Quick! Stop reading now. Put down your iPad. Look out the window. There is a huge fire burning in the south of town.
See the huge smoke billowing up with all the pent up rage of mother Earth? No, it is not teargas. That is kid’s play compared to what is upon you now. And no, those are not fireworks to celebrate this week’s swearing in of our beloved ruler.
What you see is the non-partisan reality of fire, now consuming all in its wake. While you slept, the fire was sweeping through Najjanankumbi, on the south side of Kampala.The road to Entebbe has been cut off. The fire started further south, way beyond the points where the panya (rat) routes join the only highway to the country’s international airport.
The inferno is gaining energy and speed. Dry bushes, motor vehicles and plastic trash are the perfect fuel for mother nature’s revenge. It is spreading, with a pincer movement towards Nateete to the west and Makindye to the east. By mid-day tomorrow, the fire will have encircled Kampala, a rather tiny place covering only 189 square kilometers. Time to evacuate mate.
For the moment, the eastern and northern routes are safe. However, the traffic jams have already brought the roads to a standstill. The police are doing their best to help – beating drivers, threatening to use teargas and causing more chaos, if that is possible. Some are supplementing their meager incomes with bribes from hapless motorists with expired license plates.
That noise above you is a helicopter, evacuating the ruler and his family to the safety of their spread in Rwakitura. Many boats on Lake Victoria, laden with “those who fought,” are heading south and east, to the safety of Tanzania and Kenya. There was no room on the boats for their drivers and bodyguards. Poor fellas must survive or perish with the rest of the wretched of the Earth. In any case, it would not be good to separate them from their families in the endangered slums where many of them live. They should be comforted by the knowledge that their bosses are praying for their safety.
The Minister for Disaster Preparedness, Management and Refugees has already arrived in Kisumu. He is appealing to the meddlesome Europeans and Americans to send urgent assistance to Uganda. The American Ambassador is staying put at her compound in Kololo, from where she is directing rescue and firefighting operations. Ugandans are looking up to her for help.
Listen to that explosion! Cars and trucks reduced to metallic shells. Mansions on the hills and wooden shacks in the valleys face the same fate. Roadside vegetable stalls and the great supermarkets have been abandoned.
Women in yellow busuutis adorned with smiling images of a man with a large hat are fleeing east from Kansanga. Close behind them are men in blue T-shirts, with images of KB leading the way. Children on their mothers’ backs are screaming, their noise drowned by frightful explosions of Lord-knows-what, and loud helicopters circling over the city. The helicopters’ singular mission is to rescue more of “those who fought” and their progeny. Other helicopters, with American flags, have just arrived from their Indian Ocean base to whisk away their citizens.
Suddenly, Kampalans are united by the frightful specter of their shared mortality. NRM cadres have been abandoned together with FDC activists to a mutual fate that now reminds them of the foolishness of their fights a few weeks ago. The beneficiaries of their work on February 18 are making steady progress across Lake Nnalubaale (Victoria). The chief beneficiary has already arrived in his Middle Income enclave 200 km west of Kampala. Funny world!
The hardworking doctors and nurses at Mulago and Naguru Hospitals are already overwhelmed by casualties. The expensive private hospitals in town are full of the panicky rich whose asthma and anxiety have conspired to sabotage their escape from hell. The great old mission hospitals at Nsambya, Rubaga and Mengo are hybrid healthcare and refugee centres.
Some citizens have taken advantage of the situation to stock up on free merchandise from the abandoned shops. The petrol station operators have hiked the prices as though eager to stop motorists from escaping the inferno. The rich are racing to their mansions to retrieve the millions of cash hidden under their beds. Greed is good!
Do you hear that song in the distance, Tingasiga? “Kampala is burning, Kampala is burning/ Fetch the engines, Fetch the engines/Fire, Fire, Fire, Fire / Pour on water, Pour on water!”
Oh, praise God! That was a dream. Kampala is safe. For the moment. My dream was triggered by the great fire that has reduced the Canadian city of Fort McMurray, Alberta to ashes. Since May 3, the fire has been raging and destroying all in its path. So far 1,610 square kilometers (about 9 times the size of Kampala) has been burnt down. The forecast is that the fire may rage on for weeks, even months.
Happily, the residents of Fort McMurray, 80,000 plus, have been evacuated. So far there have been only two deaths during the evacuation. This effective response to a major disaster is a consequence of three things. First, the governments here are freely chosen by the citizens. Therefore they do not spend public funds and all their time and energies trying to stay in power by force.
Second, they put citizens first, regardless of social station or political affiliation. Every life matters. Municipal, provincial and federal budgets give priority to the community’s common interests, not those of the leaders.
Third, all public service departments are part of an integrated disaster response plan that has been rehearsed over the years. They were ready.
Today it is Fort McMurray. Tomorrow it may be Kampala or Kitgum or Kabale. May my fiery dream never come true!