NOTES ON NAIROBI
These two countries have always been close, but the relationship has never before had the opportunity to develop, given Uganda's tumultuous past.
That period of upheaval passed with the coming into power of President Yoweri Museveni, who has stabilised the country and given it its longest post-independence time of peace. Kampala is now a boom-town, reaping the peace dividend.
The East African community envisages an economic area between the three East African countries in which goods, services and labour move around uninhibitedly. The people of these countries have moved fast to take advantage of discussions continuing at the political level; they have moved much faster than the governments.
Buses and planes transport hundreds of people between Nairobi and Kampala every day, and immigration processes are smooth. At the border town of Busia, passengers experience a minimum of fuss as they get their documents endorsed within minutes and are on their way.
Indeed, one of the major policy measures adopted by East African governments was to allow citizens of the three countries to cross each others' borders using a paper immigration document with a photograph of the holder - no need for a passport. This document has greatly facilitated cross-border travel.
Kiswahili is becoming widely spoken in Kampala. Formerly despised by Kampala residents as the language of oppressors - the soldiers who wreaked so much havoc in Uganda used it. The fact that it is taking root in Kampala is a clear indication that a universal language for East Africa is being born.
Kenyan and Ugandan newspapers are available on Kampala newsstands. Kenyans living in Kampala, and Ugandans living in Nairobi, can stay in touch with home.
And if you feel the need to travel, just jump onto a plane and you will be in the neighbouring capital in an hour, and be on the flight back the next day. Or take an overnight bus and report to work the next
morning. Currency is fully convertible, and at a very predictable rate.
Both capitals teem with people and vehicles; in other words, they are congested. The governments of Kenya and Uganda will have to find ways of decongesting these cities. The only way out is to ensure that economic growth reaches rural towns and villages, so that people who would otherwise come to the capital to work could actually make a comfortable living in those areas. These capitals are having a difficult time keeping up with the growth of population and are over-extended. Is it any wonder that a defining feature of Kampala is its incessant traffic jams?
Other aspects that the two capitals share, are not positive. The matatu chaos for instance. The public transport sector in both Kampala and Nairobi is dominated by them. Matatus are 8-25 seater commuter vans. They are noisy, and are usually responsible for traffic gridlocks. As the population grows, so grows the matatu sector, with more
matatus, more noise and more traffic snarl-ups. Driving habits in both cities are atrocious. Any and all driving rules and etiquette are blithely disregarded.
Another dubious distinction shared by the two countries is an obsession with politics. The newspapers report virtually nothing else. Moving around Kampala and Nairobi, you see cities booming with all manner of business activities, from office-bound executives, to small-scale businesspeople in stalls selling all manner of merchandise. Yet, business news in the newspapers is lucky if it gets two pages somewhere in the middle.
And even that political news is conflict-driven and destabilising. A pity that the media has failed to reflect and encourage the confidence and optimism that is driving business in these two rapidly integrating countries.
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