Tuesday, September 09, 2014

My Favourite 9 Ugandan Reads

1.       The People’s Bachelor by Austin Bukenya: 42 years since it was published, still the best book to give to your friend, brother, sister, lover who just got into University. Especially Makerere University in Kampala, where it is set. Those three years whiz past, The People’s Bachelor slows them down, breaks down for you how your 20s will shape the rest of your life. Youth is not wasted on the young. The old ruin youth.

2.       The Kalasanda Stories by Barbara Kimenye: What could it have been like to live in a small village in 1959 Uganda; before independence, before the wars, before the dislocation and acquaintance with the bitterness of exile? Kimenye takes you there, in her nostalgic look back. Sentimental, yes, cloying in places yes but it is all heart and it is true.

3.       Understanding Uganda by Timothy Kalyegira: read this in manuscript. Kalyegira, like Reverend Innocent JamesOtto, tramped Uganda on his own resources before he wrote this short book barely 150 pages, texting his astonished discoveries back. The book maybe short but compressed in those pages are a lifetimes observations on Uganda by one of her more interesting thinkers, malcontents and lovers. No one writes better than an exasperated lover.

4.       The Secret Country by David Kaiza: not available in the public domain, sadly, but I have read it. Kaiza is a great explainer. Reads, absorbs, does not regurgitate but enhances. One of the few writers who almost talks better than he writes, if you can follow his dizzyingly fast train of thought. But no, I’ll have the writing. Especially the essays and this cross cutter that unites Uganda and Kenya, exploring the sartorial savvy and history of the Karamoja region.

5.       Run by Ernest Ssempebwa Bazanye: status uncertain, think a few excerpts have appeared. There are passages in this short novel that sear themselves onto the mind’s eye so that you will never drive down Jinja road without quite remembering how these young Bazanye corporates looked at Kampala and life in their Uganda before 2008, before tear gas was part of the downtown restaurant menu, bakoowu was in the slang and Eddy Kenzo had any sort of career.

6.       Between Heaven and Hell by Jackee Batanda: I remember reading this and thinking, she got it, she got, if only she can keep it. Not easy to write from the other sex’s perspective convincingly but Batanda was able to do it in Between Heaven and Hell, her best short story of all that I ever read.

7.       The Lesson of the Vulture by Sam Jude Obbo: All the best poets I know in Uganda quit or die young. I don’t know why. Obbo quit the form, after this perfect poem on the difficult relations between men and women and their desires when falling in love. Not easy to find this as it was published on the Makerere University Masscom Online platform that has since undergone many changes and probably lost a lot of the first content.

8.       Three Levels of Elevation by Akiyo Michael Kasaija: Published in Kwani? When a poet writes prose, you can expect dense word play, undergrowth of meaning and allusion to sort through: a word and intellectual feast. Three Levels of Elevation is that, stuns you less than 10 paragraphs in and keeps hammering away. A story I did not want to come to the end of.

9.       The Ugandan Paradox by Joachim Buwembo: Cannot consider this book without its sibling ‘How to be Ugandan,’ and reads like a continuation. A journalist takes you by the hand through his beats and tells you the stories his newspaper column would not let him tell, from myths to subjects he observed, interviewed, pursued and was sometimes pursued by. Too short!

Monday, August 20, 2012


To still care. That is what mattered. No matter what prisons we thought we were held in. To still care. To believe change was possible. To be the change agents. 

Rwizi Arch lamp. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

"Now what you think you want?/So baby no moon and sky, got a beautiful sun..."

"I know we could have had it all
I wasn’t ready to go steady no not at all
Smoke and mirrors clouded my vision we hit a wall
Couldn’t see the moon and the sky behind the fog
Pregnant pause
Damn your baby tall, what you been up to
I don’t blame you my doll
Yeah, we kinda stalled
As God as my witness, timin’ was my mistress
I guess it’s in the stars for me to love you from a distance
Uh, our ship sail, uh, the wind blows
The door’s always open but our window was closed..."

                                                             The Moon and the Sky by Sade feat Jay-Z

Yes, it's for you.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Museveni Messiah or Megalomaniac?

 This profile of Uganda's President Museveni ran in a 1998 edition of Focus on Africa. 14 years later, it makes very revealing reading.

"Despite this it is hard to dislike Museveni, who has great personal charm. He is not threatened by dissenting views. He holds frequent press conferences and yawns widely if the questions are dull. He is a gifted public speaker and always willing to learn: he rings up businessmen and journalists to find out more about issues that interest him. He does not kowtow to foreign dignitaries.

It is easy to see how Museveni, who is a talented diplomat, has managed to glide across the diplomatic stage. He is funny without being frivolous, human without being intimate. He has a soft spot for women, and in particular for those whom he can assume a paternalistic role. During President Bill Clinton’s recent visit he tipped his head coyly and smiled at ‘his daughter’, the US assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Susan Rice, who beamed back appreciatively. 

The president has simple tastes; he does not drink or smoke and takes tea from a flask. When he travels up-country, he carries with him photos of his children and also his cows. Pictures of both are interspersed in his photo album: a sad bovine face stares out of one page next to a photograph of his mother. He enjoys listening to praise songs to his cattle, played by a group from his ranch, and always available on a battered cassette-player to lull him to sleep. 

Museveni’s achievements, confidence and charisma explain the hold he has over much of the population-including the army, who adore him. But it has also helped to create a feeling that without Museveni to whip the government into line, the system would collapse. 

Museveni’s critics claim he has encouraged this view by refusing to give real power to his ministers and by stifling political opponents. He is rarely challenged partly because under the Movement system, political parties spend all their time struggling for survival rather than building alternative policies. The president laughs this off, claiming there are many Ugandans who could take his place when he eventually retires to tend to his cows...." 

Anna Borzello report(ed)s for the BBC from Kampala (Focus on Africa, July-September 1998.)  

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

My cheetah print notebook, brown coffee stained.

We did not have chairs. We did not have a table. We did not even have cups or real plates. The bed was bare, but for a mattress and I had continued to put off buying “real” bed sheets or a blanket. I only used a light duvet. It was a room I did not expect to spend much time in and did not, until you. 

I have never loved anyone like I loved you in that room. 

I remember everything that happened in that room. From the first time you came to visit with your friend, your ever so discreet friend who retreated to the compound so we could talk. To the time you came to sleep over, then stay. 

The first time thoughtless, not daring to ask you to come and see my room until you asked, “Where do you sleep?” Me clueless that my preferred sparseness of furnishing had even an aesthetic name (minimalism) hesitant, until you alarmed me, “Maybe you have a girl you’re hiding there?” 

I had thought you’d snort derisively when you saw it and when you had said, “I like it. I love the space. I love the airiness. This is so wonderful.” I had turned to look at you, studying your face for the suppressed pity smile. 

I did not expect you to squeal with delight, racing to the window, “Oh my God, your window looks into the forest!” I thought girls were supposed to be terrified of snakes, caterpillars and other crawlies that dropped from trees into my room. No, you were into animals more than I ever was, armed with details like sports fans with their statistics, “The more you know, the less you have to fear. Fear is ignorance.” 

I thought it beyond ridiculous how excited you were about my cheetah print notebook present, “That’s my favourite, favourite animal! How did you know?”
Were you real? 

I kept looking for your flaws, hugging your softness into my embrace, kissing your melting lips, drinking together straight from that White Horse bottle (I began to tell myself, ‘This girl could be dangerous.’) You know, I’ve not forgotten one bit of our love making. How could I? There are worlds and truths I’m still trying to reclaim you gave me arched back shattering glimpses of, known then lost. 

I now know why I lost them. I know why I lost you. I know finally. 

I knew when a cheetah print backed notebook spilled into my lap from the envelope left for me at the reception at my office. I knew, at last, I had lost you. 

You once asked me, back to me, in my arms by the window, “What do you really think of me?” 

I’m answering.