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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

Celebrating 50 years of Pentecostalism

When a pastor and his wife from Canada came to Uganda to preach the gospel, little did they know how far reaching their actions would be, Dennis D. Muhumuza writes.
It was all about praising and giving thanks to the Lord last Sunday when the community of Pentecostals and other believers crammed up Makerere Full Gospel Church to crown 50 years of Pentecostal movement in Uganda.

The spiritually elevating event was the climax of the Pentecostal week of activities the highlight of which was a three-day pastors’ conference codenamed ‘Jerusalem Council’ in which God’s shepherds took stock and set new goals as a Pentecostal movement.

And on Friday May 7, hundreds of born-agains marched through the city in what was dubbed ‘Abaloke March’ and crowned the day with an overnight service at Makerere University sports ground where sages of old who were present when the first Pentecostal church was planted on home soil in 1960 testified about the faithfulness of the Holy Spirit that has brought the church this far.

But what will stick in the minds of many is last Sunday’s final celebration at Full Gospel Church Makerere. Among the happiest of the guests were Pastor Hugh Layzell and his wife Audrey to whom God directed in a vision to leave the comforts of their home in Vancouver, Canada, and take His gospel to Uganda.

Pastor Layzell alluded to Mark 16: 15 in which Jesus commissioned his disciples to preach the gospel to everyone everywhere. “God honoured us to come to the Pearl of Africa; to bring His gospel to this great nation of Uganda,” he said emotionally.

His wife shed tears, unable to contain the fullness of joy in her heart. It was understandable as it was almost unbelievable that 50 years later they would still be alive to witness the prosperity of the church and the gift of salvation that has since given direction to hitherto wandering souls.

As soon as the imperialist British government granted the Layzell’s permission to begin mission work in Uganda in 1960, they started preaching the full gospel of Jesus at open air meetings. The first ‘crusade’ was held under a mango tree in Nakawa but the meetings spread to Naguru, Katwe, Kibuli, Mulago and Nakulabye among other areas, and those who had come out of curiosity to hear what the bazungu were going on about, ended up getting converted to Christianity.

Audrey talked of two deaf men who got their hearing back, a Congolese man who finally spurned witchcraft and turned to Christ, and his dumb wife regained her speech, numerous other miracles and how the “gospel of power” began getting press coverage.

Alongside the preaching and healing ministry, the Layzell’s opened up their home for evening Bible classes. A year later, small Pentecostal churches began slowly but steadily sprouting around the city and in far-flung areas of Kigezi, Toro, Bunyoro, Busoga and later Ankole. Today, the country boasts of over 1,500 Pentecostal churches, with sister churches in other East African countries, and in Sudan and Congo.

The Layzell’s also bought the land on Makerere Hill on which they erected the Full Gospel Church that is today under the stewardship of Pastor Fred Wantaate. In fact, Princess Muggale, the sister to Kabaka Muteesa I of Buganda became a born-again Christian in an early open air crusade in Mengo and was to later represent the Kabaka at the official opening of this church in 1962.

At the golden jubilee celebration, it was time to reminisce; highlights of the extraordinary growth of the Ugandan church from that period were re-enacted in a captivating drama showcase including the dark seasons that the church has endured like in the late 1970s when the Amin soldiers stormed Makerere Full Gospel Church and arrested over 200 believers.

The Layzells soon after left the country and as fear and tension gripped the church, many preachers and believers went underground. But after the restoration of the freedom of worship following the fall of Amin, the gospel experienced an explosion as redeemed churches and deliverance churches synergised with Pentecostal churches to spread the fame of Jesus like never before, infiltrating every corner of the country.

As Layzell said, God was preparing the Ugandan church to be strong and reach out to other churches worldwide. “We look forward to great things ahead knowing that God has a great purpose to transform our society,” he said, “The church in Uganda is going to be a catalyst of the gospel and you will be known throughout the world as a missionary church that’s sending the gospel to other nations.”

His prophesy inspired a fresh lease of life as the worshipers lifted their hands and voices and danced. Many were clad in t-shirts written at the back: “Oh! Uganda now give thanks 2 Cor. 2: 14,” the verse that reads: “But thanks be to God, who made us His captives and leads us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now wherever we go He uses us to tell others about the Lord and to spread the Good News like a sweet fragrance.”

A choir of the deaf people moved the crowds the most as they used sign-language to praise God with emotions of joy and gratefulness etched on their faces. And in an end prayer after all the feasting, the celebrants cried out for new revival, calling upon the Holy Spirit to rain down with more power in the next 50 years, well knowing, at is put in Haggai 2:9 that “the future glory of this Temple will be greater than its past glory."

--Sunday Monitor, May 16, 2010

West African Universities out


Shortly after the University of Maiduguri was knocked out by Egerton University in the second last quarterfinal last Sunday, Nes, a great fan of Nigeria said sadly, “All the academic giants of West Africa are out of the Zain Africa Challenge!”

Maiduguri was the last of the 11 West African universities that reached the knockout stage, including defending champions Ibadan University, but failed to proceed to the semis. I found irony in Nes’ use of “giants” and thought, “What great, hulking giants they must indeed be to be knocked out like this by ‘minnows’!”

Anyway, it was a poor start for Maiduguri, and Kalu Arunsi must rue fate making him the first to occupy the centre spot. The Electrical engineering student was shrewd with the buzzer but botched questions that followed, forcing show host John Sibi-Okumu to pass them on to Ralph Ombati who didn’t disappoint as Egerton went on to win that round with 140 points, against Maidugiri’s 60.

Don’t ask me about the second round; ask Umeme who for some mysterious reason offered me an unsolicited moment of pitch darkness, returning my power at the beginning of the Ultimate Challenge. Egerton was still leading at 310 points but at 250, the Nigerians had fought back and were very much still in the game. Would they choose wisely and upset their opponents?

Well, one would have thought that choosing the category Rebels and Revolutionaries or British Authors would have been choosing smartly seeing that Francis Chukwukeme, arguably their smartest, is a student of English. But they went for a category as capricious as Terminolo –G that required them to mention names or terms that begin with “G”. In the end they got eight correctly and therefore a grand total of 650 points.

Egerton chose Loyalty but not Rulers but got stuck just after five questions. Remember they needed seven correct answers to carry the day but now they were lost; tension heightened; the clock ticked. And just about three seconds to end time, they snatched up the two, and one more, and with a grand score of 710 points triumphantly became the second Kenyan team to reach the semis.

How relieved they looked; what sweet revenge remembering how the University of Lagos knocked them out at this stage last year in a showdown that went down in the history of this 30-minute brain game for going into ‘extra time’ with Peter’s memorable ‘golden goal’ helping the Nigerians to progress! Now it was their time of jubilation, but the Maiduguri players took it in the true spirit of sportsmanship, aided in part, by the consolation of $1,500 each plus $15,000 grant for their university.

--Saturday Monitor, May 15, 2010

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A tale of an author living her dream

The UK based Nigerian novelist started writing as a little girl. Abidemi Sanusi has gone all the way to be nominated for the Commonwealth Writers Prize for her book Eyo, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza

Her presence is made more intimidating by those rimmed glasses but when Abidemi Sanusi begins to speak, particularly about books and writing, she effortlessly induces you into her effervescence and before you know it you are sharing jokes like equals. But the London-based Nigerian is more than an equal and no ordinary woman. She’s the author of four books of admirable quality, the latest of which was shortlisted for the 2010 Commonwealth Writers Prize.

And early in the interview, she smashes the preconceived belief that writers are a bunch of unfeeling recluses with a confession that uncovers her sensitivity. “I cried a bit,” she says of her reaction to the news that Eyo, her fourth book, had lost out to Dawn Garisch’s Trespass for Africa’s best book in this year’s Commonwealth Writers Prize.

It’s a confession that evokes empathy considering it took her painstaking seven years to complete the 338 page novel. Not that she felt a complete loser. “You know it’s also prestigious to be nominated,” she says. “It made me a more recognisable author and that’s a good thing.”

But the genesis of the real good thing is traced to her girlhood many years ago.

“When I was young, I used to write short stories and if I had an argument with my mom I would write a short story of a witch and I would kill the witch in the story.” She reduces her voice to a conspiratorial whisper, “You know who the witch was!” and breaks into laughter –rich, warm laughter that brings tears to her eyes. 

What I’m witnessing is in stark contrast to the preeminently depressing temperament of the book Eyo. It’s timely to ask what inspired her realistic fiction; how she mustered guts to tackle the issue of child trafficking and sex slavery in so exacting a manner.

“It was inspired by work in human rights, it was informed by me growing up in Nigeria and seeing these things. It was informed by stories of trafficking African children we heard about in UK who were so brutalised, taken from their parents when they were very young and as soon as they were 18 and couldn’t claim child benefits they were thrown out on the streets and it became an immigration problem,” she pauses to catch her breath.

“They can’t go back home to join their family, they can’t stay in England because they are illegal; so all those things inspired the book. And I didn’t just want people to say it’s wrong stop it --it’s more than that --I wanted people to say it’s not enough to point fingers at the men; we can’t point fingers at women either; I wanted people to say we all are involved in this.”

As a foreigner who has lived abroad for long, and seeing the believability of the young heroine she creates, I couldn’t help asking if the detestable things men do to Eyo did ever happen to the author herself.

“No, no, I come from a very loving home; my father was an amazing person and fortunately, I grew up in a home where we were allowed to express ourselves,” she emphatically says. “As I said, I’ve worked in human rights for over five years; the percentage of children and Nigerians trafficked in the UK to work as prostitutes is high, and also I heard many stories from my friends –the social workers, so the story is really rooted in real life.”

She says Eyo has provoked shocking reactions with some readers expressing their distaste of men and others vowing to never have sex again.

“The book made them think very hard,” she adds.This dark-skinned author wakes up at 4.30a.m., says her prayers and spends one hour writing. She leaves the house at 7a.m. to her office for her work as a writing consultant, and is back home by 5:30p.m. “And I make sure I have an hour to relax,” she says. “Then I do my school reading; I’m studying towards my second Masters and I want to do a Phd, sometimes I have creative workshops to attend, so I plan my days accordingly.”

She talks resoundingly of how she has had to discipline herself to reconcile her busy schedule with her writing. She cites her second novel, Zack’s Story of Life, Love and Everything, which she wrote at a time she was sharing her house with a crowd of relatives that she could barely get the much needed quiet to write.
“It was crazy,” she says. “I didn’t sleep, honestly, I didn’t sleep at all. I would wake up at 2a.m. and write up to 4p.m. –it was just mad.”

Her exception is revealed in her insistence that no author has influenced her: “It sounds very strange but I don’t have a single author that I can really say influenced the way I write.”

Sanusi’s authorship has evolved to an extent that emboldens her to reveal she has “grown as a writer just as an artist grows from painting to painting.”

She implores young writers to persevere and learn to take constructive criticism: “Not everybody who likes books will like your work. You don’t like every DVD you watch, why should everybody like your book? When they say you could have done this with this character or dialogue, listen. But if they say ‘oh I just read your book --it’s stupid,’ ignore them. What you must never do is lock yourself in a room and start knocking your head like you are mad.

“And if you’ve written a few words and you show to your family and they tell you ‘oh this is great it should be published,’ don’t do that. Give your manuscript to somebody who you know likes reading because they have a discerning eye.”

She relates the challenges she endured as she struggled to get published. Her first manuscripts were rejected with some publishing houses telling her the writing was not bad but that they already had other writers who had dealt with a similar subject. But Sanusi, although she found it frustrating, didn’t take it personal but improved her work, and approached other publishing houses until she overcame.

She responds to Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s trumpet call that African writers should express themselves in their indigenous languages than the imperialist languages.

“That’s rubbish,” she says in her sharp Nigerian accent. “We have a common language –it’s called English –and for now it seems to serve us well. If people want to translate our works to Kiswahili or Yoruba or write in other languages, let them take it upon themselves other than complain about others who prefer to write in English.”

When asked why she left her country to live in UK, Sanusi says, “It wasn’t intentional. In my family, as soon as you are six you are sent to boarding school in England. My mom still lives in Lagos. I’ve my sister who lives in Lagos with her family and my brothers are in Lagos.”

She adds that she was quite a deep as a child. “I read a lot of books and talked a lot; if people wanted to shut me up, they brought me books. As a girl growing up, I wasn’t interested in makeup or shoes or whatever; for gifts people just bought me books."

I asked her about visiting Uganda, and the novelist said it was her first time in the country, “and I like it –it’s very green. Lagos is like a concrete jungle, this is lovely; I’ll come back and spend more time.”

Two more books are in the works, so keep your eyes open. “I’ve a love-hate of relationship with Nigeria so I’m working on a book of 10 short stories with 10 characters and the inspiration is Lagos,” she reveals. “And I’m also working on another book called The Gay Bishop.”

Books Abidemi Sanusi reads

How important is reading and writing to you?
There’re much more important things in the world than just reading or writing. That’s my message. If I don’t write or read for the whole day; that’s okay with me; I won’t die.

What kind of books do you read?
Stories. I do mainly fiction. I don’t do self-help and I don’t do motivational. That’s it.

How many books do you read at a go?
When I was younger, I would read 10 books at a time but now I read one book three times. I read it the first time for pleasure, the second time to study the writing style, the techniques and how the characters develop. And for the third time I read it for pleasure and study.

Have you read any Ugandan works?
No, unfortunately. I read through phases. I’m through the Russian phase and now I’m on African literature - I’m in Nigeria and then I’ll move to Ghana and maybe then Ugandan literature.

What book are you reading now?
At the moment I’m not reading because I’ve a lot of courseworks to do and I’m also working on two books. I’m also busy as a writing consultant but in July I’ll pick up reading again.

Longest time spent reading a book?
I’ve been on page 100 of Anna Karenina [by Leo Tolstoy] for the last 16 years! And I don’t think I’m going to proceed. Some people have to pretend they like this book but I don’t do that.

What lures you into buying a book?
The thickness; the thicker the book the better! I also read the back cover and quickly through the first chapter; to me the language has to be accessible; I don’t like people that nobody can understand and I think language should not divide people; literature should bring people together. I tried reading The Famished Road (Ben Okri) but I couldn’t finish it and to this day I’ve only met one person who has ever finished it and I’m sure he’s lying.

Which book keeps resounding in your mind?
Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. It’s about a young girl who was abused by her dad. When I read that book I felt this is the power of literature; her characters resonate with you.

Any unusual reading habit?
If I read a book and I don’t like it, I throw it across the room. And it’s a habit I’ve had since childhood.

I’m curious about some titles you’ve tossed
War and Peace [Leo Tolstoy], The Famished Road [Ben Okri]… ha ha!

Of the four books you’ve written, which is your favourite?
I don’t have one. I don’t, honestly. I’m a very strange writer? Ha ha!

--Daily Monitor, May 3, 2010

Improving society’s awareness about HIV/Aids

Title: The Price of Grandma’s Love
Author: Julius Ocwinyo
Reviewer: Dennis D. Muhumuza 

Julius Ocwinyo’s first children’s novel, The Price of Grandma’s Love, is one of those moving, entertaining, informative and very educative books about HIV/Aids.

Published by Fountain Publishers early this year, the book is about a pretty little girl named Santa Amuge, who has a stubborn dry cough. When she finally starts coughing blood, her parents panic and rush her to hospital, only for the doctors to discover that at only 11 years, Amuge has Tuberculosis and is HIV positive.

“What?!” her father, Kuranimo, screams on hearing the sad news. “You mean my daughter, my own little daughter, has HIV? You mean she has already had sex at her tender age…?”

Like many misinformed people, Kuranimo thinks HIV/Aids can only be transmitted through having unprotected sex with an infected person. He thinks his daughter, who has not even developed breasts, has a boyfriend with whom she is having sex.

He dreads the thought of becoming a laughing stock and people
calling his little daughter a slut when they establish that she has died of HIV/Aids. He even plans on paying a witchdoctor a visit to find out how his daughter got the deadly disease.

However, a counsellor is contacted and it is discovered that people get HIV/Aids in many ways besides sex and that Amuge got it after a razorblade used on an HIV/Aids patient was also used on her. That way, people get a better understanding of HIV/Aids, especially how it spreads and how it can be avoided.

In just 32 pages, Ocwinyo, who is also the author of popular adult novels such as Fate of the Banished and Footprints of the Outsider, tells this story in simple language and a suspenseful fashion. The book comes with illustrations to help the young readers understand and enjoy the story more.

There is also a glossary that explains words you may find difficult and some questions to help the reader gauge his/her grasp of this story. The Price of Grandma’s Love is available at Aristoc Booklex and other leading bookstores around town.

--Sunday Monitor, May 2, 2010

Makerere onto the semi-finals


The feeling that Ugandan universities are in some way jinxed when it comes to Zain Africa Challenge dissipated like mist after Makerere University trounced the University of the Ghana in last Sunday’s first quarterfinal.

With the bespectacled Simon Peter Nyero Lukwiya in the driving seat, Mak proved hot on Hot Topics in Africa, Rivers and Streams and Venomous Animals, outplaying the opponent with 130 points against 50.

But as the game rules dictate, the brilliant law student stepped aside for Ruita Mbogo in the second round, only for the Kenyan to switch on his mediocrity thereby endorsing Ghana to outstrip us by 90 points.

The light-skinned Mbogo was so slow on the buzzer and flunked every first question that would have permitted his teammates to help out. It was so upsetting particularly when I recalled his equally appalling display in the opening episode in which Mak narrowly survived the University of Malawi.

It is paradoxical that while his homeboys are playing expeditiously (Kenya has three teams in the quarterfinals), Mbogo is frustratingly slow. Is he being conspiratorial by not playing his heart out and therefore slowing his team so that a university from his homeland can go all the way? Whatever the case, Mbogo has twice proven beyond reasonable doubt that he does not deserve a place on that esteemed Mak team. For that, Coach Philip Kazibwe should replace him with dangerous substitute Daniel Bagonza in the semi finals where the competition is guaranteed to be even stiffer.

As it is, it took the precocious Lamech to rescue us from the precarious position we were seemingly helplessly in. The first year Actuarial Science student was dazzling as he nailed John Sibi-Okumu’s rapid-fire questions, and turned our misfortune into hope; helping us net 270 points, only 10 behind Ghana.

It gave Mak the opportunity to play first in the thrilling 60-second-10-questions-worth-500 points Ultimate Challenge. And they were precious to watch as they pursued victory like a hungry lion chasing a stag in the jungles of southern Sudan. Again it was Lamech’s golden offerings that secured Mak a score of 400 points out of 500, giving us a grand total of 670 points.

Ghana which at this stage was 390 points behind needed eight correct answers or they would be goners. They inhaled. The questioner started shooting. With bated breath, I watched the tongue of the clock cross the finish line at the moment the West Africans had cracked just six questions (300 points and therefore a grand total of 580) and making Mak the day's champs. I jumped up in sheer relief and excitement, clapping and deliriously echoing Sibi-Okumu's trademark rhyme, “Well done well won", convinced that if Mbogo ups his game, nothing can stop Mak this time around.

Well, expect another seesaw tomorrow when what in my opinion is this year’s most exceptional side, Africa Nazarene University of Kenya, takes on Ghana’s University for Development Studies –the very team that knocked out defending champions, Ibadan University. Catch the exciting 30-minute academic quiz on NTV at 8:30 pm.

--Saturday Monitor,  May 1, 2010

That little but loaded word “faith”

Many have devised their own means of making things happen without the helping hand of God, but it is important to note that it pays to have an unwavering belief that He will take care of all our needs when we believe He can, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza 

“It’s all about faith in God; do you believe that God can change your life, satisfy every longing of your soul, provide all your needs? Ask Him to. Need more faith? Ask Him for it. Don’t even know what it is to have faith? Ask.”

This Facebook status by Ishta Nandi provoked an interesting exchange on faith. Faith, that five-letter word whose power Elijah knew so well that he depended on it and prayed that it might not rain and indeed it didn’t for three years and six months! (James 5:17).

It is this faith that is under the microscope today; that little but loaded word defined in Hebrews (11:1) as “the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen…the evidence of things we cannot see yet.” It means that it pays having an unwavering belief that God will take care of all our needs, just like the troubled woman who believed a little touch would cure her 12 years of bleeding. “For she said within herself, if I may but touch His garment, I shall be whole” and she touched and got instantly healed. And Jesus turned and said to her, “Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole.” (Mathew 9:20-22).

Yet today, telling a young man who has been jobless for two years that God will make all his dreams come true if only he trusts Him is bound to elicit a response like that of the doctor in Hortense Calisher’s great short story, Heartburn, after a patient tells him he has a live frog lodged in his chest. The poor doctor yells, “I don’t believe you!”

Certainly, many of us have been through situations where we have prayed passionately, only to see all our great expectations come to naught. But as Nandi puts it, “God doesn’t respond to our begging and pleading, He responds to our faith!

Indeed, several episodes in the Bible corroborate this. The Roman centurion whose servant had been in torment, paralysed, felt unworthy to host the Lord but with unshakable faith asked Jesus to command the sickness to go without necessarily entering his home. And a marvelled Jesus told his followers, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Mathew 8:5-13).

This kind of faith seems to have gone with the era of Jesus as many, even Christians, have devised their own means of making things happen without the helping hand of God. Steve, a professional teacher, is a fervent born-again Christian, attends church dedicatedly, knows most of the classic hymns word for word, reads his Bible, tithes and is a gifted speaker on the things of God. Steve is today pursuing his second degree, this time in law, but is struggling with tuition. Now he is considering applying for a dead year to work and raise tuition. When I asked him why he couldn’t ask God to clear his financial need, he gave me an ambiguous answer yet the Bible says “All things are possible to them that believe.” (Mark 9:23).

Others find it implausible that there is a better world beyond the one we all live in. Self-confessed agnostics, mostly authors, critics, essayists and evolutionists have written “eloquently” on the inexistence of God, with some indirectly calling for the spurning of believers.

In 1928, shortly after American poet T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) embraced Christianity, his friend and author, Virginia Woolf, (1882-1941) was so horrified that she wrote to another friend about it saying, “I have had a most shameful and distressing interview with dear Tom Eliot, who may be called dead to us all from this day forward. He has become an Anglo-Catholic believer in God and immortality and goes to church. I was shocked. A corpse would seem to me more credible that he is. I mean, there’s something obscene in a living person sitting by the fire and believing in God.”

Such perspectives as Woolf’s have swayed many into stubborn unbelief whereby they have chosen to enjoy their “heaven on earth”, leading - with wild abandon - a life of extravagance and hedonism and mocking the ascetic life of professed believers. This is what second century Roman Theologian Tertullian meant when he put it that faith resembles folly to the eye that has not been opened by the grace of God.

The uncertainty regarding the power of God can even be traced to the New Testament epoch, where Thomas, who had been with Jesus all through His ministry, refused to believe the Lord’s resurrection until Jesus appeared to him personally and showed him the scars of nails in His palms. Jesus also chided him, saying blessed are they that have not seen but still believe (John 20: 24-29).

That’s an aspect that most believers have ignored in favour of the physical assurance that doubting Thomas was lucky enough to receive. So we continue to maunder in doubt and unbelief, alienating God’s miracles in our lives, leading the slow miserable life of struggle and want. The Bible says it’s impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6). And if God is not pleased with our faith, how then can He grant all the desires of our hearts?

As it is, the secret to having all our dreams fulfilled lies in learning to have faith, not in gods but in the one true God, otherwise Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego wouldn’t have survived Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace (Daniel 3). And according to preacher Andrew Wommack, “Believing that God can do something but not believing that He will is not faith.”

Luckily, God knows how frail our faith is and will help our unbelief if we cry out to Him (Mark 9:24). And as Nandi advises, “We build our faith by finding out more and more about who God is, because when we love Him and seek to obey Him, we aim to learn about Him and what He requires of us.”

--Sunday Monitor, April 25, 2010

A disclosure of societal ills

Title: Eyo (2009)
Author: Abidemi Sanusi
Publisher: WordAlive Publishers
Price: Shs24,000
Available: All book stores
Reviewer: Dennis D. Muhumuza. 

Eyo may have lost out to South Africa’s Trespass (Dawn Garisch) for Africa's Best Book in this year’s Commonwealth Writer’s Prize but it is still up there among the continent's finest works of realistic fiction.

The 338-page novel is an exposé of the moral corruption, sexual perversity, child trafficking, grinding poverty and the love of filthy lucre among other ills that are antagonistic to human happiness.

It is divided into four parts and opens in Ajegunle, a notorious slum in Lagos where the eponymous young heroine is seen hawking iced water. She’s sexually abused by her father, Wale and her mother does nothing about it because she went through a similar experience when she still a little girl and has therefore come to accept it as the situation of the woman.

Eyo is then trafficked to the UK under the guise of attaining an education and supporting her family. Everyone is seemingly happy to see her escape “the curse of jungle city”. Little do they know that what awaits her there is but the worst domesticity, sex slavery, violence and slow starvation. Eyo’s suffering, which is beyond her control, makes you think that the so called "European Dream" we chase after is a sham; that trials and tribulations are everywhere and that we are better off enduring and doing all we can to right the wrongs in our country instead of running away.

Eyo’s situation worsens at Big Madame’s, the woman who runs the biggest and most organised brothel. Madame has accumulated enough money and clout as would “bring down the movers and shakers of the British economy,” many of whom are her clients.

Madame really means business that she even watches the girls when working to make sure they are performing their sexual duties right and pleasing customers. It’s the author’s major hint that both men and women are at fault; that everyone shares in the blame for making things go so awry.

Arguably, it's the power and controversy of the subject matter and not the crispness of the author’s style that sustains the reader’s interest in Eyo. The complexity of Eyo’s relationship with Johnny comes with its own resonation as well. Johnny, a pimp, is Eyo’s lover who beats her up but also brings her breakfast in bed and professes in a seemingly sincere voice his love of her. She begins to regard him secretly as her only friend. And it’s the first we see Eyo get close to a man. Also the first time we see a little humanity in Johnny. This relationship is perhaps the hook of the novel. In many ways, it's depressing yet gripping; I connected with it most in the novel.

I also got the feeling that the author struggles to harmonise her transitions. Even the novel’s ending is ambiguous rather than suspenseful.
When Eyo is finally rescued by Fr. Stephen and Sr. Mary and granted her wish of returning to Nigeria, her mother, Olufunmi is delighted: “God is good,” she says. “He has redeemed what the devil had stolen.” Ironically, the same woman begins to hound her poor daughter calling her another burden even though she’s well aware Eyo was a sex slave. The unfairness of it all is maddening, but then you recognise this insensitivity is a result of the desperation of the times.

What's more, the bad people get away, projecting the novel as devoid of poetic justice. But that's because it's the system that's difficult to fight. At least Eyo is rescued and her mother eventually throws out her husband. Tolu also testifies against Sam for molesting Eyo and the relentless Fr. Stephen and Sr. Mary are making a slow but steady difference in the lives of some teenage prostitutes with their benevolence. Maybe there’s hope after all. Just maybe.

--Saturday Monitor, April 24, 2010

The first quarterfinal bout is here


Zambia's copper belt University put up a lovely fight, coming from down and showing University of Sierra Leone the exit in last Sunday’s Zain Africa Challenge. Who would have thought! I mean the Sierra Leonean trio of Songor, Jimmy Smith and Abubaka came with a conspicuous attitude that was difficult to miss.

Jimmy was spotting dark glasses and looking “bad” while Songor’s big-rimmed glasses, assuredness and physical stature reminded me of the nutty professor without a potbelly! And quite frankly, they knew their stuff; from country names and African current affairs to sports, they seemed to know it all and dominated all the three rounds.
The Lusaka boys looked a little higgledy-piggledy but in an adorable sort of way. And they knew their stuff too and didn’t at all lag with a huge margin. In fact, by the end of the third round, Sierra Leone was leading them by only 40 points which is really nothing before the Ultimate Challenge.

Indeed it was in the Ultimate Challenge that their tact, true competence and elegance shone through; for they knew they would negotiate the “N is for Africa” category, and did effortlessly, netting 450 points out of 500 and bringing their grand total to 680 points.

It dealt a cruel blow to the previously complacent players of Sierra Leone who now looked stunned. With 410 points behind, they needed to get nine questions right, which I must add, was a tall order. And if they knew Latin America well, they found the category tough and their faces twisted with anger and frustration after they answered only six out of ten questions.

Show host John Sibi-Okumu delivered his goodbye to the losers and congratulated the day’s winners, who were visibly over the moon with excitement. It was a memorable night that sealed the ejection of the all lightweights, leaving behind the heavyweights to entertain us by battling it out with each other starting with tomorrow’s first quarterfinal bout.

When Uganda’s oldest university steps into the ring against Ghana’s oldest university, you can only expect sparks. Makerere University has a magnetic team led by Busia prodigy, Lamech Mbangaye who won the player of the week award in the first episode, not forgetting Nyero Simon Peter Lukwiya, the resilient son of the late Dr. Mathew Lukwiya.

But then, diehard followers of this inter-university battle of the brains have certainly not forgotten the pace of the lanky, bespectacled Lloyd Owusu-Asante and the tenacity of his fellow teammates that, combined, had University of Ghana trampling down on the University of Arusha in the second episode of this 30-minute academic quiz.

That’s why the Ghana-Mak fight promises to be a cracker. The $5,000 along with the prestigious Zain Scholars’ trophy is beckoning; either team knows progressing to the semis means drawing closer to the jackpot; and who doesn’t want the limelight of the grand finale? But let's not get ahead of ourselves. For now let's pray that Mak will put up a determined display and not squander Uganda’s last hopes. As usual, catch the battle tomorrow night, 8:30 p.m., only on NTV.