LAMENT FOR THE SGR

CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO

The East African - - OPINION -

An in­te­grated line would have uni­fied East Africa like noth­ing else.

About this time four years ago, Pres­i­dents Yow­eri Mu­sev­eni, Paul Kagame, and Uhuru Keny­atta, as the new­est mem­ber of the East African Lead­ers Club then, had re­ally got us ex­cited.

They were talk­ing of hook­ing East Africa to booster rock­ets, and do­ing a lot of New Age stuff. They con­jured up vi­sions of a con­nected elec­tric­ity grid, a new stan­dard gauge rail­way run­ning from Mom­basa through Uganda to Ki­gali, open skies, name it.

To­day, those dreams have faded. Kenya built a leg of the SGR to Nairobi, but it will take a while, if ever, for it to make its way to Uganda.

A body was set up in Uganda to do the SGR, but it went the way many things in Uganda go these days.

Out on East Africa’s Cen­tral African flank, land­locked Rwanda waited in vain. Then John Magu­fuli came along, and Ki­gali will now build its bit of the rail­way through Tan­za­nia. Hope­fully in the years to come, they can form one big loop.

It’s a real loss, be­cause though the rail­way to Ki­gali was seen as an eco­nomic, not so­cial en­gi­neer­ing, project, I think it could have re­fash­ioned 21st cen­tury East Africa like noth­ing else.

The ex­am­ple of Ugan­dan ex­pa­tri­ates in Kenya re­veals why. I know some of them who used to get on the ex­press bus from Nairobi to Kam­pala on Fri­day, even if they could af­ford a business-class air ticket, be­cause they wanted to take the longer time to work all way to Kam­pala dur­ing the bus ride.

They would see fam­ily in Kam­pala on Satur­day, at­tend a wed­ding, visit their build­ing site, and even throw in a fu­neral on Sun­day, then get back on the bus to Nairobi in the evening and work all the way back into Mon­day morn­ing. On Tues­day, they would catch a flight to Lon­don to go and present the project they were com­plet­ing on the bus to and from Kam­pala.

I there­fore con­jured up im­ages of the Mom­basa-ki­gali rail­way and the world’s long­est in­no­va­tion cor­ri­dor.

The trains would have Wi-fi, and young in­no­va­tors would criss­cross the re­gion, blog­ging, writ­ing code, mak­ing new friend­ships and dat­ing.

They would stop along the way, ex­plor­ing what lies be­yond the rail­way line, get­ting drunk in the small towns, and dis­cov­er­ing new re­al­i­ties.

If you were a photo blog­ger, and hopped from Nairobi to Ki­gali and back, with other like­minded ex­plor­ers, you would prob­a­bly be more likely to find a young woman (or man) who isn’t from your vil­lage, tribe, church, or coun­try, whom you like and to whom you would per­haps pop the ques­tion.

A new type of cit­i­zen, dif­fer­ent from your typ­i­cal, parochial, cor­rupt, eth­nic war­rior of East African pol­i­tics, would emerge. They are al­ready there, these new East Africans.

You see their so­cial me­dia pages when they come from Uganda and climb Mt. Kenya and post pho­tos of their con­quests. When they land in Uganda and go wa­ter raft­ing. When they make their first visit to Ki­gali and post pho­tos of their teary and sub­dued mo­ments at the Ki­gali Geno­cide Me­mo­rial.

And a lot of them gather at that cra­zi­est of East African mu­sic fes­ti­vals, Nyege Nyege near Jinja in Uganda.

Come to think of it, the old in­dus­trial town would make just the per­fect place for their cap­i­tal. For now, it will have to wait.

Though the rail­way to Ki­gali was seen as an eco­nomic, not so­cial en­gi­neer­ing, project, it could have re­fash­ioned 21st cen­tury East Africa

Charles Onyango-obbo is pub­lisher of data vi­su­aliser Afr­ica­pae­dia and Rogue Chiefs. Twit­ter@cobbo3

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