News and Views

Uganda’s Golden Jubilee Celebrations 2012

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At the stroke of midnight, the sky was sent into blazing colours of fireworks, and the streets of Kampala were filled with a rare excitement, only close to that of ushering in a new year. You would think January the first had come in October! This was Uganda’s 50th birthday as an independent state.

Heads of states present included President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, President Thomas Yayi Boni of Benin, President Salva Kir of South Sudan, President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt, President Seretse Khama of Botswana, President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and President Joseph Kabila of Democratic Republic of Congo.

The ceremony was officiated with prayers from the leader of the Church of Uganda His Grace, Henry Luke Orombi. Reflecting on mistakes of the past, his prayer was for a new Uganda.

“We want to see a new future where we accept others, where our children grow in dignity and where men and women live with integrity.” said Orombi.

I joined the thousands of Ugandans that thronged the freshly refurbished Kololo independence grounds, braving sweltering temperatures to witness one of the most historic days in the journey of Uganda, since her independence in 1962.

As a young girl in my early twenties, I had heard so many stories about Uganda’s independence, ranging from stories from grandparents around the fireplace, classroom lectures, to even bedtime stories. But one fact seemed central in all the stories. Fifty years ago, on Tuesday October 9th 1962, the Union Jack was lowered and the Uganda flag was raised, officially declaring Uganda independent. Milton Obote was the first Executive Prime Minister of Uganda, and it is he that received the instruments of power from the Queen’s representative, the Duke of Kent.

The Duke was at Kololo for the jubilee celebrations, his first visit to Uganda since 1962, and was also celebrating his 77th birthday on the same day (born 9th October 1935). In his jubilee speech, President Museveni, while recognising his presence at the celebarations, mentioned something that struck my mind. It is the Duke that actually handed over the instruments of power fifty years ago.

“His presence gives us a lot of pleasure because he is the very person that handed over the instruments of independence to our first Executive Prime Minister, the late H.E Milton Obote.”

The parade was a spectacular sight. It was the most beautiful parade ever, with the security forces dressed to the nines for the occasion.  And for the first time in my life, I admired the armed forces.

It has not been all roses for Uganda since 1962. For the better part of the past fifty years, Uganda was known to be home to Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) leader Joseph Kony and the despotic regime of Idi Amin. It has endured political instability, civil wars and the scourge of AIDS. It has had its share of successes and major changes too, with the discovery of oil offering a new economic promise.

The national anthem was sung as the flag was being hoisted amidst jubilations. However, the cheers were cut short when the flag failed to fly for about two minutes, creating anxiety among the people. The tension was broken when a senior officer stepped forward and successfully raised the flag, sending the crowd thundering with euphoric cheers of relief. This motivated Army Spokesman Felix Kulayigye to connect the incident to Uganda’s history. “The flag is now flying after the wind disturbing it. A testimony of the turbulent history of Uganda.”

Major Kenneth Akorimo, the soldier that hoisted the flag on 9th October 1962 was present at the celebrations, and when he took to the podium, the crowd was ecstatic. I felt a salty drop trickle  down my cheek when the joyous 81 year old took up the microphone, and said “Congratulations Uganda!”
The greatest sensation was the skyward display of the fighter jets that somersaulted in the air, spewing fumes of black, yellow and red, leaving behind them a pattern of the flag in the air over throngs of ecstatic spectators.

Uganda looks back to its complicated path to the present, looking ahead with hope to an uncertain future.

I may not have lived through Uganda’s jagged road to independence to fully appreciate the struggles those before me endured to become autonomous of Britain, but I am certainly proud to be Ugandan today.

By Imelda Mugoya

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