Letter to a Kampala Friend
The New Year’s gift offering by print and other news media in the Great Lakes Region is dark, frightening and unwelcome. Violence, including high profile murders, wars in the Congo Free State, Central African Republic and Southern Sudan, plus the usual threats and counter-threats that pass for political debate, are bound to induce despair and loss of hope.
However, it is great to be home, Tingasiga. We have witnessed good news amidst the darkness since we arrived a week ago. As the plane gently glided towards Entebbe, with the vast expanse of Lake Nnalubaale reflecting the glorious colors of the Sun, my brain was flooded with images and memories of a childhood spent exploring this enchanting land.
As if in a dream, rapid flashes of my elders, siblings and great friends, now deceased, dashed across my consciousness. Of course my mother, dead for six months already, was foremost on my mind. I was home at last!
Then, as if by magic, I suddenly felt like an alien as I stood in that queue for “Others”, a feeling transiently enhanced by the sight of obvious foreigners or descendants of foreigners standing in the queues for “normal” people – real Ugandans, East Africans and citizens of COMESA. Some of the Chinese and other Asians were fast-tracked through the immigration and arrivals process, while Ugandan-born aliens were treated like, well, aliens.
Luckily, Nakalema (not her real name), a very courteous immigration officer who had served me several times in the past, eased my alien experience. She appeared to be as amused by the paradox of a Ugandan applying to visit his own country as I was. Yes, to enter my country, I happily parted with US$50 in exchange for a stamp in my Canadian passport, which allows me to visit my homes in Mparo and Kahondo in Kigezi.
While I had gone through this ritual numerous times over the years, it still felt weird.
The irony is that in 36 years of living abroad, I have never felt anything but Ugandan. I proudly declare the fact to anyone who cares to listen.
Furthermore, in spite of the dark history of our land that has transformed hundreds of thousands of us into involuntary aliens over the decades, I have never renounced my Ugandan citizenship. It is inconceivable and, happily, unnecessary. Canada does not require one to renounce one’s prior citizenships to enjoy that country’s citizenship.
Nakalema is one of those Ugandans who represent what is good about this country. I salute her and all workers at Entebbe Airport who go the extra mile to welcome travellers, among them tourists and other aliens who bring revenue to this country.
As we drove past the Forum for Democratic Change Headquarters in Najjanankumbi, I smiled at the seamless choice of an acting chairperson of the party, following the death of Mr Sam Kalega Njuba.
In Mrs Joyce Sebugwawo, the FDC has got itself a very smart, able, focused, committed and experienced chairperson. That she is a lady from Buganda and a known supporter of the party president is the icing on the cake.
My delight has been further enhanced by news of celebrations of marriages of two couples that I greatly admire, and a birthday celebration for a great Ugandan woman. Paul and Ekiria Kikule of Kampala have been married for 35 years. Paul, an architect, and Ekiria, a medical doctor, represent the best that this country offers. Decent, honest, dignified, humble, focused, dependable, authentic – these are some of the words that come to mind when I think of this wonderful born-again Christian couple whose life together is an inspiration to us.
Patrick and Molly Bakka Male, another born-again Christian couple, have been married for 25 years. Patrick, the headmaster of King’s College, Budo and Molly, a Uganda government geologist, remind us that it is possible to do good in this country in spite of the pervasive presence of evils of corruption and other moral short cuts.
To be headmaster of King’s College, Budo is an honor and challenge. He is expected to maintain the all-round excellence of a school that was started 108 years ago, and do so with limited resources, in an environment where dedicated teachers are not easy to find.
Yet in the six years that Bakka Male has led King’s College, Budo, the school has continued to shine as one of the finest of its kind on this continent. He has earned the respect of parents and numerous old Budonians like me who are jealously protective of our great school.
This weekend we celebrated the 80th birthday of Mrs Tereza Kabahita Mbire, the grand matriarch of the Banyakigezi. Mama Mbire is a supermom, a selfless mentor, counsellor, role model and businesswoman of integrity to whom Banyakigezi leaders frequently turn for sober second thought. Where others would be slowing down, Mama Mbire still shares dreams of excellent development projects in which she would like to participate in the years ahead.