Uganda and Nigeria share many things in common.
Apart from being former British colonies, the duo are similarly plagued with insurgency, though of varying degrees. With the penchant of Ugandans for Nigerian artistes and films, the commonality has even widened thus paving way for stronger relationship.
EMMANUEL ADENIYI, who just came back from Uganda, writes about the impact of Nigerian content on the country and what makes Uganda thick in African history.
THE clock chimed 7 in the morning; just as the sun rose up in the sky setting its bright light on Kampala, the capital city of the Republic of Uganda. Kampala always looks radiant each time the sun rises on it. Being a city set on hills, its sparkling beauty often radiates warmth once the sun fondles its rugged landscape with affection.
Despite the warmth outside, I had woken up feeling feverish on Thursday, January 18th, 2012. My feverish condition must have been caused by the nightmares I had had the previous night. I had dreamt about Nigeria and its lingering oil subsidy removal crisis as well as the Boko Haram impasse in the country.
As I trudged towards the window of my room in Uganda to catch a glimpse of the orange-yellow sun outside, I heard a loquacious Ugandan radio presenter say, “How I wish I were a Nigerian!” He was responding to the hike in fuel price in the country having compared what Nigerians pay for oil to the exorbitant price Ugandans pay.
A litre of oil is sold for 3,800 UG shillings while a litre of diesel is sold for 3,600 UG shillings as well. A U.S dollar is exchanged for 2,300 UG shillings, though it currently goes for about N160 in Nigeria. “If I were a Nigerian, I would have been one of the happiest persons on earth,” the presenter finally said.
I dismissed the presenter as an ignorant who did not understand the difference between an oil-producing nation and a nation that is not. Citizens of a nation that produces oil should have the commodity cheaper at home than those whose nations do not produce oil.
The alibi, often used by Nigerians, made me glow with pride as I walked towards the window to resume my daily duty of looking at the Ugandan sun.
Hardly had I reached the window when thoughts went riot in me. “Is there any pride in being a Nigerian? Why do Ugandans or East Africans adore Nigerians? Probably I was wrong with that, but they seem not to hate us either. Are Ugandans not aware that life home is between struggle and survival? Am I happy as a Nigerian? Are Nigerians aware that nationals of some African countries are envious of them?” I asked myself reflectively.
“Things may not be as bad as we sometimes portray them,” I consoled myself. The day after my arrival, at a supermarket in Entebbe, a beautiful Kenyan girl had looked at me with amazement when a friend introduced me to her as a Nigerian journalist. She couldn’t hold her breadth, “So you are a Nigerian? I have never seen a Nigerian before in my life. I like Nigeria, I have heard a lot about the country, its people and happenings there. We often pray that Nigeria overcomes its challenges,” she exclaimed gleefully.
A Ugandan driver, who came to pick up my colleagues and me at the Entebbe International Airport, also portrayed Nigeria in glowing terms when he said that Nollywood had made every Ugandan family a proud owner of DVD player. “Even in Uganda, Nigerian films are raves of the moment,’’ he said with an air of importance.
Popularly called Eki Firimu, many Ugandans are so fond of the film that they reel off the names of Nigerian actors and actresses with ease.
According to a Ugandan student and radio presenter, Maria Namyalo, “It is not even strange to hear dialogues on the streets of Kampala interspersed with ‘tufia kwa’ and other words like that. We are so used to Eki Firimu here.”
The CEO, Hub Entertainment in Kampala, Dan Boshon, also said that many Ugandans preferred to watch Nollywood at home rather than coming to the cinema to see Western films. “This has affected our market, we are trying to adjust by showing Nigerian films as well,” the Australian said.
To further demonstrate how Ugandans love Nigerian content, many radio stations in Kampala play tracks of Nigerian hip-hop artistes. Pubs and night clubs are not left out as well; they are havens where the songs are most enjoyed by Ugandans.
At Lubowa and some parts of Kampala, hardly would you pass by without hearing artistes like Tuface, P-Square and D’Banj singing their hearts out. Sweet tunes of these artistes are wafted from a nearby club across to my room, leaving me guessing whether I was in Lagos or Ibadan.
Some Nigerian churches are also in Uganda. A few kilometres from the airport is Winners Chapel. The church also has a big congregation at a venue close to the City Centre in Kampala. The Redeemed Christian Church of God is said to be present there too.
A number of Nigerian spiritualists are similarly said to be making fortunes by conjuring the spirits of the ancestors and “exorcising evil spirits” from Ugandans.
Though its economy is partly in the hands of Asians and possibly Kenyans, Nigerian businessmen are not left out as they also play a part in the running of Ugandan economy.
UGANDA IN TEXT AND REAL UGANDA
My first encounter with the country was in a History class. “Uganda of Idi Amin,” was my History teacher’s appellation for the country. “It is a country whose name was carved out of Buganda kingdom by the British colonialists,” my teacher would historicise after giving a litany of events and names that shaped the East African country.
She was so fond of East African history that her students thought she was an East African, since her name is tongue twisting too.
Much later I read David Rubadiri’s “Stanley Meets Mutesa”. Mutesa was the 30th Kabaka of Buganda kingdom and the spatial setting of the poem is Uganda.
The empathy the poem had on me made me more curious about Uganda. The poem, I believe, is canonical of colonial discourse as it portrays the simplicity of Africans and how the West explored it to enslave them.
Henry Kyemba’s State of Blood: The Inside Story of Idi Amin also drew me closer to the country. I read the text as a young boy, and Kyemba’s narration of how Idi Amin ousted Milton Obote is stunning. The complicity of the West to remove Obote and the support Idi Amin received from Britain leave an impression that no despot emerges in Africa without some external forces.
What about Soyinka’s A Play of Giant?, They all ‘demonise’ Uganda in a way. Soyinka’s Brigadier Kamini is a product of flawed political structure in Uganda, and by extension Uganda is typified as a nation in the grip of intractable darkness. It was a state of blood, a nation of people cowed by despots into cowardice.
However, the Uganda I met is a nation of courageous individuals. You could gauge their mood as they walk briskly in the morning to their places of work. There is optimism in them.
The robust opposition posed to the Yoweri Museveni’s decades-old government by the Ugandan lead opposition leader, Kizza Besigye, validates that democratic culture is fast gaining ground in the country.
From Makerere University areas to City Centre and other places in Kampala, shopping malls and emporiums line the streets. Apart from being well-kept, various ornamental decorations indicating the cultural mix of the country adorn the city. “This is not Uganda I read in texts,” I said to myself. Before departing Nigeria, I had conjured up in me an image of a backward country, but I was wrong judging from what I saw.
A Bagandan friend, who was a primary school pupil when Idi Amin ruled the country, said things had since changed in Uganda. She said it was not fair for people to equate the country with General Idi Amin. “I think it is time people spared us the horrible memory of a psychopath whom we have since outlived as a nation.
“I am irked each time I hear people speak of my country within the context of Amin’s misdeeds. There are good things about us that equally deserve international attention. The source of River Nile is here in Uganda, my country is about the most eco-friendly nation in East Africa, besides it is peaceful,” she stressed.
UGANDAN GIRLS PREFER AIDS TO PREGNANCY
It is shocking, but that is the truth. Ugandan girls prefer HIV/AIDS to getting pregnant.
With its 6.5 per cent HIV/AIDS prevalence rate, findings have revealed that many Ugandans still engage in unprotected sex.
Currently, about 1.2 million children have become orphans, no thanks to the havoc wreaked by AIDS. It is said to kill about 64,000 Ugandans annually, while about one million people have lost their lives to the disease.
According to a nursing counsellor in Kampala, Esther Kasirye Kisekka, girls hate being pronounced pregnant, but care less about contracting AIDS. The disease to them is like any other one.
“Two university girls, aged between 19 and 21, sat in my office about six months ago. Both were found to be HIV positive and pregnant. Surprisingly, they did not care about the HIV infection and how to manage it. All they cared about was how to get an abortion and this is one of many stories we hear daily,” she added.
According to Patience Takamushaba, a student of the African Bible University, “This is no secret. For them, HIV is for human beings, not for animals and could be contracted at any time.”
Uganda’s Boda Boda
“Wasuze otya, nnyabo,” a commercial motorcyclist, popularly called boda boda, greeted a damsel in Luganda. Aside English language and Swahili, Luganda is the third most widely spoken language in Uganda, especially in the central part of the country.
“Good morning to you too, ssebo,” the woman in a tight-fitting, but skimpy dress replied the motorcyclist. Her voluptuous hips swayed as she walked towards him. I overheard their conversation, most of which was conducted in English; she had called him to convey her to a location along Katabi road in Entebbe.
I walked past them and stood at a distance only to see the damsel hop on boda boda sitting elegantly with her legs on one side and her back on the other. Hardly would you see a woman sitting astride on a motorcycle in Uganda.
Despite the delicate sitting position, boda boda operators always run on high speed, possibly unmindful of what becomes of their women passengers. Many accidents are said to be recorded daily as a result of the sitting position, yet Uganda’s nnyabos prefer to sit as though they were in their private rooms.
THE ENTEBBE AIRPORT
I had longed to see it. As the air hostess announced our arrival at Entebbe Airport, curiosity welled up in me. I had heard about the 1976 invasion of the airport by some Israeli soldiers, and wondered how the soldiers carried out the operation successfully.
The Israel Defence Forces (IDF), acting on the intelligence provided by the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, had invaded the airport to rescue passengers on board of Air France hijacked by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and some German terrorists.
The old control tower in the airport, which was invaded by the IDF, is no longer in use. Its forlorn look suddenly brought to mind the invasion saga. As my eyes made a quick trip to the tower enquiringly, I imagined whether the IDF had just departed the relic only recently.
I left the airport, which is about 37 kilometers to Kampala, thinking about the superior military strength of Israel and the precarious fate of a weak nation that will continue to be at the mercy of the strong.
“Kill Ugandan kobs and go to gaol”
“It is a treasonable offence to kill Ugandan kobs and crested cranes,” Patrick Bongole, a Ugandan friend, said as I spotted a long-necked and frail-looking crested crane at the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC).
Birds of no significance, I had thought; they flew about pecking insects like cattle egrets on rhinos that lumbered by in the centre. The kobs also browsed on grasses and bolted up and down at intervals.
“You can go to jail if you kill Ugandan kobs and crested cranes because both animals symbolise peace, and they are protected by our laws. The bird and kob appear on Uganda’s coat of arms,” he added.
Journey back home
By the time I left Uganda, I had developed an emotional attachment with the country and its people; leaving it therefore was not an easy task.
I left the country with much appreciation, because Uganda taught me friendship. It schooled me in the art of African brotherliness. Beyond journalism, I learnt that Nigeria is appreciated outside while Nigerians command respect among their African brothers.
As we departed the Entebbe Airport for Nigeria en route Kenya, I waved Uganda, my country of education, goodbye and thought about Africans and things that unite us’.