Kampala, Uganda: The Pearl of Africa

Oli otya ssebo/nyabo! (hello sir!/ma’am!)

The name, “the Pearl,” actually comes from Winston Churchill. When he touched down in the capital city of Uganda during a foreign relations parade, he spoke out that Kampala was truly a pearl to the eyes. Nature shines on all sides of the city, from Lake Victoria to the south, to the beautifully ever-green forests to the north, west, and east.

If Churchill saw Kampala in the morning, then as prime minister he likely saw this at night: the sunrise on the equator.


When you enter Entebbe airport you cannot help but be humbled by the world-famous Lake Victoria and the many curves and cuts it takes into the earth of Eastern Africa. “Entebbe” means “seat” in Uganda’s Luganda language – this was the place where the Buganda king last to enforce legal decisions.


Several other reasons he may have called it the Pearl: Lake Victoria


The perfect sunset for trees


Year round green fields, trees and nature


Below is Godfrey, the leader of the entire parish districts laity, and a Rotary International Peace Fellow Alumnus and member for over twenty years. In fact, he met his wife at Rotarac, a group for younger Rotarians-to-be. When he and his wife, Catherine, met, they were working on Peace Building in the Kampala district, something Godfrey has dedicated his entire life to. In fact, he travels the world both speaking about his work, and training people in places of conflict. His job is fascitinating: he meets with leaders of conflicting groups, be they tribal leaders, business elite, religious leaders, government officials; and he figures out from each persons’ perspective what the problem began with. His emotional intelligence is as high as one could offer, and rivals what Dan Goleman or Richard Boyatzis (developers of the idea of Emotional Intelligence, from Harvard and Case Western) would even call “Emotionally Intelligent!”

I had the opportunity to meet Godfrey because of Rebecca Holloway’s Rotary International connection – possibly one of the most connected, influential non-governmental organizations world wide. In fact, they have been partially responsible with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and UNICEF for the eradication of polio, among many business relationships that have changed and influenced the world. 

World Polio Day is October 23 – http://www.endpolio.org/worldpolioday

In merely the course of two emails, he agreed to meet with me just on her recommendation. Without question, from day one, this relationship changed my experience here in Kampala. Hands down, it shaped my first day, which led to better interactions with people in the days to come so far. Thank you Holloway.

Below is his son, Michael, who at six-years-old speaks three languages. English, Swahili, Luganda and a few phrases Luo, the northern Ugandan  province’s language, which President Barak Obama is said to speak.

Behind us is the church that Godfrey and his parish have been raising money to construct. The sounds reverberating from the 10:00am choir’s mass were extremely beautiful.


This is Godfrey’s church, different from the one above. He welcomed in a new priest from Tanzania, who did not yet speak Luganda, the language of Kampala, and the Buganda tribe. So Godfrey is pictured here translating. It was amazing how Godfrey interpreted the calm English and livened it up in Luganda. The choir at this mass was also stunning.


On the left is Andrew, my first Lugandan language teacher! In the middle is Frank, who asked me, “I cannot identify your tribe, Michael, of what tribe are you?” In many parts of the world, “tribe” represents a mixture of region, language, culture, family name and basic familial values. Most in Kampala are o the Buganda kingdom, or tribe. Below that is their clan, which could be related to my major extended family, and then family, which is your last name, “and the dad who yells at you when youo want to sleep in on Sundays and skip mass” said Frank. Andrew agreed. That’s how you know whose family – if they can yell at you to get you to church on Sunday! Brilliant young men, who also spoke three languages each. To my right in the back is Lauren. She knew all about Michigan and the great lakes, because the rival Lake Victoria.


Just the occasional cattle grazing outside of mass.


The construction of Godfrey’s church on the reddest, most beautiful earth I have ever seen.


Next up, after mass, we drove the visiting priest into the district to where he resides. We went back to his home where his niece Ester and wife Catherine prepared for us MATOKE! Matoke is a steamed, not fried, banana. But the method is where the magic is. Instead of steaming the banana just over water, the banana or plantain is placed inside the leaves of a plantain so that the banana flavor and sugary sweetness does not leave. Catherine told me many Mzungo (foreigners/white people!) fail to do this because it requires a little more time, but is well worth it!

After, we headed to KCCP Kampala Annual City Fair! It was estimated that over 3 million Ugandans attended the festival throughout the day. We left as it got dark because the crowd was getting too intense as everyone prepared for the arrival of world-famous Ugandan singer/songwriter, Chameleon! Check out an OLD CLASSIC hit of Chameleons, Jamilla.

Below you can see a crowd of people waiting in a slightly chaotic line for the first 10,000 seats to see Chameleon.


Below is the midday of the festival, where we saw some quite impressive booty shaking. A taltented group of both women and men were grooving to Ugandan beats and singing in both Swahili and Luganda languages! And the best part was that six-year-old Michael, Godfrey’s son, was singing the songs in both languages! He wouldn’t dance though, until I got shaking a bit. At one point, he mentioned I was doing it wrong, but that I was almost there!


When I spoke with Doctors on Monday at Mulago hospital where I am working, they were quite amazed that I went to KCCP Kampala Festival – “it’s a little bit too wild, Michael.” I found the event crowded, but great vibes, people dancing, smells of barbecuing meat and lots of public awareness campaigns for hiv/aids, sexual contraception, heart disease, anti-smoking campaigns and information about pre-natal care.

I did not see a single person smoking a cigarette. Not a single one. Incredible.

After several hours at the festival, and dance moves like I had never seen on multiple stage – not even on JT, Usher or MJ – we headed back once again to Ndejje neighborhood where Godfrey lives for some dinner, a few Bell beers and a few episodes of Uganda Music TV’s Country Music Station! That’s right, Earl Scruggs, Willie Nelson, the original Jack Johnson and  Dolly Parton playing loud and clear on the TV! Godfrey and I discussed the north/south differences, and laughed at the size of the Stetson hats of our country musicians. “You know what they say about a man who needs to wear a big hat!….” – Godfrey

We ended up at the Uganda Kampala Serena Resort, owned and operated by a Saudi Arabian family, based off of Italian architecture overlooking Lake Victoria.


Clearly a colosseum-style design. Inside was an Ethiopian family playing soccer against a southern Indian (kerala) family who were both there on vacation after a business trip. After watching for a few minutes, lets just say I know India is more a cricket nation!


The unrivaled views of Lake Victoria, Kampala.


Godfrey, about the most amazing tour guide someone could have in a foreign city. Proud of his city, and rightly so, and proud of his life’s work of peacemaking and international relationship building.

Webalee nyo,  chiroonji nyo, Godfrey. Thank you so much.


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