• Saturday, April 20, 2024
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BusinessDay

Peace means everything in Kampala

Uganda is probably my favourite country while growing up as a primary four child in Suleja, Niger State, Nigeria. The early familiarity with Uganda was not because history was taught in public primary schools then. My vivid thoughts of Uganda were shaped based on the movie, “The Rise and Fall of Idi Amin,” a brutal representation of the regime of late President Idi Amin Dada of Uganda from 1971 to 1979. Although this particular movie has been discredited for been far from the actual facts of happenings during Amin’s eight years rule, it shaped my knowledge of the country as it was perhaps, the most available movie for us to see back then in my late uncle, Abdulhameed Obaniyi’s house.

Fast forward to November 2023 when it was confirmed I would be travelling to Uganda to attend the 55th General Assembly of African Airlines Association (AFRAA), I looked forward to arriving my 18th country with nostalgia and renewed optimism of wanting to see the relics of the Idi Amin years as well as the growth so far of this east African country in today’s modernity.

It was time to fly! What would have been a long, connecting flight became a comfortable non-stop direct flight from Lagos to Entebbe as precisely on October 19, 2023, Uganda’s flag carrier began operations between Lagos and Entebbe, connecting both cities three times weekly. With a modern, new Airbus, A330-800neo aircraft, Uganda Airlines assures the feeling of comfortability, on-time travel and reliable ground and in-flight service. The airline ensured Nigeria travellers feel at home even at 33,000 feet above sea level by presenting jollof rice with an inviting cutlery. Perhaps, more of Nollywood contents in the in-flight entertainment would entice more Nigerians to fly the Ugandan crane to the pearl of Africa.

I arrived Kampala almost a week before the start of the AFRAA 55th General Assembly, giving me ample time to explore the city. Although, November is generally rainy season in Kampala, it did not deter me from exploring the city that is seldom referred to as sleepless. My apartment, Lajungle Residence was located around Tank Hill Road in Kampala, a popular, serene, hilly longstreet in Muyenga famous for housing older generations of wealthy and middle-class Ugandans dating back to precolonial era.

The journey from Entebbe Airport to Kampala was approximately 50 minutes on a befitting tolled road linking both the administrative and commercial capitals of Uganda. My driver, Richard revels in the absolute peace enjoyed by Ugandans as the greatest asset of the country allowing the citizens to continuously cling to hope of a better economic prosperity in the nearest future.

My first point of call was Kampala International University, a private institution somewhere around Kabalagala neighbourhood with, of course, ample number of Nigerian students prompting a thriving Nigerian restaurant known as Gimszoca serving local Nigerian delicacies including jollof rice, pepper soup and more. In fact, Nigerians have significant number in both student and teaching positions at Kampala International University (KIU) that in 2015, one Akinwunmi John, a Nigerian student at the university was crowned Mr. KIU.

Soon, Friday arrived. My usual tradition is to say my prayers at the biggest mosque in every destination I visited, and Kampala wasn’t going to be an exemption. Dressed in Northern Nigeria traditional regalia, I boarded boda-boda (popular and quickest motorcycle transportation) ride from Muyenga to old Kampala, venue of the Uganda National Mosque, which was about five kilometers riveting through several roads and bridges construction going on simultaneously in the city. The mosque popularly called Gaddafi National Mosque is a magnificent beauty with a welcoming half ring arch excitingly luring visitors and worshippers to climb-through the stairs to witness the sprawling main auditorium of the mosque. Standing majestically at the top of the Old Kampala hill on a 10 acre of land, the mosque, the biggest in East Africa, accommodating about 15,000 worshippers comfortably and several thousands more in its courtyard was officially opened in 2007.

The Christian faith, which is in the majority in Uganda celebrates the Uganda Martyrs, a group of recorded 45 men and women who were killed between 1885 and 1887 by the then Buganda Kingdom King, Kabaka Nwanga II for embracing Christianity. Every June 3rd, the Uganda Martyrs Catholic Shrine in Namugongo is besieged by believers and the basilica is a sort of spiritual tourist enclave all year round.

The story of the Uganda Martyrs is one of the many histories highlighted during my visit to the Buganda Kingdom palace and the National Museum of Uganda. The Buganda kingdom is the biggest in Uganda housing a ceremonial king, known as Kabaka alongside ceremonial parliamentarians. The Kabaka’s palace was a historical battlefield in the formative years of Uganda up till the late 70s. Inside the vicinity of the palace lies the late Idi Amin’s famous armoury, which reportedly became a gruesome torture chamber where many Ugandans unfortunately lost their lives. Today, the Kabaka’s imposing palace, one-kilometer open view, opposite the Buganda Kingdom parliament, a replica of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland, is a tourist beehive.

At the Uganda National Museum, Uganda’s numerous national parks, culture, historical facts and the Buganda Kingdom stories were on display with a visible similarity of the Nigeria Yoruba culture. In Yoruba culture, the king’s death is announced as transition to great beyond, which is similar to Buganda’s Ssekabaka, a prefix nomenclature referring to the king’s disappearance rather than death acknowledgement.

With positive resolutions from the AFRAA 55th General Assembly promising to make air travel easier and faster within Africa, I look set to return to Lagos only with one regret in Kampala. I had earlier connected and continuously chatted an online activist presumably in his early 50s by the name Lumumba Amin, self-acclaimed son of Late President Idi Amin. We shared phone contact when I arrived Kampala and he assured me of a meeting at the Munyoyo Commonwealth Resort but failed to show up at the agreed time without any explanations up till date.

Mohammed Abdullahi, a communications consultant and public affairs commentator, writes from Lagos.