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Gole rides bike through eight African countries and back to the Pearl of Africa

Even with near-perfect preparation and planning, and more than Shs 10m in sponsorship secured, Andrew Gole’s bike ride to Lusaka, Zambia started to fall apart on day one, September 19, 2022.

Gole, a digital rights activist, thought he had even over-prepared and thought nothing could be of any surprise for his 3,418km journey. The Uganda Bikers Association had used the same route to South Africa and all had reported it being a smooth ride all through. By his initial estimation, only 22 days would be enough to cover the journey to and fro with several pitstops, educating local communities about digital rights.

After all, he had already done sensitisation trips across all Uganda especially during the Covid-19 lockdown. Surely, that was rehearsal enough. The trip would be part of the side activities for the annual ninth edition of the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica) organised by his sponsor, Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA).

FIFAfrica was initially scheduled for Nairobi, Kenya but the uncertainty looming over the general elections had the forum shift it to Lusaka, Zambia. Gole was meant to ride with another colleague to Lusaka but had to brave the journey alone after his fellow Ugandan biker fell short on some of the required paperwork at the borders.

Only a biker since 2020, this would be Gole’s first cross-border trip, but he was determined and braved the challenge. The money from CIPESA delayed to hit the accounts and Gole had to sleep in Uganda, in Kabale, on the day that he expected to have reached Kigali, Rwanda. 

By his admission, the roads in Rwanda are smooth, clean and inviting and with no traffic police officers in sight; a motorist can be tempted to hit maximum speeds but he had been warned of camera towers and the strict traffic rules in the country.

“There are camera towers everywhere and even on the pavements, dare speed and you will find your fines at the point of exit for foreigners or receive message alerts on phones for the locals,” his fellow Rwandan biker Hillary had warned him.

Hillary fetched him from Katuna to Kigali for the 70km journey that he said took ages due to the speed limits of 40 to 60km/hr. Equally, the 147km between Kigali and Rusumo en route to Tanzania took over two hours, thanks to Rwanda’s traffic rules. Without knowledge of the Kiswahili language and the Tanzanians having little grasp of the English language, in Tanzania, Gole was reduced to a typical tourist in foreign lands.

Only in Dar es Salaam could he finally find some people who could speak sputtering English. Gole says he was amazed by how vast Tanzania was and how it juggled two different climatic conditions – one dry with strong crosswinds that can easily tip a biker off, and one with more humidity and vegetation.

“Tanzania is a very big country and almost half of it is dry. Dry where the grass just looks golden. I stopped in Tonto and for very long distances all I could see was dry land. Then again in the same country other parts you find it’s like Fort Portal. It rains and is vastly green,” he says.

It was on day 8 that he finally reached Lusaka, right in time for the FIFAfrica, where his BMW 1200cc bike was on full display during the four-day forum.

“Let me tell you, if you have travelled Africa by plane, you have not seen anything. You know, you’re up there and it’s just clouds and cold air. There is not much that you get to see. You never get to experience anything – the food, the people, the culture. On a bike, you experience more than a car. On a bike you can make stops; in a car, it might not be easy for you,” he says.

COMPLICATED RETURN JOURNEY

When he went for an experience at the scenic Victoria falls, he decided to just cross into Botswana and then ride back via Zimbabwe, Malawi and then through Mozambique to Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. A big miscalculation that turned out to be.

His bike broke down in the middle of a national park in Botswana, with no contact and the predominantly white motorists were not about to stop to offer him any help. Although his bike eventually got fixed at nearly $200, his journey was abruptly cut short at the Mozambique border as he was told Ugandans need a visa to go through Mozambique and the visa processing period was to take 10 to 30 days. Unknown to Gole, Mozambique has some of the harshest visa requirements for Africans.

Andrew Gole narrates his journey at FIFAfrica22

“They took advantage of me because I was riding alone. The agents had even taken over. They wanted to give me a temporary pass for me to go and sleep the other side and come back in the morning for a visa which would take 10 to 20 days. I was forced to ride at night at 2am. They treated me like I was not an African. I’m bringing in money in their country, I’m buying food, I’m buying fuel – even if it’s little but, I’m bringing in money!”

EXPERIENCE

“What I experienced was really an experience of a lifetime, all the escarpments, all the land. And that is when you appreciate that this Africa is beautiful. All these African countries have their unique climates,” he says.

“Of course, at the end of the day, I conclude and say that Uganda is truly the pearl of Africa. When you look at these countries, not even Karamoja is this dry.”

He best remembers Rwanda for its strict rules and efficiency at immigrations – only 15 minutes and he was cleared through. For Tanzania, the language barrier stuck with him. It was in Zambia where he most felt at home. The hospitality he says was amazing. Not at any one time did he feel like a foreigner as nearly everyone was comfortable using English.

In Malawi, he faced the wrath of the ongoing fuel crisis and the economic hardships, although the people, he says, were always happy. In Zimbabwe, however, he could not bear the high cost of living where transactions are mostly done in US dollars.

Gole says a ride through African countries made him appreciate the good upcountry roads that Uganda has – something that was also said by Al Jazeera’s Haru Mutasa (she is from Zimbabwe, by the way, ignore the ‘Ugandan’ name) when she came over to cover the 2021 presidential elections.

fkisakye@observer.ug

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