The sunset over the park of the Sheraton Hotel was beautiful Sunday
night. Families strolled along the foot paths, or gathered in small
groups on the lawn. Kampala, Uganda -- it was an evening just like
any other, just as I'm sure it was in Rome, Beirut, Oklahoma City, Cape
Town, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam...
My good friend David Mutazindwa collected me at the hotel in his car,
and we set off to find a convivial location for drinks and conversation.
He being Uganda's USAID Leland Initiative Coordinator, and me
being the USAID AfricaLink Advisor, discussion of course turned to
information technology issues.
Within a few minutes we arrived at what would otherwise have been a
lively Ugandan night spot, with good music and food, maybe even
outdoor tables -- difficult to tell since it was closed on this Valentine's
Day Sunday. It sits in a nice part of town, near to one of the better
hospitals, Kololo, that I would soon know much better. David's
disappointment showed, but he urged me not to worry as we
immediately set out for another spot.
Our principal problem in the coming two days was to find a way to
establish electronic mail connectivity for several very remote
agricultural research stations in Uganda. We had met that morning
with the director of one of them. While connectivity had been
established, costs were stratospheric. A monthly bill of $100 or $200
had been envisioned. Bills of more than $1000 were the reality. This
would never work in remote stations where funds were hard to come
by. Costs had to be controlled.
The vendor, Bushnet, had reportedly been quite cooperative, pledging
support for cost-control measures. Many had been proposed:
** Messages above a certain size (say 20kb) would be diverted to the
Agricultural Research Information Service librarian for review -- junk
mail deleted, urgent mail delivered immediately by radio email at 30 US
cents per kilobyte to the research station, routine important mail saved
to diskette and delivered by courier twice a week.
** Messages from specific addresses (e.g. unsolicited mailing lists)
blocked and automatically returned to sender.
** Messages from specific addresses (e.g. trusted colleagues)
delivered immediately by radio email no matter what the size.
And so on. These measures had for some reason not been
implemented, though I hasten to add that the vendor was willing. The
problem seems to lie with the scientists at the research station, and
with their understanding of the differences between a pay-per-kilobyte
low-bandwidth HF radio email service and a more standard pay-per-
hour high-bandwidth PPP or VHF/UHF radio service.
It is an often told story throughout the world. The technologies -- the
wires and bytes -- are usually not the issue. What matters is
knowledge, technical support, a clear understanding of how any
particular technology fits into an institutional framework.
And what matters as well sometimes is, for want of a better word,
politics. There is at times a natural distrust among certain parties --
rivalries over funding, competition among vendors, distrust between
vendor and customer. As an outsider with a clear interest in the
success of the endeavor for all concerned parties, sometimes a
consultant can bring people together who otherwise have difficulty
seeing the way forward.
At this point in the conversation, David and I suddenly looked around
us and realized our car had not moved in about half an hour. We were
just a hundred meters or so from the roundabout at the base of
Kabalagala. Kabalagala is a lively pub district, with dozens of small
shops selling cakes, soft drinks, music cassettes, beer and light food.
Our one lane of traffic had branched into four as drivers jockeyed for
position even on the road shoulder and in the oncoming lane, inching
forward bit by bit.
We made the roundabout. David considered proceeding through it to
the destination, as yet unknown to me, but we could see that the road
beyond was equally jammed. We turned left into Kabalagala, but even
that way forward was a mess. We decided to park the car, have a
drink, and wait for the crowds to subside. I left my coat in the car --
the air of the 8th floor in the Sheraton had been quite chilly, but it was
warm and humid in town.
We crossed the street in search of a table. Every place was full. We
strolled up the hill, literally wading through crowds, until we finally
found a small sandwich shop with an empty table. Our waitress
brought us two beers. We never paid for them.
A sharp crack sounded in the air. My ears rang for second as David
and I looked at each other. A woman down the road began to scream
and shouts were heard. We stood and looked in that direction, David
moving toward the street for a better view. I started to follow, but
then it hit me that it was a small bomb explosion we had just heard.
The puff of smoke was still rising above the spot at a small pub, just
like ours, about seven shops back toward the roundabout we had only
so recently departed.
The crowd began moving toward the site, perhaps to get a better look
at the wounded. I tugged at David's elbow. "That was a bomb, don't
you think?" He nodded. "I've been told that these things usually
come in two's, so maybe we should move away from the street." We
stepped back and moved to the wall of our own pub. We looked at
the street and realized we'd never get the car out. Besides, we'd
parked it just opposite the pub that had been bombed. I wondered if
the car had been damaged. Looking in the other direction, I thought
perhaps we could simply walk out of the district until things sorted
I had something I wanted to say, and turned slightly toward David,
when another blast rang out. They really do come in two's, I guess.
This was much closer. I was literally propelled toward David, and my
ears rang. We both crouched down, and my hearing slowly returned.
There was a stampede of people now rushing away from both blasts. I
could clearly see the smoke rising from the shop just two doors down
from ours. David stretched prone on the ground by a small wall as
shots rang out, and he yelled at me to do the same.
As I lay next to him, I felt warmth on my right shoulder. With my hand
I could feel spurting blood but no pain. I pressed down and stopped
the bleeding, as the initial shock wore off and I realized what had
happened. "David, I think I've been wounded."
I checked quickly for signs of any other wounds, but found none.
"Maybe we should move inside," I said, indicating the pub's kitchen
area with my chin. As I rose to a crouch and scampered in behind
David, a wave of dizzyness rolled over me, so I found a spot and lay
back down. David found a cloth, and another Ugandan wrapped it
around my shoulder tightly. I maintained pressure. There was no
further bleeding, but the shoulder really hurt now.
Outside, screams, sirens, people running, massive confusion as every
car on the road tried to turn around simultaneously, effectively
blocking the exits of everyone. "I'll try to find a cell phone," David
said, looking at me with reassurance. "I'm so sorry this has happened.
I'll be right back." He turned and began shouting for a phone.
Other Ugandan's came up to me and apologized, as if what had
happened to this visitor to their country was somehow their own fault.
Other wounded people crowded into the kitchen. David returned with
a tall European in tow, and used his cell phone to call the emergency
numbers he always carries in his billfold, finally reaching the USAID
Two Ugandan's rushed in. "There's an ambulance for you. Come!"
We later learned that the Irish doctor and several Ugandan staff at a
local clinic had decided to take a break for pizza in Kabalagala, and had
been caught in the same incident, just as they reached our pub. David
quickly told the USAID Director what was happening, and promised
to call back once he knew a destination and could find another phone.
I rose, mastered my dizzyness, and ran with David to the ambulance,
noting as we passed that the road had by now almost cleared as the
jammed cars finally made their escapes.
I maintained pressure on the wound, and put my head between my
knees to keep from fainting. David urged me to hang on as we
bounced our way up the hill and out of the area. I joked that my coat
might be full of holes, but that I hoped his car was ok. Failing to see
the levity while looking at my shoulder, he replied, "It's only a thing.
It can be replaced."
There was suddenly a loug banging of fists against the side of the
ambulance. More wounded. The doors were opened and several
more joined us -- a Swiss man with the skin of his leg shredded,
another Swiss with a gouge in the side of his stomach, several
Ugandans with shrapnel wounds similar to mine.
The Swiss man with the leg wounds spoke as the world around us
quieted a bit, the ambulance making its way toward the clinic where it's
doctor was based. "You know I picked it up, this bomb. I touched it,
thinking someone had forgotten their bag. I called the waiter and he
came to take it away. It exploded as he was taking it away. It was only
one meter from me."
I stared at the man, and looked at his wound. "Man, someone's
watching over you." I suppose tubular pipe bombs have particular
scatter patterns, with the ends being more lethal than the sides.
At the clinic, the Irish Doctor Clark, who never got his pizza, looked
me over quickly. "You're stable. Transfer this man to Kololo
Hospital." He moved on to the others. I was loaded onto a stretcher
and carried back into the ambulance. David quickly called USAID.
The Director and her deputy met us at Kololo. They stayed with me
for the next few hours, and I listened to their radio as the US Embassy
moved into high gear, trying to find out if other staff had been hurt. It
seems one American woman was slightly hurt, but mine was the most
serious case. They offered their cell phones, and I was able to leave a
message while waiting for the more seriously injured to be treated.
A Ugandan doctor performed emergency minor surgery on my
shoulder to clean my would and search for fragments, but found
nothing. Either the fragment was too small, or it had travelled far from
the entry wound, so it was in any event still somewhere in my
shoulder. I glimpsed the entry wound, about three centimeters in
diameter, but quickly looked away as the operation proceeded. I was
moved back to my bed in the hospital and placed on medication.
USAID staff took information from the doctor, and again offered me
their phone to call home, but by this time all the international lines
were jammed as worried families telephoned loved ones. As I settled
down to sleep until morning in four hours, they promised to notify my
family by email, and to return when the x-rays would be taken.
I talked quietly with a Ugandan man in the next bed who'd been living
in Texas for many years and had returned home for a visit. "Man, I'm
going back to Houston," he said. "I'm worried about my wife. She's at
the other hospital. My brother's gone to call and find out. I hope
she's ok." She was fine, operated on at another hospital.
At least four Ugandan's were killed, the waiter who'd been carrying the
first bomb away presumably being one of them. News reports indicate
the dead included an Ethiopian student at the local university, and a
Kampala businessman. At least 40 people were injured. A doctor told
me there were many amputations, and many of those were not
expected to live, so the death toll will surely rise.
David Mutazindwa stayed with me nearly the entire time, leaving at
one point with my hotel room key to pack up my things. The USAID
Executive Officer collected my air ticket and room key to get me
checked out of Kampala and on a plane two days earlier than
scheduled. USAID actually did quite a bit more for me than I'd
expected, given that I'm not a direct employee of the Agency. I am
most grateful to them and to the intensive care of the Kololo Hospital
staff, including the Ugandan surgeon who worked throughout the
night on many patients.
I'm in Nairobi now, having arrived Monday afternoon, staying at the
home of a dear friend from France. Her house is quite close to Nairobi
Hospital where I have been consulting with doctors. She has
graciously agreed to shuttle me from appointment to appointment.
She also provides food, though at this point I've yet to try her lasagna.
As required for insurance purposes, I telephoned Kaiser Permanente
in Washington to ask their permission for further, non-emergency
treatment. A call with charges reversed proved unworkable, so I
asked the Kaiser switchboard if they could call me back, it not being
my phone. They agreed readily, even though at that point they did
not know what to expect. There was a moment of stunned silence on
the phone once they called back and I told them my story. After a
hurried consultation with staff, the emergency intake nurse returned to
the line, "Get whatever treatment you require. We'll note it in our
records. Come see us on Friday when you get home." I guess they
don't get pipe bomb cases every day.
The CT scan performed today here in Nairobi reveals a two-centimeter
triangular piece of metal that passed through my shoulder to the ribs,
without touching bone and without entering the lung. They say it can
stay there for now without any worry. Antibiotics, anti-inflamatories,
and pain killers are the order of the day.
I leave for Washington on Wednesday.
Jeff @ Nairobi
SETA Corporation Senior Analyst
USAID/M/IRM/CIS: Program Technology Transfer
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1325 G Street NW Suite 400
Washington, DC 20005 USA
Tel +1 (202) 219-0463
Fax +1 (202) 219-0518