As we come to the end of this year we take time to look back at how the year 2016 faired generally given the various events that shaped Uganda and the world in general. As Ugandans, we are also optimistic of the future of our country and we want to own this future.
That noted, some of the prominent news-making events in 2016, in no particular order, included the Ugandan contested presidential elections in February; the attack on King Charles Wesley Mumbere’s palace in Kasese and his subsequent arrest; the devastating attack on Syrians in Aleppo and the unexpected win of Donald Trump in the recent American elections.
Indeed, the year 2016 has been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride full of surprises; some as markers of progress and others reminders of how far we still have to go.
In Uganda, this year’s starter was rather eventful, with the presidential campaigns setting the tone as President Yoweri Museveni faced off once again with archrival Dr. Kizza Besigye for the presidential seat. Other notable contestants inclded former Prime Minister and NRM Secretary General John Patrick Amama Mbabazi, seasoned contestant Dr Abed Bwanika; retired soldier-cum-politician Major General Benon Biraro Buta, Independent Prof. Venansius Baryamureeba and lone woman contestant Maureen Walube Kyalya.
Ugandans saw the drama and unrest that followed the elections as riots almost brought Kampala to a standstill on several occasions, and with businesses shut down at times. However, to the credit of the Inter-religious Council of Uganda (IRCU) and the Council of Elders chaired by retired judge, Justice James Ogoola Munange, the 2016 elections were one of a kind as millions of Ugandans got to witness the first-ever Presidential debate live on television, held at the Serena Hotel. Seven candidates attended the first debate, and President Museveni joined them for the second debate a week later.
The seriousness and comedy that followed the event left varying impressions on the minds of several Ugandans, but needless to say, some of the eight candidates acquitted themselves well. Eventually, one of them won.
However, the win by NRM’s Museveni was followed by the arrest of Dr. Kizza Besigye on February 20, drawing mixed reactions from different stakeholders, with the opposition and international community emphasising on the need for free and fair elections and the end of all forms of oppression. Since then Dr Besigye has been a relatively ‘free’ man but this has not dampened his resolve to insist that he was cheated of victory in the election through a ploy involving Mr Museveni and the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, in connivance with the former Electoral Commission boss Eng Badru Kiggundu. To date, Dr Besigye is still promoting his ‘defiance’ campaign throughout the country as a way of demonstrating against his perceived robbed victory.
But amidst all the political hullabaloo, the Kampala-Masaka highway became a death trap claiming the lives of many travellers in freak accidents that occurred inexplicably, earning the road the unenviable moniker: ‘Highway to Hell”. The rising death toll along the road raised nationwide alarm, with the demand for a solution at a high. This prompted religious leaders of different dominations to intervene and encourage citizens to ‘pray for the road’ and the families of the deceased. Inevitably also, concern over the deaths gave birth to ‘Operation Fika Salaama’, a programme that was initiated by the police and the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) to ensure road safety and also that Ugandans reached their destinations safe and sound. So far the accidents reported along that particular road have dropped considerably.
Then in came the ongoing strikes and riots by both teaching, non-teaching staff and students of Makerere University over salary arrears and other issues, a development that rendered the vicinity a perceived bedlam, prompting the President to order for the shutting down of the varsity, citing concern for citizens and properties. Currently, Makerere has been closed for two months, with an ongoing investigation into its mismanagement. However, after several meetings it has been decided that it will open on January 2, for completion of the first semester, with only a one week hiatus that will mark the start of the second and last semester.
However, despite issues being far from solved in regard to the administration of the university, issues like ‘sex for marks’ and incompetence that have long troubled the institution are being reportedly being scrutinised, much to the delight of many parents and students. Founded before independence in 1922, Makerere University is one of the most renowned institutions of higher learning in Africa for its quality education and notable alumni that includes six former East African presidents; Yusuf Kironde Lule; Godfrey Lukongwa Binaisa, Milton Obote (Uganda), Julius Nyerere and Benjamin William Mkapa (Tanzania), and Emilio Mwai Kibaki of Kenya.
Then, there was something that put a smile on the faces of several Ugandans; the Uganda Cranes win against Comoros in September that marked their qualification for the African Cup of Nation, the first in 38 years! This joyous spirit was further preserved when KCCA held the ‘Kampala City Festival’ in October bringing together many citizens in Kampala to celebrate not only the progress Kampalans had made but somehow also inadvertently celebrate Independence from colonial rule in 1962. With a diverse culture and rich heritage Ugandans are never short of entertainment and a reason to fraternise. Indeed, from outrageous outfits to never before seen feats of elation and, despite the odds, many individuals still find time to fraternise making Uganda one of the friendliest and safest countries in the world.
But the Ugandan cloud with a silver lining came under threat on November 12, when the country awoke to the sad news of the death of Kenneth Watmon Akena, a social worker and child activist who at the tender age of 33 met his end.
His death came as the result of a gunshot wound reportedly fired by a one Mathew Kanyamunyu, an entrepreneur who is currently behind bars in Luzira awaiting trial alongside his co-accused; lady friend Cynthia Munwangari and his brother Joseph Kanyamunyu.
Akena’s death sparked off tribal outrage, something that highlighted the tribal tension that is ever prevalent in many African nations, as few took to social media to spread propaganda and hate. But there were also voices of reason and conscientious; Kanyamunyu’s aunt, the indefatigable Winnie Byanyima, wife to opposition icon Dr Besigye, came out and called for justice to prevail, even if it was her nephew on the receiving end. No wonder many have indicated Winnie can make a good President in future.
Anyhow, as the country was still trying to come to grips with Akena’s death, military honcho Major Muhammad Kiggundu, who was also a state witness against Islamic clerics facing terrorism charges, was gunned down.
Maj Kiggundu was the husband to popular herbalist Sophie Nalubega aka Mama Ffina and father to 14. The death of Maj. Kiggundu came as a shock and reminded many of the death of former Army Commander Major General James Kazini.
Internationally, the world was shocked when images and footage of murdered African Americans (mostly male) at the hands of the US police surfaced, sparking off numerous riots across the country as thousands protested against ‘racism and prejudice in the American judicial system’ under the mantra #blacklivesmatter.
‘Brexit’, the astounding departure of the United Kingdom (UK) from the European Union (EU), was another game changer that left many Britons and other Commonwealth parties either saddened at the decision or ecstatic. Despite the UK being the only country to have exited the EU this year, some other countries in the EU agree with the idea and now exude tale-tell signs of following suit.
Meanwhile, the Middle East is known for being ravaged by war and death. The recent videos of bombed buildings and bloodied, orphaned children barely surviving death by airstrikes and stray bullets struck a chord not only in Uganda but the world as well as millions came together to bring awareness to the situation in Syria, Aleppo. With the recent assassination of a Russian diplomat to Turkey a ceasefire is highly unlikely in war torn Syria, although hope is given on discovery that ‘Twitter legend’ Bana Al-bed, who took to Twitter to report the situation in Aleppo and ask for help, was safely evacuated with her family from the jaws of death. Nonetheless, several people of good will continue to pray for Aleppo.
Anyway, as Ugandans tend towards the end of 2016, many can’t help but be grateful that they are able to see a new day with friends and family. And, true to their patriotic and resilient nature, Ugandans still continue to smile and make merry, ignoring or forgetting some of the dark clouds that enveloped this beautiful country.
And, as many will testify, the last Blankets and Wine concert held on December 18, 2016 is true testimony to the merrymaking, as individuals both local and foreign and regardless of tribe or religion, all came together to celebrate and toast to ‘another year’, in typical Ugandan fashion before heading to their respective homes for Christmas.
No one knows what the future holds in 2017 but Ugandans certainly want to focus on making Uganda great again; a Uganda where corruption, tribalism and chauvinism among other vices are non- existent would indeed be a country that would make both Ugandans and God proud.
Bye 2016 and welcome 2017.