Over half-century ago, today must have been the most interesting week of the year back in 1962 with everybody in high spirits anticipating the long-awaited Uhuru day! The countdown culminating into the most iconic moment on October 8th1962, at the stroke of Midnight the union jack was lowered and with it the final curtain on a 70-year British reign over Uganda.
70 years summed up in a 5-minute flag moment.
Earlier during the late 1940s, Grand Paa was among many laborers ferried from the East, to boost the workforce building the biggest project in British East Africa the new hydro-electricity dam at mouth of the Nile in Jinja
Curious to explore the world outside the confines of his home territory, the road had earlier been paved by his kin’s men.
In his later years and with an acquired taste for an exotic lifestyle, he would sit down, recounting the old days with nostalgia, doling out nuggets of wisdom, often giving an interesting and illustrious account of the old times and his encounters.
…His first Train ride ‘’AGALI” and how it seemed as the train picked up speed that the whole world, around him, was ‘running away’ very fast in the opposite direction.
…How that the village showed up to see off one of their sons who had acquired a post-independence overseas scholarship with generous supplies- trimmings of seasoned wild game in homemade cow butter, amukeke (sun dried sweet potatoes) and lots of advice (oh yes, it takes a village …) long after he was gone, every so often the ordinary folk chanced upon an Airplane flying far above their skies, they would happily wave exclaiming that their son…
…That some of the ordinary folk thought the Airport was located next to the lake because well, as the story goes, that type of flying “big chumaa” traversed long distances at terrific speeds rendering it very hot, reason it always left a burning trail of white smoke in the sky, so its tail had to be dipped into the lake waters to cool down the engine, (supposedly cruising on char-coal fuel). Flt. Eng. P.Gaigulo you should have a laugh at this one, very wild and blissful imagination, the sky was surely the limit. Some of Grandpa’s tales would tickle.
One of his stories about the Owen falls bridge construction always fascinated me.
He told of how people from different ethnic backgrounds were brought together to make up the work force at the dam to skill and expose them as the crown penetrated further interior consolidating its rule.
He spoke of the cultural shock converging people of different ethnicities in one workplace, and how their ragged African living quarters was the melting pot teeming with life after work, on several occasions it attracted the curiosity of some Asians and Bazungu who sneaked in to mingle, have a laugh and taste the illicit brew under the guise of investigating the noise.
This social lifestyle was to play out again in the later years of Jinja a well cultured and upbeat town that drew the country’s elite, and high society to fill in the booming job market created by the many Industries powered by the dam electricity, cruising the consummate high life of the 70s through early 80s, the boys were back in Town! (Before Idi Amin snapped the life out of the private sector with the expulsion of Asians)
He recalled the tragic incidents of lives lost constructing the Jinja bridge.
He told of the unpreparedness of men at work from different communities faced with the challenge of a roaring fast water current, unfamiliar with swimming, a skill that might have averted many tragedies.
With the number of drowning accidents growing the situation was exacerbated by the superstitious Nature of African traditional beliefs, work morale at the site deteriorated as fear gripped the camp.
He said talk was rife about the wrath of the spirit of the great river upset at another attempt to divert the water and construct a road for men to dare walk over a sacred place, old stories of the railway line construction with the man-eating lions at Tsavo were retold over and over.
It was widely believed a mysterious power was causing the unfortunate deaths, lucky charms and talisman were worn for protection by the local workmen.
A disparity of 2 worlds had emerged, Modern and Mythical.
A nation at the behest of a promising future, Uganda the shiny jewel on the crown of the British Empire, with a vision waiting to light up greater British East Africa, hydroelectric energy would power industries, create jobs, unlock prosperity, now unfortunately the foot soldiers of the economy were developing cold feet, cowed down by the whims of mysticism deeply rooted in African culture invoking a frightful feeling of a mysterious dark power lurking in the shadows.
A parable of 2 paradigms!
Even with different approaches and safety precautions, the grand project continued to have incidental fallouts.
To maintain workers morale so the story goes, drowning accidents were subsequently covered up as nails that had dropped into the water.
So much collateral went down as the bridge came up, the truth obscured as Nails, Nails from different parts of the country.
The big project was finally completed in 1955 and hailed as an economic milestone for the Uganda British Protectorate.
The commissioning, a grand spectacle well-orchestrated to convey the powerful image of a new civilization.
The governor general looking majestic in black ceremonial uniform with the ladies of the Imperial house in dotting hats, white gloves, aristocrats, and senior administrative staff riding in a cavalcade of dark glimmering rolls Royce’s, with soldiers of the king’s African rifles regiment in a colorful parade holding the union jack, as they marched alongside, as though beckoning to overwhelmed onlookers to join the match past to the promised land.
The Watergates under the bridge prior opened forced out a pressurized jet of waterfalls a magnificent view greeted by a thunderous applause from onlookers, a triumphant moment, a landmark achievement, now the economy could boom…
The quiet composed old man grandpa was, loved to look his Sunday best with the “en-nyasa” hair line, a trendy men’s hair fashion worn by gentlemen of the times, seated on the veranda with his small pot of ajon, he looked like an old chief waiting to hold court.
Many years and the times have changed, memories slowly faded except the parable of the 2 paradigms, does society still swing it both ways?
One of Africa’s renown playwrights, Ugandan born Okot P’Bitek in his book song of Lawino describes the beautiful lamentations of an African bride lawino, of her hubby Ocol blending into 2 worlds
Look no further than ocol, here we are typically engrafted Europeans the other half our ‘proud African heritage’, typically ‘new wine in old wine skins’….
To date we still conduct 2 marriage ceremonies, one traditional the other modern in a church, many of us have 2 names one of tribal origin, the other foreign, we speak 2 languages our very own mother tongue, and the other…. we have 2 homes one in the Town the other rural in the country.
The list is very long as it’s fascinating to know.
As we commemorate our 59th Independence anniversary a drive by downtown Entebbe offers an opportunity to retrace the steps of our history, in an enclosed green square next to total fuel station stands a colossus of a Tree according to an account of history this marks the spot over 60years ago where one of Independence advocates Ignatius Musasizi used to hold pro-independence meetings with locals, it has since been renamed freedom square and the big Tree mti gwe dembe preserved as a monument of Independence.
The Famous Entebbe Club not too far away (The oldest in East Africa) formerly an exclusive club house must have been the informal seating for social evenings from where high society- the powerful and privileged mingled as they weighed in on matters of state, according to longtime resident and life member, Amb Rhoda Tumusiime the Governor may have firmed up many executive decisions over a chilled scotch played his last game, held church next door at the St Johns Anglican church before a brass band bid them farewell at the governors ball dance at his stately Residence.
As we reflect on the past we honor with an enduring gratitude the contribution of all our forefathers, senior citizens, and Elders especially a post humus tribute, to the many faceless nameless nails at Owen falls dam that labored for a future they did not live to see.
In Irish folklore they say, you have got to do your own growing no matter how tall your grandfather was.
Happy 59th Uganda shine on…
Enjoy Paul simon and Ladysmith Black Mambazo diamonds on the soles of her shoes
Great independence weekend Cheers I raise my glass, bottoms up