Europe has ground to a halt with almost no flights for a week now. The effects have been numerous, one of the most profound has been the plight of Kenyan flower-growers, who are losing millions of dollars a day.
The tourism industry has been hit as well since no planes out of Europe mean fewer overseas guests.
A curious fact is that no African airport has ever closed for such minor reasons; Goma airport was still open as lava flowed down the runway, with pilots avoiding hotspots. This stoppage is obviously due to the insurance industry which would not cover any planes that dare to fly, therefore grinding the airline system to a halt.
This shows the effects of a globalised world, where an Icelandic volcano can affect a humble guest house in Ruhengeri or a flower farmer in Thika.
Africans seem to be able to deal with any natural disaster because we have a fatalistic attitude that lets us shrug our shoulders. The problem is this fatalistic attitude is holding us back, the other day I walked past a pit latrine that was overflowing and none of the locals seemed bothered; they’d just grown accustomed to the smell.
Our banks close down for 2 weeks when parents have to pay their children’s schools fees. All other transactions seem to stop, there is a 3 hour wait just to send in a cheque, or withdraw money.
The air is stifling, no ventilation, tempers often boil over, and all this is a ritual we repeat over and over. No one has ever thought of solving this problem once and for all, I can pay cashpower at any shop, why not school fees?
Bank tellers tend to call in sick because they know the day will be hectic, so even fewer tills are open. I refuse to believe that banking reform will take decades as the bankers will tell you.
I believe that we can have better banking tomorrow if the will was there on all sides. Firstly we need cooperation between banks, you should be able to pay or withdraw from any bank account without facing a charge. You should be able to close your account free of charge.
The Rwandan banking sector signed 200,000 new customers last year and added only 22 new branches – do the maths, 10,000 new customers per branch, not counting the old ones.
It will take the banks too long to build the branches and recruit the staff required. We need to take banking to the masses, where they are, by having agents do local banking on behalf of banks. We cannot have a situation where our system is expected to break down when children go back to school.
Part of the problem is that we like to leave things till the last minute; when the deadline is near, all parents run to pay. This is a man-made disaster we can solve, it is like a volcano where you know the exact time and day of eruption and yet we take few precautionary measures.
I will write a similar piece in a couple of months as nothing will be solved, the banks cannot even sit down to work out a solution, so maybe the government should force them to the table.