By the time, my task on the campaign trail was over, I wished to continue, yet less than two weeks earlier, I would have given anything to return back to my “comfort” in Kampala.
I had arrived with the sheer arrogance and aloofness of someone meeting people seemingly below him but through interactions with them, I realised that even when the majority were poor, unemployed and illiterate, they were proud of who they were, doing everything to better their lives and that of their offspring and relatives.
My first and last visit to northern Uganda had been in 2003, by accident if I may put it that way. I was doing some random research work for a non-profit organisation and found myself in the area just to meet and discuss with some individuals for a few hours.
I had spent much of that short trip sleeping, reminiscing on the two decade LRA war stories I had been told by my peers or heard from the radio and read from newspapers. The region had in my imagination been some sort of “infected dark zone.”
Yet, I was now destined to be there for more than two weeks. This part of Uganda that I was seeing for the first time turned out to be areas of concern in some parts, chaotic and empty in others and generally operating by its own set of community rules. Talk of surprises, insights and affirmations.
For example, when I look back at the bad roads such as in Amolatar and Lamwo Districts that cost us more than four hours trying to push our vehicles through, the poor accommodation and services in Kitgum and Soroti or the zero cell phone and internet services in Kaabong, I am tempted to blame the bad experiences with bad places.
But then I am reminded of the warm reception of the people in Agago, the friendly people of Abim and the young couple that owns a restaurant in Kotido that made my two nights stay a worthwhile experience.
The highlights however are those times when I came face to face with the things that I had only seen in documentaries yet they were right in my neighbourhood, such as Abim Hospital.
The success of that visit lay in its spontaneity more than anything. Dr Kizza Besigye, the presidential candidate I was trailing on behalf of Daily Monitor, was, as had become the tradition, caught by time. He had a number of rallies left (he does about seven a day on average).
So he passed the hospital and went on to address a rally at a nearby village but on his way back, someone on his campaign team suggested he visit the hospital and assess the situation.
None of the state officials in the area including the Police were prepared for the visit and so it was an easy entry for the presidential candidate in what seemed a deserted facility.
Infested with bats, rats and cockroaches, with no sufficient medical personnel and lacking running water, the hospital was evidently a shadow of its former self and no wonder the candidate, a professional medical doctor himself called it a “mortuary”
Such deplorable sights were not only in hospitals but also in rundown shelters that passed for schools, the settlements that sheltered the people and bushes that would have sustained farming to make hunger and starvation not only in the region but the rest of the country history.
So as I grabbed my bags and fastened the seat belt to head to Kampala, I felt quite embarrassed by my prejudices but educated in my own eagerness. I would find comfort in Bertolt Brecht’s anti-war play Mother Courage.
“I’m not courageous, only the poor have courage, why? Because they’re hopeless. Just to get up every morning, to plow a potato field in war time or to bring kids with no prospects into to the world. Yeah, to live poor, that takes courage. No, they trudge along uncomplainingly, carrying the emperor in his heavy throne and the pope in his stone cathedral. They stagger, starving, bearing the whole thundering weight of the…wealthy on their broad stupid backs. Is that courage? It must be, but it’s perverted courage. Why? ‘Cause what they carry on their backs will cost them their lives.”