In the end, the 50th anniversary of Uganda’s independence from Great Britain stood out as a symbolism of what it is to be Ugandan. It was a feat that expressed Uganda’s innovations, inventions, myriad forms of advancement and various forms of celebration – the Ugandan way.
The golden jubilee was a symposium of the good, the beautiful, but also, a bit of the ugly, about Uganda. And the day’s weather set the pace to a truly colourful day. It sublimely mutated through patterns of meteorological beauty from the bright Vitamin D-rich early morning sunshine to a mid-morning cloudy feel, crowning it off with blessings of a light early-afternoon shower.
It vindicated why a Prime Minister of our former colonial masters, Sir Winston Churchhill, called our country the “Pearl-of-Africa.” The Independence Grounds at Kololo Airstrip started filling up at dawn with multitudes of Ugandans dressed in the black-yellow-red colour code. The crowd cut across all ages and many social classes.
There were the elderly coming in strutting along with their walking sticks. There were the classy Ugandans who swiped away on iPhones and took pictures using iPads. Then there was the common-man who shoved and pushed in the queue for free food.
Then there were the very young Ugandans, born of the twenty first century, who thus had no idea of what had transpired in the large part of the past 50 years.
One of these was 10-year-old Hannah Naiga, a Primary Four pupil at Blessing Nursery and Primary School. “I came here today because it is independence,” she said in the most innocent of voices, adding that: “I am happy because Uganda now has 50 years. The good thing today is that I have seen the President. I even got flowers.”
Ugandans at Kololo were at times more than electric. They often surged into loud hysteric cries as seen when President Museveni and his wife Janet Museveni drove in, in a shiny black limousine, a small part of his 30-car plus convoy. But that cannot be compared to the sharp shrieks of mixed excitement and disbelief when Uganda’s Sukhoi and L39 Albatros fighter jets made performances in the skies.
They made barrel trolls and loopings in the air, twisting and turning, as they sent deafening noises to the crowd below. For each antic the jets performed, the crowd reacted with an even louder cheer. The Sukhoi jets then flew overhead in three lines, spraying the national colours, black, yellow and red in the air.
The parade made a highlight of Uganda’s innovations, chiefly seen in the Kiira EV electric prototype car that was built by Makerere University engineering students.
To push the point farther home, President Museveni said in his speech that he would root for the commercial production of the car. There was a more creative display of Ugandan commerce and industry seen in Picfare Industries’ truck that had a simulated classroom lesson on show.
The jubilee-themed cultural performance that was choreographed by renowned thespian Alex Mukulu told Uganda’s journey across the ages through colour and drama. It was rich with a variety of traditions, with dances drawn from the Gishu cultures of eastern Uganda, to the Nyoro culture in the far west. But there were also things about the jubilee celebrations that were typically Ugandan, in an embarrassing way.
The incomplete works on the pavilion, with its hind wall clearly still under construction, lacking plaster coatings. Painting of the pavements that line up Wampewo Avenue, which leads to the airstrip was incomplete and gave the impression of a shoddy preparation job.
When religious leaders stood up to pray, they beseeched the Almighty to heal the country of the twin vices of corruption and misrule.
At the end of the celebrations, the common man stayed behind for a free concert with performances from local artistes. Again, it rang true to the Ugandan way that a celebration is not complete without a little dance.
When 10-year-old Naiga was asked about her dreams for Uganda, she said: “I love Uganda because it is my motherland. I want it to become a big country.” That could even come off as childish, but it forms a central theme of what all Ugandans who marked the day wish for their country.