The first time I had to travel outside Uganda, my country of birth, it was with a Jaguar Executive bus in 2005. In those days, the buses plying cross border route were not as many. You either used Jaguar or the state-run ONATRACOM. Jaguar was also not as big and you just needed to know your time of departure. Buses were coloured depending on the departure times. This left little room for confusion.
A short while later I travelled to Tanzania from Uganda via Nairobi. I was a bit disturbed to find that Akamba buses were so many and had the same colour. So when we would stop for bathroom breaks at places like Kisumu or Nakuru it was easy to forget which bus you were in if you had not taken the time to note the registration plates of your bus. It is amazing how much cross border transport has changed over the years. These days we have 24 hour border posts as well as one stop border posts.
With air travel one has to just note the flight number and keep checking the big screens in the airport to look out for any changes to their schedule. This is usually not so much work unless you are having a tired head or if you get carried away by the free wifi at some airports. Flights that are due for boarding will often be announced on the public address system unless of course you are at an airport like Singapore’s Changi Airport where I noticed that no announcements for boarding flights were made.
There is always a level of anxiety that never seems to leave as one embarks on long trips regardless of the means. I can now only imagine the anxiety that engulfed passengers aboard the Airbus A330-300, better known as flight WB700, from Kigali International Airport direct to Gatwick International Airport in London. It could sound cliché but it is amazing to see RwandAir spreading its wings to Europe starting with direct flights to London’s second biggest airport.
RwandAir is already covering the continent quite well as well as flying to the Gulf and India. Next in their plans are flights to New York and other Asian destinations while also increasing its continental footprint. Speaking of maiden trips, Kenyans will soon get to enjoy the Standard Gauge Railway train whose passenger service will be launched on Wednesday next week.
The best thing about this service is that it will cut the time spent on a bus from Nairobi to Mombasa by half. I have used the bus from Nairobi to Malindi, another coastal town, and trust me it is not a short journey. Being able to do it in about half the time is clearly a blessing. The Nairobi – Mombasa route has some of the most comfortable buses in the region and it will be interesting to see whether the train is a disruption to their business model or not.
What I look forward to though is this train running all the way to Rwanda and also cutting the road travel times by half. The longest bus rides I have taken have been Kampala to Moshi (Tanzania) and Kigali to Nairobi. Both journeys will have your back side tortured for 24 hours. Being able to do Kigali-Nairobi in 12 hours would be nothing but a blessing.
Kigali to Kampala in a mere four hours would instantly change the whole concept of border to border or as the folks at border town of Busia called it, boda boda. It is often said that in the 1980s bicycles used to ferry consumer goods between the Uganda – Kenya border were referred to as boda boda. Eventually many upgraded to motorcycles but the name boda boda was carried forward.
As you read this, the noun boda boda can now be found in the 9th edition of the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary as a word associated with a form of transport in East Africa. I think Rwandans should get with the programme and change from calling them taxi-motos to boda bodas. With trains running fast and affordably across the region, integration will be on a whole new level.
The day the SGR train runs from Mombasa to Kigali or from Dar to Bujumbura and Kigali we can also call it boda boda instead of SGR which is not really a name as Kenyan Youtuber Caroline Mutoko pointed out recently. SGR is the technology not the name.