Friday, December 15, 2006

Public Transport in Uganda is a Mess!

"Letters" ,
"Susan Nakawuki" , "NRM" , "Freddie Ruhindi" ,,,,,,,,,,,,, "David Mafabi" ,,

The public transport system in Kampala and Uganda in general is a very peculiar one. Most of the time, it is shaky and very frustrating to its users. Some of its aspects include:
· It breaks down and is completely insufficient when there is a disturbance in any part of the city, like a protest or operation by the authorities against non-compliant motor vehicles
· It is overwhelmed by the big numbers of passengers every morning and evening
· Who ever heard of a public transport system that charges its users congestion fees? I thought this was supposed to be collected from motorists. However, at peak hours in Kampala , taxi fares rise by more than 40% and the excuse given is always ‘jam’
· Kampala’s taxis are the only ones in the world that have their fares rising when the cost of fuel has been dropping for the last two months. How can it be that from the city centre to Nakawa, it now costs Shs. 500 – a quarter of a litre of petrol!
· The system is also the only one in the world whose fares are at the exclusive discretion of drivers and conductors and is therefore without fixed rates arrived at transparently
· The route distribution for the taxi network is also left at the discretion of driver and conductors, which means that some areas will have an oversupply of taxis while others remain starved of service
· It is also weird because it punishes those that choose to travel early and rewards the sleepy heads. Taxi fares are higher in the early hours of the morning and drastically cheaper in the mid-morning. They then rise again just when the tired and stressed-out Kampalans retire to rejuvenate for the next day between 4pm and 8pm. This is not sustainable for Uganda ’s economy
· The public transport industry in Uganda is the one with the shabbiest, rudest and most incompetent workers, and the poorest customer relations in the country.

I am disappointed that our leaders have completely ignored the rot in the public transport system. When it comes to the lives of the ordinary voters, there seems to be less creativity and initiative on the part of these leaders. For instance, they have bent themselves backwards to be seen to be doing something about the Makerere University crisis which will be solved anyway. Makerere will be solved and reopened and there is no doubt about it! The public transport rot can only get worse and yet it is an important tool of production for millions of Ugandans compared to the closed university which directly benefits a few tens of thousands.

I laugh at those leaders and experts, including Makerere University dons, who go on and on about fighting poverty and decongesting slums but continuously fail to see how important an efficient and affordable public transport system can be in those efforts. I always hear President Yoweri Museveni castigating a section of Ugandans for being elitist and I see our public transport system as a classic example reinforcing his concern.

I would like, at this point, to salute one former Member of Parliament who had a vision to improve public transport in his constituency when he provided the market vendors there vehicles that transported them at subsidised rates. The next big thing that should happen in the parliamentary committee on social services and the House at large is to investigate the rot in the public transport system and put all of its stakeholders (UTODA, KCC, traffic police, passengers, trades union, experts, e.t.c.) in the dock. I am mostly interested in hearing what Public Enemy Number One, UTODA, has to say about itself. Our leaders must remember one thing: the users of public transport, though the most silent, are a bigger voting block than the taxi/bus owners, drivers, conductors and other operators put together. Otherwise, the ordinary commuting Ugandan faces hell everyday for a service that is important to whether on not s/he has bread on the table at home.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


The scene is the Tusker Challenge show at Nairobi’s Carnivore shown on UBC. One of the judges, Ian, is having an exchange of words with the show’s presenters including Gaetano Kaggwa.

IAN: … we are tired of producing ‘one-hit wonder’ musicians in East Africa. What we need is popular artistes that can produce hit after hit, album after album.

GAETANO: … but we have them …

IAN: Okay, name me just five artistes in the whole of East Africa that have produced more than one popular album.

GAETANO: Okay. I’ll start with Uganda. We have Chameleon (applause and screams), we have … ummm … Bobby Wine …

IAN (interrupts): … NEVER HEARD OF HIM!

ME (thinking aloud): OUCH!


Dear Editor (,

When the MP for Aruu County in Acholi got access to some hundreds of millions of shillings, he invested in a mansion in a lakeside village in Buganda. Just that village alone in Makindye Division East, represented by Michael Mabikke, has a combined property value that could be triple the value of the whole of Aruu County. I wonder how much of that investment in the mansion made it to Aruu because I think the porters, water, building materials, electricals and other inputs all were sourced from Mabikke’s constituency. In that scenario, we do not even need to give points for guessing whose constituency gained economically from Otto’s investment – it is a no-brainer.

Some people have questioned why we should have age limits in the constitution for persons that can offer themselves to run for the presidency of the country. Otto’s outburst about spearing anyone who dared invest in his constituents’ resources (never mind that he has softened this stand) answers them. As for MP Okello Okello’s similar sentiments, I just cannot comprehend. He is so incredible that they named twice! I cannot imagine how much Otto would have been able to do with the hundreds of millions of shillings he spent on a luxurious roof for his family if he had invested it in Aruu County, but I know it would have been something quite significant. After all, is it not the votes of the peasant and unemployed voters of Aruu that are responsible for his being able to be employed in his current job which has given him access to those hundreds of millions of shillings? It seems to me that any investment in Aruu would be a threat to Otto’s stature as the ‘King of Aruu’. A richer citizenry, it seems, creates a more enlightened and progressive community and such a community is very demanding and forces the ‘king’ to think, which is something that the ‘king’ abhors.

Citizens of Aruu, you know best what you want. Otto’s family is very comfortable. It is your children that are hungry, walking long distances to school, health centres and water sources; it is your children that are dying from preventable and curable diseases, not your MP’s. You already have enough problems in your land. What you need to overcome them are allies, one of whom is Otto. Consider him an ally to you because he chose to invest huge sums of money in somebody else’s constituency and he was not speared (is he spear proof?). There is absolutely no reason why he should scare away and discourage any potential ally who might be considering associating with you. You have always protected your land from more violent, unfriendly forces and I see no reason why it should be different in the twenty first century. If you need money to invest in yourself and your family, and for the future, you should be able to use any resource at your disposal, including land, as long as it is the right one.

Martin Makara,

Monday, November 20, 2006

Crane Bank Official Replies

Dear Sir

Thank you for the pains you have taken in sending us this detailed mail, we have noted with concern the points raised by you and wish to meet you to understand more about the problems.

Please be rest assured that we will address the issues raised by you to the very last detail.

Please feel free to contact the undersigned at your convenient time on the following numbers. 041343345, 0772 777783.

Kind regards
A. R. KalanManaging
DirectorCrane Bank Limited

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Crane Bank in Uganda Sucks!!!

I walked into Crane Bank's main branch on Kampala Road today with a simple problem but walked out a whole HOUR later. All I wanted to do was get a new PIN for my ATM card. Now, I would not have had any problem if the fault was entirely mine. The operations of this bank and its staff ensure that everything must move at a snail's pace. If you are a busy person and are looking for a bank in Kampala that can serve you fast, don't go to Crane Bank.
Here's exactly why:
  1. After queuing behind three people to be served by a snail of a young woman in their Crane Access Customer Service Centre for 18 minutes and just as I am next, she (the snail) pulls out a birthday card and, right there in the presence of us customers, she starts to write in it. And she took her time at it too, about 2 minutes. On average young snail woman takes about 7 minutes to serve 1 customer.
  2. At one point, she did a very smart thing. She consulted with her neighbour about a letter of recommendation for a customer that was not addressed to the bank manager - a "To Whom It May Concern". Unbelievable, but the neighbour advised quite loudly, "THROW IT AWAY. LET HER TAKE IT TO WHOM IT IS ADDRESSED!". She didn't give a damn who was listening. Young snail woman did another smart thing - she consulted someone more superior and he okayed the use of the letter of recommendation! All of this was taking place while the queue grew longer and longer.
  3. Then there is the habit of staff talking for long periods on phone while serving customers. I don't even want to go there. It is disgusting. It makes one feel like they are a nuisance to the staff.
  4. And there is something I can't comprehend. After depositing cash(which comes after another looooong wait in a queue), one has to wait on the side to have their copy of the deposit slip returned to them. Apparently, the deposit slip, after being acknowldged by the teller, and details entered into a computer, has to be taken somewhere else prompting another wait. This is an ancient style of operation! It would be a bit of a relief if the teller would explain what is going on to a baffled a customer, but all they do is stare at their papers and computer screens, and never say a word. This is RUDE! The only time I saw a smile on the face of the teller who served me today was when she was interrupted by a security guard while served a customer!
  5. Why in God's name did they fit those space-age type of doors that make one feel like they are entering a space rocket if they cannot maintained them? This things keep jamming every now and then. I am not sure they are safe anymore.

In a nutshell, Crane Bank needs to work on its customer relations because they are sick. I'll give it to them, they know how to hire good looking girls but they are nothing if they are not well trained in handling people and how to behave. Crane Bank is a cold place. It seems that the staff are always reminded that if they smile they will have their salaries cut! Without good customer relations, the people gaining most from their marketing drives are the media, not Crane Bank. It is a pity that the ads don't match the actual products and service. Not even Aldrine Nsubuga, whatever his credentials, can help if the customers are not treated well. GROWING TO BE GLOOMY AND SLOW should be their motto.

The US Provided the Shock Absorbers for Iraq's Landing

(This blog was first posted on 07 November 2006.)

I feel that some of the loudest opinions on Iraq , its occupation and Saddam Hussein’s conviction are choosing to take a very myopic view of the issues involved. Those opinions seem to insinuate that the violence – sectarian and all – is simply and primarily a reaction to the US-led invasion of the country. That is wrong. It is more of a reaction to a post-Saddam situation. The violence and instability we see today was only waiting for one particular event – the removal of Saddam from the leadership of Iraq .

There are so many ways in which Saddam could have been removed from power. He could have resigned (unlikely); he could have been voted out (very unlikely); he could have been assassinated; he could have died (painfully of some disease, of some accident or peacefully in his sleep), or he could have been toppled. Whatever the scenario, there was going to be violence and instability in Iraq that would have had the world struggling to get in to stop it. With Afghanistan and Somalia , we all know how hard that is. It would also help for us to always be reminded of the geopolitics at play in that region of Asia .

Saddam was a dictator who was responsible for the death of thousands and suffering of millions of Iraqis. His leadership extended the death and suffering beyond his country’s borders to Iran and Kuwait . Iran also became home to many Shiite Iraqi exiles and rebels who, with its support, not only worked to remove Saddam but also lay prepared, waiting for news that he was no more for them to pounce. Another neighbour, Syria , was also home to many Iraqi exiles and anti-Saddam forces ready to pounce. Turkey was already worried that Iraq ’s northern region of Kurdistan was enjoying more autonomy and was aware that the only thing that was stopping its push for more self-control was Saddam. A power vacuum in Baghdad would complicate Turkey ’s fight to contain its own rebel Kurds who would certainly base their operations in Kurdistan . On top of all of this would be Al Qaeda. We must remember that Al Qaeda took advantage of the initial instability in Afghanistan to establish itself and spread what its evil around the world. Just imagine what opportunity they would see in an unstable Iraq . It would be Al Qaeda’s new home after the loss of Afghanistan and a good launch-pad into Saudi Arabia , Kuwait , Jordan and Israel . And let us not forget the fact that the terror organisation would have a big hand over billions of barrels of oil. We must also keep in mind the Shiite-Sunni divide in the Islamic world and nowhere is this more apparent than in Iraq a fact Al Qaeda is very aware of and has already tried to take advantage of. The two sects try to put up a diplomatic face to the rest of the world but what simmers beneath is contempt for each other. Saddam, a Sunni, used high-handed methods to keep any potential sectarian conflict at bay, but this was often at a high cost for the Shiites. The seeming peace that some people try to remind us of today was only artificial. The exit of the dictator by whatever means was always going to bring all these factors to the top and into play.

So, what am I saying? Vultures are not created at the appearance of a corpse. They are always there somewhere waiting for a corpse for them to make an appearance. The violence we see today was always going to happen with or without the US-led occupation. Everyday that passed with Saddam in power was a day closer to the end of his reign. No one was sure about how and when this end would come or claim to know with absolute certainty what would happen when it did. But the factors at play around Iraq and the region added to his and his possible successors’ brutality were just fuel waiting for a spark. I believe that it was important how that spark came and who would be in charge of Iraq when the explosion happened. The US-led invasion therefore took care of the uncertainties of how Saddam would go and who would be in charge of Iraq when the violence and instability that were sure to follow set in. The US-led invasion was and still is a shock-absorber for the landing of a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq . I am grateful to the US and its allies for that and for their being a lot far-sighted than many people give them credit for.

Martin Makara,
Kampala, Uganda