I made a trip to Kampala Uganda last week, which was very short but very relaxing two days. Unfortunately, it was an all-conference (business) trip over two days that left very little time for sight-seeing compared to the last time I was in Uganda, in 2007, but quick in-and-out airport – hotel – conference – hotel – airport with chats with taxi drivers and few locals is how a lot of non-residents form decisions about a country. The town looks better; much spruced up, cleaner, and greener.
- Election fever: from kids humming his song at the beach ‘Yes, Ssebo!’, to his posters all over town, President Museveni is in election mode, and while it appears early now for campaigns for an election next February (all the candidates, are on the nightly news at rallies), one local remarked that perhaps the president with ‘unlimited’ budget hoped to exhaust his opponents financially by election time.
- Mobile Issues: Just what is Safaricom roaming? At JKIA I enquired about roaming tariffs in Uganda and was told to leave my line as is. But there, the charges were astronomical, about Kshs 30 to send an SMS and Kshs. 50 to receive a call! Fortunately, I was able to top up with M-pesa. Also, in different parts of town, the roaming partner would change from MTN, Orange, to Warid etc, and sometimes my remaining balance would change.
- Also as you walk around Nairobi and take it for granted that Internet is everywhere on your phone, the same is not true in Uganda where there was no internet (at least for roamers) and buying a SIM card just for the internet was not worth the effort; so I’d be offline all day till I got back to the hotel in the evening which had a guest wi-fi. a must for any modern hotel
- CHOGM: There’s a Uganda parliament report on the 2007 Commonwealth heads of government summit (CHOGM) on how money was diverted to build roads to private hotels and apartments, BMW’s and missing blackberry with actions recommend be taken against the vice president and various ministers. Serena and Utalii College are the only Kenyan connection I saw.
- I went to a bank hall and shock on me was that there is no bullet-proof glass separating cash tellers from customers, and you exchange money over the counter as you would with documents at a customer service desk in Kenya (ok – security guards are armed and everyone goes through a metal detector at the bank door).
- Finally, the most telling moment on the trip, was a half-hour at a public beach in Entebbe on the shore of Lake Victoria. This was about a kilometer from the Laico Hotel (yes there’s also a hotel in Uganda controversially transferred and renamed the Laico, not just in Nairobi) and I sat on a beach with our taxi driver and had a Pepsi drink. It was a very peaceful moment, and one you’d be hard-pressed to enjoy in Kenya where every few minutes a hawker will approach you selling fish, music, mobile phones, clothes etc – or in Mombasa at Serena beach, for every walk 20 meters you walk/jog on the beach a young man steps forward to offer you a boat ride. That’s not how it should be.