By Kalungi Kabuye
Watching the saga of the Westgate siege by the Al Shabaab brought back memories of the time we had a ‘Bomb Squad’ at the New Vision. Not exactly fond memories but memorable, all the same.
It started out as a kind of joke, round about the time the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) started tossing bombs and grenades around Kampala.
Somehow whenever that happened a particular group of journalists would be on hand to cover the aftermath of the explosion, and very soon we were on call and all editors had our numbers on speed dial.
So we called ourselves the ‘Bomb Squad’. It was also kind of weird that those attacks would come regular as a clock, every Saturday at 8:00pm, a bomb would go off somewhere in Kampala, and off we would go.
One of the first attacks happened in Nakulabye in 1997, when a grenade was thrown at a Police Post in Nakulabye.
A colleague and I had just been interviewing some pastor who claimed he had no tongue but could talk, and were waiting for the office van to come and pick us up.
Sure enough at 8:00pm we heard a blast, and off we run towards it.
We found a young girl lying on the ground, gravely injured, and all the policemen had run away.
I had my camera with me so I started shooting away, by the time the first policemen timidly came back and chased us away I had shot almost a full roll of film.
My colleague, Denye Kalebbo, was in shock, and it was only later, in the van rushing back to develop the film, that he started asking: “what about the girl? We didn’t help the girl.” Years later I still wonder what happened to that girl, did she die?
Was she rushed to hospital and survive?
We soon got used to seeing people all torn up and bleeding from bomb blasts, but not all of us did.
One night reports came of an attack on a police post in Namasuba by guys on a boda boda, so we drove there. As we turned at the last corner a boda boda came rushing past, and one of our colleagues freaked out and dived under the seats.
Alfred Wasike and I laughed all the way back to the office from that false call.
Between 1997 and 2001, when the ADF was effectively defeated, bomb attacks took place in Kawempe (woman and child killed), Kibuli (five killed), Speke Hotel (woman killed), Kampala Road (two killed), and Makindye (two killed).
But I think the nastiest was the 1999 Valentine’s Day attack on a pub in Kabalagala, in which four people died. I had been visiting a friend in Bunga when the call came, and rushed to the scene to find body parts scattered everywhere.
Photographers were almost competing who would take the most compelling picture: “hey, there’s a foot there.” “Damn, I had missed that hand!” “This guy’s stomach is open, get a good shot of that.”
It was not until almost the next day, when we were talking about it in office and looking at the pictures, that the whole horror hit us, and none of us ate meat for almost a month. After that Kabalagala bombing, our ‘bomb squad’ was disbanded, as management thought it was becoming too dangerous.
But the very nauseating smell of human blood has stayed with me since then, and looking at what was happening in Nairobi, it all came rushing back to me.
Again, no meat for a week.