Yesterday I tried to buy an Economy class seat for a quick dash to Uganda, and return on Sunday to catch the Election Day action on Monday March 4.
There were no seats on any of the flights. Well, I am still waiting for something to open up. Oh, I was told there were two Business Class seats, but then I would have to fork out an additional $550 for an upgrade and taxes – for a 5o minute flight. As Wahome Mutahi (RIP) would have said, I am neither too clever nor too foolish, so I figured there were better ways to spend my money.
The non-availability of seats is unusual. For as long as I can remember, it has always been possible to fly between Nairobi and Entebbe at a few hours notice.
I dug a little bit, and found out – not surprisingly – that it has to do with the Monday election. Many people are afraid that there will be a repeat of the 2008 post-election violence and are high-tailing it.
I know of two big international organisations that stopped their staff from travelling to Nairobi three weeks ago. Another just closed its offices in Nairobi and gave its people several weeks off. Some multinationals have taken most of their non-Kenyan staff “out of possible harm’s way”.
No, they are not all going to wait the election out in Uganda. Thing is that seats to flights to Europe from Nairobi sold out days ago. The next city in the region with the most flights out to Europe is Entebbe, so a large chunk of the traffic to Uganda is actually in transit to get flights to Europe.
Most Kenyans and “budget expatriates” who are taking sanctuary in Uganda have been driving across the border over the last 10 days. Ugandan roads and towns, I am told, are teeming with Kenyan registered cars.
Hotels in cities with cleaner air and more affordable rates like Jinja on the River Nile, are doing a roaring business. Joachim Buwembo, columnist for The East African, has called the many people who are flooding Uganda in fear of election violence in Kenya “election tourists”.
I do perfectly understand, and even laud a man or woman who would flee a country because they fear for theirs and their families safety.
However, I do take a slightly different view. Living in your own, and other people’s countries, is like a marriage. You cannot be in it only if it is good. You also have some responsibility to hang in when it is bad. You cannot
think a country is worthy enough for you to work in, make a livelihood there, be sustained by its hospitality, but not have the courage to stand with it in times of trial.
In the end, of course, most of us do run for cover or our lives. The point then is whether Kenya is at a point where one needs to do that run.
Some weeks ago I was talking to a good Kenyan friend, a very pragmatic chap with a sharp nose for business and an equal sense of humour. I had mentioned to him sometime back that I was looking to buy a house in a nice leafy suburb. He told me if I had the money, it was now time to buy.
Some people, he said, were nervous and selling their houses rather cheaply and getting out of Nairobi. I wasn’t ready. If the Monday election ends in a deadlock where no one gets the 50% plus 1 needed to win, we shall go into a run-off that will take place between April 4 and 11th.
There will be more jitters, I suspect. And maybe there will be a few more panic house sellers. If my limbs are not broken, this time I will be ready. For the right price, this time I hope I can buy a house.