On 9 June, the people of Uganda celebrate National Heroes Day each year. It is designed to honour those who played a major role in creating a better future for the people of Uganda.
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There is controversy regarding the holiday, however, regarding who should be honoured on the holiday.
National Heroes Day in Uganda was instituted by the Uganda People’s Congress in 2001. The holiday was to recognise people on both sides who fought in the civil war and the date chosen to remember the assassination of Eddidian Babumba Mukiibi Luttamaguzi, a resistance supporter.
In recent years, however, government leaders have used the holiday to recognise those who helped Yoweri Museveni gain power during the Bush War. Critics argue that the day should honour heroes from all parts of the country who died during Civil Wars between 1962 and 1986. One suggestion for Heroes Day was the doctor who detected the deadly Ebola virus before it spread.
Originally, Heroes Day was to recognize those who travelled long distances, endured humiliation, lost limbs and ended their studies who now lay in unmarked graves throughout Uganda. Amnesty International estimates that more than 300,000 civilians died during guerilla wars which brought the current government into power.
Atrocities were committed on both sides of the war with the Milton Obote regime and the National Resistance Army (NRA) responsible for an equal number of deaths during civil unrest in the country.
Celebrations and Traditions
Heroes Day in Uganda begins with the laying of a wreath at the mass graves of innocent civilians killed during civil wars. The president, who is accompanied by dignitaries and government leaders, lays the wreath before proceeding to another location to address the public. The government chooses different locations throughout Uganda for the official ceremony and speech each year. The location chosen relates to the contribution of that area to the struggle for liberation in Uganda.
Heroes throughout Uganda are chosen to receive medals on National Heroes Day. Between 600 and 1,000 medals are given out annually to recognise contributions to the betterment of Uganda. The ceremony for the medal presentation is chosen based on historical contributions, much like the location chosen for the morning ceremonies on National Heroes Day.
Despite the controversy over those chosen to receive medals, National Heroes Day is a public holiday in Uganda with offices, schools and many businesses closed.