THERE is a broken escalator at the airport that has remained unrepaired for quite sometime now. Somebody went and put scaffolds on it and left it there. I’m not sure if it’s a spare or a budget problem. Whatever that may be, our own attitudes are lethal to our development most of the times; lack of regular and periodic maintenance programs and taking things as a luxury that we can do without is what normally takes us there.
On Valentines Day, we had extreme heat at the airport for hours because Tanesco did their thing and the standby generators are too old for a back-up. From around 1.00pm to 6.00pm the airport was both very dark and very hot. Imagine the operation of aircrafts in a power-cut-off situation. I’m told air-flight carriers had to do most operations manually or with the limited electrical power saved in the UPS machines.
I had to follow it up because not so many people were able to figure this out. So I sought to speak to the authorities. I was briefed over the phone by the director that the power was due to dead generators! Dead generators! I was stunned. Why wait until death do us part with our generators before making a plan? He actually told me that there were plans to secure emergency funds to start the procurement process.
I remembered John Maxwell, a leadership trainer, who says that a good leader sees things before they turn into emergencies. I was wondering that the airport leadership was not able to see this beforehand despite the claim that the generators are too old and they know it. He insisted that it was the case and I proceeded to ask him a few more questions that he termed technical and asked me to go to the airport to speak to him with his technical team.
At the airport the story changed a bit. He didn’t seem to insist on the broken generators; but after bragging that they have a good back-up system and also have stand-by of stand-bys, he told me there was something wrong that he insisted I wasn’t qualified to know! And continued to be very defensive on the whole thing.
Anyway, the director said they have three heavy duty generators (though he wasn’t specific on the capacity of each) that all died along with the long standing escalator due to old age (25 years). I was so surprised to learn that three independent generators would die instantly on Valentines Day as though they were also on a romantic outing and all shared a toxic cocktail drink.
I immediately advised the very irritated director that the only possibility was either the generators died one by one but nobody bothered to find an alternative plan before coming to total darkness or the technical set up was wrong so that if one failed, the other two also fail. I also suggested to him that there should have been emergency lights connected separately from the generators to help customers in emergency situations. This scared me and I quickly remembered that we’re about to have another terminal three and thought that we must put some things into perspective before we start getting emergencies.
The preliminaries are underway. People have already been displaced out of their homes. Their homes have quickly been put to ruins. All blocks have gone where they came from – to dust. Citizens are now a good source of news coverage (as if somebody really cares); taking a good chunk of airtime on TV stations complaining about the usual and the always not-enough compensation.
But I’m afraid they’re talking to the wind; I’m not sure their case is being heard; because our good government has been consistently tough on such matters. They have all the defensive slogans one needs to get away with such brutal acts – their most favorite being the “rule of law” (I wish we applied the rule of law in every area of our lives).
They do it all the time. They did it at Ubungo, they did it at Tabata (and for the first time admitted that there were mistakes); now they have done it again at Kipawa. Actually these guys are so confident; they once attempted it in Msasani; but Nyerere, the selfless true leader, protected his neighbors and his people. Trust me, they are doing it in Kinondoni right now. I’ve yet to understand why is it always so complicated to handle such exercises with fairness.
It is as if we do it to animals – with an I don’t-care attitude! I’m not sure why it always starts and ends the same way – compensation complains and defense. The long tale of the explosives' victims at Mbagala ended in the same fashion. Pay as little money to as few of them as possible and proceed; after all there are charismatic guys to defend it on TV. Anyway that’s preliminary. I’m not discussing preliminaries today. It’s about the real thing – JKN Airport: design, construction, maintenance and services.
I’m afraid my article may be a step behind this important stage of a building cycle, but if there is still any chance, let me offer a word of caution: please, let’s design an International Airport in the real meaning of the words. In my opinion I believe there are two important elements not to miss: sustainability and multiplicity. Let’s design something that will stand the test of time; something that will be useful several decades down the road.
I’ve always been made to wonder why we do designs in this century as if they were designed a century or two back. Mediocrity seems to be the underlying principle in our projects. A few examples are obvious in Dar, the Manzese bridge for instance. It was meant to be a safer crossing option in order to reduce accidents due to large high speed traffic around the area. A few years now, and the bridge is useless, only being utilized by thugs and petty photographers.
The problem? Design. It didn’t fulfill the requirements according to the needs at the area. The bridge is just at a spot in a spanned area, which requires quite a bit of footing from either direction to get to it. The result: in a rush, people can’t prepare to walk that distance in an effort to “chase” a far-reaching bridge!
Alternatively, Morogoro Road should have been raised at a distance of just a half a kilometer to give room for underpass. That would have solved both the problems of accidents and shortage of funds once and for all. The no-enough-funds cliché has become part of our daily life as if somebody told us, Tanzanians, that the alternative to shortage of funds is wrong designs or inferior goods/services!
Recently we heard a plan of shifting the Bagamoyo road from Lugalo down to Kawe. To my understanding, this should have been a good opportunity to design a great highway from city centre to Bagamoyo. Guess what? The road was designed so narrow that it is currently already outsized by the traffic before even shifting the daladala routes. Actually the Mbezi residents decide to make it a one-way traffic in the busy hours of the morning rush. I would therefore recommend being very keen in the JKN Airport design.
The second element is multiplicity lacks very basic services for both international and local travelers. Now that we need to attract more investors, tourists and visitors, efforts should be made to design a world class International Airport by providing enough spaces for services. The monopoly that results from unavailability of spaces should be put to rest. Standards should also be set and all retailers be advised to adhere to them.
We’ve recently been made a testing laboratory of many new technologies. Regrettably, our decision-making clique normally takes pride in “this is a new technology”! So what?? Let’s not jump to technologies that have never been proven workable in any other part of this planet, complicated technologies that will leave us waiting for an engineer to come from elsewhere for a broken bolt or nut.
Much as we can’t be inventers, we can refuse to be testers and dumps, and instead choose good technology that can easily be maintained and repaired. There is no need to be proud of something that we don’t have a clue about how to repair when it’s broken. Let’s use good and repairable technologies.