Early this month an American tourist and her driver were kidnapped in Queen Elizabeth National Park.
From the Netherlands I followed the developments in the story closely, through both Ugandan and American media, and through friends in Uganda.
Thankfully, Ms Sue Endicott and driver Jean Paul Mirenge were released after five days, in good health. No doubt due to the joint operations of various security forces.
It must have been a great relief for many involved, but most of all to the families of these two people.
The magnitude of the rescue operations and the media coverage was impressive.
At the same time, I saw a sharp and painful contrast with something that happened on Wednesday October 28, 2015. That day a young Dutch medical student went missing in Murchison Falls National Park.
Her name is Sophia Koetsier. She is my daughter.
There was a lot of talk about tourism in Uganda in the aftermath of the kidnap but Sophia’s truly mysterious disappearance was not mentioned anywhere, by anyone. It made me wonder why. Has Sophia been forgotten? Are people aware of this terrible tragedy that has devastated my life and that of my family?
The circumstances of Sophia’s disappearance are totally unclear and many things do not add up. The story quickly developed into ‘fatal accident’; the girl had mental problems, she was attacked by an animal, eaten by a crocodile, killed herself, end of story.
Evidence to support this theory has never been found. Yes, there is a river, but Sophia is a good swimmer and we don’t even know if she actually went there.
Who was present that evening at the accommodation where Sophia and her companions were to spend the night? We don’t know.
Who came or left the park that evening, or the day after? We don’t know.
The next morning one item, allegedly belonging to Sophia, was found, not far from the river bank. Over a day later a whole trail of puzzling items was found, very close to that first one. Why was it not found together? We don’t know.
Who put it there and when? We don’t know.
A proper investigation never took place, as has been observed and acknowledged by both Ugandan and Dutch professionals. Words like ‘tunnel vision’ were used, and ‘blaming the victim’.
It has pained us immensely to see the case dismissed so easily.
There are very few facts but one is imminently clear: this story has no end.
It seems that Sophia was not well at the time. Very occasionally she can develop sleeping problems which can then cause her to become restless and unstable.
Sophia, then 21, arrived in Kampala on August 31, having just acquired her bachelor of Medicine. Her ambition was to continue with Tropical Medicine and later become a surgeon or gynaecologist.
She has all the qualities to get there: grade A student, bright, ambitious, responsible, hardworking and driven by a desire to help people. And a great zest for life.
Sophia worked in Rubaga Hospital for eight weeks as an intern and thoroughly enjoyed her experience. She took well to life in Uganda and its people. As was clear from the extensive weekly reports she sent us every week.
The last one is dated October 22.
The next day she went on a trip that would take her all around Uganda.
On the 28th she disappeared.
We have been searching for her ever since.
I have returned to Uganda eight times and I’m currently preparing for my next trip. Each trip produces new contacts. I have met wonderful people who sincerely want to help. Unfortunately also people who seem to have other interests than helping me find Sophia. This is not always immediately clear.
It is impossible to explain how much Sophia is missed, how devastating the insecurity about her fate and incomprehensible absence is.
She has never been more present in our live.
On that pitch-black Wednesday in 2015 an unimaginable nightmare started for us, Sophia’s parents and brothers. As if entering hell.
Three and half years later we are still there, desperately trying to find the way out, to find Sophia.
We can use all the true help we can get.