It’s Friday afternoon and a smartly dressed young man and his beautiful female companion are eagerly ascending to the third floor of the elegant Kigali City Towers when a sad thing happens; midway between the first and second floors, the elevator abruptly comes to a grinding halt and for a full hour, they are stuck!
From being joyful, the young couple’s facial expressions soon became a coloured picture of shock and fear. Like caged animals, they paced the perimeters of the offending box tapping its glass walls in a futile attempt to wake it up from its slumber. The security people down on the ground floor found the spectacle rather amusing and amidst bouts of laughter they frantically gestured to the worried youngsters to press the ‘emergency button.’
With one hand, the young man pressed the emergency button sending off an ear piercing siren while the other hand fiddled with his phone, apparently calling friends to report his experience. Meanwhile, the young female companion clasped her hands together in apparent prayer for rescue.
From the safety of the firm ground floor, I looked up at the helpless couple unable to be of any help; I cocked my Smartphone’s camera and took a few shots to capture digital evidence of their ordeal. Two pretty sun burnt European ladies giggled passed me with one remarking, ‘that’s why I always take the stairs, its hard work but safe.”
Despite the deafening sirens, a young shop attendant told me that the couple had been stuck in the lift for close to an hour. He added that the building has one technician and it appears he was out of his station when the incident occurred also revealing that the Friday incident wasn’t the first time that elevator was malfunctioning but that the technician had responded faster in the previous cases. I left the scene to catch an appointment with the couple still stuck.
On the flip side, Kigali’s faulty elevators are a positive problem in a country that had almost none to talk about twenty years ago. The surging population of sky crappers is a living testimony to long strides that post-genocide Rwanda has made. From blood-thirsty machete wielding militia roaming dusty city streets, we can now afford the luxuries of complaining about faulty elevators that can’t get us to Century cinema in time.
Rwanda, as one of the few African countries where public institutions actually work, Kigali’s faulty elevators gift us with a perfect metaphor that reflects faulty systems on the continent.
On July 8, I trudged off the plane at Entebbe Airport in neigbouring Uganda and immediately sought for a taxicab off to my base located on a hilly suburb off the Entebbe-Kampala highway, a twenty five minute drive from the Airport.
The young man told me that it would cost me Sh80,000 or Rwf 20,000 for the short ride; it costs just Sh. 40,000 or Rwf 10, 000 to travel from Kampala to Kigali by bus. His argument was that, despite its middleclass neighbourhood, the roads leading to my base are rough, dusty and full of deep pot-holes that would damage his car. Well, he was right on the state of roads but not so in punishing me on behalf of the authorities in charge.
On one hand, you have the Ugandan government trying hard to widen its revenue base to ensure its budget funding and provide public goods such as good roads without overly depending on donor support. And in neighbourhoods such as mine, littered with newly constructed town bungalows, owners have paid millions in taxes levied on construction materials, they have also paid heavily on their imported four wheel drives to maneuver through the rugged roads yet the system is blamed for failing to use these taxes to pave roads.
Meanwhile, the government accuses some of its corrupt officers of embezzling tax payers’ money a habit that is estimated to cost Uganda close to a billion dollars per year and President Museveni, picking a leaf from his Rwandan counterpart has often warned that the hand-gloves will come off for corrupt officers.
But unlike in Rwanda, Museveni’s anti-corruption efforts have been let down by a faulty system. He has often expressed his frustrations at the courts for granting bail to big time suspects, ill-equipped state attorneys losing cases as corrupt officers sneak away with the help of their skilled and expensive private attorneys.
If the system worked, the meter installed in the taxicab would determine my taxi fair not the wisdom of a savvy cabdriver. But that shows how faulty elevators are everywhere in Africa.