A significant day in the historic and religious calendar brings headaches due to crowding and competing interests, writes Munguongeyo Ivan, 24, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Kampala, Uganda. He has attended the event and has some suggestions.
I was born and raised in a Catholic family and being a resident of Namugongo, I have been religiously attending and following the Uganda Martyrs Day celebrations.
It is an annual celebration held on 3rd June; celebrating the lives of the Christians who were executed between 31 January 1885 and 27 January 1887, on the orders of Mwanga II, the Kabaka (King) of Buganda. The government of Uganda has declared this day a national public holiday in commemoration of the first Christian Martyrs in the country. However, a lot needs to be done before, during and after the day’s celebration so as to make the day more meaningful, joyous and Holy Spirit-filled.
I have found out that the human and vehicle traffic associated with the event in past years was more manageable than today. Much as vehicle traffic has been managed to some extent by keeping vehicles a kilometre away from the site, the overwhelming human traffic leaves a lot to be desired.
I have witnessed pilgrims suffocating, fainting and others collapsing, especially children, women and the elderly, as they struggle to reach the “Holy Ground”. On the eve of 3rd June, I had an evening walk from my neighbourhood to the shrine. Yet, I could hardly move from Sun Set (a local pub in Namugongo) to Cranes Gardens (a local pork joint in Kyaliwajala). Human traffic flow is so thick that you end up staying at the same point for a good amount of time and end up moving nowhere.
At the same time, one has to be careful of his or her belongings. As I struggled to move around, a pregnant woman was crying that her wallet was stolen. Just next to her was another lady complaining of her lost hand bag. The situation seems frustrating and discouraging. One would argue that security teams have been dispatched all over the place but in reality, pick-pocketing is the order of the day.
The most annoying and disturbing aspect is the uncontrolled and blaring secular music played just a few metres away from the main shrine. Meanwhile, just inside the shrine a Mass is being led. This loud music distracts the ongoing Mass and the congregation. To make matters worse, some of the pilgrims are divided on the options of whether to dance or move to the shrine. I could see some individuals dancing provocatively as they awaited their turn to enter the Holy Ground.
Just as the music is being played inches away from the shrine and distracting the holy Mass going on, one can readily see the prostitutes with their skimpy dresses, enticing and calling clients to go and attend to them. I’d ask myself who the buyers of these prostitutes are on such a holy day. I would ask myself why such a loud secular music could not be regulated on such an auspicious day. I’d ask myself why the pick-pocketing and the human traffic couldn’t be controlled despite hundreds of security officials being deployed.
I would, therefore, suggest that organisers of the Martyrs Day, especially around the Catholic shrine, ensure the loud and unregulated worldly music are controlled. In fact, it would be proper if the types of business conducted within the shrine were also regulated. You can see all sorts of beers, spirits and wines being sold just metres away from the shrine and one wonders who buys them during this holy day. To make matters worse, some of these wines and spirits are named after the Martyrs.
On the day itself, a public address system is very important. More loud speakers and gigantic screens should be placed everywhere such that even those seated far away are able to follow what is at the centre. This would also decrease the pushing and jostling. The Catholic Church is a very large organisation and can systematically address this growing concern.
To the non-Christians, Martyrs Day celebration is a hectic day. It means days where residents of Namugongo and the nearby places have to incur heavy costs and expenses as far as transportation and buying goods are concerned. One has to pay double the usual transport fares, while the price of a kilo of pork rose 50 per cent in some cases. Furthermore, the event leaves an overwhelming majority of the residents affected sanitation-wise due to the lack of facilities for pilgrims whenever nature calls.
Much as it’s a good business venture, all the activities around Martyrs Day need to be carefully planned and coordinated such that no section of the population is left aggrieved. After all, we are praying to get blessings, not curses.
About me: I am Munguongeyo Ivan, from Kampala, Uganda. I hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Development Studies from Makerere University and currently am pursuing Master’s Degree in Rural Development at the same University. My aim is to be a lecturer in the development studies discipline. I also have wide knowledge in serving local communities and specifically working with NGOs to improve on the welfare of the rural poor. I am currently a volunteer with an NGO called Hands of Love Foundation.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
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