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Keep our boys in Somalia

Friday, 16th March, 2007
by John Nagenda


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UGANDA, to our considerable pride, has been the first country to offer troops for help to the beleaguered Somali government, this time round. There were times aplenty in the past when other forces had gone ostensibly for the same service; many of them did not make it home.

The way the Somalis finished them off was often extremely gruesome. This was no country, terrain included, for softies. What is more, it is unlikely much has changed.

So why on earth did our country volunteer to go? Indeed I was asked this question, not for the first time, on Tuesday’s BBC Focus on Africa. I answered, as always, that when a fellow African nation is in desperate need, it is shameful and wrong not to answer the call to the best of another African nation’s ability.

President Museveni had said that we were in Somalia, not principally as peacekeepers, but to help the Somali government to play that role. Period! I conceded the dangers our boys might face, but that is the nature of the job, and they have been doing it well for two decades in their own country against as horrific an enemy as Somalia could ever throw up.

The BBC lady was remorselessly sceptical but I yielded not an inch. I could have added, but didn’t (because she might twist this) that our boys would bring back baskets of experiences on how to quell bad-doers under fire. You don’t get such experience for free. Why leave it to the French, the British and the Americans; and various others, including, God save us, Guatemalans in DR Congo!

For this noble Somali mission we must all give our blessing, adding a prayer for our troops’ safe return. I was bemused by The New Vision’s huge Wednesday headline: UPDF PLANE WAS SHOT AT, quoting the Belarus government! What was the paper’s intention; and had the news first been checked out with the UPDF, who had earlier given a slightly different version?

In the past I have fleetingly worried (perhaps “wondered” is more accurate!) about Mr T Kalyegira’s state of mind. Never more so than Saturday’s Daily Monitor a fortnight ago. He had a dream; a friend of his, he later gathered, had had a similar dream. Therefore (wait for this) Kalyegira, although acknowledging that he “might be losing his mind” etc, asked where the dream was coming from. And, “being a Christian”, concluded, “I am familiar with numerous incidents in the Bible where God revealed hidden truths … through dreams.” Ergo, his dream was true! Daily Monitor was wrong to show its columnist up in this light.

The dream? That he had met Amin adjacent to the Nkrumah swimming pool at Makerere. Amin “was dressed in a tropical light blue and white shirt and khaki trousers”. He told Kalyegira that the total number of Ugandans killed in his reign came to 1,000 or 1,500; and only in self defence at that. These figures, wrote Mr Kalyegira, constitute the first time a figure different from the “wildly improbable 300,000 or 500,000 deaths given to us” had appeared.

Kalyegira, Mighty Dreamer, “improbable” to whom? As for your (and your Amin’s) figure, I also have a dream: of men in white coats, bearing stretcher and restraining ropes, coming to deliver you to Butabika hospital! Should one be annoyed by your sick humour? Yes, because of the numberless people, including perhaps yourself, who lost loved ones in Amin’s time.

The figures scorned by Kalyegira were painstakingly gathered and will continue to be used until proved wrong, although not through the dreaming route of Kalyegira and friend. W. B. Yeats wrote: “Step lightly for you step on my dreams.” With Kalyegira and his dream, he might have substituted “bones” for “dreams”.

Yes, Mr Kalyegira, you step on our bones. It seems the right juxtaposition to conclude here my Kenya Airways story of last week. In all, five or six of us from BAT Uganda in our various capacities presented ourselves at the airline’s check-in at Nairobi Airport. We were in high spirits following successful meetings with our Kenya counterparts; time to go home.

We were all travelling Business, where you would expect a check-in time of about two minutes each, so that with two desks, in little more than five minutes we would be heading for the Lounge. Multiply that by eight times to 40 is what we got! The checking-in “girls” were listless teetering on collapsed.

Some obviously Very Important Managers, judging by their tumbo (stomachs) and mien of disdain circled around us and disappeared, never to be seen again; no explanations given. We expressed disappointment, and then mounting disgust, manfully but to no effect.

This is what comes of monopoly. By a series of circumstances, KA currently holds a near-monopoly on this route. The sooner it is ended, much the better. But, and I must add this: once on the plane the captain came over the speakers as efficient and warm, as was the staff, so perhaps all is not yet lost.

The week’s biggest egg-on-the-face, however, lay on that of our friend Augustine Ruzindana. On March 9 he had entitled his Daily Monitor column: “Missed opportunity in Accra”. He wrote: “Unfortunately, the President [Museveni] missed going to Ghana because of his Besigye court programme.” Whatever Ruzindana meant by that! How cheap can you get? Scrape that egg off your face and eat it, dear Mister Ruzindana.

The President was very much present and correct with his colleagues in Accra for the Golden Jubilee of Ghana’s Independence! Were you?

This article was originally published on the New Vision,

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