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Monday, August 15, 2011

Literature is his weapon against child sacrifice

He would have been an expert in the field of fisheries, but Oscar Katumwa felt he could be of better use to his society if he used his creativity to fight some of the evils like child sacrifice, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza

He may not be a celebrity even by Ugandan standards but Oscar “Ranzo” Katumwa is hard to ignore. There’s much to say about a man who trained in fisheries only to end up selling cloths and turning words into money, but you’re reading about him today because of a nobler cause: using creative literature to eliminate child sacrifice in Uganda!

Oscar "Ranzo" Katumwa
In fact, you could say creativity define this man. First from the way he turned his first name around; angling ‘c’ to form ‘n’ and twisting ‘s’ to produce ‘z’ all in a bid to invent his artistic name – Ranzo – which he calls “the mirror image of Oscar!” Not forgetting “oscCcar’s” –the fashion shop he opened to “make smartness easy for the busy.”

The corporate bunch, too lazy to go shopping, phones him, and after interviewing them, he ascertains their fashion taste and does their bidding!

“I’m not a style guru but I grew up around people who make cloths so I developed a good eye for cloths at a young age,” he says. “I also follow the fashion trends to stay on top of my game.”

Born in Jinja, Oscar lost his father at the age of four, and was raised with his six brothers by an indomitable mother who taught them all domestic chores. He attended Namilyango Junior and St. Mary’s College, Kisubi, where he studied Physics, Chemistry and Biology, and later pursued a course in fisheries. It was his mother’s wish, but Katumwa’s heart had long been seduced by something deeper –creative fiction.

And just last year, drawing from the gory press reports of child sacrifices, Katumwa got inspiration for a fictional story of a little girl who’s kidnapped to be sacrificed by two evil-wealth-hungry men, but is saved seconds before her head is chopped off. That’s how Saving Little Viola came worn; a book that quickly caught the eye of Alison Naftalin of Lively Minds, a community-based organisation working to improve the quality of life for deprived children of Uganda. And it’s this moving story that got Katumwa appointed the coordinator of Lively Minds Child Sacrifice Prevention Programme, a Unicef-funded project that aims at tackling the mindsets and behaviours sustaining child sacrifice.

A research conducted in over 200 schools in Jinja and Mukono revealed that over 80 per cent of the pupils interviewed believed child sacrifice, and not hard work, is the secret to riches.

“It’s alarming that children have been made to believe that the sacrifice of children brings wealth so we use the story of little Viola to change that mindset,” says Katumwa. “The book exposes the harm that child sacrifice causes and contains key facts about child sacrifice and questions to aid recollection and strengthen the child’s understanding of the story. During the reading sessions, we engage children in a discussion that stimulates critical thinking in them. Six schools in Jinja have benefited from this project, and 36 schools more are being targeted before the program is made national.”

He says there is a glaring nonexistence of children and adult fiction on Uganda’s contemporary experience: “Most of the children’s stories on the market are old folk tales with strange animals and weird foreign characters that are difficult for the natives to identify with; there’s hunger for good stories dealing with Ugandan subjects,” he says.

To bridge this gap, Katumwa is writing a novel Skeleton, and his collection of short stories under the title Cross Pollination, about the sexual network. Most of Oscar’s short stories deal with the frustrations of life with tragic, sometimes surprising end twists. Ugly Beauty, is for example a classic example of never judging a book by its cover.

His stories also deal with infidelity and promiscuity and the ramifications associated with leading a dissolute life. The loneliness of most his protagonists arguably come from his personal life; growing up as a young man without a father. His father was kidnapped in 1984, and he has never been seen again. Katumwa also subconsciously borrows something from his icon - the poignant beauty of Bernard Malamud’s stories, about the experiences of poor Jewish people in America struggling to make it against all odds.

Influenced locally by Lillian Tindyebwa, particularly by her novel Recipe for Disaster (1994), Katumwa’s overriding ambition is to become a full-time writer. He humorously alludes to The alchemist to the effect that since he wants this badly, “forces of nature will conspire to make it come true!”

--Sunday Monitor, July 24, 2011