By Joseph Kizza
On Tuesday, Uganda – the Pearl of Africa – became the fourth of the five East African Community (EAC) nations to mark 50 years of its independence.
Tanzania made it last year (2011), then Rwanda and Burundi clocked 50 three months back on July 1, and now Uganda followed suit.
Exactly half a century ago, the British flag – Union Jack – was lowered and the new Uganda flag hoisted to take its place in a historic event that took place at Kololo airstrip in Kampala.
That officially marked an end to nearly 70 years of British rule in Uganda and ushered in an era of renaissance for the east African nation.
And by that very event, Uganda was placed into a historical line of some 30 other African states to have achieved their autonomy from foreign rule at that time.true
The late Milton Obote became the country’s first Prime Minister and was given the instruments of power by a Queen’s representative.
Fast-forward 50 years on and the stage was once again set for a no-ordinary Independence anniversary for Uganda.
On Tuesday, Ugandans within and those living in the Diaspora celebrated their country’s Golden Jubilee!
And there sure was a general irresistible air of euphoria to take in everywhere you went within and around the country’s capital, Kampala – and further beyond the borders.
“I feel so blessed that I will witness such an important day in my country’s history. At least I will live to tell my grandchildren about it,” the excitement of Martin Kyagulanyi almost choked him.
He was wearing a faded black T-shirt with the words ‘I Love Uganda’ emblazoned on it. The words filled out across almost three-quarters of his shirt in a black, yellow and red colour combination.
It was the same colour blend that adorns a hand-made miniature Uganda flag that stuck through a Sombrebro-like hat that hides half of his face.
“I can’t wait to celebrate this day together with my family and countrymen,” he had beamed.
The 35-year-old explained that he had always “wanted to be a part of history, somehow,” and that he saw his country’s Golden Jubilee as his best opportunity.
Like many Ugandans today, Kyagulanyi is limited to second-hand experience of the October 9, 1962 history.
With Uganda’s illiteracy rate standing at an average 73.3, many people who have gone to school have only had a more intimate feel of their country’s history through books, the Internet and through several other resources.
Such is the kind of experience Kyagulanyi has had.
As the clock ticked away, a sense of patriotism blanketedthe atmosphere, especially in Kampala on the eve of the D-day.
I took a walk along the main street of Kampala and right in the middle of the two main street roads was a long stretch of lawn with a décor of red, black and yellow all over. A sprinkle to this beauty were the multi-coloured pockets of flowers blossoming out of the fresh green grass.
In the weeks preceding the overly anticipated event, Kampala Capital Council Authority (KCCA) had been very busy doing major repairs on especially the Kampala main in-city road.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of the KCCA workers during that time, the middle road pavements have been replaced and painted.
Even after the ceremony that took place at Kololo, buildings along the streets still have placards that speak a similar language: “Congratulations Uganda!”, “Golden Jubilee Anniversary!”, “ Congs UG! Congs!”
Balloons – the most common symbol of celebration – also hang loosely in a variety of formats on buildings and some street structures.
‘Lift him higher!’
A walk up Speke Road in Kampala, right opposite Standard Chartered Bank led me up to the majestic Independence Monument.true
Formerly a dull original cement-grey colour, the symbolic structure was finally given a brush – now a more lively smoother grey – so much to the relief of many concerned Ugandans.
The work of art turned exactly 50 years old a few days back, as it was officially unveiled on October 5 by then Prime Minister Milton Obote.
It illustrates a man unwrapping a [newborn] child and raising it with its hands stretched skywards, clearly signifying a newborn country let free from the bondages of colonization.
Some art critics have their own interpretation of the sculpture.
According to Dr Rose Namubiru Kirumira – a design lecturer at Makerere University School of Art and Design – the monument signifies that Britain had done her part of raising the child [Uganda], and that it was then up to its people to take it to further heights.
Indeed, it is said the art piece was funded by the British colonial government in the days leading to Uganda's inaugural Independence Day.
And, don’t forget that it was built by Gregory Magoba, one of Uganda's first professional sculptors.
Obote, Musaazi, Kakoma, Ibingira ... and more
Sadly, Uganda reached an important part of its journey without a long list of key figures that were pivotal in its road to and after its independence.true
Ignatius Kangave Musaazi who formed the first political party in Uganda – Uganda National Congress (UNC) – passed on in 1990 is regarded a national hero.
Despite the controversy that still surrounds over who actually designed the Uganda national flag, Grace Ibingira is popularly known to have been its designer.
The national anthem composer, Prof. George Wilberforce Kakoma died only a few months ago, in April this year following a long spell of illness, thought by many to have been as a result of his old age.
Dr. Milton Obote became the first executive Prime Minister of the new Uganda upon achieving independence. He later became Uganda's president following the fall of Idi Amim Dada, who was considered by many as a dictator.
These and several others who left different legacies and a mark in the hearts of many will be ever remembered for their roles in Uganda’s history.
Several Faithful attended national Jubilee prayers at Namboole Stadium that had started Monday evening. Others attended prayers from their respective places of worship.
The Warid clock tower at the Jinja road roundabout near the internal affairs ministry headquarters was another spectacle to behold.
Strips of cloth in the national flag colours still run systematically from the top of the tower down to the bottom in a pyramid-like fashion. For a motorist stuck in the usually heavy traffic around that tower, it is easy to get lost into the colour-rich beauty.
Kololo independence grounds was more than ready to host the event, with quite a number of foreign dignitaries expected to attend.
Twelve heads-of-state took part in the celebrations at Kololo on Tuesday.true
Remember the man who handed over the instruments of power to Premier Milton Obote on October 9, 1962 on behalf of the Queen of England?
Yes, that one. That fine white gentleman whose name you are trying to recall – Prince Edward, or as most people know him, the Duke of Kent.
He had jetted into the country ahead of the Golden Jubilee fete, his first visit to Uganda since 1962.
Born on October 9, 1935, the Duke of Kent coincidentally celebrated his 77th birthday on Tuesday. Interesting!
Among the leaders and representatives that had jetted into the country by the time of writing this were South Sudan president, Salva Kiir; president of Burundi Pierre Nkuruziza; DRC’s Joseph Kabila; Somali president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud; Italian foreign Minister Affari Esteri,
Rwandan president Paul Kagame and his Kenyan counterpart Mwai Kibaki had also touched down at Entebbe Airport on Monday.
In whole, fifteen presidents and several other dignitaries were expected to attend the landmark event but as earlier mentioned, only 12 presidents made it.
Security was beefed up to keep in check foreseen characteristic incidents that an event of such magnitude can attract.
Traffic officers were deployed around town to control flow of traffic, traffic police chief, Lawrence Niwabiine had said on the eve of the Jubilee day.
Traffic guidelines on how to access Kololo airstrip – the ceremonial grounds – had already been made public.
I had also heard that there would be free food at Kololo. I was not in any way sure about that though, and so didn't want you to take my word seriously about that.
But oh yes! There was food served for the people to feast on. Ofcourse, there was an expected scramble here and there for it.
Well, it was a day worth celebrating. A day worth remembering. A day worth being a part of, and a day well-deserved for all Ugandans and those who support and believe in Uganda.
There were no reported incidents that concerned security and so it was a well-spent day.
For God and my country!
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Independent Uganda finally clocks 50