Guerrillas and Gorillas

By Jheri St. James

A Village Store in Uganda

     Earth is the only planet in the solar system on which the presence of living things is definitely known. It is the third planet outward from the sun, the fifth largest in the solar system. The earth consists of three main zones: the atmosphere; the hydrosphere—including all the bodies of water and ice on earth; and the lithosphere—the rocks that form the earth’s crust, mantle, and core. The atmosphere provides air for breathing, shields plants and animals from excess heat from the sun, and filters out the lethal shorter ultraviolet rays that would otherwise destroy life. The hydrosphere is also essential for life. Water and ice cover more than 70% of the earth’s surface, making possible the hydrologic cycle by which water is evaporated from the oceans and precipitated as rain or snow, moistening the land and then returning to the oceans. Finally, the lithosphere makes up the landmasses or continents, sea beds, and the inner mass of the planet.

The earth’s crust varies in thickness from between an average of 20 miles (32 km) under the continents to 5 miles (8 km) under the oceans. Beneath the crust, the distinct zone called the mantle is some 1,800 miles (2,900 km) thick. Within the mantle lies the earth’s core, with a diameter of about 4,300 miles (6,900 km). Seismic data suggest that the core may consist of a solid center surrounded by a liquid outer core.

Above the earth and its spheres extends the sky—the universe, the cosmos, limitless space—making the earth miniscule in relation to this vastness. One wise man called mankind and its activities on earth like “the haze on a plum” when compared to the big picture of the solar system.

In Uganda, the haze is just as opaque as everywhere else on the landmass of the planet. Which is more true, the travel advertisements or the stories about the grisliest war criminals; the existence of some of nature’s most breathtaking landscapes and species, or the statistics about AIDS, genocides, environmental suicide?

Geographically, Uganda is situated in at the geographical heart of the African continent, bordered by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan and Tanzania. As a landlocked country, 80% of Uganda’s terrain consists of a fertile plateau some 3,000 to 5,000 ft above sea level, with highlands to the east and west. About 16,380 sq. mi. of Uganda consists of freshwater lakes and swamps. At the center of the plateau that dominates the country is Lake Kyoga. Other lakes are named Edward, Albert, George and Victoria. Although Uganda is a tropical country, crossed by the equator, its altitude ensures a comparatively mild climate.

Those lake names indicate a British presence in Uganda and it was during 1894 that the Baganda Kingdom came under British protectorate, which gradually extended to other kingdoms. By 1914, the present boundaries of Uganda became fixed and in 1962, Uganda became independent.

Through all the years of the history of this portion of the earth’s surface, heritage has lived on in the hearts of the people—their traditional dress, languages, dances and customs—traditions as exemplified in the Buganda Kingdom, in the footsteps of the “Kabaka”, the king of Buganda. A very important cultural symbol for the Baganda and also a magnificent tourist attraction are the “The Tombs” which, like all other sights, lie right in the city. The big round shaped hut is where 4 of the 37 kings of Buganda were buried.

The Kasubi Tombs

     The Uganda Tourist Board enthusiastically recommends Uganda as a tourist destination. “Dominated by an expansive golf course leading down to the lakeshore, and a century-old botanical garden alive with the chatter of acrobatic monkeys and colourful tropical birds, Entebbe itself is the least obviously urban of all comparably sized African towns. Then, just 40 km distant, sprawled across seven hills, there is the capital, Kampala. The bright modern feel of this bustling, cosmopolitan city reflects the ongoing economic growth and political stability that has characterized Uganda since 1986, and it is complemented by the sloping spaciousness and runaway greenery of its garden setting.

The Seven Hills of Kampala in Uganda

     “Ecologically, Uganda is where the East African savannah meets the West African jungle. Where else but in this impossibly lush country can one observe lions prowling the open plans in the morning and track chimpanzees through the rainforest undergrowth the same afternoon, then the next day navigate tropical channels teeming with hippo and crocs before setting off into the misty mountains to stare deep into the eyes of a mountain gorilla? Certainly, Uganda is the only safari destination whose range of forest primates is as impressive as its selection of plains antelope.”

Ugandan Lady Taking Bananas to Market

     On the same date as the above was published, the following press statement was issued by the Uganda Tourist Board: “Ambush of Tourist by Suspected L.R.A. Rebels—Government of Uganda wishes to throw more light on the November 8, 2005, ambush of five people in Gulu district, which left one person dead as reported in the local media . . . It must be noted and clarified that despite the regrettable demise of Steve Willis, Manager of Red Chilli, there was concerted effort and rapid response by UWA and UPDF to save lives and contain the situation… The ambush was carried out by three thugs, believed to be some of the L.R.A. remnants that are scatted in Gulu District.”

     “L.R.A. is the acronym for the Lord’s Resistance Army, for the last 19 years purported to have been sent by God to save Ugandans from the forces of evil, but which has terrorized the Acholi people in northern Uganda, killing and maiming, and abducting more than 20,000 children for use as child soldiers, sex slaves and porters. The International Criminal Court has finally issued warrants for L.R.C. leader Joseph Kony and three of his top commanders for ordering the commission of crimes within the jurisdiction of the court, including murder, abduction, sexual enslavement, and mutilation. Unable to destroy the rebels by armed force or to lure them from the bush with the promise of amnesty, Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni decided nearly two years ago to refer the conflict to the ICC, hoping to put an end to the impunity Kony has enjoyed until now. However, issuing arrest warrants is one thing, catching the culprits quite another. If Kony has evaded the full force of Uganda’s army for the past two decades, what hope has the court of nabbing him, with no troops or police at its disposal? More than before. The peace deal between the Sudanese government in Khartoum and Sudanese rebels in the south ahs made it harder for the LRA to hide in Sudan. Since 2002 Sudan’s government has allowed Uganda’s army to enter the southernmost tip of Sudan in pursuit of the LRA, now it has agreed to let it move further north. The arrest warrants should also increase international pressure to catch Kony and his top men.” (The Economist, October 2005).

     Uganda achieved independence from the UK in 1962. The dictatorial regime of Idi Amin (1971-1979) was responsible for the deaths of some 300,000 opponents. Guerrilla war and human rights abuses under Milton Obote (1980-1985) claimed at least another 100,000 lives. Life expectancy at this time in Uganda at birth is 51.59 years, which is low, but not as low as other African nations like Tanzania at 45, Niger 42, Malawi at 37, or Botswana the lowest at 34 years of age. The infant mortality rate is 67.83 deaths per 1,000 live births.

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An Acrobat in Shamba, Uganda

     Uganda’s star attraction is the endangered mountain gorilla, the bulkiest of living primates, and among the most peaceable. Staring into the pensive brown eyes of these gentle giants, who share 95% of their genes with humans, is as humbling as it is thrilling; no less so when one realizes that fewer than 700 individuals survive, divided between the Bwindi National park and the Virunga Mountains. Within Uganda, five habituated gorilla troops—four in Bwindi and one in Mgahinga National Park—can be visited by tourists. Uganda is also home to man’s closest relative, the chimpanzee, a delightful ape whose evocative pant-hoot call is a definitive sound of the African rainforest. Chimpanzee communities have been habituated for tourism. Monkeys are exceptionally well represented in Uganda. Kibale Forest boasts the greatest primate variety and density in East Africa, with five or six species likely to be observed. Elsewhere, Mgahinga National Park hosts habituated troops of the rare golden monkey, while Murchison Falls is one of the few East African strongholds for the spindly, plains-dwelling patas monkey. The fossilized 20-million-year-old bones of Morotopithecus, the earliest-known ancestor of modern apes and humans, were unearthed in the 1960’s near Moroto in Eastern Uganda, and are now housed in the National Museum in Kampala.

Silverback Gorilla in Uganda

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     Common Ground 191’s soil collector in Uganda was a man named Basasira David Mukasa, who lives in Kampala. Here’s what he says about his country: “Bulange (the headquarters of the Buganda Kingdom) is not only the headquarters of the Buganda Kingdom but also it’s next to King Ronald Muwanda Mutebbi II’s palace, one of the most powerful, long-surviving monarchies here in Uganda and Africa as well. The Buganda love this place so, so much and it’s one of the most cultural sites here in Uganda.

Kabaka Ronald Muwanda Mwtebi II     King Oyo of Toro (4 Years Old)

The Mwtebi Palace

     “This is just a village where you find the headquarters of Buganda Kingdom. It’s also the place next to Kabaka Ronald Muwanda Mwtebi II’s palace. His father, Kabaka (King) Mutesa built it. This is where the first missionaries arrived and were granted permission to do their work of preaching Christianity. As such, people like Stanley, Loudel and Amass (Catholics) were able to build churches next to this place.

“Rubaga Cathedral (headquarters for Catholics) is just next to this place. It’s a 30-minute walk from Bulange. Namirembe Cathedral (headquarters for Protestants) is a 15 minutes walk from Bulange. Bulange is a hill, thus at this place you can see the whole capital city of our country (Kampala) and it’s a 45-minute walk from it. You are also able to see Lake Victoria (Ggaba) the source of the River Nile).

“Bulange is the Kabaka seat. It has a parliament for the Buganda ministries and clans. Remember, before the Whites came, there was no Uganda. It was Buganda, Ankole, Buayoro, Busoga, etc., and were under a federal system of government, which were the Baganda people, which we still demand from the central government. You will see the beautiful architecture of Bulange and the Twekobe (Kabaka’s home) with round arches, beautiful columns, etc. The sculpture of Kabaka Mutebi II. The town next to Bulange is Mengo. It’s just a perimeter wall that separates the two. The first hospitals built by missionaries are immediate neighbours to this place. Mengo Hospital (10 minute walk), Rubaga hospital (30 minute walk). There are also homes of royals (those during Mutesa’s regime).

The Bulange

     Bulange was built during Muteesa’s regime I and Muteesa II became the first President of Uganda. This place has the Kabaka’s lake (man-made as a result of making bricks from clay to construct a wall onto the palace). That’s Bulange! Gary, love live Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi. Basasira David Mukasa 23rd Oct. 05. Please Gary, if at all there are certificates/anything to the volunteers who participated, please send it to me as a souvenir. I love this project and it’s my prayer that it turns out to be successful.”

     Mr. Mukasa has a real relationship with the surface of the earth, remarking as he has on the amount of time it takes to walk from place to place in Uganda. John Lennon and Yoko Ono said, “Lift your eyes and look around you, and you will see that you are walking in the sky, which extends to the ground. We are all part of the sky, more so than of the ground.” In the place of the haze, only rarely do our bare feet bottoms touch the ground, the soil, and the rest of our beings really are in the sky. Let us contemplate that idea, and remember it when we ask the environmental, political and moral questions about human life in Uganda and on our planet earth that seem so imperative.

Karimojong Warrior







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