KAMPALA, Uganda (eTN) – The Libyan-funded and newly-built national mosque was last week officially opened by Libyan President Muammar al-Gaddafi in the presence of President Museveni and several other heads of state and government from the wider Eastern African region.
Gaddafi visited Uganda to close the first Afro Arab Youth Summit, which ended on March 17. Initial potential for controversy was avoided, when the opening day was set for Wednesday, avoiding a possible argument with the Christian communities over rumored other plans to do it on Palm Sunday, or worse on Good Friday, key dates in the Christian annual religious calendar.
Gaddafi in his address however was not shy of controversy, and quoting the headlines of the two main newspapers in the country, his utterances were quoted as, “Bible a forgery” (New Vision) and “Bible altered” (Daily Monitor). This incensed staunch Catholics and Protestants and a prolonged argument is expected to unfold in coming days and weeks over these unfortunate remarks.
Readers’ feedbacks are presently full of scathing counterattacks against Gaddafi and leading Muslim clerics have been called upon to disassociate themselves from the ill tempered, ill worded and ill considered remarks aimed at inciting religious division and hostility. The Catholic Archbishop of Kampala in his Easter address called Gaddafi’s utterances “provocative,” while other Christian leaders and large sections of the public demanded an apology. Muslim leaders too waded into the argument over Gaddafi’s invitation to Christians to visit Mecca. The government of Uganda refused to be drawn into the raging debate saying the comments were “individual and government has no business with such.”
It is worth to note that Uganda is an overwhelmingly Christian country, where the minority Muslim communities have their rightful place, protected by the constitution and, more importantly, the accommodating spirit and religious tolerance of her people, who have always shunned religious fanaticism and Gaddafi’s comments did little to enhance this spirit.
Gaddafi in his address also laid heavily into “the Scandinavian countries,” presumably referring to Denmark, over the controversial cartoons the (free of government control) press published there two years ago and again more recently.
During the official opening security scuffles were also reported in the local media, first between the Ugandan presidential security detail and the unusually large security contingent, reportedly some 200 of them, Gaddafi brought for himself and then again when President Kagame arrived slightly late for the official opening ceremony. More details of constant scuffles and disputes between the details were also reported in the media after Gaddafi left, what seemed to have been “suddenly” while he was still expected at another function.
There was also an unusually large number of worshippers who had come to the mosque without invitation cards and who were refused entry, while the dignitaries were in attendance, causing some angry arguments with police and other security surrounding the compound, but the crowd later on peacefully disbursed.
The new mosque however is an instant architectural landmark for Kampala and will undoubtedly be added to the city tours for tourists, who hitherto were able to see other primary places of worship like the Catholic cathedral in Rubaga, the Anglican cathedral in Namirembe, worship temples belonging to the Hindu and Sikh communities near the Clock Tower junction and of course the only Bahai temple in Africa near the Ntinda suburb.
The formal opening and subsequent security measures, which included key road closures, also led to massive traffic jams across Kampala on the day and traffic participants caught up in the situation took hours to get to their intended destinations. Traffic on Entebbe road was also affected when the presidential motorcades passed from and to the airport and some airline passengers are said to have missed their flights when arriving late at the terminal building, due to the delays caused by the road closures.