There’s an old saying in Uganda about the beauty of a storm knocking down a huge tree that you’ve been trying to figure out how to cut.
The tree wasn’t just an obstacle to your plans , but it was also home to nasty pests, including monkeys that will destroy your crops. But every time you looked at your little ax you figured it would take you months to cut down the damn tree. Then you wake up one morning to the night storm toppling the tree without damaging anything, leaving you with firewood for a few years.
The Ukraine crisis looks like the storm will his will solve Kampala’s sickening traffic jam. Literally disgusting, because dirty vehicle exhaust, which gets into the lungs like the coronavirus, is responsible for 20 times more deaths in one year than Covid-19 in two years, according to public health experts.
< Anyway, since the Ukraine affair started about four months ago, the price of the fuel pump has almost doubled and is now Ush6,000 ($1.6) per liter. And for the first time since the oldest Ugandan man can remember, diesel costs more than petrol.
And thanks to the storm in Ukraine, there are still faint but seemingly promising signs that the roads are congested from Kampala loosen. Yes, you heard that right, there is a slight but steady decrease in congestion on our roads as fuel prices rise. And we’re told it’s because of Ukraine.
Note that some road works are ongoing in the city with several lanes closed, which should have further clogged the remaining lanes. But believe me, the rush is lessening. If it isn’t because of rising fuel prices, then maybe some supernatural force is telling Ugandans to drive less and walk more, or stay in one place.
There’s also a chance that since With the Covid-related lockdown, many of the people who have learned to work from home using digital tools commonly referred to as Zoom, even if they are Google or Microsoft based, continue to stay at home and stop driving in rush hour.
Finally, now there is a glimmer of hope. The merciful gods have driven up fuel prices, and fate is resolving the traffic jams that had overwhelmed our planners.
It may have been divine inspiration that stopped us from invading Ukraine. Now that the invasion has donated us the high, unprecedented fuel prices, there is real hope that our respiratory health will be restored. Indeed, skyrocketing fuel prices are imposing a second lockdown on the economy.
But even if we, as social animals, get clean lungs, we still need to move when fuel prices hit $10,000 ($2.7) per liter . As we have wonderful climate and soil we may produce hay and raise horses to ride in Kampala. We can become more sensible and reduce school days from five to three a week, and then encourage practice at home.
Inevitably, we might begin to use alternative means of getting our exercise into a dusty, but soon smoke-free Kampala.
When we start thinking outside the box and stop borrowing money to pay others to think for us, we will start to see the possibilities.
< p>Have our engineers ever verified, for example, that gravity cannot drive trams on cables connecting places in this city made up of a series of hills and valleys?
Have they determined, in what proportion should the downward-facing trams outweigh the upward for movement with such? Pulleys?
The ancient Egyptians used the shadoof to transport irrigation water over a distance. Can we move people across the city using the electricity we generate but not use half of it while continuing to pay the loans used to install the generating capacity?
The answers will fall more easily when fuel prices reach US$10,000 per liter.
Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. Email:[emailprotected]