Reflections from Kampala, Uganda

It’s the last day that I am in Kampala and I am exactly one hour away from my flight back home, so I am going to keep this entry pretty short.

I have been staying at City Royal Hotel, which is located in Bugolobi, just 4 Km from Kampala. I have really loved my stay at this hotel and I was allocated this spacious corner room with a king-size bed. My window looks out at the back of the hotel where there is an s-shaped swimming pool. I have had to restrain myself from thinking of jumping into the pool from my fourth floor room and having me some cold deep dive especially during the afternoons ☺

I have been here on a one week training on Human Rights Defenders courtesy of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EAHARD) and its been a great experience interacting with other participants from the East and Horn of Africa countries. We had participants coming from as far as Somaliland, Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania-Zanzibar and DR Congo. In this past week I have learnt a lot about East and Horn Of Africa. Like I didn’t know that Djiboutians speak French.I also didn’t know that Kampala has 7 famous hills and that Kampala prides itself for having a rotating hotel which is among the 7 found in the world* am not so sure if its in the entire world or only in Africa.

Kampala is an interesting place, much like Nairobi. It’s as busy, congested and traffic-jam-confused as Nairobi; save for the annoying boda bodas. I thought that it’s only in Kenya where boda bodas are driven by mad men who have every intention to commit suicide as well as their passengers.

As you walk through or drive through the streets of Kampala you must be struck by the heavy presence or armed police. I was very surprised to see heavy armed police/paramilitary guys guarding the Electoral Commission of Uganda. The heavy presence of armed policemen makes you feel like you are constantly being watched by M7. My first ride from the airport in Entebe made me feel like there was a coup or state of emergency going on. There is so much tension. But for the locals they seem not to mind about the heavy presence of armed police. They just go about their business without much care for the armed forces.

Something interesting I observed about Uganda is that the traffic here is controlled by specially trained personnel who are not police officers. They wear a blue and white uniform while the regular traffic cops wear white uniform like that of the Tanzania police. The traffic “cops” usually direct traffic but are occasionally assisted by the the regular police.

It has been interesting to interact with participants from different parts of the East and Horn of Africa. I have had to use all the French I know to communicate with our brothers from Rwanda, Burundi and Djibouti. One funny encounter of language misundertanding was when we went shopping. One of the participants from Burundi kept saying that he wants to buy “tissue”. My first thought s were: kwani in Burundi you don’t have tissues/toilet papers? But funnily enough this guy was thinking in French!! He meant he wanted to buy cloth material – which in French is translated as “tissue.” We couldn’t help ourselves but laugh our heads off when we finally realized what he wanted. So much of French- English translation ☺
I also loved interacting with the participants from Somalia and it was interesting to note how the participants from Somaliland insisted on being identified as being from Somaliland and not Somalia. One of them actually threw quite a fuss at the beginning of the training because his name tag had been written Somali and not Somaliland. Okay!! Then there was this participant from North-Sudan, he is a bit elderly but the striking thing about him is that he looks like Al-Bashir. I am not kidding. He has the same facial features as Bashir and he has the same spectacles like him, even when he walks he has the same stoop and limp that Bashir has. In fact even one of the partipants from South Sudan confessed that when he entered the training room he was shocked – he thought he was dreaming. Bashir in a human rights training workshop!!

I can’t finish this entry without mentioning that Kampala has the most cheapest clothes in the region. I really had fun shopping. It felt like I was robbing the sellers. I mean how do you explain me buying a brand new jacket at KSh. 800 when I know in Kenya I would have gotten it at KSh. 2000 or even more? I guess this is how jungus feel when they come to Kenya with their dollars and can afford to stay at execusite hotels, go on safaris and buy expensive stuff that we locals can’t afford just because the dollar- shilling exchange rate favors them. Anyway I had a ball doing shopping at Kampala malls and also at their “marikiti” market. The malls have a lot of lady’s stuff but the guys stuff are a bit pricy. Then I felt like really a baler when we went uptown to where they have the Nakumatt Mall and I bought myself Chimanda Adichie’s “Purple Hibiscus” I bought this book that I have been so looking forward to buy at USh. 24,0000!!! That’s like Ksh. 800!! Way to go!!

I am sure this is not the last time that I will be coming to Kampala. I need to come back and visit other places that I did not get to visit like the Baganda King’s Place, Jinja, Rock City and many more. For now “tugende.”

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