23 December 2012

Uganda: Dismas Nkunda - Village Is the Undoubted Xmas Retreat

For the first time in 26 years, my good friend Loyd Okiror will have Christmas at his real home.

His end-of-year celebrations have always been characterised by the fear of being where he is supposed to be: his home village!

"For once I am going to my village bwana", he told me the other day, with a smile on his face.

Apparently, he was last in his village when he was just a twelve-year-old boy. As he narrated what Christmas meant back then, you could almost feel his anguish for being denied the right to enjoy what he most preferred. Loyd comes from Soroti and has been exiled from his home ever since insecurity pervaded much of east and northern Uganda.

For many Ugandans, being home for the festive season comes with lots of fond memories. This is the time when the drums would sound at the nearest church; when you got your Xmas clothes kept close to your bed and the anxiety that comes with the knowledge that the real day has come so that you could be able to standout in the village. For Loyd, this had become but a thing of the past; just a dream!

He remembers well what it used to be when, as a kid, it was fashionable to be among the village folk, mixing and partying. But that came to an abrupt end when it became unsafe for the family to live in their preferred home. But now that some sanity seems to be returning, Loyd is over the moon for the fact that finally, after almost three decades, he will be able to experience the place he rightly calls home.

Such also is the tale from Davis Okello, who has been exiled in the city for much of his life. Whenever it came to the festive season, he would become dejected. All his friends would say their byes and get away for almost the whole week. They had village homes to go to.

He didn't have the same kind of luxury and couldn't head to Kitgum, where the LRA was wreaking havoc. But now like Loyd, he too is gearing up to go home for once after 22 years. But he is apprehensive about how the village could turn out to be. Will it have the same vigour? Will his friends still be there? Will he roam the villages he as used to? Are the LRA rebels completely gone?

What if there are still some lurking out there and may also want to enjoy the festive season by doing what they do best: causing village havoc? How would he escape?

Village Christmases are nothing to be compared with. There's this aura that comes with being away from the hassle of the city. Isn't it a relief to be away from the madness of Kampala and tucked away in somewhere listening to village tales? Such tales, however, work well when one gets something to eat. In Kisoro, beans are the common denominator at all meals.

But at Christmas, it's time to spice up one's meal with some meat. However, with the quarantine that prohibits animals from moving from one village to another because of the foot-and-mouth disease, Loyd and David might well end up having groundnut sauce as their delicacy.

Now, in the village, you will always be asked questions to do with politics, answers for which you may have no clue. So, those of you intending to head for the village must do a lot of rehearsal. For example, you may be asked to explain in detail what the fuss about the scandal in the office of the Prime Minister is all about.

Why has the death of MP Cerinah Nebanda taken the country by storm; is it true that the she was poisoned? If so, why? Wouldn't it have been better to shoot her than poison her?

They will want to know why all of a sudden Museveni is antagonizing the West, well aware that it is bad business for a banana republic like Uganda that is significantly dependent on them. And what will that mean for the taxpayer? Will Uganda Revenue Authority tighten the screws to make up for the donor money lost?

In the village, there is always one person who is apparently more knowledgeable than the rest after doing some odd jobs in Kampala. These are the stars of the village. They narrate stories of Kololo or Mbuya as though they owned mansions there. And when speaking to them, you don't want to contradict their story thread, for when you leave the village, you will leave them exposed, never to be trusted again!

Enjoy your Christmas!

The author is a human rights expert and specialist on refugee issues.

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