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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Jane Rogers, the acclaimed author, playwright, editor and professor

This year, nothing has excited me more than being mentored by this literary legend during her recent visit to Uganda, where she participated in the campaign against domestic violence, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza

The acclaimed British author spent three weeks in Uganda and eluded her fans and book club members without even trying! Jane Rogers is the author of eight novels on top of short stories and several radio and TV plays that have aired on BBC and other international channels.

Her literary proficiency has won her notable accolades like the Somerset Maugham Award, Writers’ Guild Best Fiction Book while Dawn and the Candidate (1989) won her the Samuel Beckett Television Award.
Roger’s 1999 novel, Island, about a young woman hunting down her mother to kill her, was turned into a radio drama and has recently been turned into a film.

An editor of the Oxford University Press Good Fiction Guide (2001), Rogers has a novel set in Nigeria as well, The Voyage Home (2004). No wonder Chinua Achebe is one of her favourite authors.

Anyway, the 58-year-old mentored me on an upcoming radio soap opera about bride price and domestic violence and when I boasted to my friend Lauryn Ntare, UBC’s hotshot Vogue Magazine host, she whooped with envy and begged me to get her an autographed copy of Roger’s best-selling novel, Mr Wroe’s Virgins (1991).

It’s a true story of ‘a charismatic church leader who tells everybody to join his church, citing the world’s imminent doom”. Mr John Wroe touts himself as God’s mouthpiece and gets his massive followers to give unrestrained money with which he builds a mega church and then demands seven virgins to work as his servants. But when one of them gets pregnant, his followers are riled and banish the hypocritical preacher, who runs to Australia and builds another church that still exists.

The novel was turned into a TV serial directed by Danny Boyle –the famed director of the popular movie, Slumdog Millionaire (2008).

Most authors, like parents, are often ambivalent about their favourite child or novel. But not Jane Rogers! Her favourite “baby” is her third novel, The Ice is Singing (1987), about a poor woman who abandons her twins. “I like it because it’s quite sad but ends happily,” she says, adding, “And it’s very well shaped.”

Roger’s journey into authorship began with a love of reading that knew no bounds from as early as she could remember.

“When I was little, we lived in the countryside, where a library van full of books would come around every once in two weeks; we were allowed to take six books,” she says, brightening up. “I used to choose the six fattest books in the van because then there was more reading in them. I would then read them in about two days and wait for the van to come back.”

It’s while waiting that Rogers would find herself writing vigorously in her journal, inspired by the stories she read. It grew into a habit she found hard to break.

“And when I was at the university (Cambridge), we formed a group in which we performed our own writing; reading to an audience. It became quite popular, so I had things published in small magazines and then I wrote my first novel, (Separate Tracks, 1983).

A professor of writing at Sheffield Hallam University, she says the art of writing is not easy but quickly tells budding writers it’s a worthwhile venture if they give it their all.

“Each of my novels has taken between four and five years to write, a lot of that time being spent re-writing it; changing it and revising it,” she says. “People say writing novels is 10 per cent inspiration and 90 per cent perspiration and I think that’s true - you have to work hard; you have to revise, revise, revise and the rewards will be greater.”

Interestingly, Rogers has not been as much inspired by literary sages of old as she has been fascinated by the works of 2007 Nobel Laureate, Doris Lessing, particularly her first book, The Grass is Singing (1950), about a relationship between a white woman and her black houseboy, set in pre-independent Rhodesia.

A first time visitor, Rogers talks fondly of the “incredibly friendly” people of Uganda, her Tororo Rock climbing experience and how the women of Kirewa County in Tororo gave her a new name, Nyakecho, which is Japadhola for “born in the season of harvest.”

Married with three children, Rogers, who lives in the north of England, promises to return to the “Pearl of Africa.” Hopefully next time round, fans like Lauryn Ntare will get that much needed autograph!

--Sunday Monitor, December 5, 2010

Of understated beauty and Mifumi’s boogying women

Having imagined that Tororo was a boring place, I was in for a surprise; I was captured by the quiet, all-green beauty of the area and had to tear myself away after my sojourn, writes Dennis D Muhumuza
An opportunity to spend a fortnight in Tororo District had me packing a couple of classic novels as an antidote to probable boredom, having decided this place had little else to offer beyond the hulking Tororo Rock.

But cruising into Mifumi Village after a 40-minute drive from the municipality, I was captured by the quiet beauty of the area. It’s all flat and green; guava, papaya, jackfruit, avocado and mango trees, plus all forms of flowery dot every field, providing a picturesque view.

Up in a giant tree in my host’s compound, weaverbirds taught me a lesson in industriousness! We were here to write an upcoming radio soap opera on domestic violence and child abuse, but instead of sprucing up my work, I would burn my free time watching them twitter and weave their dexterously entwined nests.

The feel of the morning air bursting through my bedroom window, fanning my face while the roosters crowed away, was delightful. This, and the colourful birds and rare specie of little butterflies became my muse as were the aromatic fields and natural aura of romanticism surrounding the entire village.

Skittish calves caper with zest in the morning sun and bulls bellow in the distance. At noon, little white clouds race in the clear skies with wild abandon. As dusk approaches, a dozen or so men are seen at the local pub, sharing a pot of malwa from wooden straws, as fireflies illuminate the night.

Strolling through the village, I met a woman, a child strapped to her back, riding a bicycle. I expected the fringes of her long dress to stray into the spokes and probably cause a tragedy, but she disappeared round the corner without this happening.

Life here is so laidback that even at the local market, customers laze about from stall to stall. Sellers are not heard advertising their merchandise in sugary tongues and exaggeration like their St Balikudembe market counterparts.

In all, you would think life is great here, but don’t be duped. Poverty still looms large and women have long been victims of domestic violence and abuse, as deep-rooted as female genital mutilation is in the neighbouring Kapchworwa District. In fact, about 200 cases of domestic violence are reported to Tororo Central Police Station every month. Gnawed by poverty, parents marry their daughters off from as young as 15 to get bride price.The girls find themselves in unhappy, abusive marriages, which they cannot stay in, yet their parents won’t let them return home for fear of being forced to refund the bride price, as has been the tradition.

However, a local NGO called Mifumi, founded by Ms Atuki Turner, has been fighting for gender equality and it’s through their lobbying that the Tororo District Bridal Gifts Ordinance was enacted, making it illegal to demand bride price refund in case a marriage breaks down. The organisation has also established amenities like schools, health centres, markets and adult literacy centres in the whole of Kirewa sub-county.

It’s at one of the advice centres that a woman recited a poem in Japadhola about bride price: “…you can get married for five cows and tomorrow he’ll be beating you because of those cows… I don’t hear what Adam gave to God for giving him a bride. We shouldn’t put a price on our girls…”

As she recited it, I could have sworn that even the heavily hunched bull under the mango tree outside Mifumi Advice Centre stopped chewing its cud and spread its ears as if not to miss the emotional musicality of her voice.

Still, the women of Kirewa know how to boogie! They welcomed us with song and ululation; wiggling their seemingly boneless waists and pulling some good strokes, their breasts heaving and jouncing beneath bras like they wanted to be set free! It got so contagious that one of us jumped from her seat and joined the dance; shaking her butt like it had caught fire!

Watching them, it was almost inconceivable that they had gone through hell here on earth. One of the women said her husband once forced her down the hole of a pit latrine and when her waist couldn’t go through, he left her dangling there; commanding her to stay there till he came back.

Hearing the tremor of her voice and seeing tears in her eyes as she retold her ordeal, I knew she couldn’t have coined such a story. But like many others, Mifumi has given her a voice and resurrected her confidence, all the pain of the past forgotten.

It’s a tradition here that esteemed visitors are honoured with new names. So, I was given the name Kisangala, which is Japadhola for “happiness.” I had such a good time there that when my sojourn ended, I felt sad.

--Sunday Monitor, December 5, 2010

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Exposing the idiocy of politics of the belly

Title: The Honourable MP Who Resigned
Author: Godfrey Mwene Kalimugogo
Reviewer: Dennis D. Muhumuza

Hardly a year after he released Bury me In A Simple Grave (2009), Godfrey Mwene Kalimugogo is back with a new novel that is guaranteed to ruffle some feathers in the corridors of our parliament. The Honourable MP Who Resigned is a 173-page account of a man who resigns from parliament and is locked in the toilet of his house by his wife and a local priest, the only “ransom” being that he withdraws his resignation letter in exchange for his liberty.

They argue that his intention to resign is an inexcusable betrayal of the trust the people of Muhiga Constituency put in him. But the reader cannot be duped; it’s clear that Ediosa, the MP’s wife, is the most egocentric woman one could ever meet. As she confesses, “I am not the type of woman who, when she passes by, little women should giggle and pinch each other, saying, ‘There is the wife of the former MP.” So when she conspires with the crazy priest, Benon Baguma, they become a deadly combination.

Even more, natives of the locale begin to question the sanity of the protagonist, for they cannot understand how a sane man can throw away “such a juicy package” as being an MP, a position of honour that they believe everybody would kill for!

But Medard Mugisha is fed up with the madness of the politics of the August House, which has become a den that inhibits the “custodians of greed, opportunism and corruption…a formidable obstacle to any change that may threaten the status quo.”

As he tells the narrator, parliament has lost its virility and is now there to “rubber-stamp ready-made decisions” of authorities that be. In biting satire, Kalimugogo exposes the idiocy of our MPs and their politics of the belly, the deceit of the people that are supposed to be the most close to us (in this case the wife of the MP betraying her husband) and the hypocrisy of the men of the cloth. Also, the mission to rescue the poor MP exposes the incompetence and recklessness of the armed forces.

The madness of Ugandan politics today is recreated in this hilarious novel. It also brings to mind the hullabaloo created by the resignation of Mbale Municipality MP Wilfred Kajeke in July 2009. The book is available in bookstores for Shs10,000.

--Sunday Monitor, October 31, 2010

A lover and writer of good humour

At 67, Kalimugogo’s voice quavers with age but his enunciation remains perfect. He took Dennis D. Muhumuza back to the formative years that connected him to literature; a connection from which he has never extricated himself.

Not much is known about Geofrey Mwene Kalimugogo but he is a prolific force in Ugandan fiction. His first book, Dare to Die, was released in 1972 but it’s his third novel, Trials and Tribulations in Sandu’s Home (1974) that distinguished him as a witty writer; the domestic comedy immediately got on the literature syllabus.

Kalimugogo has since published 12 novels - a feat that’s yet to be matched by any of his contemporaries. In 2004 and 2010 respectively, A Visitor Without a Mission (2003) and Bury Me in a Simple Grave (2009) earned him honours from the National Book Trust of Uganda.

 His novels are not products of pure imagination, seeing the realness with which they depict the experiences of everyday life.

 “The job of an artist is to recreate a situation,” he says.

This he ably does, exposing corporate greed, corruption and the alarming gulf there is between the rich and the poor; issues of concern that a Ugandan reader easily identifies with. A Murky River ((2009) is, for example, about a man who worships money so much that he forgets his mother, only to discover after her death that no amount of money can bring her back.

His 2010 release, The Honourable M.P. Who Resigned, exposes the politics of opportunism, intrigue, sycophancy and the force with which the virtuous are exterminated, while in Bury Me in a Simple Grave, he realistically captures a society in which today’s generation disrespect elders.

“In the old society, the respect of the young for the older was sort of glue that kept society together,” he says with a faraway look, “But all that is getting loose; a young man telling his grandfather to go to hell was unthinkable. And in writing this book, I thought, ‘What does that presage?’” he said.

In a pithy style, enriched more by repartees, the tongue-in-cheek and satire, Kalimugogo presents egocentric, highly patronising, capricious and loquacious megalomaniacs that love their booze and live by the dictum, “For God and my belly!”

And beneath the humour are deep moral lessons. “As a Christian, I believe men and women should do good things because that’s what makes the world a better place,” he says.

The humour, he confesses, has much to do with the influence that English writer P.G. Wodehouse (1881-1975) has had on him.

“Wodehouse is the funniest person I’ve ever read in my life,” he says. “I don’t enjoy writing or reading dark material; I find it very difficult to put myself in a sad mood as a writer. I love good humour, satire, farce written in fresh and good language.”

His connection to literature; from which he has never extricated himself, began at Nyakasura SSS, where he studied from 1959 to 1964.

“The school had a first-class library and in S.4 and S.5, I was the chief librarian,” he says. “By the time I joined Makerere University College of the University of East Africa in 1965, I had read all the great masters: Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy and Alexander Pope among others.”

At Makerere, Kalimugogo enjoyed the finest literary interactions that were to shape his literary ambitions. His contemporaries included John Ruganda, Prof Timothy Wangusa, Rose Mbowa, and Laban Erapu among others with whom they used to meet to discuss books and critique their own writings.

“The atmosphere was absolutely on fire with the passion and desire for literature,” he says nostalgically. “Our lecturers were extremely sharp and eager and the department of literature was running an internationally recognised literary magazine, Penpoint, which I edited in 1967.”

Kalimugogo graduated in 1968 with an Honours Degree in English and Classical Literature. He joined the Foreign Affairs Ministry in 1970 and worked in Kinshasa, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Nairobi before he retired in 2003 to spend the rest of his life writing.

In his demanding diplomatic schedule, it’s amazing that he could still find time to writ: “It’s because, apart from the joy of my family, there’s nothing as enjoyable as writing and reading.”

The light-skinned author would like to see more indigenous works on the national curriculum because “they have the most immediate relevance to the Ugandan audience.”

He advises budding writers to read widely because “it’s the only way a writer can establish a wide scope of literary reference.”

Kalimugogo comes from Kabale District, is married and has four children who are avid readers.

“Knowing that my books are being consumed and appreciated by the reading public is my best reward,” he concludes.

--Sunday Monitor, October 17, 2010

Don’t ever doubt your ability to impact the lives of others

Title: The Price of Stones
Author: Jackson Twesigye Kaguri

Reviewer: Dennis D. Muhumuza

This is a true story about an individual who took a step of faith to help his community. Jackson Twesigye Kaguri was lucky, at least, that his uneducated parents sacrificed to educate him; an opportunity he maximised, excelling and earning a government spot at Makerere University and finally finding himself at Columbia University as a visiting scholar.

There, Kaguri fell for and married an African American woman and it was when he brought her back home in the remote village of Nyakagyezi, in Rukungiri district, that he recognised the gravity of need in his neighbourhood as hundreds of people lined up outside his family’s door, seeking tuition and other necessities for children of relatives who had died of HIV/Aids.

Kaguri deeply comprehended their plight, seeing that he had lost his beloved big brother and sister to the deadly disease and whose children he was now taking care of. That day in 2001, together with his compassionate wife, he knew they had to do something. Thus, Nyaka Aids Orphans School was born, with the intention of “saving one child at a time.”

However, it was not easy as Kaguri had to confront financial obstacles, doubting Thomases and other individuals who thought he was using the Nyaka Project as bait to contest for and win a parliamentary seat.

Relying on God and the larger support of the community, Kaguri was undaunted as he began with one classroom, “stone by stone.” As the vision took shape, the sceptics relented and started supporting him, donors came on board andright now, the Nyaka Aids Orphans Project has since grown and is helping hundreds of orphans and widows.

The Price of Stones is about that challenging but incredible journey. In 263 pages, Kaguri and Susan Urbanek Linville crisply tell this moving account, sugared with hilarious stories of Kaguri growing up and how his father’s strictness, mother’s immoderate love and the generosity of his elder brother were to shape him into the inspirational figure he is today.

President Jimmy Carter praises the book as “an inspiring account of turning tragedy into hope”, while another reader notes: “If you’ve ever doubted your ability to impact the lives of others, read this story and it will change your mind and heart.” Published in the US by Viking Penguin early this year, this book is already available in Ugandan bookstores.

--Sunday Monitor, October 17, 2010

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

For how long are we going to provoke God?

The prosperity gospel, or the gospel of the financial seed, has become preeminent in church, alienating the poor and conspiratorially replacing the gospel of fire and brimstone, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza 

In his famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” fiery American theologian Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), pleads with Christians to mend their ways and cease provoking God.

The sermon may be 269 years old, but its relevance is still as immediate as it is powerful, for it is evident there is a desperate need of healing and cleansing from the leprosy of sin that has infiltrated the church today and subjected it to mockery. Avarice has overshadowed the real Gospel as businessmen are busy becoming pastors and ripping off unsuspecting congregants for self aggrandisement.

The prosperity gospel or the gospel of the financial seed, has become preeminent in church, alienating the poor and conspiratorially replacing the gospel of fire and brimstone (Revelation 19: 20) that has long been effective in reminding believers about the ramifications of sin.

The non-believers and hypocrites in church circles are on rampage, using their money and treachery to hook up church girls; others are running after fame and riches at the expense of heeding the holy dictate of seeking the righteousness of Christendom by which these things follow by default (Mathew 6: 33).

It is flabbergasting how drinkers of inequity easily quote scripture to justify their straying: “All have fallen short of the glory of God,” “Let him without sin cast the first stone” as they go on amusing themselves in the amusement park of secularism. It explains the latest trend of sisters in church getting married in a hurry to disguise their pregnancies and quite a number dying while aborting.

The Biblical command of handling our salvation with fear and trembling has been ignored; we are living in the fast lane; indulging; replicating the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18, 19), after all God’s grace is sufficient.

One is tempted to believe these are the last days alluded to in 2 Timothy: 3, where greed, hedonism, envy, immorality, pride, disobedience, violence, deceit, recklessness, irreligiousness and all manner of loathsome behaviour had become the only way of life.

Similarly, we have become like the Cretans, who professed to know the Lord when in works they denied Him, “being abominable and disobedient and unto every good work reprobate” (Titus 1: 16). That is right; we should be guilty! For how long is God going to be “dreadfully provoked” as Edwards puts it? For how long are we going to abuse the liberty that God, in his immeasurable goodness, has granted us?

To think that it is alright to sin and repent afterwards is unquestionably delusional because life is so slippery that none can even tell what happens in the next microsecond. The Bible says the Master will arrive incognito and cut the unfaithful servant in pieces; sharing the fate of the disobedient (Luke 12: 35-48).

For as much as God is indescribably merciful, he resents hypocrisy and disobedience. Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt for this (Genesis 19:26), while Ananias and his wife Sapphira were struck dead for their financial dishonesty (Acts 5:1-11).

Edwards stresses that we are already condemned. That God holds us over the pitiless pit of hell, looking at us as worthy of nothing but to be cast into the fire, yet His hand upholds us from falling into the fire because of His mercy. Should He then be taken for granted? The Israelites crossed the Red Sea under the cloud of God but later desired evil things and sat down to a feast that turned into an orgy of drinking and sex. But in one day, 23,000 of them fell dead as a warning to us that the Lord must not be put to the test (Corinthians 10: 1-9).

The Bible further says straying after testing the righteousness and goodness of God is synonymous with crucifying once again the Son of God and holding Him up to contempt, thereby becoming like worthless land full of thorns and thistles and whose end is to be burned (Hebrews 5, 6).

Wake up, therefore, from your drunken stupor, says the Bible - and do not go on sinning so that the power of God that is constant in our lives can help us win in the daily war between the body and soul as revealed in Galatians 5: 17. Paul himself became a pugilist, punching his carnal self to bring it under subjection and subjugation so as to win the unfading crown presented to all who finish the race of salvation (1Corrinthians 9: 24-26).

It is time to mature from the elementary doctrine of Christ and graduate from milk to solid food in the word of righteousness by learning to distinguish good from evil. That way, we cease dreadfully provoking God, as Edwards put it.

--Sunday Monitor, October 10, 2010

The right door will get you to prosperity

Title: Tapping God’s Blessings
Author: Robert Bake Tumuhaise
Reviewer: Dennis D. Muhumuza

The front-cover picture of a hand unlocking a padlock did not have as much effect on me as the opening lines of the second paragraph of the first chapter: “We stand in the present holding the keys to the future doors of success and failure; it’s we who decide which door to open.”

The realness of those words struck me profoundly, overwhelming me with a sense of guilt; it hit me that had I chosen to open the right door, I would be far ahead on my prosperity journey. But I let life’s hard knocks keep me on the canvas instead of rising up and buffering.

That’s how convicting Tapping God’s Blessings is. Inspirational speaker and author Robert Bake Tumuhaise writes that we are all born to shine; to overshadow failure like light chases away darkness. He argues that it’s all about choice really: refuse to be poor, miserable, sick, barren or even an addict. Choose good health, joy and prosperity.

First released in 2008 and aptly subtitled Keys to Open Doors of Success in your Life, the 126-page book is sugared with real life stories of people who have utilised or blown their chances and of ordinary Biblical figures that tapped God’s blessings and registered extraordinary exploits.

Most people measure success by the number of posh cars they drive or the mansions they own. But the author argues that success in God’s estimation is much more comprehensive than mere material wealth. And it’s this prosperity as prescribed by God that he writes needs be embraced. He shows how, including how dangerous it is to worship money and how ignorance has chained many in poverty, or how misdirected talents keep us struggling and dissatisfied.

Bake stresses that God should be mandatory in our lives as in all our business plans and ambitions; what he calls “seeking the God of blessings before seeking the blessings of God!”

The enviable simplicity, the touch of humour and most of all the believability that characterise Tapping God’s Blessings makes it the best inspirational Ugandan book I’ve read so far and one I strongly recommend for everyone that wants to prosper but is clueless on how to go about it.

--Sunday Monitor, October 10, 2010

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The literary volcano that Beverly Nambozo is

If there’s one person that has played her part in the rise of Uganda’s literary industry, particularly in the area of poetry, it’s Nambozo, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza 

Not that she has written a best seller, but Nambozo’s zeal in the elevation and appreciation of home literature is unquestionable. From the day she joined the Uganda Female Writers Association (Femrite) about 10 years ago, she has had a couple of short stories and poems published in journals and anthologies of acclaim in East Africa and abroad.

Her latest story can be found in Talking Tales (2009), a collection of short stories and poems by Femrite members. Titled Paddling, it’s a moving account of a young girl who gets impregnated by a priest and is contemplating throwing herself in a lake after she’s shunned.

Most of her poems, just like her short stories, are irresistibly sad and personal. As she confesses in one of her blog entries, she finds it difficult to write creatively when she’s happy: “Sadness makes me create. Emptiness makes me want to feel full and so I write...”

Bev, as is fondly known to friends, has worked as a teacher at Greenhill Academy and as radio presenter at Power FM but writing has always been her number one love. She quit her job at the East African Sub-regional Support Initiative for the Advancement of Women to focus on writing.

The effervescent lady had long observed a glaring absence of a platform devoted to promoting poetry for and by Ugandan women. So, she founded the annual BN Poetry Awards that recently celebrated their second anniversary with Sophie Alal’s poem, Making Modern Love, scooping the top prize of $250 and an autographed copy of Dr Susan Kiguli’s poetry collection, The African Saga. 

The 33-year-old was immediately nominated for the August 2009 Arts Press Association (APA) Awards for rejuvenating indigenous poetry. She has since extended the poetry awards project to schools to stimulate students to “push their pens to the pinnacle.”

“The schools project is aimed at meeting the financial and literary needs of both male and female students through linking poetry to financial literacy,” she says. “After several sessions, students will submit poems that speak largely on saving, investment and the culture of money. These poems shall then be reviewed by a panel of judges after which they will be printed and distributed amongst other schools in the region.”

Even more, her initiative has birthed what is called Azania, an inter-university literary platform organised by Lillian Akampurira Aujo, winner of the top prize in the inaugural BN Poetry Awards for her poem, Soft Tonight. 

“My intention is to continue making poetry matter,” says Bev. “There are several individuals and better established groups I’ve met in Uganda and East Africa that are doing a lot of work to promote poetry and I’m humbled to be part of a similar work as theirs.”

A holder of a Bachelor’s Degree in Education with a concentration in English studies and literature, Bev explains her obsession with poetry in an article: “Poets are synonymous with passion. Poetry is part of the thrill of life…most Ugandan poets I know have told me that poetry takes them to peaks of passion; it saves them from stress and heals them from heartache. I agree with it all…and I’m proud of being a part of the growing wisdom that comes with words.”

After coming third in an international poetry competition organised by the UK-based erbacce-press, Bev won the publishing contract, and her first book, Unjumping, gets released in October this year. She also landed a scholarship for a Masters Degree in Creative Writing from Lancaster University, UK.

Inspired by Ugandan poets Dr Susan Kiguli, Prof Timothy Wangusa, Mildred Kiconco Barya and Joseph Kitaka Semutooke, Bev is organising a poetry training workshop for the participants in her previous poetry awards.

In what should pass as an aside, she’s happily married and a mother of one daughter. She’s also a competitive swimmer and dancer and her favourite quote is: “Each one of us is a volcano. Some extinct, some dormant and some active!”

--Sunday Monitor, October 3, 2010

Monday, September 6, 2010

The raging conflict between good and evil in the human soul

Title: Barabbas
Author: Pär Lagerkvist
Reviewer: Dennis D. Muhumuza 

If you have never paused to ponder the significance of someone choosing to die in your place, then Barabbas, the novel by award-winning Swedish author Pär Lagerkvist, will make you. Like the title suggests, the novel is drawn from the Golgatha experience in the Bible. Even those who don’t know their Bible well surely know about Barabbas, the man whose life takes a dramatic turn when it is exchanged with the Lord’s by Pontius Pilate. Jesus Christ – an innocent man, is crucified on the cross at Calvary while Barabbas – the notorious criminal, is set free.

The Gospels actually say close to nothing about who Babarras really was. This is what makes Lagerkvist’s novel unique because his version of Barabbas is that of a man whose troubles begin at conception. Accordingly, Barabbas’s mother is a Moabite woman taken prisoner by a band of rogues, raped and sold to a brothel in Jerusalem when she gets pregnant with Barabbas. Out of the bitterness of her misfortunes, she curses Barabbas when he’s still in her womb and delivers him in “hatred of heaven and earth and the Creator of heaven and earth”. She dies shortly after giving birth to him.

Barabbas is picked from the streets and grows in his father’s gang; later killing his father in self-defence by shoving him down a precipice. So many things happen thereafter; Barabbas gets arrested and when Jesus later takes his place, Barabbas is changed forever. His band now looks at him as a burden; they don’t like his gloomy and scarred face and think it’s his fault that the band is dogged by bad luck as they have recently lost two members.

Everywhere Barabbas turns, he’s condemned. “Get thee hence, thou reprobate!” they shout. And poor Barabbas continues his lonely walk, the prominent scar on his lonely face reflecting his despised and ugly past. Barabbas cannot stop thinking about why the son of God accepts to die in his place in such a “dreadful way”.
This way, Barabbas, however condemned, is closer to Jesus probably like no other man.

Curved on a disk suspended from his neck is God’s crossed-out name. Barabbas wants to believe, to affirm his faith but he cannot pray. All he can say is, “I want to believe.” It appears he is inevitably connected with Jesus so much that his last words reflect the Masters. “To thee I deliver up my soul,” he cries as he gives up the ghost.

Lagerkvist, who won a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1951, writes movingly as he explores the raging conflict between good and evil in the human soul and man’s urgent need of God. To read Barabbas is to do yourself a favour!

--Sunday Monitor, September 5, 2010

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Metamorphosis


“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” Thus opens Franz Kafka’s 1915 short novel, The Metamorphosis, a bizarre account as riveting as it made me stop and think. 

    Samsa is a hardworking man selflessly taking care of his parents and sister. But all that is forgotten following that queer and unforeseeable morning when he finds he has changed into a bug! 

   Now his family can hardly come to terms with his odd condition, and poor Samsa is isolated and fed on garbage as he begins a new life of desperation and inescapable doom. The outrageous treatment reflects contemporary society where individuals who lead lives of sacrifice and self-denial for the benefit of their communities oft times end up being betrayed, alienated and left to die alone. 

     That’s why Eric Santner calls “The story of Gregor Samsa an initiation into a universe of abjection.” The beauty about it however is that Samsa, in spite of the unfair treatment from his family, accepts his plight with admirable equanimity. In fact, he can be very ironically humorous. Somewhere in the novel, when he is attracted by his sister’s music, Samsa, now an insect, crawls nearer to enjoy it in close proximity but stops to wonder if he “was an animal that music moved him so!” 

     In a style as lucid as it is ludic, the author movingly captures the loneliness, frustration, helplessness and all the psychological torment connected with individuals that find themselves entrapped by forces beyond their control, all made the worse by an indifferent world. 

    This Austrarian-Czech masterpiece is one every lover of literature should read before their death, if you ask me. As Nobel-Prize winning author Elias Canetti is quoted on the back cover, “In The Metamorphosis, Kafka reached the height of his mastery: he wrote something which he could never surpass, because there is nothing which The Metamorphosis could be surpassed by—one of the few great, perfect poetic works of this century.” 

--Sunday Monitor (Sunday Life Magazine, page 16), August 22, 2010

'I believe it’s my weaknesses that make me precious'

Precious TM is the host of the Pundonor Magazine show on NBS TV. She told DENNIS D. MUHUMUZA about her obsession with gossip 

What’s so precious about Precious TM?
I know you’re expecting me to talk about the endless goodness or Godliness about me, but I believe it’s the my weaknesses that make me precious. One gets to discover this when they closely know me because just looking at me shows only the good side.

What’s your fascination with gossip?
The grapevine in which gossip about celebrities in the entertainment industry moves is so interesting; from the house keepers to the top offices in the country, there are no clear verifications from the media or the personas involved. However, the question in my head is always, is it true or false? The need to know the truth gives me an adrenaline rush.

 When were you happiest?
Getting a dream job, but recently, there is this four-year-old girl who tends to follow me from the stage on my way home saying Pundonor Magazine all the way. It not only makes me happy, but the memory of it makes me proud each time.

 What was your most embarrassing moment?
One time I was called by some top executives in town to cover a corporate event for my show, but when I got there with my crew, we were bounced and it looked like we were gate-crashing. Imagine the look on my ever smiling face!

Which living person do you most admire and why?
Definitely my parents, because most of my admirable traits came from my upbringing.

What is your most unappealing habit?
I am impatient about almost everything.

What is your favourite scent?
The scent that follows a hot steamy cup of coffee really works for me.

What is the worst thing anyone’s said to you?
On one of those reality shows, Eve Mbabazi, you know her right? (I nod.) She loudly said the F-word to me and referred to our Ugandan beauty contestants as bitches.

When did you last cry and why?
I got robbed of my bag and was stuck somewhere with no money and no mobile phone. I wept.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Being a professional media practitioner; the fact that I’m safe to know that even if I wasn’t on television, I would still be in the media, probably writing, using the power of my voice for radio, advertising, production or public relations.

What song at your funeral?
Don Moen’s music would be okay.

--Sunday Monitor, August 29, 2010

Monday, August 16, 2010

The civil engineer who builds words and sentences

When we met, I couldn’t help asking Nick Twinamatsiko if he is a writer, or engineer by default, to which he replied with a broad smile that he always knew he was going to be a writer, Dennis D. Muhumuza writes
It’s a peculiarity in itself that a writer whose novels revolve around life’s oddities is a university lecturer of civil engineering. In normal circumstances, you would expect such a person to pursue a humanities course, seeing as he wanted to be a creative author that early.

Because of his love for mathematics, his dream high school combination was Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and Literature (PCM/L). He was denied Literature, so he retained PCM and passed it colourfully, getting admitted on government sponsorship for Civil Engineering at Makerere University. That’s how civil engineering and creative authorship became his “wives” and he’s a happy man!

On top of lecturing in engineering at Kyambogo University, this man of small physical stature owns a publishing firm - Pilgrims Publications and is the author of two novels and a poetry anthology, Till the Promised Land & Other Poems (2004). His autobiographical novel, Jesse’s Jewel (2007), won the 2008 National Book Trust of Uganda (Nabotu) literary prize and his 2010 release, The Chwezi Code, is basking in attention on blogs and social networking websites.

The 31-year-old does not even hail from a family of writers or book enthusiasts. That’s why you’ll probably find it peculiarly interesting that what sparked his writing interest was a Biblical verse about young men dreaming dreams (Joel 2:28.)

“It had such a pull on me; the way those words were arranged,” he says hypnotically. “It made me realise how badly I wanted to be a writer and use words as beautifully!”

The he came across Trials and Tribulations in Sandu’s Home (1974), a hilarious domestic comedy by Godfrey Mwene Kalimugogo that left a compelling impression on him so much that day after day he contemplated writing his own novel.

However, the real turning point came in 1990 when the then 11-year-old was picked from P.6 in second term and taken to P.7, where he beat an entire Mbarara Municipality in Mock Examinations and proceeded to score aggregate 4 in PLE, something that had last been done four years earlier at his school, Mbarara Municipal School.

“It created in me the conviction that what anybody could do I could also do,” he says pragmatically. “I discovered that life had many possibilities; that things could be done differently as opposed to the way they were; for instance, that one didn’t have to study all the classes in school to be competent.”

It’s with this new-found confidence, now ingrained in his system, that Twinamatsiko embarked on writing his first novel during his S.4 vacation. It was around this time that he encountered the works of Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde among other famous authors that have influenced him profoundly.

With this self-belief, he has been toiling to reconfigure the notion that the best writers are possibly those that have studied literature or English studies in high school or at university.

He however admits that as Jesse’s Jewel gradually took shape, he struggled to discover what famous French novelist Gustave Flaubert called the “mot juste” (the right word) – a limitation he thinks would probably not have surfaced if he had had advanced English studies.

“My belief though is that a work of art must have a message, meaning and philosophy,” he says. “I always strive for that before anything else.”

This is evidently drawn from his hero, Dickens, whose works carry deep moral themes, yet he’s equally bowled over by the artistry of Oscar Wilde and the poetic touch of Shakespeare. He strives to learn from these literary luminaries but adds that the Bible has as well enriched his evolvement as a writer.

“Being born-again has given me a sense of purpose,” he says introspectively, “I always aspire to deal with important questions rather than trivia and that’s to a large extent due to faith that my writing talent is a gift from God.”

Twinamatsiko finds it grating how Ugandan publishing houses are running down the industry by relegating fiction in favour of educational materials in the name of commercialism.

To the single ladies, this engineer-author comes from Mbarara, went to Ntare School and is still single, but be warned; it appears his blood is only stirred by the peculiar, at least according to his fictional protagonists! In fact, he’s working on a collection of essays, The Chwezi Factor, in which he explores things that are natural but misconstrued as supernatural.

God willing, Twinamatsiko hopes to become a fulltime writer in two years. Whether his craftsmanship will endure the test of time is left for the future to tell.

--Sunday Monitor, August 15, 2010

‘I’m very impatient with mediocrity, cowardice, stupidity and hypocrisy’

Julius Mutabazi is the out-going chairperson of West Ankole Diocesan Youth Council, an evangelist and an aspiring MP for Bushenyi Municipality. He told DENNIS D. MUHUMUZA what has kept him going

When were you happiest?
When I was admitted to Makerere University to do a Law degree course last year. It has always been my dream to be a lawyer. Some people could not understand my decision to pursue another Bachelors Degree when I’ve one already.

A preacher and now a politician; can these mix?
Absolutely! We need people with a deep sense of godliness, integrity, patriotism, and humanity in the political arena.

What is your greatest fear?
Failure and mediocrity. I also fear that unspeakable degeneration and its ambassadors might completely annihilate the soul of this beautiful country and sink it into a bottomless dark pit.

What is your most treasured possession?
My relationship with God, my smile, my uniqueness and my library.

Who or what is the greatest love of your life?
God; I also love me, people, books, music and my bed. Books and my bed have been there for me through thick and thin.

What is the greatest misconception people have about you?
Just because I wear a smile always, people think I’m an “easy” person and try to ride my back. But I can really be tough. You can’t easily blackmail or manipulate me. I’m very impatient with mediocrity, cowardice, stupidity and hypocrisy.

Which living person do you most admire and why?
The Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, Henry Luke Orombi. He is an icon of passion for evangelism and has selflessly invested himself in proclamation of the Gospel. I also admire Mugisha Muntu. He is an epitome of gentleness, patriotism and humility in politics. Both men have great hearts for young people.

Which living person do you most despise and why?
I don’t despise people. There is so much good in and about people we define as bad and evil. I only despise the evil they do.

What song would you like played at your funeral?
A hymn - My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less. 

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Being able to “keep on keeping on” and not succumbing to despair when life was pretty tough and perilous. I have also tried to stay true to myself. You know life can be really hard.

--Sunday Monitor, August 15, 2010

Better than a fish hooker

Title: Am I an Independent Woman?
Author: Teddie M. Nagaddya
Reviewer: Dennis D. Muhumuza 

It should come as potent news, especially to women in the developing world, that they can beat the odds and enjoy the greater privileges in life that have for long been the preserve of men, according to the newly released Am I an Independent Woman?

The 91-page self-help book is written to “the millions of women out there who have always had the thought of becoming independent or self-reliant adults but did not know how, when and why.”

It explores the essence of the expression “independent woman” and convinces women that through determination, working smart and focus, they can have as much affluence and influence as their male counterparts.

“The power is in your hands to live your life to the fullest only if you can appreciate the freedom associated with being an independent person,” writes Teddie M. Nagaddya. She’s however bold with women who use sex to get to where they want, and those that abandon their jobs or refuse to work, preferring to wholly depend on their partners for all their needs: “I think some of the things women do are dim-witted!”

Men are also reminded of their need of a woman: “Men will agree with me that they desperately need women in order to keep their sanity. Without the feminine touch, the world of men would be cold and impersonal.”

The book gives a good definition of womanhood and emphasises the importance of self-respect and self-confidence as qualities of a winner, as opposed to those of a loser.

It is interspersed with real-life stories and inspirational quotes that will stir women to follow in the footsteps of phenomenal achievers like Mother Theresa, Oprah Winfrey, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Joyce Meyer and Noerine Kaleeba of TASO among others.

Ms Nagaddya’s writing style is bubbly and her colloquialism makes her book an enjoyable read. By the end, the reader is persuaded that being an independent woman feels absolutely good.

Importantly though, the writer stresses that being “an independent adult should not only benefit you as an individual but also the society you live in to make this world a better place for all humankind.” 

--Sunday Monitor, August  15, 2010

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The pursuit of truth is the only antidote to our gullibility

Title: Chwezi Code
Author: Nick Twinamatsiko
Reviewer: Dennis D. Muhumuza
Available: In bookshops for Shs15,000 

The newly released The Chwezi Code, Nick Twinamatsiko’s second novel after Jesse’s Jewel, hilariously embodies the deceitfulness in our society, the enormity of which is rooted in the ignorance of the masses.

Mugu’s dream of a bright future is shattered when he’s dismissed from university for exam malpractice with a girl he’s crazy about. In confusion and tormented by guilt of wasting three years, he joins insurgents that are storming Mbarara Army Barracks to flush out Amin’s soldiers.

It’s his golden chance to curve himself a career in the military, but Mugu loves his life too much to risk it. So, he escapes in an abandoned boat and as he rows in the dark on River Rwizi, sudden thoughts of the legendary demigods, the Chwezi, preoccupy his mind, never letting go.

When he comes across a tree that seems to “have been standing for centuries”, it becomes the spot for his shrine as he begins his new life as a Chwezi priest. It’s flabbergasting how easily people are hoodwinked as they begin showering him with endless gifts in exchange for counterfeit blessings. Although one clever woman, Mable, sees through his shadiness, she plays along, manoeuvring to sleep with him to give her barren husband children.

The 206-page-turner penetrates the duplicity and depravity that has befouled contemporary society and the alarming extent to which people contaminate themselves for mammon. Its magnetism is in the inner conflict of the central figure as he struggles to believe in the dubious spirits he serves and in his uncertainty as to whether he’ll ever disentangle himself from their grip.

The novel reminds me of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous short story, Young Goodman Brown, whose protagonist takes a walk in the forest one night and is alarmed to find everyone he respected as morally upright at the devil’s party. He realises that all men are evil and loses all his faith.

Equally, The Chwezi Code shows you that society is enmeshed in wickedness almost beyond redemption. The author subtly challenges us to embrace reading and be shrewd in the pursuit of truth, for that is the only antidote to our gullibility as a people.

-- Sunday Monitor, August 8, 2010

When bravado turned sour

When two incorrigible brothers discovered a fat lizard on a tree and were determined to see who wounded it first, they were unprepared for its arrogance and surprise reaction, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza.
Two brash boys were playing when they spotted a bluish lizard spread boisterously on a tree, enjoying the noonday sun. Yuko, the taller of the two, rollicked at the discovery, his finger pointing it out hyperactively. He searched about for a stick, his earnest face twisting with impatience.

“Gather as many stones,” he ordered his kid brother, Kato and hurried off. Yuko soon returned with a crude thing that turned out to be a sling. His face brightened up when he looked up and saw the fat lizard still on the tree. Suddenly, the wild creature lifted its head and stared at him hard and suspiciously, like he was a repulsive intruder, its bulgy eyes roving sinisterly.

For some elusive reason, Yuko wished it could slip into its crevice. He hurled a little stone at the cold-blooded creature and it didn’t budge. He concluded it had guts and was daring him for combat! The boys went on rampage, flinging at it, but the lizard was an artful dodger; it kept tilting this and that way and ducking with uncanny precision while the shots whizzed by.

The sun came down even harder; sweat poured from the boys’ faces as they pelted the defiant reptile in a flurry of turns, focused on having its head smashed. But the tiny monster was too wily to be downed. It briefly hoisted itself up on its tail and moved its head with arrogance, as if telling its little enemies, “This is my fortress, where no man can take me on and win!”

As he picked the second last of the stones, Yuko, who had missed for the umpteenth time, finally said, a clue of resignation in his voice, “If I don’t knock it off this time around, I’ll go home.” Collecting himself and inhaling mighty deeply, his right eye closed like a soldier about to pull a trigger, Yuko unleashed a hot shot that struck a tiny portion of the tail, stunning the lizard.

“Darn, I got you!” Yuko cried, triumphantly.

“Darn, you didn’t,” Kato rejoined, “It’s still on the tree!”

Yuko almost slapped him, but remembering that his brother had always been naughty with words, handed him the sling instead, saying sarcastically, “You, little sir, let’s see you knock it down with your enviable marksmanship then!”

“No,” said Kato, resolutely, “I would rather wrench it off that tree with my bare hands; I’ll make it shed its ugly skin and chop off its balls,” he paused for effect “And have them for supper!” Yuko doffed his imaginary hat at the boy’s exaggerated bravado and surreal sense of humour. What did the seven-year-old know about “balls” anyway?

With a devilish smile, Kato picked the last stone and painstakingly put it in position. The lizard, watching him and still smarting from the scrape of Yuko’s earlier shot, flared and inflated its rugged bulk and as the boy drew closer, his hand slowly and steadily pulling the strap before releasing the missile, the lizard made its lunge and grabbed Kato by the neck.

The boy fell and emitted a cry of desperation, then quailed and kicked. The lizard was locked into his neck now, its rough tail oscillating ferociously. Yuko yanked it off, leaving scratches like tiny trenches from which blood oozed. He stooped and turned Kato over, examining the frighteningly swollen patch on his neck. There was a little foam at the corners of his mouth, his tongue was sticking out and he looked like a corpse.

“Oh God – he is dead,” he cried in panic. A certain gentleman happened to be driving by and Yuko flagged him down. Kato was rushed to the nearby hospital, where it was discovered he was not dead. Rather, he had fainted from the shock of the ugly lizard flinging itself upon his neck!

--Sunday Monitor, August 1, 2010

Taking pride in who we are as a people

Title: Muduuma Kwe Kwaffe
Author: Wycliffe Kiyingi
Reviewer: Dennis D. Muhumuza

It’s rich in content and language and bustles with humour while addressing the serious questions of bad governance and poverty; in all, an African state struggling to deal with post-economic colonialism.

Muduuma Kwe Kwaffe is what established Wycliffe Kiyingi as a playwright of indisputable distinction, alongside his contemporaries Robert Serumaga, Rose Mbowa and Byron Kawadwa, all acclaimed for Uganda's theatric glory of the 60s and 70s.

The four-act play revolves around the political and economic mess that has reigned in Uganda since 1945. All along until 1945, Indians monopolise trade and commerce throughout the country.

The turning point comes about in 1945 when firebrand World War II veteran, Mudiima, returns home and tells natives hilarious stories of what he saw in Burma and India, the home country of Mulji, one of the Indian traders who has been exploiting them. He tells them that in India, every business is in the hands of the natives and wonders why that can’t be the situation back home. They are particularly shocked to hear that Mulji is actually one of the poorest in his motherland. Thus the hatred against Indian traders in Muduuma intensifies, culminating in a trade boycott against Indians in 1958.

And then, in 1972, Indians are ostracised and their businesses allocated to Ugandans. But this redistribution is tainted by the politics and intrigue that have remained the bane of our political and socio-economic status quo.
It’s actually this that gives the 148-page power play; its ability to stand the test of time by eloquently and relevantly speaking to the modern Ugandan/African even when it was written over 50 years ago.

The author challenges us all to take pride in who we are as a people and to get involved and manage our society well; after all this is our heritage; thus the title Muduuma Kwe Kwaffe, whose literal translation is “Muduuma is our Home”.

The 80-year-old Kiyingi, who has written radio and TV dramas since 1954 when he established the first all-African theatrical group, African Artist Association, purposely to promote native drama, was crowned “Golden Artist” by the Ugandan National Theatre in honour of his prominent contribution to the country’s theatre industry.

--Sunday Monitor, July 25 2010

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A must-read for every lover of literature

Title: A Woman’s Voice
Authors: Femrite
Reviewer: Dennis D. Muhumuza 

There are very few Ugandan anthologies of short stories that provide a rich reading experience and A Woman’s Voice is up there among the best. It was first published by the Uganda Women Writers Association (Femrite) in 1998. Owing to the quality of the stories, the copies were snapped up, forcing a reprint the following year and another in 2002.

It clearly is much more than just a collection of 12 stories about the resilience of the Ugandan woman in the face of suffering and prejudice; these stories illuminate our experience and what defines our existence as a people. Oh, how Dr Susan Kiguli’s Mad Apio stirred my emotions! It’s a rippling story of a peculiar woman and the equally peculiar stories surrounding her life and times.

It’s a story weaved deftly; the author has a striking way she uses words and the tone of voice - every paragraph heightens the anticipation. It’s witty, it’s powerful, it’s special; so special that I can’t even bring myself to touching on the antagonisms that drive its central character for I don’t want to spoil it for you reader. So you have to look up the book and read it yourself.

And if you thought Sr Dominic Dipio has no life beyond her feature films and documentaries, you must read Santus. It’s a story of an exceedingly handsome young man whose clandestine affairs with women starkly conflict with his determination to fulfil his priestly ambitions. The story powerfully mirrors the hypocrisy of men and provokes the mind of a reader to wonder how a man of such moral wickedness can still have the nerve to say that his love for priesthood is still stronger than the love for all the women put together!

Lilliane Barenzi’s distinct style comes out strongly in Behind Closed Doors. It’s about a bunch of campus girls preoccupied with gate-crushing affluent parties thrown by the city’s “Who’s who” and the debauchery and destructiveness associated with such self-indulgences.

With stories from other established authors like Hope Keshubi, Ayeta Anne Wangusa, Violet Birungi, Margaret Ntakarimaze, Regina Amollo, Hilda Twongyeirwe and Gorette Kyomuhendo, A Woman’s Voice is a must read for every lover of literature because it is compelling.

--Sunday Monitor, July 18, 2010

Friday, July 2, 2010

Will Smith Look Alike wins Asiimwe top BBC play prize


After a long lull, Uganda is once again basking in literary glory after our three playwrights scooped the first, second and third prizes in this year’s BBC African Performance Playwriting Competition.
The number one prize was won by Deborah Asiimwe’s Will Smith Look Alike, the second prize was jointly won by Kenneth Bashir Atwine’s Kitu Kidogo and Coffin Factory by Julia Childs and in third place was Angella Emurwon with The Cow Needs A Wife.

Will Smith Look Alike is about an ambitious 17-year-old boy who flies to the United States with his school music group after they won a national competition, and has the belief that his striking resemblance with African-American actor and rapper Will Smith will help him to achieve the American dream. 

“I was ecstatic when the BBC called me up to tell me that my play was the overall winner of the competition,” says Ms. Asiimwe. “I almost couldn’t believe that I was getting a financial award of £1,000 (approximately Shs3,300,000) on top of my play being broadcast on BBC. I’m so thankful because God has caused me to meet amazing people on my journey as a playwright.”

Ms Asiimwe who holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Writing for Performance, narrates the source of inspiration that led to her winning script:

“In 2008, I had a residency in New York City. There was a character I encountered who had migrated to New York from one of the African countries. My conversation with this character made me think a lot about people who migrate to the US or Europe with grand dreams and how those dreams either come true or turn into nightmares.

“Also, having moved to New York city to take up employment there after my graduation; seeing and talking to so many African immigrants, I got a glimpse into how much the media paints an almost perfect image of the US and the west and how that to a larger extent makes some people believe that by migrating to the west, all of their problems will be solved. That is how Will Smith Look Alike came about.”

Prof. Wole Soyinka who judged this year’s competition called Asiimwe’s writing “very good; I became really caught up with the play wondering what the final end would be. It was convincing.”

--Saturday Monitor, June 26, 2010

Why Christians keep on sinning

Writing in a simple manner, the author of Notes on Genesis 1 wants Christians to know that unless they let God take full control, they will not find true peace, Dennis D. Muhumuza writes 

For genuine Christians, the journey of spirituality can be daunting. Sin envelops the atmosphere and indwells our hearts so much that we seek to be good by paying tithe, attending church, being generous and doing all those things the world calls ‘noble,’ cannot exonerate man from inherent wickedness.
The issue of that innate evilness in us and the inability of man to attain a level of holiness or goodness on his own that pleases God is what Pastor Ock Soo Park practically examines in his 2008 book, Notes on Genesis 1. 

The author traces our inequity to Adam and Eve when they disobeyed God by partaking of the fruit of good and evil: “From then on, Satan placed various dark and wicked thoughts inside of man. This is why dark thoughts and wickedness continually spring up in man.”

In such a state, he argues, it’s impossible “to do good and live according to God’s Word.” It should shock most of us who think we are holy by being generous, attending church, praying daily and avoiding cussing. Our intentions could be genuine, but Pastor Park says this in itself cannot guarantee us heaven.

“The moon can never radiate light on its own regardless of how badly it wants to, but it automatically emits lights if it is facing the sun,” he writes. Similarly, however much we want to be good and strive to attain righteousness, we remain “dirty and dark.”

The author says hope is in recognising and accepting our helplessness and passionately turning to Jesus Christ –the only light and righteousness of the world.

“We become the light as well without even knowing it when we look to the Lord,” he stresses. “Do not try to do good and be righteous yourselves, but look to the fact that Jesus has given you righteousness and holiness.”

A senior pastor of Good News Gangnam Church in Seoul, Korea, and founder of the Good News Mission, which has affiliates in 80 countries worldwide, Pastor Park who got saved at the age of 18 writes with such simplicity and intersperses his 301-page book with personal stories and testimonies that are as moving as they are spiritually elevating.

He relates a story of a pastor whose son was dying of cancer of the brain.The doctors wanted the guardian to allow them do surgery on the boy even though they knew it would be useless. Realising how powerless he was to help his son at his most hour of need, the pastor fell on his knees and cried out, “God, my son is dying and there’s nothing I can do…God, you be my son’s guardian.” He then abandoned the hospital and went to preach the gospel. To the amazement of all, the boy suddenly improved and got completely healed a few days later.

Park writes: “The moment Pastor Kim’s heart connected with God’s and he thought, ‘I’ve absolutely no power to protect my son; I should not hold on to this, but should leave this to God, God began to work.”

The author also remembers his own spiritual struggles; the more he tried to keep the law and not sin the more he failed: “When I came to distrust myself and step down from the throne in the kingdom of my heart, I was able to receive the Word of God into my heart…Jesus began to work inside of me…it was so amazing to see the light enter my heart and destroy the darkness, to see love enter and destroy hatred, to see hope enter and destroy despair, and to see joy enter and destroy sadness.”

The essence of Notes on Genesis 1 is the reassurance the reader gets from knowing that when we give up on ourselves, realising that we are incapable of doing good, keeping the law, praying and all that, God begins to live and work inside our hearts. It gives us the courage to heed the author’s trumpet call:

“Everyone, make everything that you have done into nothing and believe in Jesus…what we have done is evil” --we are only holy by the grace of the Lord because the Lord has already received double the punishment for the sins we have committed. “So ,all the sinners, but those cleansed by Jesus are righteous.”

Pastor Park is also the author of The Secret of Forgiveness of Sin and Being Born Again which has sold over a million copies and has been translated into 12 languages.

--Sunday Monitor, June 20, 2010

Kenya’s Egerton crowned Zain Africa Challenge winners


The journey of 5,000 questions that started the fourth season of the televised inter-university battle of the brains, Zain Africa Challenge, ended last Sunday with Kenya’s Egerton University being declared winners.

It cannot be said that this team enjoyed top billing for the much of the tournament compared to runners-up, Africa Nazarene University (also from Kenya), or even semi-finalists Makerere University. But Egerton focused on winning the race; never lifting their eyes from the ultimate prize and that made all the difference.

So when a smiling John Sibi-Okumu (the show host) cocked his voice and pronounced the new champions, the winning players became giddy with joy; not only had each bagged the $5,000 (Shs10m) grand prize, plus a $50,000 (Shs100m) grant for their university complete with the silvery trophy, Egerton had also to be envied for winning the championship thrice in four years thereby cementing their standing as Africa’s masters of well-versedness.

It’s one of those things that defy logic as to what happened to the Nazarenes, particularly Sammy Kitonyi Mwaniki who had given his past opponents bloody noses with his shrewdness at the buzzer and adroitness. On Sunday, he was a shadow of his former self as he faltered on several questions and chose a tricky category in the nail-biting Ultimate Challenge to seal his team’s demise.

The opponent took advantage and in the end earned a sound win of 740 points, a cool 230 points ahead of Nazarene. Egerton’s Philip Chwanya, Ralph “Bonaparte” Obure and George Ralak all wear glasses and looked like young professors. But it was “Bonaparte”—the shortest of all—that stood out with his conquering spirit and visible hunger for gold. His showmanship and the special edition that beamed the most dramatic bits reignited memories of how exhilarating and informative the quiz show has been to players and viewers alike.

For Makerere’s Lamech Mbangaye, it was “incredibly fun and intensively competitive” and Chwanya was delighted to learn that his brain can hold much more information than he has been giving it credit for.

But what struck most is the realisation that success is not so much about how informed one is but largely about the resolve to win and mastering the rules and strategies of the game, team coordination and buzzer skills. As Sibi-Okumu said, “If you don’t buzz in you don’t give an answer” unless the other team fails and the question is turned over to you.

And just in case you have forgotten, this season was recorded in Kampala; all the 32 teams were staying in a hotel and got to mingle, interact and generally have fun together. With them was a 152 TV crew from Africa, Europe and the United States to bring us the viewing experience.

It’s because Uganda was the host nation that the honour of presenting the prestigious Zain Scholars Trophy to the winners fell on the Chairman Zain Uganda, Mr James Mulwana. He congratulated the winners and thanked them for inspiring many Ugandans and making Africa proud.
Congratulations Egerton University.

--Saturday Monitor, June 12, 2010.

The day of reckoning


After 14 gruelling but highly exciting Sundays, that day of reckoning has come; tomorrow night is that day – the grand finale of the fourth edition of the Zain Africa Challenge!

Ecclesiastes tells us there is a time for everything, and this has been a season for Kenya to shine; knocked down and out opponent after opponent, ending up with three teams in the quarterfinals and making the finals an all-Kenyan affair.

The mighty Egerton University which won the inaugural Zain Scholars Trophy in 2007 and successfully defended it in 2008 will be locking horns with first-timers –the suave Africa Nazarene University. It’ll be a night to witness pedigree versus flair, experience versus inexperience and women against men!

Egerton's Phillip Chwanya, George Ralak and Ralph Obure have told show host John Sibi-Okumu and reiterated their ambition to accomplish the mission of recouping the cup and affirm that they are no flukes and that the first two times they won it were not accidental. So they will enter the ring purposely to seal their reputation as Africa’s undisputed brain superpower!

But the adorable Nazarenes don’t want to know; they are focused on making history as the first team in the history of the tournament to have two girls on the team going for gold in a contest that has for three years been a domain of men. The visualisation of Jane Ndung’u with her rare but alluring smile and unrivalled composure lifting up the prestigious trophy and her little hands counting the $5,000 dollars while the cameras flash with fervour is what her innumerable male fans are looking forward to witnessing.

The show’s Facebook page is vibrating with comments that reveal that anticipation has reached seismic proportions. The situation is not helped by the fact that either team knows its game and wants the victory badly.

I’m tempted to rate Egerton a notch stronger considering that they overshadowed Jomo Kenyatta University last Sunday with 775 points against the latter’s 540 thereby cruising into the finals five points ahead of what Nazarene trounced Makerere with a week before.

But then Nazarene has been captivating way of playing and even overcame Mak, one of the best teams in the academic quiz when Egerton has been facing-off with what can arguably be classified as weak opponents. So it's very hard to predict a contest like this but I have my money on Nazarene.

As it is, there’ll be two shows; the grand final will this time around will be televised at 6:30 p.m., and 8:30p.m. will be left for the wrap-up, showcasing the hilarious and dramatic moments that have characterised this year’s inter-university battle of the brains. Catch it all on NTV

--Saturday Monitor, June 5, 2010

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Makerere bows out with dignity


The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones,” Mark Antony’s words from Julius Ceasar shot through my mind after Lamech Mbangaye’s poor performance precipitated the elimination of Makerere University from the Zain Africa Challenge last Sunday.

Not that he put up a pitiable act but his poor start disorganised him all through and cost Uganda 's last standing university in this televised brain game the indescribably wanted victory.
“What colourful surname was shared by married British authors Elizabeth Barret and Robert?” asked quizmaster John Sibi-Okumu.

And Mbangaye shocked the daylights out of me by answering "Brown," for, honestly, it’s hard to encounter a learned person –poetry lover or not –who has not heard of the Brownings. It was almost unbelievable that Mak’s brightest star since the fourth season of this competition kicked off, could let points slip through his hands like that.

The question was quickly passed on to the meticulous Sammy Mwaniki who nailed it and the follow ups as Africa Nazarene University went on to claim the round with 240 points against Mak’s 150.

The first round had not started brightly either; Simon Peter Lanyero Lukwiya who was in the driving seat didn't set the winning pace for his team as it ended in a draw at 90 points.

In a tactical move, both sides dropped their weakest links; with coach Philip Kazibwe introducing Kenneth Bagonza for Ruita Mbogo while the baby-faced Andrew Kamau came on instead of Vanessa Karuri.

With his heavy muscles twitching in a tight Zain jersey, Bagonza didn’t look the kind Mak needed to recover but he ended up amazing viewers with a pulsating approach that reduced our deficit from 90 points to 20.

Mak was now capable of an upset, and indeed, it was exhilarating the way our boys lapped up points in the category Starts with F like a hungry cat on a bowl of milk. And just when they were on the verge of hitting the 500-points-jackpot of the Ultimate Challenge, the world’s most populous ‘F’ nation capital, (Freetown), defied them, and so 450 points gave them a total score of 730 points.

The Kenyans needed 450 points to reach the finals and although the category Left and Right tossed them about, they toiled and just a microsecond to the end, snatched the ninth question, winning the day 20 points ahead of Mak.

It was an intense semi-final, and sadly for Mbangaye, it obliterated his glorious past as show fans who voted him player of the week after the first game will now remember him for not measuring up when Mak needed him the most, while Bagonza became the ace that helped us bow out with a little more dignity. For being semi-finalists, each of our boys won $2,500 and another $25,000 for the university.

Catch the other semi-final tomorrow on NTV at 8:30 p.m., as Jomo Kenyatta University battles twice winners Egerton University.

--Saturday Monitor, May 29, 2010.

It's now a matter of life and death


If you’ve never truly understood the expression “all guns blazing,” stay close to your T.V tomorrow night and get acquainted when Makerere University wrestles with Africa Nazarene University in the opening episode of the Zain Africa Challenge semifinal.

How agonising it must be already for fervent followers of this interuniversity battle of wits to have to witness the two East African universities contending at this stage rather than in the grand finale!

The mellowness and astuteness of Jane Ndug’u and Vanessa Karuri has remained disarming, but it’s the assuredness and adroitness of Sammy Mwanika that gives the liberal arts Kenyan university the razor-sharp edge that has slit past opponents leaving them for dead.

Let’s nevertheless not fret for Mak has been intoxicating as well; something that has very much bespoken its defiance and resolve to become the first university to bring the trophy home. The sharp and pacy Lameck Mbangaye can hold his own against Mwanika whereas Simon Peter Lanyero Lukwiya’s overwhelming confidence and competence definitely outshines Karuri’s and arguably Ndug’u’s.

The only one you cannot count on is Ruita Mbogo. The Kenyan has been such a letdown that one watcher called him a “killjoy” and one scribe quipped that Mak has been fielding only two players! Hopefully Mbogo will prove us all wrong by conquering his fears and stepping up his game because Mak badly needs this victory. Egerton University may be two-time winners but this time they don’t have the grit and poise of Africa Nazarene or even Makerere.

Even Jomo Kenyatta which knocked out Zambia’s Copperbelt University last Sunday is not as brilliant. It appears it’s the blood and indomitable spirit of their national father figure, Kenyatta that has pushed the team this far (you should have seen how they puttered about in the Ultimate Challenge last Sunday!) If Copperbelt had not panicked; if they had not messed themselves up in the first three rounds, Kenyatta would have been goners. They won with 660 points against Copperbelt’s 490 points and so will play their homeboys, Egerton, in the semis.

The competition has reached a time where every point counts; where a mistake is intolerable; where hitting the buzzer first counts the most and where tact in choosing a category is as essential. Where a little panic however good one is will give your opponent leeway and where the player in centre position must crack the first question that guarantees him/her the support of teammates.

That said, I have this sneaking suspicion that just because Kenya has a record three teams in the semis, Nazarene could enter the ring a little complacent well knowing even if they lost, either Jomo Kenyatta or Egerton could still go for gold.

Makerere should therefore approach this as a matter of life and death. And then, with a little good luck, they could attain what has so far eluded Ugandan universities for the last three years. Catch the crackling clash at 8:30p.m., on NTV.

--Saturday Monitor, May 22, 2010