Letters from Sonja: Uganda and Africa Enter the 1960s
It is the begining of the 1960s and times are changing in Africa.
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First published: December 10, 2005
A Bad Accident
At the end of July/beginning of August 1960 a terrible accident happened at Cooper Motors. The little daughter of Mr. Lord, the Sales Manager, wanted to visit her dad together with her mum. Little Catherine Ann was about 3 ½ years old then. A flight of winding stairs led from the show room up to the office of Mr. Lord. Catherine went upstairs ahead of her mother. When she reached the top she slipped, fell through the railing and hit the cement-floor of the show room with her head. She had a broken neck, a concussion of the brain, a broken skull, bleeding from the brain. The blood went into the spinal marrow, but the child was still alive. She was rushed to Nsambya Hospital where she was treated by Dr. Sister Eugene. I was shocked when I heard of this terrible accident. The following days there was a lot of tension, as no one could predict the outcome. Like a miracle, Catherine recovered and by the end of August she was out of hospital.
The situation in the Belgian Congo
July 19th, 1960 –
I am sure that you hear on the news what is happening in our neighbouring country, the Belgian Congo. Last Sunday we have seen the UN troupes from Abyssinia. Every day more refugees arrive here. We are sitting at the radio and listen to the news of the radio amateurs from the Congo. Only a few are still working now. Belgium has completely failed. Moscow did a good job without anybody noticing. Every evening we are listening to radio Peking, radio Moscow and radio Cairo. One never knows, what to believe, but in this case it happens at our doorstep and we can see what happens.
Last Sunday we went to Entebbe for lunch. This was Barbara’s first “safari”. After lunch we have watched the bustle at the airport. I did not like the sight of the soldiers and refugees. Michy, however, was very excited . They were the first soldiers he had seen. To my astonishment he did not even ask, what this is all about. He told me, that these are soldiers and that there must be a big fight somewhere. When they marched towards the aircraft, Michy started “left, right – left, right”. That is the education in an English/Jewish nursery school. I always thought only Germany has got militarists. At the moment I hear from Michy all the time: “I want to be a soldier. I want to go to the Congo. I want to fight”. These are the idle wishes of a not even 4 year old boy. How can there ever be peace?
August 3rd, l960 -
We did write to you, that we are listening to the amateur senders from the Congo. Amongst the senders we were listening to, there was one, who in the end said, that he has difficulties with his sender and quickly drives into town with his bike in order to get a soldering-iron. After that this sender was dead, but another sender said, that this man on his way into town was taken prisoner by the Congolese. This sender was stationed in Bunia.
A couple of days ago with the fleeing people from the Congo a couple from Bunia arrived in their VW. This gentleman told Hubert that he is a radio-mechanic. He also asked Hubert, about eventual possibilities to find work in Kampala. Hubert asked him “you come from Bunia? There used to be a radio amateur in Bunia who was taken prisoner on his way to town when he tried to find a soldering-iron. Did you hear what happened to him?”
The Belgian answered: “That’s me. Are you interested in ham radio? Would you like to have my sender?”
Hubert told him at once that he always was interested in a ham radio but that he has no money to buy a sender. The Belgian then put the sender on the table and said that the sender is Hubert’s now as it would only be in his way. He did not like to just leave it behind. Now we have a sender, but we are not allowed to use it, because Germans do not get a ham radio licence in Uganda. But it won’t be long, before there will be changes here.
With all the refugees there also came a Belgian to Kampala who brought with him some trained elephants. Until then I always was told, that African elephants cannot be trained. But it really is possible to train African Elephants.
Uganda in 1960
January 27th, 1960 -
Here now things are sometimes in a turmoil. Perhaps you hear about it on the news. This does not affect us yet. Unfortunately the Africans are getting in each other’s hair. They absolutely want to have independence at once but are so terribly disagreeing amongst themselves. Nobody at the moment can judge how it will go on here. None of the four kings in Uganda will give up his sovereignty. Yet it is totally impossible to divide Uganda into four small kingdoms.
March 18th, 1960 -
At the moment it is tried very hard to get tourists interested in East Africa, especially German tourists, as they bring hard currency.
April 6th, l960 -
I have to mention quickly that a lot is going on here. The Africans start blowing up one Indian shop after the other. Yesterday at lunch time I said to Hubert that this is quite scary as it can happen that one is blown into the air together with such an Indian duka. In the evening on returning from work Hubert said: “To-day I was lucky.” Hubert had to stop at a traffic light and suddenly the air pressure of a detonation nearly lifted him out of his car seat. Quite near-by they had blown up an Indian shop again. In no time the roads of Kampala were filled with Africans. Hubert as quick as possible retreated to his work-shop. I wonder what is happening next. The Africans want independence at once, but the English always try new tricks to hold on to Uganda as long as possible.
August 3rd, 1960 -
Some of the Africans here think, that everything will take place very quietly and that there would be absolutely no danger for us. Others publicly threaten in the newspaper, that exactly the same thing as in the Congo would happen to us, if they don’t get self-government at once. A certain Mr. Obote, Member of Parliament (LEGCO), and one of Hubert’s customers, made a public statement that he hates all Europeans.
Professor Akiki Nyabongo, Prince of Toro, who in the meantime is more or less a member of our family, said in our house the other day regarding the situation in the Congo: “This is exactly what the Europeans deserve.” I held my breath for a moment, but then I remembered that I always say that I prefer people who tell the truth instead of the kind, who are sweet in your face, but put a knife in your back at the same time. I have certainly learned something: One should never generalize!
We cannot do anything but wait and see. Hubert is very optimistic and quite honestly – as bad as it looks sometimes – I too have hope that it won’t turn out too bad. The situation in Uganda is quite different from the Congo. There are very well educated Africans in Uganda, whereas in the Congo the Belgians ( I am talking about the Belgian politicians and also of the Belgian king) made a great mistake by not educating the African people there. They hoped to have slaves forever that way. One does not know however what will happen. It might turn out quite well, but it can also happen that one day we come home as refugees without anything. At the moment one gets the impression Uganda will stop to exist at all. The Kingdom of Toro wants to belong to the Congo, the Kingdom of Bunyoro wants to go to the Sudan etc. And all this because the Bagandas thought that their king, Kabaka Mutesa II. should rule the whole of Uganda, what the other kings won’t accept. A “Kingdom of Buganda” on its own would however be totally uninteresting.
Last week we had a letter from Norbert. He as an African knows as little as we do how everything will end. It is only a pity that people like him have completely retreated from politics. He could take over a big role in Kenya. He has friends within all races and nationalities and now is a business-man. Of course that way he has a much quieter life as in politics.
One can look at the situation in the Congo as one wants. In the first instance the guilt is on the Belgians. In my opinion they have committed a crime, when they granted independence to such a vast country that did not have any people prepared for it.
August 25th, l960 -
I can quite understand that the lady from Stuttgart is returning to Kenya in spite of the unrest all over Africa. We, too, are very optimistic. If it does not go well, we had bad luck.
December 5th, 1960 –
By the end of the year trouble is expected here. If the British Government does not grant self-governence to Buganda, the Bagandas announced that they will declare themselves independent by the 1st of January 1961. Nobody knows yet how this will work. The Buganda Government will announce before the 31st of December, what will happen.
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First published: December 10, 2005