On Thursday morning this past week I posted this on Twitter: ‘Imagine if you got to Kajjasi & onto a plane to Arua, to Kasese, to Kitido. Instead of 6+ hours…30 minutes #DreamsForUganda’.
It was at 7:07am and I was getting ready to drive out of home. My mind was already filled with dread by the thought of the nightmare of the morning traffic I was to encounter dropping the kids off at school 15kms away.
Normally a journey of 15kms shouldn’t be something to fuss about. As an amateur runner it take me about 1 hour 40 minutes. On a bike it’s about 45 minutes. In a car it should be less than 15 minutes.
But I live in Kampala and believe me; it takes me 1 hour and 10 minutes to make the journey from home to the kids’ school every morning.
We have less than 1million cars on the roads in Uganda, the majority of those cars are in the city Kampala. So it’s not that Kampala is choking on cars, the sad fact is that whereas the number of cars on the roads has been steadily increasing over the years, the number of motorable roads has been reducing steadily both in length and in width.
If you scan social media in Kampala on any given morning, you will see lots of exasperated motorists posting about incidents on the road. They are of course driving and twitting at the same time. Its illegal but it’s not dangerous. In Kampala you can be on the road and not move even an inch for over 10 minutes.
How do you pass the time? Many people get onto their smartphones, the traffic policemen lately no longer arrest drivers they see on phone, they seem to have understood that it’s the only way not to get mad in traffic.
The transport sector in Uganda is a disaster and it’s getting worse everyday, and despite the numerous political pronouncements, it’s not getting better.
This Sunday, as I took my place on the couch with my handheld, I came across this article about the 10 things that newly elected Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta must do to make the region richer. (You can read the whole article here) but what caught my eye was this:
‘A Kenyan in Kisumu who wants to travel to Soroti in eastern Uganda, a morning’s drive away, but prefers to fly there, has to catch a flight from Kisumu Airport, land at JKIA in Nairobi, catch a flight to Entebbe International, then drive for over four hours over 400 kilometres (by the shortest route) to get there.’
For a fact, if someone boarded a flight from Nairobi airport to Entebbe in Uganda (over 720kms) and you drove your car from Mukono just outside Kampala to pick him up from Entebbe (about 65kms). If you don’t set off 2 hours to his estimated time of arrival, his plane will land before you are half way there. That’s how badly off our road network is.
This took me back to the tweet I sent out on Thursday morning. and immediately, my mind focused on a challenge I have been discussing with pals over the last few weeks.
Recently the Uganda Wildlife Authority launched a campaign to encourage Ugandans to go see more of Mountain Gorillas. The massive beasts that are man’s closest relatives in the animal kingdom.
Ugandans are lazy travelers and very few have been to Bwindi to see their animal cousins. People fly all the way from Australia to see the beasts but I have never gathered the courage to get onto the road to see the animals.
Upon seeing the promotion online, a friend started an email discussion. He wants us to go visit. It’s the cheapest it has been for years, he said, but two weeks down the road no one has found the guts to pay the UGX150k permit fee, many have promised.
I like travel, but I don’t like traveling by road. I have motion sickness and as a kid I would get sick on the bus to school. Well, I no longer get that sick but since those days getting on the bus clutching a sick back, I have never fallen in love with road travel.
The few times I travel, want to be the one driving. I can’t be the passenger without spending the whole time trying not to think about getting sick.
So if the gang decides to travel to see the Gorillas, I will tag along but am sure I wont enjoy the road trip. I have never been to Bwindi but I know that from Kampala to Mbarara is FOUR hours, and another THREE hours to Kabale and about TWO+ hours to Kisoro and then Bwindi.
That’s is NINE+ hours on the road to see the beasts. NINE+ hours on the road, trying not to get sick in bus, in a car, in a van, that honestly frightens me. And am sure it doesn’t excite very many people either.
To put it in perspective, its SIX hours flying from Dubai to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia which is 5,536kms and SEVEN hours from Dubai to Beijing, China a distance of 5,845 kilometers.
I know why people fly half way from around the world to see the animals but am sure many more are put off by the prospect of NINE+ hours on an African road.
Now, back to my tweet on Thursday morning.
Imagine if I could grab a flight from Kajjasi airstrip to Kisoro. Nine hours on the road would be less than 40 minutes in the air. It would be a little more expensive than on the road, but I wouldn’t worry much about getting sick on the road.
And how many visitors from around the world would jump onto the planes to see the mountain Gorillas in Bwindi, to Kasese to visit Queen Elizabeth Game Park, to Lira for Murchison Falls Game Park.
Air travel is absolutely important to tourism and if we are to benefit more from what God gave to us naturally; we must invest more in air travel.
UWA can launch its ‘Gorilla tracking promotion to enable potential visitors enjoy the same gorilla experience at subsidized rates,’ but am sure with a developed aerospace sector; UWA wouldn’t be talking about UNSOLD Gorilla tracking permits and the promotion being aimed at giving back to their esteemed customers.
It’s a shame, a scandal that out of 378 airports and airstrips in East Africa less than 90% have paved runways and only EIGHT (Nairobi, Entebbe, Kigali, Bujumbura, Mombasa, Kilimanjaro, Dar Es Salam and Zanzibar) receive international flight connections.
How many of these airports were actually constructed in the last 30 years?
Kenya’s deputy president, the puffy William Ruto talked about the potential of tourism in Kenya during their inauguration last week, he made reference to Malaysia receiving tourists in excess of 20million a year and how Kenya receives less than 2million a year.
And In East Africa we all aspire to be like Kenya the leaders in tourism.
Now the bigger shame: Uganda, ‘home to more than half of the world’s population of mountain gorillas’ living in organized groups in Bwindi Impenetrable Game Park, yet there is no airport of international status in Bwindi or nearby Kisoro and no scheduled flight from Entebbe and by road its more than NINE hours away, longer than it takes you by plane from Doha in Qatar to Changi in Singapore. And we wonder why not many people come visiting Uganda despite having this rare endowment?