Outreach to the ‘Switzerland of Uganda’


And so on a rainy morning of April 1, the career outreach team landed in western Uganda’s capital, Mbarara. The team had two new team members: Patrick Lugemwa and Doreen Kajeru.

Lugemwa is an outgoing man, his beards were trimmed and his eyes deep set staring with a good dose of humour and he just had a lot to say.

The writer laying a wreath at the burial site of the late Bishop Emeritus John Baptist Kakubi (Photo by Doreen Kajeru)

 Fools Day prank 

Enter Ronald Awany with a phonecall: “I have got a scholarship at the University of Manchester to pursue my Master’s degree. I will be leaving this August,” he said.

“Wow!” I exclaimed. “This is great news, Ronnie. I am very proud of you. Congratulations! Go show the Britons what we are made of,” I added jubilantly.

The above comments we made in utter ignorance that April 1 was Fools Day. Ronnie, a colleague at The Standard, had not been admitted for the MA; he succeeded in fooling me and my promise for vengeance against him still stands.

Banana juice 

As a resident of Mbarara, I offered to show the team around. I took them to Baguma Restaurant on Kakoba road, where we would have lunch. The food at this restaurant costs a uniform price (shs10,000) inclusive of drinks.

Many opted for thick millet porridge locally known as ekitiribiita but I settled for banana juice (eshande ). While I was little, my parents would make this juice for us out of yellow bananas and I loved it. I would sneak into the house to sip an extra cup or two when they were away.

Mbarara was calm as always. Apart from politicians’ posters hanging on every street corner of the town, nothing seemed different since my last visit.

We visited Mary Hill High School, St. Joseph’s Vocational School and set a date with Ntare School and Mbarara High School for the following day.

Despite making an impromptu visit to St. Joseph’s, the powers that be remembered me from six years back.

“OB,” the deputy headmaster shouted before he gave me a hug. I visited the burial ground of Bishop Emeritus, John Baptist Kakubi who had passed on February 11, 2016 at 86 years. Kakubi was the Bishop of Mbarara Diocese between 1969 and 1991 and he was a great witness for Christ.

John Vianney Ahumuza takes a ride on one of Kabale’s bicycle boda-boda (Photo by Alex Taremwa)

Bicycle boda-boda 

Fast forward to Kabale. The debate of whether this southwestern town is the Switzerland of Uganda is yet to be settled but from an aesthetic standpoint, the scenery is breathtaking. It is apparent that God became extra creative when he got to designing this part of the world as his hand is visible in every aspect.

Although I had been to Kabale before, I had never got the courage to use the bicycle boda-bodas there. This time I did though and I enjoyed them, soon after our visit to

St. Mary’s College Rushoroza The bicycle boda-boda experience was memorable.

Besides being affordable, the riders have endless conversation that keeps the passenger, especially who speaks the native language, entertained. If Kisoro had not been so hilly, I would have opted to travel by bicycle there too.


The steaming hills of Kisoro, otherwise known as the ‘Switzerland of Uganda’

Kisoro is 63 kilometres from Kabale, a one-hour and 50-minutes drive through the bamboo forests, steaming mountains, steep mountains and suicidal corners and bends. The roads crisscross the hills in a manner mankind cannot comprehend. The drivers have to stay very alert.

Suffering from acrophobia (fear of heights), I would not even gather the courage to gaze at the cliffs but the people who live there have adapted both to the weather and the landscape. Their houses dot the steep hills with silver roofs and their agricultural systems compliment the beautiful hillsides.

This is where even atheists pause and reflect on the existence of the great God whose existence they doubt. From vantage points, one can catch a glimpse of the deep Lake Bunyonyi, and Mt Muhavura, key physical features in the region. It was a rainy day in Kisoro. In fact it rained four times that day in this part of Uganda famous for the Mgahinga National Park and the gorillas there.

This was my favourite trip across this our motherland.

Travel: Outreach through a sojourner’s eye

Every morning begins the same for me: jogging, coffee, a crossword puzzle and a flip through the papers on my mobile phone, writes Alex Taremwa

Arua’s main street on a busy mid-morning. Photos by Alex Taremwa

But there have been forced changes to this routine in the past three months as I traversed the country ,courtesy of the Uganda Christian University (UCU) Career Development and Placement office inspiring young people in secondary schools about making holistic career choices.

To prepare for life on the road, I packed three novels, a camera, two lenses, sneakers and the journalist’s companions – notebook and pen. On the first day I was up at 5 am but still I missed my transport.

The rest of the team had left without me and 1,000 copies of the best university community newspaper in East and Central Africa, The Standard .

Unaware of my predicament, I walked into the office and made a mug of coffee, which I sipped as I skimmed through the social media news feed.

At 6:30am, I decided to reach out to one of the members on the career team only to be informed that they were already in Jinja! Fast forward, the vehicle made a U-turn picked me and we were soon Arua bound.

Most of this 12-hour journey was used to compensate for my lost sleep. I woke up after every hour or so to alert a friend I made on the journey, Joseph Omonya, to the need to eat something. Joseph slept for most of the journey!

At Karuma Falls I tried to take a picture of the beautiful waters but I was warned that it was illegal. How then can I market Uganda’s tourism features without showing visual evidence?

The Karuma Falls on River Nile.

The threat of arrest notwithstanding, I managed to capture the scenery and soon I was asleep again. 

Kampala-Arua is the farthest I have ever travelled by road and my patience wore thin with every passing kilometre. At some point when Vianney woke up from a seemingly disturbing dream, he murmured, “210kms to go!” I wished he had stayed asleep, how discouraging!

At midnight we finally made our entry into Arua town and checked in at California Hotel where we camped for the next eight days. The hotel was food free, electricity free and soon would be water free but the people were the opposite; welcoming, warm and friendly.

By the power vested in me, by me, I conferred a PhD in ironing using charcoal, to one of the team members. Over the days I saw why electricity had little relevance in this area. Sadly the same did not apply to water.

The resource was so badly needed yet scarce! Possibly that is why every smallest water body in Arua is called a river? So I made a mental note to sensitise the populace there about the difference between stream, tributary and river next time I visit.

The hissing trees 

One morning we set out to visit Yivu High School. All of us, except our navigator, Gilbert Adrapi, did not know where we were headed. After driving 55 kms out of town with no sight of a school, we were perplexed.

“Gilbert, where is the school we are going to?” a team member inquired. “Just here,” Gilbert responded pointing ahead. The ‘just ahead’ turned out to be another 20kms away so we consoled ourselves with views of communal huts, fuel sold by the roadside in mineral water bottles, ox ploughing and others breastfeeding.

When we arrived at the school we were welcomed by a hissing sound. It was as though there were hundreds of snakes in the trees. 

The sound intensified in tandem with the speed of wind. I then noticed that the sound came from a species of trees the school had planted in the compound. Since I did not have a lot of time to learn names of the trees, I named them – white explorer style – the ‘hissing trees of Arua’.


UCU staff at the DRC-Uganda border, Vurra


There is boundary line between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is found at Vurra, in West Nile.

After visiting a school close to the border, the team unanimously agreed to cross the border on foot. We thought this would be a walk in the park, but then again we had not factored in the formalities required for the stroll.

The welcome on the Ugandan side was customary. We were ushered into packing, shown into the border police station for formal introductions. After we made our intentions known, a young man in his mid-20s offered two things free of charge: to walk us to the no-man’s land and to inform us that no pictures, sneezing or short calls were allowed across the line without a nod from the DRC officials. Talk of freedom and good neighborliness!

Not much fazed, we enjoyed ourselves nonetheless. Standing on that land not claimed by anyone, we sipped our beverages and felt like international free men and women. The DRC officials later allowed us a brief tour of their side of the border, but still insisted that I take no photos and as a law-abiding fellow, I obliged.

Ox-tail and walking stick matooke 

We later strolled into O&S Restaurant for lunch and I immediately scanned the menu items and corresponding prices. There I landed on this rare item, the oxtail, which in all honesty I was afraid to try but cunningly asked a colleague to try so I could see what it actually looked like.

I signalled the waitress and ordered for the ‘normal stuff’; beef stew matooke and rice and then switched my attention back to the television. Soon

Vianney’s ox-tail arrived and I remember saying that it would take him two hours to clear the plate. “That cannot be just a tail,” I whispered to a neighbour who was busy charging his phone.

My order arrived just in time to save my taste buds, which were now about to lose the patience strugggle. However, I noticed the matooke looked strange. When I atempted a bite, the matooke was so hard and dry that I could use one as a walking stick if I wanted to.

After one or two fingers, I settled for enyasa (millet paste) and anyoya (a boiled mixture of maize and beans).

The team left Arua town at 5:30am in order to be in Kampala before nightfall. This was in a bid to get a few days of rest before heading for eastern Uganda, the next stop on our regional tour.

Eastern Uganda: The writer at Nyero Rock Paintings, Kumi district.

Nyero paintings; a blend of God and the Batwa 

My geography lessons had introduced me to the Nyero Rock paintings in theory. But I had never been to there physically. So on our way to Serere, I asked the team if we could make a stop-over in Kumi to see the famous rock paintings dating to before 1250 AD. The paintings, largely attributed to the Batwa indigenous people, are a great tourist attraction.

They stretch out over six different rocks but we only managed to visit three, one of which is believed to be for fertility. After feeding my eyes on the rocks and how meticulously they are placed, I was convinced that they were really one of God’s great creations.

The following day was spent in Kapchorwa, a hilly and equally rocky area that forces roads to snake through the hills at the mercy of the driver. 

It takes brave souls to withstand the sharpness of the corners and the chills they send down one’s spine. The Sebei region, unlike West Nile, has good matooke to the extent that some of the team members who had been brought up in predominantly matooke growing areas bought a few bunches to bring home.

The matooke might have been good but I could not say the same about the roads. Our transport came to a standstill in Bukwo District through to Chemwaniya High School when the vehicle failed to climb a slippery hill on a dry sunny day. Extra manpower had to be used to enable us make it to our destination on time. Sadly, we did not stop by the Sipi Falls but from a distance I could hear the water roll over the rocks.

UCU badminton champion in Mauritius



Recently, I returned from Mauritius where I had gone to represent the country in the continental badminton championship. I went under Team Uganda with seven other colleagues.

It was such a really great nice experience I had. My first experience there was in 2010 when I was young and could not explore much. This time round, I had a chance to visit and explore what I had missed out in 2010.

Mauritius was very hot and humid too. During the night, I wouldn’t even cover myself. Because of my love for freestyle dressing, I enjoyed wearing my shorts while there. It was fun for me.

For food, we had sea food. Most of their hotels and restaurants served sea food. Mostly, we ate chicken. Their chicken was so big but not as tasty as Ugandan chicken. I enjoyed the sea food and the local juice made from different fruits. I took a tour around the western side of the country and visited the sugarcane plantations. I also saw beautiful mountains on the island and enjoyed moving in the rain as the weather remained hot in spite of the showers. Their music and dances were nice.

Their environment was very organized and dustless. It is all tarmac with very nice roads. The cost of living there is quite cheaper than Uganda’s. Their transport, their food, and everything else around are cheap.

The customer care at the hotel where we stayed was really good. We had also interacted with the same people because I knew them before. For the games, we were picked by the van from the hotel but for personal business you would cater for your own transport.

While in Mauritius, I spoke some French, among the five languages — Chinese, Creole, English, French and Hindu.

I have always liked every trip I have had to Mauritius. I must say it’s the best holiday destination.

I am a ‘Better Preacher’

Dr. JohnMy wife tells of her undergraduate days and the testimonies during the Sunday Christian Union fellowship meetings. It was typically held at night to give students a chance to attend their various morning church services.

As it was and is customary in our fellowships, various firebrand Christians would give testimony of what happened “at church”, or they would inquire of other Christians, “I did not see you at church!”

The other common trend was to quote ‘the Pastor’ as if he was the only one to preach that Sunday.

If you did not hear ‘the pastor’ preach, you certainly missed the anointed message of the day. It was implicit in such questions that there was ‘the church’ and there was ‘the pastor’ that every Christian needed to have heard! Others were anything but pastors worth listening to!

This leads me to the age-old Christian pastime of comparing churches and pastors, which was the subject of Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians, Chapters 1-3.

The Corinthians battled with each other for the supremacy of Paul or Apollos or Cephas (Peter). Each had followers they never solicited in Corinth. These followers soon got into heated debates about who of the apostles was better than the other.

This was understandably puzzling to Paul. What merits did either of the apostles have to command cultic loyalty? What had they done for the Corinthians that their hearers owed them? Paul argues that the apostles including himself, had no merits for their faith, and the hearers owed them nothing. Not even their apostolic position ranked them higher than an ordinary Christian!

That may shock some Christians today who follow their superlative apostles. But a godly preacher is a man under orders to deliver a message and has no claim to glory.

Paul gives three reality checks for any congregation to consider.

The first is that we know too little to make any judgment about who is better! Comparing or preferring one preacher to another involves judgment.

All human judgment is based on partial knowledge, which limits its objectivity.

The only valid judgment belongs to the LORD who knows us exhaustively.

He knows what we think and why we think it, that is, He knows the substance of our thoughts as well as the motives behind such thoughts.

Therefore His judgment brings to light what is hidden and weighs it to arrive at a fair judgment of the preacher. As long as we know so little we are wiser postponing our judgment and comparison of preachers.

Secondly, pride is implicit in such preferment as it determines that we know we are right while others are wrong.

The Corinthians were puffed up by these vain comparisons. We can hear each group taking pride in these men saying,

“Paul is better because he came first and performed miracles”, or “Apollos is a better orator and preacher than either Paul or Peter”, or “Peter lived, walked and ate with Jesus and so he must be better.”

But Paul did not reinforce his own popularity or affirm the pride of those who preferred him. He did not draw attention to any of the preachers for this would have given the Corinthians reason to boast. Instead he showed the vanity of their pride; it was baseless.

Finally, all ministers have the ministry because they have received it from the Lord. Paul, Apollos and Peter were agents who received the mandate from the Lord to preach Christ.

There are no grounds for boasting when we have been equipped and sent. Earlier, Paul argues against such hero worship because there is no salvation in any of the preachers.

The fundamental reason is that none of them was crucified for us. Every minister needs to understand his place, as a messenger with a delegated mandate for which we shall all be accountable.

We are sent to preach and show forth Jesus Christ crucified and Him alone. Besides Him we have no reason for pride. There is no better preacher, but there is One Saviour who was crucified for our sins.

Obituary: Five years with Pius Opae

Pius Opae Papa in his golden days at The Standard

As the norm was before global warming set in, rain would fall in Mukono unannounced. At Uganda Christian University (UCU), registration for new entrants was then being done under tents in the new stadium. I was fully registered by 10am of November 4, 2010 and so was he but the van meant to transport the fresh fish (us) to the hostel allocated to us, Joyka, was yet to show up.

The rain persisted, the tents filled up and together with our suit cases, we stood still, clueless about what time the shuttle would arrive, where the hostel was, where we could get a drink, but nonetheless we waited in the soaked stadium.

Realising that my neighbour had similar characteristics as I: puzzled, confused, hungry and angry, I walked over to him, extended my arm as if to shake his hand. “Alex Taremwa,” I said.

He obliged and shook my hand firmly saying “I’m Opae, Opae Papa,”he added as if to reaffirm his position.

After a few minutes of exchanging small talk, we realised we were not only waiting for the same shuttle to the same hostel, we had also been admitted to do the same course, Mass Communication.

We proceeded to get the same hostel room and that would remain so until 2013 when we graduated. Even now that we had grown to stay in different apartments, we found each other in the same house most of the time.

Marshal (a nickname I gave him after he continuously wore his checked shirt with a U.S. Marshal label) and I took a brief encounter in a congested, soaked stadium and made a great friendship, later a brotherhood out of it.

We were so compatible and predicable that we would arrive at the same career choices. We both joined as reporters for the Daily Monitor from Tororo and Mbarara, respectively, before joining The Observer , where I wrote for a couple of weeks before quitting due to double loyalties.

He was a magnanimous person who would sacrifice his last penny to help someone expecting nothing back.

Opae and Alex Taremwa (the writer) in 2013.

His attitude towards work was as aggressive and indestructible as it was towards his books. Opae never, at any moment, handed in an assignment late both at work and school. His editors and lecturers can attest to that.

He trusted my instinct more than he trusted me as a person. I remember in early 2014 after being invited for a job interview at UCU, he asked me to take him through a mimic interview session to gauge if he was ready. “Tell me what your instinct tells you,” he demanded. “Will I get this job?” Yes, I nodded.

He got the job as a news editor at The Standard , the university’s community newspaper, a position he used to raise and inspire a number of student writers, through guidance and mentorship, a goal we had set ourselves, if we ever got editorial positions.

Opae will be remembered in and out of his friend zone as someone who walked where there was no path but left a trail for most to follow.

His passion for journalism, his wisdom and logical reasoning, his laughter, warm embrace and his undisputed pursuit for the truth, professionally and personally, will always set him apart.

He always spoke blatantly, honestly and intellectually, a trait most who didn’t know him well mistook for arrogance.

He liked to shave his head bare. I know this because we had the same barber. We were ‘thick as thieves.’

He preferred that we take regular walks and always spare 30 minutes daily for our meditation. We were not Hindu but meditation was the best stress therapy we used.

We confided in each other for advice and always relied on each other’s counsel, which explains why he came to me recently to help him decide on where he would pursue a Master’s from a plan he wanted to execute next year. He said the world is drastically changing and soon enough, a Bachelor’s would be overtaken by events.

Final three months 

His last 100 days were spent selectively with me. He picked a few essentials from his apartment and moved to my place

These three months were the highlights of our friendship.

He opened up about

himself. He told me his dad had passed on when he was six months old and introduced me to his mother Eunice, and brother Azalia who is yet to complete O-level.

As my response to this gesture, we agreed he would travel with me to Kazo, Kiruhura District, where he was to meet my parents and celebrate Christmas with us. He died the same day we were supposed to travel.

Opae made a lot of friends across all demographics, most of whom became mutual in the long run. Obel Oscar, a former classmate described his death as a loss to the country, a view that was shared by Jeremiah Guma and James Kato, who frequented our hostel room for daily debates. They referred to him as ‘Timothy Kalyegira’ and me as ‘Andrew Mwenda’, because despite our close relationship, we hardly agreed on anything, especially politically.

Connie Musisi, UCU’s Career Development and Placement officer, knew him as a hero who never diverged from the truth even in the face of threats and constant provocations. Juma Seyyid, the manager of Rock Mambo FM in Tororo, where Opae trained and presented a sports show, said he had a bright future.

About an hour before his demise, Opae strolled by this radio station where he had a lengthy chat with his former colleagues before jumping on a boda boda that caused his death.

Most people, including myself, first treated the news of his death with denial, the first stage of Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ The five stages of Grief. I couldn’t believe that someone so full of life and joy, who carried himself carefully with an aura of a philosopher would die that young at 28, with his entire future ahead of him, without a child in his name.

Even as I responded to the numerous calls, texts, Whatsapp messages, I left a room of suspense with the hope that maybe someone will tell me, “Hey, it’s not him.” I couldn’t stand the reality that I was never going to see him again.


The text message 

On November 23, 2015 at 11:54pm, Opae had sent me the most emotional message I had ever read. He was then on a field trip assignment with the agriculture-focused NGO known as Agriculture Business Initiative Trust (ABi). They had checked into a hotel in Kasese town after a long day.

The text he sent read: “Alex, if I have ever wronged you forgive me, I do the same. Our friendship is stronger, we are more than brothers.” 

I didn’t know how to reply his text. It was oozing with emotion, love and more love so I decided to sleep over it. After two minutes, he called and demanded to know if I had received his message. Yes, I replied before asking if all was well and why the message tone was sentimental.

He told me we had to be ready for anything, arguing that we lived in an anything-can- happen environment and that is why he wanted me to know how he truly felt about me. I told him the feeling was mutual and asked him to rest.

Opae passed on exactly 30 days after he had sent me the message. Was this his way of saying goodbye? Did he have a premonition he was going to die one month later? All I know is that he will always have a special place in my heart.

We had more joy in his last days than I might ever grab in a lifetime. And I hope that one day, when it’s my turn to go, he is the first person I meet at Heaven’s Gate when I open my eyes. I hope to meet my friend and shake his hand.

Tales of Zidon Bisaso (UCU driver) in Dubai

Zidon (R) narrates the luxurious experience he had in Dubai to Doreen Kajeru. Photo by Arthur Matsiko

My journey to United Arab Emirates (UAE) was an experience I will never put a price tag to. It was unbelievable, unexpected and very memorable.

I have driven people to and from the airport because am a driver. However, whenever I did, I never got a chance to go beyond the terminal because it is out of bounds to non- travellers. Apart from curiosity, I never had reason to feel the urge of getting to see beyond that point anyway. All this changed when I was called and told that I had won the lottery and was to travel to Dubai for five days. I hardly believed it. For some time, I brushed it off thinking it wasn’t true.

Consequently, someone from Vision Group came to UCU and asked to see me. It was then that I believed that I had won the lottery.

On the slated day of travel, October 27 2015, together with other lottery winners,we set off for Dubai. We were a group of thirty.

When we reached Entebbe airport, I was confident, happy and shocked at the same time. When we went through the check points and offices for verification of details, I had no idea about anything. Therefore, I avoided coming first in line. I was keen on other people’s actions at all check points and offices in order not to blunder when my turn came. Just like that, I went through all the required processes and got on the plane.

All stages had their challenges. Boarding was easy but the instructions that were given before we set off surely freaked me out. We were told to fasten our seat belts, what to do in case of a crush, and what to and not to do on the plane. All this seemed bizarre to me but I did it anyway.

Fear engrossed me from the time I set foot on the plane. Right there, I saw a new world, new things and people. I imagined a lot of things in a very short time. The most challenging part of this moment was the plane taking off. Surely, my heart had shifted location. I closed my eyes and could not fathom what was happening. Luckily, I was seated next to the presenter of ‘Tolimwavu, Mutwegogwemwavu,’ program on Bukedde Television and he was very familiar with all this. He engaged me in conversation and made me feel comfortable. I stayed calm.

Within a short period of time, we had reached Nairobi. We waited there for some time for Emirates Airlines because we had used Kenya Airways to get to Nairobi. This time round, I was a little more confident of my actions and the taking off of the plane. I did not have any trouble.

Off we went as I got around the comfort of the plane. Each of us had a screen and one could watch anything of their choice. There was football, Nigerian movies, and several other programs. It was a 7 hours journey to Dubai from Nairobi.

When we arrived, we queued for registration and personal details’ verification. I was impressed by the fact that the people were so many but the service was fast and done with great customer care. I had never experienced such hospitality!

At Haiti Hotel where we slept, comfort was at its best. The rooms had Tvs for the customer’s enjoyment; there was soda, nice chairs and other things that made me happy. It was cosy.

When we were called for breakfast, I was disappointed by the menu because I did not identify with most of the food. I picked a glass of juice, eggs and samosas while others feasted on almost everything there was.

For lunch and supper, I got lucky. There is a Ugandan lady who prepares all African food there. She prepares cassava, matooke, potatoes and if you wanted, you would ask her to prepare what you wanted.

Each day, we went for tours around Dubai. We would have breakfast by 6am and set off at 7am. We were usually back by 7pm. During this time, we were told to stay in the proximity of the group, otherwise we would go missing. I was amazed at so many things. Although I haven’t travelled enough, I think Dubai is totally different from the rest of the world. I saw new things; I stared and marveled at structures and the beauty of the places we visited. We went through tunnels to places.

We went to Dragon Mart in Old Dubai, the Axilat building (this had banks, supermarkets and offices too), the City Centre, the Dubai Coast (schools, institutions and universities are here), Dubai Marina mall,the Burj Khalifa building with 142 floors, Atlantis Hotel(for Americans), Jumeirah village (where they make fuel) and Al Fujairah where stone mining and quarrying is done. We also went where they make ships from. Particularly, I was astonished by the mystery singing sea. At 6pm, many people gathered at a sea spot to hear it singing and changing colour simultaneously for five minutes.

Dubai is sandy, there is no green but it’s an organized city. They have strict rules and the citizens abide.

The road network is impeccable. There is no jam, and the traffic is monitored by cameras. During our tours, we travelled in an air-conditioned Costa.

The people I saw around the city seemed to be tourists too. I was told that the UAE citizens hardly lived in the city Centre. The businesses there were mostly owned by foreigners.

The experience made me think that I need to go back there. I got contacts and I believe I will!

Write and send your travel experiences to campuslife@ucu.ac.ug