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Monday, December 22, 2014

Tapping into Uganda’s literary treasures


In 1965, Uganda was described as “a literary desert” by Prof Taban lo Liyong, a literary author. Today, 49 years later, it is right to flip the coin and say Uganda is a literary oasis. Literary creativity is high and acceptance and appreciation of Ugandan literature locally and beyond the borders is becoming the norm.

Writers like Dilman Dila and Jennifer Makumbi had their stars shining brighter this year. Mary Karooro Okurut released Potiphar’s Grand Daughter. A poetry anthology, A Thousand Voices Rising, compiled and edited by Beverley Nambozo Nsengyyunva of the BN Poetry Awards fame, caused excitement. Victoria Atukunda Abigail emerged as the writer of romance to watch with her second novel The Edge, while Evelyn Kasamba proved we can stand to be counted among the best motivational writers with her book School Room for Life. Then Dr Sr Dominic Dipio published an important book on African cinema, and Dr Aaron Mushengyezi on oral literature for children. Oscar Ranzo has proved himself as Uganda’s most prolific children’s author by releasing three more titles this year.

Back to Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi. First, her short-story Let’s Tell This Story Properly won the 2014 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Then her first novel, Kintu, was released by Kwani? The 442-page volume, described by author Jamal Mahjoub as “an ambitious modern epic that takes in family saga and history of Uganda, fusing the urgency of the present with the timelessness of myth”, was launched in Kampala in June. It sold out immediately, punching holes in the boring dirge that Ugandans do not read.

The best thing that happened to our industry
But the best thing that happened to Uganda’s book industry this year is the crackdown on pirates that infringe on the copyright of authors by illegally reprinting and selling their books cheaply, thereby choking the market for genuine books. It is the major reason Ugandan authors remain poor. Even the government loses revenue since these pirates do not pay taxes. The Uganda Reproduction Rights Organisation (URRO) takes the plaudits for the commando-like-operations in which more than 80,000 pirated books worth Shs1.8b were impounded.
 According to Charles Batambuze, URRO’s executive director, our printing and publishing industry has lost at least Shs10 billion since October 2013 alone through piracy. URRO, which has the official mandate complete with the no-nonsense inspectors reminiscent of the “yellow boys” of KCCA, will with the cooperation of authors, genuine publishers and booksellers, crack the whip more in 2015 until the evil of piracy that has opened the floodgates of substandard books on the market is uprooted.

All the new books will in 2015 be affixed with holograms to distinguish them from fake ones. Anybody caught selling books without holograms will be arrested and the books impounded. URRO will continue to hold workshops to promote awareness against piracy.

Femrite’s role
Some of the Caravan writers ready to set off
Since 1996 when it was founded to give a voice to the woman writer, Femrite - the Uganda female writers association - has continued to be a major player in the growth of our literary industry. This year, it run a set of literary activities but what stood out is the February Uganda Writers Caravan, the first of its kind, which saw a carefully selected group of fine Ugandan authors trek through 10 districts: Kampala, Wakiso, Luwero, Gulu, Oyam, Lira Ngora, Kapchorwa, Mbare and Jinja to promote writing and reading.

“Even us prisoners we have stories to write,” a prisoner in Loro Prison, one of the Caravan stopovers said, “thank you for coming to encourage us to write our stories.”

In July, Femrite run its annual week of literary activities that included a reading with Mellisa Kiguwa for her new poetry collection, a public reading at Hotel Africana on the theme: “African Women Speaking for Themselves - What Difference does it Make?”, a public reading at National Theatre and the week was crowned with Poetry Night at Uganda Museum under the theme: “Redefining Womanhood: A Celebration of Maya Angelou”.

In the same month, Femrite held the “Writing for Social Justice” workshop in which 20 women from different African countries shared on expressing themselves freely and learnt how to identify and respond to issues of social justice. The workshop will take place again in July 2015, and the participants will use the opportunity to publish for the social justice cause.

In October, Femrite launched a new project with the Danish Centre for Culture and Development— Developing a New Reading and Writing Generation, the major aim being the establishment of 20 creative writing clubs in 20 schools (14 schools in Gulu and six in Kabale). Each club owns a notice board and they post their creative works weekly. These clubs are more like an extension of the Femrite Readers Writers Club, which provides mentors to nurture writing talent, as well promote a reading culture in these schools.

According to Femrite Coordinator Hilda Twongyeirwe, 2015 will be a busy year for the organisation.
The Writers Caravan will head to western Uganda, the Femrite Regional Residency will this time be held in Gotland Island at the Baltic Centre in Sweden, the reading tents will be pitched for primary school children in Gulu, and the Week of Literary Activities will happen in mid-year, among other activities.

Other players
In keeping Uganda’s literary flag flying, Femrite has found a competitor in the Centre for African Cultural Excellence (CACE) that has since 2012 identified, mentored, published and promoted emerging African writers through literary festivals, creative-writing workshops, online mentoring, publication of flash fiction in newspapers, publishing an annual anthology of short stories, and running short story prizes under the “Writivism” programme.

The fact that Okwiri Oduor won the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing while Efemia Chela, participant in the 2014 Writivism workshop in Cape Town was shortlisted for the same shows the potency of this initiative. In fact, some of the Writivism-associated writers, including our own Glaydah Namukasa and Okwiri Oduor, were named by the Hay Festival Africa39 initiative as writers who shall shape the future of African writing.

According to Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire, CACE’s Programmes Director, expect more fireworks in 2015 as more than 50 talented emerging writers are going to be identified around the continent through five creative writing workshops in five different African cities. The best 25 of those will be helped to develop their craft further through mentorship. Then an anthology of 14 short stories will be published, and best five rewarded.

The highlight of 2015 will, however, be a literary conference expected to take place at Makerere University, bringing together writers, publishers, academics, readers, book distributors and the media around the continent.

--Saturday Monitor, December 20, 2014

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Unlocking the Ugandan version of English


 A Ugandan researcher and cultural critic has published a book on something that we have always laughed about in Uganda: the way we speak English. Bernard Sabiiti spent four years figuring out the origin of Uglish (/you-glish/), the derisive term Ugandans use to refer to their weird variety of English. This is not something common only among the uneducated, Mr Sabiiti says of Uganda’s own English. He writes that even some highly educated Ugandans cannot speak Standard English.

“Who of us has never used the phrase “you are lost?” While almost all Ugandans will understand what it means, which is that you have not seen someone in a while, most foreigners will have no idea what that means. The phrase is a direct translation of the local phrase. Most Uglishes like to “dirten”, which means to “make dirty”.

Others, however, are completely created out of the blue. For example, the origin of benching, which might mean the same thing as the American euphemism “making out” or pursuing a woman with carnal/romantic intentions, is not clear.

The book traces the evolution and history of such words and phrases, explains their meanings and gives reasons why Ugandans, when their level of comprehension is fully stretched to the limit, directly translate English words often with no regard to grammatical, semantic or syntactic nuance that is required. As a result, you end up with a phrase that makes no sense to the uninitiated.For example, many Ugandans say, “Borrow me some money,” instead of “lend me…”; “Museveni has ‘won Besigye” to mean “Museveni has defeated Besigye, etc”.

The reason for this, the author observes, is because of our difficulty processing these linguistic phenomena when our thinking is steeped in indigenous language and cultural backgrounds. And this hampers our processing efforts. Lack of regular reading of books or interface with English speakers also exacerbates the problem.

The book has a chapter on the history of the evolution and development of Uglish, and an extensive glossary of Uglish words that will blow you away. Oh, and there is a whole chapter full of pictures of signposts! Yes! Signs written in Uglish that will leave you in stitches.

The author, however, makes it clear that the book is not a laughing matter. He writes that the growth of Uglish is much more than the impact indigenous languages have had on English, or the creativity or lack thereof of a people struggling to learn a foreign language.

He attributes most of the factors for the growth of this variety of English to failing education standards, a poor reading culture and lack of opportunities to regularly communicate in English; issues that the government, parents, teachers, students, educationists and curricula developers need to be concerned about.

For some readers, especially Ugandans therefore, the book is to be taken very seriously as there is a lot to learn from it, even as you have some laugh while at it.

--Saturday Monitor, December 13, 2014

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

According to the full gospel

Using the case of the missionary founder of Full Gospel Church, Dennis D. Muhumuza illustrates how Christians can devote their lives to living by Christ’s example.

In 1960, Pr Hugh Layzell and his wife Audrey left the comfort of their home in Vancouver, Canada, to bring the gospel to Uganda. They held their first crusade under a mango tree in Nakawa, and the open-air meetings spread to other Kampala suburbs and many people got saved. One of those who got born-again was Princess Muggale, the sister to Kabaka Muteesa I. In 1962, she represented the Kabaka at the official opening of the first Pentecostal Church in Uganda—Makerere Full Gospel Church which the Layzell’s planted on Makerere Hill.
A moment of prayer at Makerere Full Gospel Chruch
Over 50 years later, not only has the church immensely grown, its founder is one of the Christians running their race to win. Pr Layzell, now in his 80s, is still strong and preaching the gospel fervently. Following Layzell’s example, Pr Fred Wantaate says believers must continuously examine their lives and be careful how they live because the times are evil, and the temptations to stray are many. Those who fall during the race should pick themselves up and resume the race instead of giving up.

“When things don’t go according to your expectation as they are bound to sometimes because of the different terrains we run over, stay in the race; run with the patience of a farmer who stays in the field working even when the rain is pouring down because he has work to finish. The rain should not stop you either. Know that you are in this for a long haul and determine to complete the race.”

Wantaate adds that some Christians miss the mark when they start comparing themselves to those who are seemingly doing well. “No need to get discouraged because someone is succeeding ahead of you. God has gifted us differently and the grace He has granted you to run your race is enough to bring you victory if you stay focused and don’t get disqualified for straying into another’s lane hoping it’s easier there.”

The overall secret to winning the Christian race is to keep our eyes on Jesus. Paul the apostle compares the Christian life to a race that we should run and never quit (Hebrews 12:1). Those who know the rigours of training for a race later alone running it understand that Paul is not talking about a walk in the park. Only those who finish the race will win what the Bible calls the “unfading crown”.

So what can I do to complete the race? Lay aside the barriers to progress. Remove from our lives anything that would slow us down and the sin that so often makes us fall,” says Paul.

Most of these obstacles may seem harmless yet they choke the fire in our lives from blazing. It could be a job that keeps you too busy to pray or read the Bible, it could be the weekend movie that keeps replaying images of carnality in your mind, it could be a relationship that makes you compromise your standards of chastity or fidelity is a weight designed by the devil to slacken your progress on the race.

“The devil is very smart,” says Pr Wantaate. “He may not stop you from being a Christian but he may make you miss the best God has for you. If the devil weighs you down enough to finish last or second last instead of first, he has won at least a partial victory.”

When we turn to God repeatedly in prayer, and for wisdom, the tempting things of this world lose their appeal as he helps us to run and finish this race for God’s glory and honour.

--Sunday Monitor, December 7, 2014

Monday, November 10, 2014

Preserving the African culture through books


In living up to the notion that a university should be the hub of academic engagements and intellectual exchanges, Makerere University’s Department of Literature on October 31 launched two books written by two of its staff members.

The first, Gender Terrains in African Cinema by Sr Dr Dominica Dipio, explores the field of African cinema; analysing three categories of women (the girl child, the young woman and the elderly woman) and the various roles they play in relation to their male counterparts.
(L-R) Sr. Dr. Dipio, Mr. Tumusiime, Dr. Mushengyezi and Dr. Danyson Kahyana at the launch
 Dr Dipio began interacting with African cinema as a graduate student at the Pontifical Gregorian University of Roma in 1999, and has never looked back. As a woman from a male-dominated society, she was particularly piqued by the treatment of the African woman by the African filmmaker and other African chroniclers.

It is not surprising therefore that in her book, she brings together the intersections between and among film, literature, gender and popular culture. As a specialist in African film studies, cinema overides as she analyses 14 films directed by male African filmmakers; films spanning the 1970s to 2000s from which she draws general conclusions.

One of the conclusions which was drawn by Dr Consolata Kabonesa, who has already read the book, is that the only way to change gender inequalities in our society is for the mother to model her boy children from when they are still boys to grow up loving and respecting the women. “She also looks at the role of the filmmaker as a transformative agent in society,” said Dr Kabonesa.

The second book
The second book, Oral Literature for Children: Rethinking Orality, Literacy, Performance and Documentation Practices by Dr Aaron Mushengyezi, is the first major attempt at capturing hundreds of texts from the Ugandan oral culture for children – folktales, riddles and rhymes – making them available in four Ugandan languages, including English.

Dr Mushengyezi took interest in local folklore when he was still a little boy, entertaining their home guests with folktales, riddles and rhymes that were all cherished for their cultural and educational value. But the advent of modern technologies that brought the internet and social media, and television with its glut of entertainment programmes, have blotted these cultural materials from our traditional psyche.

Yet these cultural materials are still needed for our identity and overall national value. As the author said, you cannot promote tourism, nationalism and patriotism when you neglect your traditional cultures.
Makerere University’s Prof Austin “Mwalimu” Bukenya, in his analysis heaped praise on Dr Mushengyezi’s book and recited a line from a William Wordsworth poem that succinctly captures how he felt on reading the book: “My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky.” The book made his old heart leap like a young man’s in love.

It reminded him of Rosa, a five-year-old story-telling maestro he fell in love with at the age of four. Bukenya, particularly liked the story in the book about a lazy girl who could not dig and had to call her mother’s ghost to help her. “That is the last story my mother told me before she passed on,” Bukenya revealed, turning to the author, “thank you for bringing back my youth.”

In a veiled swipe at the government, which has chronically belittled the arts in favour of sciences, Bukenya said, “the arts that make us human are not useless.” The guest of honour, James Tumusiime (Managing director, Fountain Publishers) hammered the point further home, “Our own culture and thinking cannot be sacrificed at the altar of science.”

In preserving our cultural expressions, Dr Mushengyezi has given tangible meaning to the words of Ngugi wa Thiongo that “literature is the honey of a nation’s soul, preserved for her children to taste forever, a little at a time.”

Saturday Monitor, Nov. 8, 2014

Friday, October 24, 2014

An anthology of provocative verse


In 2009, a spirited woman named Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva started the annual BN Poetry Awards, to stir Ugandan women poets to write more and better. In just five years, the yields have got the whole continent feasting. A Thousand Voices Rising –an anthology of contemporary African poetry, compiled and edited by Nambozo herself, is the latest of the yields.

Never before has a poetry collection brought the mighty and the budding, the old and the young, male and female, the bold and the subtle poets of the continent together, as this anthology does. Poets from Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Malawi, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, South Sudan, Tanzania, Liberia, Algeria and DRC, tackle all the imaginable and tangible subjects under the sun, with such power as art for social change, in varied styles as will meet the varied needs of the varied readers that will buy the book.

The 122 poems are divided in eight parts comprising poems of related themes. The varied subjects are of course inevitably linked with the temperaments and experiences of their individual authors. For example Beatrice Lamwaka’s “Acoli Dirges” is a barb aimed at the modern generation of Ugandans who have been so influenced by western education that they speak English with a twang in imitation of their British or American counterparts. The poet observes that our mother tongues have become too ‘difficult’ that we now “speak Acoli with a twang like we are speaking English…/We speak English like we are eating sweet potatoes/ No one can defeat us/ We defeat the English in their mother tongue!”  The poem basically laments the breakdown of our cultural authenticity.

Another poem that depicts the poet as a keen observer of modern society is John Kariuki’s “Silenced Forever” about outspoken analysts and critics; often the voices of the voiceless who go silent as the graves as soon as they get jobs from the government or other establishments they had previously severely criticised or spoken up against.

Some poems are about the ugly past or things we would rather forget such as Susan Kiguli’s “I laugh at Amin” or Ivan Okuda’s “Kyadondo, July 2010” which recalls the black day terrorists bombed soccer lovers in Uganda in 2010, while some, such as Eugene Mbugua’s “My Village Crush” brings back memories in some of us who went to village schools. It’s about the poet’s childhood sweetheart whom he meets many years later when she’s married with several children and is shocked at how changed and altered she is from the village beautiful sweetheart she was back then.

The anthology also contains all the winning poems from the BN Poetry Awards, starting with Lillian Aujo’s inaugural winner, “Soft Tonight” (2009), with imagery in all its sensuality. But its erotic nature pales compared to Beverley Nambozo’s highly rhythmic “Sseebo gwe Wange” with its colourful and picturesque lines like “…you pound me like the engalabi/ I slap the wall to your rhythm…I moan like thunder…”

Poetry enthusiasts whose love for the genre was particularly evoked by the classic anthology, Poems from East Africa (1996) will especially love A Thousand Voices Rising, for its significance and relevance. It’s an anthology that is as provocative as is evocative; simple yet complex, plus you will be impressed by the sheer potential of the up-and-coming poets whose works give it its uniqueness. As award-winning Malawian poet, Prof Jack Mapanje lauds the anthology, its “original, fresh and represents some of the best African minds.”

--Saturday Monitor, October 18, 2014

Monday, September 22, 2014

Facing the knife is macho

Dennis D. Muhumuza shares why circumcision is manly and not for the fainthearted.

Don’t be deceived; circumcision remains a macho thing regardless of where it is done. Some say that only cowards go to hospital and real men face the crude-looking traditional knife as used live among the Bagisu. But as I found out on August 19, and in the three weeks of throbbing pain and discomfort that followed, even medical circumcision is not for the fainthearted.

A wooden phallus showing the beauty of a circumcised penis
On that day, which coincided with this year’s imbalu season, I woke up with excitement as I was finally going to do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time—the removal of my foreskin. I was also apprehensive in case the procedure went horribly wrong like the case of a man whose tip of the penis got severed off!

But the doctor who welcomed me that morning allayed my fears saying the circumcisers were experienced experts who had no record of messing up. He held a wooden phallus depicting the beauty of a circumcised male organ. He articulated the rewards of circumcision: it being a HIV/Aids preventive measure, hygienic benefits and better sex. He was so convincing that had he pulled out a knife then I would have faced it without anaesthesia.

Next, I was counselled and HIV-tested by a doctor who asked me to be honest and tell him how many times I have had sex this year, and whether I used a condom. The way he talked you would think I’m a sex machine with unrivalled notoriety for hanky-panky.

After that, I was shown into a small room to remove my clothes and wear a circumcision gown. Therein, I found a plus size boy of about 12 who looked dead-frightened and asked me in a shivering voice if I thought it would hurt. Obviously he had been dragged to face the knife.

I was moments later stunned to discover that the physician who was going to circumcise me was not only female but also a ravishing beauty. My eyes quickly run to her fingers looking for a wedding ring. Alas! her hands were gloved. She looked me in the eye and ordered me with professional authority to lie on my back on the operating table. I lay there in utter surrender, spread my legs and closed my eyes praying that her first touch would not make my body react. “I’m going to anaesthetise you and it won’t hurt thereafter,” she said tenderly, like a mother to her beloved child.

Three times I felt dizzying pricks of injection at the base of my sexual organ and wanted to yelp like a little girl. But I remembered a Mugisu young man somewhere who as the traditional knife descends sharply on his foreskin is not expected to wince no matter the pain. What I was facing in the hospital paled in comparison, and that helped me to face my trial with courage.

The procedure took about 20 minutes. I was then ushered into another room where a doctor advised me to clean my member with salty water twice everyday and to let the stitches come out of their own accord. I was also strongly warned against having sex before six weeks have elapsed, and to use a condom in the first six months after that.

The pain began on my way home. Ceaseless, stinging pain like red ants were mauling me beneath the bandages. For the next fortnight, I could not walk. And I could not sleep. It would get worse while passing urine. The morning erections brought unbearable pain too. I was swollen. In panic, I called one of my doctor friends, who brought me some liquid with which to cleanse the wound and powdered antidote to apply thereafter. This really helped. At the end of the third week, I began wearing trousers again and going about my business without pain.

Today I’m glad it’s all over. The three-week discomfort and pain helped me to rediscover my ability to endure. I feel better, cleaner and stronger. Circumcision regardless of where it’s done is truly a rite of passage that turns big boys into real men.

--Sunday Monitor, September 21, 2014

Monday, September 8, 2014

A poet’s view of society dynamics


The first time I saw the title of the book, it evoked in my mind an image of graceful movement. Poetry in Motion is an eclectic collection of 49 poems grouped in five parts, each devoted to a particular theme. This arrangement creates a flow. It also means a variety of readers are remembered. A lover of sights and sounds will appreciate the poetic techniques used, for instance, in the first part, 'Rhythm and Rhymes' with its vibrantly descriptive nature.

The second section, 'Cakes and Candles', gives you a clue about the kind of poems you find here; poems inspired by birthdays and other celebratory days.

'Riddles of Fortune', the third section, captures everyday struggles in our society, for example what people
“When I got money
I drank wine and gin
dished out to everyone
that hailed my name!
Now I’m penniless
now I’m hopeless
whoever I fed
is laughing at me!”
go through while looking for money and the ramifications that come with reckless spending. This is explicitly depicted in the poem, Lamentations, which begins thus;

In 'Thorns and Roses', the poet, in seven poems, captures the contrasting emotions that come with falling in love; the joys and pains, hence the image “thorns and roses”.

The last section, 'Gospel Truth', has five poems, all inspired by religious beliefs and Christian living.

Poetry in Motion is Ivan Matthias Mulumba’s first publication as a poet and author, and it is a commendable effort. It is devoid of those structural and grammatical errors that stain most self-published Ugandan works because of the 10-year incubation period it enjoyed before hitting the bookstores. Being a member of the Femrite Readers Club, Mulumba used the opportunity to have his poems critiqued by club members, and used their feedback to improve them.

A graduate of Land Economics from Makerere University, Mulumba started writing poetry in primary school, but his interest peaked in high school when he was introduced to the poetry of T.S. Eliot (1888-1965). This is his Number One inspiration, followed by Uganda’s Henry Muwanga Barlow of the Building the Nation fame.

What Mulumba shares with his mentors is a keen observation of society and its dynamics. Some of his poems are written to capture a moment and provoke the reader to look into the life of various narrators and what drives them.

Poetry in Motion can basically be summed up as an anthology that chronicles the first steps of a poet, and captures the beliefs, experiences and some ideologies in society.

--Saturday Monitor, September 6, 2014

Monday, June 2, 2014

A star that lit all corners of the world

Award winning author, poet and civil activist Maya Angelou’s philosophy on life was, “I think you say to life – I am with you kid; let’s go!”. Described as a renaissance, this approach to life took the poet, author, dancer, playwright, director, actor, professor and civil rights activist to extraordinary places. Dennis D. Muhumuza reflects on her life that touched many world over. 

It has been three days but tears of grief stream on down the eyes of millions of people who met her physically or through her works. The pain in their hearts is intense because their icon, Maya Angelou, is gone.

The late Maya Angelou
The African-American author, poet, essayist, editor, composer, performer, director, lecturer and civil rights activist, died quietly in her home in North Carolina, on Wednesday, at the age of 86. Social media immediately rippled with tributes about a woman who came from a broken family, endured biting poverty, cruel blows of racism and childhood rape, but still rose to global recognition as an inspiration to countless people.

“My mission in life is not merely to survive but to thrive and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour, and some style,” she once declared, and went on to fulfill it to the letter.

Goretti Kyomuhendo, writer and Founder of African Writers Trust, was won over by Maya’s first autobiographical novel, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969) before she devoured and savoured all of her works.

“For me what stood out most from her writings was that she always wrote from the heart. She wrote her ‘Truth’ - her writing resonated with emotional truth hence making it more believable, more powerful.”

Ms Kyomuhendo also shares what it was like to meet Maya in person: " In 1997, I was invited to participate in the Yari Yari conference which brought together hundreds of African women writers (and women of African descent) from around the world. The conference was held in New York and Maya Angelou was scheduled to speak. I waited patiently as she made her way out of the room after her presentation; and I was rewarded with a firm, powerful handshake and a tender, wise, knowing smile! I felt inspired to go back to my hotel that evening and write some more. The memory of that special moment is still deeply etched on my mind! Sleep well, Dear Sister."

Anyway, that memoir, which ushered Maya into the limelight to the point of no return, captures the author’s early life, including how she got raped at the age of seven; an experience so traumatic that it made her silent for five years.

David Benon Kangye, a literary scholar at Makerere University, says this is the book that paved way for women to open up on topics like rape. “It is argued that the likes of Oprah (Winfrey) were inspired by Maya Angelou, whose works remain central to the study of the poetry of civil rights movement at university level,” Kangye says.

Indeed at one time, Oprah said, “What stands out to me most about Maya Angelou is not what she has done or written or spoken; it’s how she lived her life. She moved through the world with unshakable calm, confidence and a fierce grace...she will always be the rainbow in my clouds.”

It is that ability to inspire the famous and the ordinary that Maya will be remembered for. A Ugandan girl whom she inspired with poetry took to writing that genre as well and went on to win the inaugural BN Poetry Award in 2008. Lillian Aujo, who has since had several poems and short stories published, says of Maya: “Her verse is simple yet nuanced, and beautiful. What I admire most about her is her graceful resilience against whatever was going in her life and society.

If the role of the writer is to educate, heal, explain, portray and examine all aspects of society, as Sudanese writer and academic Michael Baffoka once explained, then Maya Angelou excelled in all.

The prolific genius whom Barack Obama praised as “one of the brightest lights of our time”, may be gone but she lives on. “In your words, in our hearts, you will live on Maya,” affirms Femrite Coordinator Hilda Twongyeirwe.

Her popular works
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969)
Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Die (1971): The first of her poetry collections.
• And Still I Rise: (1978) The author’s third volume of poetry including two of her most well-known and popular pieces, Phenomenal Woman and Still I Rise.
All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986).
On the Pulse of Morning (1993): The poem Angelou read at President Clinton’s first inauguration.
A Brave and Startling Truth (1995): The poem Angelou read at the 50th anniversary of the United Nations.
A Song Flung Up to Heaven (2002): Her sixth memoir, which describes her friendships with both Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X and her reactions to their assassinations.
Letter to My Daughter (2008): A collection of essays about her life that notes.
Mom & Me & Mom (2013): Her final memoir, about her mother who disappeared when Angelou was three, only to reappear a decade later.

--Saturday Monitor, May 31, 2014

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Taking literature back home

Through the Writers’ Caravan, organisers hope to inspire potential writers by taking established writers as living testimonies to the communities, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza.

“Taking writers back to their communities” as the literary journey is dubbed, will see 10 of the country’s best writers tour the country for 11 days, engaging in literary activities. Some of these activities will include public readings in schools and universities, poetry recitals and performances, community discussions, visiting public libraries and writers’ groups, and crown it with an event back in Kampala with a public reading at the Uganda Museum on February 17.
Some of the caravan writers before set-off

These writers will travel from Kampala to Wakiso, Luwero, Gulu, Oyam, Lira, Ngora, Kapchorwa, Mbale and Jinja where they are sure to relive several memories as they share their stories and interact with their communities.

“The aim of the Caravan is to create a shared space for conversation between writers and their communities,” says Femrite coordinator Hilda Twongyeirwe.

She is validated by Glaydah Namukasa who, when she gets to her home area in Wakiso, will not only talk about how her writing is connected to the community but hopes to get “known in my community as a writer, and inspire students in the school I went to that they too can make it.”

Julius Ocwinyo, who will be the headliner in Lango where he is born, says there is more to gain for the literary industry when its writers get to meet the wanainchi, some of whom have heard about these writers but are clueless about the relevance of what they write: “It’s all about establishing that link with writers and the community. We are saying, ‘Look this is the relevance of what we do as writers; we draw inspiration from here, and by giving out books we are growing their literacy and raising awareness.”

It will also be a time to show the communities that these writers have never lost touch with what culturally distinguishes them. For example, Nakisanze Segawa will perform a Luganda poem, Zibogola (a poem about the African drum and how it communicates) at her former school, Mwerere Secondary School in Luwero. It will be her way of telling her audience that you can earn a living through writing and performing traditionally-inspired poetry.
Beyond talking about her writing, Beatrice Lamwaka will give out books to students of Sacred Heart Secondary School and Gulu High School near her rural home as a way of celebrating Ugandan writers and motivating them to dream more.

Funded by Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development, and in partnership with Kampala Capital City Authority, the project is hoped to raise awareness about Ugandan literature and deepen its reception by the communities.

“It is hoped that at the end of the Caravan, the writers will be inspired to write short stories or poems, which will be translated in their local languages,” says Twongyeirwe. “These will be published by Femrite in a multi-lingual anthology that will be distributed back to the communities that will be visited.”

The writers
Prof Timothy Wangusa. Poet and novelist
Beatrice Lamwaka. 2011 Caine Prize finalist
Julius Ocwinyo. Author: Fate of the Banished.
Glaydah Namukasa. Femrite Chairperson
Austin Bukenya. Critic, dramatist
Laury Ocen. Author: Alien Woman.
Peter Kagayi. Literature teacher/poet
Nakisanze Segawa. Poet
Simon Peter Ongodi.Multi-lingual writer
Betty Kitiyu. Poet.

--Saturday Monitor, February 15, 2014

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Writing to transform society


Just where does she get the time? It was the question on the lips of many when Gender, Labour and Social Development minister and Bushenyi District Woman MP, Mary Karooro Okurut, launched yet another novel, in Kampala, at the weekend.
Mary 'Mother-Hen' Karooro Okurut
To this, she answered simply, “I love telling stories, and it’s not difficult to find time to tell stories.”
Potiphar’s Granddaughter, published by Totem Publishers, is her latest story; summed up as “a tale of love, forgiveness, and resilience amidst the pain that follows betrayal and suffering”.

The writer assured guests that “once you take this book into your hands, it’s difficult to put it down!” Only those who have read the 271-page volume have the right to question the veracity of her claim.
But jab Karooro with a needle, words are bound to pop out instead of blood.

Before she linked up with Goretti Kyomuhendo to found the Uganda Female Writers Association (Femrite), Karooro was already an accepted and admired author of The Official Wife (1994), The Invisible Weevil (1994) and the play: The Curse of the Sacred Cow (1994). She has also authored short stories, children’s fiction and newspaper articles to cement her position as one of Uganda’s most prolific women writers.

No man has a better grasp of her obsession with literature than John Nagenda, an enviable wordsmith himself. At the launch of Potiphar’s Granddaughter where Nagenda was chief guest, he revealed that when President Museveni first sought his advice on appointing Karooro Presidential Press Secretary, Nagenda opposed the move, afraid that politics would keep Karooro away fro
m writing. He was wrong.

“Mother Hen,” as she’s fondly labelled by Femrites, kept writing, and has more eggs to hatch. In fact, Potiphar’s Granddaughter will be followed by The Switch, which will be about female genital mutilation, and The Man with the Olive Branch, which draws from the life and times of President Museveni.

Why she writes
Karooro writes to “change our realities into a better reality and for the generations to come. She is also inspired by Uganda’s dismal reading culture and wants to create relevant reading material that would impel school-goers and other Ugandans to read ravenously.

“We (writers) act as cultural ambassadors; we tell our story,” she says.

According to John Nagenda, there is everything to love about words. “God is a very wise creator; it’s a miracle to me that people can speak, and writing is so fantastic,” he said. “When you get to a point when people are writing exciting stuff, then you know you are in the presence of beauty!”

He advised up-and-coming writers to read widely and measure themselves against the best writers.

--Saturday Monitor, February 1, 2014

Monday, January 27, 2014

We are fleeing from the high maintenance girl


I was chatting with an OB I had not seen in a while. He asked when I was planning to get married, and I confessed that I am determined to put a ring on it this year. “I hope your woman is not a high-maintenance girl,” my friend said. “Those ones are not marriage-material; they should be avoided like a scandal!”
It struck me that I had heard the expression “high-maintenance girl” (hereafter called HMG) before but didn’t have a true picture. So, I run to my Facebook friends for elucidation, and gosh the things they said about HMGs!

My colleague Daudi even extracted a meaning for me from urban dictionary. It says a HMG is one who has expensive taste (on the man’s account, of course!), is constantly concerned about her appearance, feels she is hotter than most girls, and usually judges others based on outward appearance.

This was put in proper perspective by Herbert who said the HMG expected her man to have an exclusive weekend budget to the tune of millions because she has to shop at high-end places like Forest Mall, go for a Shs200,000-movie at The Hub, tell you to park at some posh salon and wait on her while the hairdresser works magic on her hair, does her manicure, pedicure, massage, and facial makeover. Meanwhile, you are still waiting for her!

Then, Lauryn said the quickest way to spot a HMG is to look at how high her heels are: “If they are past two inches, run for your life!” It’s with these filthy-expensive spike heels that she announces her presence as they clang on the tiles and make heads turn.

Even more, a HMG never holds one phone for long. Peter says when she asks if it is okay to give away her I-phone to her “Baby Sis” because she heard the Samsung S4 takes better pictures, she is the one!
When KFC, which sells chicken in bucket-fulls hit town, HMGs immediately dumped other chicken hangouts for KFC. “To them,” says Dan, “the chicken from other restaurants is usually diseased!”
In short, according to Kenneth, the HMG is one who “takes more money out of your wallet than you can put in!”

Interestingly, men love hanging out with these girls even when they pay through the nose for their company. Yet, they avoid them when looking for wives. Most girls that are labelled by the press as “beautiful but unlucky” are often HMGs.

“Many men would really love to hang around a HMG but when the marriage equation comes in, it becomes a different situation altogether,” Dan explains. “You probably want to hang around with this suave chic, but deep inside you are thinking that if you got married and you hadn’t built a house, she would want you to rent a posh flat or upscale house of Shs2m a month.”

Miriam also has an inkling why HMGs cannot make wives: “They usually look good all the time, the reason you can never eat supper at home since she can’t wash the dishes.”

Sound off : Does being high maintenance necessarily mean not marriage material?
“That is just something girls use to set a standard for who should approach them. We just play with the man’s ego and confidence. Even when they get married, they try to maintain that standard. We should remember though that when a girl loves a man, they usually are not materialistic. There is a possibility of marrying a relatively low standard man. If love is not the reason for marriage, though, money shall talk then.
Bridget Bamulinde, Data Entrant, MTN

“They need money to be happy, always hard to please. Basically annoying. I would say typical high maintenance women are not marriage material. However, there are women who are high maintenance at their own expense (the financially independent).
Agnes Akello, Statistician 

“They are definitely marriage material, if you can afford them. And all guys deserve one because she motivates you to earn. Usually, such girls are actually capable of taking care of themselves. Because if you want something, you will earn it. People that judge them are those that get comfortable living the low life. They only want to live the life she deserves.
Sheila Atukei, University student 

--Saturday Monitor, January 25, 2014

Monday, January 20, 2014

He dropped out of school for 18 years

He has fought for every drop of greatness in him. Without a transcendent desire to acquire university education and the resolve never to give up, he would not be who he is today, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza

It is said some people are born great and others have greatness thrust upon them. But Rwabatongore Rweishe has fought for every drop of greatness in him. Without a transcendent desire to acquire university education and the resolve never to give up, he would not be who he is today, seeking to represent the people of Rubabo County in parliament in 2016. 

Mr. Rweishe is eying the Rubabo County parliamentary seat in 2016
For 18 years, Rwabatongore deferred his dream because of circumstances beyond his control. The first obstacle struck in 1983 when he completed primary school. His father told him that was enough education since he could now write his name and speak some English. 

“As heir apparent you must stay home and learn to be a responsible man when I’m gone,” said Rweishe’s father, shattering his son’s dream. His parents Elnest and Joselyn Rwabatongore of Nyakabungo village, Buyanja, Rubabo County, Rukungiri District, did not want their only child out of their sight. They reasoned that there was no need for him to study more since they had enough wealth to give him a comfortable life.

Rweishe kept home for nine years, but never gave up cajoling his parents to let him return to school. In 1992, his father relented and sent him to the nearby Nyabutete Secondary School. Rwabatongore,20, was the oldest student in Senior One with a moustache already forming . 

Soon Rweishe won over fellow students with his outgoing personality and eloquence. He was appointed the Chairman School Council and became a vibrant student leader who was not afraid of confronting irresponsible teachers.

“I once asked a drunken teacher what precedent he was setting by being drunk,” he says adding, “The teacher later became my friend and interested me more in politics by telling me that John F. Kennedy had eight brains and had not even used half of them by the time he was assassinated in 1963.” 

It stirred in Rweishe the belief that to be a great leader you must be very intelligent and knowledgeable. He started reading everything he could find about exemplary leaders. 

“I was profoundly stirred by Kennedy’s challenge to fellow Americans asking what they can do for their country instead of asking what their country could do for them.”

Since then, Rweishe vowed to serve his country as president one day. He began by sharing what he read with the wanainchi to empower them. When he completed O-Level in 1996 at the age of 24, he joined Universal High School in Kampala because it was easier to access books and vital information in the city.
But tragedy struck in 1998 just after Rweishe had completed high school. His father died. Being an only child, he shelved his university plans and stayed home for another nine years comforting his mother and taking care of their home. 

In 2007, at the age of 35, Rweishe applied and was admitted to Kampala International University for a Bachelor of Arts in Public Administration on the long-distance scheme. This gave him the flexibility to take care of his three children while he studied. He had married and had a child those days he stayed at home at the urging of his parents. But as fate would have it, his wife had died after their third child, and Rweishe chose not to marry again until all his children are grown up and independent. 

At the time he was studying for his degree, Rwabatongore also pursued a diploma in Mass Communication at the Uganda Institute of Business and Media Studies, as well as a certificate in Administrative Law at the Law Development Centre (LDC). 

He is so concerned with using his discoveries to empower the larger community in Rubabo County where he moves from home to home teaching them how to increase their produce and earn income for self-substance and for investment. 

As a farmer and cattle keeper’s son who was raised on the farm, he understands agriculture and animal husbandry and argues that these sectors alone have the capacity to eradicate poverty, unemployment and boast the Ugandan economy. He showed me a 50-page manuscript titled ‘15-Point Program for National Development’ in which he articulates things that can transform this country from the grassroots and keep it on the economic growth curve.  

"Uganda’s arable land of 5200000 hectares’ produces 610000 metric tones of banana but most of these bananas are not being processed to benefit the economy on a grander scale,” says Rwabatongore. He proposes an Act of Parliament that will establish the Ministry of Food Processing to advance food processing and production. He also wants the government to open an agricultural bank where farmers may get loans to improve and increase their output.

Rwabatongore is passionate about his ideas on empowerment and transformation. He reels off statistics with the adroitness of a professor to back his arguments. He accuses the current Rubabo Country MP Paula Turyahikayo of being a politician rather than a servant of those who elected her, which is why he has chosen to take her on in 2016. 

“A politician is concerned about his lofty office and the allowances he gets while a servant always touches base with those he represents and collects their ideas for implementation,” Rwabatongore explains. “As Jesus said, a great leader must be a great servant.” 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

2014 promises to be a better literary year

It appears most writers’ major resolution this year is to release more books and continue to grow the industry to high standards, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza

The excitement that comes with the folding of the year (2013) and the unfolding of the new one (2014), has not spared Uganda’s literature fraternity either. The writers’ major resolution is to release more books in this year and continue to grow the industry to high standards.

The death of literary guru Chinua Achebe in March 2013 was seen as the coming down of the curtain on the old-school writers, whose works have dominated the industry for decades, and the beginning of the real shining of a new generation of African writers whose works are enjoying rave reviews worldwide.

Setting the pace is Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie, 35, whose newest book, Americanah, is a must-read in 2014. When Adichie released Half of a Yellow Sun after her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, she was described by Chinua Achebe as “A new writer endowed with the gift of ancient storytellers.” No doubt her star will continue to twinkle this year.

In my opinion, however, NoViolet Balawayo of Zimbabwe is better than Adichie, and if you haven’t read any of her works, you must do so this year. If you are looking for one African novel to read this year, I recommend We Need New Names, which made the 2013 Man Booker Prize shortlist, making Balawayo the first black African woman and Zimbabwean to make it there.

For the non-fiction lovers, you must not miss The Hero Within, the autobiography of Dr Jane Kengeya Kayondo. Released in November last year, this is a brutally honest odyssey of her life from poverty to becoming the first Ugandan woman epidemiologist, and the first to study Aviation Medicine. The autobiography also inadvertently serves as a commentary on Uganda’s politics, especially in the 1970s. A must-read, I tell you.

Last year saw the launch of Writivism, an initiative aimed at spotting and nurturing new writing talent. The participants were taken through mentoring process and wrote short stories, which were published in the local press. The finest of those have been anthologised as Picture Frames and Other Stories. The initiative is continuing from where it stopped, and this time is involving the rest of Africa.

Last year's Writivism participants
According to Brian Bwesigye, the brain behind the programme, they have already received 120 applications from emerging writers across the continent. Ten training workshops will be held; two in each of the countries of Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and South Africa. It is in these workshops that the emerging writers will be paired with writing mentors and a short-story prize will be introduced. Such initiatives are timely in positioning the emerging African writer to relay the African story with experimentalism never before imagined.

The Uganda Female Writers Association (Femrite) also continues in pushing the woman writer into the arena of excellence. Just last year, Femrite launched African Violet and Other Stories, an anthology of 15 stories, including the five short-listed for the 2012 Caine Prize at an event in Kampala attended by the 2012 Caine Prize winner, Rotimi Babatunde. This is an anthBombay’s Republic, and Beatrice Lamwaka’s Pillar of Love.
ology worth reading for its exceptional variety, including Babatunde’s hilarious hit,

Uganda’s literary industry, though still held back by low participation in local prizes, and blinded by the search for western/outside approval by the writers themselves, will perform way better this year than it did in 2013.

--Saturday Monitor, January 4, 2014

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Dancing, rejoicing and worshipping

As the world waits for the midnight hour that will usher in 2014, millions of believers will be reaching out to God, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza

On the night of December 31, Makerere Full Gospel Church, the first Pentecostal church in Uganda and its sister churches in the city, will gather at Makerere University main sports ground for an overnight service and celebration of the end of the year. The story will be the same in many other venues around the country as churches have made it a custom to end the year with an all-night spiritual jamboree characterised with hyperactive performances from the best gospel musicians, dancers, actors and comedians, complete with plangent fireworks.

Pr. Fred Wantaate at the pulpit with a mic leads church members in prayer
Long gone are the days when such events were left to the secular world with multitudes cramming sports venues like Namboole and Nakivubo stadiums to be entertained by musicians. Others would gather in strategic spots with a panoramic view of the city, to watch the fireworks. According to Ivan Wobusobozi of Redemption City Church, evangelical and Pentecostal leaders of more than 1,500 churches in Uganda, have adopted popular ways of ushering in the New Year, but retained the spiritual and transformational angles without taking away the fun and excitement.

But how important are such overnights? According to Pastor Fred Wantaate, the senior pastor of Makerere Full Gospel Church, the last day of the last month in a year is special in the lives of many people for it signals an end to a season and announces the beginning of a new season.

“For many Ugandans it is time to congratulate themselves for having “survived” another year. It is therefore in order for them to celebrate and thank God for enabling them to go through another year,” says Pr. Wantaate. “It is also time to rededicate oneself for next season in prayer, set goals and make resolutions. It is a time to be spiritually recharged and rebooted for the next journey of 12 months. Ugandans repent and pray for their leaders and families.”

Unlike last year’s overnight which focused on prayer, this year’s event has been dubbed a family affair where parents and children will feast on food, tea and cake, with fireworks display to last at least five minutes. There will be no long brimstone sermons admonishing congregants to live pure lives in the next year lest they perish. Rather ordinary Christians will testify of the goodness of the Lord, according to the cleric.

And in line with the night’s theme, “Praise Precedes Victory”, emphasis will be on celebration and thanksgiving with lots of music and dance. The theme is drawn from 2 Chronicles 20 in which King Jehoshaphat is led by God to respond to the fear of imminent destruction with praise and worship. He received a revelation that spiritual worship is the ultimate ambush against Satan and all his designs. And when the king and his men marched to war singing and praising God, the Lord set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, and they were so defeated that it took three days for Jehoshaphat and his people to carry away the spoil from the battlefield which they baptised the Valley of Blessings.

“Many Ugandans are facing the unknown; the future is littered with serious physical, financial, marital, economic and career challenges. But just like Israel, we must turn our fears and doubts into spiritual praise and overcome our challenges even before we enter the New Year,” Pr. Wantaate says.

May God bless you in the New Year.

--Sunday Monitor, December 29, 2013