A month ago I was in Nairobi to seek healing for my foster son, Mugisha Gabriel. We arrived at approximately 8:00 a.m. for a 2:00 p.m. appointment at Aga Khan Hospital. It should have taken 45 minutes to reach Aga Khan. Instead we barely made the appointment. Something is horribly wrong with Nairobi. It is the roads.
Whenever a friend from Nairobi visits me it seems our first adjustment question concerns the roads of Kigali. Something is right with Kigali. It is the roads.
Metaphors are dangerous communication devices. They turn the profound and complex into a simple symbol. Yet they resonate. The tragedies of our Great Lake's history are most clearly seen in our roads. Our hope can be found in a master road builder's vision.
I've spent years complaining about Nairobi traffic. Is it corruption? Is it poor planning? Is it poor maintenance?
A month ago a new thought crossed my mind. Nairobi was designed to be the perfect city for British colonial administrators. It had a pleasant climate, good churches and schools, theatres, a railroad, low labor costs, and proximity to abundant natural resources. The only problem was the city designers had no idea where Nairobi was going. The road builders had no vision. Nairobi refused to be contained.
The seemingly irrelevant, but troublesome missionaries were starting schools and preaching that all men were made in the image of God. Knowledge coupled with dignity could not tolerate a shortsighted vision of Nairobi. The road builders had no vision. Nairobi refused to be contained.
The lower caste Asians who built a railroad saw an entrepreneurial opportunity. They went to work. Commerce thrived. With economic gain again came the calls of dignity. The road builders had no vision. Nairobi refused to be contained.
Independence came in 1962 with approximately 250,000 living in Nairobi. With independence all roads led to Nairobi. It became the city of destiny for the ambitious. Today approximately 4,000,000 live in Nairobi. Yet the old roads remain. All complain. The root problem is the founding road builder's poor vision. He never foresaw the consequence of faith, education, business, and ambition.
Our task today is to build a city that holds millions and represents the hopes of a region. In order to reach these hopes we need a master road builder.
A wise mother was once asked how she succeeded at raising her sons. She remarked that she caned the older ones with the younger watching. Little brother succeeded by not making the mistakes of his big brother. My metaphor is too strong if we interpret Nairobi to be Kigali's older brother. Let's interpret Nairobi as our caned brother with historic vision mistakes. Our task today is to build a city that holds millions and represents the hopes of a region.
In order to reach these hopes we need a master road builder. Approximately 2,700 years ago a man gifted with profound moral insight and exceptional powers of expression named Isaiah spoke of a master road builder's vision,
"I form you and use you to reconnect the people with me, To put the land in order, to resettle families on the ruined properties...For the Compassionate One guides them, takes them to the best springs. I'll make all my mountains into roads, turn them into a superhighway. Look: These coming from far countries, and those, out of the north, these streaming in from the west, and those from all the way down the Nile!" (Isaiah 49:8-12, The Message.)"
History's great prophets recycle themselves time after time. What will a Kigali built by a master road builder be like? First, no man or woman gets the glory. When it is a master piece the designer is God himself. Second, God will use the humble who by the coincidences of history realize they are the ones entrusted with the tasks of the day. The human master road builders will be remembered in history by phrases such as "I just got lucky. I just went to work. I worked with a group of heroes. This was about much more than me. This was a call from God to our community."
Next, the human road builders know the emotions of empathy and compassion. They remember what it is like to not have a home to call their own. They grieve over each loss. They labor for the love of future generations in their community. Their greatest desire is for the success of our families.
With this compassion comes courageous vision. Mountains that seem impassable become roads. Then as the road matures it becomes a highway that gathers a region.
What gathers? Nairobi's failings provide some answers.
First, we come to seek healing. Investment in health care brings rewards. Inefficiency in just traveling across town to find healing is unacceptable. We need roads with a vision for ease of movement so we can be healed.
Second, education provides inspiration. Our roads must connect schools on the top of Kigali's hills.
Third, business builds not only wealth but dignity. Our roads must sustain ease of commerce transport.
Lastly, our roads must do for generations what Isaiah predicted. They must call us to journey in discovery.
Something is wrong with Nairobi. It is the roads. Something is right with Kigali. It is the roads. Our hope is in a master road builder.