In Search of Idi Amin

Like Rome, Kampala is said to be built on seven hills. Kampala is the intellectual and industrial heart of a country which has been recovering and rebuilding seemingly for decades. A center of political intrigue for much of its recent history, Kampala has been reborn and is forward looking to a very promising future. Modern buildings have done much to mask the battering it took in the late 70’s and early 80’s and the city has a confidence that things are better. It is infectious. Kampala has modern amenities missing in many African capitals such as ATM’s, banks and people that speak English. It is a glowing example of the new African city; modern of sorts but certainly in touch with its roots and from where it has come. Kampala is just a cool place.

Since the end of the brutal Idi Amin era of bloodshed, Uganda and Kampala have become a symbol of hope for many African countries. Tourism is around and there are gorgeous national parks all over the country. The people are educated and there is a feeling of safety in the city. Expatriates have returned and help the city thrive. These are all missing from several of their much larger neighboring countries which sets Uganda apart in the volatile region.
There isn’t much in terms of sightseeing in Kampala. The best viewing part of Kampala is actually flying into Entebbe about 40km away and landing over Lake Victoria and its assortment of patchwork islands. It introduces Uganda as the pearl of Africa. The most famous site in town is the Kasubi Tombs. These are the huge traditional reed and bark cloth buildings of the kabakas of the Buganda people. Sacred to the Bugandans, they are certainly less inspiring to the uninitiated but are a protected Word Heritage Site nonetheless.
They are home to four very important Kings (shrine above) from the 19th and 20th centuries including the first President of Uganda. They are watched over by women who clean, sleep in, and protect the tombs. The general public is not supposed to know they are actually buried there because to Ugandans, Kings don’t actually die-they just go and rest in the forest. Yes I know how it sounds, but that’s what the guide kept telling me.
The site was relatively interesting and was made cooler by the presence of a 125 year old stuffed leopard now kept in a glass case that was apparently the favorite pet of the first king. He was allegedly kept tame and sedated by feeding him buckets of blood everyday to tire him out. However, when the first King died, the leopard apparently went nuts and started eating people all over town. So the new King had him killed and stuffed. As you can see, he is now on view for all to see.
Aside from the Tombs, there isn’t much to see. There are a few mosques, including one built by Gadhafi of Libya in an attempt to spread Islam to Uganda and a few churches. Other than that Kampala is just a nice place to walk around. It was a very productive place for me to be as I arranged and organized most of my travel for the next week or so along with the help of my trusty driver James who may be the most patient person I have ever met.

Aside from booking plane tickets and the novelty of them actually taking credit cards, I was able to secure a travel permit and visa to Southern Sudan. I am very excited about this as I never intended to go there on this trip but I was able to convince them to give me the permit immediately at their embassy in about 5 minutes and I leave early in the morning for the night.

I am a little nervous because accommodation there is supposed to be abominable, super expensive and there is no way to make reservations. Additionally, they only accept US dollars made after 2003 and I only have some so I am hoping to be in the clear once I get there with the acceptable bills I have. If not, I may be mopping floors or negotiating them into taking euros or 1996 Ben Franklins!
This bill series year situation is a very common thing in Africa because of a new displaced Presidential water mark thing in new $100 bills made after 2003. Many places won’t accept them and if they do they give a much lower exchange rate as the demand is very low. It’s super annoying as you can imagine and cash is king in Africa. So hopefully everything works out tomorrow in Juba-the capital of Southern Sudan which may be an independent country as early as this coming year.

I had to decide between going to Juba or going white water rafting in Jinja at the source of the Nile River. I couldn’t pass up the chance for Southern Sudan so I will be taking a rain check on Jinja and hopefully I can go rafting elsewhere on this trip. I may be going back to Victoria Falls so I may do the Zambezi rafting again as I did in 2004-we’ll see how it goes.

I will be completely offline in Juba and will be heading to Rwanda on Wednesday to spend New Year’s Day tracking silverback gorillas! I am very excited about that and look forward to the next few days.

And by the way, if you were searching for Idi Amin-he is buried in Saudi Arabia where he died in exile in 2003.

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  1. be safe in Sudan! I’m keen to hear about it.

  2. I would’ve gone rafting. I have a friend who works for an NGO in Juba and says it’s absolutely awful. Good luck and be safe.

  3. Enjoy the gorilla trekking — the hour that they let you spend with the gorillas goes by very quickly, but its a very memorable hour.

    Happy new year from New Caledonia (I was in Vanuatu for the past few days).

  4. Michael, happy new year to you. I haven’t heard from you or Ryan in a few weeks and was concerned! Awesome about Vanuatu and New Caledonia, I wanted to get there this summer but had to leave early…maybe next summer…enjoy and send me the pics when you get back.

  5. Yeah, I’ve been on the road and am writing this from the internet kiosk in the Canberra airport before flying back to Sydney, where I was last night for the best fireworks show I have seen.

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