While the world celebrated the International Women’s Day last Sunday, in Uganda, it was chest thumping as usual. My mind’s eyes typically retreated - with a beam - to a whole series of events that marked closing parts of my 2019.
Tragedy again hit my family; my first love – Immaculate - fell. Her infectious smiles and giggly voice had invaded our homestead just as I hit teenage.
While we had lived with tens, perhaps hundreds of non-relatives, none had thus far, come in seeking permanent membership of the family – as a fiancé to my brother.
The last born and only child remaining to walk to the local school, I had all her attention. Soon she was to deliver to my very excited mother, her first grand child – a baby girl – and another first at Nagongera dispensary; she was the heaviest child born since records began following the construction of the maternity ward.
That child, Amelia, with the siblings of whom I am officially their father today, is herself a mother and my political assistant.
But this piece was never about my family, except I must invoke Romans 1:15-32 from the privilege of my previous Sunday services during which, thanks to the man of God, my take home revelation was that where the truth is, that’s where real power lies.
The casket had departed Tororo and three times, they got stuck. Imagine a casket with your loved one, stuck and you are possibly in the vehicle behind, stranded. What distress.
A delegation of in-laws from Teso from where she spent most of her latter period before parting was soldiered through, navigating to arrive at Periperi Village, the burial ground. A truck carrying food got stuck and stuck, in the night.
Thinking of alternatives (my father supervised roads maintenance in the area), I set in the morning through Nagongera-Merikit Road. A mile off my home, I got stuck. I was furious. I tried and again tried. I couldn’t move and now risked getting fully stranded. Yearning imagery for last sight of my first love bellowed. I gave up and somehow managed to reverse.
As would commonly happen, passers- by quickly gathered at my recognition but, I wasn’t myself. I let off steam. How could they, after 34 years allow a road that I rode through as a matter of routine 40 years ago become like an impassable jungle and still sing ( mbu no change? )
Now hardly 100 metres from Nagongera Health Centre another 100 metres to the Jamwas ( aunt Teriza & David ) I was negotiating with high rocks and murram.
I had never seen the state of this part of the road literary since I was born. This is where I had learnt to ride, perfected my driving, walked at night, sprinted at youth and felt home. Never!
Imperatively resolved and continuing to the funeral site, I got stuck at Maundo, got stuck in Sere, got stuck in Paya, got stuck in Nawire and just about managed to arrive at Periperi.
Thanks mainly to my girls, friends and aunties (women) and in-laws, the sendoff event was a net success, a closure.
Though I had elected not to share my grief that publicly and to mourn privately, days later, I had cause to be in Kampala. I drove. Taking the Namutamba route via Busolwe into Tirinyi Road as a short cut to minimise the Kampala -Mukono traffic, I drove into Busolwe and a few miles later, I was stuck. I had not taken this route for sometime and better, it was not rainy season.
For once I felt as if deliberately trapped by forces and then I thought it was nature but suddenly realised that possibly not; just incompetence of a failed system. I got to Tirinyi Road where I found busy works on the road but the experiences a few minutes earlier could never allow me to appreciate the resurfacing works taking place, except wasting my time and reasonable speed to hit Kampala.
Moreover, work on this project is known to have stalled many times before. DOT Services Limited had done a shoddy job, had their contract terminated by Uganda National Roads Authority (Unra) but due to their links with high offices, President Museveni himself intervened to ensure they continued.
To settle my day in Kampala, I had to take in a bit of Northern by-pass, the ‘great road’. Here again, the road was being ‘worked on’, supposedly expanded. A project of hardly 15 years ago, was one that mimicked Uganda People’s Congress’ Greater Kampala Plan which included - I would imagine, a mini Kampala Orbital a detail of which would ensure north, south, east or west, Kampala moved. But plagiarism is no authenticity, whatever the efforts.
How else would one explain that hardly 15 years ago no one would project the needs of Kampala, inject huge amount of public money into something which would be overhauled just a decade later? Is there any wonder that unlike when National Resistance Army/National Resistance Movement stormed Kampala, today, there are no apparent demarcated residential, commercial, business or industrial areas of a city, sprawling and at the risk of waking up one morning but to a choking standstill?
To illustrate, my dearest, one of the most essential-services professionals in town, set off the other Saturday to prepare for a major event.
Approaching Kololo, she found a diversion around Lugogo by-pass thanks to some ‘big man within’; it took her three hours to cover a distance of 2kms. She was rightly furious, but do we need a rocket economist to compute the economic, social and environmental costs of this mess?
Luckily, I have relative access to public space including this one, thanks to this newspaper. That weekend, I was hosted on Capital Gang in a panel that included Mr Museveni’s senior aide; Moses Byaruhanga, among others. I tabled it. The following Monday, I was hosted on Radio One’s Spectrum and joined by government spokesman, Shaban Bantarinza. I did the same.
A few weeks ago, frantic work began on Paya Road. Heavy marrum, some culverts. It is now passable. The Nagongera-Merikit Road is now somehow passable.
In the last month, word has it among a number of people that these roads were worked on because I talked about it. It is possible. But it is also possible that it is simply election season and those with abusive power know the oils to the wheels.
I recall only nine years ago my brother William Oketcho (RIP), then sitting legislator for West Budama North boasting how Paya-Perper-Kisoko road was like carpet. Some lucky contractor had poured some sand and people had eaten - after all, there was ‘evidence’. It is also possible that these are sheer coincidences. But if it were the latter, must we live like this every circle of our lives?
Yet I further doubt, because last year, weeks to a fundraising event in Soni Parish, which Presidnet Museveni was expected to attend, a senior district official wrote instructing that Tororo-Nagongera, and I think Tororo Mulanda Roads, should be worked on as they were in bad condition and the President was coming. Behold, the works were promptly done. I watched, gave some deep thought but opted, under the circumstances, for silence.
While this regime picks and chooses projects, figures and monuments for self accolades, it must realise that nations are not and, cannot successfully run or develop on reactions, emotions, gambling or experiments; certainly not when other countries are busy conquering space, reclaiming land from water and extending their knowledge based economies.
So a Uganda-Europe Economic Alliance summit with themes around investments, environment are, all factors constant, a comic show or in the alternative, cementing us as a granary of raw materials for others and their posterity to feed on.
This is a country which used to boast national schools of great competence across and in every part, now replaced by private schools, owned by the rich and rich children to attend.
But I believe this country – I suggest this continent, will not change for the better unless – as the man of God presented at the pulpit the other week, quoting (Mathew 13:20-23) – nothing will happen to you in other words, nothing will change for the better unless you, have understanding. With understanding, we might all just begin to do it all, For God and My Country.
Joseph Ochieno is former columnist with New African Magazine, External Bureau Chief & Party Spokesperson, Uganda Peoples Congress. Jop3upc@yahoo.co.uk/Twitter: @Ochien