Travellers' Impressions
Stories & Articles from around the World

Road Travelling in East Africa - So interesting
By: Ronald Muwanga
East Africa

At around 7:00 am or 3:00 pm, you set off for Nairobi from Kampala using either the Gateway, Akamba, Buscar, Falcon or Scandinavia bus. It is so interesting that your favourite bus stops at Najjembe market in Mabira forest, the largest forest in Uganda about 34 miles from Kampala, to give travellers a chance to buy items like roasted chicken, cold drinks, mangoes, passion fruits and sweet bananas. At this place, travellers buy enough to eat all the way to Nairobi especially when you are travelling with the afternoon bus. The other stop overs are at Idudi where similar items are sold, but the more organized sellers are at Najjembe and then Busia or Malaba; (depending on your route) where travellers have to clear with the migration offices of Uganda and Kenya.

Usually if you are travelling with the morning bus, you arrive at Nairobi in the evening at around 6:00 pm. But before you arrive at Nairobi you have your lunch either at Kisumu, if you pass via Busia, or Eldoret, if you happen to pass via Malaba. With the afternoon bus, that leaves Kampala at 3:00 pm, you arrive at Nairobi on the following day between 5:00 am and 7:00 am. The only problem with the afternoon bus is that travellers do not get enough food stuff as they may require compared to the bus travelling in broad day and that some of the bus stopovers are not safe for travellers in terms of security.

For travellers from countries like Uganda and the European countries, the problem is always the language barrier as Swahili is widely used and recognized as the official national language for both Kenya and Tanzania. Unlike Uganda’s other neighbouring countries like Somalia, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ugandans have a bad impression of Swahili as most of the former and current government soldiers use Swahili. Ugandans think it is a selective language. According to research, Ugandans say the Swahili language was badly introduced in the country by hired forces from Tanzania, the ´Bakombozi´, by Obote´s government and it is regarded as a uniting language for army personnel. The other issue is that it was and still is a language used by robbers, illegal activists and rebels to intimidate and torture people. Although Kenyans and Tanzanians learn English, it is only occasionally used in their countries. So many of the travellers who do not know Swahili find it difficult to order food or buy anything.

More interestingly, the Swahili that an ordinary person in Uganda speaks is different from that of a person in Tanzania and also a different Swahili is spoken in Kenya although with some similar spoken words. For example, the meaning of ´Simama´for a Ugandan is 'to alight', to a Kenya or Tanzanian is a forceful word used to forcefully stop a moving creature (human or vehicle). For them the appropriate word is ´Shikisha´or `Mwisho´. In Kenya and Uganda, they use ´Habari´ for greeting whether young adult or elder which in Tanzania differs being `Shinkamo´. As with many cultural behaviours, greeting strangers is common in Uganda and Tanzania unlike in Kenya where you cannot even approach someone to direct you to a location or direction you need, they will rather direct you to a stranger place where they can rob you. If you are equipped with documented materials like maps, you survive.

In Uganda, English is commonly used, so there is no difficulty asking for assistance like you would find in Tanzania or Kenya. In the latter countries, they get to establish that you are a foreigner so easily if you use English much. In Tanzania, people sometimes regard you as being proud if you use English, but later if they establish that you cannot communicate or understand in Swahili, they get to assist you.

Despite all such problems, road travel in East Africa is so interesting. Try it the next time you are there.

Copyright © Ronald Muwanga 2004