Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Kampala by boda-boda

The real way to see Kampala is from the back of a boda-boda. I came intending to do just this, and was lucky to find Walter's Boda-boda Tours rather than gambling with any random rider off the street. Walter runs a professional local outfit with about fifteen trained staff, providing passengers with helmets and safe riders who "obey the road rules" (there are road rules?)

One of Walter's senior riders, Michael, collects me at my hotel. He will in time reveal himself to be highly knowledgeable. Aboard his motorcycle we first climb Kololo Hill to where the embassies and the homes of ambassadors and dignitaries are located. Everywhere in Kampala there are people and traffic, except here. The only locals seen walking the paved roads among the manicured lawns are gardeners, walkers of dogs, and dogs. "This is how the wealthy live in Kampala," he says. "To live in those houses you would have to pay three thousand US dollars a month!" I respond instinctively with "wow" and then immediately realise that's the average rent in Sydney.

We descend the hill into the slum of Kamocha. Rolling dirt hummocks plough through corrugated iron shacks, and women cook on charcoal fire pits between puddles of fetid water. This is where all the people are. Hundreds of them. But this is just a fifth of the slum's population, Michael tells me, as everyone is at work in the city. "Come here during the morning commute," he says. "People fill the road. You can hardly get through." There is much poverty in Africa. Life is a struggle, and not only for the poor.

Up another hill to the peaceful gardens of the only Bah'àí temple in Africa (where I begin to suspect indoctrination when we linger too long under a lengthy explanation of the Bah'àí faith), past the once-great Makerere University, and down Col. Muammar Gaddafi Road to the 360-degree views from the minaret of the Gaddafi Mosque. The place was funded by the Libyan dictator after the grand mosque project of his friend Idi Amin was abandoned half complete for twenty years following his overthrow. Amin himself overthrew Milton Obote, the man with whom he had orchestrated the overthrow of King Mutesa. It seems there was a lot of this going on.

Idi Amin tortured and executed Obote supporters in a concrete bunker on the grounds of the King's palace. Obote used it as well. Nearly a hundred people at a time would be crammed into each of five square rooms without sanitation, many suffocating, all dying in the electrified moat that penned them in. Thirty-five thousand of them. It's a bare and rather unremarkable place but for a few things: the haunting muddy handprints on the walls from people tortured in the water with shocks; an attestation on a wall that a subsequent visitor would never forget that her husband was killed here; and a message in charcoal from a victim: "Obote you have killed me but what about my children?"

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