Community, Diaspora and Immigration
19 YEARS AWAY FROM THE PEARL OF AFRICA
In his own words, publisher Willy Mutenza recounts his recent visit to Uganda after a 19 year absence from the country.
Leaving one’s country, not to mention family and friends, is indeed the hardest decision to make in one’s life. How do you convince loved ones, especially your mother, that you are leaving to a foreign country “England”, towards a life of uncertainty!
But at the young age of 23, everything seems possible and fear or hesitation is no match to burning enthusiasm. The expectation of new experiences to be encountered in the West is always overwhelming. We dream of that life that we see in movies, not knowing that not even the indigenous people can dream of living that kind of life.
Regardless of which challenges and problems lead us to leave our mother country, everyone comes to new shores with a dream. For the last 19 years, I’ve battled to realise my dreams. During that time, I remained unaware of how long I had not visited home, thereby alienating myself from my home country. The major redeeming factor in my story is that I have (and still do) actively promote Uganda in a manner that very few Ugandans in the diaspora have managed to display, through which I have also shown a deep patriotism and nationalism.
During the course of promoting Uganda, people always ask me, “When were you last in Uganda?” When I say 19 years, people think I am joking, wondering how I can attempt to sell something I don’t know?
This pushed me recently to take the plunge and make that long overdue journey back home. Brussels Airlines, one of my valued clients, invested in a free ticket for my journey back to the motherland. The clock started kicking when I received that email confirming my e-ticket . A month elapsed, which felt little more than a few minutes. I started my journey filled with a lot of anxiety but also with a happy expectation to meet family members, discover new exciting developments and pay my respects to several members of family and friends who passed away.
My journey took me to my destination via Brussels and Kigali. Being a non-drinker, I did find the journey a little tiresome. In addition to this self-imposed no-drinking spell, the on-board Western movie was a turn-off! I feel that airlines need to show movies and entertainment that are African orientated, and which would inform passengers on what they can expect to find on the ground.
I was eagerly peeping through the windows at Kigali to write about the Rwandan developments we read in the news, but of course I did not see enough to report on it!
The time came when we landed at Entebbe airport. No family members were present to receive me but a close friend of mine, Colonel Gowa, was on standby to welcome me. The airport was deserted, apart from the waiting lounge, occupied by some taxi operators.
I must say that I wasn’t greatly impressed by the refurbishment of the airport. I was expecting something like billboards portraying the beautiful sceneries of Uganda but instead, the whole area was filled with Barclays and Coca Cola adverts. I wondered how Uganda expects to impress first time visitors.
My friend, knowing what I wanted to witness, took me around Entebbe hotels, through the resort beach hotels but sadly, due to the total blackout, I couldn’t see a thing! When I inquired about the darkness, the response was ‘probably economizing on power bills’!
Our journey took us all the way to Kampala, the capital city of Uganda. Yes, there is significant development to be noted and the private sector needs special commendation. However, one area that was particularly annoying was the state of the city roads. I found them appallingly bad. Some of the pot holes are so big, should you be so unfortunate to overlook one, you’d need a break–down recovery vehicle to get you out of it!
On the other hand, approaching the Entebbe road traffic lights, I was grinning with happiness seeing traffic lights being respected by motorists. To my amazement, a 2 year old girl approached the car begging for help. My friend did not appear bothered by the demand and said that the mother is hiding somewhere sending the kid to go begging. This prepared me for the days to come when I felt that the government should do much more to stop parents from exploiting their children.
The Uganda of today has very serious people who have learned to actually keep time for appointments, as I found out the next day when I got busy with business meetings. The only impediment to free movement in Kampala was the amount of traffic jam. I wish a congestion scheme to alleviate traffic could also be introduced. Everyone seems to be driving which is okay in itself but unnecessary commuting to the city creates an enormous traffic problem.
The transforming of the Kampala of late 80s is enormous. I could hardly recognise anything. The Kikuubo Uganda’s commercial street was awash with new malls and buildings. Looking up on Nakasero Hill, you will be amazed by a newly built structure, the Hilton Hotel which will undoubtedly be the new landmark of Kampala.
The second day of my visit, I had to make a journey to greet family members and pay respect to my ancestors. The journey took us via Masaka, which we reached at 7.30am. I had the privilege of taking my breakfast in the refurbished Tropic Inn, which was a ghost and derelict hotel for more than 3 decades since the Tanzania liberation war, which had left 90% of Masaka’s infrastructure destroyed. However, the Masakian spirit is seen in the developments blossoming in the city where new buildings are springing up everywhere. Probably the old glory of our beautiful Masaka will reign once again.
After visiting my sister Nakato Muwonge in Nyendo, I proceeded to Kalisizo, my home town. Few significant developments have taken place since I last visited this town 23 years ago. Apart from the research histology lab (RHSP) facility in Kalisizo, which is very modern and impressive, all the coffee factories and other old town landmarks looked derelict. Truly, Kalisizo needs some attention and a facelift to return to its old glory, to the era of the Mapapula, Lubega and Mutenzas!
My second journey took me through Kiwagala to Kiseka (Kiswera) to visit my maternal family at Damulira’s in Kiswera itself. Besides my disappointment towards people in the village for showing very little development in the past 2 decades, I was impressed by my maternal family for showing resilience during this economical and challenging period for farmers. Their farms are still intact and they enjoy success in the entire district. This was for me a great morale boost, to see that my family has not only survived during the dark days of Uganda, but that they are actually still very successful farmers. I understood where my workaholic genes came from, which is why I probably am also enjoying some success in my newly adopted land, the UK.
My uncle Mbazira, who is in his 80s, was very busy on the farm doing what he knows best. So was my auntie Gamuli who is in her 60’s, proving that you can work hard regardless of your age, to realise your dreams as a farmer in Uganda.
I left Kiswera through Kinoni and back to Kampala where my elder brother Kizito Dauda had prepared a feast during Eid day. I was hosted to the most delicious food that I ever tasted. Time was of the essence so I had to escape after an hour to join my friend Colonel Gowa who was officiating at an occasion at Ndere Troupe Centre. Probably the musical extravaganza performed by the Ndere Troupe was one of the best memories I have of Uganda, the fusion of cultural dance showing the richness of Uganda’s cultural diversity at its best.
Uganda is not only developing in the way of building new structures. Technology-wise, I was thoroughly impressed when Mr. Kabushenga from the New Vision took me for a tour of their new $14m ultra-modern printing press. My main job in the UK is printing. Being based in Europe, I have seen modern printing plants but I have to admit that I have never seen such a prime plant like the one at the New Vision offices. At optimum speed, the printing press has a capacity to print 40,000 copies per hour with 64 pages of full colour in one run. Robert Kabushenga described it as a milestone in Uganda’s media industry, saying “besides being the first of its kind in East Africa, the printing press is also the third new printing press ever imported in the history of Uganda” . Well done, New Vision and Mr. Kabushenga. We commend you so highly!!
New structures are blossoming everywhere in the city. I was happy to see that a few companies are revolutionising the real estate market. Tirupati in particular, builds malls where people are allowed to buy and own units. In 2009, Tirupati received the highly acclaimed Investor of the Year Award in Kampala. The Tirupati Development was given a special recognition for transforming a slum in Kisenyi, downtown Kampala, into a modern shopping mall, ‘Ovino’. They are now embarking on another landmark mall ‘Mazima’, situated opposite the American Embassy, where people are free to buy units under a condominium law. I strongly encourage Ugandans in the Diaspora to think of investing in tangible projects like this.
In a nutshell, Uganda has moved on, especially the new mindset people have adopted to work hard to achieve their Ugandan dream. A lot of good success stories can be found in the city where people who started with nothing are now some of the richest in the country. Sadly, I am limited by space or I would have shared more of my experience, especially in the business sector where I discovered some good investment opportunities. I even managed to invest some money with a good return on investment prospect. Do contact me by email to find out more.
My entire visit is now engraved in my mind as a very memorable experience. It was good to tread once again on the red motherland soil!