Africa from the rooftops – East Africa Trip 1

posted in: Stuff 2

About 6 years ago I started installing advertisement monitoring systems in Africa for a small media company. A media company of course has good relationships with their customers i.e. television and radio stations.


The first installations I did was in East Africa, Dar es Salaam, Nairobi and Kampala. My first trip was kind of hectic, the logistics was screwed up totally and we had a lot to learn.

Our first mistake was thinking that renting a car and self driving is a good idea. The roads in these cities are atrocious, and the drivers worse. And the irony is that for the same money you can get a full time driver with a car of the same quality. Anyway on this first trip I was driving around in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi dodging potholes and Kamikazes in cars.

We assumed that TV and radio stations would be good at technology and decided to install our computers at the broadcasters premises. I’m sure you know about assumptions and what they do to you and me. Well to say the least these guys may know something about broadcasting but there was very little understanding of computers, the systems we installed seemed like black magic and mentioning the word linux caused blank looks from all concerned.

The other mistake was thinking that communications systems are similar to that in South Africa and that because we only need to upload a few kilobytes a day to the server back home that dial up internet will be OK. It is up to the point you want to do maintenance and have to dial into the system from South Africa.

Dar es Salaam is actually quite a nice city especially the older part of town where I found some very nice places to eat. Unfortunately DTV where I had to install the computer were a bit surprised, they expected me much later.

Street in front of DTV - Dar es Salaam
Street in front of DTV - Dar es Salaam

The computer installation was quite simple except that it was mostly a hurry up and wait situation and I did not get to the roof, DTV had an antenna that worked well.

Next Stop Nairobi: And I find out the computers are stuck in customs with no hope of getting them out in the next two days. This caused some hectic rebooking of flights causing me to catch the last flight out of Nairobi to Entebi and booking into the Kampala Sheraton at about 1 am.

The next day I meet up with Alex from TV Africa who was quite helpful and surprisingly he had an ISP lined up in the same building as TVA, we got a full internet connection with public IP address from them. TVA had quite a weird array of antennas on their balcony all pointing at a nearby hill with a massive transmission mast on it. There was also quite a nice view of Uganda’s parliament.

Kampala Antennas
Kampala Antennas

The Kampala installation went quite smoothly with only one snag. The only flight I could get back to Nairobi was the very early 5 am flight. This meant leaving Kampala at 2 am to get to the airport in time. This meant about 5 hours sleep in 48 hours, which is no fun at all. I also had one of the most bizarre moments at Entebbe airport. Going through emigration the guy checking passports asks me “Are you a businessman?”, I answer “Yes” and he asks “When are you going to the moon?” My half asleep brain really struggled with this line of interrogation until I realised he was referring to Mark Shuttleworth’s space trip. The guy was just being friendly.

Fairview Hotel Garden
Fairview Hotel Garden

Back in Nairobi I was actually quite happy to hear that the computers haven’t cleared customs yet. I had time to book into the lovely, very colonial Fairview Hotel and go to bed. The only damper on the proceedings were the gunshots going of just after I checked in and the hotel staff all saying “Gunshots Sir? No we didn’t hear any shots”. OF course the next morning when I walk out the front gate I find that the Israeli embassy is opposite the hotel. Half the Kenyan army were standing around looking menacing. With no one saying anything I assumed someone tried to attack the embassy the previous day and probably failed miserably. The Kenian army then showed up with a token presence to look as if they cared. Anyway there were no other incidents during the two days I was there.


I go to GTV who were just down the road to do the installation, again the radio and TV part is well sorted at the TV station but computers are a black art. An additional complication is that they don’t have any means of dialing out directly except for their fax line which, of course, they don’t want to give up. I manage to convince them eventually that the computer will actually dial four o’clock in the morning so it won’t interfere with their fax line. In the process I found out that 4 hour power failures are quite normal in Kenya. (At that time power failures did not happen in South Africa, of course it is very different now). Luckily, because they broadcast from the top of the building GTV had a decent generator set to keep them going, I guess they had big diesel tanks.

We were lucky to be able to swop flights easily when we could not get the computers out of customs in Kenya. If not it, I probably would have wasted a great deal of time and would have needed to fly there again. I was really happy to be back in South Africa after this very hectic trip.

2 Responses

  1. Martin Orton
    | Reply

    Very interesting read! I must say, I’ve never figured you for the ‘blogging-type’ 😉

  2. Well you are right I’m not really the blogging type, but lots of people asked me to write down my Africa experiences and this is as good a place as any. It also gives me more opportunities to swear at software, because as you know all software (even the better ones like wordpress) suck.

    Good to hear from you.

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