A Tragedy In Kampala

Two bombs shook Uganda's capital last night in the middle of the World Cup finals match. While I was safe at home in Nairobi, the incident brought back fragmented memories of a peaceful, quiet town. I spent over two and a half years in Kampala, a place where I grew in many important ways.

The attacks are all the more dreadful when one remembers that Kampala is one of the few African capitals where it is safe to walk alone at night, where violent crime is nearly unheard of, and dreadful traffic is a relatively new (and not yet a permanent) facet of life. I spent a considerable number of nights at the Rugby Club and Ethiopian Village, where last night's tragedy took place.

Kampala's Rugby Club is a sprawling bar, adjacent to the pitch, where many of Kampala's college students come to hang with their buddies. If Uganda had fraternities, this is where they would throw their parties. Here the smart set drink Nile Special with reggae and hip hop blasting in the background. On weekend days the same crew watch rugby, collars popped to block the sun. Just last summer at the Club I saw Egypt pounded Uganda on a sultry Saturday afternoon.

Across town Ethiopian Village, down the road from the American Embassy, is in Kabalagala, the Las Vegas of Kampala. The restaurant, one of the half dozen or so Ethiopian restaurants in the area.

In the afternoon, Ethiopian dissident journalists pass their exile by chewing miraa and discussing the day's news. At night, the neighborhood lights up with bars and dance parties. I watched most of the 2006 World Cup on a large outdoor screen at Capital Pub, across the neighborhood from Ethiopian Village. At the time I lived in the neighborhood and took most of my meals at one of the down-market, though equally delicious, Ethiopian restaurants (which I review here). Kabalagala is where I wrote my first blog post.

According to a dear friend from The Fletcher School who was watching the game last night at Ethiopian Village (she thankfully survived unscathed), the bomb went off near the front of the crowd. Many there thought the disruption was some sort of electrical fire or technical difficult, not for a moment expecting a strike like this is the heart of Uganda's sleepy capital.

We are reminded, at moments like these, that we live in a tough neighborhood. The exciting and comfortable capitals are not as far as we think from the ungoverned spaces in the Horn of Africa. Indeed, they are too close for comfort to East Africa's own weakly governed regions (eastern DRC, southern Sudan, northern Uganda), where inter-related long wars have led too often led to voiceless suffering. I join those in the region who pray that the tragedy in Kampala is not a harbinger of things to come.

Correction: an earlier version placed Ethiopian Village on the other side of Kabalagala. Sorry.



  • You are completely wrong about the location of "Ethiopian Village", please get the facts right first before you shout...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:36 AM  

  • yep. definitely had Ethiopian village on the wrong side of the neighborhood. all sorted. thanks.

    By Blogger Joshua, at 10:13 AM  

  • It's not the most upmarket Ethiopian restaurant either, that's Fasika, which is at the location you previously mention.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:53 PM  

  • sorted.

    By Blogger Joshua, at 5:15 AM  

  • Joshua!! I am deeply saddened to hear about the attacks in Kampala. I can't imagine how you feel. I know it's a city that holds a special place in your heart. Thank you for writing about it. hope you are well. love from Mumbai

    By Blogger Annemieke Wilcox, at 8:06 AM  

  • @Annemieke - wonderful to hear from you. what are you up to Mumbai?

    By Blogger Joshua, at 12:56 PM  

  • This is very saddening news indeed.

    By Blogger blackstone, at 12:38 AM  

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