As the news filtered in from Abuja, Nigeria late on Thursday night last week (August 25th,2011), and the speculation that inevitably goes with such tragedy kicked into high gear; the scenes of frantic efforts to retrieve bodies, the disaffected presenters delivering alternate scenarios for who or what could be behind the bombings and the images of the survivors stumbling along still dazed in the aftermath of the explosion, my mind flashed back to a similar moment in time in Ugandan history.
June 11th 2010 is a night that should have gone long into my memory as a very happy one, given that a month long festival of football and good will in South Africa had come to a satisfactory end. Spain walking away with the World Cup trophy after a performance that was as spectacular as the stadium that had been purposely built to host the event.
As Iniesta wheeled away in celebration, twin blasts reverberated through the late night air in Kampala, Uganda. Not the celeratory firework displays of some misguided expatriate toasting a Spanish victory or the token backfiring of that old TATA truck that should have been retired years ago. No, these were blasts of a more sinister nature.
A Somali extremist group named Al-Shabaab had targeted two crowds that had gathered to watch the final in order to make a statement; The Ugandan peacekeeping troops in Mogadishu had over stayed their welcome.
Thousands of miles away in America, I stared at the comuter screen in utter disbelief that this could even be happening. Terrorists in Uganda ? Really ?! In my shocked state I sought out the solace that comes with writing in my now rather dog-eared notebook. The first piece for reasons unbeknown to me ended up being a speech that I would have given to my country in the wake of the bombing. As I reflect upon what transpired last week in Abuja, I thought it pertinent to share with you:
As news filters in from a wide variety of sources, twitter, Facebook, sms, bbm, msn messenger, Skype… I sit in my apartment thousands of miles away in Philadelphia frantically calling friends and family, I stop and reflect on why I am so scared.
Back tracking a bit, as a Ugandan that has spent much of my life abroad for school, I have been asked many a time how we manage to be so far from our homes for long periods without any visible signs of home sickness. I answer always that for me personally; it is the knowledge that my loved ones were safe and sound at home that enabled me to traverse the globe without trepidation.
Those bomb blasts took that certainty away; a fear the likes of which I have never known and truly hope you never have to experience tore through me. It was a fear born of not knowing whether my loved ones were safe and as I sank to my knees in relief as my sisters sleepy voice asked me what had possessed me to call her so late, I thought of the other Ugandans out there who would not have that same relief.
Tonight though is not a night for big words or long winded speeches. There will be time for that after we have reclaimed our dead and lay them to rest.
As I step down from my soapbox, I will say this in closing. Our society is riddled with differences whether they are religion, wealth or tribe. June 11th shattered those into insignificance and reinforced that which we all share in common.
For better or for worse we are all African and in this our moment of sadness, I extend a hand out to you and ask you to stand with me in solidarity. Those behind the attacks in Uganda on the 11th of June 2010 and those behind the attacks that are fast becoming commonplace all over the world seek to break those ties that hold us together.
I look around me and know we will not be cowed by senseless acts of violence and neither will we stoop to their level and react in an equally violent manner.
We will instead rebuild and honor those that were taken.
As the truth of what transpired in Abuja slowly comes to light, let us not reach for anger but stand together with our fellow Africans in Nigeria as they pick up the pieces.
The World Cup in South Africa showed us what our continent could do when we stand together and cherish those things we hold in common. As important as that unity was in that time of celebration, when the earth shook with our joyous footsteps in the streets of Johannesburg, it is more important still, when the earth shakes with the violence of men in the streets of Abuja.