The Useful Things Ugandans Don’t Learn

By Ofwono Opondo

May, 20, 15
Church of Uganda Archbishop Emeritus, Livingstone Mpaalanyi Nkooyoyo often disdainfully castigates the old Baganda adage that goes “Okutambula kulaba, okudda kunyumwya,” which loosely translates to, travelling is to experience but upon return, narrate what you saw.  Travelling around the world from the old civilizations such as in the cities of the Roman Empire Istanbul and Paris, those emerging Nordic countries, or new Chinese cities, leaves one with the unmistaken impression that the Ugandan public official is a very poor learner, and fit perfectly in the traveler above. Often you stop and wonder whether Ugandan officials are really educated, exposed, enlightened and serious or simply dimwits when they travel abroad.
Whether alone or in a group as my recent travel with fourteen Ugandan journalists to Ankara and Istanbul, Turkey proved, you are left speechless but asking in hashed silence tinged with anger and disappointment what good things we learn and bring back home that will make us or generations to come to be proud of their grandparents.
In Turkey like many developed or countries where people and their leaders are serious enough there is massive restoration works going on at many historical, administrative, religious and cultural sites to turn them into tourism attractions, while here we just pull everything down.
A visit to Uganda Museum or Kings’ palaces leaves many wondering why public officials there should be paid at all, or why those relics of traditional leaders should be respected anyway, because they have neither preserved nor bothered to add anything of much value. Is it too expensive to start a modest Presidential archive to store some of the important written collections of past presidents including photographs, and say Idi Amin’s famous telegram to the Queen of England!
I am sure many would like to see and compare Sir Edward Mutesa, Field Marshall Idi Amin Dada VC DSO MC COB, Gen. Tito Okello Lutwa, and Gen. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni in their various military attires to find are any similarities. Many tourists local and foreign would pay money to see Museveni’s original stick, AK47, and metallic mug he came with from the bush in 1986, or the first wooden bed he purchased from Bwaise. Other items could be that military uniform and bible Museveni used on his first swearing-in ceremony on the balcony of parliament January 29, 1986 which would perhaps be national treasures! And I have been asking some people if Mrs. Miria Kalule Obote could handover that Kaunda suit and red shirt Apollo Milton Obote wore and stick he hung on his arms as he emerged from the plane in Bushenyi on his magical return from exile on July 27, 1980. But then where would we keep them since Uganda doesn’t value such artifacts, perhaps embarrassed associating with the past.
In emerging countries like Turkey, rural and urban transportation networks don’t show visible marked physical differences as everything appears well-planned, with wide dual-carriage, multi-lane highways, planned and planted urban forests, public, parks, game and nature reserves, sports and picnic grounds accompanied by beholding landscaping, which soothes life.
About ten years ago the central government proposed a re-development master plan for the Metropolitan Kampala city which was supposed to incorporate parts of Mukono, Wakiso and Luwero districts. This plan with minor adjustments would have Kampala go eastwards to Lugazi, Bombo to the north, and westwards up to Kakiri and Mpigi The expansive Lake Victoria with it calm waves opening eastwards would then provide the much needed natural freshness for modern urban life.
But apparently when some squires at Mengo made what many reasonable minds considered misguided noise, government backtracked, shelved the plan, even the intention, and everyone is now being engulfed in one huge slum that Kampala, Wakiso and Mukono are growing into, and only a few are noticing. The fellows in Mengo supported by crude opposition groups claimed that Metropolitan Kampala was grand design to “steal Buganda’s land and thereby shrink the monarchy.
Clearly, there is visibly no urban or rural physical planning going on in Uganda for transport, industrial, commercial, residential and other social amenities as every small-minded developer with some cash is left to their own wits and ingenuity. As a consequence, living and working in Kampala, Wakiso and Mukono have become a nightmare that one must break every traffic rule available to reach their desired destinations. In addition every built up place immediately becomes a huge cesspool reservoir and the proud owners of many properties that appear exotic soon discover that they are holding poisoned chalices. And often communities are less cooperative.
With this poor or rather no planning it is not possible to reach and provide efficient, affordable and quality amenities as clean and safe water, electricity, and waste management to the urban dwellers, which means many people will continue wallowing in preventable but very contagious diseases like cholera, typhoid, and diarrhea. Yet defined as a human by the United Nations in 2010, access to clean water and sanitation, are supposed to be preconditions to improving public health, life expectancy, and also allow resources currently spent by government and households on medicines and cleaning up to be channeled into productivity.