RSS Feed (xml)

Powered By

Skin Design:
Free Blogger Skins

Powered by Blogger

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