Uganda: The Land of Big Titles

It was one of those moments when one eagerly looked forward to arriving home to have some rest. Home in this instance was Sir Jose Hotel, off Gaba Road, in the outskirt of Kampala, Uganda.

For nearly four hours, I and five other colleagues: Sheila Chimphamba Lupenga, Roselyn Korleh, Alvin Worzi, Nokuthula Mthimunye and Suzgo Chitete, had been on the road, much of which was spent in traffic. We had been warned severally that the traffic gridlock in Kampala was such that a ride of 30 minutes could end up chalking two hours or more but we ignored it. For me particularly, I wanted to see what Makerere University looks like and I had told some of my colleagues on the Land Rights workshop organised by the African Centre for Media Excellence and the International Land Coalition, my wish. Some others had other plans with regards to visiting Kampala city centre, and so, at the end of the enlightening workshop on Friday, June 22, we hired a cab that took us to Makerere University and a market. Having had a feel of the famous institution that was established in 1922, taking into account the old structures in there that told of its history, complemented by new buildings, I felt fulfilled. But later, on our way back, facing another round of traffic and now really weighed down by the stress, all I wished for was to get to Sir Jose Hotel, the two-star hotel that renders services like a five star.

But then, a story about two universities within the same area with identical names: Kampala University and Kampala International University, that we encountered, soon revived me, and led to a discussion among us. The conversation was sparked off by a signpost belonging to Kampala University which has the addition, “original” to its name. That was how we got to learn of its history from the cab driver. The story as told by the driver was that two persons originally established the Kampala University but later had a disagreement which led to their going their separate ways and paving way for the creation of another university with ‘international’ as its catch phrase. The cab driver told us that one of the two founders of Kampala University was a professor and ideas man while the other was a businessman. But things soon fell apart for them.

The discussion about the history of the universities elicited laughs among us and helped ease the traffic-induced stress until we arrived Sir Jose. Further Internet checks confirmed the driver’s story. A statement by Kampala University about its history states that “the Kampala University opened its doors to the pioneer students on the 16th of February 1999 under the leadership of the able Founding Vice-Chancellor Owek.Amb.Al-haj.Prof.Dr.Badru D Kateregga in the premises currently hosting K.I.U (Kampala International University) in Kansanga. But due to some problems, the Institution relocated in 2000 to Ggaba for a better working environment.”

Stories of friends turning foes isn’t peculiar to Uganda as one had heard or read of such tales in Nigeria and elsewhere but it’s a reminder of how easily, things could change. But reading through Kampala University’s statement brought smile. The titles of “Vice-Chancellor Owek.Amb.Al-haj.Prof.Dr,” used to describe Kateregga reminded me of Idi Amin, the former military ruler of Uganda. I knew Amin as a young boy watching the film, The Rise and Fall of Idi Amin, which portrayed him in bad light. The film paints Amin as not just a lover of titles, but a brutal dictator who sanctioned the killing of thousands of Ugandans in cold blood during his 1971 to 1979 rule.

Amin’s notoriety was such that he was listed by Miranda Twiss, a writer, in her 2002 book as one of “the most Evil Men and Women in History.” When you consider that only 16 people made Twiss’ list of evil men and women, you get a sense of how some people view Amin. Sharing the stage of infamy with Amin in Twiss’ book are the likes of Adolf Hitler, Nero, Prince Vladimir Dracula, Josef Stalin and Pol Potter. Describing Amin as the “butcher of East Africa,” Twiss began her book by quoting the “title and style adopted by Idi Amin” as President of Uganda: “His Excellency President for Life Field Marshal Al Hadji Dr Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular.” She then adds: “In 1971, the self-created General Idi Amin became President of Uganda. To the rest of the world he was a showman whose extravagance was exceeded only by his talent for comic buffoonery. But behind the grinning face was a calculating monster, who brought about a tragedy of monumental proportions. He set up the notorious State Research Bureau, who, on his orders, slaughtered thousands of innocent Ugandans in a campaign of ethnic cleansing, and executed his enemies live on television. He mutilated his wife and murdered his ministers, keeping the head of one in his refrigerator as a warning to others. By the end of his reign over 300,000 people, one in sixty of his population had been murdered.”

The Rise and Fall of Idi Amin was my first introduction to Uganda. Arriving in the country on June 19, I was curious to know what the people thought of their past ruler, and the discussion on the man attracted diverse reactions. While some loathe him for his brutality, others remember him as someone who built infrastructures like hospitals and empowered his people. He is credited with helping Ugandans own businesses in a country that once had Asians as dominant players but even his method of achieving that was not without controversy as he ordered the expulsion of Asians from the country, paving way for Ugandans to take control of commerce in the former British colony. In Kampala, I was showed what used to be Amin’s home by a Ugandan businessman called Joseph, who, in my view, bears a resemblance to Amin, but whom I found to be a kind soul. The house, called Capetown was, according to Joseph, bombed after the overthrow of Amin by the combined forces of Tanzanian and Ugandan rebels that invaded the country. The land on which Amin built his home, overlooks Lake Victoria, the second largest fresh lake water in the world now occupied by the Aga Khan Foundation.

One of the rebels that helped oust Amin from power is Yoweri Museveni, a man who, since 1986, has been Uganda’s president. While not associated with terror that made Amin such a feared man, Museveni is considered to be one of Africa’s sit-tight rulers, who, despite having spent 32 years as president, appears to have no intention of relinquishing power anytime soon. A recent constitutional amendment has scrapped the country’s presidential age limit that barred anyone above 75 years from vieying for the highest office in the land. Analysts fear that this amendment may have paved way for the 74 year old Museveni to likely seek another term of office in 2021.

The day before the trip to Makerere University, some of my colleagues and I, took tours to the impressive Munyonyo Commonwealth Resort, and Buziga Hill which offers a breathtaking sight of Kampala.Dubbed the pearl of Africa, Uganda, or more appropriately, Kampala, in more ways than one, reminds me of Lagos: traffic jam, motor cyclists commonly called “Boda Boda” and kid beggers.

Uganda is a country where new infrastructural facilities are being provided by the government as evident in the Entebbe-Kampala road project under construction by the Chinese company, CCCC, sections of which have been completed, but also where corruption, according to some residents, like in Nigeria, is prevalent.

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