Kampala: A poisoned city

Author: Alan Tacca. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Posterity will not believe we had clear heads if we put State money in prayers instead of scientific measures to improve the environment where we live and work.

With the assistance of artistically skilled heavenly holies, God scooped up a large lump of clay and made a hominid that closely resembled Him and His assistants.

Satisfied with their work, God put His mouth over the clay figure’s and blew. By this kiss of life, Adam stirred and became the first tenant of Eden; followed by Eve, who was fabricated from his rib.

Beautiful mythological imagery, but scientific nonsense, and only intellectually questionable Christian fundamentalists approach such stuff as historical fact.

The biblical creation myth also introduces labour and death into our world as collective punishments for Adam and Eve’s sin.

That, too, is beautiful nonsense.

However, we can think of the environment with its water, oxygen and organic complexity as a kind of ‘divine’ condition that permitted human life to evolve (naturally) on some patches of the surface of the planet.

By extension, to violate or ‘sin’ against this environment can bring death upon us as individuals, and, on the larger long-term scale, extinction as a species.

Posterity will not believe we had clear heads if we put State money in prayers instead of scientific measures to improve the environment where we live and work.

Last Sunday, I drew attention to the invalids on our streets. My tour now takes me through congested Balikuddembe (or Owino) Market and into the belly of Kisenyi.

Grey dust and dark smoke from crude iron and aluminium fabrication foundries and charcoal-stove food vendors make the air very dense, prickly and pungent.

Breathing is stiff. The eyes itch. You can literally feel the fine particles of metal and charcoal that are floating in the black fog land and scratch your eyeballs.

The ground is soggy, the mud almost black. It has been raining. On dry days, dust from the ground rises and makes the fog even thicker.

There is a very noisy area here characterised as kubipipa, where young men with powerful arms are heating greasy black steel drums on open-air wood fires to melt residues of the bitumen the drums contained. The smell of boiling tar is choking. 

After the fire, the 200-litre drums are ripped down the side and hammered by hand into steel sheets that are roughly flat.

Different artisans will cut and fashion these sheets into a variety of crude but usable articles.

Emerging from the bitumen smoke is to re-enter the ubiquitous black fog.

Climbing out of Kisenyi’s belly, the area southwest is built, with many micro-industries. Opposite a couple of shoe-makers, a three-man ‘factory’ is fabricating weighing scales with castings forged from scrap aluminium recycled in Kisenyi.

The castings are trimmed and polished with hand-held grinders and files. There is no mask or ear plug in sight. The pulverised aluminium from the grinding-discs is part of the men’s daily breath and bread. The noise will impose its toll on their ears. But the men will paint the weighing scales to look like brass and at least pay for their bread.

Adam and Eve were perhaps never with us. But when Kintu and Nambi descended from heaven to this land about 1,000 years ago, Kisenyi was part of an area of pristine waters and virgin bush. It now belongs to a city that squeezes the underprivileged who toil into smaller and smaller polluted spaces.

When Kampala’s junior minister stops jeering at Kampala’s Lord Mayor like a schoolboy and starts working on urban development policy challenges and the mathematics of procurement, he might start the walk, not to Eden, but at least to a less poisoned city.

Mr Alan Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator.
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