Monday, June 23, 2014

Uganda as beheld from the skies

You can never know Uganda is truly the pearl of Africa unless you have had a bird’s view of it through an aero adventure. The aero experience offers you myriad splendors you would never see during ground expeditions because unlike the ground experience, it knows no boundaries.
More to that, it is the only way of experiencing over 13 climatic zones, so you can enjoy the sun, rain, and snow among other conditions. Here is my experience.
 One of the crater lakes in Queen Elizabeth National Park
When aero link a domestic airline with a reputation for offering life enriching trips to National Parks around Uganda-offered me a courtesy flight to Western Uganda, I was oddly confused. I didn’t know whether to punch the air in excitement or be teary.
Yes I so badly wanted to pursue the adventure however, on learning that the plane was going to fly over Lake Victoria; fresh images of the lost Malaysian plane blew-up my mind.
Knowing I couldn’t tame the adrenalin rush that was quickly building in me, I tagged along with a bottle of strong wine for the Monday morning flight which was destined for Bwindi Impenetrable Park and later Queen Elizabeth.
According to plan, first I would take the drink, then the drink would take the drink, then the drink would take me. That way, I would be too high to know a thing in case the plane decided to dive into the lake for a swim.
Damn it, it was such a hot slap in the face when the wine did not make past the checking point as no drinks are allowed aboard the planes.
 Luckily, I bumped on Otim, a Civil Aviation Authority Engineer who confirmed to me that the airlines flights are highly recommended by their standards-because it pays top notch detail and attention to safety, my fears begun to naturally vaporize.
 A sky view of the gorgeous islands of Lake Victoria
Indeed, going by the confidence and positive attitude of the flight Captain-Brian Ndegwa who was aboard 5X-BXW, I knew there was nothing to fear.
Before me were 11 comfy leather passenger sits each of which was situated next to a window to enable the excursionist soak in all views of the flight.
I randomly sank in the one behind the captain as Oscar the other traveller opted for the back sit and at 7:45-we were off the run way.
Flying airborne at airspeed of 161 knots (approximately 300km/h) felt like I was in a lift that was hurriedly elevating to the top most floors of a sky scraper.
The higher the altitude, the more I was able to get soothing views of Islands that dotted the vast Lake Victoria drop-dead gorgeous.
From an altitude of 10,000 ft. above sea level, each plus its clustered settlements looked like a vast chunk of floating hyacinth. It was pure magic to my eyes. The continent below was an intoxicating expanse with a scale that was grander and impressive landscapes.
 The flight was great; the two folks in the cock pit were doing the narrating in turns as, they kept switching roles.
At some point, one would control the wheel and throttle levers as the other did the paper work and recordings from the systems information display screens. Twenty minutes later, the plane hit an altitude of 12,000 ft. and we happily got lost in thick clouds-which looked like big balls of cotton.
Save for the roaring of the plane’s engine, everything was as dumbly silent as they stretched towards me with their transparent rosy wings-that were floating like feathers of a giant flamingo. According to Brian, that’s how clouds great each other.
For a second, I thought I was in cloud nine forgetting I was literally on the clouds. How I wished I could just sit on them all day and watch them drift by.
One thing though, it was getting pretty cold inside because we were at the freezing point. However, there was nothing to fear because the weather was perfect with minimal wind and clear views.
There was no thunder screaming across the sky or slapping the clouds into a heated turmoil. When the plane dropped to about 8,000 ft., there ahead, all I could see, as wide as the world, unbelievably green in the sun was the country side of Bushenyi that boasted of a delightful set of interlocked dilating hills at whose valley feet were calm rivers with branching tributaries that looked like the veins.
Like me, Oscar found himself staring at the most extra ordinary scenery he had seen for years. “I don’t know if beautiful is the correct word to describe this splendor” he remarked before adding that traversing over the hills felt as rewarding as hiking each of them to their peaks, something he would not have climbed in his lifetime because there are no clear ground routes leading to them.
Not so far from these hills were sweeping forested plains and banana plantations, overlooking them were two meandering rivers that looked like lazy giant cobra taking a nap.
Adding extra beauty to this scenery was a rich profusion of wild flowers which was intermingling with the edges of the rivers. My camera worked over time here but still, not a single picture could do them justice.
Two hours later, the plane touched base at Kihihi Airstrip in Bwindi impenetrable park to pick five tourists who had just concluded their gorilla tracking expedition.
 A little while later came the most exciting bit of the expedition-experiencing an aero adventure over Queen Elizabeth national park in a twenty-minute flight before the plane could zip across to Kasese Airstrip.
 From the unrivaled rift whose vast horizons were dotted with life and impressive landscapes to Lake Albert, everything in the park was a wonderful paradise to die as each had a distinct “awe factor”.
For almost every blink, there was something new to discover and the pleasure was all mine to investigate its unfamiliar areas. Among the a million things to smile about, the crater lakes were my favorite. They were as eye catchy as a newly erupted geyser and yes, it was worth a lifetime view.
Most exciting, I was able get an up-close with a heard of about 12 elephants and 8 buffaloes-which are my favorites among the big five. As the sun begun shine during my return flight to Entebbe, I was aching for a rainbow with every fiber of my being as the icing on the cake but too bad, the weather suddenly became moody.
Actually, the nimbus clouds had clogged our route so much. Every time the plane tried to slither through, it shook mildly like a car traversing over a stretch of endless humps.
To be frank, it was quite scary but good enough, it all happened so fast hence did not grate my nerves.
Travel tips
With or without a passport, you can still fly aboard aero link. All you need is a valid identity card.
Flights to most national parks cost between $240-270(between 600,000shs-675,000sha one way payable in either currencies-the dollar or the shilling. For more details, us.
Don’t bother carrying foods or beverages to the plane, none is aloud aboard.
Photography aboard the plane is allowed so be sure to bring your cameras and extra batteries to capture moments that will disconnect you from stress and re connect you with what is important-nature.

A friend of nature, healer of wild animals

Dr. Andrew Seguya is the executive director of UgandaWildlife Authority, a role he has been playing since 2010, when he was first appointed in acting capacity.
Before that, he was chief at Wildlife Education Centre in Entebbe and also spent six years as a veterinary doctor in Botswana.
In fact, if he was marooned in a desert island with lions, they would probably recognize him and spare his life. Dr. Sseguya shared his inspiring life experiences with Simon Kasyate on Capital FM’s Desert Island Discs show.
I am sure this is very familiar territory. You are always in the wilderness and so being on the dessert island certainly doesn’t scare you or bring, maybe, the adrenaline rushing into your veins?
It is a good imagination. It is a comforting feeling. That’s where all the stress goes away and we really return to nature. Tell us about Uganda Wildlife Authority; many of us, Ugandans, seem to think there’s not so much of wildlife left because we seem to think we have eaten the natural habitat of this wildlife...
Actually, the wildlife is well and kicking. We still control about 11 per cent of the land mass of this country, thanks to our government. We have the most charismatic wildlife species anywhere in the world.
We have the big five that people are always talking about; we have them here in Uganda and also have the big five which are elephants and lions so we have the big five plus the unique tool which is the mountain gorillas and chimpanzees. We have more than half the living mountain gorillas in the world. With 880 left in the wild, we have more than 450 of those on our side.
Your job is clearly cut out but what exactly are you doing? What is your strategic move in the next four years?
What I do at the wildlife authority actually is to guide the organization in terms of vision and strategy and giving leadership to the team because we have strategic directions and always want to keep healthy eco-systems, healthy populations of our wildlife, make sure these resources generate economic benefit to our people  especially communities around them.
We want to make sure the country gets economic benefit from this resource [and] most important that the heritage is preserved not only for Uganda but the whole world all future generations.
Some people may argue that doctors do not make good administrators. How do you find the turf of being an administrator at the highest level as opposed to what you were doing treating animals in the wild?
You need to know something to be able to lead it and my work in the jungles six years in Botswana working with all sorts of wildlife in incredible situations gave me the kind of grounding that I needed to be a good manager. I understand the situations, animals, habitats and the people who are out there in the bush because for a long period of six years, I used to be in the middle of nowhere.
Away from this important mission, who is Dr. Andrew Seguya?
I was born to Mr. Emmanuel Iga Kibazo. I think he was one of the first land surveyors in this country. If I remember, he graduated in 1954 and Ms. Gertrude Nakiganda, who is still living; that was 1965, April 26. I was born in Mbarara in a place called Kakoba. Actually we grew up in Mbarara.
I went to school in Kakoba demonstration school. I started a lot of activity with animals when I was with my father because I remember we did a lot of surveying, especially in the Kiruhura area and in Mbarara. All those plots that you see were actually cut off by my father. We also used to travel to Kabale where we used to also do surveying. So, I know a little bit about the ranches and the people and of course, having gone to school in Mbarara and having grown there, I definitely spoke Runyankore.
This is the point where you say hullo to the people listening to us from Mbarara in their language that they understand the most and remind them of the time you were in Kakoba as one of them...
Yeah, that was a long time ago. I still say ‘agandi’, still accept the greetings. I still love the people and the food. I still work very closely with them with Lake Mburo national park being there. Some of them remember my father very well.
At least when I talk to them, they consider me as their son; they still remember me and identify with me and I really enjoyed that part of my life.
Your childhood... born in a place that spoke a different language from your heritage, did you ever feel part of them never minding your name being different from their own nomenclature? Did you ever feel any form of segregation?
Not at all. In my young mind I only understood that I was a Muganda when we were transferred to Buganda. When that happened, I went to my first school, Katikamu Kisule, a primary school near Wobulenzi.
I was then eight years and I realized I was now speaking my language with an accent. I was used to speaking Runyankore because, I mean, as children growing up and playing, those were people I socialized with. As my friends were taking cattle to graze, I followed them.
Do you remember some of your friends from your childhood days in Mbarara?
I actually remember a gentleman called ‘Sample’ but I don’t know where he is right now. Actually, when I look at that time, I see what has gone with our environment and wildlife because when we were in Kakoba demonstration school, River Rwizi was a actually a very serious river with rapids and everything and what I remember about ‘Sample’ is we had gone close to the banks to play.
‘Sample’ had a sister who stepped at the bank and the ground left and she fell in the river and that was the last we saw of the sister and the sad thing as a brother would do Sample jumped into the river to rescue the sister and that’s the last I saw of sample and he was this playmate of mine, someone I really loved and identified with and Sample has never left.
Of all the kids I used to play with, that name stayed with me and probably will forever. I still remember his face up to this time. But what would happen was just beyond the Rwizi the buffaloes would come close to the school and we would be sent home because of the invasion of the wildlife.
But I don’t think you can find any sort of wildlife anywhere in Mbarara. At that time, my father used to hunt, he had a rifle and we didn’t have to go very far from Kakoba and that time the government allowed [it] but we would drive a few kilometers and get what you want. Plays Peter Cetera called glory of love
Describe to us what your home was like?
Yes, I have siblings. I have brothers and sisters. My father was what you would call polygamous. My mother stayed with him in Mbarara but we had other siblings so with my mother we were eight people at the time.
For someone who started work in 1954, I think he was not exactly poor. He was quite affluent. I think we were the only family that had a brand new car in Mbarara, who wore shoes to school. But he was a very humble man. Anybody who remembers Mr. Kibazo, the surveyor in Mbarara, will tell you he was a very humble man.
From the way you speak, you are certainly your father’s son...
Yeah, that’s the judgment you can take. Some people, when I am chasing them for the ivory, they may have a different view. Or when I am fighting for the rights of my employer and my organization and especially my staff; one thing I really treasure are people I work with.
What position are you of the eight children your mother had with Mr. Kibazo?
I was the second last. I was a different type of second last so between me and the next child, Marion, who is our last born, there actually were seven years. It is not like he was surveying there and that’s because there is a sibling we lost before they were born.
Something happened there which I don’t remember but my mother can best explain that. So, I was last born for seven years. Those that have never been last born that are something that you need to explain because I could get away with anything but luckily enough that didn’t make me a spoilt brat.
I played my part, I went through school but it was a very loving religious family. My father was very catholic and religion kind of let him go away with it when he retired in 1981. He actually donated his last days to working with Kiyinda-Mityana diocese. Until his death in 2011, he was working with the estate.
So Cyprian Kizito Lwanga, who was bishop at some point, would know him very well. My father was a surveyor since 1954. If he had a spoon of this land, I would own land in Kololo because he is one of the people who demarcated Muyenga, Kololo and Mbuya
Fast forward, I would want to put it to you this is a quality obviously you admire about your father. Would your son say the same about you now?
I want us to flash back to you going to school. You have told us you went to Kakoba demonstration school and moved together with your transferred family now to Wobulenzi where you now get into a different setting.
At this point in time, do you know what you want to be in life? Do you want to be a surveyor like your father?
No, absolutely not. When we were transferred, we went to live in Bukalasa Agriculture College. It is where the house of the land surveyor was and I actually admired educated people because being an agricultural college, there were definitely students there.
I want to say I wish those days would come back because if I look at the kind of meals they were having as a young boy coming out of school, I used to enter into the dinning because it was on my way so I would have the buttered bread and eggs. They had a basketball court, tennis, soccer so I admired education very early and I said to myself that I wanted to be like them, probably not an agriculturalist but I wanted to be educated because of the way they spoke and reasoned.
Katikamu Kisule can’t be said to be a model school so I came out of that but that wasn’t the last school. I moved two more times in primary. My brother was in the army working in Masindi; my father was a pan-Africanist who believed in knowing other people. So one day, he said, “You people, yes, we were in Mbarara now Buganda, go to Bunyoro.”
The guy cut us off and sent us to our brother and I joined Masindi barracks school and the man enrolled me there. Now I was living among soldiers and their sons. I remember our prefect was Ocaya, a very strong and tough guy, and our teacher was Sergeant Paul Waswa. Now they run molly and mall; that gentleman was a sergeant in the army.
He was my teacher and then from Masindi, my father said come back to Buganda. I did my P.7 at Kiswa primary school in Bugolobi. I must have been the best in Kampala district; that’s when I finished my primary school.
Plays “I knew I loved you” by savage garden
Dr. Seguya, here you are joining secondary school as one of the best- performing students from primary. Which school did you go to?
Actually, it is quite interesting what happens. My father was trained at St. Mary’s College, Kisubi. I think the problem that my father created for himself was taking me to an army school because I grew some kind of defiant nature. So my father comes and tells me “Andrew, here are the forms.
You’re going to St. Mary’s College, Kisubi. “I said to myself all people who went to St. Mary’s gone to seminaries and became priests and I told myself I think I want more to life at some point. I thought it was all a plan to have me end up in a seminary that was next door. Because he wasn’t looking I put a different school, Jinja College.
I had never been to Jinja or known the school but I think it was the spirit of rebellion that I didn’t choose anything else. I tell you I spent four years in Busoga and do not regret. I lived close to the source of the Nile for four years. There are Ugandans in this country that have not been to the source of the Nile. And I became a head prefect there. It was a glorious time.
From there, where did you go to?
After doing a bit of exploration, I decided to come back to main-stream. I think I was one of the best [students] in Jinja when I did my O-level and I said to myself, “Now I need a place that will take me very far.”
Where is that destination that you had in mind? Had you at this point decide you would be a doctor or engineer?
Actually I decided in primary when I left Wobulenzi and got transferred to Kiyinda primary school that’s how I think my father got into Kiyinda diocese and it’s where I met a gentleman who was our neighbor. That gentleman was Dr. Magembe and he was a vet and it was when I decided that I have to be a vet.
This was a guy who could do anything and I actually travelled with him in his Land rover somewhere. He was showed a dog [and] two days later the dog was fine. Another time a goat and I said to me, “this guy is very clever.” The guy was dealing with a goat, cow, pig so I said to myself that I will be a vet.
Didn’t it bother you that sometimes this man eats his patients?
I didn’t look at it that way. I was pleasantly surprised when I was a vet that if you can’t treat it, eats it. Eventually it would come on the plate. That joke aside, when I finished my senior four, it is when I said to myself that I need to go to a school that will prepare me for bigger things and that’s how I joined Namilyango college.
Plays “Lonely is the night” by Billy Squier
Andrew, you go to Namilyango College and you pass tremendously. Where did you go to study veterinary medicine?
I actually joined Makerere University. I had been given at some point a bachelor in dental science and I didn’t feel like it was my place.
You were in Jinja College as an interesting focused young man and even in Namilyango, a single sex school, but of course there were some escapades. May you share with us especially your interaction with the fairer sex? How was your relationship with you family at this point in time?
Those days were very difficult because they were days of the war. I joined senior one in 1981 and we had just come out of the war and then immediately after the war that brought President Museveni [to power] started, Mityana, where my father was retired to, was now part of the Luwero triangle.
So I was one of the people that were cut away from family. I went to stay with my aunt in Seta. She was called Mrs. Mambule and I had an uncle in Kawempe called Mr. Mayombwe. The good thing with the African setting, the child is raised by the village so I didn’t have to ask where I would go, I just packed my bag.
Most of the time I was in Kawempe because I had my cousins; one of them is Mr. William Kiganda who works in Uganda Revenue Authority and we used to read together and I think it was about that time when we were starting university that people like Charlie Lubega had his Soul disco. Then there are places like Calendar restaurant. There was a group called Ice disco somewhere in Kibuye. I used to like how they played their music, so we did all those things.
And at the university, how was it because here you were faced with unaltered freedom?
University was interesting. I had a demanding course but while in Namilyango, my father knocked again and said you’re going to Namilyango and I disappointed him again. At university, life was a different thing. I was given Livingstone and it made sense because it was close to the veterinary school. But I was put on two university lists; one of the university hall and then Livingstone.
One time I walk and go to Livingstone and set myself, you know Namilyango gives you confidence, so I met the chairman, met the interior met the sports captain. I knew I had value. My number was number five. I was a defender and for the university I played for my hall for the five years and took the university cup twice. I was more of [former Manchester United captain] Nemanja Vidic.
At Livingstone, these guys didn’t see much in me and they told me you have been forgiven you will come when the time is ready. I told them I am from the Namilyango team and I do semi-professional football in so I said to myself how about I repeat my story at the University Hall. So same day I walk into University Hall and repeat myself. It was like a bonanza.
They took me to my room and said this is your room is yours the worst that can happen you will have one roommate for first year and the rest it was be yours alone. It was S9 I said to myself why would I ever go to Livingstone. And I think I went to the best university hall at the university. I did my education and sports and I excelled in both.
At what point do you meet your dear wife and make a family?
We were the last people to do five years before they reduced them to four. When I finished university I was employed by the same university to teach. So, I joined Makerere as a teaching assistant in 1991 and taught at Makerere for 10 years. In between in 1994 I met my wife at Church.
I used to go to both the Catholic Church where I was an altar boy and went to Seventh Day Adventist church because my mother was a Seventh Day Adventist. So I had very action packed weekend. I met my wife at the seventh day Adventist church. She was the daughter of Dr. Samweri Biraro. For some reason we both went to Australia for further studies. She was actually a nurse when I met her. She studied in Kenya in university.
It is our tradition on the desert island to ask a hypothetical question: if you were marooned on a Desert Island who/what would you take with you if you were given a chance to carry one thing?
There’s one person that supports me. It is just amazing. I sometimes do not know what to wear or to mix and match it. She knows what I am going to wear. I will take my wife because my survival is right there.