In this case, the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The border crossing at Bwera is at the far western edge of Uganda, in the northeast of the DRC. It's up in the Ruwenzori mountains, and there's not a lot nearby. So I wasn't expecting much.
First surprise: the road on the Ugandan side is really good. The Ugandan government has been on a roadbuilding kick in recent years. To reach the border we drove south from Fort Portal to Kasese (75 km) and then east to Mpondwe by the border (36 km). The first leg took us 90 minutes, but only because we had to keep slowing down to go through villages; the road was smooth and broad all the way, clean fresh asphalt. The leg to the border was if anything even better: 36 km in forty minutes, tops. If you've travelled any distance in Central Africa you have some idea how amazing those times are.
Anyway. Bwera is a surprisingly busy border town of maybe 15,000 people. There were a lot of trucks lined up there. The formalities at the border can take some time; meanwhile, the town of Bwera stands ready to greet the hungry, thirsty, tired, lonely truck driver and deal with his various needs. Cold beer? A big-screen TV showing the latest World Cup game? Negotiable affection? Fried food on a stick? You can find it in Bwera.
Also, for some reason the town is full of motorcycles. Well, most Ugandan towns are, but these were unusually large and shiny. I have no idea what that's about.
The actual border is a loud mountain river that runs down from the Ruwenzoris to somewhere or other. (The setting is truly gorgeous. The town, umm, less so.) I didn't cross over to the Congo side, but it looked a lot quieter. (Congo runs a trade imbalance with Uganda, so more stuff is going west out of Uganda than comes back the other way.) By all accounts the road there is in much worse shape. The nearest town of any size over there is the city of Beni, which lies on the edge of the famous Ituri Forest.
Everything in town was bilingual in English in French. Okay, sometimes trilingual -- Swahili -- but the English/French thing caught my eye, because it reminded me of crossing from New England into Quebec as a kid.
(Here's a funny thing about Swahili: it's spoken all around Uganda... Kenya, Tanzania, the eastern DRC. But Ugandans don't speak it much. They learn it in school, but they prefer their ethnic languages or English. There's a class thing here, which I don't entirely understand; also, Swahili is or was the language of the army, which is significant somehow. But anyhow, don't expect a Ugandan to speak Swahili at all, never mind well.)
Bweza isn't an easy border post to man. The town only got electricity a couple of years ago, and it goes on and off a lot. There's internet, but only just barely -- that goes on and off, too. Which is a real problem if you're running Customs or border security! All that stuff has become very internet-dependent in the last decade... yes, even in Central Africa.
Here's a real-world example. A trickle of agricultural exports come out of Beni, mostly coffee and cocoa bound for distant Mombasa and the sea. These are just transiting across Uganda, so they come in sealed containers. In theory they should still get an agricultural inspection. In practice, the Ugandan customs guys just break the seal on every fifth container, check to make sure it's really coffee or cocoa inside, and then reseal it and wave it on. This works because the exporter has posted a bond guaranteeing that the container really will transit Uganda en route to Kenya.
If the internet is working, the guys at Bweza will log in the container as transit [entering Uganda]. Two or three days later, the guys at the other side of the country will log the container out as transit [exiting Uganda]. If they don't, in another day or two an alarm will go off and Ugandan Customs will call the container's owner: you have X days to locate that container and bring it, still sealed, to a port of departure or you will forfeit your bond.
It's a good system... when the internet is up. When it's not, there's a lot of tedious filling of forms and long telephone calls.
Installing a reliable, high speed internet link at the Bweza border crossing would probably cut processing time dramatically. That would be good for trade between Uganda and the DRC! But it would probably be a blow to the town of Bweza, since truckers would be more likely to move on instead of spending the night.
Mind, the town has seen ups and downs already. The region of Congo across the border is more or less peaceful now, but back in the late 1990s it was a theater of the Second Congo War. Things got very ugly then, and stayed sketchy for some years thereafter. Armed men -- military, militia, bandits, whatever -- were still wandering around the region in the early 2000s, and there's still a United Nations peacekeeping force in Beni.
Anyway, Bwera. Long drive back to Kampala tomorrow, so now I'm for bed.