Around the world in eighty sips — Bella, Uganda’s “Golden Wine”

I recently met a woman in an airport, a missionary from Georgia who had raised money for the distribution of Bibles in Uganda, that told me she was on her journey there by way of a personal invitation to meet the king. I’ve spent a little time, not much, in the Great Lakes African state of Uganda, a beautiful country full of fascinating people, sandwiched between South Sudan to the North and Rwanda to the South, Kenya to the East, and the Democratic Republic of Congo to the West.  And from time to time these past few weeks, I’ve wonder what ever happened to that woman in the airport, for while Uganda has had more than its share of horrible dictators over the years, it has no king.

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The current president of Rwanda is a man by the name of Yoweri Museveni. Museveni has been in power since 1986, coming up on thirty years now. Museveni is known for having played the lead role in toppling the infamous Ugandan leader Idi Amin, for being a charismatic and coercive African leader, and for wearing silly hats (pictured). I had a brief and wordless encounter with his wife once in Rwanda, but have no personal connection to him. Museveni’s country is one of exotic beauty, known for the beautiful shores of Lake Victoria, the lush savannas, and gorgeous people. It is also a horribly troubled land in many ways, notably for the presence of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) which would notoriously and violently craft a force out of child soldiers, as well as for some of the most vehement anti-gay policies and legislation in the entire world.  And though the most recent such law has been overturned on a technicality, such an anomaly is not representative of the otherwise openly homophobic zeitgeist that rules the nation.

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Uganda was a colony of Great Britain until independence in 1962, whereupon a series of battles over the presidency would ensue. Milton Obote was famously overthrown by Idi Amin, the charismatic-turned-cannibalistic dictator portrayed brilliantly by Forest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland. In spite of some of these many troubles and trials, however, Uganda often attracts people from all over the world, in particular missionaries, for its sheer natural beauty, as well as for its relative stability and safety.

The Ugandans make several palatable liquors (as well as some pretty awful ones), but until recently I did not know they made wine.  On my last trip to the Great Lakes Region of Africa, however, of which Uganda is a part, I spotted a bottle of Bella “Golden Wine” from Uganda in a Nakumatt (think East African Wal-Mart). Along with wines from Rwanda, where I was presently, and Kenya, I placed the lone bottle of white wine amongst my personal purchases and carefully packed it away in my luggage. I flew it from Kigali to Entebbe, from Entebbe to Amsterdam, from Amsterdam to Minneapolis, and from Minneapolis back to Omaha where Sonja and I currently reside. Then tonight, in eager anticipation of some HyVee Chinese deliciousness, I decided to pop the cork.

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“Oh… God!” I muttered, grimacing, as I took my first sip. The wine appeared to have undergone some sort of secondary fermentation; it was fizzy, and extremely sour. The cork itself was squatty and bulging, too short, and left fragments of itself around the inside neck of the bottle.  After another, equally painful sip, I set the wine aside and had a beer with my Hy-Chi. Later, I went back to the wine for another taste, hoping that maybe the frog had turned into a prince. Ribbit! Glumly, I dumped it out.  From a troubled country, troubled wine, I told myself.

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By and large, Africa makes some phenomenal wine, just as France also makes some bad wine. While this bottle was disappointing, it does little to detract from the wonderful wines I’ve had that were produced in places like South Africa and Rwanda. I hope that the Ugandans do not give up on making wine. I also hope that they don’t somehow accustom their palates to this fizzy, sour swill. And much more I hope that they begin to stand up for human rights and the dignity of all their citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation. And I hope that the LRA, now on the decline, never troubles their children again.  Indeed, I hope a great many things for Uganda.





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