Daniel Kalinaki's weblog

A commentary on news and events in Uganda and elsewhere


Just an ordinary bloke.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Down memory lane - part III of III

NEW CROSS - It's a bit strange to be writing about Kampala so many miles away from home, but again, the memory goes back both in space and time. Apologies if anyone, apart from me, was waiting out on this. Travel, slow internet, and the need to earn a living took a few pages out of the diary. Anyways, here we go.

I am at the junction where the Lugogo by-pass, since renamed Rotary Avenue (although I am not sure anyone calls it that) joins Jinja road. A few weeks after I started writing these diaries I would walk round this corner and gaze, in wide-eyed amazement, at the number of people who'd queued up to watch UB40 at the Lugogo Indoor Stadium. Later, feeling totally out-of-place in the VIP section upstairs, missing the banter and bustle nearer to the stage, I would recall the only time I payed cricket on the oval -- for a media team in the short-lived professional's league -- sharing the crease with John Nagenda before departing lbw for 19, before returning to claim four wickets for 36. Truly my 10 overs of fame.

I look across at the Game/Shoprite mall and try to remember this place before 'development' moved in. I recall the football matches we played here in the sweltering sun with the boys from Naguru, in the days when the best place to shop was in the kikuubo or at the roadside kiosks. A lot of the green has now given away to the concrete roar of development. Even the field behind Shoprite, once used for the national handball team, and which I and about 20 other friends played soccer on every weekday evening over the last five years, is gone; being turned into a hotel(!) or car depot, depending on who you speak to.

I walk up the bypass, past the Shell filling station and recall the days when every such station was called a 'Shell' regardless of whether it was a 'Caltex or Total'. With more fuel stations than you can shake a stick at, I am not sure if this is still the practice. As I walk on, I notice that the green space after the Shell has been boarded off (another hotel, I hear). I come to the road that snakes up to Kololo Airstrip and my mind goes back to the heady days of the revolution when, as kids, we'd queue up to attend Independence Day and other national celebrations. As kids, our main attraction was the police brass band and its eclectic band master (Okello was the name, memory tells me; present whereabouts unknown) who'd toss his mace in the air and grab it with effortless guile while, behind him, banners aloft, women groups, teachers, doctors and other same such types marched, often in white T-shirts printed just for the day. The invited guests in the covered pavillion would have to endure hours of lecturing -- literary, I daresay -- from Museveni on infant mortality rates and 'backwardness'; the in-phrase of the day, complete with chalk and a small portable blackboard.

If you were lucky, and depending on the celebration, there'd be a show of arms by the army feeding our and any boy's fascination with big guns and the latent threat of the military. I have not attended anything at the Airstrip in more than 10 years, not even to glimpse at the heroes' tombs in one corner, but I have, on the few times that there are no spikes left in the road, zoomed past, my own motorised contribution to the counter revolution.

I walk past City High School which, unlike Shimoni, lost only some and not all its land (but for how long?) The land grab has been so frenetic, it's got people turning in their graves, and I mean literary. At the cemetery opposite City High School, a low brick wall has been built around the property to allow the grave diggers relocate the remains interred there and open up this prime land for development. If any new residents are kept awake by things that go bump in the night, they can at least talk to their neighbours in the greenish flats further up the road which, as we grew up, we always thought or believed, from rumours, to be haunted.

I am now almost halfway down the bypass and to my right lies the massive Naguru slum, whose tin-roofs are slowly giving way to majestic tile-roof mansions. The Naguru hill overlooking Kampala Parents, home to mud-and-wattle houses only ten years ago, is now full of posh houses; part of the fruits of the revolution.

The field opposite Kololo Secondary School has not been taken -- yet -- and I remembered the good old footballing days when we played with the likes of David Obua, Jackson Mayanja -- two of those who pulled themselves up by their football bootstraps, so to speak, and Charles Kayemba, who overcame his lack of talent to become national league top scorer with SC Villa but was unable to overcome the downward Okonkwo-esque spiral that saw his early death a couple of years ago.

The steep hill at the end of the bypass, from the spring where we collected water whenever the taps ran dry, leaves me a little short of breath as I recall the old dilapidated houses of Kanjokya and Bukoto Street, whose occupants, most of whom were employees of the Uganda Electricity Board, have given away, with their red landrovers, to new-monied types who've converted the houses to offices. I remembered the days when we attended Catholic mass in the hall at City Primary School before moving over to the main church in Kamwokya, long before the school was returned to its Asian owners.

The light is now failing and while the houses are lighting up, the street lights along the bypass are dark with only a handful working. I remember, less than three years earlier, when the lights had been installed with great fanfare, and wonder who would be able to climb up those thin poles to steal street lights and why they can't be replaced. Thoughts of lights bring back childhood memories of collecting grasshoppers drawn to the lights at night (lights that also attracted older teens to one another, many of whom found darker spots -- which were many -- to douse the flames of their passion) wonder how we survived being hit by motorists.

As I turn into the flats for the final walk home, I realise how far we've come as a country in the last 20 years, and how, without really knowing it, the cloak of adulthood came to weigh down on our shoulders. I recall all the slogans of 'Water/Education/Food etc for all by 2000' and realise how empty they all turned up. I also realise that when we were told, as kids, that we are the leaders of tomorrow, that a new day has actually arrived and that this is our time! Do we really know it? Will our generation make a better country and society? Shall we even be allowed to shape the country or shall we have to engineer our own revolution? Will that revolution be fought out in the streets, in the jungles of Luweero or will it be a battle of ideas, fought in cyberspace aided by technology? I am not sure I know any of the answers to any of those questions but as I let myself into the flat, I was gripped by a fierce, unrelenting realisation that for me and my generation, the future is here!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Basking in Bali, Bustling in Bangkok, Bluffing in Kampala

BANGKOK - And finally we came to the shores of Bali, amidst the heat and humidity, the hustlers offering coupons, the taxi drivers hooting at anything that walked, and the Kuta cowboys -- the legendary gigolos of these sands -- who, with their overtanned bodies, fisherman's pants and greasy hair reminded me of a greasy rolex from Wandegeya. What, I wonder, do the Japanese women see in them?

Anyway, more of that later in settled times and climes (back to dreary but good old L soon). I am writing this chop chop in our hotel lobby in Bangkok with the rain falling outside. It will not stop the party tonight and it never does. Bangkok, of which I hope to write more later, seems to change shirts in the evening, from a busy, bustling metropolis, to a busy, bustling (and drinking) Metropolis. Oh, how time flies! But soon, very soon, shall we return to these matters.

I could not help reading, in our papers, about President Museveni's missive to his government and MPs expressing shock at learning that government contracts are inflated and that money is siphoned. Oh, dear me! What's with the president's memory? Does he not remember the 4,000 litres of fuel siphoned off by an elder in his National Resistance Movement who is currently a minister (after losing his parliamentary seat on grounds that he rigged the last election?)

If that is too far back, should someone not remind him of the 1998 small matter of the junk helicopters in which President Museveni revealed he had forgiven his brother, Gen. Saleh for inflating the contract, and asked him to use the proceeds in the war in the north? Come on! Was the President not involved in the creation of Tri-Star which went down with about 20 billion of our cash, and which is on the verge of getting more? or Basajjabalaba, the head of the NRM Entrepreuers team who got a government bailout on the President's instructions -- money that was meant to recapitalise Uganda Development Bank?

The list of inflated contracts snakes all the way back to the hallowed corridors of State House (both Nakasero and Entebbe whose costs were also grossly inflated!). Look around you in Kampala and try to count those projects that we not inflated or whose construction did not involve cutting corners. UBC's relocation costs? Inflated. UCB's sale? Muddled and inflated. CHOGM costs? Inflated. National ID costs? Inflated. Army numbers? Inflated. Oil pipeline costs? Inflated.

If all this is news to the President then I fear we might be in more trouble than earlier feared. Corruption is probably the biggest threat to Uganda at the moment (an upset tummy having done more harm to Kony that thousands of bullets). The cancer of corruption in Uganda will not be cured by parliamentary speeches and angry missives from State House but from strong, sustained and impartial investigation, arrest and trial of all involved -- including those who walk the highest corridors of power!

Now, my beer Chang warms and the rain has stopped. Time to party.