Monday, June 6, 2011


 President Museveni has been the President for 25 years and just was “re-elected” for another term. Thee opposition leader was attacked by the police when he tried to organize a protest close to the smearing in ceremony. There have been no details about his injuries but “the police sprayed his face and back with pepper spray and tear gas then dragged him face down and stuffed him into improvised seats on the back of a police pick-up truck, the way they do unidentified corpses, accident victims, and armed robbers.” This led to some sporadic violence resulting in some deaths and a crackdown on the media.

All this happened before the AIDS conference here and we have not heard about any further incidents although being ensconced in our highly rated Hotel Serena, there is little opportunity to really judge the temperament of the country.

While Judith was attending her conference, I had an opportunity to take some tourist ventures and I found out that seeing the gorillas was a 3 day event and I would return the day we would leave. So I passed and instead took a white water rafting trip on the Nile and then went to the source of the Nile where the Nile flows out of Lake Victoria.

I was picked up at the hotel at 7 AM and was driven to Jinja, a trek of 90 minutes in a van with a dirty windshield. Along the way I saw hundreds of people walking to work or school or riding in vans that are used for mini-taxis. We were driving against the main traffic flow into the city. Along the way I saw many, many supply trucks, some overloaded with green bananas. They stopped at markets where the market sellers were preparing their wares for display, mostly on the ground. While there are a few “supermarkets” in Kampala, the main place to buy food for the day outside the city and mostly within is at these markets.

I noted that all women wear long skirts. There were no exceptions. This required them to ride side saddle on motorcycles always driven by men of course. And come to think about it, I saw no women drivers of any vehicles. Mind you Uganda is not primarily a Muslim country, but a Christian one where displays of “God is Good” are seen frequently on buildings and on a few of the mini-taxis.

This seems like a perfect place to digress about some very brief Uganda history. When the white man first came to this neck of the woods in Africa they brought in Catholics from France and Protestants from England. The resulting religious politics that were trust upon the king caused no end of grief for him and tried to make a deal with the Germans, but the Germans made a deal with the British to cede several territories to them for exchange for a small but strategic island in the North Sea. In 1893, the Union Jack flew over the newly formed territory called Uganda. England ruled until 1952, then the next 10 years independence was fought for and on 1962 a leader named Obote inherited a nation fragmented along religious and ethnic lines to the point of being ungovernable. Skipping along to 1971, Obote flew to Singapore leaving behind instructions to his army commander to explain the disappearance of $4 million U.S. dollars out of military coffers and his involvement in the murder of a brigadier and his wife. The commander decided his only option was to strike and Kampala was rocked with the news of a military coup led by Idi Amin, a killer with the demeanor of a buffoon. He was responsible for the murder of 300,000 Ugandans and finally was disposed when he overreached and declared war on Tanzania and was driven out of Kampala by Tanzanians and Uganda exiles in 1979.

This should have been terrific news, but most Ugandans now regard the 7 years after Amin’s exile to be worse than under Amin. Corruption and violence continued and eventually the current president Museveni, came to power in 1986 and instead of violence continuing, he was able to establish a Human Rights Commission, established the rule of law, increased freedom of the press, and was able to govern without the past ethnic divisions causing trouble. Economic growth was 10% in his first decade. He established a no party system explaining that Uganda needed stability and the past ethnic divisions would emerge with a multi or two party systems.

I cannot escape the parallel to China here. Both have a one party system whose stability has brought economic growth and a mostly united nation, but a government that has no room for dissention, and periodic crackdown on freedom of the press when criticism is voiced. At least China is wise enough to change leaders once in a while, although just how a successor is chosen is a big mystery. My question is how a successor will be chosen in Uganda and will it be a peaceful transition.

But, back to my rafting trip.

On the way to the rafting place, we crossed the Nile and saw a big hydro-electric dam which supplies most of the electricity to the nation. A short ways away was the sign-in place for the rafting. I explained that I only wanted the ½ day trip and got into another car and 40 minutes later, I arrived at the actual place to embark. Bananas, and hot tea or coffee were available as we waited for others to arrive. A small bus drove up and 11 other people unloaded for the trip. They were mostly Australians with some UK people and 1 small Japanese woman. Two of the men were young alpha males from Australia who looked just the type for ones seeking adventure, but the majority was women who were of the same ilk.

We were instructed to remove all shoes and change into something that would get wet. I explained that I had hearing aids that could not get wet and I placed them into a water tight box that would be securely strapped to the raft. Apparently the leader thought not having full hearing would be a problem should emergency instructions have to be shouted out, so I was relegated to a larger raft where the form of movement along the river would be one man rowing and it wasn’t me. As I was about to protest, the rower man explained that we would be going through the same rapids, so I kept silent and went along with the program. This meant that during the next 2 hours, I didn’t have to do anything physical except to hold on at the appropriate times. I probably could have talked my way into being with one of the other two smaller rafts, but I was satisfied the way things turned out. Each time we went through some rapids and falls, I got thoroughly drenched.

My only complaint was walking barefoot on pebbly ground and up and down steep rocky banks. When I was young I would go barefoot all summer long and my feet would be leathery tough and walking in cindered alleys was not a problem. But now I get foot massages and an occasional pedicure using a sanding board to remove thick skin. If I ever go again, I am buying some wind surfer footies to protect my delicate lower paws.

Look, at my age, I have nothing to prove about how tough I am. It is all about protecting and preserving my body as long as possible.

We went through 3 water falls, the first being the most extreme. Here is a photo of me going through the 2nd fall. I could have purchased 6 photos for $50 but I chose just one, for $10.
At noon, we stopped for lunch consisting of mushroom soup and fixings for a folded sandwich and some soda. We had to climb up a very steep hill, again with bare feet and I was happy to find my sandals waiting for me in the car that brought me. Everyone else signed up for a full day of rafting and I said good bye and left with my driver to return to the sign-in place where I met the van from Kampala.

We then travelled a short distance to the source of the Nile which flows out of Lake Victoria. I got into a small boat and was taken out into the lake a short distance from the river and the official marker of the beginning of the Nile

The trip back took 2 ½ hours, an hour longer than leaving the city. The traffic was horrific. I decided to stay at the hotel and enjoy the beautiful grounds and spa facilities the rest of the trip.

We took Brussels Air back to Brussels in coach and after a 3 hour layover, enjoyed the trip back to Chicago in a laydown seat in Business class for some much needed sleep.

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