Thursday May 17 2018

Here’s why Uganda could use a lot more ‘enemies’ and far fewer ‘friends’

   Daniel K Kalinaki

Daniel K Kalinaki  

By Daniel K Kalinaki

In a few weeks, the Kampala-Entebbe road toll will officially open to the public. The opening will probably be done with a lot of fanfare, as it should. I recently used a section of the road and was impressed, as far as my untrained eye could see, by the quality of the roadworks, including a 4.5km section over a swamp that is reportedly the longest bridge in East Africa.
It took me 20 minutes from Entebbe to the city suburbs during the early evening, in an admittedly slow traffic window. It would have taken longer getting off the road and into the city during the school term and the road will get busier and slower when it opens. Still this was a helluva difference from the two hours – knock wood – that it routinely takes to travel the 40-odd clicks between Entebbe and the capital.
So it will make sense to celebrate the opening of the road and the relief it will undoubtedly bring. Yes, it is a few years behind schedule, but nevertheless a racehorse compared to the Northern Bypass, which is still in construction more than a decade after it was supposed to be completed.
And as we know, most of the delays were caused by landowners, some genuine and of long-standing provenance, many mere rent-seekers, who bought the road passageways “off-plan” then haggled for the highest possible compensation for their tracts.
So the road, when it is finally opened, will be followed by self-congratulatory, but wholly justified choruses about yet another feather in our infrastructure cap. No problem with that, whatsoever.
But let us, for arguments’ sake, imagine that a pesky fellow, in the midst of all the backslapping, decides to play devil’s advocate. So Mr Devilis Advocatus, if we can call him that, goes out into the streets and asks why the road was not put out to international tender in order to get the best price, and how come it ended up in the hands of a company blacklisted elsewhere on corruption allegations.
Mr Advocatus then asks why the 53-kilometre, four-lane road will come in with a total cost somewhere around $500 million while the eight-lane Thika Superhighway next door in Nairobi cost only $360 million. Are we getting value for money, he shouts? Why, he adds, his voice straining with agitation, do taxpayers, who already have to repay a $350m loan to the Chinese for the project, have to pay to use the road?
How should we deal with people like Mr Advocatus? There are many, angry and frustrated, who see nothing good around them and no improvement in their personal circumstances. These are relatively easier to deal with, for surely there is some good to be found and nothing would give them more pleasure than burning the whole lot down, so that penury is felt by all. But what about those who, impatient and watching the world rush by them, believe we should be doing better, working faster, getting more bang from our bucks?
We are not talking about those who, with a casual dismissive wave of the hand, allege that “the government has done nothing” or “these people have stolen everything”. We are talking about decent, patriotic, tax-paying, law-abiding folks, who ask why we just can’t deliver the right seeds in the right place at the right time or why we are so incompetent, would struggle to pour water out of a boot if the instructions were on the heel. We cannot merely continue waving away this impatience or describing the young and restless as enemies of the country’s development. As annoying as they can be, Uganda’s enemies aren’t those young people who spend their waking hours online abusing the government and their leaders.
Uganda’s enemies are those officials who use their positions to identify project areas, buy land, then sell it to government at eye-watering mark ups. It is those officials who pay out billions of shillings in fictitious compensation claims to regime cronies, but won’t find a few billions to fund start-ups to manufacture sanitary pads to keep girls in school. It is officials who build dams in the wrong spots, or who sign off on terrible deals that have put us in a position where we have a surplus of electricity that many cannot afford.
If people who want a Uganda that works - where things are done better; faster; and with value for money; where merit is rewarded in place of cronyism - are enemies of the country’s development, then this country would do with a lot more enemies and far fewer friends!
Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and a poor man’s freedom fighter. dkalinaki@ke.nationmedia.com
Twitter: @Kalinaki.