I know, I know, the popular view in Uganda is that Sudan (Khartoum) is backward, and has nothing to teach us.
But recent years have taught me that Africa is full of surprises. Thus though Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe wrecked the economy, and from September the country will scrap its worthless currency, the Zim dollar, and adopt the US dollar, South African Rand, and other currencies, the place is still kicking.
For example, it has a literacy rate of over 90 per cent, one of the highest in the world. And while it might seem to be a shambles, it receives two million tourists a year, making it the seventh – or fifth depending on how you count – leading tourist destination on the continent.
Not only does it beat Uganda by far, but Kenya and Tanzania too.
And so back to Sudan. Not too long ago, Sudan opened the Salam Centre, and almost immediately it was among the elite of Africa’s heart hospitals.
The hospital is run by an Italian medical charity—and offers free treatment.
So those Ugandans who are not lucky enough to be big chiefs in government, or to be married to one of them, and every other month are in the papers fundraising to take a dear relative for heart surgery to India, might want to look closer home to Khartoum.
People are trekking from all over the world to the Salam Centre for heart surgery.
An AFP reported; “…Khartoum…is an unlikely location for a state-of-the-art heart hospital.
“The Salam Centre is an outpost of neat buildings and greenery amid squat mud brick houses and scrubby wasteland covered with litter.”
In other words, it is unlikely candidate for the hospital, yet it still got it.
Uganda’s healthcare is so bad, I have read some respectable health experts say it is even worse than during the worst period of dictator of Idi Amin during the 1970s!
But Sudan teaches us that even if you don’t have money, you can still have a world class hospital by attracting people to come and build it. There is a new generation of billionaires, like Microsoft founder Bill Gates, even much younger ones, like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, who have lots of money looking for good causes.
In 2011, a similar strikingly state-of-the-art hospital was opened in rural northern Rwanda in Butaro. The 152-bed hospital was set up so that doctors could link up from all over the world to diagnose patients, becoming the first such facility in East Africa.
It was built by the Rwanda government, Partners in Health and the Clinton Health Access Initiative. People thought it was a waste, and that President Paul Kagame had lost his marbles to put such a hospital deep in the village. His argument was that instead of taking it to the city, the city will come to Butaro.
Within weeks, Ugandans in the western part of the country were flocking there in droves. Butaro won’t be a village much longer.
In many ways, it has become a beauty contest for governments. All they have to do is to look beautiful, deserving, or just make it easy for charities to build these things.
But this is not about hospitals, really. It reflects a new development that Uganda should not miss.
Increasingly, countries are doing, or making possible, the establishment of even just one stand-out project, that then creates a buzz or trend that leads to something bigger.
Thus in Ghana, Patrick Awuah, left his rich-paying job at Microsoft, and went home to start a university to create the next generation of critical thinkers and ethical entrepreneurs in Africa. And so he started Ashesi University.
In just over 10 years, it is one of the most international universities in Africa, and it dramatically changed higher education in Ghana and West Africa in general as institutions scrambled to raise standards and to pay lecturers better, in order to keep them. It can be a giant wind farm, as in Ethiopia and Kenya, or solar in Morocco and, soon, Djibouti.
I work in a part of Nairobi where a few years ago, giant telco Safaricom built a mega office. Top end hotels and other new office complexes have come, and just like that it is becoming a district for a rising knowledge economy.
In the opposite tower of our office complex, a few days ago, Oracle, the world’s second largest software manufacturer, opened its regional office to serve 20 African countries, and slapped its giant sign on the top of the building.
Samsung is not too far off, the big Apple agent is a short walk off, the big Sony shop…It was made possible by clever building licencing rules. It was all the Kenya government did.
Mr Onyango-Obbo is editor of Mail & Guardian AFRICA (mgafrica.com). Twitter:@cobbo3