Paint is expensive. Construction takes time. Materials are hard to come by. Roads are bad. Trucks are slow and most deteriorating and bad on fuel economy and even worse for the environment. Some towns, rather most towns in Africa look like they were started witha good idea but then left to the whim of some mutated virus — and I’m not talking organic. Piles of sand, stone, bricks, metal, rebar line the fronts of businesses. Hobbled together corrugated metal serves sometimes as roofing and other times as siding — or even a flimsy door. Sometimes entire buildings are feebly rivited together corrugated atrocities. But for most people, this is all they know. Nobody thinks twice about that pile of sand that’s been sitting on the side of the road for 3 months. Someone was going to mix concrete I guess. For what? The only asphalt can be found on main roads. Concrete can serve as foundation for some of these buildings. But they better get going before the rain season. That’s when the whole town turns into a muddy reminder of why things can’t and don’t get done in Africa.
After leaving Bunyoni, I encountered my budding friends and future lawyer and president. Gracing them with WorldRider stickers they promised to email me!
Enter mobile or cellular phone companies. In some countries there are two or three carriers. They compete for business. But what’s funny is that each company will construct a cellular tower with all the necessary equipment across the road from each other. There’s no sharing. So there’s costly redundancy. Meanwhile, nobody has laid the bricks for the new casket shop down on main street. But caskets are still selling like hot cakes. Wtih AIDS, the business of death is guaranteed. Sadly.
So if you’re a shop owner investment in anything but inventory is never paramount. Move product, collect shillings, pounds, dollars, rand, qwacha or whatever currency they’re comfortable with. But branding? Image? Not a concern. No need to invest in anything.
But then there’s a way to make your down town look a little brighter. A little cleaner. Our spendthrift mobile carriers will come to the rescue. Rolling past some towns it’s amazing how much money the cellular companies put into branding. From outdoor (billboards), banners hung across streets, indpendent distributors hawking scratch off recharge cards at major interesections dressed in colorful smocks to complete retail facades painted in the cellular carriers hard to miss brand color. Two major carriers operate this way in much of East Africa: MTN (yellow) and CelTel (red/orange). And in Uganda they are out in full force. In Mexico, I remember that it was the beer companies who paid for the paint on buildings and in many places the school playgrounds. I guess in Africa’s case, the cell companies are a better bet!
Cellular carriers are happy to provide paint for willing retailers
Oh while I’m on these random thoughts, it’s interesting to note that in both Latin America and Africa the use of cones or emergency road signs is practically non-existent. And most roads are simply two-lane. So if your vehicle breaks down you must take up a little gardening in order to provide some early warning to oncoming traffic. So it’s not uncomoon to see tree branches or even logs or piles of leaves in the middle of the road. Sometimes they’re left over from a previous accident or breakdown, othertimes you better watch it.
No orange cones or warning beacons in high-vis yellow or orange! Just some tree branches and leaves. Be careful. That big green truck is stopped and stuck.