On July 11, 2010, the World Cup finale between Spain and Holland was underway in South Africa. In Kampala, Uganda, Kyadondo Rugby Club hosted a viewing party for local soccer enthusiasts. At half time, a bomb went off at an Ethiopian restaurant in Kampala, a few miles away from the rugby club. News of the attack did not quickly reach Kyodondo.
However, with three minutes of normal time still remaining in the game, two bombs blasts rocked the rugby club. Over 76 people were killed and 114 critically injured. Al-Shabaab, the Somalia-based terror group, quickly took responsibility for the bombings, identifying the blasts as a “message” in response to Uganda’s participation in the African Union peacekeeping mission in Mogadishu. The attack was labeled as the “worst in east Africa since the US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.”
As a soccer fan and avid observer of World Cup matches in particular, I vividly remember coverage from this event. To attack at a time when people of all nationalities are coming together to enjoy the beautiful game seemed to me the ultimate cowardice.
Yesterday, on July 11, 2015, I attended my very first rugby match, which took place at Kyodondo Rugby Club, five years to the day since the 2010 attack. I had visited Kyodondo earlier in the week for dinner; one could purchase the most delicious muchomo (grilled meat) for only 5000 shillings, or about $1.65. While enjoying my muchomo, a colleague reminded me that Kyodondo was the site of the 2010 attacks. However, when I returned on Saturday for the Africa Cup 1B rugby final between Uganda and Botswana, I didn’t realize that it was also the five-year anniversary of the attacks.
Uganda ultimately defeated Botswana, winning the tournament and earning a bid to Tier 1A to the delight of all the Ugandans gathered at Kyodondo. Saturday in Kampala was absolutely beautiful; there was not a cloud in the sky and the temperature had cooled significantly since the morning. I could not have hoped for a more beautiful setting or better company with which to enjoy my first rugby match.
During the celebrations, the announcer brought attention to the victims of the 2010 bombings, reminding all in attendance of the horrific event that took place on that exact site a mere five years before. Watching a rugby match in person convinced me of the brutal strength and fortitude required to excel in this sport, and seeing Uganda win the Africa Cup for Tier 1B was an amazing experience I won’t soon forget. However, watching while standing next to the memorial for the victims of the 2010 attack is the memory that will endure overall.
The people of Uganda are resilient. After an unspeakable tragedy, they still can find joy at the location of the suffering. Further, despite the threat of personal arrest, political protestors still take to the street to oppose the arrest of opposition candidates or continue to voice their support for them. They are kind, friendly, and open, willing to share the love of their country with a foreigner, even while they continue to face memories of violent tragedy or the potential of future political unrest.