My favorite gospel song is God will make a way by Don Moen. I learned it in 2001, taught by Tr. Awusa. I was 11, a pupil at Ushindi Primary School. This school was run on the foundation of Jesus. Its motto? Victory in Christ. I’d wear my gray shorts, tuck in my blue checkered shirt, push my legs in those elastic gray socks, my feet in Bata shoes. I’d walk to school through a footpath in Barifa forest. Sometimes I wouldn’t iron my school uniform. No one gave two hoots.
I enjoyed our morning assemblies at Ushindi. We had praise and worship, kids clapping for Jesus, dancing, playing and jumping for the good Lord. Kids sang their hearts out to God almighty. We prayed together as a school. I learned my first memory verse – John 3:16 – at this school. I accepted Christ Jesus as my lord and savior at this school under a mango tree on a Friday evening when the scripture union people preached to us and won us over as souls for Christ. Truth is, I simply went with the flow that evening.
The Scripture Union folks asked those who wanted to give their lives to Jesus to raise their hands. One kid raised his. Then another and another. I didn’t want to be left out. I didn’t want to be that kid who’d end up in the burning flames of hell because he didn’t give his life to Christ. I raised my hand. They asked us to stand up. We did. They asked us to walk to the front. We followed these instructions. Someone led us through a prayer which we repeated. We said Amen and there was applause. That is how I became born again.
One morning when I stood before the school to say a prayer while every kid standing in humility, their eyes closed, I forgot part of a verse I wanted to quote. I think it was the “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” verse. I said the first four words then my head couldn’t find the remaining words. I stammered and the kid next to me – I think it was Ben, son of a reverend – whispered the remaining words to me. The prayer ended. I felt embarrassed. That wasn’t my only embarrassment. I have other vivid memories of embarrassment stamped in my head. I was once asked to leave a dance routine because my moves were off beat. I scored terribly at choreography that the teacher’s only option was to politely ask me to try my talents in other co-curricular activities.
See, like this year, Uganda held general elections in 2001. Six candidates stood for the highest political office. Besigye was President Museveni’s biggest opponent. I was a kid. There were no political parties then because Multi-party politics had been abolished in 1986. I later learned in my Political Education class in high school that the reason for abolishing multi-party politics was to control sectarianism in the country. So, in 2001, everyone stood on their own under what was called the Movement System. (Political Education was also abolished in schools.)
I would sometimes listen to news on 87.8 Paidha FM on our fiery red radio that sat on what used to be my late father’s bookshelf. Reports of military brutality against Besigye and supporters of opposition candidates were aplenty on the news. People disappeared, some died, others were detained, many maimed. Intimidation rocked the campaign trail. Twenty years later, the same things continue to happen with one additional twist. The internet was shut down this year.
While you were away, the online space felt like a walk through a cemetery. It carried the stench of abandonment for those of us watching from outside the borders of our county. I looked at every corner and was welcomed by a forsaken sight. It was a deserted land. The internet shut down had a taste of a disenfranchised people. You couldn’t hear much coming from Uganda. NTV had a YouTube stream out of Kenya. Raymond Mujuni found a way of updating us with a tweet or two every hour. Seeing an update from his handle felt like a thirst being quenched. That just made me want to know more.
I foraged online for information on what was happening back home. It was painful to be in an information blackout. I felt isolated. I felt like a man begging for mercy from his captors, praying the internet is set free.
WhatsApp was dry like a place that hadn’t received rain in years. In groups, mostly people with numbers with other country codes drizzled a few lines. WhatsApp statuses went to nil. Twitter and Facebook were like abandoned streets. Anonymous claimed they hacked sites. They took down our Parliament’s website and released personal information of Members of Parliament. UCC’s website was pulled down. I checked and both sites were down. They are now back up.
A hacker somewhere had a swell day messing with people and some organization’s Twitter accounts – including that of Madam Jennifer Musisi – spewing spam and incomprehensible cryptograms on the TL. It felt like darkness had taken over Uganda.
My phone calls home did not sound normal. It seemed they’d first get diverted through an operator before being connected to my person. Were we now playing tiki taka with phone calls? On one occasion, someone else picked my call, a man with an everyday person’s voice. In his background, a heard a woman screaming and cussing, saying swear words in Luganda. It seemed like there was a domestic fight going on. This man asked where I was. I hung up.
What I haven’t hung up on is the hope that one day we shall have a political climate that thrives on decency and respect for healthy competition. That the military and security organizations will respect citizens and stand with them. Supporting, cheering and campaigning for an opposition figure should not be a death sentence. For now, I will keep believing God will make a way.