When David Ngugi, looking at his wrist watch, drove into Mukono, he saw that it was a few minutes to seven o’clock in the morning. He had made it in time. He was excited. He would be making it to Kampala International University in time for the most important day of his academic life, a day with a history to celebrate, and a future to visualize. His graduation.
Through his windscreen David could see that traffic had started to build up. On both sides of the road, people were walking in various rhythms. A little boy was running into a shop with a big white freezer and loaves of bread on top of it to purchase amata, perhaps for his family’s breakfast. Boda-boda riders were, like ever before, finding new routes for themselves in between the people and vehicles because they had to get the uniformed young boys and girls they were carrying to their respective primary schools lest they would have to face the wrath of their pretentiously tough headteachers. Every now and then people crossed the road, from a taxi stage commonly known as Bishop’s stage to the route leading to Uganda Christian University, Mukono. Old men and women, possibly professors and or lecturers dressed in shorts and tracksuits were sweating from an early morning jog that had them emerging from areas close to Colline Hotel, past City Shoppers Supermarket, Satellite Beach, and onto theme route to the Mukono based university. Shopkeepers were opening their shops with a combination of an apparent expectation and reluctance that they must have acquired over a period of time spent doing the same. In the car’s rear view mirror, David could see the white and blue spotted taxis racing towards his bumper. People from the towns of Jinja, Lugazi, Namawojolo and Wantoni had to make it to Kampala early enough for work or, maybe, choose to lose their all important jobs.
As he drove on, David noticed a figure somewhat obscured with a haze. It slubbered over in haste, its intentions left to David’s cold imaginations. As he drove towards it, it occurred to him that it was every driver’s nemesis: a condescending traffic officer.
The young traffic officer waved down David’s vehicle and directed him to park it right in front of Hippos Sports Bar which he did.
She went on to walk around the vehicle as if the heels of her blunt boots were egg-shells and not leather, observed the stickers relaying the necessary payments and certifications, and, finally, ended up at the driver’s window. David’s window.
“You seem not to know why I have stopped you.” She said.
David was tired and had no time for any interruption before he fully rested. He had spent a night and most of the previous day driving his father from Nairobi, Kenya to Kampala, Uganda so that both could share each others company at an event so special to them. They were confident they had observed all regulations on both sides of the border, their personal documents and identifications were with them, had buckled up their seat belts, their vehicle was not in dangerous mechanical conditions and were not under the influence of any intoxicants. They sat, looked at her and wondered what they had made of themselves.
“You were over-speeding.” She told them.
A conflagration started in David’s head and chest. He had lived in Uganda for enough time to dislike traffic officers and their ridiculous creativity when it came to finding wrong with any driver. And also, he had run out of niceties for people like the lady who had filled his window with her caped head and vast self clad in a white uniform. Her embroidered cam and number were not of any interest to him. As she searched for a pen from her breast pocket to sign a bill she had clipped onto a board she held in her left hand, David was moved to say a word or two which would help persuade her not to commence an unsolicited legal process.
“Madam. We understand that you are the eyes and ears of the government. And that you believe we are in wrong, something which we, with due respect, do not believe. We have a long day ahead of us. All we request of you is to call upon your virtue of mercy and save us from any hullabalo.
You see, when you come to our country, and, by a stroke of bad luck, find yourself in a similar situation, you will be counting on what we are asking of you – mercy – and there is not so much of it where we come from.” David pleaded, and prayed.
“I will never come to your country.”
The traffic officer responded with a gusto that made David and his father, Mr. Ngugi, think that, for her, it was a gone conclusion, one that she had made up before the three met on the sidelines of Jinja road in Mukono. Her declaration was an escape for her rather obnoxious opinion – one developed from, undoubtedly, ignorance, pathetic stereotypes, and, definitely, a lack of any exposure whatsoever. It was also a statement that got Mr. Ngugi involved and talking – from a point of a rich experience.
“Young lady, when I was a young man growing up in Kenya, there was a president of this country who went by the name Idi Amin Dada. He was a proud man who accumulated several and all military titles available to him. He made every one bow down in his honour. He made white people carry him shoulder high. He was a very humorous man who spoke with the confidence of a leader who had everything in control and would last for life.”
“However, his biggest problem was that he was born with a small cerebrum and a large adrenal gland. Him and his officers who were like you back then committed acts which cannot easily be described right now, in this day and age, because of the nature of their their sensitivity. He disturbed us with several attacks on our sovereignty. He at one time even claimed Turkana as Ugandan territory. These acts earned him a name – a bad one – all over the world. He was declared, and was known to all as a dictator.”
“As a young man then, vowing to never come to your very beautiful country came easily for me as it has now for you. I may not be a Ugandan but as a human being who believes that violation of rights and a disturbance of peace anywhere is a violation of rigits and a disturbance of peace everywhere, I was sympathetic towards my fellow brothers and sisters who were going through an unfathomable plight. I am a product of that generation, a generation that was born and bred in Uganda’s Idi Amin, or was it Idi Amin’s Uganda.”
“Today, things have changed for the better. Uganda is peaceful and developing although that is subject to various questions. Your people are as hospitable as ever before which is why you are seeing my son and I here today.
However, you, especially you the young people, have lived under one president, Yoweri Museveni. You certainly have not enjoyed the goodness to be derived from witnessing the much needed changes that come with a change of leadership and the policies that brings.
You have, therefore, lived to witness the problems that come with it, an escalation of another sort of evils; corruption, a demise of institutions, restrictions by departments of state, recurring intimidation by the authorities, flawed electoral processes, poor infrastructure, unemployment and suppression of any formidable opposition in what you presume is a multi-party democracy. They may be mild as compared to our days but they are not meant to be existing.
The only success you can speak of is what Museveni keeps telling you slave like people, that you have peace and can now sleep like never before. It has made you comfortable, and proud, again. You, my sister, are a product of Mr. Museveni’s Uganda, or is it Uganda’s Museveni.”
“Thankfully, that peace has enabled many other people to come here and make money from the opportunities they have found. My friends, Nordin and Ali who are of Somali descent travel to Kampala to purchase clothes for their duka. Nordin keeps telling me that every Ugandan must learn swahili because we are brothers and sisters and it is our language. He keeps telling me that even though Sevo is a dangerous man who is sometimes the president of South Sudan and sometimes the president of Kenya, he has tried. He has done something which our second president also did, managed to let peace prevail although it never helped us as much as we would have expected.
My son has been studying from here, in Ntinda, since his Senior 3. He was the only Kenya in his class until more started joining him. Today, we are going for is graduation from Kampala International University.
To make matters more interesting, another son of mine has even married a Ugandan woman, a beautiful mukiga from Kabale.”
“As you can see, I thought that, because of Amin, I would never come to this country. Now, I am here. Even you, one day, you will come to our country. If you do not come as you yourself, your sons and daughters will come. Your grandchildren will come. We have now met here, on this day, me, with the memories of the hurt Idi Amin imposed on us, and you, a symbol, representing the ills of Museveni’s regime.
If we survived Idi Amin, then you too will survive Yoweri Museveni.”
“All we are asking you is not to be like any of those two and to compromise with us. Uncompromising people are easy to admire. They have courage, so does a dog. But it is the ability to compromise that makes a man noble. Forgive us today for you never know and may not be there to see what may happen to your children or grandchildren when they travel to or live in another land.”
“O.K. You buy me quarter chicken.” The traffic officer retorted.
David and his father had lost enough time. They could not delve into what quarter chicken was and how much it cost. That handed her a KSH 500 note and headed to Kampala.
Friday, February 28, 2014.