Dear Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of Uganda

On January 25, 1986 when the Uganda National Liberation Front military government was defeated by your National Resistance Army (NRA), I did not exist in any form. Not even as an idea. Not even as a foetus. I was born almost two years after that day. This means that as you celebrate the feat of leading Uganda for thirty one uninterrupted years this 26th day of the month of January, the year of our Lord 2017, I will wait for ten more months before celebrating my thirtieth birthday.

Our generation of Ugandans, born in 1986 and after deserves to be named after your stay in power. We deserve to be known as the Museveni generation. We grew up knowing that your name is a synonym for presidency. Indeed we said things like, Kenya has changed its museveni, to mark the handing over of presidency in that country from Moi to Kibaki and from Kibaki to Uhuru Kenyatta. To us, the office of the president is you, and you are the office of the president. That is reductionist. You are more than the office of the president. You have defined much of the reality in which we have grown.

We remember our childhood, teenage and young adulthood days by the various policy and political events in which you were the central player. Whether it is the start of the Universal Primary Education programme in the 1990s, under which most of us attained elementary education, or the 2000 political challenge for the presidency of your organisation (system), the National Resistance Movement by Kizza Besigye, or even the 2005 Juba Peace Talks with the Lord’s Resistance Army, or the 2011 Walk to Work protests: you were the lead player that shaped those events, and as a result, you dominate how we remember our own personal histories.

You have re-imagined and created Uganda in your image. You have been in power for longer than the combined years previous leaders stayed in office. Today, I like to think about these realities as merely that: facts, without imposing any value judgement. My letter to you, Yoweri has nothing to do with whether it is right or wrong for you to have shaped our generation through your short and continuing stay in power. I know that your handlers and propagandists are itching already, to tear down whatever I wish to say, if they sense that this letter is criticising your short stay in power. I wish not to indulge them.

Yoweri: I want to ask about a side of you, that I wish to see more of. Can I call you Grandpa? I have read that people called you Mzee, even before I was born, you were already called Old Man. To a person born in 1987, age-wise, you qualify to be a grandfather. But also, given your role in shaping the conditions and realities of my short life on earth so far, I think it is respectful to call you Grandpa. After all, where I grew up, they taught us not to call elders by name. I apologise for the bad manners exhibited in the previous paragraphs. Can we cut out the handlers and propagandists at this stage? They should not care what grandchildren tell their grannies.

Grandpa: I wish to see more of your intellectual side. I remember glancing through my father’s copies of Sowing the Mustard Seed and What is Africa’s Problem in the late 1990s, when I was too young to appreciate your wisdom. As a young adult, I would read you in detail and appreciate that you wrote that scholarly verification of Fanon’s Theory of Revolutionary Violence in Mozambique during your undergraduate study. That thesis is important for my political commitment to and interest in the fight against imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, to borrow bell hooks’ naming of the system of our oppression. I also appreciate that you published selected essays on protracted warfare that military strategists world over should also be thankful for.

I appreciate most of your speeches, where you forget to score points against perceived Ugandan political opponents and go off on tangents in which you seek to interpret phenomena on your own terms as an ideas man. Most times I pick interest in how your neo-liberal practices as president contradict your ‘freedom fighter’ rhetoric. Your actions have entrenched the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy’s hold onto Ugandan society. But I remain greedy Grandpa, for your written material and intellectual things, and so allow me, as you would a grandchild, to ask for more. Please publish more, Grandpa. Our generation deserves to read more narration of events that have shaped our lives from your perspective. Just as you disagreed with your teacher Walter Rodney at University of Dar es Salaam on the issue of the existence of God, you know for sure that some of us will disagree with your viewpoint as is expected in a situation where there are two and more working minds.

I know that some of the propagandists in your employ are now tempted to respond to this blog post by attacking me personally, and listing all your publications. They probably think that I am not aware of the long list of your publications. I do not know if they sometimes think that our generation does not know how to use Google to find information, or they are the ones who do not know how helpful that search engine is. So, indeed we Google a lot, and specifically I, look out for any intellectual material authored by yourself there is, online. I also look for the same offline. Our generation is after all not able to live fully digital lives because of what you would call infrastructural bottlenecks, when you wear the bureaucratic jargon on your tongue. Your critics would add the fact that sometimes you pull out of that hat, a vague justification, that gift that keeps giving, of ‘national security’ to try to deny us the use of the internet as happened during the 2016 election. But let me not pay attention to the propagandists in your employ and their antagonists, your critics.

Let me state my second ask. It is related to the first. Grandpa: why don’t you impose a cultural agenda onto your government? Maybe that is a wrong way to phrase it. Let me re-phrase. Grandpa: can you impose a cultural agenda onto your government? Surely, you can’t limit the role of culture in the revolution to the military songs of the NRA. You know that Amilcal Cabral’s concept of the building of national culture and consciousness went beyond that.

I love that in your personal capacity as an intellectual, you have been part of two groups of linguists that have worked on a translation dictionary, and a thesaurus. I have expressed elsewhere my issues with these two projects. I have questioned the dominance of Runyankore and Nkore ways at the expense of Rukiga and Kiga ways, yet they are described as including both the Banyankore and Bakiga nationalities. My critique of the work does not take away its value. I think that it is important work. Indeed as bell hooks says, the critic only engages the work that they ascribe value to. Given the technological domination of the world by White Supremacist Eurocentric media and modes of knowledge, our generation appreciates the labour of those intellectual fighters who keep our own languages and heritage accessible to us. In your personal capacity, you are one of them.

But Grandpa: why do you do these projects as an individual? Why doesn’t your government have a cultural and language policy to support this work, in the process extending it to other nationalities in Uganda, beyond the Banyankore and Bakiga? I could list the various provisions of international human rights treaties ratified by Uganda that require the state to promote indigenous languages and heritage. Indeed, even the 1995 Ugandan Constitution has provisions that support this case. Sections of various Acts of Parliament can also be cited to boost the case for state investment in indigenous languages and heritage. But for now, I choose to write to you a blog post than to take your government to task in the courts of law. From your Kavunuuzi and Katondoozi projects referred to above, I know that you are interested in this type of work, as an individual. Why, Grandpa: doesn’t this interest and personal investment seep into public policy?

As a President of Uganda, your government’s cultural and language policies for the last 31 years have served a colonial and imperial agenda. They enforce White Supremacy in the name of ‘development’ and ‘modernisation’. They turn full lives into commodities, following neo-liberal capitalist logics. They alienate black children from their immediate environments, history and heritage, to the benefit of imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. Grandpa: knowing that you are a former student of Walter Rodney, the Guyanese historian and Pan Africanist Marxist who gave us How Europe Underdeveloped Africa among other revolutionary texts, I know that this gospel is a staple on your ideological plate. I imagine that at a personal level, you do not like your own government’s cultural and language policy framework. But why does your government continue to do this damage, Grandpa?

Instead of you always asking UNESCO to fund your personal heritage and language projects, a state institution should exist to support this work. As you know, our generation has its many demands on the state and on your generation, given the conditions of our growing up. You are all we know. We may not yet be big on demanding a cultural and language renaissance, but you can be sure that we will appreciate this in the long term. Why don’t you institutionalise your personal hobby of contributing to projects around Runyankore and Nkore heritage so that other intellectual workers in the indigenous arts, from other Ugandan nationalities can make their contributions? Grandpa: is this too much to ask? You surely can persuade your colleagues in government to allocate some of the hundreds of millions of US Dollars the Consolidated Fund already has, from oil related income (that batch for which the handshake was given) to this.

My final ask is petty, Grandpa. It may even be problematic. Actually, it is. Please Grandpa: do not allow your handlers and various propagandists to come here and pretend to respond to this open letter. I know this last paragraph is a gift to them, as they think that they will use it to delegitimise what they may perceive as an attempt at discrediting you. Grandpa: please prevail on them. They may not see how well intentioned this plea from a child who has no choice but to carry the label with your own name, having been born during your era as Ugandan president, is. I know you are busy, and that this last paragraph could be the reason this letter may not reach you, but I believe that there are spiritual dimensions to our existence on earth and so you may find this letter telepathically. I will be glad to receive a response through action, Grandpa. Or even clairvoyantly.

Sincerely

Furayide: P.O Box Nyanja, Kabale.

Okot p’Bitek’s White Teeth #UgBlogWeek

Originally posted on Saturday, 30 July 2011 at 19:01

Okot p’Bitek is known largely for his poetry, for his “songs” than for his prose. In fact, one friend of mine once wished the man had written a novel. Well, he did write a novel and it was his first major work. He was twenty two years old when he did. The novel turned out to be the only novel he wrote. It was first published in 1953 by the East African Literature Bureau, Eagle Press, and written in Acoli language under the title Lak Tar Miyo Kinyero Wilobo (White Teeth make us laugh on earth) shortened as Lak Tar (White Teeth). Even when Okot always noted that translation of his works from Acoli to English made them lose the flavour they come with in Acoli, there is a lot of Acoli-ness that stays.

Just as Lawino berates the invasion of African culture by new Western ways in Song of Lawino, in White Teeth, Okot disparages the changes which were taking place in the custom of bride wealth with the increased monetization of the economy during colonial times. As Okeca, the main character in the novel discovers when he reaches Kampala; the colonial monetization of the economy had also wrecked the once tightly-knit clan system of the Acoli people, introduced massive corruption in society and also saw the callous exploitation of African workers by Indians on sugar plantations.

It would not be fair for those who have not read White Teeth or any other work of Okot if I do not give them a taste of the beauty of the language Okot writes in. We will do with a few excerpts;

At page 14; describing Cecilia, the girl whose hand in marriage Okeca longed for;

“That girl in front of the others was spotless. Tall but not too tall. Brown, yet not brown. Her skin was tender like the young grass shoot. It was soft and tender as if she used Lux bathing soap. This must have been the case, for her brother had just come home on leave from the army.

She was leading the other girls to the market like a bull antelope leading others to the drinking place. She had draped her tender frame with a soft silky dress and on her crested crane neck was a single giraffe-tail hair necklace. Her hair was carefully combed and pressed, and on her head was balanced an abino, earthen jar, whose neck was like that of its carrier.

Faultlessly beautiful.

Spotlessly clean.

The leader of the girls bore abino.

Cecilia Laliya, chief of girls.”

At page 22-23; describing a conversation involving Okeca, Cecilia and Otto at an Orak dance to celebrate the marriage of the son of Timotimo;

“Cecilia Laliya, sister of Otto, Laliya the chief of girls, was there in front of all the Paibona girls, leading the dancing beauties. She was wearing a nylon dance skirt, her breasts barely covered. The breasts were ripe like a pair of ripened tugu fruits and the tattoos on her back were like olok fruits. Her heels sparkled as she danced; her hair shone, black and thick but not bushy. Cecilia was there in the arena! She was dancing, challenging and provoking all! I beckoned her out of the arena so that we would converge a little. She obeyed. A perfumed scent she exuded filled my nostrils. The glowing sunset light made healthy sweat flowing freely on her smooth skin look like strings of glassy beads. She stood there, smiling, exposing teeth and a gap in the upper row of teeth. The teeth were white beyond compare! What a haunting beauty Cecilia’s teeth were!

“How’s it with you today? Why aren’t you dancing today?”

She ventured to ask me after seeing I could not bring myself to say anything to her. But could I answer her? Where could Okeca Ladwong get the voice with which to say anything to Cecilia when her beauty had dazzled and robbed him of words!

Otto Luru had to come to my rescue:

“Today we have decided to come and feed our eyes on pretty ones like you.”

“Okeca, you better tell me quickly what you have called me here for. I want to go back and dance,” she said, dancing.

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 seventh post.

Okot p’Bitek’s Song of Lawino #UgBlogWeek

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

Grow painful

Sleeping on the same earth

They slept

Before Uhuru!

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

And eat!

 

They return

To the  countryside

For the next elections

Like the kite

That returns during the Dry

Season

Part II

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.

 

(…)

 

You trembled

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.

 

*

 

Like beggars

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?

Like halfwits

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.

Nick Twinamatsiko’s The Chwezi Code #UgBlogWeek

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.

 

We want to preserve Rukiga – Rukiga: Prof. Manuel Muranga

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

Just how different is Rukiga from Runyankore and why does the Kavunuuzi deny?

Originally posted on Facebook

To many people, the difference between the Bakiga and Banyankore is unreal. Putting aside the hoax that physical attributes can help to tell the difference between any ethnicities, the cultural especially linguistic difference between the Kiga and the Nyankore peoples is what many consider as inconsequential. The Nyankore and Kiga cultures generally have wide differences from each other, but it is undeniable that the Rukiga and Runyankore languages are closely related. This close relationship is what has been mistaken for similarity and has occasioned a subtle linguistic erosion of Rukiga as a distinct language. Some friends insist that Rukiga and Runyankore are mere dialects of the same language. Some say that the difference is in the accent, while insisting that Rukiga is the same as Runyankore.

I spent my childhood in Nyanja, Maziba, punctuated with visits over the holidays to Kyanamira, all areas located in the Ndorwa county of Kabale district, in the Kigezi region. At my rural primary school, Nyanja Primary School, we learnt how to read and write the Rukiga language alongside English but this stopped at Primary Three level, from where we drifted to learning in English only. But we freely spoke Rukiga all times of our school life at Nyanja. English was limited to the classroom activity.

When I joined Kigezi High School for my secondary, I met many people who spoke Rukiga like me and I remember vividly that the school had no policy forcing us to speak English while on the school premises like other schools I have heard of. Indeed, many of our colleagues from other places knew how to speak Rukiga by the time they left the school. It is then that I learnt for the first time of the existence of Runyankore as a distinct language and its differences from Rukiga, my native language. Runyankore speakers at Kigezi High School often found some words we used in Rukiga strange at first the same way we found some Runyankore words strange.

Kigezi High School

Kigezi High School

However different many words in these two languages are, speakers of either language can hear and understand each other, even with the strange words. But I (a Rukiga speaker) can also understand a Rutooro and Runyoro speaker without need for translation! Yet, it is not necessarily said that Rukiga and Rutooro or Runyoro are the same language, or is it?

From the translation of the Bible, to many other linguistic projects, Rukiga has been lumped together with Runyankore, always mistaking the two for one language. In all these texts, the distinctive Rukiga words and phraseologies are often omitted in favour of Runyankore distinctive words and phraseologies.

bible

Inside the Runyankore Rukiga Bible

As I have argued elsewhere, language is not merely the collection of words, but a core facet of culture and identity. People whose conventional economic activity is cultivation have a language that reflects the reality of their daily activities, just as those whose economic activity rotates around cattle keeping will have a language unique to their way of life. To stretch this further, we can say that the cultivator has a language he uses to speak to their crops and the cattle keeper has a language he uses to speak to their cattle. These languages can not be the same. The ears of the crops differ from those of cattle.

Further, physical environment has an impact on language, the same way it impacts on culture. The hills, valleys, swamps and the mountains speak and are spoken to by those who live on, in and with them. Flat lands speak as well. But there is no way the highlands can speak the same language as the lowlands. Language is thus not just about words, syntaxes, grammar and other technical bits of linguistics. A people’s Language is inseparable from a people’s culture and way of life. Our languages are related because mankind irrespective of which theory you believe in (evolution, creation etc) is related by nature. But as we know, migrations, settlements and other reasons have made us develop unique heritages from each other, and with this, distinct languages have developed for individual identities.

uganda-mountains-kabale

Kabale land is heavily fragmented

The differences between the cultures and languages of the Banyankore and Bakiga are so many I can not start listing one by one. However, over time, especially after the advent of colonialism and the demarcation of a border between Rwanda and Uganda in effect separating the Bakiga from their closer relatives the Banyarwanda, the written forms of Runyankore-Rukiga have taken on a Runyankore character and lost any “Kiga-ness” in it hence there has been a systematic subjugation of one language by another. This subjugation however is limited to written forms as the oral versions remain as different as they can ever be.

In the days of acceptance of our diverse heritage as Ugandans, projects like the writing of the Kavunuuzi y’Orunyankore Rukiga omu Rungyereza (Dictionary of Runyankore Rukiga into English), a translator of sorts, it is expected that the project would recognize the uniqueness of each language. The dictionary written by Yoweri Museveni, Manuel J.K. Muranga, Alice Muhoozi, Aaron Mushengyezi and Gilbert Gumoshabe in 2009 and published by the Institute of Languages, Makerere University & UNESCO Nairobi Office and financially sponsored by UNESCO and the Japanese government, in my view fails miserably if it ever considered the uniqueness of Rukiga from Runyankore. Rather than preserve the Runyankore Rukiga languages as the stated objective of the project, it seems to enable Runyankore suppress Rukiga as a distinct language on its own. Below, I intend to briefly show the narrow extent to which Rukiga is depicted as a distinctive language from Runyankore in a translation dictionary.

Let me start from dances. Different cultures have different dances and know their dances by unique words. Language is inimitably part of the dance and the culture. You can not use Luganda words to dance the Kikiga dance and vice-versa! For the uninitiated, the traditional dances of the Kiga peoples are different from those of the Nyankore peoples. The Kiga traditional dances include ekizino, omwemuriko, kakitaari among others, while the Nyankore traditional dance is the Ekitaguriiro. Ekitaguriiro is a noun that comes from the verb okutaguriira. The Kavunuuzi says, “Okutaagurira” is the act of dancing unique to Banyankore and Bakiga of south western Uganda. But the Bakiga do not dance the Ekitaguriiro. It is a Kinyankore dance! This is a typical example of how the Kavunuuzi misrepresents the heritage of the Bakiga by lumping them together with the Banyankore and assigning what is uniquely Nyankore to both identities. In Rukiga, the word okutaguriira to mean dancing does not exist, because the Bakiga call their dance okuziina hence the different dances, Ekitaguriiro for Banyankore and Ekiziino for Bakiga! But the Kavunuuzi overlooks that!

ekizino

Dancing ekizino, the kikiga dance

In the Kavunuuzi, the strictly Rukiga words (those that Banyankore do not use/know), are marked with a‘usage’ connotation showing that they are Kiga and the strictly Nyankore words (which Bakiga do not use) marked with a Nkore usage connotation. There are however many strictly Runyankore words which the Bakiga do not use but are not conotated in the dictionary as of Nkole usage. Very few, if any strictly Kiga words have escaped the Kiga usage connotation on the other hand. This can be interpreted/misinterpreted to mean that some strictly Runyankore words should universally apply to Rukiga, where as strictly Rukiga words should not apply to Runyankore. If this be true, then the Kavunuuzi’s intentions are not noble. By treating Rukiga as a minor language and projecting Runyankore as the superior language, the Kavunuuzi attempts to subdue Kiga heritage, which we know is on its own as rich, I won’t say richer. Let us look at some of the words themselves as projected by the Kavunuuzi;

Ahansi adv. the place beneath, or under. Usage: Kiga. Var: ahaasi. The Bakiga do not use the ahaasiword to mean ahansi, ahaasi is conventionally a Runyankore word but it is not followed by a Nkole usage connotation.

Amashaza n. peas: a leguminous plant of the genus Pisum with small white flowers and long green pods containing edible green seeds. Usage: Kiga. Var: obushaza, amasaza. Sing: eishaza. I am not sure that the Banyankore grow peas, so it is as well possible that they do not have a word for peas.

Ekibiga n. a condition of feeling hot. Usage: Kiga. See: EKYOYA. The Kiga do not use the word Ekyoya to mean Ekibiga as the Banyankore. But the Kavunuuzi does not state that Ekyoya is of Nkore usage, the same way is states that Ekibiga is for Kiga usage!

Ekicuucu n. shed: dark area on the ground, wall, floor, etc. due to cut off of direct rays of light. Usage:Kiga. See: EKIBUNDA. Pl: ebicuucu. So, the Kavunuuzi rightly notes that Ekicuucu is a strictly Kiga word, but do the authors want us to believe that Ekibunda applies across the board? It is a strictly Runyankore word that is not universal!

I can go on and on and mention more words as Nyenkyakare, Okucuusya, Okufuura, Okuhenyera, Okukaakaara, Okusonoora, Okutonoora, Ruzimure among others, but I hope the few words above explain the point well.

It would be unfair of me if I do not approve the “stated” objectives of the Kavunuuzi project! But that is all I can do, applaud the objective which to me is not met, if I look at the matter from my perspective as one interested in the preservation of the Kiga heritage just as others. By subjugating the Kiga language with Runyankore, the Kavunuuzi does more harm than probably intended! Maybe the whole lumping together of Runyankore and Rukiga under the Runyankore Rukiga tag is wrong!

Republished on Ugandans At Heart on January 26, 2014