Editor at large J. D. Douglas again reports from Africa.

It was Saturday evening, and the Lake Victoria Hotel was crammed with Ugandans celebrating the second anniversary of liberation from Idi Amin. The clerk was apologetic: all accommodations were taken. Those who had come to dance were staying overnight because guerrillas in the surrounding countryside made it dangerous to be out during the hours of darkness.

There was no alternative. My Australian colleague and I, glad to be out of the drizzling rain, settled down to sit the night away in the only space available: two chairs in a corner of the bar.

We had arrived two hours earlier at Entebbe on one of the national airline’s irregular flights from Dar-es-Salaam. So desperate is the fuel situation that the plane overflew an intermediate stop in Tanzania. We were four hours late. The handful of passengers was hurried through immigration and customs formalities; officials wanted to get home before dark.

Our own unexpected arrival worried them, for it was impossible to get to Kampala (over 20 miles away) that night. They advised us to head for the hotel, four miles away. We managed to get the solitary cab driver outside the terminal building to agree to take us to the hotel for only a couple of dollars. But the hotel was a different matter. A meager portion of chicken, potato, and spinach, a little watery cordial, and the cost of a room available after midnight left us nothing for breakfast out of $130 we had dutifully changed at the airport.

There was something bizarre about celebrations in a country whose economy is in ruins through sheer mismanagement. Inflation is running at 100 percent (but, pointed out a resourceful evangelist, “the wages of sin are still the same”). On the black market, five gallons of gasoline will bring over $500. Transport is a major problem for daily living and for relief work. Two pounds of meat—when it is available—takes almost the whole of a laborer’s monthly wage. Industrial output is down to about 15 percent of capacity. Rarely does a Ugandan home currently have running water.

Roadblocks abound; even during the short ride from the airport we had encountered two of them. I stopped counting after 30 as we traveled several hundred miles in the following few days. Many of the posts are manned by Tanzanians who came two years ago as liberators and remained as peacekeepers. They are due for withdrawal in July. This is just as well, for their welcome has worn thin. Poorly and fitfully paid (their own homeland is in the economic doldrums), many react by seeing wayfarers as fair game. Not all the brigandage in this unquiet land is unofficial.

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We had our baggage opened in the middle of the road, close interest expressed in certain possessions, and the vaguely menacing suggestion made that we might be there for a very long time. This broad hint ignored, our white faces evidently deterred them from pursuing this line of thought.

At other checkpoints were Ugandan soldiers, their indiscipline apparent in the way they often harassed, assaulted, and robbed their fellow countrymen. The police, on the other hand, we found consistently polite.

In Kampala, a seared and scarred city, gunfire is heard most nights, and is variously attributed to jumpy soldiers, police firing on looters, and bandits. Political killings are common: one of the government members of Parliament, a professor of psychiatry, was killed while we were there.

The military often exact terrible retribution on innocent and guilty alike. We passed Namanve Forest where the bodies of many of Amin’s victims were formerly dumped.

It seems certain now that the recent elections were rigged, and that well-meaning international observers did not pry into irregularities on the grounds that to consolidate President Milton Obote’s position would be the lesser evil, and would avert greater bloodshed. This may prove to have been a shortsighted view. The political situation is deteriorating further, questions are asked about how far Obote is really in control, and bleak prophecies are made about what will happen when the 10,000 Tanzanians pull out.

It seems clear that the bedeviling factor in Uganda is tribalism (a vital issue also in neighboring Kenya and in Zimbabwe). This was unexpectedly highlighted by a government minister who spoke at the enthronement of the new bishop of North Kigezi the day after we arrived.

“Some of us talk unity,” he told the 30,000-strong congregation that included, four of his ministerial colleagues, “but we act tribally.” Astonishingly, after concluding his remarks, he led the vast assembly in a revival hymn. The choir was directed by a former member of Parliament, defeated by the same minister in the elections.

However shaky the state of the republic, the Christian witness in Uganda has emerged from past and present tribulations resilient and unquenchable. Bishop Festo Kivengere tells of an incident in the Kampala cathedral just after Archbishop Janani Luwum was slain in 1977. Some women were arranging flowers for the memorial service when another bishop came in looking depressed. One of the ladies took his hand. “Dear Bishop,” she said, “we are not worried. All of this, you know, has just put us 50 times forward!”

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The traditional message of revival in Uganda has not changed. That revival did not start originally with any great evangelist or missionary, but with ordinary people who had accepted Christ. The extent of lay participation in the evangelistic outreach, moreover, has been impressive. Out of it has come also a profound social concern very relevant to a society which over the last tragic decade has known thousands of new widows and orphans.

I heard one Ugandan young woman concerned with relief work pray, “Lord, help us to be kind to those we are trying to help.” We kept coming across Christians who were working and ministering faithfully in isolated places, oblivious of physical danger and primitive conditions.

In Kabale, the southwestern Uganda town which is the center of Bishop Kivengere’s diocese, I talked with James Katarikawe, Anglican clergyman and the African Enterprise team leader in Uganda. “During Amin’s regime,” he said, referring to the years 1971–79, “many Ugandans suffered spiritually because they were affected by hardship and torture as well as by shortage of essential commodities. We felt that Uganda needed spiritual as well as physical rehabilitation, and that this should start with pastors and their wives.”

Conferences were arranged for them, approved by the archbishop and bishops of the Church of Uganda (Anglicans, who number nearly four million, are by far the largest Protestant body in the country). Since then, 13 of the 18 dioceses have been covered in 16 months. Remarkable scenes have been reported from these meetings; in some cases, pastors and their wives have stood up before their bishop and professed conversion.

“In one town, after a pastors’ conference,” recounted Katarikawe, “we decided to go to a nearby market to share our testimony with the people. We started talking to them, telling them about the love of God through Jesus Christ, and what that had meant to us. As a result, 12 young men who were just loitering there accepted the Lord. Pastors in the area have since told us that the new converts are remaining faithful.”

That was one of our enduring impressions as we cleared the last roadblock and drove into Kenya. Whether giving thanks for the life and death of a beloved leader, or celebrating the liberation of souls from a greater tyranny than Amin’s, or simply coping joyfully with the daily privations of Uganda 1981, these believers regard it all as taking them “50 times forward.”

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