Sunday, September 6, 2009

Accidental Wealth in Uganda

In my African culture, death is sacred. When a person dies, however young they were, they become ancestors and live on in spirit form to protect the living. I have watched Nigerians movies where African spiritualists make incantations and pray to dead ancestors for protection, guidance and wealth. Beyond the movie cameras, I have grown up seeing people seek the intercession from their ancestors for health and wealth. But as a deeply devout Born-again Christian, it is all balderdash.

In my native Uganda, a deceased person's death wish should always be respected to avoid being haunted by the spirit. For instance, it is un-African to bury the dead in public cemeteries. Africans have their ancestral burial grounds. A number of cemeteries in my native Uganda are resting places for World War fighters, which makes them more monumental. Also, cemeteries in Uganda are reserved for British colonial administrators who willed to be buried in Africa, the Islamic and Hindu communities.

I always think that if Michael Jackson had had the chance (or mischance) of being born in his ancestral Africa, he would have gotten his death wish of being buried at his place of choice that Forrest Lawn cemetery. Also, our culture dictates that if ever you come across a body at the roadside, you are supposed to pluck a piece of fresh grass nearby and drop it on the body to avoid having nightmares. But in Africa, we experience worse daylight "nightmares" in form of human suffering. Be it emaciated infants in Niger, a mother giving birth in flood-hit Madagascar, a child soldiers in Chad or a motor accident in which an African family breadwinner dies in Kampala.

With this, we seem to have become immune to human suffering and reverence for our dead, judging from what happens at accident scenes in Uganda. While an accident may lie in their own blood, groaning in pain, a would-be rescuer will always first ransack the victim for valuables like as that Swiss watch on the left arm, the wallet in the back pocket, and that blood-stained pair of black shoes on the victim's shattered legs. A tale is told of a looter who fled with a victim's amputated leg simply because he wanted to have the victim's lovely pair of shoes.

However, macabre an accident scene may be, people who arrive first at the scene, will most likely steal the motor parts from the car wreckage. They will take away items like the car battery, side mirrors, headlights, windscreens while other people come with cans to fetch the leaking fuel and later sell it. Some of the looters have been unfortunate and have also met their deaths during such risky undertakings. In Uganda and Kenya, hundreds of people have in different incidents been burnt alive as they tried to siphon fuel from fuel tankers at crash scenes.
The high frequency of motor accidents on African roads, has converted our vehicles into suicide boxes. Besides, the vehicles on Ugandan roads are usually in poor mechanical condition.
I imagine that it is because of the pervading poverty in Uganda that most people have acquired vulture traits to ransack accident victims. So, when in Uganda, one should always bear in mind that at accident scenes, not all crowds gather to rescue the victims. Most of them turn up to carry away valuables. I wonder where this reverence for our dead has gone.
Of course these seemingly heartless scoundrels have dependants at home and it is because of the need to provide for families, that they make a profit from other people's misery. So, next time maybe you could be inquisitive to establish where your friend bought that ill-fitting wrist-watch.


  1. Beautiful entry, Raymond! You have such a lovely writing style-- it's always so thoughtful and clear. Waiting for the book!
    Your insight into Uganda is exceptional.

  2. So Raymond where are your ancestral burial grounds?