Now on the streets tonight, the lights grow dim - Second Mass E-Update from Kampala
"Blood brothers in the stormy night with a vow to defendNo retreat no surrenderNow on the street tonight the lights grow dimThe walls of my room are closing inThere's a war outside still ragingyou say it ain't ours anymore to win..."
I could not help but smile that Bruce Springsteen finds his way into sub-Saharan African political commentary journalism. Only the Boss. On that note, Nsanyuse okulaba! It is nice to see you. Or in our case, nice to be able to write to you across miles thanks to the global technological revolution. There are internet cafes all over Kampala, but their speed is frustratingly minimal and the power is unreliable. There is nothing that has brought me closer to the brink of breaking a computer than composing an email for an hour only to lose it when we lose power. Well, such is life in Kampala - power comes and goes, but life keeps on keeping on.
Since I last wrote, our group traveled to Rwanda. My first impression and the biggest surprise of Rwanda was its immense beauty. We crossed the border to find large rolling green hills, full of fields growing tea and corn. Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, was striking, a lovely city literally on a hill. Yet, Rwanda remains a haunted land with a dark history culminating in the genocide just eleven years ago that left more than 800,000 people dead in under 90 days. The weapon of choice was the machete. Walking through the Kigali Genocide Museum, all of us were completely overwhelmed by the images and words - children slaughtered by machetes, dogs feeding on piles of corpses in the road, thousands of dead bodies on the floors of churches, a baby breastfeeding from her dead mother, endless skulls and bones and death and an aware, yet silent international community. When we entered the final room that holds skulls fractured by machetes, it all hit home - this mass slaughter of human life really happened and real people were butchered. Just eleven years ago.
The musueum is also very informative about the awful history that made genocide basically inevitable. That history begins with ruthless Belgian colonizers who accentuated and constructed a politicized ethnic divide between the Tutsis and Hutus. Over the first 50 years of the 20th century, European colonizers and Christian missionaries pitted the Tutsis and Hutus against each other, creating resentment and economic inequity. Conflict, based on ethnic-economic lines, ensued over the following decades, leading to the genocidal events. A small group of Hutus employed effective propaganda to order the masses into genocidal frenzy. The international community stood silent, especially as a result of decisions by the United States and France to prevent United Nations action.
The challenge today as we look upon that genocide is to look forward and commit ourselves that such will happen 'never again.' Yet, genocidal events continue throughout the world (see Sudan, Chechnya, Burma) even today as we stand silent. Many of us have the power to lobby our policymakers and leaders to speak out and to take action for those who are powerless in such situations. Even more, we have to become aware of what causes genocide - harsh colonial structures of economic exploitation in the case of Rwanda - and fight such policies that create conditions where mass violence is inevitable.
After our time in Kigali, we continued on for a few days to Mbarara, a nice little city in southwestern Uganda that is home to much agriculture and some tremendous NGOs, especially the Red Cross that is working in refugee camps for Rwandese and Congolese refugees. We then traveled to Queen Elizabeth National Park, where we saw lions, elephants, warthogs, tons of birds (QE is home to 1/6 of the world's bird species), gazelle, buffalo, hippos, crocodiles and more. Those of you who know me well know that I am not exactly an animal-lover. Nonetheless, it was quite a thrill to see all these animals in their natural habitat. Minus the warthogs; those devil-animals would not get away from our hostel.
Since returning to Kampala, I have been studying Luganda and grassroots development. I am also spending a lot of time developing my independent study, which all of us in the program work on for the final six weeks that we are here. I am going to be studying the relationship between the Northern conflict and the constitutional third-term debate ongoing in Parliament, looking at the situation of vulnerable peoples from the conflict and the north-south divide in Ugandan politics. I am really excited, and the project is really taking off.
In the last two days, I have found myself in the halls of Ugandan Parliament and in the newsroom of The New Vision, the major government-sponsored newspaper in Uganda. For the latter, I wrote an editorial about the constitutional debate, which hopefully will get published in the next few days (cross my fingers). If you're interested, its posted on my blog with some other stuff. As for Parliment, I made a contact with an MP who is head of the Legal Committee and representing Gulu District (northern Uganda), who is going to guide me a bit with my research. Both trips were quite a rush.
Well, there is so much more I could and would like to write, but I fear this email is already too long. Yet, it gives you a little look at what I have been up to here in East Africa. If you're interested in more, I am trying to keep my blog reasonably well updated, especially with stuff about ordinary, daily life and happenings in Uganda. Thanks to everyone who wrote me emails, and please keep sending updates from wherever this email finds you. I apologize for not being able to respond much, but these computers are ridiculously slow.
Well, siiba bulungi ne sula bulungi. Have a good day and night! Best wishes from the pearl of Africa.