Dear Andrew Mwenda
My letter to you is in Dr. Martin Luther king’s spirit who once said that ‘a time comes when silence is betrayal.’ You have spoken; I have read, listened and heard. In your submissions, you raised very important issues which in all fairness deserve a response.
I will try my best, not to attack your character or person, because that is not the ethic of a civilized debate although, I will not shy away from pointing at examples of your own pieces, submissions and words well recorded in history that may be a good mirror for you to do your own self-appraisal on the way you put your ideas forward.
You are no doubt a man of great potential but like all elements of great potential, they can all in the same manner be elements of great danger. The beauty and burden of your gifts is that you can use them for good and bad. You are a man finely gifted in speech and argument. For this, you have been recognized and celebrated in many forums. You have used your gifts to mobilise resources and established great businesses that employ other Ugandans and you must be credited for this resourcefulness. There is no doubt that like many others, you are a useful and active citizen who is contributing to the development of your country.
More significantly, through hard work, exposure and good luck, you have established yourself as a public figure, who is not shy to let those you meet know it. In your famous resignation letter, you quickly reminded your former boss, ‘Almost every year of my work at Monitor, I won a certificate of excellence. I broke the biggest stories in the country, hosted the greatest names on radio, and in many cases even attracted the largest advertisements.’ Andrew, you are a man of great achievement. We thank God for such incredible talent. In a country young as ours, we need those voices that can always disturb the normal course to make us reflect on alternatives and refine our goals and targets. Your contribution in public policy discourse is well profiled and continues to extend the boundaries.
That said however, as I have commented on one of your earlier posts before, I need to remind you Andrew that you have gotten accustomed to being right, being the one with the last word, and the know it all person and Yes, you are the old man of the clan, yes you have the ‘Last word’, yes you are connected and have access to classified spaces where no one else reaches, but even then, you are still one human being born into a world with others who should equally have their opinion treated with respect and who do not need to be tagged as mentally retarded or ‘fanatical’ simply because they do not subscribe to your line of argument.
In recent days, you have been quoted as calling a certain section of people mentally retarded and ‘fanatical’ yet your own history is ripe with examples of a complete ‘fanatical’ in the real sense of the word. The words and tone you use to describe supporters of Besigye or other people who disagree with you is sometimes the real evidence of what may not be good with your form and delivery of ideas.
A couple of years ago, you wrote a stinging piece ‘isn’t Museveni fleecing us’ in which you sharply criticized the president for all manner of evil. Thank God the president is a cool headed man, who from his wisdom treated you differently and you can now pass for a business man around town because he can allow a government he leads to give you adverts and also access other opportunities which he has the discretion to have failed you. President museveni is indeed a calm person.
That attack on the President and his family also drew the attention of the usually silent people like Mr. Rwabogo Odrek, who in a response to your letter said, that years of mentoring at the Monitor had ‘…produced a rabid and reckless politician, not a professional journalist’ that he thought you wanted to be. I am sure he reflected very much before he wrote those words and I hope you have the humility to read that letter again and reflect more.
I ask you to read that letter again; because it should tell you so much about how some people genuinely feel about the way you put out your ideas. He added that the newspaper was producing ‘many kids like you who feed us with garbage every day on airwaves and in print and expect the nation to sit and listen’. Like he said years ago, I think it is unfair for you Andrew, to often put opposition supporters into one box and simply regard them as ‘fanatical’ and call others mentally retarded. Odrek called your submissions ‘the daily noise that pollutes the air on the radio.’ And that you have “have learned nothing like the Bourbons in France who ruled the country before the French Revolution.’
I have used those statements just to give you a mirror to look into the past and see how it is dangerous to simply keep peeing on people’s legs and think they are too dump to notice it or simply remain too nice to tell you to stop it. You are good at talking, and sometimes fail to listen to yourself or others. I have heard you on radio several times and many times, your own panelists struggle to find space to make their arguments, you just won’t allow them to put their ideas forward. We have also heard from the corridors how sometimes the studio is charged because you just won’t use appropriate language when referring to others’ views. This sort of behavior is totally unacceptable Andrew. You may have been used to being right and being told you are the sharpest tool in the box but you need to listen more to others and respect other people’s right to hold their views. I want to imagine you are naturally a fast speaker and that may give you problems holding back when you want to make a rebuttal but you need to learn the patience to listen to others and respectfully disagree using appropriate language.
I will now turn to the contradictions in your ideas. There is a sharp contradiction in your frames of analysis of issues that is recurrent throughout all your submissions. For example, earlier on, you suggested the order by chaos theory as a solution to the conflict in Congo. You have said the same of South Sudan arguing that these regions should be left to fight, kill each other until a winner emerges and establishes order. You are against external intervention but fail at the very beginning of the argument to recognize that there are no arms factories in these regions. Arms are ferried into these regions and the minerals being looted are sold somewhere. So there are already external forces animating the action. Your premise falls when you imagine a domestic solution when there is actually an external cause. You argue that the domestic solution is what will stop the conflicts when you know too well that there are external funders and mineral dealers who are fueling these wars.
Andrew, since 1996, close to 6 million people have died in the conflicts in the non-Democratic Republic of Congo. That is precisely about 800 people every day for the last 20 years and in your opinion, and in your righteous mind sir, you think the war should go on until a winner emerges? Really? 800 people should die every day until a winner emerges? Wow. Anyway, I can understand that for you as a journalist that is news and money. War is business and that will be extra money for you since you are always the first to get the news or ‘truth’ as you always say. On those grounds I can understand your argument. However, you need to put yourself in the shoes of those you report about and understand that like your family members at home, they want to live a normal life and not merely be statistics and stories in your newspaper. The death and suffering going in South Sudan is simply untold yet you have said the same for this country. The years selling nothing but words can not give you a slight idea what the heck happens when death violently takes millions leaving behind helpless children and women. You have been lucky not to get the feel of this situation in person but those who have do not wish, even for a minute, to hear the guns roar which for you is news to sell and money to make. I just think that as someone with opportunity and space to shape public opinion and interact with decision makers, it is very regrettable that you hold and defend such a destructive theory. However, it is your opinion and you are entitled to it.
But let’s even assume that such a theory is fine by any standard, order by chaos, why don’t you apply the same theory to the growth and development of FDC or the opposition in Uganda? You have described the opposition as disorganized and unable to take power. You have consistently argued that Dr. Besigye is the problem in FDC who is stifling its growth. By supporting the order by chaos theory, you fundamentally contradict yourself when you seem to suggest to the opposition to have a different growth theory. Why is the suggestion different from your usual line of thought in this one?
I thought your school of thought is that order and authority emerge from order by chaos theory? Why don’t you leave FDC to organically go through its own disorder and find its own growth? By extension of your argument, the disorder should be healthy for it re-invent and find what works. Loyalty to FDC as an institution or Besigye as an individual is a matter for the people to decide. They know what they want and will always decide. NRM has fielded president Museveni because he works for them. To the supporters of NRM, it is not a point how many times he contests, all they want is their party to be in power. In the exigency of circumstances, they find him the best player and he has always scored. So I am not sure, as a realist, you should find Dr. Besigye’s commitment to remain active in contesting for power problematic. You have taken Besigye as the principle problem and do not want him to contest for power. I find this very simplistic. To simply wish away one person and think the opposition will now grow and win is to say the least a very laughable idea. I find the contradiction quite interesting. I think as president Museveni has argued, the people decide. That is now the order. Whether is it chaos, it is the order.
In another opinion letter you wrote for Aljazeera, you castigated president Obama for lecturing Africa when the US itself has enough problems. In that article, you write that ‘Obama acted like a colonial headman lecturing the natives on how to behave as good subjects.’ Don’t you think you are doing the same for FDC and the opposition? You had some advice for Obama saying ‘If there are weaknesses in our governance they are ours to struggle against and overcome.’ In the same spirit, if there are weaknesses in the opposition there are theirs, and theirs to solve. You on one side castigate others who you say ‘Lecture’ Africa but forget your own intervention and lectures to others. The lesson we should learn from this is that we need to listen to each other. If you do not want to listen to lectures from the US or Obama, you should in the same spirit not lecture FDC, NRM or the opposition. Or else, you mirror the actions of the ‘colonial headman’ whom you brutally condemn. Like President Kagame advised you, ‘write your stories’ in the independent and leave matters of FDC to FDC (going by your theory of order by choas…they should be left to work it on their own). Fair deal? Your opinion is just but an opinion of Andrew Mwenda. There are 3.5 Million Ugandans who voted for Besigye despite how or what you think of them. You attacked president Museveni for years yet his support continued to go up. Does that tell you something about an opinion? Millions continued to support President Museveni despite the sharp criticism and attacks you laid on him in the years before. The lesson from this is that at the end of the day, the people decide and while offering our opinions, we must not label, demonise and put people into boxes making them look evil simply because they fall into a different political space.
You accuse Dr. Besigye of turning and not respecting his word, yet in your resignation letter to the MD of Monitor, you start by saying you had resigned from Daily Monitor and from the radio talk show and will not reconsider their request to go back or continue to write! Today, if I am not mistaken, you are back at the radio, what happened? Why did you turn back? What took you back to the radio? See? People change. You changed! The same reasons you had that changed your mind should be the same frames you should use to understand that ideas change, people change, contexts changes and strategies change and it okay for people to change. It is a sure constant in life
You are tired of seeing Besigye on the political stage, how about if we also said we are tired of seeing you on TV and hearing your voice on radio, would that be a good deal? You feel the right to occupy the public space but think others should not occupy it? What’s the name given to that kind of behavior? You ought to use the same to understand that Dr. Besigye and others who want to contest need to be left to compete for as many times as they want.You and Besigye are no different. You are all sellers of ideas or opinions. So there is no difference between you and Dr. Besigye. Why do you wish him away while you think its a good idea for you to remain in the public space? You all occupy the same space, the market place of ideas. In my view, as the president has always said, The people decide. The president espouses that idea and in my opinion, it is should be given some thought. The people decide. How they decide, what information they have to decide is a debate for another day, but as a principle the people decide.
You were one of the sharpest critics of President Museveni to an extent of attacking his family in some of your pieces. Today, you are on air defending and praising the very man you said was very bad and leads an ‘illegitimate regime.’ That illegitimate regime you said now feeds you and sustains your business. Is it still bad? Were you lying about it or situations change? What happened to the bad Museveni, the corrupt Museveni, the bad man you described, the illegitimate regime? Or maybe you lied about him? What happened Andrew? I think all these situations teach us that people change, situations change and no one should be held hostage to a past. People and organizations must continuously reflect and be left to self-renew. You have changed Andrew. Others too, have changed. That’s just a fact of life. So you ought to be careful when pointing fingers to people for changing when you have taken the same route. No one should be condemned for changing their position as long as they have good reasons to do so. The president has on a number of occasions given his reasons for deciding to run again. On many occasions, many of his supporters find these reasons valid and they do support him again. In the same manner, Besigye has changed positions several times because the situations required that he does. In the end, the Ugandans are the judges, we all have one head … and our opinions should be treated with the same weight as other Ugandans, whether you call them fanatical or mentally retarded. This demonizing of politicians is simply too dangerous and as a journalist, you ought to know that we hold you to a certain standard and we are not dumb to know where the boundaries of journalism and political advocacy and witch hunt start and stop.
Andrew, I will end by re-echoing the words of Odrek who implored us that sometimes someone needs to tell you that you are overly arrogant and self-righteous. I believe Mr. Odrek Rwabogo when he wrote a letter in response to your piece expressing his concern at your ‘apparent negative contribution to the ethics of journalism in Uganda’ and that ‘Many times you act as if you are heartless, not knowing that when all chips are down, Uganda is where all of you belong.’ He also added that he was hopeful that you would grow since you had gotten a fellowship at Stanford. Perhaps now that you call yourself the old man of the clan, may be you feel you have grown, but like he implored us that you had turned from real journalism to ‘witch hunt’ and had become a reckless politician’, I feel the latest attacks are evidence to these concerns that were earlier on expressed and they show your contradictions.
I ask of you to understand that being intelligent comes with some level of responsibility, integrity, honesty and humility. Odrek, years ago but perhaps prophetically put it that ‘You have a highly inflated sense of self exaltation. I guess that is the reason you are a presenter, debater, judge and everything else on your talk show’. And he advised us that ‘someone needs to tell you that there is a different and better way things are done.’ This is what I am doing Andrew. I am telling you that there is a better way to address people. There is a better way to put your ideas across without abusing people and there is a better way to disagree. Otherwise, like Odrek said, people may continue to take your submissions as ‘the daily noise that pollutes air on radio.’
Mr Mwenda, need I repeat Odrek’s words, that ‘you need some sense of humility and to give people some respect if you want to be respected in life.’ Like you attacked the president and his family years ago through, and now today you find yourself in the not very good position of having to eat from the very people you abused, it is just good to treat people with respect and know that you cannot be sure what tomorrow holds. Those so called fanatical and mentally retarded people may be more useful to you than you may want to imagine. There are so many brilliant Ugandans who can engage in debate but the way you put your ideas forward, your sense of self-righteousness and language does not stimulate such engagement. In the end, Uganda will still be here with or without you, me or Besigye or Museveni. Your opinion is just but an opinion like many others. Do not abuse others simply because they support other candidates. Years ago you called the president illegitimate, today that president gives you bulango in your newspaper! Have you learnt something or as Odrek said, you have learnt and forgotten nothing? A word to a wise, … Andrew, the Ugandans decide. FDC decides. NRM decides. We need to respect all Ugandans and their views.
For many people its not even the parties or individuals that matter to them, they just want a decent living and a good day. Whoever speaks to their situation is all that matters to them. The president has done so many incredibly good things. Besigye has also done so many good things to put the government on pressure to deliver and to sometimes bring to the attention of the president things that many around him do without his knowledge and make him look a bad person. Right or wrong has no party. People just want a good country and no body should be simply put into any box as NRM or FDC and labelled simply because they have a different idea. For me it is not important whether it is people of FDC or in the opposition you call fanaticals or mentally retarded, or the people in NRM or the government you have earlier on called illegitimate, and other charged words… the point is the language and labeling which can have dire consequences for the people you put in that box. Nobody is fanatical, that’s just their choice. NRM fanatics or Opposition fanatics… as long as they are peace loving people, they should be respected.
By calling people hooligans, mentally retarded, fanatics, useless and all the other words you have used on air before, you promote a very dangerous narrative about an undefined group of people who may be mistreated by authorities or whose views may be ignored just because of the way you have shaped the public discourse on the identity of these people. As a journalist, you have the professional responsibility and moral obligation to be careful and selective with the choice of your words. Can’t we just live in peace without having to disrespect others. In the end we are all mixed but the same. Those who support FDC are our brothers and sisters… and those who support NRM are our brothers and sisters… we are all just Ugandans. Can’t you just earn a decent living without having to demonise others?
Henry is a lecturer at Kyambogo University and is currently a graduate student at Akersus University College of Applied sciences (HIOA) in Oslo. He broke the record as the youngest lecturer in Uganda when he was retained to teach at 22 years of age. He is also a philanthropist.
Originally posted on Thursday, 14 July 2011 at 16:00
Qualification: My opinion on a number of issues, especially on literature associated with FEMRITE’s early years and on diaspora life, have since changed so radically, from when I wrote this, but I reproduce it faithfully as it was, on original posting.
After reading a few of the publications by many of Ugandan female writers published by FEMRITE (Association of Uganda Women Writers), the predictability of their themes in a way put me off. Notably because the portrayal of men in many of the FEMRITE published stories as villains, as oppressive, as selfish, as brutal, as the sole cause of all problems of the woman became too much and to an extent unnecessarily sensational. In a way, my vigour regarding Ugandan fiction was affected by the FEMRITE spin to the Ugandan experience that blames the Ugandan male for all wrongs in society and the female portrayed as the eternal victim. It used to take a very good commendation from a friend for me to read a FEMRITE book, especially when the friend would tell me what the theme of the publication was.
For some time therefore, I did not pay attention to many female writers published by FEMRITE because I was pushed off by Mary Karooro Okurut’s novels (notably The Invisible Weevil and Child of a Delegate) that portrayed the Ugandan man as hell itself. This attitude however started changing with time as some female authors even when groomed by FEMRITE started writing beyond the anger, beyond the outbursts the earlier FEMRITE authors were known for.
There is no reason why I should bring FEMRITE up when talking about Doreen Baingana’s Tropical Fish; Tales from Entebbe. Not only because it is not published by FEMRITE but also because Baingana’s book should not be compared to Karooro’s Child of a Delegate for example. The two are so many miles apart. Now, that sounds very harsh to Karooro, but yes, it is my subjective truth. I blame the bias about female writers FEMRITE created in me, especially the first FEMRITE releases, for my late acquisition of Baingana’s book.
So, this history of my bias aside, I bought Baingana’s Tropical Fish, Tales from Entebbe on Friday, 8th July, 2011, and several years after it was published. Praise for Baingana’s novel, or can we safely call it a collection of eight linked short stories told by three sisters, arrives ahead of the book. From the moment, I devoured the first story in the collection, about a last born child’s imaginations of her parents’ master bedroom, I was glued to the book until the last story, Questions of Home! There are many stories I had to re-read and I am sure I will read them again and again. Two stories stand out for me, A Thank You Note and Lost in Los Angeles.
I have read quite a bit of Ugandan fiction about HIV/AIDS but Baingana’s A Thank You Note really deserves my own Thank You Note to her for pulling off a difficult story so effortlessly and so emotionally without the stereotypical tired storyline many writers usually adopt on writing about the impact of the disease. The preachy way the disease is written about mostly bores than delights. Today, it is not HIV/AIDS that I am picking from Baingana’s page-turner though. It is something about her story on an African’s life in America, Lost in Los Angeles. Sometimes I do not want to use my own words to make the points she makes in the story or to try to re-describe what she describes so excellently, so I will extensively quote parts of the story that moved some sense into my head, as regards life in the diaspora.
I must first of all put a disclaimer that she also puts, that there is nothing autobiographical in her book. I must add that I have never lived beyond the borders of Uganda for more than one week, so, definitely I do not directly relate with the story, except that a larger part of the people who influence the quality of my life at this moment live in the diaspora – no big deal, someone says. Maybe they may relate to the extracts below.
Lost in Los Angeles
Pages 122 – 3
It’s the small things that bother me most. My teeth aren’t white, straight, and perfect, like everyone else’s here. My teeth disturb people; they frown when I smile. Small children stare up at me, puzzled. Look Mummy, a freak! I imagine they’ve been taught to say. I have to repeat myself two or three times; it’s easier not to talk. Even black people don’t look straight at me or talk, gesture, or act the way I do. I am just as strange to them. I want to ask why, but don’t dare to. My skirts and blouses, are they too long, too loose, too bright and flowery, out of date?
Page 124 – 127
I’ve heard Africans who’ve been here too long talk in the same nasal way; it grows on you, unbidden. I swear never to, if I can help it. Like a good colonial subject, I like to think I have a British accent, the proper one.
Luckily, because everything works and is automatic, there is less and less need to talk. My salary mysteriously enters my account; I don’t need to touch money itself, or go to the bank. I find a window-like machine and punch in some numbers. They mean something: out slips money, silently, smoothly, it must be mine. I take it. At the supermarket, I don’t even need to use cash; I give the person at the counter my card and she lets me take the groceries, which are all wrapped up in four or five layers of crinkly paper and packed in coloured boxes with pictures as though they were children’s toys. There’s no need to talk to anyone. In the supermarket, everything is laid out for you; you walk through chilly bright aisles, read the labels, pick out food. The fruits and meats smell of nothing, taste of nothing. A machine tells you how much, and the person at the counter smiles mechanically. She may say, how are you, ma’am, smiling on and off like a switch, but is she really talking to me, me, or to a body buying food? The price is fixed anyway. There is nothing to argue about, nothing to say.
I swipe my card through the metal box, my food rolls down the rubber plank, is packed quickly, efficiently, and I roll it out, down to the garage, a cement cage of cars upon cars, immense and lifeless. No one drives small cars here, and there are very few old ones. Most of the cars are huge and shiny and prosperous-looking. I have a ticket that slipped out of a metal box all by itself; it knew I needed it, it knew I was there. I took the ticket and somehow a long pole rose up, letting me into the garage. The same thing happens in reverse as I leave, only this time there’s a person hidden behind a glass cage. He or she doesn’t glance my way, and after I’ve done this enough times, neither do I. I slip my ticket and a few dollars into a metal drawer, which slips not the glass cage, slides back out with change, and the long pole ahead of me rises up. Smoothly, soundlessly, straight and narrow. Metal, metal everywhere, and I need a drink.
The same thing happens at my apartment. After the side flat perfect roads, I click my garage door open; the metal rises up, disappearing into the wall. I slip not the cement womb of the building, enter my car slot, get out, and press a button. The elevator doors slip open soundlessly, then close. A metal box lifts me up, but it’s so smooth I can hardly feel it. It opens again and lets me out. I wish something would go wrong. I wish things weren’t so perfect. My mouth is sticky from not talking, my face sticky with silent tears. I am home I crawl into bed and try to remember the dirty smells of Kitooro, the dark swirling mud after an hour of rain like vengeance, hard fast rain that means it. The rotting fruit and swarming flies of Nakasero market; the unkempt, uncut grass that creeps, uncontained, uncontainable, disruptive, across any kind of man-made borders. I have been torn from natural living chaos that wrapped itself strongly around our lives. I am alone and trapped in metal. I am lost.
My cousin Kema has left for Uganda. I live by myself now. She did a lot to help me settle in, got me my first job, and introduced me to her friends, who are all Africans. They live the Southern California suburban life while saving money to build houses back home, educate their kids, make money, live well, what’s so wrong with that? They are very nice people, all shiny with cream and fatty food, and they welcome new Africans with open arms – those who are educated and ambitious, that is. In America, we are nothing, but Africans: lumped together, generic, black. Our voices get whiny and nasal too, but we can’t erase the African lilt. Our children are American, though: noisy, demanding, insolent, confident, and fat.
Every weekend there is a gathering at one house or another, and we talk about home. When we were there last, five years ago, ten, even twenty. We are going back for good, eventually, but not anytime soon, oh no, who wants to live with the insecurity, the rule of army men and guns, the magendo – black market – such a tough way of life. Here, we have grown soft and comfortable with steady salaries we can live on; why go back to desperately running around chasing deals, sweating in that dusty heat? Someone, another recent arrival (not me I only observe, and smile if anyone happens to look my way), tries to protest.
Page 128 – 132
We escape our American lives on the fringe and take centre stage again. At these moments we are so far away from America, we might as well be at Sophie’s Bar and Bakery in Wandegeya, sitting on wooden stools out in the open, eating roast meat and drinking Port Bell beer, swatting away the flies. Or maybe up on the Diplomat Hotel rooftop, washing away the day’s sweat with sundowners. It feels that good.
“Daaad.” The child’s petulant cry swiftly brings us back. We are here in America, and we all need our reasons to stay, despite our vows not to die here, oh no! Alone in an apartment where your body may rot for days and no one will miss you? Here, where no one knows you even exist? Imagine ending life in a retirement home, where you have to pay someone to look after you, as if you have no children no family? What disgrace! We are going back home in two years, home is home. Five years maybe. No, for us, our kids have to get into college first; you know the schools at home. When I finish my house; when I’ve set up my business; when I get the UN job I’ve been promised. That’s the only way to survive, you know, to get paid in dollars. If when, if, when, but in the meantime … oh, here’s the food, let’s eat.
We rally around the barbecued chicken, limp salads, meat stew and rice, posho made with semolina flour. It’s the same food every time; not quite home food, but close enough. It’s better than sandwiches or macaroni or some other fake food, and so we eat. The talk subsides to contented murmurs and grunts of appreciation. Afterwards, the women clear up, bustling up and down, their big hips swaying heavily with each move, as purposeful and confident as the huge swathes of bright-colored kitenge wrapped around them. What a warming sight to see. I don’t help much; I prefer to watch. But the single men take note and cancel me off their lists; not to mention, my hips aren’t big enough.
The fast, syncopated, guitar-energized Congolese music is another way to go back home. It’s a relief from battling the alien world that envelops us the minute we step outside our doors. We cluster together and dance to break away from the self or non-self we have to be at work, among foreigners, in the white world (even though there are blacks there). It’s a difficult act, a tiring one. So why not let the wails of Lingala, well-known oldies played again and again – Franco, Papa Wemba, Kanda Bongoman – why not let them take us back to that safe, known place? Sure, we left it willingly, and it wasn’t haven. Now, it seems like it was.
We know the dhombolo, we love doing it together, churning our waists and hips, arms flung up in the air as if this will save us. But I tire soon. Some of us (“Oba, who do they think they are?” I imagine the others thinking) danced more to zungu music than Congolese hits back home. Black American hits actually, not white zungu; Michael Jackson, Kool and the Gang, the Commodores.
Raab says he likes my large lips, and I instead of replying, “Everyone I know has ‘large’ lips,” I say, “You can have them,” and we kiss. It’s even easier, smoother, after that. Really, I think, as we explore each other’s face, men and women don’t have to talk; we should just rub faces, eyebrows, noses. Sniff each other like dogs. We do, and end up in his bed (an especially long one), panting and entangled. His long, hairy legs and arms are everywhere, under and over me; it’s like I am making love with an octopus. A warm, furry, active, attentive octopus. I remember an old TV cartoon of a one-octopus band: it played all the instruments, its tentacles wriggling gracefully everywhere. I tell him. He laughs and winds tight around me. I bite his large nose gently, smooth his eyebrows hold on to his long abdomen. Here I am, mind and body together, in this boy’s bed, in Los Angeles. This is new. Let me turn away from the past. I am so tired of it.
Raab is friendly in the morning, as if it’s perfectly normal to wake up with a stranger, an African woman who is hangover and silent, in your bed. He offers me breakfast, but I don’t want to eat anything – maybe some coffee. He gives me aspirin and juice and is casual and sweet. We exchange phone numbers, and then he drives me home in an old Volvo his parents gave him. “Take care,” he says, kissing my check. “Of what?” I ask. He laughs, and waves his large hairy hand.”
As part of the #UgBlogWeek, for November I am re-posting excerpts from, reviews of and commentaries on Ugandan books. These posts were originally written five years ago (2011) and shared on Facebook. There will be one post per day, throughout the #UgBlogWeek, to reminisce on my deliberate focus on Ugandan Literature in 2011, and also as a shout-out to the intellectual labourers who make our society richer with their work. This is the sixth post.
Originally posted on Tuesday, 31 May 2011 at 17:59
Dennis D Muhumuza, one of my close friends on and away from Facebook loves books. His love for books is visible in very many ways not limited to the book reviews he writes for The Sunday Monitor newspaper. A profile picture of Dennis with a book is not strange at all, knowing his love for books. It is indeed Dennis’ profile picture in which he is holding and reading Jackson Twesigye Kaguri’s The Price of stones; Building a school for my village that pricked my long-held interest in the book, thereby starting my personal experience of Kaguri’s story.
I borrowed Dennis’ copy immediately. He indeed delivered it to my workplace, (I am immensely grateful Dennis) and the experience I have since had is a fantastic one. I must note on the onset that Kaguri’s story was not entirely unknown to me before reading and experiencing the book. Kaguri is my friend on Facebook; I am a Facebook fan of the Nyaka page, Mr. Kaguri is a member of the board of directors of Global Batwa Outreach where I do volunteer advocacy and his name has come up many times in my personal conversations with my role-model and mentor, Mr. Johnson Karengye Mujungu as regards community development and social entrepreneurship.
Reading Kaguri’s book was an entirely new experience. I discovered that what I knew of him was less than 1% of who he is. By merely reading his book, I have an experience independent of the book. Kaguri’s life story is weaved with his award-worthy initiative of building a free school for AIDS orphans in his ancestral village in the book. It is not hard to locate the source of Kaguri’s inspiration to build his community as he ably juxtaposes his personal life experiences with his initiative and work for the Nyaka orphans.
In The Price of Stones; Building a School for my village, I met Jackson’s wife, an African American called Beronda. The two met in New York at Columbia University where Jackson did his postgraduate study and Beronda was then studying for her college degree. Jackson explains what attracted him to Beronda;
The first things that attracted me to her were her self confidence, openness and beautiful smile. She was everyman’s dream; smart, loving, kind and independent. After only three dates, I knew she was the woman I wanted to marry and have children with.
The story of Jackson and his marrying Beronda is one I recommend one should find in the book on their own. From step one; Beronda is at the centre of the dream for a school for Nyakagyezi village, as much as Jackson. Back in America, Jackson writes of the frustrations as he shared the dreams with others;
An immigrant friend from Ghana shook his head when I explained the idea to him. ‘This is America’, he said. ‘You work hard, buy a nice car and pay to bring your family here, forget your village.
The seed money for the school came from Beronda’s and Jackson’s savings for a house. They decided to build a school first for orphans before they could buy a house for their young family. What largely makes the book an experience on its own separate from the author’s are the minute details Jackson divulges about himself. He writes at page 95; “in America, I was a stay-at-home dad who cared for Nicolas and did house work …” My gender equality nerve could not resist the tickle. Doing house work does not make Jackson less of a man neither does taking care of their son Nicolas.
There are many times I fell into the trap of thinking that Jackson had it all well with the Nyaka project. However hard, after getting some money through fundraising and transparently putting up school structures, it should follow that any orphan would be dying to join the school where food is free, school uniform free and other school supplies. That thought cannot last the whole book. Sharon, one girl refuses school even with the quality of the education and holistic approach to education the school applies. Jackson writes of the disappointment he feels regarding Sharon’s choice and in a masterly done transition follows up with his own experience. He writes;
I prayed for God to protect her and hoped things would turn out for the best. One never knows about these things. I had learned that lesson first hand. It was 1982 and I was ten.
There are very many things to love about Jackson’s The Price of Stones, but his unmistakeable description of nature comes top for me. Of Kabale, he writes;
Kabale district has been described as the Switzerland of Africa, with interlocking hills, cool morning temperatures and beautiful scenery. Being positioned between two ridges, the morning fog could be so thick that children got lost.
Jackson’s own home is Kanungu, a neighbouring district to Kabale but his description of mornings in Kabale is so spot-on, I read it all over again and again.
Again, in another linkage of his own life-story to Nyaka’s, Jackson writes of the gap between rural and urban primary school pupils as regards the national examinations, a point he makes ably. He writes;
Rural children were at a disadvantage when it came to taking national exams. Some test questions assumed familiarity with city life. I remembered one question about people on the first floor above the ground floor. For children who had experienced only one-story houses it was an alien concept. They had little chance of answering such a question correctly.
The philosophy that drives Kaguri to the extent of dedicating lots of time, resources and efforts to help and build his community underlies his entire story. If I am reading the news correctly, Jackson left his job at the University of Michigan to concentrate on permanently and full-time working for Nyaka. One can find the core of his philosophy is a speech he gave at a fundraising event, he explains;
We are the ones with a choice – we can ignore the problem and let these children become victims of neglect and abuse or we can save them, one child at a time. We are the ones who must rescue our community. We are the ones who have the opportunity to save these children.
The extent of the impact of Kaguri’s putting his dream to reality is visible from how his philosophy spread to other members of the community. At a grannies’ conference in Toronto, he thought;
“Governments could pass laws, write legislation and send money that never reached them or only covered certain care, but these women held the power to make their own future. One way or another, the grandmothers were going to save Africa’s orphaned children.”
Kaguri must not have foreseen the potential impact Nyaka AIDS orphans school would have on the community. At the school’s graduation ceremony in 2008, seven years after the school’s opening, Kaguri wrote of the achievements;
Not only had we just graduated our first class, our clean water system had been expanded and we had our own educational radio program broadcasting from Rukungiri, and the grannies’ project. Our three-acre farm allowed us to grow maize, potatoes and vegetables and a grant from the Blue Lupin foundation was funding the first public library in western Uganda.
From the achievements, one would think that Kaguri lives in this village where the school is located. That he lives with Beronda and Nicolas faraway in Michigan but has managed to build a community around an AIDS orphans school should stand out as a challenge to those who live in and near the communities that need their initiatives and hard work. As Lucy Steinitz writes in the afterword;
Nyaka shows a whole new way to engage in community development. Nyaka’s concept is to create a holistic centre that starts with a school but extends far beyond a formal primary education to include agriculture and nutrition, cultural programs, life skills, psychosocial supports, healthcare and a home away from home. Local materials and people are employed; Nyaka is very much integrated into the rural life of south-western Uganda.
Nyaka and Kaguri through the book “A Price of Stones, Building a School for my Village” is an experience for everyone to live. Very many personal details of Kaguri’s life and the school will impact everyone in a unique way. That Nyaka, the dream is expanding is the highest point. There is now another school Kutamba built along the same concept as Nyaka.
What moves me most regarding my experience of Nyaka and Jackson is that we need to put our foot on the ground and start working. That we have to get involved. That we have to involve others to build our communities. That high sounding rhetoric is just that – RHETORIC. That we need to invest our vision, energy, single minded dedication in building our communities. Certainly, no one will build them for us.
That in us, in our experiences is inner strength that can better us and our communities. Jackson lost his elder brother Frank to AIDS, a sister Mbabazi to the disease hence became the obvious guardian of his nephews and nieces. His wife’s maiden visit to Nyakagyezi, their village saw a line of villagers at their home begging for support for widows and orphans of AIDS. Jackson certainly knew where he had come from; he knew the importance of the community that birthed him. All this metamorphosed into Nyaka. Our personal experiences hold our strength to bettering who we are and our communities.
As part of the #UgBlogWeek, for November I am re-posting excerpts from, reviews of and commentaries on Ugandan books. These posts were originally written five years ago (2011) and shared on Facebook. There will be one post per day, throughout the #UgBlogWeek, to reminisce on my deliberate focus on Ugandan Literature in 2011, and also as a shout-out to the intellectual labourers who make our society.
Originally posted on Tuesday, 31 May 2011 at 12:47
It is eighty four pages long, but it is a comprehensive tale of death, disillusionment, suffering, love, hope, grace and happiness. Ntakky A Bright’s first book does not only have a peculiar title, “7:77 … theirs was a race against time” which would easily pass for a movie title but also tells a story very common with Christian writers but in a uniquely witty and cheeky style.
I have known Bright A Ntakky (the A for Arinaitwe), since our school times at Kigezi High School. We did more than study together at the school, we at one time stayed in the same house – Lwamafa House. In 2003, when The Inspiration magazine and ministry was founded, Bright was among the formidable team members that made it possible, drawing hilarious cartoons for the magazine and on one occasion participating in a drama performance of the group (I was once a preacher of the gospel, you see and my first play script was a Christian drama).
Bright was more than that at school, he was our deputy Head Prefect, the chairperson Scripture Union and had several other community oriented roles. Bright’s Head Prefect-ship campaign is one of the most successful I have ever been at the centre of. He was an easily saleable and likeable candidate, the content of his character being the core of our message. Bright amazingly and annoyingly volunteered on the campaign team of his opponent out of his brotherly love and friendship a day to the polls, as many from far and wide made sacrifices to see him (Bright) win the election. I can go on and on about the amazing character Bright is but today is for his debut novella, “7:77 … theirs was a race against time” not his personality.
Bishop Zac Niringiye in a foreword to the book writes that “7:77 … theirs was a race against time”, is a story of ordinary people in ordinary circumstances, gripping because it is your story and my story, our story hence ordinary. Bright however manages to tell an ordinary story extra-ordinarily. Bright, the writer inherits the humorous nerve; Bright the personality is known for. He employs his descriptive signature style in the novella so much that reading the book in many ways becomes a conversation with the person.
At page 47-48, he writes of Amnon’s shoes, “His shoes were looking up and glorifying God for the many seasons they had endured. One was breathing from the side and the other would drink water from the sole”. Typical hilarious Bright, if you ask those who have talked to the man. It is not only Bright’s distinctive expression that creates a conversational mood; he actually talks directly to the reader at several moments in the book. As early as page 2, he writes; “Slowly, he pulled a lollipop out of his shirt pocket and put it in her mouth, then rubbed it across her lips. They kissed. (Reader, continue reading. Stop imagining).”
“7:77 … theirs was a race against time” starts with a graphic narrative of an adolescent romantic scene, hence Bright’s warning. Bright goes a step ahead of other Christian writers who gloss over love-scenes and deny them any descriptive touch. Of course he has limits, I would not X-rate his novella, he keeps the descriptions rich but decent enough not to distract the reader, and to be sure he warns the reader to stop imagining.
The use of anecdotes is not lost on Bright. At page 60, he writes;
He remembered a story of a man who died and his family was denied gratuity, because the officials reasoned that since there was nothing to show that the man had lived, then most probably he had not existed at all and therefore might as well have never died.
Death is undoubtedly one of the re-occurring themes in the novella. It is the hovering shadow over the moments of happiness, triumph, excitement and glory in the book. Probably aware of the risk of monotony, Bright’s depiction of death is varied and unique, though the use of epitaphs is persistent. In fact, the novella ends with an epitaph, marking the death of the novella’s protagonist. “This tablet in-laid here by his relatives and friends, in loving memory of Ijuka Brave, Died on 31st, Dec 2023 on his 29th birthday. He’s interred in the city cemetery.”
That I bring up how the book ends on a sad note is not fair at all. The book has its own worthwhile moments of happiness, hope, grace, triumph and excitement. The description of Dove, a childhood friend of Brave, the major act of the novella is one of the good moments. Bright writes at page 66,
Her silk hair flowed over her shoulders like a water fall. Her elliptical lips opened to reveal a perfect set of snow white teeth. Her body was a pure work of art, chiseled to perfection, nooks and cervices in all the right places. There was no extra ounce of flesh on her adorable body. Her cheery smile could easily light up any room, however dark. She made every man who set his eyes on her miss a step. If such a man was holding a cup in her hand, he would put it on his nose instead of the mouth.
Like any other Christian book, the core message in “7:77 … theirs was a race against time” is the love of Christ for mankind and the ordinary stories of ordinary people as Zac Niringiye writes. Bright however manages to make the novella less preachy and witty enough for a non-Christian reader to enjoy without being bored. It is a good start for Bright as a writer as he finds a common ground between secular fiction and Christian literature.
To Primah Atugonza, whose copy of the book I have read, twice so far, I am grateful. To Bright A Ntakky, where can I get copies of the book? I want to have some on my shelf for refreshing reading and also to give as gifts to friends. “7:77 … theirs was a race against time” is a book for everyone, Christian or non-Christian.
As part of the #UgBlogWeek, for November I am re-posting excerpts from, reviews of and commentaries on Ugandan books. These posts were originally written five years ago (2011) and shared on Facebook. There will be one post per day, throughout the #UgBlogWeek, to reminisce on my deliberate focus on Ugandan Literature in 2011, and also as a shout-out to the intellectual labourers who make our society richer with their work. This is the fourth post.
Originally posted on Tuesday, 10 May 2011 at 23:33
If you meet a foreigner and ask them about Uganda, the first things to come to their minds will be Idi Amin, some think he still rules the country, nowadays Museveni has been confused with Amin so much, so the tag that we are a country ruled by a dictator seems to be a permanent one for now. Those who follow Olympic sports especially who remember the past will tell you of Aki Bua. Those who treasure their knowledge of geography, especially African geography may tell you of the second deepest lake in Africa, Lake Bunyonyi being in Uganda, or will tell you of the River Nile having its one of the many potential sources here or of Lake Nalubaale (some people call it Victoria) etc. If you meet one who has read African Literature, especially poetry, you will be told of Okot p’Bitek.
Okot lived from 1931 until 1982. His work however did not die. He lives in those who have read and heard his poetry. His better known work, Song of Lawino and its companion, Song of Ocol must have sold the largest number of copies in history for a Ugandan literary work. But Okot also wrote Songs of Malaya, Song of Prisoner, The Horn of my Love and Hare and Hornbill among others.
Every time I read Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol, the better known of his works, it is a new experience. It is a typical example of a living work. A work that does not die. A work that remains relevant through time and times. This day, I quote some extracts from Song of Lawino and trust me, we just need to look around ourselves, for the Africans we are, these things Okot railed about, live with us.
Here we go; From “The Buffalos of Poverty Knock the People Down”;
And while those inside
Eat thick honey
And ghee and butter
Those in the countryside
Die with the smell,
They re-eat the bones
That were thrown away
For the dogs
And those who have
Fallen into things
Throw themselves into soft beds,
But the hip bones of the voters
Sleeping on the same earth
And they cover the ulcers
On their legs
With animal skins.
And when they have
Fallen into things
They become rare,
Like the python
With a bull water buck
In its tummy,
They hibernate and stay away
To the countryside
For the next elections
Like the kite
That returns during the Dry
Originally posted on Friday, 15 July 2011 at 00:03
Part I of Re-visiting Okot p’Bitek was published here on Facebook on Tuesday, 10 May 2011 at 23:33. Then, I hoped Part II would come on the heels of Part I. But let me not stir complaints among you who read and enjoyed Part I. 15, July, 2011 is not so much a long time after Part I was published, here on Facebook of course.
In Part II, we again visit Song of Lawino, this time to that poem, My Name Blew Like a Horn Among the Payira. I am not quoting it in its entirety. I am quoting just a few extracts of the poem to make the point I desperately want to make. Here we go;
I was made chief of the girls
Because I was lively,
I was bright,
I was not clumsy or untidy
I was not dull,
I was not heavy and slow.
I did not grow up a fool
I am not cold
I am not shy
My skin is smooth
It still shines smoothly in the moonlight.
When Ocol was wooing me
My breasts were erect
And they shook
As I walked briskly,
And as I walked
I threw my long neck
This way and that way
Like the flower of the lyonno lily
Waving in a gentle breeze.
And my brothers called me Nya-Dyang
For my breasts shook
And beckoned the cattle,
And they sang silently:
Father prepare the kraal,
Father prepare the kraal,
The cattle are coming.
When you saw the tattoos
On my breasts
And the tattoos below my belly button
And you were very fond
Of the gap in my teeth!
My man, what are you talking?
My clansmen, I ask you:
What has become of my husband?
Is he suffering from boils?
Is it ripe now?
Should they open it
So that the pus may flow out?
My husband says
He no longer wants a woman
With a gap in her teeth
He is in love
With a woman
Whose teeth fill her mouth completely
Like the teeth of war-captives and slaves.
You take up white men’s adornments,
Like slaves or war captives
You take up white men’s ways.
Didn’t the Acoli have adornments?
Didn’t Black People have their ways?
Like drunken men
You stagger to white men’s games,
You stagger to white men’s amusements.
Is lawala not a game?
Is cooro not a game?
Didn’t your people have amusements?
You turn to white men’s dances,
You turn to musical instruments of foreigners
As if you have no dances;
As if you have no instruments!
Does one need to add anything, to this?
As part of the #UgBlogWeek, for November I am re-posting excerpts from, reviews of and commentaries on Ugandan books. These posts were originally written five years ago (2011) and shared on Facebook. There will be one post per day, throughout the #UgBlogWeek, to reminisce on my deliberate focus on Ugandan Literature in 2011, and also as a shout-out to the intellectual labourers who make our society richer with their work. This is the third post.
Originally Posted on Tuesday, 12 April 2011 at 13:45
By now, those I have shared with about Ugandan literature know that I consider Nick Twinamatsiko’s second novel, The Chwezi Code, originally titled Mugu as the best novel that portrays contemporary Ugandan social realities. Since 2010, when this novel was released and when I acquired myself a copy and read it, I have been thinking of writing a review of it. I have however severally failed to sit down and get the business done. What I am doing here is not necessarily a review, in fact it is not. I am merely sharing excerpts of the novel that I have loved and highlighted for several reasons which I will or will not share but I hope they help justify my observation that the novel is the best I have read regarding our contemporary Uganda society.
Here we go, the start of the novel, page one, the protagonist of the novel, which is written in the first person takes us through the origins of his journey to Chwezi priesthood. Let me quote;
My journey to Chwezi priesthood began at an examination desk in the Tanzanian university I attended. For the last paper of my three-year course, Providence, or Fate, or Destiny, or whatever you call it, contrived to make me share a desk with Josephine, the gorgeous classmate whose heart I had, for long, vainly hankered after. As I wrote the exam, I cast furtive glance after furtive glance at this stunning neighbour. It is as if I was determined to make the most of this apparently last opportunity to admire her delectably curved chin, her divine eyes, her exquisite nose, her slender neck, her perfect complexion, and the alluring hands that she occasionally raised to her chin. Then my eyes rammed into hers.
The book starts with a cheat for a student who gets fired from a university for helping the gorgeous classmate. Nick describes the scene so well, he must in real life have seen how examinations cheats do it. I mean, Nick is a university lecturer, maybe he has caught some students do the cheating because you can’t beat the accuracy of his description.
Mugu’s departure from the Tanzanian university on the count of cheating in many ways keeps appearing in the entire story. Whether sexually, spiritually, commercially and morally the stain of a cheat keeps hanging around Mugu’s name. Mugu itself as a name is a cover of sorts, a brand which when exposed will reveal several aspects of this cheat of a man, his real name is Emmanuel Arinaitwe. When chased from the university, Arinaitwe (Mugu) enrols in a freedom-fighting group aiming at dislodging Idi Amin from the Ugandan presidency. This group is not only disorganized but is also too ambitious! The attack Arinaitwe was meant to be part of ends catastrophically. Arinaitwe ends up as a Chwezi spiritual medium of sorts as he attempts to escape the notorious state security system hunting down remnants of the failed attack. Mugu’s work as a Chwezi spiritual medium is a great work of deception and human ingenuity. His lustful self is still very dominant, in one scene in his shrine he describes at page 30;
I was transfixed. Then I withdrew. I figured that she was in cohorts with the spirits, or at least had some clue about what had transpired. I shuffled back to the bed, and anxiously looked her in the face. I wanted to whisper a request for enlightenment, but something told me that even a whisper might be too risky. She discerned the questions in my facial expression, and, as a way of answering them, said in a hushed, timid voice: ‘It’s my ancestral spirits that brought me.’
Mugu had probably thought the Chwezi spiritual powers which he was using to exploit people were a creation of his mind. Mable, Rugambanengwe’s wife managed to confuse the false spiritual medium that the spirits were real. A typical tale of where a person thinking they are fooling others also ends up being fooled. Mugu’s own words at page 31 expose the confusion and the extent to which he was fooled by Mable. He says;
The Chwezi had decided to show me that they weren’t as imaginary as I had assumed. they lit fires on the hills through their living descendants! There was a trace of lingering doubt somewhere in my being. But I had to concede that, if I didn’t believe that it was the Chwezi that had contrived this, I couldn’t find a logical explanation.
Typical of Nick’s writing, bearing his first novel, Jesse’s Jewel in mind, Chwezi Code pays attention to the poor reading culture in the contemporary Ugandan society. Somehow, Nick has consistently argued that a reading culture can in a way deal with some problems we face, particularly corruption. That is an interesting view, but you have to be keen regarding what the society is reading if we are talking of eradicating corruption by implanting values embedded in the books we read. In Chwezi Code, Nick acknowledges that the book-carrying and reading culture needs substance. At page 68 Mugu tells us;
I soon discovered that some of the scantily clad, lip-stick wearing, powdered girls that occasionally strutted into the shop to purchase Bugu-Bugu novels never found the time to read them. They saw the books as fashion accessories, and felt sophisticated when they strolled through the streets clutching them in the hand. The bugu-bugu novel wasn’t really different in function from the big, dark sun-goggles that these girls wore, even at dusk. They took an interest in the cover design and material, and in the name of the author, because these were important factors in the real utility that the books had. It was fashionable to appear acquainted with certain authors, whether or not one actually read their novels.
What emptiness, one must be saying, or can we call it nothingness, but I should disclose that Mugu had opened up a bookshop and discovered that selling classic novels and books was not good business like selling bugu-bugu books. People who bought books were not interested in books that explore values, dogma and themes as vice and virtue, might and right among others. Buying books was a hobby, not reading them. Mugu, being the genius he is also cashed in on the emptiness.
Mugu’s rendezvous with the Chwezi spirits is the core of Nick’s tale. It will remain in the background of every sub-plot you meet in the novel. The Chwezi spirits were very much part of Mugu that he even thought they had taken his carnal abilities with them. Remember the scene whose description we quoted above? In the scene, Mugu had just slept with a man’s wife, who had tricked him into believing that she was an embodiment of the Chwezi spirits. Mugu had known that he had slept with the Chwezi spirits themselves, a belief that shaped his thinking about his own body a lot. At page 92, Mugu tells us;
But I discovered, as I began mounting the stairs, that carnal desires had deserted me again. Perhaps it was because I had just been intimately recalling Mable and the Chwezi during my talk with Rutafa. Somehow, I knew, as I turned the door knob of our rendezvous room, that I would embarrass myself if I tried to make love to the girl. And knowing girls, I knew she could subsequently litter the whole town with the information that I was not the man that I seemed to be – that a goat had knocked me, as our people put it.
Mugu and his sexual desires!!! Or am I being too harsh on the man? As his own mind-set on the probable effect of the Chwezi spirits saved Mugu from sleeping with a young girl who looked to him for financial support of a music career in exchange for bodily pleasure, he (Mugu) discovered a man with more heated sexual passion than him, this time a preacher and pastor. Somehow, the same preacher that Mugu had observed in compromising scenes now wanted to preach to Mugu whose response to the man heavily changed the said preacher’s poise, Mugu describes; “He was smitten speechless. He became a bundle of squirms. Perplexity was all over him as he rose, and made to leave.”
The preachers of these days are not preachers per se. They preach wine and drink water or do they preach water and drink wine? Soyinka’s original phrase in The Trials of Brother Jero sometimes plays tricks with me. But yes, this preacher was pretty much the same as brother Jero of the Soyinka play. Mugu’s thinking as regards religion and spirituality is one thing that will tickle the reader’s mind into profound thinking about our times and how we are fleeced by all sorts of religions. But the Chwezi spirits will impress the reader more. Mable, the woman Mugu had slept with, she who had claimed to be an embodiment of Chwezi spirits had appeared to Mugu as a village woman. He was however slowly discovering that she was more than that, a matter that made her more mysterious. Mugu had engaged the Chwezi spirits thinking there were non-existent, their existence however continued to prove itself in his mind. Mable’s arguments were far from the typical village woman’s. Mugu attributed that to Chwezi spirits. He writes of her views;
I recalled her argument that the Chwezi religion and Bacurera’s herbs were being bundled with witchcraft simply because they were native; that Hinduism and Buddhism wouldn’t be classified as witchcraft by the villagers. I had later repeated this argument in an intellectual discussion with Rutafa. I had plagiarized her thought! And Rutafa, with his characteristic flamboyance, had later plagiarized it in the Constituent Assembly, after he had stunned the nation by refusing to take his oath using the Bible or the Koran, arguing that he subscribed to the ‘faith of our for bearers’.
Nick’s views on plagiarism are well-known. Even in Jesse’s Jewel, his first novel, some views on plagiarism appear. But so are his opinions on language, specifically the English language and its role in a Ugandan society. At page 153, in a discussion with Ophelia, some hints on Nick’s view are evident;
‘You think he is extraordinary?’
‘Not really. No extraordinary person would effusively praise a foreign tongue. But he is intelligent and eloquent.’
‘I think language always has values and beliefs embedded in it.’
That discussion above stemmed from a discussion of a work of art around the theme of religion among others. Mugu was an avid reader, at least he tried to read and had found a novel called the Chwezi Country which he had decided to act in real life using real human beings without briefing them on the script and making money from it. Religion is a business, Nick tells us through Chwezi Code, a business that even exchanges hands. Mugu had by the end of the novel profited from both the Chwezi religion when he operated a shrine and towards the end bought a Pentecostal church and operated it as a typical business. The core of the Ugandan society is about materialism and emptiness. Mugu tells as much at page 192;
It seemed that, in organising big weddings, most of the couples were driven by a desire to impress. It was impressive to hold a bigger wedding than one’s friends, and the fact that one begged in order to achieve the grandeur didn’t subtract from its impressiveness. There was no dishonour in begging or soliciting donations, to use the politically correct language. After all who wasn’t doing it? the government was begging so as to pay its over-sized cabinet and idle public servants. The churches were begging so that the pastors could live in mansions and drive big cars. Why shouldn’t young people beg so that they could hold big feasts?
I can quote the whole book to make the point that this is a book I prescribe for every Ugandan, in and out of Uganda if they want to understand the extent of shallowness, evil and immorality of our society. But that would not make sense for me to quote the entire book. There is much I have not quoted. I have not even told of how the story evolves, of the plot summary as we used to call it in literature classes in high school. It was intentional, this is not a proper review. That Nick hits the nail on the head of the corruption vice in our society is obvious. There are also political undertones in the book. I have to tell you that Nick prophesies that the current NRM government will collapse like the Prosperity Towers in the novel because it is built on a lie, on materialism, on emptiness and greed! Nick can dispute that, but it is my understanding of the theme of the book.
It would be unfair to finish this piece without telling of how the novel ends, at page 206, Mugu laments; “The Chwezi had given me, the Chwezi had taken away”. All lies give and take. Materialism, religion, emptiness, corruption name them (the evils of the Museveni regime) have given him longevity in power, even untold personal wealth, but if we follow the moral of Nick’s story, they will take away.
As part of the #UgBlogWeek, for November I am re-posting excerpts from, reviews of and commentaries on Ugandan books. These posts were originally written five years ago (2011) and shared on Facebook. There will be one post per day, throughout the #UgBlogWeek, to reminisce on my deliberate focus on Ugandan Literature in 2011, and also as a shout-out to the intellectual labourers who make our society richer with their work. This is the second post.
In 2011, I was twenty three years old. While I was formally a post-graduate student at the Law Development Centre, my mind was at the verge of deciding to pursue creative writing dreams and a life of letters at the expense of a career in legal practice. This was the proverbial career cross-roads for young me. I have not exactly resolved the conflict between a career in the law and in literature, I have decided that both will find a home in my mind and life. I will have my cake, and eat it at the same time. Of course I am equipping myself with enough ammunition to deal with those who think in narrow frames, about the boundaries of the legal and literary endeavors.
In 2011, I was very close to Dennis Muhumuza, who knew of my interest in creative writing, and who kept advising me to read and read more. He brought me a number of books to read. He lent me some, and sold me others. I took to reading a lot of Ugandan literature at the time. I remember visiting as many bookshops as I could find in Kampala and buying as many Ugandan books as I could afford. I was also very close to Kyomuhendo Ateenyi, under whose influence I attended the then weekly Lantern Meet of Poets’ Sunday meetings at the National Theatre. My old friend, Alex Niwamanya kept insisting that I go with him to the FEMRITE Monday club. I was always lost in discussion group sessions talking law things I never found time to go.
In 2011, Beatrice Lamwaka was shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing. The Ugandan literati were excited about the achievement, they congratulated her, they wished her well, and they publicly took pride in her achievement. But not all Ugandan men among the literati were happy. I remember an email that landed in my inbox one day, calling on Ugandan men writers to rise and challenge the women. I was a 23 year old, who did not know enough, who was reading as much Ugandan literature as I could because I believed as I do now, that the best way to train oneself to be a writer is to read. I wasn’t a Literature graduate. I did not know the sender of that strange email personally. I had not been on the scene. I was trying to know about the scene, to even know what a scene is.
In 2011, Jennifer Makumbi’s Kintu had not yet come into the Ugandan literary life. Dilman Dila hadn’t published A Killing in the Sun. Melissa Kiguwa had not yet published Reveries of Longing. Daniel Kalinaki had not published Kizza Besigye and Uganda’s Unfinished Revolution. Nyana Kakoma hadn’t started a publishing house. There was no festival, focused primarily on celebrating literature. Alex Twinokwesiga hadn’t started Turn the Page. Nevender’s blog wasn’t yet holding Uganda’s flag in the African literary blogosphere. I do not know where Esther Mirembe of Subtle Royalty was, then. Roland Niwagaba, of the Muwado fame, where was he? What about Kirabo Byabashaijaof The Rising Page and Sydney Mugerwa? Things were different from today, in 2011. I wish I could be 23 again, in 2016. It was a different experience being 23 in the Uganda of 2011 and being at law school wanting to be a writer and lawyer simultaneously.
In August 2011, I left Uganda to pursue further studies. It was a way to merge my interest in Creative Writing and Law. I saw the pursuit of a Master’s degree in Human Rights as a step towards my fuller self-actualisation as a lawyer-writer. The year I spent in Budapest would change everything. The story of the Budapest days and what came after will be told another day. This month’s Ugandan blog week, I am revisiting my exploration of Ugandan literature in the first seven months of 2011. I am re-posting the reviews of, commentaries on and excerpts from some of the Ugandan books I read in those months.
It is no longer 2011. Five full years have passed. This is why I am looking back at my perspective on life and literature at the time. I am embarrassed grossly by some of the opinions I held at the time. I am grateful for the lessons that came of my being a rookie aspiring writer in 2011, while also pursuing legal education. I hope you enjoy the seven posts from the past, I hope you laugh at my naivety. I hope you get agitated at my biases at the time. I hope you see some hope in my younger self. I hope you sneer at my ignorance of certain things. I hope you mock my inexperienced voice. I hope you see where my reading is coming from, for what it is. I hope the past makes you feel better about the present. I hope you share your thoughts about the books I read at the time. I hope I read from you, as well. I hope you find the books fascinating.
Dear Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire,
I am seeing for the first time your comment on “Kavunuuzi”. (I cannot see its date, I am afraid!) It is very well written, and as one of the authors, I wish to register my acknowledgement of your critical remarks. Indeed the dictionary needs some, and in places even much, revision. If you know anything about the history of dictionary writing worldwide, you will appreciate that this is not an easy task. “Kavunuuzi” is one of the very few Runyankore-Rukiga dictionaries that exist, and I would suggest that your criticism be a little tempered. Is there nothing good at all in the dictionary, apart from the intention, which you say was never achieved?
Using expressions such as “failing miserably” is certainly not edifying for me as one of the authors: allow me this I hope understandable level of sensitivity. Did you not at least notice the effort to follow the official orthography of Runyankore-Rukiga, which is generally not known and so not observed, with words being written arbitrarily or instinctively? (Indeed, have you learnt the orthography yourself – one of the best achievements in the history of Runyankore, Rukiga and other Ugandan bantu languages? It was not invented by us, and though it leaves something to be desired here and there, it still is a remarkable achievement and we thank those linguists for it.)
But of course you are free to adopt the critical stance that you deem best, but being an old pedagogue, my take is that it is generally wiser to look for something good or at least fair in a work – and be it ever so paltry; thereafter, you may proceed to point out the weaknesses. Even this pointing out should be as humble, yet at the same time as clear as possible – in one word: constructive. This is a difficult art in criticism and scholarship, but it constitutes the difference between serious criticism and the itch for sheer polemic.
Let me add a few terminological matters for your consideration: The term “Runyankore-Rukiga” automatically suggests that there is more Runyankore than Rukiga in the concept or reality that is conveyed by that term. Thus a “Runyankore-Rukiga” “Kavunuuzi” announces itself in its title as Runyankore-dominant. What would “Rukiga-Runyankore” be like? My idea, indeed, is that the Rukiga we in the northern and north-western half of Ndorwa County normally call “okuhorora” should be called “Rukiga-Runyankore”, while the Rukiga whose grammar (especially) is clearly distinct from Runyankore, Ruhororo and what I have just called Rukiga-Runyankore should be called Rukiga-Rukiga, or simply Rukiga. Mark you, the “Rukiga” spoken in the southern and south-western parts of Ndorwa County, i.e. large parts of Kyanamira and Kitumba Subcounties, plus most of Buhara, Maziba, and Kaharo Subcounties, as well as – in Rukiga County – large parts of Bukinda and all of Kamwezi Subcounties: the “Rukiga” spoken in those places is indeed what I would call “Rukiga-Runyankore”, or, even more accurately, “Rukiga-Ruhororo-Runyankore”.
Mr. Bwesigye, clear distinctions between Rukiga and Runyankore “culturems” or culture-based specifics in the vocabulary (as you correctly refer to them) notwithstanding, the major “heritage” you and I want to preserve as far as Rukiga is concerned is the heritage of “Rukiga-Rukiga” grammar, which is quite distinct from Runyankore/Ruhororo/Rukiga-Runyankore grammar. Thus, whereas Rukiga-Runyankore (as I have called it) and Ruhororo and Runyankore – or, in a word, what is currently called “Runyankore-Rukiga” – all say, for example, “Nooyenda ki?” (and, more colloquially, “Nonda ki?”), what does Rukiga-Rukiga say? Rukiga-Rukiga says, “Orenda ki?” (and this happens to have no colloquial form known to me).
Your concerns are apparently more about vocabulary – understandably since “Kavunuuzi” is a dictionary. But I tell you those words that are typically, almost inalienably, “Kiga” are easy enough to identify and this will be done in the next edition of “Kavunuuzi” – which we are already working on, by the way. Other vocabulary is quite fluid between Rukiga and Runyankore, and with more writings in Runyankore-Rukiga or Rukiga-Rukiga coming into being and circulating, this fluidity will become more clear to you. The fluidity also touches on culture, though I too am, by and large, an advocate of cultural preservation.
But, as I have just said, what is more inalienably “Kiga” – and what I would soonest die to preserve – is the grammar, and of course the “sound”, of Rukiga-Rukiga, manifest though this is in at least five dialectal forms, namely: “Rukiga-Rusigi”, “Rukiga-Runyangyezi”, “Rukiga-Ruhimba”, “Rukiga-Rusaakuru” and “Rukiga-Rugabira”. Yet, even within each of these there are differences: thus whereas many speakers of Rukiga-Rusigi would say “okugambiisa”, “okunagiisa”, “okwegyeesa” etc. in constructing the causative forms of the root verbs “okugamba”, “okunaga”, “okwega”, elongating the vowel sound in those critical positions, other Rukiga-Rusigi speakers (e.g. myself from Nyakagyera in Subcounty Kyanamira) would – like the Bahororo and Banyankore – not effect that elongation.
I hope this is a useful exchange, Mr. Bwesigye.
Prof. Manuel J.K. Muranga
The second interview/conversation in a series exploring Ugandan Perspectives on Law and Literature has been published today at Africa In Words. The first interview was with Sophie Alal and published a few weeks ago. Today’s is with Dr. Busingye Kabumba. More will follow over the coming months.
AiW Author: Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire
Dr. Busingye Kabumba teaches Human Rights and International Law at Makerere and other universities. Educated at the University of Pretoria, Harvard, Oxford and Makerere, Busingye is also a partner at Development Law Associates, a legal consulting firm in Kampala. He is famous for, among other reasons, having published a poetry collection at nineteen years of age. He is reputed as the only Ugandan teenager to win a book prize for a full poetry collection! The National Book Trust (NABOTU) Poetry Award of 2002 went to Busingye for his Whispers of My Soul. He has also become a sought-after commentator for the media, television, newspapers etc. He has been quoted in newspapers, local and foreign talking about constitutional, human rights and literary matters.
On one morning, as 2015 rolled into our lives, I meet Busingye for this conversation, I find him in his…
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