Made in Siaya: An epic road trip through East Africa

Ouma Otienoh during an interview with The Standard in Siaya town. [Photo/ Isaiah Gwengi].

A one-way flight from Nairobi to Bujumbura onboard Kenya Airways takes almost two hours. But why fly when you can enjoy an enthralling road trip with friends?

A Siaya teacher opted to take the road less travelled during the April holiday, clocking 3,000 kilometres in just nine days. This is a motoring enthusiast’s dream come true.

Oumah Otienoh, a tutor at Ng’iya Girls High School drove from his hometown in Siaya County to prove a point: determination and resilience.

Together with four associates - Raphael Angasa, Susan Olang’, Sheila Amollo and Milka Oduor, Oumah’s secondary purpose was to have a ‘feel’ of the East Africa Community integration.

In an interview with the Sunday Magazine, this writer caught up with the head of the delegation at a hotel in Siaya Town. He recounts that nothing offers a sense of freedom quite like hitting the tarmac in a private car. You choose the time to travel, how long it takes you to get to your destination and stopovers for photo sessions.

“When you opt to fly, you will only have an aerial view of the landscape before disembarking at the airport,” he says.

Dubbed Globetrotting Tutors, the team, with a full bucketlist of places to visit left for Bujumbura on April 12 through the Busia-Kenya exit.

In the entourage, was a seasoned globetrotter. Raphael Angasa has been to Dar-es-Salam, Port Louis, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Beijing, London and New Jersey.   

Oumah fixed his Toyota Mark X car before setting off on the long-winding journey across the region. He uses a variety of adjectives to describe the automobile – strong, powerful and reliable. 

“I ensured that it was in perfect condition. I spent close to Sh50,000 at the mechanic. This was exclusive of Comesa yellow card insurance and other car accessories. Uganda stood out for its exceptional hospitality and affordable dishes,” he says.

The source of the Nile in Jinja was a must-visit for the team. The twilight boat ride along the river Nile is unforgettable. The globetrotters also visited Makerere University and Uganda Martyrs Catholic Shrine in Namugongo. Their grand experience is worth a chapter or two in a memoir.  

“Rwanda has smooth and well-manicured roads. However, the snake-like roads in the hilly city of Kigali come with a strict 60km/hr speed limit signage. This significantly slowed our journey,” he says.

Rwanda is also known for its elegant women and the unforgettable Kigali Genocide Memorial. On the downsize, fuel is very expensive in Rwanda.

If you are driving a fuel-guzzler, you must have deep pockets to drive around. Another challenge was driving on the right unlike in Kenya where you keep left.

The team says it was strange. There are lots of bicycle taxis in Burundi. The traffic police officers man roadblocks using razor wires. 

This presented its challenges with different facilitation costs incurred between Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi. Uganda surprised them with a swift entry and car clearance. 

Their worst experience was at the border of Tanzania and Burundi.

“To enter Burundi, you bypass the Kabanga border post (Tanzania Customs and Immigration office) and proceed to Kobero on the Burundi side. The one-stop border post is characterised by dilapidated infrastructure, uncoordinated procedures by multiple agencies and low clearance capacity due to heightened corruption,” he says.

He says that their passports, logbook and driving license were confiscated by the authorities for ‘maji’ - a bribe.

He adds; “For over an hour, we implored the immigration officers to surrender the vital travel documents, but our plea fell on deaf ears. We had to dish out some Burundian Franc.”

The authorities also ascertained that they were not Rwandese because the relationship between the two small countries has often been tempestuous - Burundi closed its gates for Rwanda in mid-January this year.

He advises that anyone wishing to visit Burundi must load a full tank. The group made a return trip to Bujumbura without a drop of fuel from major pump stations.

The language barrier was also a real test for them. He warns that for a successful shuttling within Francophone countries, one should be accompanied by a French speaker.

“From the East African road trip, I have learnt some of the deepest lessons of life. Want some big-time experience? Join us for the West African voyage to Yaounde, N’Djamena, Niamey, Abuja, Porto-Novo, Lome and Accra in mid-August,” says Oumah.

“Kigali is unforgettable. I love the place. The roads, the dishes and the hospitality of the Rwandese.” 

The team, donning branded T-shirts – Globetrotting Tutors – echoes that the journey was worth every coin. They aim to visit all the 54 countries of Africa by 2030.



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