A television news story about Kenya’s Kibera shocked viewers by revealing the opulence inside the slum. Some homes in Kibera – one of the vastest slum in the world – are furnished with satellite TV, the latest electronics and sumptuous furniture.
This is the complete opposite of Kibera’s filthy exterior of open drainage and paths overflowing with garbage.
Some of the cities in East Africa have clean paved roads and well lit streets. But, could this image be similar to these Kibera houses, opulent in the inside but sordid on the outside?
A motorist on the Kigali – Kampala - Nairobi route is quickly struck by the poorly organized border points. At Gatuna, the Rwanda side is well paved and the existing businesses are well housed and orderly but as soon as one crosses into Uganda, one is accosted by a host of money changers whose predatory approach as they seek a business deal is off putting to potential customers.
The numerous kiosks are not only seedy but extremely cluttered while the unpaved roads are a nightmare.
The toilets resemble a mugger’s den and only the very courageous or desperately pressed will venture therein. To add salt to injury, despite the sordid condition of the toilets, you have to pay to use them.
On the narrow road, pedestrians and drivers of fuel tankers, trailers, buses and salon cars try to outmaneuver one another as they vie for the little available space.
The proximity of numerous fuel tankers is a veritable hazard in waiting. To complete this picture, an enterprising East African is rearing swine right behind these kiosks! The open-air food vendors who ply their trade at the Busia point on the Kenya-Uganda border pose a health hazard to travelers.
At these crossings, the service by immigration and customs officials is very efficient. Unfortunately, given the poorly lit and muddy eye sores that are our border crossings, most travelers want to depart as soon as possible.
Imagine for a minute, the entrance to our airports having kiosks and unpaved roads? If we keep the airports clean and orderly, why have we severely neglected the border crossings?
To enhance travelers’ experience and to nurture a better image of our region, the authorities should move fast to build clean and well laid out trade stalls. The roads should be expanded and well lit, with clear demarcations for pedestrians and vehicles.
Billboards bearing clear directions and instructions would aid travelers understand the various immigration and custom procedures. Such notices would also help travelers adapt to the rules of their destination countries, such as the applicable speed limits.
Rwanda, for example, should clearly inform visitors about its ban on polythene bags.
Companies invest lots of money to design and maintain reception areas that reflect the desired image of the company. Likewise, no resources should be spared in transforming our border crossings into warm, welcoming and friendly receptions of our countries.
Isn’t it time for East African governments to set up a Border Crossings Authority to maintain world class best practices at these points?
Such a body would be mandated with fostering a positive and business image of the region by facilitating a clean and orderly functioning of the border crossings. The authority would attract investors, facilitate their trade and reinforce set standards.
It would also constantly seek and implement viable suggestions from travelers and other users of the border points.
The returns from refurbished border crossings will greatly advance the interests of regional integration. There will be an orderly flow of travelers and vehicles thus accelerating business growth. Governments and traders will earn more money from travelers who will happily spend more on shopping, refreshments and on leisurely activities.
Our respective authorities should swiftly revamp the East African border posts of as a matter of priority.
This will spur business opportunities and promote a better image of the expanded East African Community.
Unlike the Kibera houses, the East African house shall be clean on the outside and the inside!
Edwin Maina is a social commentator