The Leader, Brother Colonel Gaddafi

Old Taxi Park, Kampala

Yesterday we were on a mutatu coming back from Ggaba (around seven miles away on the shores of Lake Victoria). We covered the first five miles in good time – in fact at the precise moment that I was thinking how quick the journey had been we hit a jam. We didn’t move an inch for over half an hour. No one else on the mutatu batted an eyelid. We waited for another ten minutes before a few people chose to get off the bus and walk the rest of the journey. The major roads are not the most pleasant of routes to walk along. Every vehicle pumps out an incredible about of black smoke from their exhaust pipes which more often than not are directed at the pedestrians walking alongside. The pavements are strewn with holes – some of them large enough to swallow up someone who steps in it unexpectedly. It’s easy to be distracted. There’s quite a lot going on when you walk around the streets. People shouting questions at you; Boda-Boda drivers pulling out in front of you on the pavement offering their services; hopeful locals taking your hand and asking you for a job; mutatu drivers attempting to entice you into their vehicles. It would be very easy to lose concentration on the actual pavement and drop into an open man-hole. Scary thought. On this occasion we chose to stay in the mutatu and sit out the traffic jam.

Another few minutes passed with absolutely no movement and our patience broke. We got out and started walking and coughing. When I first got to Kampala I held my breath when a dirty truck drove passed filling the air with black soot and poison. After a while I found that I was holding my breath for considerably more time than I was actually breathing. I’m now resigned to the fact that it’s not possible to walk around the streets without breathing in the toxins. It’s one of the most disappointing elements of Kampala for me so far. Anyway, so back to walking through the traffic jam that we’d been sitting patiently in for so long. We walked no more than a couple of hundred yards when we came to a large roundabout where the police had blocked all traffic in all directions. Not one vehicle was moving. All of the pedestrians that were trying to walk to their destinations had also been prevented from passing. We had to wait.

Two of the streets had been cleared of all traffic and a few of the pedestrians along the streets had large placards adorned with the photo of Colonel Gaddafi. Suddenly there were sirens coming from our left. Two police cars sped past along the emptied street. A third police car approached the bend at high speed and came to a skidding screeching half spinning stop right in front of the amassed crowd. My first reaction was that the car almost killed a group of innocent by-standers. The innocent by-standers first reaction was to cheer and clap. The car did a wheel spin, throwing a huge amount of dust and dirt into the air and all over looking crowd – still cheering! Seconds later a convoy of at least 20 SUVs came hurtling passed, most of them accompanied by sirens or holding their horns on continuously. Then a sedan car with the man himself in the back seat, flanked by body guards, waving and smiling at the crowd – of which the vast majority hadn’t come to see him but had in fact just been caught up in the wrong part of the city at the wrong time. Nevertheless, Colonel Gaddafi sped past what I’m sure he thought were streets lined with his adoring supporters. Once Gaddafi’s car had passed another 20 or so SUVs sped by with people inside who clearly did love the man.

I couldn’t help but thinking why does a man holding no public office or title have the right to hold up an entire city and it’s people for over an hour. Can’t he get on a mutatu like the rest of us? Has he forgotten his peasant family upbringing? Who the hell does he think he is? Since the day he arrived in town the newspapers have been full of stories and photos of the colonel. Streets around the university have been renamed after him. It’s been reported that he’s frequented numerous lap dancing bars, having the entire female staff perform for him while the usual patrons are locked out on the street. Nice man.

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