A Travellerspoint blog

700 Metres Beneath Mt Kilimanjaro

Discovering hidden treasure in the darkest places

sunny 31 °C

Most tourists coming to Arusha in Tanzania are getting prepared to climb to the roof of Africa, but here I was 700 metres below the ground, at the roots of Mt Kilimanjaro. I was visiting a Tanzanite mine, a gemstone mined only in this part of Tanzania.

I had come to Arusha for for a few days for an ECHO conference, a Christian agricultural organization which aims to support mainly small-holder farmers to farm more effectively. Coming to Arusha also meant an excuse to meet up with my good friend, Hillary whom I met in Edinburgh when he volunteered with Bethany Christian Trust for a year where I was also working. Hillary’s family owns a Tanzanite mine and he suggested I might want to see it.

In Arusha, Tanzanite mining and tourism are obviously important sources of income. Green tour vans are a common sight as people come from all over the world to climb Mt Kilimanjaro or visit the Serengeti, home of the world’s greatest animal migration. The landscape and natural phenomenon of this of area of Tanzania is an inspiration for movies such as the ‘Lion King’ and to me the wide, yellow-ochre land dotted with flat-topped acacia trees definitely shouts ‘AFRICA!’. It is augmented by the sight of lean and colourful Masai herding their goats or cattle underneath the trees, their bright clothing a stark contrast to the dusty surroundings.
Mt Meru, 4565m. Arusha is an area with a spectacular landscape including Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Meru, an old volcano

Mt Meru, 4565m. Arusha is an area with a spectacular landscape including Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Meru, an old volcano


Tanzanite is often a bluey colour, but it can also be greyish, tan-brown, purplish or dark blue like the sea. It is a beautiful stone and being 1000x rarer than diamonds explains the rising value of the gem. It seems like a very lucrative business to be involved in. Through the trade, Hillary’s family are building hotels, homes and other businesses. One of the uncles is interested in starting a KFC franchise in Arusha. Another uncle asked me at one point if I knew of anyone selling a 2nd hand helicopter! Hillary regularly travels on business to places like Hong Kong or South Africa where there is a growing interest in this unique stone.
One of Hillary's uncle's plush hotels

One of Hillary's uncle's plush hotels


The Tanzanite mines are a 4-wheel car drive away from the Kilimanjaro airport along a very dusty road down which we bump causing big clouds in our wake. Hillary’s family owns a piece of land of about 100 acres, a valley covered with gnarly-looking trees. Grey boulders and dust waste from the mining process appear to be slowly filling up the valley as it is deposited just outside the main site, an area of functional buildings fenced in by corrugated iron sheeting. When Tanzanite has been struck within a vein and the mine is 'in production', crowds of Masai gather to search for small Tanzanite stones that might still be found in the dumped stones. It was the Masai that were supposed to have first discovered Tanzanite and began digging to find them. Hillary points to 2 small concrete buildings that are used to house explosives for the mining operations.
Hillary points to his family's land

Hillary points to his family's land

Bryson and me on the waste rock from the Tanzanite mining

Bryson and me on the waste rock from the Tanzanite mining

A small piece of Tanzanite recently found down the mine

A small piece of Tanzanite recently found down the mine


For safety reasons, there is a 2-hour wait between explosives being set down the mine and going down the shaft. While waiting, Hillary introduces me to workers who still have their dirty overalls on from their last trip underground. Workers are housed on site in purpose-built cabins. On-site there is also a dining hall in progress, shower facilities and a small shop. It is basic set-up, but the work is tiring and so many hours are spent resting or sleeping on the bunk-beds.
Looking towards the mine

Looking towards the mine

Hillary's uncle outside the cabins

Hillary's uncle outside the cabins


Hillary has provided me with a hard hat, some safety boots and old clothes to change into. The hard hat is fitted with a bright torch. We wait at the top of the entrance to the mine for the trolley coming up the tracks, drawn up by a motorized pulley. Because of the long way down under the earth, the trolley takes 15 minutes to come all the way up and emerge at the top.
The trolley to take workers down the mine shaft

The trolley to take workers down the mine shaft

Miners ready to go down the mine

Miners ready to go down the mine

Hillary wears a Tanzania flag neckerchief while his friend wears a British flag

Hillary wears a Tanzania flag neckerchief while his friend wears a British flag


There are a dozen of us squashed into the trolley. Hillary makes sure that I am in one of the best spots to make sure I am as comfortable as I can be. The tunnel’s gradient seems steep, but Hillary tells me that not long ago, tunnels were almost vertical and make-shift ladders were used to get in and out of the mines. Now, things are a bit more sophisticated, an electrician has wired lighting all the way along the tunnel and there are pumps and pipes taking ground water to the surface. I am surprised at how warm the air is so far under the surface, but Hillary explains that the air is pressurized as it is being pumped down from the top.

We reach where the workers are crowded, as though at a bus stop. 2 of the men are busy with pick-axes scrabbling at the rock-face as the geologist keeps a keen eye for any signs of productive veins. He uses a spray of water to wash away dust to get a good view of the rock. While we are down there, a poor quality piece of Tanzanite rock is found, a good sign for something better.

Other men have formed a chain, and pass broken masses of rock from one man to another. One guy looks young but is muscular and is singing a cheerful church song. Hillary tells me that he will sometimes stay underground for 8 hours or more when the work is going as it is easy to lose all sense of time.
Miners 700m below the surface

Miners 700m below the surface

Miners busy down the mine

Miners busy down the mine

Miners look on

Miners look on

Searching for a Tanzanite vein at the rock-face

Searching for a Tanzanite vein at the rock-face

I'm getting warm down here

I'm getting warm down here

Hillary

Hillary

Down the mine

Down the mine

Miners haul rock out of the mine

Miners haul rock out of the mine

Fool's Gold found down the Tanzanite mine

Fool's Gold found down the Tanzanite mine


The work is going on when Hillary and I re-emerge from the tunnel on the trolley where the air suddenly feels cold despite it being 25 degrees Celsius. Hillary’s friend, Bryson, has been sent to sell a stone in Arusha so we don’t have a lift back to town. Thankfully, Hillary’s uncle gives us a lift in his new Land Rover Discovery. The car is in mint condition and is well suited for the rough roads back to town, it seems to fly like a jet with plumes of dust instead of smoke.
Cutting the Tanzanite stones

Cutting the Tanzanite stones

Tanzanite stone-cutters

Tanzanite stone-cutters

Tanzanite stones being cut

Tanzanite stones being cut

Roughly-cut Tanzanite stones

Roughly-cut Tanzanite stones


One of the messages that we teach young people on the YWAM base back in Arua is how rich Africa is. So often, the perspective and belief of outsiders and Africans themselves is how poor people are. While there are many types of ‘poverty’, it is true that many Africans don’t find themselves materially well off. However, Africa is full of incredible treasures such as gold, diamonds, oil and Columbite-tantalite, a precious metal found in mobile phones and computers. There is a huge solar, hydroelectric and farming potential. People, too are full of potential that is rarely reached due to problems such as access to quality education. Visiting Hillary and seeing the Tanzanite mines has opened my eyes to another side of Africa. The ECHO conference is part of the process of bringing value from farming and the rich variety of plants found in Africa. It is my dream that Africans can one day reach their full potential and start to lead the world in all sorts of areas using their unique God-given gifts whether these are found 700 feet below the ground in a mine, or latent within every African’s hands, minds and hearts.
Beautiful cut Tanzanite stones being sold by Hillary's uncle

Beautiful cut Tanzanite stones being sold by Hillary's uncle

Posted by africraigs 06:46 Archived in Uganda Comments (2)

Fish Naked, It Tickles

(David hits the January sales in Arua...)

sunny 32 °C

My cheap-o walking shoes from Decathalon that I have been wearing almost everyday while in Arua, are coming to the end of their lifespan. (I’m sort of glad as I haven’t ever really liked them.)

Clothes- shopping in town is an intense experience and so I enlist the help of my friend and former ORA colleague, Richard Disco (yes, that is his real name).

Clothing in Uganda is an interesting subject to me. A historical book about the Lugbara from the middle of last century (The Lugbara of Uganda by John Middleton) shows photographs of the Lugbara dressed only in loincloths to maintain decency. Nowadays, people dress very conservatively, for example, skirts should cover the knees. In fact, last year, President Museveni passed a bill to prohibit women wearing mini-skirts which has prompted some attacks on women who were deemed to be inappropriately dressed. The bill seems strange to me in a culture where breastfeeding in public is the norm and where traditionally, limited clothing was worn. In fact, clothing could be viewed as another Western import as African men started wearing suits through European influence. Wearing a suit is still considered socially important, despite the warm weather.
The Lugbara of Uganda by John Middleton

The Lugbara of Uganda by John Middleton


I meet Richard outside one of the two Chinese stores in town and we walk down the main Arua drag, busy with motorcyclist taxis, bicycles and a few all-terrain vehicles. As usual for the dry season, it is hot and dusty, not the most natural environment for a Scotsman. As we walk, we pass ‘hawkers’, people selling their wares of passion fruits or paw-paws from the plastic tubs carried on their heads. Other hawkers are laden down carrying a wide assortment of bags, pirated dvds, hats (balanced on their heads) and wallets.

My interest is in the clothes and shoes section of Arua town and Richard leads me through one of the most crowded and craziest parts of town, the taxi park, an area I would always avoid. Here, as I expected, I get attention that I don’t appreciate: young guys shouting at me in Lugbara or English “mundu come here!” or “give me something!” There are various decrepit-looking people holding out their hands for something and a teenager rubs his tummy gesturing that he is hungry. A deaf and dumb boy has a letter allegedly from the police allowing him to ask passers-by for funds. Thankfully, Richard knows a lot of people and we keep bumping into friends that he greets warmly with ‘Edri ngoni?’ ‘How’s life?’

I find it really strange that most people in Uganda seem very happy to wear second-hand clothes, wearing t-shirts emblazoned with logos which have no connection to their life or culture such as shirts with American flags on them with the words "I support our troops at home". In speaking to my friends, though, they tell me how pleased they are to buy 2nd hand, partly since it means they can afford clothes, but also because the quality is often better than the new clothing (cheaply made from the Far East) which looks tacky and feels like card. I have often wondered how these mainly American imports of GAP, Wall-mart or Timberland clothing gets into the market here in Africa and my clothing ‘field trip’ with Disco is helping me to discover the answer. Richard takes me to his friend, Robert, who is a dealer in bales of clothing coming from Raghvani textiles in India by container via Mombasa on the Kenyan coast. This Indian company sorts and grades clothes coming from North America. Raghvani textile’s name, e-mail and even web address is on each 45kg bale of clothing. Robert explains to me that the bales cost different prices depending on the grade of the clothes: there are high grade men’s shirts going at £150 per bale or lower grade bales at £50. I notice near the back there is a bale of ‘ski jackets’ and Robert explains that people like them in the rainy season where temperatures can stay in the low 20’s (Celsius)…brrrrr! There are even bales of gloves, 2nd hand underwear and bras! A bale is bought without the buyer really knowing what is in it, and so it is a bit of a ‘pot-luck’ as to what is available. Robert tells me that sometimes people return to him upset at what they have bought and he occasionally needs to give them another bale instead.
Robert poses by a 45kg bale of clothing from Raghvani texties in India

Robert poses by a 45kg bale of clothing from Raghvani texties in India


The clothes dukas where Robert’s customers sell the contents of their bales, are down small, canvass-covered alleys in which you have to watch your step on the uneven dirt. Sometimes, there are unknown squashy surprises under-foot. Inside the clothing market, it always seems like dusk as there is not much light and all the pathways make it seem like a giant African rabbit warren. All around there is activity as people are manning their small stalls while potential customers brush past in the narrow walkways. TVs and radios blare out music while shop owners try to call your attention to their stalls.

Richard drops in on a friend called Geoffrey who had spotted us passing and who owns one of the few walled shops in the marketplace. He sells new clothing, however, it is the poor quality, gaudy variety and none of it attracts me at all.
Geoffrey surrounded by gaudy clothing in plastic bags

Geoffrey surrounded by gaudy clothing in plastic bags


We walk on and find a small, smiling man in his stall where the shirts hang from poles on home-made wire coat hangers. I search for 2 short-sleeve shirts that cost me £2.50, I am pleased as one is a ‘Columbia’ walking shirt so should be good quality and cool for working on the land in the hot sun at ORA. There is a Calvin Klein shirt at the back, but it is stained.
Richard Disco stands in the clothes market in front of a strange chilli-promoting T-shirt. Richard wears his own soap-promoting T-shirt with a message written in Chinglish

Richard Disco stands in the clothes market in front of a strange chilli-promoting T-shirt. Richard wears his own soap-promoting T-shirt with a message written in Chinglish


In the shoe store, the shoes are all displayed on the four walls, hanging on wooden slats by nails punched into the sole of the shoe. It isn’t easy to choose something that I like and will fit properly and many of the shoes seem even older and tattier than mine. Helpful assistants are a bit too insistent on which shoes I should buy, mostly ones that I think are very ugly. In the end, Richard brings me a pair of shoes, they are a bit big, but better than most. I agree a price of around £10 with the Muslim owner and have my very first pair of Skechers.

Clothing etiquette is interesting in Uganda: Ugandans dress up to go the hospital or to go on a long bus journey. It also fascinates me that wearing woollen beanies is fashionable in 30 degrees heat. In the local gym, there is a treadmill which works when the power is on. People run on it in their flip flops or sparkly pumps. At the same place is the only swimming pool in Arua. People jump into the water in a wide variety of clothing, most of it not swimwear. Boxer shorts, leggings and t-shirts are all common swimsuits.
Children graduate in full regalia from nursery school

Children graduate in full regalia from nursery school


Another highly amusing pastime while moving around the streets is to read people’s t-shirts.
There are young guys wearing the ubiquitous football shirt: Mostly Arsenal, Manchester Utd or other big English Premier League teams. Sometimes I get excited when I spot a Rangers or Celtic jersey (I am not partisan…!)

Then there are the many ‘talking t-shirts’ giving developmental messages designed by NGOs promoting something:
“Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger”
“Educate the girl-child”
“Get circumcised to minimise HIV infection”
“I have been circumcised.”

The funniest t-shirts are the random ones which make no sense in this context:
“Fish naked. It tickles.”
“Mental Health Dept. Patient”
“Grandpa is my name, spoiling is my game.”

“Dear Santa, I was framed.” (worn anytime of the year)
"Dear Santa, Take my Sister" (worn anytime of the year)
“You can’t beat our glazed doughnuts.”
“Pittsburgh water polo,”
“Tesco “Here to help”
“Burrito Eating Competition”
“Land O’ Frost. Great tasting Lunchmeat”
“Off to see the wizard”
“Pizza my heart”
“Making the great state of Ohio proud. Gold pants perfect season 12.”

“Soccermom” (worn by our male friend Patrick).
"The annual holiday hotdog huddle. July 16 2005"

A t-shirt that doesn't make sense that I've seen on the streets of Arua

A t-shirt that doesn't make sense that I've seen on the streets of Arua


"[i

"[i

Homework kills trees. Play more video games[/i]" A culturally inappropriate T-shirt]

Philosophically - speaking, I feel sad that Africa is the dumping ground for the West’s second-hand clothing. It doesn’t seem right and to me and continues the top-down relationship that the West has with Africa in many respects. Despite what my Uganda friends tell me, I am sure that wearing someone’s hand-me-down clothes from another culture far away can’t be healthy for a nation’s self worth and self image. I get encouraged when I see Africans wearing the more traditional and brightly coloured ‘kitenge’. I will also be greatly encouraged when most of the clothing worn on the streets is African-designed, African-made and affordable. This, I think, would be another important step for Africa towards what Martin Luther King called "Psychological Freedom, a firm sense of self-esteem".
Tailor with lovely homemade kitenge outfit

Tailor with lovely homemade kitenge outfit

Posted by africraigs 03:21 Archived in Uganda Comments (1)

''Christmas Time... Sugar, soap and a whine...''

(8 little differences between an Arua Christmas and the West...)

sunny 29 °C

I’m ranting, I mean, writing this in a seeming lull of knocks at our gate… It’s Christmas Eve and our third Christmas time in Arua, and the differences between here and the UK still seem as stark as ever…

1. I’ll start with a positive one: people here are appreciative of very useful, practical gifts, which makes Christmas shopping fairly easy- a kg of sugar, a recycled water bottle of cooking oil, a foot-long bar of ‘’blue soap’’- used for washing clothes, dishes, the body and even hair (haven’t attempted the latter yet).

Rashid (sort of) pleased with his gifts

Rashid (sort of) pleased with his gifts

2. However, when I say people are ‘appreciative’, the response to gifts is so different from the polite ‘thank yous’ and sweet comments I would expect in the UK, instead the gift is usually stuffed in a black plastic bag without being opened or even looked at. A barely perceptible ‘thank you’ or raise of the eyebrows is all the appreciation we get if we’re lucky… (look at Rashid's face!) I have been meaning to ask our language teacher and cultural guru, Eunice, about the typical response to gifts here, but I’ve not seen her for a while…

Christmas parties:

3. We already made a big cultural faux pas for our staff Christmas party this year- we had cookie decorating, pass –the- parcel, and treasure hunt, but no meat… ‘Christmas and meat’ go together here like ‘Santa and Christmas’ in the UK, so I’m not sure how our party rated…

Expecting Meat at any time...

Expecting Meat at any time...

cookie decorating

cookie decorating

Christmas non-meat party

Christmas non-meat party

4. The ORA Christmas party is not complete without a de-worming session and a long preach at all the kids…

De-worming tablets

De-worming tablets

ORA paperchain craft

ORA paperchain craft

Shopping

5. Decorations in town are all about the shinier and kitschier the better, so even the nicer hotels in town are caked in glistening tinsel and random Christmas ornaments tied to the hedges. In the bright sunshine the tinsel sparkles all the more, making it a very um… sparkly… (or tacky) Christmas…

tinselitus

tinselitus

6. Personal shoppers are taken to a new level here: in town the crazy road-works continue, meaning town is a nightmare to drive, so I phoned our Boda (motorbike) friend, jumped on the back and showed him my shopping list… He then took me door-to-door to each place, perching the 6kgs of sugar and oil on the front of his bike whilst I clung on to Amelie.

7. As facebook posts of Winter Wonderland, Ice-skating, Starbucks gingerbread lattes and classic Christmas sweaters appear, the temperature here have been cranking up, whispering in a taunting way it is the start of the dry, hot season where life takes all the more effort…

8. ‘Give me my Christmas’

This horrible and strange sounding phrase is common here- another thing I must ask dear Eunice about- at this time of year, anyone who vaguely knows us, feels they have permission to ask us for some money for Christmas. I find this the hardest difference between here and the UK, as we are not used to being asked so directly and there is the moral balance of not wanting to be scrooge, but also thinking through sustainability, ‘when helping hurts’ and looking after those we choose to rather than being put on the spot. This morning we had planned to have a low-key morning at home but had five separate visitors before midday asking for their ‘Christmas’ which somewhat dampens the Christmas cheer…

9. On a ‘brighter’ note, the stars here are beautiful and clear and with the dry season and no clouds at night, it is easier to imagine the Wise Men searching and following the brightest star many, many moons ago. David is thrilled (and our night watchman is mystified) with an app ‘star searcher’ which shows all the names of the constellations.

Like the stars, there are many aspects to life here that are more similar to the real Christmas story set in Bethlehem than what we experience in the West- the dust, the heat, the rawness and poverty. As I watched our mangy animals scoff their food the other day, I was thinking how manky a manger really is- smelly, germy and dirty, one of the last places on earth to want to place a fragile, vulnerable beautiful newborn, especially the son of God. It reminds us how God wants to meet us in all our grimy issues in life. With many young people ‘marrying’ in their mid-teens and a high rate of early-age pregnancy here, it is also closer to the Biblical story of Mary expecting at a young age.

Much as I miss the sanitised, teatowel-clad, school Nativity plays, the gingerbread houses and those delicious mince pies and spiced lattes, and as much as the differences here can baffle, tire, and frustrate us, there are definitely some beautiful, meaningful aspects for me to glean from an African Christmas.

Happy Christmas from Arua!

Happy Christmas from Arua!

Posted by africraigs 02:59 Archived in Uganda Comments (2)

Cross the river in a crowd & the crocodile won't eat you...

(African Proverb)

sunny 29 °C

‘It was the best of times and the worst of times...’

… okay, slight exaggeration, but to help distract from a recent bout of homesickness I had planned a little afternoon tea-party for my birthday. We’d been busy making our lemon curd, cupcakes, lemonade, rather anemic looking bread, labels, and so on, (not because we were going for an organic, homespun effect, but because it’s the only way to have these things here…)

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It was all going well and I was thrilled at the rare opportunity to use my cake-stand and spotty teapot, but poor Asher was pretty miserable, and hot, and moany, which put a damp-ner on things. He had a nasty bite on his leg and the angry swelling was creeping up and down his leg in a sinister manner.

Sometimes I think one of the best-kept secrets of cross-cultural/mission work is the closeness and support from other ex-pats. It’s a unique situation where you have at least 10 nationalities at a small tea-party all with different characters, ages, and cultures and all with a story and reason to be in Arua: the efficient German, the generous American, the Polish artist, the diplomatic Canadian, the straightforward Dutch, the agricultural South Sudansese, the motherly Irish nurse, the business-minded Kikuyu Kenyan, the polite Brit (obviously not David..!) stereotyping?.. moi?

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Within minutes, some friends drove to town to pick up antibiotics for Asher, other friends had washed up from the tea-party, another friend was trying to cheer up Asher by walking with him around the garden, another friend prayed for healing, another friend offered to fly us to Kampala then and there (an AIMAir pilot, not just a magician).

The next few days sort of blurred together in a worried haze of antibiotics, calpol, (thanks for the parcel Tracey) broken nights and an email to Interhealth, who said it sounded like an abscess which would need to be properly drained at a trustworthy, sterile medical centre. (That ruled out Arua then…)
Even the word ‘abscess’ seems to ooze grossness.

Our new friends in town are a missionary pilot family who phoned us to say a flight would be passing Arua in an hour and there was a seat for Asher and me.
And 1 hour and $160 later we were sitting in a taxi on the way to the best clinic in Uganda. Even in the taxi I was wondering whether I was over-reacting and whether it was a waste of time and money, but after the Dr confirmed it was a nasty deep abscess that needed to be drained immediately I knew I was in the right place.

As they prepared for the procedure: dosing up little Asher on Ketamine (which I vaguely remembered is what they put horses to sleep with) and getting all the sterile equipment ready, my eyes glanced on an electric saw in the room. ‘Does an abscess go away on its own?’ I asked quietly. ‘Oh no, it just gets deeper, even going into the bone, and then it’s very dangerous…’ the Dr said quite cheerfully.
The electric saw was placed next to a gleaming white suit labeled ‘ebola’, and some point between then, and the grossness of bursting the abscess I thought I might faint.

Anyway, before I feel lightheaded again, back to sweeter things and my tea-party, it wasn’t how I would have planned it, but seeing Asher deteriorate and the reality of some of the risks here, it made me take stock a bit this week (maybe my old age ;-) ) and realize how in this crazy, unpredictable, sometimes dangerous and sometimes heartwarming place, it is so necessity to have a wonderfully mixed group of friends on the ground who can express something of the ‘Body of `Jesus’ here on earth.

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little ones teaparty

little ones teaparty


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good recovery, welcome back little guy :-) thanks for all the prayers and concern

good recovery, welcome back little guy :-) thanks for all the prayers and concern

http://www.aimair.org/main
http://www.maf.org/
https://www.interhealthworldwide.org/
http://thesurgeryuganda.org/

If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. ~ African proverb

Posted by africraigs 09:49 Archived in Uganda Tagged children parties sickness expat support_network Comments (4)

Uganda: 52 years free of colonial rule

...but there are still more chains that bind her

rain 25 °C

A little girl poses beneath the Ugandan flag at school

A little girl poses beneath the Ugandan flag at school


Awadifo Uhurusi! Uganda has just turned 52 years old which makes her 10 years younger than either of my parents! Independence Day was on October the 9th which was a public holiday and a day for me to unsuccessfully attempt to build a chicken coop. It was also a day in which many schools and music groups were parading in pomp and colour with accompanied dance and music.

In the papers, there are pages of expensive advertisements from sugar companies, electrical companies or banks giving ‘hearty congratulations” to President Museveni and the country of Uganda on this “auspicious day”.

Unfortunately, as well as the celebration, other people have an expectation of being given something, for example, one young security guard listening to the radio and with a gun laid on his lap demanded "give me independence" while holding out his hand...

Independence Day has brought home to me how recent Uganda's nationhood is, as is the case for many other nations in Africa. As I thought about how Uganda came to be, I considered how the Ugandan nation was a Western construct, with arbitrary borders drawn to suit the European powers partitioning of Africa at the Berlin Conference of 1884-85. Since that time, Uganda’s borders have been drawn and re-drawn depending on the political needs of the time and geographical features. Uganda’s borders at one time extended all the way to Ethiopia!

The West Nile region, where we stay, was actually a part of the Belgian Congo previously. It temporarily became part of the Sudan when King Leopold of Belgium died and only in 1914 did it become part of Uganda. Here, as in other parts of Africa, families suddenly found themselves on opposite sides of a country’s border as is the case with the Lugbara people group that we live amongst here. There are many Congolese Lugbara on the other side of the political dividing line, less than 10km from here.

Uganda is an amalgamation of 52 people groups with very different languages and customs, in no way is it a homogeneous culture in any sense. In fact, the construct of nationhood was forced upon Africa by the world powers at the time in Europe. The flip-side to this was that the Europeans may only have accelerated the creation of a nation with less blood spilled than might otherwise have happened since Egypt, the Arabs or the Bugandas were all regional powerhouses with their own expansionist desires at that time.

At the time of independence from the British empire, Uganda had a bigger economy than South Korea. Between 1960 and 1965, Uganda had booming exports of coffee, tea and cotton giving its economy the highest per capita growth in East Africa. Though initially doing well, Uganda's economy has failed to grow anywhere near the same rate as a country like South Korea. In fact, as a 'developing' country, Uganda has unfortunately high levels of human suffering in terms of maternal mortality rates, infant mortality, death rates and poverty levels. Other indices indicate that Uganda's people are struggling to make ends meet on a daily basis. For example, I recently heard that the USA provides 40% of Uganda's health budget. Europe is funding 50% of the Global Fund to fight malaria, AIDS and TB. Donor’s funded around one-quarter of Uganda’s 2012/13 budget. ORA International that I volunteer with recognises the problems of school fees and supports families to send their children to school. In this region, it is estimated that only 10% of children will be able to afford to go to secondary school where school fees are considerably higher.
Independence Day Cartoon

Independence Day Cartoon


There are huge problems facing Uganda today to the point that some state that there isn’t anything to celebrate at Independence when ‘poverty is rampant and people are crying’, while others say that there is no real independence in Uganda due to lack of freedom of speech, poor governance and corruption.

While discussing all the problems that Uganda is facing, a colleague who started his own NGO here in Arua told me that he thinks that the British should re-colonise Uganda again as Uganda was more organised then. If continued colonisation had meant higher standards of living, better administration and education, was independence 52 years ago worth it?

Freedom fighters in Africa such as Kenyatta (of Kenya) and Nkrumah (of Ghana) had a desire to “liberate [their countries] from colonialism and break all the chains of European imperialism” and most definitely thought that independence was worth it. Their dreams for self-governance were noble and good and were soon to become a reality.

Sometimes, however, that noble cause seems to have crumbled to dust when people are kept bound by chains of poverty and injustice. Martin Luther King talks about the need for ‘psychological freedom’, for minds as well as bodies to be set free, for people to realise their self-potential. Nelson Mandela was able to remain ‘free’ within himself despite being imprisoned on Robben Island. The real Mandela couldn’t be chained.

Beneath the surface, independence and freedom are hard concepts to really grasp. In the democratic West, while we consider ourselves 'free' it seems that the media, propaganda and advertising have an invisible but powerful hold on all of us.

Jesus was a freedom fighter and I like what he stood for. One time he said that he came to “proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed…” Despite the Israelites being a part of the Roman Empire at the time and so lacking their own independence, Jesus came to teach about a greater freedom that we can all experience.

Independence Day here in Uganda is a time for celebration of freedom from colonial rule, however, there are still so many ways in which Ugandans are all held captive and need freedom. I hope and sometimes dream that more Ugandans and others around the world in various states of captivity and imprisonment, whether from poverty, lack of self-belief, or injustice, can recognise and embrace more freedom and truly live a life to the full.

A small child is carried by her dad at an independence parade

A small child is carried by her dad at an independence parade

Uganda's National Anthem

1. Oh Uganda! may God uphold thee,
We lay our future in thy hand.
United, free,
For liberty
Together we'll always stand.

2. Oh Uganda! the land of freedom.
Our love and labour we give,
And with neighbours all
At our country's call
In peace and friendship we'll live.

3. Oh Uganda! the land that feeds us
By sun and fertile soil grown.
For our own dear land,
We'll always stand:
The Pearl of Africa's Crown.

Posted by africraigs 11:35 Archived in Uganda Comments (2)

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