By D. Kaihenneh Sengbeh
Getting There Before Going There
I couldn’t wait to be there. In fact, I wasn’t alone with this euphoria. With an undisputed eye of imagination, almost all of us, from many nations who were gathered in Kampala, had visited the place even before we started the journey there.
Nearly everybody had some kind of imagination about the place or a thought of doing something memorable when they get there. If my photographer mate, Tshepiso Gabotlhomolwe of Botswana was not foreseeing how she would pose to take the best photo shots and dance with the cultural troupe, my award-winning Zimbabwean colleague Prosper Ndolve would be imagining how it feels riding a boat on the river and taking photographs of reptiles. On the other hand, fellow journalist Rochete Libombo of Mozambique (a singer and dancer as well) would be locked into the local cultural performances. Several other people just wanted to have a sight of the place while others wanted to buy things to take home to their kids or love ones as a souvenir. The reasons abounded.
First Thing First – The Tax Mater
The tour was organized by the Uganda Revenue Authority, the host of the ATAF’s 4th International Conference on Tax in Africa (ICTA) the event ran from 19th to 21st November 2019 at the Kampala International Conference Center. Forty-eight countries, 37 from Africa, were represented by over 450 participants from Ministries of Finance, African Tax Administrations, Members of Parliament, Civil Society, multilateral organizations and media practitioners, among others. I was invited as a founding member of the African Tax Media Network—a group comprising tax communicators with revenue authorities and independent journalists writing and reporting on tax matters in Africa.
The purpose of the Kampala meeting was to deliberate on how Africa can contribute to the current global debate on new taxing rights, to ensure African countries benefit from the new global tax rules. The meeting also discussed how African tax administrations can harness technology to improve tax systems. During the 4th ICTA, ATAF also celebrated its 10th Anniversary, reflecting on the past decade and future plans of the organization in assisting African countries to boost Domestic Revenue Mobilization efforts.
In attendance was His Excellency Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, President of Uganda. In his keynote address President Museveni congratulated members of ATAF on its 10th Anniversary. He stated that “tax revenue is vital to the development of Africa, and ATAF must continue to support African countries in their Domestic Revenue Mobilization efforts”. Museveni underscored that African countries should invest in strategies to increase tax revenue. Specifically, he said that digital transactions are always traceable electronically, commending the use of digital stamps in the production process that reduces smuggling. The Conference ended with an 8-page outcome statement with 25 key points for Africa to work towards in taxing the digital economy.
Touring the city of Kampala and visiting the source of the Nile were added to the calendar of events. Believe you it or not, visiting any of these lively touring sites would definitely add to the revenue base of Uganda for the day.
Choosing Our Choices
Days before we embarked on the day-long journey, tour assistants from the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) had asked participants interested in going on the tours to select either of two places to go: The City of Kampala or the Source of the Nile. More than 80 percent of those interested in the excursions chose to go to the Nile. The information about the two expeditions were tempting, and if I had the opportunity, I could go for both. Yes, you guessed right. I headed for the Nile.
Though I didn’t choose the Kampala tour, I learnt well that touring the capital of Uganda is enticing and eye-catching. The city is seated on seven hills. One would have to go through Old Kampala, site of the Kibuli Mosque, site of the Anglican Namirembe Cathedral, the Rubaga Catholic Cathedral, Nsambaya and Nakasero Hills, among several other historical places. Interestingly, Kampala has been named the best city to live in in East Africa by Mecer, a global development consulting agency based in New York. The city is immersed in culture with numerous traditional sites including the Martyr’s Shrine at Namugongo Kabaka’s Palace.
You don’t want to miss visiting the Namugongo Martyr’s Shrine. It is the memorial site for the young men who were killed by the Buganda King Mwanga II for refusal to denounce their Christian faith: both Anglican and Catholics. Hearing this, I reflected on the Biblical story as recorded in the book of Daniels Chapter 3, when the three Hebrew boys (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego), refused to worship King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. These three “stubborn” Hebrew boys survived, according to biblical accounts. Meanwhile, in Uganda, these young guys who refused to denounce their faith were burnt to death on June 3, 1886. This date is commemorated as the Martyrs Day in Uganda, attracting thousands of Pilgrims from within and out of the country. Yes, 134 years later.
Despite this interesting historical information of the nice city, we chose going to the Source of the Nile. As we did just that.
The Journey To The Nile
By 7:45am Friday, Nov 22, buses were already before our respective hotel lobbies waiting for us. They were assigned to pick and drop us at the Serena Kampala Hotel (the conference center) from where, about 150 of us, would kick off the long-awaited journey to the Source of the Nile.
The journey was very interesting. We were ecstatic. Who, especially in Africa, and many parts of the world, hasn’t read about the River Nile in high school and/ or college? If you didn’t read about it in your geography class, you might have done so in History, and if you didn’t read or hear anything about it at all while in school, then, there’s something fundamentally wrong somewhere down the line. Even at that, you might have heard something about the Nile River in your part of the world.
For me, it was history-making to go see the Source of the Nile. I read about the Nile, the Mississippi, the Amazon and Yellow, Yangtze and Congo Rivers in high school and college. Others were Lake Victoria, the Red Sea, the Great Wall of China, the Pyramid of Egypt, and many more. I don’t even know why our teachers bored us with all these things those days. Anyway, it was part of the learning process. Meanwhile, this time, it was not about writing a pop quiz or taking a national exam on any of these great marvels. It was about going to see and believe the source of the Nile in Uganda, just as I did with the Great Wall, Under Ground City and Forbidden City in China; the Kakum Forest and the Cape Coast Castle (Gate of No Return) in Ghana; and the Statue of Liberty in New York years back, among several others I have seen.
Seeking God’s Protection
By 9am, I was seated on a gray coaster bus along with 25 other persons including our driver, Mubiru Edward, a Ugandan Parliament driver. There were four other 25-seater Coaster buses and a huge 50-60-seater bus in a convoy headed by a police escort. At the tail of the convoy were a Uganda Revenue Authority first-aid jeep and an ambulance.
When we were all seated on our bus, Brian Basil, a staff member of the URA asked us to pause for a moment as he prayed for God’s blessing and protection during the two-hour plus journey to the Jinja Province. I noticed that the people of Uganda, like in Liberia, offer prayers at many events. Following the prayer, Allan Tayebwa, another staff of the URA on the bus, served each of us packets of food stuff including apples, dates, yogurt, chocolates and biscuits as a way of making our journey sweet. Oh, yes, and it was sweet.
The Lecture Ride
A view od some of the five buses that took us to the Source of the Nile
At 9:15am, we were already on our way. As the police sirens screeched through the city, so was everyone and all other vehicles clearing the way as our convoy effortlessly snaked through Kampala towards the Jinja province. Kampala is beautiful with attractive buildings. Jinja is a town located in southeastern Uganda where the Nile flows out of Lake Victoria, situated at an elevation of 3,740 feet (1,140 meters) above sea level. Research informs me that Jinja was founded in 1901 as a British administrative center and grew to become one of the larger towns in Uganda.
When construction on the Owen Falls Dam (now the Nalubaale Dam), was completed in 1954, the hydroelectric power thus provided was instrumental in Jinja’s development as the country’s main industrial center. A second dam, Kiira, was later constructed about one kilometer from Nalubaale. It was completed in 1999 and began producing hydroelectric power in 2000. Industries there include the first steel-rolling mill of eastern Africa, a copper smeltery, plywood and tobacco factories, and a grain-conditioning plant.
During the ride, we had enough time listening to Brian Basil, laughing and learning from him as he explained to us segments of the city and major infrastructure and development along the way including one of the country’s major sports stadiums. Actually, Brain has a brain. He made us laugh such that we didn’t feel we were traveling a long distance. It was a lecture ride. The bus would get silent for a while. After a while, the silence would be broken by a joke or a query by one of us. And Brain knew just how to break the silence. Each time Brain talked, we would laugh and learn something new about Uganda, Kampala and towns along the way. He would shout something funny to break the quietness. Then, all ears and eyes would switch to him. Actually, he was engaged in entertainment communication. He kept us lively.
Seated in the front, next to the driver, my eyes were peeping left and right to catch a glimpse of the city, and learn things for myself. I did it so well.
This Traffic Thing
The weather was good, sun rays descending from a mixture of white blueish mid-morning skies. This doesn’t mean it won’t rain. The rain came several times. Though we didn’t experience any while going to Jinja, the traffic is actually a problem in Kampala. Like in most developing countries and cities, traffic congestions take away much of people’s time from one destination to the other, especially during morning and evening rush hours. You can’t escape that, too, in Kampala. I experienced it the very first day I arrived there.
I arrived at the Entebbe Airport at 10am, but I didn’t get to my hotel until nearly 1PM. It would have been even longer had the driver not taken several by-passes. Even the borda-borda (local name for motorcycles) get stranded in the Kampala traffic. Oh, they have many, many streets, far compared to Monrovia. I think the reason for such traffic in a big city is that there are just too many people with vehicles streets.
Main roads are usually congested which is why several drivers, including the one who drove me to the hotel, take shortcuts or “panya” which are smaller than standard roads.
They are so narrow to even accommodate a single passenger car, but they are good to help by-pass traffic. Because every driver assumes no one uses them, many end up using them, causing yet another trail of off-road traffic jam. The Government is using taxes paid by the people doing something about it, just as our Liberian Government is paving more roads in Monrovia.
In a bid to ease such traffic congestions in the city, the Ugandan Government is building the Sentema and Lubigi Junctions interchanges at 448 billion Ugandan Shillings to be completed in 2021. A segment of the 23-km road was set to be opened for public use last December.
Meanwhile, despite the huge traffic in the city, again, we didn’t experience any on this trip to Jinja. The police were before and behind us in what looked like a VIP convoy. Oh, yes, we were VIPs. Because the police were leading our convoy with a blaring siren, obviously, people, at some places, stood by and watched us pass. At one point, I saw a woman seated on a borda, borda pushing her lips up towards our bus, as if giving our convoy an unhindered movement was a crime against humanity. No, we were just VIPs, and her anger could do nothing about it. After all, we were going to see the source of the River Nile in her country—in Jinja—a source of revenue collection.
In Mukono District, the one next to Kampala, we noticed road maintenance and expansion works ongoing. This is intended to keep the path that leads to one of the mostly toured regions in better shape. Ugandan had 68 districts. Kampala District is the one that hosts the capital, Kampala.
Several miles of drive later, Brain announced we were in Buikwe District. Just before entering Buikwe District, I noticed street peddlers swarming around vehicles at bus parking, waving roasted meat and other foodstuff to passengers as done here at 15 Gate in Margibi and Salala Gate in Bong. I thought it was home. No, we were journeying to the Nile, seeing very beautiful landscapes and other sceneries. What I noticed unique about these highway sellers is that they were all uniformed. They were dressed in either red or orange overcoats/jackets over their clothes. I was puzzled and asked.
Allan Tayebwa of the URA, on the bus with us, made me understand that some local markets in Uganda have rules. “They have organized themselves and are identified as those selling that goods or products at that location,” he said. “If you are not identified, you can’t sell the product there. So, if you want to do a particular business, you must be identified,” Allan would tell me.
The journey continues: In Buikwe District, we stopped at a small café, the Nile Grill, for those who wanted to have snacks, esp. tea, and to buy some beautifully made Ugandan suits and artifacts. Moments after we picked up from the café, we entered the biggest national forest in Uganda. The Mabira is the largest forest in the central region of Uganda covering 306 square kilometers, Brain said. He explained that the forest is rich with scores of species and serves as a great livelihood for the people of the region.
The forest harbors a remarkable diversity of flora and fauna including over 312 species of trees and shrubs, 316 bird species, 219 butterflies, 97 moths, and 35 species of mammals including primates such as Red-tailed Monkeys and Grey-cheeked Mangabeys, research tells me.
Then, I Saw The Nile
By 11AM, we were in the district of our final destination: Jinja. Jinja is very important to Uganda as it supplies hydroelectricity to much of the country, I learnt.
We were already in the vicinity of the Source of the Nile (Jinja District) in Busoga Region, principally inhibited by farmers. There you see the beautiful landscape across the river.
“Oh, I have seen the Nile”, I shouted, and my bus mates laughed it off. However, we were still going. This time, it wasn’t just about seeing the Nile. It was about seeing the Source of the longest river in the world, that snake through 9 countries. So, we went. Farms, gardens, plantations and factories are along the road. The people of Jinja are productive and are heavily involved with agriculture.
At 11:20AM, our vehicles were parked. “Welcome to the Source of the Nile,” Brain would shout. In a few minutes, we were all excitedly disembarking our vehicles and trooping down towards the river. There were, however, many distractions from sellers of traditionally made Ugandan clothes, hats, slippers and other attractive artifacts. Clothes, no, I couldn’t go for one. Our tailors and traditional clothes makers in Liberia are very good as well, and I can’t just let go cash easily for African sewn clothes, except for
Souvenir purpose. The sun was scorching like a hot March day in Liberia. So, I captured a hat sold for 20,000SH (US$6:30) to cover my head. I like the hat and I am still enjoying using it.
The Boat Ride To the Source Of The Nile
The most interesting thing about going to the Source of the Nile is the boat ride. The boat takes up to 50 persons. Everyone wears a swimming jacket just in case anything happens. You hear beautiful Ugandan music vibrating across the atmosphere, mixed with a cozy breeze from Lake Victoria smacking across your face.
Each time the boat returns from the Source of the Nile, tourists disembark either with dances or smiles as if they had won a marathon race. While waiting for the boat ride, you have an opportunity to tour the zoo to see for yourselves living amphibians, mammals and reptiles that are either caught from the Nile or its environments. I am talking about the snakes—the deadly pythons—the crocodiles, the tortoises and many more. You see them; they look at you; they feign; you quiver.
I was among the second batch of 50 boat riders. I wasn’t afraid of the water as many of my fellows were. I have learnt how to swim, growing up as a boy in rural Liberia-Bomi County. I still have those skills and techniques, and I could do it in the Nile if I had to. While on the boat, Derrick Matovu Mpaata explained everything to us about the Nile. The source of the Nile is the offspring of Lake Victoria and underground waters. As we rode the boat, we reached the point where the boat stopped for us to see the actual source of the Nile. Indeed, the Nile comes out of Lake Victoria, plus an underground water that you see shooting upward, and combining to flow a downward 4000-mile journey to the Mediterranean Sea. You see Lake Victoria—still, unmovable. Then, you see something like a stream making its way out. “That is the Source of the Nile,” Derrick told us. “It is combined with the underground waters you see there like shooting upward, and flowing downstream to create the Nile. The experience at the Nile was great. I danced with the cultural dancers, I dipped my hands and feet in the river and washed my hands with the Nile.
Dining at The Nile
After more than three hours of all the euphoria: buying, taking photographs, sight-seeing and boat ride, we were on our way to the Source of the Nile Hotel for lunch.
It was my best launch for the time in Kampala. It’s not that the food there was better than those at both Serena and Sheraton Hotels where I had been chewing on and swallowing good food that made it the best lunch. What was unique about this was not because the hotel is overlooking the Nile River, but those huge fish (tilapia) that landed in our plates.
We had either of two choices to make at the menu for lunch. Chicken or fish. Obviously, I along with many other including my pals from Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Morocco settled down for the juicy tilapia from the Nile.
By 4:05 pm, the mission was over and we were on the buses back to Kampala. Tired from all the euphoria and sightseeing, of course, many persons would be asleep when we get back to the hotel around 7PM.
For me, it was a mission accomplished. The history I read in high school and college about the longest river in the world had unfolded right before me. Oh yes, I can tell anybody anywhere anytime and, in any way, that I have seen the Source of the Nile. And, when I tell them, I will say: I read about the Nile, I went to the Nile, I washed my hands in the Nile, I danced at the Nile, I rode a boat on the Nile, ate a fish from the Nile, at the Source of the Nile hotel. The memory is treasured!
Kaihenneh Sengbeh id Manager for Communications, Media and Public Affairs at the Liberia Revenue Authority. He’s former Secretary General of the Press Union of Liberia and is reached by email@example.com or (+231)886586531/777586531