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Landed in Amsterdam

J. Adam Calaway

By J. Adam Calaway, Director of Communications and Public Relations

Posted May 20, 2013

The Amsterdam airport has that distinctive European feel. Slick marketing billboards strategically position their wares on every corner. Hipsters with skinny jeans and coiffed hair saunter nowhere in particular. And our party has found the airport McDonald's and Starbucks. This will be the last taste of the West for a while.

The clock says 9 a.m., but my body begs for rest (Thanks again, Little Timmy). It's about 2 a.m. in the United States. My friends and family are asleep. I'm halfway there.

Since the flight to Entebbe (the main airport next to Uganda's capitol Kampala) is another eight hours away, there are three stories to share, one about Uganda, one about the Noble Research Institute, and one about me getting shots.

The first story is a Cliffs Notes version of Uganda's history, a primer of sorts for our location.

Uganda gained independence from Britain in 1962, only to fall into more than 20 years of political wrangling, coups and genocide.

The first post-independent election saw Milton Obote elected as the executive prime minister. He spent four years smuggling gold and ivory out of the country, then jettisoned the largely ceremonial "president" and "vice president" positions, rewrote the country's constitution, and gave himself unlimited power. Obote's rule was oppressive and corrupt, but nothing compared to his successor's.

During a trip to Singapore, Obote was informed that former-friend-turned-rival, Idi Amin, had staged a coup. Amin spent the next eight years committing the most horrific atrocities in history: child slavery, mutilation and ethnic genocide. In the end, 300,000 people were killed under his regime.

The Uganda-Tanzania war led to Amin fleeing the country, but, immediately following that, Obote returned and seized power during an election that most believe was rigged. Obote continued the oppression and murder. His army warred with guerrillas in the northern part of the country, and an estimated 100,000 to 500,000 more people were killed.

Finally, the National Resistance Army, under the leadership of Yoweri Museveni, brought stability, beginning in 1986. A confessed Christian, Museveni established a republic and has served as president ever since.

So what's the outcome for a country bathed in its own blood? What happens when generations of people are lost?

I'll try to answer those questions.

One thing is clear - expertise is in as short supply as resources.

In the field of agriculture, there is a vacuum of knowledge. The fertile ground and moderate climate (there are wet and dry seasons, but no winter, no summer) mean virtually any seed that falls on the ground can grow, but knowing how to sow and harvest fields in sustainable ways to feed a country is virtually nonexistent. Yet ...

I'll save Watoto and the Noble Research Institute's story for the next post.

Other notable facts:

  • The country is landlocked in east Africa, just a few degrees above the equator, and rests on the north and west sides of Lake Victoria.
  • At about 92,000 square miles of space, it is a little smaller than Colorado, but has 35 million people.
  • War and the AIDS epidemic have claimed millions of lives, reducing the average age of the country to about 18 years old.
  • There are about 2.6 million orphans.