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.

Doreen Baingana’s Tropical Fish: Tales from Entebbe #UgBlogWeek

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.

III

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.

(…)

Page 136

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.

Bright A Ntakky’s 7:77 … theirs was a race against time #UgBlogWeek

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.

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.

 

Class Micro-agressions and The Spider King’s daughter

So Chibundu Onuzo’s The Spider King’s Daughter done. My feelings are in many places. My eyes refuse to look beyond class in these things. Seriously. How can one not know the name of the person they are dating? Mbu hawker. Really? Class dehumanises. And when Runner G, doesn’t kill Mr. Johnson, when he does not marry Abby, that thing they call failure just comes and blinds my eyes from seeing anything good in the struggle against classism. Is love across the class divide possible? Ok. Not love love but a genuine human relationship.

This book, I started reading last night, only put it down to sleep, woke up to it, no meal breaks no nothing, only water – did I even notice the rain, and finally made progress in restraining myself from writing in the book and underlining huge parts of the book. Just slight marks. Its an unputdownable book. I still want to be an honest person. I still want to live modestly.

As for relationships with people whose perspective is blinded by class, than humanity or anything else, I do not know, I really tried to like Abike. To look beyond the class micro and macro aggressions against her hawker, her driver and other people. But then… This is a great book. One Day I Will Write A Real Essay About It. Highly recommended, however biased I am.

Thanks to Samira Sawlani for everything bookish I get myself to do. Excerpts from ‪‎The Spider King’s Daughter follow.

 Hmm

I said I chose you because you ran, and because you were handsome and you didn’t speak like a hawker. – page 260

The dialogue

‘How much for half an hour?’,
The girl behind the counter looked up from her novel.
‘We charge per hour.’
‘I only need thirty minutes.’
‘I’m sorry. We charge o’er hour.’
‘A fine girl like you is not meant to be wicked. Please help me.’
‘Oya, bring the money but don’t tell anybody.’ – page 205

Ever tried to date higher than your class?

It wouldn’t have worked between us. Even without everything I’d heard, the real world would have intruded. When she went to university and returned with a fancy degree would she still want a hawker for a boyfriend? When she got her first high-flying job and I was just a trader in Tejuosho would she want to be seen with me? – page 155

The dialogue again

‘How come your driver doesn’t come to pick you?’
‘Pardon?’ I’d forgotten Cynthia was in the car.
‘Why doesn’t your driver pick you?’
So Abike had really not told them anything about me.
‘Taking public transport means I’m independent.’ It was close to the truth.
‘Your parents could get you a car.’
‘I want to buy one with my own money.’
‘Oh yes. You said. You work in your father’s business.’
What would she do if she found out I was a hawker? I didn’t care. – pages 119-120 

The fear of rejection is universal, isn’t it?

I was relieved when the maid interrupted us today. If she hadn’t, I would have asked Abike to be my girlfriend and I might be sitting at home now, nursing a rejection. It is pleasanter to live in this precarious hope than to know for certain she doesn’t want me. – page 111

Hawkers can’t kiss, right?

I wondered if he would kiss me. I knew as I lifted my face to his that I wanted him to. Abike Johnson kissing a hawker in front of Mama Put. I didn’t care who saw.
‘I had a really nice time,’ I said, looking directly into his eyes. Maybe he didn’t like me in that way. I lowered my head, feeling foolish.

When he finally kissed me, it was a surprise. His lips rubbed mine, rough skin rubbing off my lip gloss and before I could respond, he had straightened up again.
It was a strange kiss. Not wet enough to be romantic not light enough for friends. I’m sure he will get better. – page 100

Gender etc but class, too these mob attacks

She turned up in a mini skirt. Everyone knows you only wear that type of outfit in the privacy of your air-conditioned car, with the windows rolled up and preferably tinted. Everyone except Abike Johnson. Flashing her legs and then wondering why a mob is chasing us. – page 91

The nonsense indeed

‘Joke, in five years’ time when you go on your first date, where do you want to go?’
‘Let me just inform you, my first date is going to be next year and the boy has to take me to a very expensive restaurant.’
‘Why?’
‘Because that’s how a guy shows that he really likes a girl. The more expensive the restaurant the more serious the love. Don’t you know?’
‘I wonder who is teaching you this nonsense,’ I said, heaving a twenty-litre jerry can on to my shoulder. – page 79

The humiliation

Her tone was curt. Did she think I wasn’t good enough to go on a date with her?
‘Their names are Cynthia and Oritse. They are old friends.’
It dawned on me. She’d brought me here to amuse her friends. – page 72

Hmmm

Oritse and I, well from my point of view there was never an Oritse and I. I keep him around because his voice is special. Cynthia has been a member of my set for the longest, I think. She has no real gifts but she is very beautiful in that plump way. More importantly, she is obedient. – pg 69

‘Feel degraded’

We had come to Yaba market, the home of cheap wooden stalls bowed under the weight of the average Nigerian’s need to look Western for as Eastern a price as possible. The stalls were jammed together, clothes flung together, people squashed together, sifting, lifting, arranging without thought to compatibility. If only I had grown up not knowing better then I wouldn’t feel degraded coming here. – Pg 64

The humour, right?

Even garbage wants to escape from my neighborhood. At the end of each day, people pile their rubbish on to the side of the road and the next morning, you see the sweet wrappers and banana skins a few metres from where you left them, slowly being carried to their freedom by people’s unsuspecting feet. Oh, to be trash. – pages 53 – 54

 

The shock, right?

If I thought it odd that she only bought ice cream from me, though up to six of us might flock to her window, I didn’t let it bother me. If I thought she smiled too much when we spoke and looked in my eyes too little, I put it down to shyness. As I watched her climb on to the car it struck me. All this time she had been flirting. Despite my shabby clothes and sweaty body, for some reason this increasingly attractive girl was flirting with me! – page 33

A hobby, even

Hassan looked at me through the rear-view mirror. ‘I no believe I dey do this to your father’s car because of a hawker.’ He wasn’t just a hawker. He was a hawker I was considering adding to my collection of friends. I was tired of people who go to Forest House or schools just like it. – page 25

Hawkers can be honest?

I looked at her face while she was bringing out her wallet. Her skin was so smooth I wanted to slide my finger along it. She passed me a two-hundred naira note with a smile that showed her perfect, white teeth. It would have been so easy to sprint off with her money. I gave her the change before placing the ice cream in her palm. Someone else would have to show her that the world was not filled with honest hawkers and unicorns. – page 10

By the way, the beginnings

Every morning I wake up and know exactly what I have to do.

1. Bathe.
2. Make sure Joke does the same.
3. Eat breakfast.
4. Make sure Joke does the same.
5. Ditto my mother.
6. Take Joke to school.
7. Leave school for work.
8. Make sure Joke never does the same. – page 2

I read Chibundu Onuzo’s The Spider King’s Daughter in one night. Did you know that she was writing the book at 17, got an agent at 18, a publisher at 19 and it was published when she was 21? Did you? It is probable that you knew before I did. That fact made a huge impression on me. And so the night I entered Abike’s world and that of her lover, the hawker, I littered my Facebook timeline with excerpts as I read. It is a good read. I cringed more times than I can count because of the class microagressions but then. Read the book and we share.

 

Quotes from Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid

Jamaica Kincaid’s novel, Lucy, like everything else this brilliant writer has produced is a feast of poetic prose that one finds it hard to choose which parts to share as quotes and which ones to leave behind. In other words, it is a book I recommend without any reservation. Because I just have a blog-post and posting the entire book would be an infringement on the writer’s rights, I will post a few excerpts that still make my heart go like, yeeeees, this is so well told, I totally feel, see, smell, taste, hear, etc what is happening. Lucy is the story of an au pair from Antigua and her life in her employer’s (Mariah) home. It is a beautiful coming of age story. No spoilers, just quotes.

Lucy is aware of colonial imprints

As I opened my eyes, the word “Australia” stood between our faces, and I remembered then that Australia was settled as a prison for bad people, people so bad that they couldn’t be put in a prison in their own country. – Page 9

Of how people in Lucy’s America walk

When people walked on the streets they did it quickly, as if they were doing something behind someone’s back, as if they didn’t want to draw attention to themselves, as if being out in the cold too long would cause them to dissolve. – Page 10

The Love songs

It was a song that was very popular at the time – three girls, not older than I was, singing in harmony and in a very insincere and artificial way about love and so on. It was very beautiful all the same, and it was beautiful because it was so insincere and artificial.- page 11

The privileged and their pity 

Mariah reached out to me and, rubbing her hand against my cheek, said, “What a history you have.” I thought there was a little bit of envy in her voice, and so I said, “You are welcome to it if you like.” – Page 19

Love and hate are sisters

How do you get to be a person who is made miserable because the weather changed its mind, because the weather doesn’t live up to your expectations? How do you get to be that way?

While the weather sorted itself out in various degrees of coldness, I walked around with letters from my family and friends scorching my breasts. I had placed these letters inside my brassiere, and carried them around with me wherever I went. It was not from feelings of love and longing that I did this; quite the contrary. It was from a feeling of hatred. There was nothing so strange about this, for isn’t it so that love and hate exists side by side? Each letter was a letter from someone I had loved at one time without reservation. – Page 20

Of those poems on Daffodils by the way 

Mariah said, ‘These are daffodils. I’m sorry about the poem, but I’m hoping you’ll find them lovely all the same.’

There was such joy in her voice as she said this, such a music, how could I explain to her the feeling I had about daffodils – that it wasn’t exactly daffodils, but that they would do as well as anything else? Where should I start? Over here or over there? Anywhere would be good enough, but my heart and my thoughts were racing so that every time I tried to talk I stammered and by accident bit my own tongue. – Page 29

Appropriation much? 

Mariah says, ‘I have Indian blood in me,’ and underneath everything I could swear she says it as if she were announcing her possession of a trophy. How do you get tp be the sort of victor who can claim to be the vanquished also? – Page 41

Before you call that place beautiful 

I wished once again that I came from a place where no one wanted to go, a place that was filled with slag and unexpectedly erupting volcanoes, or where a visitor was turned into a pebble on setting foot there; somehow it made e feel ashamed to come from a place where the only thing to be said about it was ‘I had fund when I was there.’ – Page 65

No need to hide the anger

I was having a thought not unlike this when unexpectedly, Mariah came up to me. The look on my face must have shocked her, for she said, ‘You are a very angry person, aren’t you?’ and her voice was filled with alarm and pity. Perhaps I should have said something reassuring; perhaps I should have denied it. But I did not. I said, “Of course I am. What do you expect?’ – Page 96

Of the sex that sucks 

Bad sex. I wondered what exactly did she mean. From my mother I had gathered that the experience could leave you feeling indifferent, that during it you might make out the grocery list, pick a style of curtains, memorize a subtle but choice insult for people who imagined themselves above you. But I had never imagined the word ‘bad’ could be applied to it, and as soon as she said it I knew what she meant: it was like wanting a sugar apple and getting a spoiled one; and while you’re eating the spoiled one, the memory of a good tasting one will not go away.” – Page 113-4

The Patriarchal roots of the law

Everybody knew that men have no morals, that they do not know how to behave, that they do not know how to treat other people. It was why men like laws so much; it was why they had to invent such things-they need a guide. When they are not sure what to do, they consult this guide. If the guide gives them advice they don’t like, they change the guide. – Page 142

The Power of Names 

Lucy, a girl’s name for Lucifer. That my mother would have found me devil-like did not surprise me, for I often thought of her as god-like, and are not the children of gods devils? I did not grow to like the name Lucy-I would have much preferred to be called Lucifer outright-but whenever I saw my name I always reached out to give it a strong embrace. – Page 153

If there is one writer, from whom I can’t seem to read enough, it is Kincaid. I feel bad that I have only been able to read four of her titles (A Small Place, My Brother, Lucy and Annie John) in one year. I should find time to share excerpts from these, and a fully blown review of at least one of them. I think I did well, considering that access to the books became possible in the last quarter of the year.

One of the many unsaid 2016 resolutions is to read every book she has written (except the Gardening ones, I am still a toddler in that department). I already have The Autobiography of My Mother and See Now Then on my shelf, so I think this is an achievable feat. Till then, stay safe.

Why FDC and Besigye need to keep a healthy distance from the West (Kofi Annan and Ocampo)

Under the auspices of the Kofi Annan Foundation, the West seems to suggest, through the disgraced former International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor, Mr. Moreno Ocampo (diplomatically of course) how a Ugandan political party should do her things. Despite a very hard campaign and delicate election process in this party in which my preferred candidate lost, despite the failure at the first The Democratic Alliance (TDA) talks to agree on a joint presidential candidate, in London, the neo-colonisers seem to suggest that the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) candidate that they have never liked anyway should not be the leader of a joint strategy to oust Museveni.

This is disappointing in many ways. Museveni is the West’s so called ‘strategic ally’, which is their way of saying ‘agent’ and they have never liked Besigye to replace him, and now they have found ‘diplomatic’ ways of having not to worry that they are losing an ‘ally’ in the region. Museveni will exploit this to even claim that he is an enemy of the imperialism he has been championing in broad day light and hideous darkness! Even if the candidate being touted as ‘endorsed’ by TDA wins the election and actually takes over power, it will be a non-victory for the people of Uganda because man, why can’t we be independent? Why can’t the African people matter, instead of Western interests? Why can’t African interests matter? This replacement of one agent with another is terrible. Sick. Ocampo and your backers surely, why not leave Africa alone, man?

Besigye book cover

Books, stories, nonfiction and fiction are important survival mechanisms for the disillusioned. So, I have been re-reading Daniel Kalinaki’s recent book as a way of coping with the tragedy of a subtle attempt to ‘bulldoze’ Besigye and the FDC by the West, again as a way to secure their interests at our expense. They have been doing it and it has helped maintain Museveni in power. Now they are doing it such that even if the person they rather deal with wins, their interests shall be safe. And it looks like FDC and Besigye almost fell for it. But trust Besigye, the puritan to insist that Mbabazi does not stand for a corrupt free government, human rights and other pillars of FDC’s struggle against the ruling government in Uganda. Trust the stickler to principles, the puritan.

We start at page iii. The prologue.

“In April 2011, Dr Warren Kifefe Kizza Besigye, the leader of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) opposition political party, met with foreign diplomats in Kololo, an affluent suburb of Uganda’s capital, Kampala.”

*A lot of background and historical text here omitted.

“Besigye’s post-election plan, in particular his participation in the walk-to-work protests, topped the agenda at the April meeting, with diplomats and representatives from donor agencies.

Western agencies had for long been ambivalent about Besigye and the FDC. Britain, Uganda’s former colonial master, the United States of America, other donor countries, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund had all invested heavily, both financially and politically in Museveni and his regime.

*Omit more context

*Omit more context

“They (the West) stuck with Museveni, even after the widely discredited 2006 election in which Besigye spent half his campaign time in jail or court, battling fabricated rape and unproved treason charges.

In March 2007 Uganda deployed peacekeeping troops to Somalia to keep what was left of the failed state from falling into the hands of extremist Islamists from Al-Shabaab, who are allied to Al-Qaeda. Suddenly Museveni went from an imperialistic meddler to a strategic ally in the global war on terror and an enforcer of stability in regional geo-politics.”

Down with the bloody agent, down! Neo colonialism Zeeee! Zeeee! #NeocolonialismMustFall

*Omit more context

“Besigye’s brash and aggressive style had never really endeared him to the West. Where Museveni was charming and affable, Besigye was stiff and overly serious. Where Museveni humored diplomats with tales of African history or the provenance of his beloved herds of cattle, Besigye never veered from monotonous diatribes on policy failures and the democratic deficit in the country.

Many western observers accused Besigye of being populist and confrontational rather than rational and persuasive. They wanted him to build a party, write manifestos, propose alternative policies, and run a western-style democratic process.

Besigye accused the western donors and diplomats f being naive and ignorant. Museveni had so much power and dominance over the political landscape, Besigye argued, that he had to be dislodged if real and sustainable democratic reform and institution building could take place.

In any case, Besigye had charted out policy alternatives in his election manifestos, he said, but those counted for little in a political environment where it was not the votes that counted but those who counted them.

That was the context as Besigye walked into the Irish Ambassador’s residence in Kololo. The mood was hostile and tense.

Many of the diplomats seated around the table could hardly disguise their contempt. They saw a sore loser, a could-have-been who had fired his last bullet and was now trying to fashion a human shield out of the man on the street.

“It was embarrassing to see the way Besigye was humiliated,” a diplomat who attended the meeting recalled. “They had a go at him and simply cut him to smithereens. I wished the ground could swallow me whenever we made eye contact.”

Besigye, on the other hand saw self-centered diplomats putting personal careers and the interests of their countries ahead of what he considered to be Uganda’s national interest. Apart from the battle by foreign firms over oil contracts, the West was also interested in the security that Museveni had helped procure in South Sudan and Somalia, opening up the region to trade and investment.

Museveni was pissing, all right, but he was in their tent pissing outside. Besigye, on the other hand, could not be trusted not to rain on the parade if he took power.

That meeting arguably marked the end of Besigye as a ‘formal’ opposition politician. Within a few months he would announce his intention to step down as FDC leader, two years before the end of his term.”

We can see that Besigye has remained a big force in the opposition despite the Western countries’ hatred of him, and his methods. Why is he now trying to listen to their new trendy way of neutralizing him? He knows they do not stand for Uganda’s interest! We return to Kalinaki.

“When the meeting with the donors in Kololo ended, Besigye rose politely. With his head stooping as usual, he walked to his car in the parking lot. He was beaten but not defeated. For better or for worse, this struggle had now become his life.”

Kalinaki concludes the prologue. This reflection concludes by humbly suggesting to the FDC and Besigye campaign teams to consider including very strong pan-African, anti neo-colonial promises in their manifesto. This message needs to be central to the struggle man. Get inspired by Sankara folks!

Quotes from E.C Osondu’s Voice of America

E.C Osondu’s debut collection of short stories, including the Caine Prize Winning Waiting is hilarious in all parts, and yet serious. Very serious actually. So, entertaining serious. You do not fail to laugh, but you also do not lose the fact that this is real life. The characters are convincing, they have a sense of humour that they do not realise. At some point, one feels guilty for laughing their lungs dry at the tragedy that befalls the characters, whether in Nigeria or in America. Even the ones living in Nigeria have America on their mind, anyway. The tears will come because the reader is laughing too much, but at the hands of another writer, without the gift of humour that Osondu has, these same stories could make one cry.

So, here we go.

America’s Idiosyncrasies

“There is a tablet for every sickness in America.” Page 3

Nigeria’s own demons

“I heard he shot and killed his native doctor some time ago so that she cannot prepare the same juju she made for him for someone else..” Page 16

Aid? No.

“Why are the Americans sending the eye doctors to us? Do they mean to tell us they have cured all the blind people in America?” – Page 42

Remember Achebe’s use of proverbs and sayings?

“You do not throw your child to a lion to eat because the child has offended you.” – Page 70

Who would want to die?

“I do not want to die, I do not want to die, my mind would be a terrible thing to waste, please help me.” – Page 77

Loyal dogs

“Ebone wished that she had a loyal dog in America that could sniff her husband’s crotch and confirm for her that he had slept with Rhonda.” – Page 86

Big is Big

“Nigerians do not dirty their hands with petty burglary – ‘When Nigerians steal, they steal big.” – Page 100

Buy this book. It is 215 pages of beauty. Here.