From my Christmas visit to Kenya, I concluded that the life of a country is told by its ports and its roads! I may not be a travel connoisseur but, believe me; I’ve sampled some none-too-few air and land travels in my long and labouring life, and can tell you a thing or two.
For instance, as early as 1978, when most of you were painfully agonising over the answer to 17 x 7 in a grass-thatched, primary-school classroom, I was already soaring high in European skies after my education.
I was headed for Paris, that city of world fashion. Well, I never came anywhere near to seeing that fashion, but I am sure you neither have the time nor the interest to listen to my litany of mishaps that led to that.
Like, for instance, when I tried to ‘walk while standing’ at the airport and only managed to shorten my already ‘lengthwise challenged’ nose!
For the sake of those who would rather walk than fly, I mean that I tripped and fell, my short nose first, on the escalator (moving stairway).
Nor would I want to recount the story of how I ate a French banana for the first time. You see, I’d been sold this long tale of how ‘White’ bananas had zips, like those you use on your clothes!
So, once in the train, I contentedly pulled out my banana, newly acquired at the airport, but it turned out to be as ordinary as any ‘kabaragara’ in Rwanda here.
After disgustedly munching on it, I threw the banana peeling out of the train window, in some wilderness. When we reached the town of Vichy (312.15 km from Paris), I and my group were window-shopping when a policeman came towards us and, holding out a banana peeling to me, politely said: “Excusez-moi, Monsieur, ceci c’est à vous!”
If you have never entertained the lingo of president Nicolas Sarkozy of France, that gibberish-sounding sentence simply means: “Excuse me, Sir, this is yours!” And sure enough, it was the peeling that I’d thrown away! …..
Anyway, I was talking about the language of ports and roads. ….. Today, Aéroport de Paris-Orly has even more escalators and it is bigger and better. The cleanliness on France’s rails and roads is even more jealously and zealously guarded.
Yet when you turn to our neighbours, the story is that of misery, melancholy and mournfulness. For example, Aéroport de Ndjili in Kinshasa was being consumed by weeds in 1978 and the roads, rails and water-ways were disappearing. Today the airport is tiredly groaning along, but the roads, rails and waterways of D. R. Congo are distant history.
Bujumbura Airport was petite and prim then and the road network in Burundi was small but well managed, yet today they are worse for wear.
Dar-es-Salaam Airport has seen some mild improvement from its 1978 stagnation. So have the roads, rails and waterways, but nothing spectacular for Tanzania.
In 1978, Entebbe Airport looked like it could use a new coat of paint, a new supply of furniture and a set of less-eroded stairs. It still does today, and the roads or rails wouldn’t inspire any Ugandan to sing for joy.
In our distant neighbour, Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta I. Airport today still retains some of the sheen of the days of its namesake, the late president J. Kenyatta.
However, only one of its lone two escalators remains functional, and the transport system is involved in a do-or-die battle for survival, the ‘die’ seeming more likely to triumph in the end.
Rwanda? ‘Clean’ seems to be the operative word, if one is to go by the enthusiastic echo from visiting members of the East African Community last Monday 9th.
From a primitive aeroplane handler before 1994, Kigali I. Airport has metamorphosed into an internationally recognised hub for visitors.
It may not have the escalators of Paris-Orly and Rwanda may not have the TGV trains of France, but a Rwandan policeman will ride 600 km after you, on a spotlessly neat road, to politely deliver your banana peeling or plastic bag to you!
Cleanliness and incorruptibility, long extinct among the neighbours, are some of the defining elements of the character of Rwanda today.
Verdict? Clean leadership; say the ports and roads of Rwanda!