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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