Krazy Kampala

The highlight of the past week had to be an all-day whitewater rafting trip I took down the Nile River. We started at the source of the Nile and went 30 km downstream, through several class 3-5 rapids. We managed to flipped the raft once, and I fell overboard three times. It was a blast. Here is what it looked like.


Then I spent a few days in the town of Jinja, right on the river. There is a nice park by the river so I spent one evening there snapping these photos.

A fisherman.


A bird poking around for a meal.


A couple more different shots of boats on the river.


I liked the colors of this boat.


Some photos of the town. This woman is inspecting day-old chicks for sale.


There was a stretch where several people sat with sewing machines on the sidewalk. Who needs a shop?


On the road to Kampala. Harvesting tea leaves.


I stayed a few days in Kampala trying not to get hit by a car or motorcycle. The traffic there is unbelievable. Here is a shot from my hotel window.


There’s no welfare system in Uganda so you see many poor people begging on the streets, many of them with horribly deformed limbs. One young woman had elephantitis or something; one leg was swollen the size of a tree trunk. I could not bring myself to take a photo. However, I saw this little boy just sitting on the sidewalk with his arms out. Normally I don’t give money to kids but I gave him a few cents for the photo.


Ugandans are proud of the educational system, which they claim produces more educated people than surrounding countries. I’m not so sure about that, but there are dozens of booksellers like this one on the sidewalk so I guess they do read a lot.


Some people think God is the answer. this guy was shouting from the Bible at passing cars and pedestrians. Two other common sights in Kampala: soldiers and scooters.


A Bloody Start

The first 25 years of Uganda’s independence were about as bad as it gets. Why did so many African countries get stuck with some of the worst humans to ever populate the earth? After gaining independence in 1962 Uganda was ruled by Milton Obote, who immediately banned all political parties and nationalized foreign assets while discriminating against other tribes. His chief of staff was Idi Amin, who overthrew Obote in a coup in 1971. The next eight years must have been hell for Uganda. Amin was probably one of the worst heads of state ever. The army was empowered to shoot on sight anyone suspected of opposition to the regime. During Amin’s reign an estimated 300,000 Ugandans lost their lives, often in horrific ways: bludgeoned to death with sledgehammers and iron bars, or tortured to death in prisons and police stations. In Kampala, the screams of those who were being tortured or beaten to death could often be heard around the clock for days on end. Prime targets of Amin’s death squads were the Acholi and Lango tribes,  the tribes of Obote and his supporters. As in much of Africa, fighting took place along tribal lines. The tribes were decimated. Whole villages were massacred.

Next, Amin went after the professional classes; university professors, doctors, cabinet ministers, lawyers and business people. Anyone who may have posed a threat was dragged off and never seen again.

Also targeted was the Asian community. In 1972 the 70,000 Asians were given 90 days to leave the country. Most of them ran small shops and businesses. These were grabbed by Amin’s cronies and the wealth squandered as the businesses were so poorly managed.

Eventually the economy collapsed, industrial activity ground to a halt, hospitals and rural health clinics closed, roads became riddled with potholes, cities became garbage dumps and utilities fell apart. The prolific wildlife was machine-gunned by soldiers for meat, ivory and skins. It was a disaster.

Finally in 1979 Amin was forced out by the Tanzanian army, after he decided to attack them to draw attention away from his ruined country. The Tanzanians then helped themselves to whatever was left before going home, paving the way for Obote’s return to power and further atrocities. Eventually the current president, Museveni, took over and has been in charge for the past 20 years or so. People complain about him too, but as I told one person, “he’s a hell of lot better than what you had before.”

There have been far worse dictators in history, of course. Three hundred thousand dead is only one tenth those killed by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and it’s a drop in the bucket compared to Hitler, Stalin and Genghis Khan.

So give ol’ Dada a break: as far as brutal sadistic murdering dictators go, he wasn’t all that bad.

11 thoughts on “Krazy Kampala

  1. DAD April 11, 2009 / 12:38 am

    Nothing new. The history books are filled with this sort of thing and it goes back further than G K

  2. JoJo April 11, 2009 / 2:53 pm

    Hey Kev,
    Love learning a bit of History with your blog. I must admit, I am a bit ignorant when it comes to History. It’s not that I don’t care about it, I just don’t read about it much. To be truthful (and my brother Ben will probably say “typical”) I never knew who Idi Amin was! I heard of him. Just really never knew what his role it history was. I knew it was bad, though. that much I knew…..

    When I get to Colorado, I am definately going to go white water rafting. But very slight rapids….and bungee jumping is the very last thing I would ever do. (That and parachuting). I’m not a real thrill seeker.

    In the AA program we have a classic saying when some one is in denial….”Denial, it ain’t just a river in Egypt”….. Denial is an incredibly interesting force. One you would never expect it to be… take care!! love ya

  3. Capt. Don Kilpela Sr. April 11, 2009 / 7:52 pm

    This post must have left everyone speechless. Actually, Kev, these are among your best photos. Love that shot of the street taken from your hotel room. I can almost hear the noise and smell the exhaust. It reminds me of the one of the side streets in Barbados or St. Lucia, all chaotic and everyone on a mission to somewhere.

    I guess that you haul your bike and gear to your hotel room. What did a room in Uganda set you back?

  4. Kevin Koski April 13, 2009 / 3:03 pm

    Jo, Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt–I love it. Cracked me up. I’m sure the psychology of denial is very interesting. We all are a bit obsessive and compulsive I believe, but I bet most of us deny it. I know I do. But can’t help it.

    Don, Thanks, I love the photo of the guy picking the tea leaves. Kampala was crazier than most cities I have been in. You really must be careful crossing the street. It is so stressful somedays I did not even want to go out.

    I try to take my bike up my room if possible. But if not I usually lock it in a storage room. My hotel was a middle quality, about $40/night. That is actually a lot for me. Most places I get lately have been $10-$25 for the night.

  5. Nicola April 13, 2009 / 4:02 pm

    I must have said “Denial ain’t just a river in Eygpt” 20 times in the 7 years we were together, and I remember you cracking up. It must be in the delivery.

  6. Nicola April 13, 2009 / 4:03 pm

    I don’t remeber you cracking up

  7. Ben Kilpela April 13, 2009 / 8:57 pm

    Well, one hates to think that 100,000 people killed is not so bad in comparison to 1,000,000 people killed. It’s all the about as morally bad when you get up above 1000 people killed, it seems. As I suggested in a comment to your last post, Amin had liberal dreams. He desired equality and fairness and prosperity for Uganda. But he was a killer right from the start, sort of like Lenin, though Amin wasn’t so open about his intentions as Lenin, who made it very clear in published books that he was going to kill his way to socialist revolution. Amin, it seems, had some good intentions (and some evil), but he wasn’t too bright. He couldn’t see that the killing contradicted the desire for equality and openness. He’s an interesting case. What he did is probably what many of us would wind up doing if we got too much power, killing and robbing to spread our dreams of peace and freedom across the world. Steve Martin’s old and hilarious SNL bit about his Xmas wish always makes me think of Amin. Martin wqishes that all the children of the world would hold hands in a spirit of peace and love. But wait a sec, he stops to add that he’d like a billion bucks in a Swiss bank account first, and then, yes, the kids can hold hands. But wait again, maybe absolute power would be good too, and then the kids can hold hands. Etc. Amin seems to have gotten drunk with the riches and power that come with tyranny.

    Kippis, Ben

  8. DAD April 16, 2009 / 10:10 pm

    I have 4 packages of various sizes as of today. Did I receive everything?

  9. DAD April 17, 2009 / 11:14 pm

    Played your DVD no my computer—white water rafting—-you are all insane. Has anyone ever drowned or been seriously hurt???? Im sure it must be an exhilarating thrill to be thrown upside down into the raging torrent.

  10. Kim June 11, 2009 / 1:08 pm

    Oh, I dunno, I want to go bungee-jumping…hope my heart can withstand the shock! oh…to be a bird…with wings…and to s-o-a-r!!!

  11. August 2, 2009 / 12:28 pm

    You have really document uganda very well, i am frustrated about one thing, why is it that evryone who visits uganda tells the bad story? most of the visitors only 10% of the good story, this really affects our country, we have so many good things in uganda and we hardly find people who write good about uganda, any way thanks for the contribution

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *