business should lead government in east african integration


Entebbe from newvision.co.ug
Photo from http://www.newvision.co.ug

HEADING out to a regional meeting in Arusha last week to discuss the importance of business over politics regardless of how related the two realms are, I sweltered in the warm air of Entebbe International Airport and wondered – as usual – why it was so hot inside the terminal building.

I always refer to this as a ‘phenomenon’ because dictionaries define the word as, variously, “a remarkable person, thing, or event” and “a fact or situation that is observed to exist or happen, especially one whose cause or explanation is in question”.

You would think that the Departure Lounge of an International Airport in a tropical country would be fitted out with functional air conditioning but the person in charge of this has been unconvinced for a while. I say unconvinced because there are some six-foot high air conditioning machines standing on the floor but they don’t get switched on.

We will return to this shortly – but at another airport.

Normally, by the time you are at the Departure Gates you will have spent time juggling toy cups in the one eatery at the airport, while trying not to buy the grossly overpriced food prepared by people whose interest in the word ‘gourmet’ cannot possibly go beyond how to score it in Scrabble.

It is confounding. The very best airports in the world, the ones that enjoy visitor numbers and positive reviews in the millions and hence boost their economies, deliberately do the opposite of this.

And they do not necessarily use government monies – inviting ten restaurant chains to set up outlets there with sensible, tasty, properly priced food seems to be easy. Plugging in air conditioning machines and fans even more easy.

During our meetings in Arusha, I didn’t broach the topic directly but most of our discussion was around how to integrate business into regional integration and how handy organisations like the East African Business Council could be in doing this.

We said all the right things – including how we would “foster sustained economic growth and prosperity in the region” and “promote the interests of the EAC business community” plus “create new business opportunities” while “enhancing global competitiveness of EAC businesses”…

On our way out through Kilimanjaro Airport I followed the directional signs to the airport restaurant and found myself on the top (first) floor, quite alone. The three tables present seemed to have been procured from someone’s 1980s dining room, so I made myself at home.

Twenty minutes later I discovered there was no interest in me or the potential outflow of cash from my wallet and laptop bag. I didn’t feel disrespected, but asked for help when two cleaners turned up nearby.

One sacrificed her precious time and sent me downstairs using halting speech while her body language sent me further away in a manner I can’t repeat in polite society.

At the cafe downstairs a waitress eventually walked over to us, most likely because we made noises in her direction, and sullenly agreed to take our orders but only if we paid in advance since their electronic systems were in limbo.

We forced her to take our money and sat back to wait for the meals as ordered. Some time later, an Asian couple walked in and took a table behind us. As the gentleman walked past us towards our sullen waitress, she hailed out a jolly: “Hi!”

I was alarmed, and turned back sharply in case she was suffering a medical emergency. My colleague, Jim Mwine Kabeho, was also quite taken aback. Our jaws dropped to the ground as we watched her miraculous transformation.

She engaged the Asian man as if they were long lost friends, offering various suggestions for the couple’s meals (she had told us: “You can have, like, Burgers but with no chips. Potatoes are finished.”) and lighting up the area with a wide smile.

The Asian wife walked up and asked her husband, “What is the woman saying?” in a manner I considered rude but who was I to protest?

Completing our dismal meal was quite an ordeal, as we had to keep asking for condiments that she brought us one by one, slapping them onto the table as if to ward us off in the future.

Eventually we left her station and went to the Departure Gate where, once again, the air conditioning phenomenon returned.

We were sweating within minutes. The two of us had chosen a spot right next to the six-foot high air conditioning units but they were simply not switched on.

Jim gave way after a while and walked past paying passengers fanning themselves with newspapers and baseball caps, till he got to the Security personnel – the only staff in view – to demand that the situation be fixed.

He was prepared for a difficult but heated discussion and stood at full height in case it escalated into a fight.

“Eh?” asked the young security officer, “Yours is not on?”

And that’s when Jim noticed that it was much cooler in that area where they make you take off your belts and shoes and unpack your underwear because the scanner saw something in your suitcase.

The security chap walked across the room and flicked a switch, then returned to give Jim a thumbs-up.

Ten minutes later, the room had cooled down.

Is that what’s missing at Entebbe Airport? Someone to flick a switch so the air conditioning can start running? Where are the switches for the improved restaurant facilities? And the ones to increase the number of sockets so we can plug in devices as we await flights?

Why are these things off, anyway?

#AreYOUDoingWhatMagufuliWouldDo?


John Pombe MagufuliIT’S been two mirthful weeks since John Pombe Magufuli’s actions in Tanzania inspired the hashtag #WhatWouldMagufuliDo on Twitter.
Under that hashtag, thousands of Africans on social media came up with hilarious memes (humorous images poking fun at an idea) on the concept of frugality that Magufuli’s actions represented.
See, the newly elected President of Tanzania took up his job with a zeal rarely seen amongst politicians on this continent and went around firing inefficient officials on the basis of visual evidence, blasted his countrymen in positions of leadership and authority, and most of all, started cutting costs of extremely important things.
For instance, the man stopped civil servants from undertaking international travel and urged them instead “to spend more time traveling to rural areas to fix the country’s problems there”, according to one report. Another report says he cancelled Independence Day celebrations due this week and diverted the money to buying medical equipment or something, as well as directing that the time be spent cleaning the streets.
All these noble moves appealed to most of us as extremely sensible and quite the tonic we need to see in all our societies across the continent, and the reaction on social media by way of those #WhatWouldMagufuliDo memes seemed to be evidence of our overall support.
But after two weeks of spreading those memes around and pointing fingers at our own Presidents and political leaders, there is very little evidence around us that even those who’ve been saying the #WhatWouldMagufuliDo phrase are actually asking ourselves that question.
We’re treating it just like the WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) badge – which many years ago some people wore as wristbands or pinned to their shirts or onto their cars as stickers. It was surprising, at first, to be rudely and recklessly overtaken by a car with the WWJD sticker on the back, but then we got used to that.
And now, we’re moving on from #WhatWouldMagufuliDo without really doing anything like Magufuli would.
One young fellow on Twitter who shared round the memes also circulated a wedding budget last week and I was tempted to reply with #WhatWouldMagufuliDo but held back a little bit as I, myself, have not yet sold my car and opted for public transport to take my children to school even if I could make serious cuts to my domestic budget that way.
When I made a wisecrack about this to a dispassionate political observer currently researching our election campaigns, she retorted with one about politicians standing atop expensive four wheel drive vehicles upcountry and promising to cut government costs when voted into ‘power’, and applauded the single lady presidential candidate for making a small show by riding a boda boda at some point in her campaign.
On another forum one evening last week, a group of us sat round some bottles of dearly priced imported drinks and marvelled at Magufuli and his hard actions, our voiced support for him growing more heated as the night grew more cold. Not one of us suggested a menu change to something less pricey or locally made, even if most of us at that table belong to an ‘investment club’ that could have made great strides if we had ‘Magulufied’ our expenditure into savings for investment.
The next morning I raised the idea with a couple of pals that had been seated round that table and their response made it clear why the actions of His Excellency John Pombe Magufuli had gone straight from being presidential news to a humorous twitter hashtag with nothing in between.
Rather than take up lessons from him and actually change the way we do things in our individual lives as Africans, East Africans, or Ugandans doing whatever we do on a daily basis, we’re safer pointing fingers at ‘those people up there’ or turning it all into a joke that we can laugh at and ‘leave it here for a while’ (that, by the way, is another meme reference we like to use.)
On that note, I’m just going to leave this here myself – stop asking #WhatWouldMagufuliDo – #AreYOUDoingWhatMagufuliWouldDo?