SIZE MAT­TERS...

JOACHIM BUWEMBO

The East African - - OPINION -

Why Ugan­dans don’t think like Kenyans or Rwan­dans.

Kenyans like big things. Old East Africans who re­mem­ber the ide­o­log­i­cal ri­valry be­tween Kenya and Tan­za­nia must have heard this bar joke: A Kenyan el­der and a Tan­za­nian teacher meet in the gents dur­ing a con­fer­ence break, where the Kenyan asks if he could see, you know, a cer­tain part of the Tan­za­nian’s anatomy. In the spirit of Uja­maa, the Tan­za­nian teacher showed him what he wanted to see and in turn asked to see the Kenyan’s in­stru­ment of re­pro­duc­tion. But the Kenyan el­der laughed dis­mis­sively and said, “You think I don’t know you, you teacher, that when­ever you see a big thing you want to na­tion­alise it?”

In friendly ban­ter, Kenyans used to tell the joke to taunt Tan­za­ni­ans and make the point that, un­der cap­i­tal­ism, all their things were big­ger. In some respects things are still very much the same. Just see the scale at which Nairobi charged the big fish in the lat­est cor­rup­tion scan­dal – four and a half dozen of them last week! All sharks dragged to court in one haul! The fig­ure in­volved? Al­most a hun­dred mil­lion dol­lars. But when Uganda loses two mil­lion dol­lars to some da­gaa or mukene as we call the tiny sil­ver fish, our par­lia­ment spends half a year prob­ing the is­sue! Uganda’s lit­tle sil­ver fish didn’t even steal the money – they claimed it as a re­ward for win­ning a big cap­i­tal gains tax dis­pute in an oil trans­ac­tion.

The fi­nan­cial games Kenyans play are usu­ally at a scale that Ugan­dans would find dizzy­ing. They had some­thing called that prob­a­bly a huge gold moun­tain. It mor­phed into An­glo Leas­ing, which was com­pa­ra­ble to leas­ing off the whole An­glo eco­nomic em­pire. This gave birth to the Eurobond, tan­ta­mount to hold­ing Europe in bondage. These things can­not be fath­omed by a Ugan­dan mind. But maybe they can make sense to Rwan­dans, who have a small coun­try but think big. Right now, Ugan­dans are still try­ing to com­pre­hend how Rwanda could buy the mere sleeve of the Arse­nal foot­ball club for £30 mil­lion.

Rwanda’s lead­ers were mostly born or bred in Uganda. But when they left Uganda they seemed to take away our big dreams and big spirit. When­ever Rwan­dans pull off some­thing big these days, Ugan­dans take to so­cial me­dia to de­nounce and dis­miss it as im­pos­si­ble – for the scope of our imag­i­na­tion is a nar­row one. We like our things small, both in per­cep­tion and re­al­ity.

So while we sit at the heart of Africa be­tween Kenya and Rwanda, we have spent two decades say­ing that we don’t need a na­tional air­line. When Kenya Air­ways was buy­ing Boe­ing Dream­lin­ers we were try­ing to buy 10,000 bi­cy­cles but the of­fi­cial we en­trusted with a mil­lion dol­lars to pur­chase them found other uses for the money. It wasn’t un­til Kenya Air­ways an­nounced the com­ing launch of its Nairobi-new York di­rect flights that we fi­nally set a date for re-launch­ing Uganda Air­lines. Mean­while that New York flight must have had some­thing to do with Nairobi’s qual­i­fy­ing to host one of the UN’S three global lo­gis­ti­cal cen­tres. When we heard that the UN was go­ing to shift its re­gional lo­gis­tics base from Entebbe to Nairobi we threw a tantrum. Then the UN chief sooth­ingly wrote to our pres­i­dent say­ing we were not los­ing the cen­tre. Some years down the line, it will dawn on us that while we kept a re­gional “ka”cen­tre, Kenya got the global cen­tre. Joachim Buwembo is a Kam­pal­abased jour­nal­ist. Email: buwembo@ya­hoo.com

Il­lus­tra­tion :John Nyaga

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