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Monday, February 15, 2010

‘There is no time to waste on fear’

Hume Amy was born in Johannesburg but raised in the United States . She’s now based in Kampala running a hip-hop project called End of the Weak. She told Dennis D. Muhumuza that you will be stunned if you try to abuse her kindness. 
What does your name mean?
Amy means ‘beloved’ and Hume was a Scottish clan name.

Now, ‘Beloved’, tell us about this “End of the Weak” thing
End of the Weak, a movement of improvement through Hip Hop culture, was established to help true, positive rappers rise up in their community and put an end to the weak rappers through the MC Challenge. The MC Challenge is a freestyle competition which displays the true art of emceeing (MC or emcee meaning a rapper). It is the evolution of the street battle, whereas it becomes a battle of the artist against their own skills. The competition includes six MCs and five rounds, which includes a ‘grab bag’ round where a random object is pulled out of a bag. The MC must freestyle about it, a beat juggling round where the DJ changes the beat, tempo, style, etc. and the emcee must keep his flow (delivery) with the track. The last round is a cypher, which is when a strong competitor and a weaker competitor are put together to create a flow, or verse together.

What does it mean for a country like Uganda?
It provides Uganda a platform in which the Hip Hop industry can grow and become a more positive force in people’s lives. There will be a Challenge in April here in Kampala wherein the winner will go to compete in Berlin against Europeans, Americans and South Americans for the World Title. The exposure to the international Hip Hop community has proven to be an empowering and enlightening experience for all countries involved. Besides having the opportunity to perform on a global platform, the winners of the Challenges here in Uganda receive studio time, radio and television exposure, and a bit of Obama money.

Who’s the hottest Ugandan emcee, in your opinion?
I’m a bit biased because I know him personally, but CYNO MC, the current End of the Weak champion. I believe he has the greatest potential to leave a mark in Ugandan Hip Hop right now. He has passion, dedication and despite being a quiet person, he is a beast when he has a microphone in his hand. But commercially, I would say GNL Zamba. He is a true entertainer in all respects of being a Hip Hop celebrity.

What’s fascinating about this country?
Every day I find a new fascination about Kampala and Uganda , but what I appreciate most is the resilient spirit of the people here.

How would you describe yourself?
The names people have given me here are ‘The Untouchable” and “gangsta.” Ha. What that translates into is that I’m hardworking and honest, but if someone mistakes my kindness for weakness, then they may be surprised.

Do you dislike anything about your appearance?
No. I accept me for me.

Which living person do you most admire and why?
A Turkish rapper named Fuat, born in Berlin but now living in Istanbul. He is a brilliant, prolific rapper, and despite being frustrated with how his fellow Turks live, he stays in his country to spread positive messages through Hip Hop music.

When were you happiest?
Setting foot on South African soil after being away for many years.

What’s your greatest fear?
Fear incapacitates the mind. There is no time to waste on fear.

What traits do you deplore most in others?
Dishonesty and false sense of confidence.

What would you bring back to life if you could help it?
A sense of pride and accomplishment in the African nation, more than exists now.

When did you last cry and why?
Last year when I left New York. Some friends didn’t want to let me go or refused to believe that I was leaving.

To whom would you most likely say sorry and why?
My mother for lying to her for many years about who I really was.

What’s your guilty pleasure?
Nile Special and chocolate.

What your favourite scent?

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Cleopatra, writer Ryszard Kapuscinski, Nelson Mandela, Socrates, and rapper Ludacris.

What has been your biggest disappointment?
Believing in people that only cheated me.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Waking up every day able to breathe and continue living my dream.

If you could edit your past, what would you change?
Nothing. My mistakes and disappointments made me who I am today..

What is the greatest love of your life?
Desire and passion.

--Sunday Monitor, February 14, 2010

Taking the road less travelled

Title: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Author: Mark Twain
Reviewer: Dennis D. Muhumuza

It’s harder reviewing a book that has been reviewed and scrutinised by master critics hundreds of times, moreover one that’s considered the greatest American novel. Thankfully, every man has an opinion and every reviewer gives their opinion whether you take or leave it.
Anyhow, I was in S.2 when I first read the simplified version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I was a novice in the appreciation of literature but I remember thinking it was a witty book and laughing my lungs out at the funniness of Huck and the adorable clumsiness of Jim!

Well, I read the book a second time recently – this time in its unabridged version and what a read! I now understand what Ernest Hemingway meant when he said that all of American literature comes from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 

Huck’s escape from his cruel and alcoholic father and his adventures down the Mississippi evoke boyhood reminiscences of when we would shirk school and go floating on banana stumps or on empty jerrycans down the village river.
Huck and Jim are on the run. This white kid and black slave come to share an inseparable friendship; one that arguably embodies a harmonious relationship and co-existence that Mark Twain wished for all humanity.

When Huck defies the moral protocol of the time and chooses to go “to hell” rather than betray his friend Jim back into slavery, then we know the author is all for a conscience that tells right from wrong, contrary to rules of convention or obeying laws that are hypocritical in nature.

A friend grumbled about Jim’s “broken English”, saying it slows down the reading and therefore foils enjoyment of the book. But he forgets that part of the distinction of this masterpiece lies in Mark Twain’s reliance on colloquial American speech of the time, just like society writers in most of our daily newspapers colour their columns with local slang.

Other readers have issues with the ubiquitous use of the word “nigger”, arguing that it smacks of the slavery, discrimination and ugliness that all of Africa would rather forget. But Huck’s use of “nigger” even in his conversations with Jim carries no disturbing innuendos and is not used with disrespect just like a friend would meet me along the streets and say, “Hey nigger, where’ve you been?”

My only qualm is the return of Tom later in the novel. The role he plays seems insignificant; he’s truly a shadow of the crafty and hilarious prankster we know in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. This however should not matter because the hero of the book remains Huck, who fills us with nostalgia of particularly the carefree days of growing up. He makes something resonate in us all as he struggles to make a decision that makes him a man when he takes the road less travelled and sticks with his friend Jim to the very end.

--Sunday Monitor, February 14, 2010

The antidote to Uganda’s poor reading culture


Have you noticed that something is steadily happening to Uganda’s literary tradition? Book discussions are enjoying premium following on social networking sites and book titles are piling on visual bookshelves on Facebook pages of many Ugandans.
“Jared is reading Iraq Confidential: The Untold Story of the Intelligence of Conspiracy to Undermine the UN and Overthrow Saddam Hussein by Scott Ritter.” “Linda is reading How to be a Rainmaker by Geoffrey J. Fox”

“Dennis is reading: Let the Trumpet Sound: Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.,’ by Stephen B. Oates”

The list gushes on. Under your very nose, book exchanges are going on! People are meeting regularly in small groups during weekday evenings and over the weekends to share their reading experiences.
The Lantern Meet of Poets last Saturday held their fourth grand poetry recital and even though they did little to advertise, it was a full house at the National Theatre. This was just days after the Authors’ Forum held their well-attended sixth edition in the same auditorium to discuss how authors can use their works to inspire positive values in society.

At a recent PEN/Uganda-organised workshop, teachers of literature and patrons of books clubs of schools in western Uganda said the enthusiasm with which their students are consuming novels is amazing.
All earmarks point to a literary “great awakening” that could change the intellectual lifestyle of this land. Consider this: shortly after Dr. Daniel Tumwine opened a Facebook account for his newly formed Kampala Book Club, he was inundated with e-mails from book lovers on how they can help or join the fraternity.
“I conceived the idea following the need to counter the perceived poor reading culture in our society,” said Tumwine. “We envisage having a Kampala Book Club bookstore where we can access an eclectic range of books. We also hope to collaborate with partner bookstores and publishing houses to have privileged access to their titles at a subsidised rate.”

He said the club will develop a bestseller list and hold “our own ‘Oscars’ to honour deserving authors annually” and “we plan to start a writing club to nurture and encourage young writers.”
The club that now has over 300 members had their first meet at the National Theatre on Friday February 5 and will meet every fortnight “to review or discuss a given book in depth.” “I’m excited already,” cried Darlyne Komukama. “I read books that are so, so awesome and I don’t have someone to talk to about them. But with KBC all that shall change.”

Book nominations will be made by club members and what the majority will consider as most thought-provoking, written-in-English,does-not-promote-sectarianism-or-hate and is available at a reasonable price in local bookshops will be read for the next fortnight.

Charles Onyango-Obbo’s Uganda’s Poorly Kept Secrets opened the "show" and is being read to be discussed at the next session. Copies of the book were on sale and members gobbled them up. This should come as good news to indigenous authors who’ll be lucky to have their books selected for reading.
It is such initiatives that could turn out as the true antidote to the intellectual destitution and often criticised flagging reading tradition of this country.

--Saturday Monitor,  February 13, 2010

A tale of two cocks

Tom did not know that his love interest would take his joke about chicken seriously and was surprised to feel such empathy for the birds on D-day, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza
He returned a little early and found two cocks, white and red, roped together outside his door. “Cock-a-doodle-doo…cock-a-doodle-doo,” the cry rung out of the beak of the white cock, so piercing he pushed his fingers in his ears to protect his eardrums.
“Tom’s back home!” exclaimed his next door neighbour and good friend. She came over and with a huge smile, wrapped her arms around him in a lingering hug. “What’s the meaning of this,” said Tom, looking down at the pair of roosters.
“Shy guy,” returned she, eyes bubbling with merriment, “Ihose are two cocks; you’re going to wring their necks immediately and set our little business in gear, remember?”
With that, Rose was soon gone, leaving behind a rosy scent and a baffled Tom. Just the other evening, she had sought Tom’s advice on supplementing her income. And Tom had humoured himself, saying they could form a partnership selling roasted chicken on weekends.She had given him her brightest smile but never in his wildest imagination could he have guessed she would buy his joke.

Shrugging, Tom turned to scrutinise the two cocks, which by their sheer sizes had been selected by a skilful eye.
“Cock-a-doodle-doo,” the white cock jolted him again with its incessant crowing, its prominent red-comb juddering like it wanted to fall off of its own accord. It must have been a cocky but cowardly cock in its good times. Poor thing, thought Tom, dreading the presage of disaster about to befall it.
The red one was looking down broodingly. Tom stared long at it. In its reticence, it seemed to have shrivelled beneath its feathers, its eyes appeared to be sinking in their sockets, and its small comb made some despairing movements; it was certainly shaken to the core by the impending death but was handling it courageously.
“Make your last wish and it shall be granted,” said Tom sympathetically. The taciturn cock closed its eyes forlornly, whereas the one with a puny heart and rugged feet waddled and fumbled about and unleashed another shattering crow.

“Shut up, quaky cock!” shouted Tom with an asperity that shook the ground on which he stood. “Don’t drive me insane else I shall break your neck before your hour.”
He excused himself and returned with a platter of rice and bowl of water but in their melancholy, the cocks didn’t touch a thing.

“I can’t help you, my friends,” said Tom, exasperated. “The inevitable must happen. I don’t know in whose stomachs your delicious backs and wings and necks and thighs… shall end, but I know that in heaven we shall meet again.”
Tom excused himself again and returned with his Nikon Coolpix L3, went on bended knee, pointed his camera and pressed the shutter button.
“I’ll keep the best shot for remembrance’s sake,” said he softly. “I’m about to cut your necks off as the politics of enterprise dictate, but I plead with you to bear no grudge, for a time will come and I, too, shall die and join you in heaven, where we shall party and suffer no more.”
Rose, who had been secretly watching this almost incredulous episode with rosy amusement, was shocked when Tom looked up with tears in his eyes. She strode over and wrapped her arms around him and her strong breasts rubbed his chest, repressing the heaviness of his heart. He looked in the deepness of her eyes and told her he loved her.
“I’ve waited a long time to hear those words from you, Tom,” murmured Rose, hardly containing the sudden electricity charging through her body. “I love you, Tom, I love you forever!”

--Sunday Monitor, February 7, 2010

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

‘Despite many misfortunes, I have achieved much’

Vincent Nuwagaba is a human rights activist and fiery debater. He told Dennis D. Muhumuza that he will stop at nothing to see a better Uganda
What’s your claim to fame?
I’m an unwavering human rights defender and anti-corruption crusader. I’ve publicly – using pen and tongue – decried corruption, unemployment, poverty and all other social ills. I once wrote to President Yoweri Museveni challenging him on issues of corruption and this prompted a four-page reply wherein he acknowledged a number of issues raised but at the same time warned me to choose whether to become a politician or a human rights activist, which in my view was diversionary.

What qualifies one as a human rights defender?
Human rights defenders must be selfless and ready to strive to see improvement in human dignity and human welfare. Not everyone who works with a human rights organisation is a human rights defender because for some, the only motivation is a salary. A clear definition of human rights defenders is given by the United Nations Fact Sheet 29.

Which living person do you most admire and why?
I admire many but topmost is Nelson Mandela because he fought for freedom in his country and served for only five years, despite the fact that if he had wanted, he would be South African president ad infinitum. Because he couldn’t be corrupted by power, he takes my unreserved admiration.

When were you happiest?
When I was admitted to Makerere University on government sponsorship in 2001.

What traits do you deplore most in others?
Manipulation, deception and dishonesty.

Do you dislike anything about your appearance?
No; for if I did, it would tantamount to blaming God.

What would you bring back to life if you could help it?
My two grandmothers Veronica Bakeine and Suzanna Kirakwende, and my maternal uncle, James Ruremire. They were so fundamental in my life for they always wanted the best for me and taught me the values of honesty, integrity and being God-fearing.

When did you last cry and why?
On August 17, 2009, when I was beaten by the police following my opposition to tuition fees increment in public universities (up to 126 per cent contrary to media reports that fees were increased by 40 per cent). I didn’t cry because I was beaten but for my country, whose leaders have chosen total disregard of the poor and marginalised. I cried because I realised that the “prosperity for all” that President Museveni has touted over the years is just a pipedream if the sons and daughters of peasants can be locked out of higher education.

To whom would you most likely say sorry and why?
My friends Bruce Kabaasa Balaba and Thomas Tayebwa, who have always come to rescue me from the police cells.

Have you ever said I love you and not meant it?
I take so long to say those words. When I do, I truly mean it.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
People that have made an indelible mark on the human rights movement.

What has been your biggest disappointment?
The politicians and civil society organisation leaders whose deeds are diametrically opposite to their words.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
We can derive that from my life story. I was born out of wedlock and brought up by my grandmother, who sadly died before I could complete S.4. My journey to education has been miraculous; a maternal uncle who was paying my fees died when I was in P.5. However, courtesy of good Samaritans led by Mr Henry Rukundo, I was able to make it from the humblest schools in Ruhinda County, Bushenyi District, to Makerere University on government sponsorship. I now boast a Masters Degree in Human Rights, I’ve lectured at a university and I strive always to marry theory with practice. That’s why I’ve felt I should take my human rights advocacy and activism to the floor of Parliament come 2011.

If you could edit your past, what would you change?
I would change being my mother’s only child, for it is not always good that one has biological brothers or sisters. But then again, that has made me look at every other person as my brother and sister.

Finally, what or who is the greatest love of your life?
Jesus Christ, because He was the leading human rights defender during His life on earth.

--Sunday Monitor, January 31, 2010

If all adulterers were to wear badges

Title: The Scarlet Letter
Author: Nathaniel Hawthorne
Reviewer: Dennis D. Muhumuza 

Nothing is as enlivening as reading English in its most colourful and purest form. But that’s not all that The Scarlet Letter offers. Its deepest attraction is in the universality of its major themes. Though written a whopping 160 years ago, this novel would make some spouses shift uncomfortably in their seats.

It’s a story of a young woman who commits adultery with the ‘holiest’ preacher, refuses to reveal his identity and as punishment, for the rest of her life she is sentenced to wear a red letter “A” on her bosom symbolising adultery. Imagine if all adulterers in Uganda were to wear badges of shame like Hester Prynne and assemble in Namboole Stadium!

Interestingly, as I turned more pages, I felt that the essence of this American masterpiece is not to condemn infidelity more than the intolerance in the puritan society in which it’s set. This work of imagination was inspired by the reality of sin, which armed the author with all he needed to open up the hearts of his central figures and eloquently expose their ugly secrets and regrets.

The revered Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale is a man who enjoys private study, meditates and fasts a lot to “keep the grossness of this earthly state from clogging and obscuring his spiritual lamp.”

But his secret and scandalous romp with Hester, which results in the birth of Pearl, weighs on him like a tonne; he fails to absorb the shock and terror of his sin despite the pristine power of his eloquence and intellectualism. As he confesses, “All of God’s gifts that were the choicest have become the ministers of spiritual torment. Hester, I am most miserable!” Roger Chillingworth, the man who’s wronged by both Dimmesdale and Hester; once a wise, good, true and just man; has his thirst for revenge transform him to, in his own words, “a fiend.”

Although Hester’s honesty and strength of character helps her survive the scandal, she’s emotionally distressed. But she behaves better than her condemners by donating her beautiful handwork to the poor, though I could argue that this goodness is only to palliate her sense of shame. Yet her consistency in this generosity earns her recognition. As the author notes: “Individuals had quite forgiven Hester Prynne for her frailty; nay, more, they had begun to look upon the scarlet letter as the token, not of that one sin, for which she had borne so long and dreary a penance, but of her many good deeds since.”

It’s left to the reader to decide why the author amends people’s attitude towards Hester. Maybe to show that sin does not make one evil or repulsive as to be treated and shunned the way Hester is and that we should forgive and leave judgment to God. The writer could as well be implicitly pleading for a little tolerance in society else we shall continue to maunder in sin without hope.

Whatever it is, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s unique insight into right and wrong, especially the psychological turmoil that comes with unconfessed sin among men of conscience, is so gripping and together with the beauty with which language is used, makes The Scarlet Letter a book every man should read before their death.

--Sunday Monitor, January 24, 2010