To arrive in Uganda I had to cross to the other side of the world. Coming from Kenya, I crossed the parallel 0 and after two more days traveling I came into my 8th African country.
Uganda is placed along the Equator. The climate is mild and steady due to the moderate height (800 meters). Only in the east border (with Kenya) and the west (with Congo) there are mountain ranges over 4000 and 5000 meters high.
Its rich land is the most important natural resource of the country and supplies the basement for the agricultural economy, but at a high cost: every year 2% of the wooded land is destroyed to have more hectares for cultivation. Based on statistics, 90% of the working population depends on agriculture as a way of living.
Way to Kampala, its capital city
From the border to the capital city there are a little more than 200 km and the road is in good condition so it took me only two days to cover the route. Halfway, I had a rest in Jinja, the second city of the country that has an important fishing activity because it is placed near Victoria Lake; the biggest one of Africa, whose waters bathes the neighbor lands of Kenya and Tanzania.
The following morning I left Jinja and, at a few kilometers, I crossed the bridge over the majestic Nile River that begins in this lake – in the zone of Uganda – and goes for more than 5000 km through Sudan and Egypt.
Entering the capital I was a little afraid. Although I always try to enter the cities in the daylight, that’s not possible every time, sometimes the wind against me, the mountains or just a little problem with my bike take me more time than I had thought and I arrive at night.
The hard thing was to find a place to stay, especially with the characteristics I consider essential: not very dirty, safe and not over US$ 5.-. Assembling this jigsaw puzzle in the middle of the night and without any previous references it wasn’t easy, but, fortunately, after an hour and with the help of a “boda boda” (bicycle-taxi), I could stay in a hostel near the bus terminus.
The following day I went for a walk through the streets in the centre of the city and I was surprised by the mess I found, although the city is not very big (1 million of people). The sidewalks are broken and dirty, with big holes or piles of rubble. People walk along the streets and nobody respects the road signs or the direction of the avenues. That’s a real chaos!
My sponsors in Uganda
Before leaving Nairobi, capital city of Kenya, I introduced my Project to the local office of Eastern Africa of Colgate Palmolive. Immediately, after arriving in Kampala I made contact with this office to plan together the better way to go on.
In that way, Mr. Stuart Mwesigwa, General Manager of the Uganda Division, arranged a press conference in one of the most important hotels of the city. The media was there, TV, newspapers and radios. I was a little nervous; I had never been in an event like that, not even as a member of the audience, but Mr. Stuart told me: “Take it easy, Pablo, just tell them what you are doing”.
Back to the road
After some days in Kampala, I went to the west of the country, a few kilometers from the frontier with Congo. They were four days of hard biking until arriving in Bundibuyo, a small town where I stayed another three days.
Knowing that the north-east of the country is a zone of big conflicts, I paid attention to where I went. The L.R.A. (Lord’s Resistance Army) and the A.D.F. (Allied Democratic Front) are there, two guerrilla bands that confront the current government of the president Musenevi, who has this post uninterruptedly since 1986.
Uganda, as many other African countries, won its independence (in 1962) in a wild fight for the power, provoking uncountable violent incidents from the opposition to the new government.
Currently, these guerrilla bands are provided with weapons and financed by the government of Sudan (Moslem), which has great interests in removing the government of Uganda. In the same way, the government of Uganda (Christian) finances rebel groups of the south of Sudan with the same political interests of its neighbor country
As I talked to people there, I was more and more surprised by the reality of this hiding place of the planet. I had never seen so closely that violence can have no limits when the aim is fighting for power, no matter the price to pay.
In a refugee camp and with a family of Pygmies – Km 24,035
I visited two refugee camps near Bundibuyo, created to put together the families that lived scattered in the mountains, and prevent the rebels from attacking them brutally , raping women, looking for food or new soldiers. .
The last day I went to the Semliki natural reservation. A family of Pygmies lives there, who escaped from the conflicts in Congo, their native country. They told me, through a translator, that, months before, a group of guerrillas had attacked a Pygmy hamlet: they killed them and cut them into pieces, to cook them and eat them later. The fact was known because one of the members of the hamlet had gone to collect some wood and when he came back, he saw the entire massacre, and, unfortunately, his nephew was one of the victims.
I spent all day with this family of Pygmies, listening to many stories that surprised me. At the same time, they seemed even more surprised when I told them where I came from with my bike. They were friendly and hospitable people. They smoke too much marijuana too.
They invited me to their homes, small huts made of palm-tree leaves. And we ate together some bananas cooked in a saucepan with some little fishes they had caught in the river that morning.
A hard tropical rain made me stay a little longer inside the hut, and seated on a stone I reflected some minutes on the place I was. I had always wanted to know this people, and there I was: in the middle of Africa, with my bike and with the Pygmies.