Spain will always cherish the first World Cup tournament on the African continent hosted in South Africa in 2010 for the reason that they emerged champions, thus bagging their first World Cup trophy in history.
But for Ugandans, that final match remains a nightmare since close to a 100 football fans perished in twin bombings at Kyadondo Rugby Club and Ethiopian Village Restaurant in Kabalagala.
Eight years later, revellers will on July 14, go to these places and many others across the country to witness Russia 2018 World Cup finals.
A visit to Ethiopian Village Restaurant and Kyadondo Rugby Club revealed that the managers of these places were already working on ensuring no reoccurrence of 2010 incident happens.
Thirteen minutes to 4pm, I arrive at Ethiopian Village Restaurant, which is opposite Georgina Eye Clinic on the Kabalagala-Muyenga Road. At the entrance, there are two men dressed in civilian attire checking whoever enters as soothing music flows out of speakers placed at strategic corners.
On inquiring about the restaurant’s proprietor or manager, the guards ask whether I have an appointment with any of the administrators. I tell them I do not. A guard then advises me to call Mami Mengesha (proprietor) to request an interview with her.
Fortunately, Mengesha is in her office and accepts the spontaneous interview, but asks for some minutes as she prepares herself. She comes out and we sit at a table in the corner. Mengesha starts by inquiring on how work is and jokes about why her place is never written about despite it being about a kilometre from the newspaper’s main office.
“I am happy that you have thought about us and this time we expect a positive story. The last time you wrote about me was about the bomb blast that happened here. Negative stories scare people and bring back the bad memories,” she says as the interview kicks off.
I inform her that I am actually there to understanding how prepared she is for World Cup finals in terms of security, entertainment and how the business is performing since the 2010 bomb blast.
Mengesha says her business has survived the storm because of the good care and respect she gives to all people regardless of their wallet size.
“With the bomb incident, I wouldn’t be surviving up to now because it was a huge setback. But I have persisted because I respect my customers. I welcome all people and I give them the same treatment. The way I treat a person who buys food and drinks is the same way I treat a person who just buys a bottle of mineral water,” she says.
Mengesha, however, admits that the number of revellers and foreign guests she gets nowadays are a bit fewer compared to those who used to go to her place before the bomb blast that killed 13 people. “Terrorists blew the place but they did not blow the brand name. This name started way back in 1997 and the 2010 bomb blast could not bring it down. It is still surviving and it is here to stay,” she says.
She adds that for the World Cup finals, she has sought security from Uganda government and has already received assurance. She says security has always been overriding at her place whether there are many merrymakers or not. This, she says while pointing at a security guard holding a bomb detector at the entrance. The guard is later identified as Constable Peter Gasuza from the poilce counterterrorism unit.
“You see, I now have one customer but I make sure that customer is safe when he is at this place. I make sure I check every person who enters this place. I also check the tables and outside vicinity because I want my customers to be safe. I also pray for God’s protection because bad-hearted people come in very smart and looking innocent. I cannot tell who a terrorist is and who is not,” Mengesha adds.
Gasuza advises the public to always be the first line of security by being vigilant wherever they are.
“I am a trained counterterrorism policeman and my role is to engage criminals using anything that is within my vicinity. We are trained to spot criminal elements even before they cause harm. I am here today but tomorrow I may be deployed at another place. But the first security is your personal security. As a person you need to be vigilant to ensure you are safe,” Gasuza says.
Mengesha recalls that the 2010 incident traumatised her; a reason she dislikes conversations about it. She remembers that she got confused and the incident looked like it was untrue yet it was a reality. With help of police officers who arrived at the scene in minutes, they evacuated the victims to International Hospital Kampala (IHK) and other hospitals.
“Dr Ian Clark (IHK proprietor) helped me a lot. He comforted me and helped me recover from the trauma. I thank the government of Uganda that provided me with the necessary help to rush the injured people to hospital. I saw people dead and others bleeding yet they had come to celebrate. I feel bad whenever a conversation about that incident is brought up,” Mengesha says as she pauses for minutes, perhaps reflecting on the disastrous images.
Some of the survivors who were Americans she says visit her place every July and applaud her for keeping the business alive.
Mengesha says she will never abandon her business and insists that the business will stay even after her demise. She advises entrepreneurs to always find ways of standing again whenever their businesses encounter huge setbacks.
At Kyadondo Rugby club where more than 60 people were killed in a bomb blast, I found some revellers sipping drinks and eating snacks. The entertainment place’s manager Tolbert Onyango says they don’t expect many revellers for World Cup finals since they have not organised any particular event.
“To us this day will not be exceptional because it is not like in 2010 where we had advertised and invited musicians to perform. We shall have maximum security for those few people who will come just like we have always done. Security is always paramount here,” Mr Onyango explains.
Security at the entrance was a bit lax as some revellers were seen just walking in unchecked. Like Mengesha, Onyango says customers reduced after the bomb incident. “We get many customers, especially when we have special events (like music concerts, sports competitions). But on usual days the customers are somehow few. They are not that many like it was before the incident. But I cannot conclude that numbers reduced because of the incident. It could be because they found other (leisure, entertainment) places,” Onyango says.
Onyango adds that they have a security master plan which they have devised with the officer in charge of Kyadondo Police Post and other security commanders but they are keeping the plan a secret.
“Much as we have not organised a special event for World Cup, we are more than ready to protect whichever customer will come to our place. Security matters are confidential but we want to warn those with criminal intentions not to come. We are more than prepared,” Onyango says.
He adds that the survivors of the bomb explosion often go there and take drinks as they reflect on how God was merciful to them since they survived an incident that claimed dozens of souls.
On the question of what was the immediate action that was taken after the incident, Onyango prefers not to dwell into what he describes as the past. Asked on whether they are not sure of their security and clientele, a reason they have probably not organised any special event for World Cup finals, Onyango says it was the management decision and insists that people would throng the place if they chose to advertise.