urban planners in kampala, please HELP?!

From redpepper.co.ug - Bukoto-Heights-Apartments
Bukoto Heights Apartments (Photo from http://www.redpepper.co.ug)

Dear Urban Planners and People In Charge of decisions such as which buildings of what type go where and how, Please HELP? The only way we can stop begging you to help is if you implement the stuff you went to school to learn.

I haven’t been to those schools or gone through the academic process you did, so I can’t say for sure that you are taught these things in those official forums; since I presume you live and work in places like Kampala, I hope that you share the pain most of us do.

Having just resumed driving my own vehicle last weekend, I was unprepared for the entire experience of getting from one place to another in one emotionally sound piece – and I can only blame the urban planning people.

To start with, leaving home was more difficult because there are yet MORE apartment blocks going up in the area where I reside. This means that there are MORE motor vehicles being parked in the neighborhoods there overnight, and needing to leave in the mornings for life. It also means that there are MORE motor vehicles visiting the neighborhoods during the day, and occasionally MORE celebrations during the day.

It is paragraphs such as the above that I would assume get written down in text books and notes of people studying urban planning. See, some of the buildings contain apartments with three bedrooms, for instance, which means that they will probably be occupied by a family. That family, in an upscale neighborhood, will almost certainly consist of two adults both gainfully employed in busy jobs that will require them to have a different car each.

When urban planners and those people who approve construction projects don’t take that into consideration and therefore demand that the investors in these apartment blocks create sufficient parking space, we end up having our already narrow neighborhood roads crammed with cars parked by the roadside.

Because the already narrow roads don’t have pavements or sidewalks, pedestrians walk weaving through the roadside cars and suddenly pop up in front of you on the road as you carefully drive through trying to avoid scratching cars on either side. Luckily, you are incapable of driving at speeds that could occasion vehicular bloodshed, but the anguish of avoiding said bloodshed tends to pile up.

By the time you leave the residential area and make it onto the main roads, therefore, you cannot be in a mellow frame of mind, and that makes you less prepared to deal with the discourtesy of your fellow motor vehicle operators. The rapid accumulation of motor vehicles at specific points of the road necessitates the deployment of traffic officers to create a semblance of order but they are normally as lacking in humour as you, the drivers, are.

One can’t blame them as much as the urban planners, whose fault at this point is the failure to increase the number of road connections from point to point in order to ease the flow of traffic. Where I reside, for instance, there are only three roads leading to the main roads, but many others that are called “Closes” because they close up at the gates of private residences.

These residences, urban legend has it, are mostly illegal – having been constructed smack in the middle of a road that should connect to other roads as the urban plans indicate.

The urban plans probably include some maps and should be in the custody of the urban planning people who would, under normal circumstances, take the necessary corrective action so that life is made easier for all Ugandans. I cannot explain why it doesn’t happen, which is why I go about my business as normally as last weekend when I went through this anguish to visit a relative on the other side of town.

En route to my destination I stopped over at a supermarket to pick up a small gift and was directed to the basement parking of the so-called Mall housing the supermarket. As I descended into the dark pit of the building I switched my car lights on and noticed that many of the pillars holding the building up were chipped at the edges.

A car emerging from the basement made it clear why. Within seconds I found myself in a panic because the departing vehicle turned a millisecond too early and was suddenly stuck in position, as was I because of another vehicle behind mine, and another behind that one, all causing a fresh traffic jam from the road into the basement of the building!

I’m certain that in our minds we all bore colourful thoughts about the urban planning people who approved the plans that created a basement with pillars placed so close to each other and the walls. The fellow in the departing car, though, became the most aggrieved when his car chipped off another bit of the edge of the pillar as he tried to make his escape from the dungeon.

Some of this would have been avoided, I’m sure, if the urban planners had considered the nature of the tenants and users of such buildings before approving plans; if each and every one of the tenant shops in that building had one car parked in the basement full-time, then the hundreds of shoppers driving in would always be squeezing their cars in between the spaces left over and against walls and pillars.

That’s another reason the urban planners need to revisit those lessons about public transportation systems and how they fit into the arrangement of buildings in towns and cities. Malls placed in locations far removed from where mass transport stops exist will most certainly be used by car owners – otherwise how are people to carry their shopping home?!

HELP US, we beg you, and revisit all your learnings from school?

sending Bruno to the parking lot fwaaaaa


IT’S been a while since you heard about Bruno, and I want to assure you that he is still doing quite alright and providing his endless stream of irritating entertainment guided by thought processes running at a very unfashionable speed.
Luckily for me, he is employed to drive somebody else – my wife – and when I am unlucky and find my car taken custody by a mechanic, I submit to Bruno and the uncertainities involved in travelling with him.
Today, after leaving the dentist’s chair, we got into slow traffic outside the Acacia Mall and I decided on a whim to hop out and change some money.
NOTE 1: Never do anything on a whim where Bruno is involved. Plan very carefully and plan again, just in case anything can go wrong – because it will. When it does, revert to the next step in your plan.
I knew this about him, so I thought my plan out clearly then told him, “I am going out briefly. Drive round to the Kisementi parking and I’ll find you there when I’m done.”
My brother believes the problem with Bruno is his understanding of the English language, but I have often proved that not to be the case. All instructions to do with his money and his feeding, for instance, are received and acted upon quite well in english, yet those to do with my money or my feeding go awry.
I thought about the Kisementi arrangement a little bit more and came up with a better idea – City Oil is a much smaller place and was right there, about twenty metres ahead of us.
Plus, because it was right there, I could point at it on top of giving him the verbal instructions.
What could go wrong?
NOTE 2: Never ask “What could go wrong?” when doing anything involving Bruno. Murphy is nothing; a child – mere games to Bruno’s war-ness.
“No. DON’T go to Kisementi; go to the City Oil parking instead. That one there.” I pointed at it.
I waited a couple more minutes as I thought about what I was doing and considered seriously what could possibly go wrong, wondering what else I should tell the man in order to ensure no disruptions to the plan or nature itself.
It was that additional minute of waiting and extra consideration that led to my leaving my phone behind when I eventually hopped out of the car as the traffic started moving again.
I realised it when I had arrived at the building, and turned back to see traffic back at a standstill and Bruno not too many metres from where I had alighted.
Perhaps I could complete my errand and make it back before anything went wrong?
I tried.
Speeding through the process that had made me hop out of the vehicle, I made it back to the road within four minutes but…Bruno and his car were gone!
Surely he had driven straight to the City Oil parking lot.
The clouds had darkened with the threat of an afternoon shower, so I hurried across the road and was in the parking lot well within a minute.
This is when I realised I had a problem. I had gone to the forecourt, where the fuel pumps are, which I had pointed at when I said “Parking Lot”.
Suppose Bruno, overthinking matters and aiming to impress me, had thought to himself, “This man said ‘Parking Lot’ but pointed at the ‘Forecourt’ but I am sure he meant for me to go to the Parking Lot at the back.”?
This highly improbable thought was a likelihood because Bruno’s car was not visible within the confines of the forecourt. So I went to the ‘City Oil Parking Lot’, which I realised – when I go there – was actually the Cafe Javas (not City Oil) Parking Lot!
There was no way Bruno would think to himself a thought such as, “But this guy said City Oil Parking Lot and this one is the Cafe Javas one. Maybe the City Oil Parking Lot is the one downstairs?” before proceeding downstairs.
But because I could see no sign of either him or the car he was driving when I last saw him, I accepted the extremely unbelievable premise that his mind had gone that way.
Even as I hurried down the staircase I was calculating to myself that the time that had gone between my leaving the car and that point at which I was trying to work out his whereabouts, was generally too short for Bruno to have made all those decisions.
He wasn’t there. Neither was the car.
NOTE 3: Never think too much when working Bruno out.
Just in case – in the very unlikely event – Bruno had happened to be driving to and fro as I had walked from forecourt to parking lot to parking lot and we had missed each other that way, I basically sprinted back.
Remember, at this point, that I had just been on a dentist’s chair. One side of my face felt like a basketball and my tongue was as thick as my belly (I’ve REALLY skipped the gym).
I told myself, when I got through the upper parking lot and was standing on the forecourt, that perhaps my words had been garbled when I told him to park in the City Oil parking lot.
But then, if that were the case, how had he heard me telling him to go to Kisementi? Maybe my pointing had been unclear, because of something to do with the painkillers I had swallowed at the dentist’s?
If so, WHERE could he be? Had he gone to the City Oil on Bombo Road? Bakuli? Kyambogo? Had he gone to a Sitya Loss concert?
I maintained baffle stations as I walked into Cafe Javas to find someone – anyone – with a mobile phone I could use to call him (remember I left mine in the car?) even though I knew the odds were that his phone would be off.
For the first time since it opened, I walked through Cafe Javas Kisementi and recognised nobody there – not even the staff!
I resumed my bamboozlement about Bruno’s whereabouts, which led me to the simplest possible explanation: Perhaps he had stopped listening after the Kisementi instruction.
There are people who do this. Like when you ask someone for a phone number over the phone and you don’t have pen or paper, but after they read it out to you they try to continue the conversation while for you you are just reciting in your head “0-7-9-2-8-0-0-0-8-0”. Eventually you just hang up on them, planning to save the number then call back claiming the network was bad, so that you don’t appear to be a selfish caller…then they call you back when you’ve only typed out four digits…
Bruno was at Kisementi.
So I turned and headed over there, quickly. Even as I got to the corner of the Acacia Mall, I realised the risk of turning off to Kisementi at the same time as Bruno was probably giving up on finding parking there and was driving to City Oil.
So I stopped and pondered my options.
And it was while I was doing so that I turned to face the direction from whence I had conducted my frantic search, to see Bruno’s car slowly reversing into a parking spot, in the ‘Parking Lot’ of Cafe Javas.
As he turned from inspecting his parking prowess, since he doesn’t like to use the side mirrors, our eyes met and he quickly dropped his away. The guilt was obvious, and I pondered over it as I crossed the road yet again to finally embark the vehicle.
“Bruno,” I said quite sternly with my temper fully in check and my tongue quite restored, “Where did you go?”
He tried that tactic of mumbling something unclear but I sustained my line of questioning, unwavered.
“Sir,” he said, “I drove around.”
This was insufficient information, so I probed further.
“I am sorry, sir,” he conceded a minute later, “I went to Kisementi…”
So I had eventually been right.
But then…why had he come here, then, at the end of it all? What had made him think of City Oil? What had happened at Kisementi?
“There was no parking at Kisementi…”
Think about that for a moment.
Yes – if he HAD found parking space at Kisementi, he might have parked the car there and I would have STILL circulated round City Oil and Javas before walking to Kisementi. But supposing I had left the car with my phone, or had found one of you guys with a phone inside Java’s, was his mobile phone on?
“No, sir. My battery is dead…”

the vintage and classic bits of uganda’s heritage

The Vintage & Classic Auto Show wasn’t just about seeing nice, old, elegant, well-kept cars.

This guy, Hajji Kironde of Butambala, was one of my clear favourites with his 1972 Datsun 1600SS (also called the Datsun 510 in the United States).

IMG_8350The energetic Hajji told me in no uncertain terms how fantastic his car has been these 42 years past – and he has driven it practically every day of those years.

“I bought it in Amin’s regime after making some good money and I have driven it ever since. My children have gone to school, I have owned and lost businesses, and I am still alive and thriving!” he told me in Luganda.

“See this?” he pointed into the engine of the car, “Original! All metallic. All working perfectly fine. Don’t tell me about these Japanese cars of these days!”

IMG_8352And, he continued, taking me round his car, in Amin’s regime you could not drive around without a fire extinguisher in your car – so he still has his!


And, he took me on a tour of his rear window louvres:

IMG_8354As well as his fuel tank in the boot of the car, which horrified me a little bit but was balanced out by the enthusiasm with which he got me to stick my head into his car boot; if only a few more Ugandans showed as much pride in their cars as this Hajji…



Obviously, his car was not the cleanest of the lot, but the fact that this ‘ordinary gentleman’ could not only keep his car running well for over forty years but also feel proud enough of it to enter into the Vintage & Classic Auto show was heartening.

He went on to challenge anyone to a race from Kampala to Nairobi; which he claimed he would win hands down judging from his trip to Kabale and Mbarara last year.

My other favourite was this Citroen because as a child I went to school in this very car:

20140705_135620 20140705_135625 20140705_135638 20140705_135640 20140705_135741Amos Kasule Mwesigwa, a cousin of mine with long memories, was livid over a couple of missing details on the Citroen, and the change of number plate; and I let him jump around in anger for a while before placating him with the reasoning that at least the car was still here for everyone to see – and in pretty good condition too!

This truck also caught my eye, and one day the Sterns will write their story into a book for all of us to enjoy – detailing how they decided to move to Uganda in the late 80s, how they acquired this truck, and the journey they undertook with their nine (9) children to settle in Uganda.

IMG_8340 IMG_8342Then there were the really expensive vintage offerings that set the skin tingling:

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IMG_8308 IMG_8316 IMG_8318 IMG_8321 IMG_8324 IMG_8327 IMG_8330IMG_8367 IMG_8368 IMG_8369


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And the really, really, really old cars:

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This car up here is a Hudson owned by Sam Patel:


20140705_135444 20140705_135526The Combis and Beetles also caused great amounts of excitement – and I even found one on offer for just Ushs6million!

20140705_140914 20140705_140901 20140705_140918 20140705_140948 20140705_140956 20140705_170940 20140705_140831 IMG_8277 IMG_8278 IMG_8280 IMG_8279 IMG_8281 IMG_8282 20140705_140842 IMG_8283

Some cars are old enough to fit properly within my lifespan (year of manufacture), starting with Sam Muwanguzi’s Toyota Crown:




And there was a whole lot more – words are not enough:

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IMG_8372And unlike many other car shows in other parts of the world, there is a way we dress up here that is different yet colourful:

IMG_8331The pictures won’t end in a hurry – there are hundreds more!

Last off, though, thanks to this guy for his hard work in getting us there – together with many others, but a great round of applause goes straight to Peter Kagwa, Events Warehouse for being the only outfit that could ever pull this off with such aplomb:

IMG_8231On to next year’s edition – WE now have 12 months during which we should go round to all the garages and compounds nearest to us to rescue as many vintage and classic cars as possible, then get them back on the road.

We now have enough mechanical workshops to make this a reality, and where we need parts from anywhere else, we can use the internet.

And we all know that there are hundreds of other classics that simply didn’t turn up this year or last year. We need to get them to all make a showing.

No excuses!







Jeremy Clarkson, Uganda LOVES You!

Into the abyss

There is a man called Jeremy Clarkson. He is a global media celebrity. If you’ve never heard of him maybe your media consumption is limited to Kampala-based tabloids, FM stations with a small radius of coverage and you have no satellite, if any, TV.

I am one of his fans. He is truly entertaining as British media people go: funny, irreverent, pointed, straight-talking and get-your-hands-dirty (particularly if it’s about cars and vehicles and stuff). He also has a weekly column that is good reading.

He is a husband and a father, and comes from good stock complete with the wealthy family.

That’s Jeremy Clarkson.

He was in town (Kampala, Uganda) this week reportedly filming for Top Gear, one of my (and millions, nay, billions) of other people’s favourite BBC TV show (now you remember him, right?).

Many of us yuppie-elite-city-dwelling-BBC-watching-petrolhead-wannabe types were beside ourselves with excitement at the possibility of bumping into him; and there were many sightings of him at the Serena, Bubbles O’Leary, The Junction…some places just started claiming he was there to get a bit of free publicity because the man is a celeb.

One of the fans, in despair at failing to meet this TV legend, spent a day googling him just to get close to him somehow and came across a column entry from September 2011 titled, “My Daughter And I Stepped Over The Body And Into The Brothel”

I read the article in half-disbelief hoping his irreverent comedic style would come to the fore but it didn’t. He seemed to be taking this seriously.

Apparently, his visit to Uganda last year was based on a domestic policy that has him taking his kids somewhere educational once every year.

Hence: “I’ve seen poverty in my travels…but nothing prepares you for the jaw-dropping horror of a Ugandan slum.”

Yeah – Jeremy Clarkson, global media celebrity and possibly graduate of a British educational institution of note, took his daughter to a slum for her annual spot of education about the world. And into a brothel in that slum. A place not many Ugandans have been to, I might point out – myself inclusive.

Of course, he doesn’t anywhere in the story tell us about the more posh slums he has visited with his children, but who cares?

The rest of the story is the usual idiocy – including a claim that “…in a two-hour walk I didn’t see a single girl under the age of 18…” They don’t survive (AIDS)”’

And this got published in the Sunday Times. In 2011. The same year the Sunday Vision over here photographed him with a fan at Quality Cuts, where he probably had a sumptuous meal of a quality you won’t find in many Surrey restaurants.

You can understand such drivel being published back in the 1800s when the Speke’s and Livingstone’s sent dispatches back to England about what they had found here, because they were the first foreigners to pop over and there was no way of verifying it.

But today?

Well I guess it’s what is expected of him, so I won’t challenge him to a duel lest he pens another piece about being mugged in the jungle or something  – however much we’d enjoy that (yeah – go figure which part).

His column on a visit to the Third World just wouldn’t be interesting if he said he’d dined at hotels with plush furnishings such as the Serena, Emin Pasha, Speke Resort, Paraa or Chobe Lodges; if he’d told his readers that Ugandans actually drive cars on tarmac roads and wear clothes that are sometimes bought brand new from the same clothing stores as the rest of the world does.

His readers would have been bored to read about the Ugandans who know how to read and write. Who actually put away three square meals a day – or try not to in order to lose some weight (ahem) just like many of those Brits you see on TV do.

Ugandans with internet access. Who can use computers. Who solve problems on a global scale at various private corporations and non-governmental bodies such as the UN and World Food Programme.

Ugandans who work hard at what they do – be it tilling land, grazing cows or making the art & crafts pieces that Clarkson probably bought a piece or two to take back to Surrey with him – the same way I always buy one or two to put at home in Mutungo.

Ugandans who spend money on Clarkson’s books. All of them. And who buy Top Gear DVD sets. Or used to, till today.

Clarkson’s only report of Kampala is from his visit to the slum. And he probably believed he was doing us a favour in some way by raising charitable emotions amongst people in the UK who have money.

For the record, Clarkson (and make sure your daughter reads this bit for her education): poor people everywhere don’t need handouts and charity. The money you spent in that brothel and in the bars you visited is much more important than the comic relief or Live Aid contributions.

But now, let me introduce Jeremy Clarkson to you again, only this time let’s meet him in a brothel in a Kampala slum, where he probably spent the visit here with his daughter since he doesn’t say where they spent their nights during the educational visit.

And we meet him after he’s had too many Nile Specials amongst some other treats and is now squatting over a filthy latrine:

Jeremy Clarkson is a big, white man with grey disheveled hair who squats over a filthy latrine noisily creating a splatter against the floor that I am certain gets onto his shoes. You’ve got to question the morals of a man who spends so much time in the cheapest and filthiest brothels of Kampala, but more so because he takes his children with him.

Luckily, nobody can accuse him of paedophilia or worse, because he only drinks a number of beers at the low-set coffee table with his daughter, who doesn’t complain either, so we must assume that he is a good father.

Unfortunately, considering the number of people who acquire the deadly AIDS scourge from interactions in these cheap brothels, we might not be seeing much more of Clarkson in the near future…

I could go on with this selective reporting but perhaps instead I’ll just move on and try not to spend too much money on anything that might end up funding another visit of the Clarkson household to a Ugandan slum, or prison, or mortuary.

And maybe the Top Gear report on Uganda will say a few good things about us. Just maybe – but that doesn’t pay back for the rot he’s written about us before.

We love you, Jeremy Clarkson, but we love Uganda more!