Kampala- There was elegance. An abundance of colour and decorum. Uganda’s powerful citizens, from legal profession to politics and business, strutted into former prime minister Amama Mbabazi’s home in Kololo, an upscale city suburb, donning dapper suits or traditional wear. Majority arrived with a spouse, the left hand locked to the other’s right, underlining public affection and togetherness.
The rules were clear and security tight. In any case, there were two Presidents in attendance: Yoweri Museveni, whose enduring camaraderie with Mbabazi was fractured by the latter’s shot at presidency, and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa’s son Andile found in Bridget Birungi, Mbabazi’s foster-daughter, what the South African leader described at the Saturday function as Uganda’s “most beautiful woman”.
“She is the most beautiful Ugandan woman we have ever seen. We accept her as our daughter and our son’s wife,” said President Ramaphosa, who flew in for the function on Friday evening.
The crowd ululated. Andile held his breath, grinning. He looked overwhelmed by the way things happened at the Okuhingira as a daughter’s giveaway is called among the Bakiga and Banyankore.
An exploratory cross-cultural relationship birthed between a Ugandan student and South African expat in China, thousands of miles away, had come to fruition at home in Kampala in a graceful and grand invite-only marriage event.
Like any event involving South Africans, dancing accompanied the in-laws’ majestic arrival. And choice tunes serenaded guests all through. Former Kampala mayor Nasser Ntege Ssebaggala added a twist by showing up in the South African group.
When the elders spoke, they drew from the wealth of wisdom and a range of idiomatic expressions.
And that is how the name of Lake Victoria, absorbing for its expanse, splendour and abundance of aquatic life, became the reference for the human equivalent of pricelessness of the couple and a wish for blessings in their togetherness.
President Ramaphosa said in Ms Birungi, his son and family had harvested the biggest fish in the lake.
Mr Mbabazi, usually stiff and composed in public disposition, was relaxed and visibly delighted. He thanked the Ramaphosa family for fulfilling the promise they made during their maiden official visit months ago.
“When you came, you asked for Bridget and made some promises. We thank you for being trustworthy and dependable because you have fulfilled the promise. We are happy to fulfil our promise to hand you Bridget,” Mr Mbabazi said.
Like is Bakiga tradition, and across many African cultures, the bride emerged from the house and positioned herself in front of the in-laws to observe, confirm and appreciate she was the one.
Ms Birungi wore a skirt and top), a sash with beaded embellishments, traditional anklets and a cream-and-gold coloured forehead band.
The Ramaphosa family handed a suitcase, calabashes and traditional stool as gifts to Mbabazi family.
An excited Andile, dressed in a white African shirt, black jacket and trousers, had lively chats with guests, thanking each for showing up to support them.
The drums beat and Crane Performers enchanted the guests with their carefully-choreographed traditional dance.
The exit of a family member, in this case Birungi, was certain to evoke emotions and blankness among relatives and bring to the fore a history of less-known struggles in life. It did.
Golda Namara, a sibling of Birungi, expressed gratitude to the different people, particularly the Mbabazi family, for sacrificing to raise them.
“From you uncle Mbabazi, you set standards so high that even if one of us chose to live a mediocre life, we knew we had gotten the best upbringing,” she said.
The bride’s friends say she is selfless.
“Bridget comes from a strong Christian family, learnt values from uncles, aunties and family. She is a hardworking and clever girl and that is how she got to Gayaza High School. She was a role model, put us before her needs, humble and down to earth and related with people from all walks of life,” said Ms Fiona Mwesigwa-Mutabazi, the bride’s cousin and best friend.
“She loves people and brings out family values. You have got a beautiful treasure. I pray that God blesses your marriage abundantly,” she added.
This line echoed Ramaphosa’s conviction that they had a Ugandan jewel in their hand.
President Museveni congratulated Andile and Birungi for finding each other. “I am very happy for Andile and Bridget... I want to congratulate Amama Mbabazi and his wife Jacqueline for bringing up Bridget.”
Ms Birungi’s father was killed for working for the Museveni-led guerilla group that captured power in 1986.
One of the bride’s aunties encouraged the couple to have as many as 22 children.
But President Museveni scolded her promptly.
“I don’t want to bring controversy at a (marriage), but I want to discourage that recklessness. In the past, women would have many children as social insurance because they didn’t know how many would survive,” he said.