saving rides, would they thereafter be more considerate about parking in a way that blocks traffic flow? That almost had me giggling with glee at the possibility.

But not as much as the thought of what would happen if Urban Planners were caught in life-threatening situations, put into an Ambulance, and then found the traffic so bad they couldn’t make it to the hospital on time.

That got me thinking a bit more. Who are these Urban Planners, in Kampala or Uganda?

Because I haven’t studied it professionally I had to google the phrase ‘Urban Planning’ and found it defined as: “a technical and political process concerned with the development and design of land use and the built environment, including air, water, and the infrastructure passing into and out of urban areas, such as transportation, communications, and distribution networks.”

I can only presume that we have such people employed in our central and local governments because I see it is available for study at University level in Uganda. While other institutions offer related courses, Makerere University lists a ‘Bachelors Degree in Urban Planning’ as well as a ‘Masters of Science in Urban Planning and Design’!

So where are the people who study these things? Where did they find jobs? And if the people who took those jobs in places like Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) and all districts simply didn’t study for their jobs professionally, then we need the Police and Inspector General of Government and other forces to flush them out of office.

Surely the least these Urban Planners could do for us would be to announce when traffic will be heavier because of school schedules, so that we make conscious decisions to stay out of it? But no – they didn’t study any of this in school at any level, obviously.

Which makes me wonder what THEY do when caught in that traffic? Are they not irritated by it all? Or are they the ones speeding through with Ambulances and convoys with pseudo-strobe lights?

Do our Urban Planners own the fuel companies that benefit so much from the time we spend idling and crawling in traffic jams?

One way or another, there is something not right, so while the IGG and Police work out how to deal with this, since as road-users we can’t check for the weather forecast or school schedules or change our selfish driving habits, I propose a bridging solution:

Let’s give Urban Planners special number plate markers like the ones of ministers, so we can see them on the road. And let’s create some reverse sirens and strobe-lighting so that when they approach we make them stay at the very back of any line of motor vehicles they meet.

If we can just pile up all our traffic irritation onto this one group of people, it will most certainly be a beginning to getting them to solve this issue. If.

a comedy of donations across Africa


I DON’T normally read the newspapers first thing on Monday morning and also avoid going to Twitter early on that day simply because there are rabbit holes that can derail one’s jump-start to a work week.

I am that guy who can scroll through the timeline for an hour straight simply because when I get to a negative troll post I must go and find an uplifting witty, positive and inspiring one to erase the first. It is not easy.

But this Monday I found myself cooling my heels outside of a government conference room waiting for a meeting to take off so I could contribute to a discussion of national importance. It didn’t happen.

Naturally, I ended up on Twitter to find news updates but mostly irritations and chuckles to distract me from saying rude things to the people within the room itself. Within minutes I found tweets about a donation made to the Republic of Malawi from the People’s Republic of China.

This happened. For real. And it went up onto the internet. In broad daylight.

I would have thought it to be a joke, hoax or meme, if the original tweet hadn’t been posted by @LiuHongyang4 whose Twitter Bio and Curriculum Vitae posted to an official website of the Chinese Diplomatic Service (http://mw.china-embassy.org/eng/dsxx/dsjl/t1578360.htm) both declared him to be China’s Ambassador to Malawi.

He was quite proud of the donation of two (2) motorcycles sent by 1.4billion people in China to 18million people in Malawi.

The motorcycles were, presumably, brand new items. I couldn’t be bothered over where they were manufactured because I was occupied by the photographs of Malawi government and Chinese Embassy officials seated at a high table with the two motorcycles in front of them.

They even had a large banner hoisted up on the building behind them.

The twitter abuse and ridicule brigade went at this halfheartedly and I moved on to more regular news, falling upon the page one call-out in The New Vision under ‘CHARITY’ that read, “Minister Builds Sh100m Church’.

“At least this is a sizeable chunk of money,” I immediately thought, then repented when I remembered the parable of the poor widow in Church.

I wasn’t sure about the story. Turning pages, the actual headline caused me worry: “Minister Namuyangu builds sh100m church, prays for rain.”

I read that and prayed that this story wouldn’t go the wrong way.

God wasn’t answering that prayer that day.

“Residents of Kibuku district have been urged to pray for rains so that they can be able to cultivate food…” the story started, before quoting the State Minister for Local Government, Jenipher Namuyangu, saying there had been no rains since June last year and the district was now facing a famine.

“Most families now have one meal per day and this is a worrying situation,” she said.

My forehead had become sweaty and was wrinkled by frowns of disbelief – just six paragraphs into this. The New Vision had given the story cheeky prominence, placing it on Page Six and filling almost half the page complete with four photographs!

The State Minister, a well-educated politician holding a Bachelor of Science in Forestry and Master of Science in Agroforestry, was probably using understatement as a tool of emphasis. Otherwise there was no way a famine and “most families” having one meal a day could be called just “a worrying situation”.

This would have been a matter for her colleague at Disaster Preparedness!

But she had taken it to a higher authority, apparently, by building a Church. The New Vision report, by the way, carried four photographs of the Church launch event. The tweet by the Chinese Ambassador to Malawi was also accompanied by four photographs.

That juxtaposition made me think that maybe Namuyangu’s church could have done with many more photographs – comparing the value of their respective donations in US dollars or Chinese Yuan. Two motorcycles versus a Ushs100million Church? Little contest there.

But let’s focus more: The Church official at the launch of the Minister’s donation reportedly “urged the youth to desist from politicking and instead engage in income-generating activities.”

My furrowed brow relaxed as mirth spread within me.

It was now obvious that the journalists AND the church official were in cahoots to deliver top-notch sarcasm and irony!

Surely this Church official wasn’t hinting that instead of building a Church the Minister could have used the Ushs100million to create an entrepreneurship or income-generating activity for the youth of Kibuku District?

A few paragraphs later, they were joined by a resident comrade-at-sarcasm, Steven Luwala, who “requested the minister to lobby for irrigation schemes to improve farming, which has been affected by the dry spell.”

At this point I had to cross my legs tightly to maintain some self-control.

It came undone at the very next paragraph where another resident, Wilson Ganda, “said the entire village of over 1,000 people depends on one borehole. This, he said, has led to an increase in gender-based violence.”

Why and how?

“…because when women go to fetch water they return to homes late in the night and some husbands do not understand why.”

Another reason for why the Church built by the Minister makes a lot of sense – those husbands need prayers to sort out their significantly diminished mental strength.

And so do we, in general across this Continent, so that we learn to order our priorities for ourselves rather than have other people do so for us. It’s either that or we share a couple of motorcycles amongst millions as we ride past our solitary boreholes with the limited energy we get from one meal a day to pray for rains.