Saturday, 14 November 2009

Only in Africa/ The Lords of Arua Streets

In 2003, a New Vision newspaper writer described Arua Town as a place where you are more likely to get knocked by a bicycle or wheelbarrow (because of the many high rise constructions going on) than a car. Of course there are many cars (In fact, from Uganda, Congo, Sudan and other countries) but their speeds are wonderfully moderated in the busy town centre by the innumerable bicycles and pedestrians. The Most Recent Phenomenon on Arua streets though has been the strong and fast Senke motorbikes, many of which are used to ferry goods or passengers. A friend from Soroti, Eastern Uganda was irked one night when an approaching Senke cyclist switched on his left indicator but didn't turn. If my friend had moved to the opposite side of the light instead of standing still, they would have collided. Other times, the riders look behind (probably marvelling at a mullato - light skinned woman - who has just passed them) and if they narrowly dodge an accident with you moments later, they abuse you instead of apologising. Some visitors even wonder if "smashers" (Nickname for "Marijuana Smokers" in Arua) are allowed to ride. Not all bikers smoke bamboo pipes but you might put question marks on the reckless ones. Go to a video hall and you may find almost just about anybody including women and young kids with "mairunji" weed which is a big cash crop in Arua. The MP (Member of Parliament) from Maracha once amused his fellow parliamentarians when he said that Marijuana (Ganja) should not be abolished, "Over 10,000 people in West Nile export it to Congo and Sudan." During one food crisis, they had no money made from crop growing, so they resorted to selling marijuana.

In a different mode though, Senke riders are connected to another interesting spectacle on Arua streets. Have you ever seen petrol stations that run as fast as Usain Bolt and John Akii Bua rolled in one or thereabout like Lugbara Thunder or Ovi (Lightning)? Trust me, one day while walking on the corner of an Arua street, you may get scared when you see a determined youth running towards you with a mineral water bottle containing petrol. If you are really timid, you may turn and also run for your life ahead of him. But he ain't after your life nor purse, beautiful lady. Stand still and you will see him bypass you, woooh, that was close. He will suddenly stop near a waiting Senke motorbike (with the rider's passenger at the back) and pour petrol (like an uptown filling station) into the oil cylinder through a cut bottle as a makeshift sieve. These Arua Boys remind you of the prosperous entrepreneural businessmen in Arua popularly known worldwide as "OPEC Boys". Though regarded as smugglers in the 1980s and 90s, some of them have legitimate businesses today. For more information, try asking the Arua Boys Society (Box 84 Arua, Uganda) located somewhere on Ociba Road after the T-Junction with Hospital Road.

There is another compelling thing about life on Arua streets: as long as you mind your business or trade honest and fair, no right thinking person is expected to blame you. Nevertheless, some may get jealous, so if some envious idler steps up while you are walking on the street and drops a wallet infront of you, don't listen to whoever follows behind you telling you that you should share the money in it. These are tricksters playing out something called "Kiwani" in Luganda, the same conning technique that inspired Bobi Wine's hit with the same title. They may let you have their fake notes and ask you to offer them your legitimate money as change. You can only become their victim if they are lucky in a town where counterfeits are taboo. One evening, an unlucky man got beaten to near death when he tried to con a certain business owner with fake dollars. He was left for dead on Arua Avenue with oozed blood drying near his mouth. Me and some Senke riders had to lift him to the sidewalk amidst flashes from a Red Pepper journalist's camera.