Uganda, and a close shave with military justice

No.1 rule – NEVER photograph military parades, miliary exercise, military installations… in fact anything with the M word.

No.2 rule – No.1 rule especially applies in Uganda.

This photograph was taken in 1993, in the north western town of Masindi. We had been conducting eye camps in the area as part of a Vision Aid Overseas trip, with local logistical support from World Vision. While stopping to pick up supplies at a local store, we witnessed what appeared to be a community parade. Men, women and children walking up the main street with sticks. Of course, the temptation was there to take a picture, but instinctively I sensed this might not be wise. One of our group Jeff, seen here on the left by our jeep, was brave(?) enough to stand in full view of the parade with his camera. I decided I would capture him taking the picture, with the passing procession as a mere backdrop.

In an instant, an army chief was face to face with our budding photographer and threatening to carrying out the full extent of his considerable powers to punish the miscreant. Our local support worker Phoebe showed her worth in the next five minutes, with alternating pleas to the captain and shouts of anger at our group. The negotiation was momentarily deadlocked – the captain wanted our man taken away and tried as a spy. Phoebe was offering to rip the film out of the offending camera and let the captain take it away. After a prolonged verbal exchange where we stood by having no idea what was happening, the captain aimed some nasty sounding verbal blows in Jeff’s direction and disappeared back to the parade.

We breathed a sigh of relief and for the rest of that morning, we sat sheepishly as we were admonished by Phoebe, while the normally exhuberant Jeff was uncomfortably quiet, not quite believing the close encounter with Ugandan law and order, yet smuggly satisfied that he had managed to keep both the camera, and the picture that led to the trouble.

And me too! If only the captain had known that 16 years later the parade would be on display for all and sundry to see.

(Aug 1993)

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