Part of East Africa? $500 flights to Nairobi doesn’t feel like it

I am sitting here at the computer looking at a weather map of East Africa.

I am sitting here at the computer looking at a weather map of East Africa.

The weather looks beautiful. In fact, the map, East Africa itself, looks beautiful, and its easy to smile and think about what it will feel like one day saying, “I live in East Africa” the way people say they live in South Africa; to be proud of a country and to have its name synonymous with dramatic, religious beauty.

I can imagine sitting in Mwanza, my feet in the lake, as hearty palms keep my shade.

Or maybe off to Kampala, where the mighty Nile begins. In Mombassa you can eat prawns by the ocean, and in Kigali you sip hot coffee as you watch the dark green hill rolling in the morning mist.

Maybe I am going overboard, but I guess for me it is easy to get excited about such things.

Not only will it be a beautiful country, it will be a rich one. Only in size and stature will South Africa compare.

East Africa will be a premier destination in the world, and many will come for many reasons.

Too bad I will see so little of it.

That trip to Mwanza I was fantasizing about, from Kigali at least, is pretty much impossible.

Take a look at that map. Mwanza doesn’t look so far away; about as far away from Kigali as Kampala.

It would make a perfect weekend destination for Rwandans looking to get away and maybe tired of the Kivu.

In fact, dozens of smaller destination ringing the Lake Victoria coast, much closer to Rwanda than Mwanza, could be potentially reached in just hours.

Imagine, the most stunning beauty of the continent all within reach of all, without customs and visa tariffs, in a future East Africa.

Unfortunately there are no good roads. That trip to Mwanza can take upwards of a day, including three-hour travel to the border at Rusumo, and then a day-long trek on the weekly bus to Mwanza.

That’s, of course, if you get there on the right day. For the other 85.7 per cent of the week, though, getting to the town—or for that matter almost anywhere in Tanzania, the largest country in the East African Community—is a constellation of hitchhiking and minibus-taxis.

The easiest way, for example, to get then from Mwanza to Arusha is via Nairobi. Another option—in fact maybe the only other option, is via the capital Dodoma, in the south of Tanzania.

This is ridiculous. A country with a strong and stable history such as Tanzania, the seat of the East African Community, should have at some point in its 40+ year history built some better roads.

Now it has to.

A unified East Africa looks great on paper but an integrated East Africa in real life looks terrible.

It is an embarrassing prospect for travelers to compare the proud country to traveling in neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo, where roads literally do not exist in any form to fully connect its cities.

East Africa, and Tanzania specifically, does have roads, but they are in terrible shape and serious disrepair.

Besides a serious lack in infrastructure is a serious lack in organized, regular transport services.

As to why major regional bus companies, such as Scandinavian, still have not extended routes into Rwanda ahead of full EAC integration, is puzzling at best.

It says a lot about the state of that industry’s competitive-pool, and since the service seems like such a no-brainer, probably says even more about just how bad those roads are.

It is also a serious arrest of geographic economic development. Even after being founded, Nairobi was little more than a sleepy town until it was connected to the ‘matrix’ of development by railway and immediately flourished.

We all know that strong infrastructure can do wonders to development.

We all know that road networks along Lake Muhazi, Lake Kivu, or the west coast of Lake Victoria, could see the rise of businesses, cities and East Africa’s overall reputation.

We all know that an East Africa is just an east Africa when not taut and well connected.

Yet we do nothing about it. Meanwhile, regional flights are among the highest in the world, where a flight from New York to London can cost $200 and a flight from Kigali to Nairobi often double; where, yes, an airline soon will be flying between Kigali and Mwanza, but will cost over $600; where, yes, I can drive from Kigali to Arusha, but yes, people say it will take up two days.
Yet we do nothing about it.


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