Hey, Prince Harry, come see Uganda’s potholes

Sunday January 26 2020

If a son of a Ugandan past leader is so fortunate that on top of not having been eaten, he also sleeps in a bed with bed-sheets as a government minister, he apparently must tightly mind his tongue. Ugandan predators will devour anything.

Recently, I noted in this column that the ruling NRM had taught Ugandans how to hate. If you sometimes tune into our radio stations, you would have probably given your vote for the national champion in hate speech to a paid presidential advisor. So, even the President probably greatly values hate speech.

Uganda is full of paradoxes. The most conspicuous media platforms hosting this hate are ‘Christian’ radio stations controlled by the most self-righteous creatures in the land. And their most demonised media targets are government-owned newspapers.

Not that all Ugandans follow like sheep with goats’ brains. The demonised English daily has not lost sales, and its sister Luganda paper has virtually swept all its rivals off the newspaper stalls. The vilified editors may even demand a pay rise and pray for the good health of their implacable adversary.

You can almost smell hatred in the air. Social media junkies itch for conspiracies and people’s downfalls more than for signs of love and humane co-operation. Citizens fear and hate their rulers. The rulers and their police hate the citizens.

It is against this backdrop of mutual hostility that the son of a past leader joked about Uganda’s ubiquitous potholes. He said our potholed roads could attract tourists.


Lo! It was like an old low-lying enemy had suddenly popped up his head. News of the storm he provoked reached the BBC studios in London.
Roast him, they did. Ugandans really roasted him. Who was he joking with? This was no time for frivolity, or cynical humour, or fat-headed arrogance… Call it whatever.

You see, Uganda’s potholes tell a story bigger than the potholes. It is the story of skewed budgetary priorities, planned incompetence, horrendous corruption and naked impunity in the road sector and other government work. The potholes are products of this malaise.
Those with power and money have used national taxes and foreign exchange to import huge gas-guzzling SUVs to cushion themselves from the pain. The other citizens can go hang. And you, son of a past leader, laugh about that?

Okay… okay… Let us calm down. Let us try to sell Uganda, the only country we have; grasshoppers, potholes and gorillas.
Hey, Prince Harry… Hey! Come to Uganda… Knock off more of that royal stuff. Come with Meghan Markle and little Archie.

You are the perfect tourists. After this protracted winding Brexit dance out of European bureaucracy, you have staged an efficient Royexit march out of British palatial protocol.

In Uganda, you can buy or rent an old Toyota off-roader, get a break from the smooth European highways and bump around over our potholes to harden your ex-royal experience.

The tour package includes competition with green flies for our national dish, the ‘rollex’ chapatti-and-omelette delicacy sold everywhere along our dusty roadsides.

If you contract typhoid, you can spend a week at the Kawempe or Kiruddu national health facilities; the perfect exhibitions of referral health care in Third World medi-speak.

Then you can head west and see our large cousins, the gorillas.
Once upon a time, in the Mesozoic era, the planet was teeming with dinosaurs, which of course are now extinct. But we have a huge variety of African birds, descendants of the dinosaurs, without seeing which a tour is incomplete.

Our political dinosaurs are different. They are hominids. A freak of evolution. But these, too, are a spectacle of sorts. From life under a modern European constitutional monarchy, you will get a feel of life under a primitive authoritarian democracy; the system that gave us the potholes.
Welcome, Prince Harry.

Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator.