Kwashie Gbedemah, Sheraton's food and beverages manager, must have run an entire marathon in supervising lunches and dinners for the Commonwealth Business Forum, and he breathed a huge sigh of relief when it was all over. 'Nothing has happened!'
Sheraton, with a capacity of a good 200 rooms, had been hosting around 1,000 people for the Business Forum in the three days before the main event, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm), and was, by Gbedemah's own admission, stretched to the seams--but pulled it off, despite minor hitches. Not unlike Uganda with the Chogm, in fact.
In a way, it was as if the long-anticipated circus had finally come to town. The Ugandan government had sponsored an intense media campaign for months before the Chogm; and of course construction work all over and around the capital Kampala had been going on for months, so things were fairly 'Chogm-ified' by November 2007, and this even stretched beyond the borders.
Checking in for the flight to Entebbe at Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on my way to the Commonwealth Business Forum felt a bit like a school trip, albeit a very international one--there was definitely excitement in the air as we boarded Kenya Airways, the 'flying matatu'. In Uganda, some people were wildly enthusiastic about the event, with great expectations about the world's attention turning to their country. Some were excited about the business opportunities that Chogm would afford, and others still were fed up with the perennial 'it's Chogm' kill-all excuse for blocked roads, noisy construction sites, questionable deals, or other inconveniences.
In the end, however, whether enthusiastic or wary, few people could escape the overall buzz of anticipation--except for those who engaged in a kind of reverse Chogm tourism and just fled Kampala to avoid the inevitable traffic gridlocks and other Chogm-related obstructions.
When I had been to Entebbe just three weeks before, arrivals were still routed through the temporary building at the far end of the tarmac, and construction work in the departure lounge had sounded as if the ceiling would come down any second. But, on Monday, 19 November, I was in for a pleasant surprise--rehabilitation work on the airport had, indeed, scraped past the finish line, if only just. Freshly painted, with new and more immigration counters, the airport looked welcoming!
Getting into Kampala is...