Posted by Tumwijuke Mutambuka in ,

To be born in Uganda. To live in Uganda. To be Ugandan. What does it really mean? What makes me part of this nation? My parentage? My heritage? A birth certificate? Am I really Ugandan?


Clarissa wanted to get out. To get out now. She clenched her teeth, closed her eyes and screamed on the inside. AAARRRGGGHHH!

This life, this existence was too much for her to bear. She couldn’t be around these people anymore. They were driving her insane.

- Take. Me. Away. She silently shouted at God. Take. Me. Now.

She smelt him before he reached her. She opened her eyes.

- Okay Auntie? Sick Auntie?

Clarissa looked disdainfully at the grubby boy in front of her. She couldn’t understand the child’s fascination with her. She certainly hadn’t done anything to encourage it. From the first day she arrived in Mbuttu, he had been attracted to her like a moth to a flame. She shooed the child away, ignored him and even once slapped him and yet he continued to follow her around like a loyal puppy.

Tony called her a sadist. He said maybe she wasn’t ready to be the mother of his children after all.

Clarissa focused her attention on the boy again. How old was he? Four? Maybe five? She couldn’t really tell. He was the victim of poor feeding and a horrible diet consisting of little more than that tasteless plantain, matooke, a little watery soup and a teaspoon of the nastiest vegetables she had ever eaten. The boy was a poster child for malnutrition. A distended belly, red-brown hair, scurvy, rickets.

How often had she seen pictures of children just like him in the newspapers back home and angrily lambasted the photographers for typecasting Africa? She labeled the western media colonialists and accused them of trying to keep Africa as poor and as dark as possible.

But now? Here he was. Flies gathering on the scab on his knee, a huge gob of mucus stuck somewhere between his nose and his upper lip and his breath reeking.

- Get! Me! Out!

- Auntie Clarissa crying?

- Go away, she told him.

She couldn’t even remember his name.

- Go away, Al Stinko. Go play with your friends.

He smiled at her, oblivious to the insult, and sat on the ground in front of her. Clearly he wasn’t about to go anywhere.

Clarissa saw Tony in the distance. He was like a chief among his loyal, adoring servants. Groups of men old enough to be his father followed him everywhere. Women throughout Mbuttu flirted with him, rolling their eyes and offering him choice pieces of meat to eat. He reveled in their attention.

- You have grown! They exclaimed when they first saw him after 15 years. So handsome. So strong.

- You are a doctor now? They asked in wonder. You are so clever. Your parents would have been so proud.

- How many cars do you have? Two? Eh mama! You must be rich!

Clarissa hated to see Tony like this. Proud, self-righteous and self-absorbed. Those were her traits. He was supposed to be different. He was supposed to help her become a better person.

Tony spotted her looking at him and waved at her.

- Oh no. They are going to turn and stare at me now, she mumbled.

And they did.

- Hello! She shouted her greeting in their general direction.

They stared in silence for a few seconds and then turned away. Back to their Tony Worship. Almighty Tony, you are the best. Only you are good, only you are wise. But that woman you brought us …


- Hello! She yelled again.

The boy laughed, smiled knowingly at her and stood up.

- Hello! He shouted.

Clarissa looked at him in surprise and joined his laughter.

- Hello! She shouted.

- Hello! He replied.

She stood up and waved her hands in the air. Hello! Hello! Hello! He joined her, mimicking her actions enthusiastically. Hello! Hello! Hello! They shouted and screamed to the dirt at their feet, to the open sky, to the bright yellow noonday sun, to the trees around them and to each other. Hello!

A large crowd grew around them, but energized by their manic behavior, they didn’t stop. They couldn’t stop. And then, with one frenzied cry Clarissa and the boy shouted in unison, HELLO! They fell into each other’s arms and down on to the hard ground laughing hysterically.

Then suddenly conscious of the crowd, she stopped, sat up and looked at the people gathered. She could almost hear their thoughts.

- Strange. Weird. Crazy. Wrong for our Tony.

She smelled the boy again and looked around, but he had disappeared.

- It isn’t him smelling. It is I. We’re one now.

Clarissa laid her head on the ground and closed her eyes.

- Thank you, she whispered. Thank you.

Building a Nation of Literate Fools  

Posted by Tumwijuke Mutambuka in , ,

Library – a building in which collections of books, newspapers, CD, etc. are kept for people to read, study or borrow.

The Rwandan government is in the process of establishing its first public library. Its FIRST public library since INDEPENDENCE.

I was appalled at this finding. An entire country without a single public library in this day and age?

Oscar Kimanuka, a columnist with The EastAfrican newspaper blames the setback on Belgian colonialists who did not bequeath to their subjects a reading culture. In the December 4, 2006 edition of the paper, he argues that it was part of the colonial strategy to keep Africans illiterate.

Being from the egoistic Big Brother of the African Great Lakes Region, I couldn’t help but gloat that for once, Uganda is better than its neighbours.

“Huh, and they say Uganda is still an underdeveloped country? Where would that put Rwanda?” I reasoned to myself with pride.

After all, isn’t Uganda the country with record numbers of enrolment in primary schools and doesn’t it boast of 65% literacy figures?

Literate - the ability to read and write.

Time to eat humble pie.

Is the fact that Uganda has at least 15 public libraries spread throughout the country a cause for pride? Are the country’s literacy figures really anything to boast about? Is Uganda really better than her neighbours?

My search for answers led me to several shocking facts.

My first point of call was to a webpage published by Daniel J. Cook, a Fulbright scholar who visited Uganda recently. While I was aware that Uganda’s public libraries are in an appalling condition, nothing could prepare me for the absolute horror that is depicted on Dr. Cook’s Public Libraries of Uganda picture gallery.

They say a picture speaks a thousand words. Ah, Dr. Cook. How true.

From Arua to Kabale, Masindi to Moroto to picture was the same. Derelict buildings, rickety desks and chairs, no bulbs, torn books, empty shelves. Totally empty shelves.

Does it matter that Uganda has more than 65% of its population able to read and write when there is nothing for them to read – and therefore nothing for them to write about? Is this a country breeding educated illiterates?

Decay - the gradual destruction of a society, an institution or a system.

A paper presented by the Uganda Library Association in 2000 says school libraries continued to limp through most of the 1990s, a legacy of the tumultuous 1970s. The paper blamed this situation the fact that government doesn’t have a clear cut policy on the development of school libraries in Uganda.

Following the introduction of universal primary education, Government worked reducing the textbook to student ratio without necessarily following this up with a concrete school library development policy. All secondary school head-teachers of government schools are under instruction to recruit persons to run school libraries at certificate level.

The Uganda Library Association has taken up issue with this policy and claims to be addressing the concerned ministries over the matter.

The Uganda Library Association - a Lame Duck. A Lame, Lame Duck.

However all is not lost for school libraries because there is a general trend especially in private schools to establish modern libraries to support learning.

Under the Access to Information Act passed by Parliament in 2006, Government requires that all its agencies provide central points from which the public can access information. Resource Centers, it calls them.

These ministerial libraries are intended to serve primarily the needs of the legislature and developmental functions of the government.

Bravo Government of Uganda? Absolutely not.

The libraries mostly collect official gazettes, parliamentary debates, census reports, gazettes, annual reports, committee papers, acts, serials, monographs and other materials in the areas of their specialization. Many of them are outdated, torn and not accessible to the public. Technocrats blame financial constraints for the failed objectives of the resource centers.

A survey of all Government libraries conducted in 2004 by Sarah Kagoda Batuwa, a leading Ugandan librarian, revealed a stock of less than 10,000 volumes. Most of the books were old and the majority were donations. Subscriptions to periodicals ceased long ago, with only two libraries still subscribing to about 10 journal titles.

National Library of Uganda – the biggest literary lame duck of them all.

I think every single ‘educated’ Ugandan is to blame for this state of affairs. No one is pushing the agenda for improved libraries and reading facilities in Uganda.

Parliamentarians are too concerned with increasing their salaries and getting fat car loans for themselves to consider libraries an issue of concern. This is no surprise considering that data from the parliamentary library indicates that only 12 percent of MPs use the facility. A majority of the 21 percent only use it to catch up on their email correspondences and to surf the net for … well.

To assume that the teachers’ association will do anything to press for better library services is also a far reach. Most are too consumed with their own problems to attempt to improve their education or even their basic understanding of the world around them.

The only time you hear anything is during the annual National Book week organized by the National Library of Uganda and you can be sure that like a stuck record, the theme will be ‘improving the reading culture, improving the reading culture.’

More action, less talk. More knowledge, less literacy I say.

Frustration - feeling annoyed and impatient because of the absence of the ideal.

Suffer Ye the Little Children …?  

Posted by Tumwijuke Mutambuka in , ,

It is a well documented fact that child defilement tops the list of criminal cases in Uganda. Following closely on the list are cases of abuse and physical violence against children.

The Masindi District Police Commander, commenting on a recent case of child abuse in his area of jurisdiction, called the rising occurrence of these crimes “an abomination.”

I agree.

The authorities estimate that more than 50 percent of child abuse cases in Uganda go unreported. More often than not, parents are bribed with a goat, a tin of cooking oil or some money to forget the cases. To turn a blind eye to the plight of their own children.

I am indignant. I have chosen to taken it upon myself to name and shame those who, thanks to the media, have been exposed for perpetrating heinous crimes the defenseless and voiceless citizens of Uganda.

So Ladies and Gentlemen:

Welcome to the Hall of Shame for November 2006.

Onega Ajala of Waiga Village in Pakanyi sub-county, Masindi. The 67-year-old man was arrested on November 28, 2006 for raping his 12-year-old daughter. Confessed to the crime. Is in police custody.

Majid Bin Sadik, LC1 Secretary of Defense in Pallisa Town. Arrested on November 24, 2006 for forcefully marrying off his 14-yaer-old daughter a prominent businessman. Confessed but was later released by the Resident State Attorney because of ‘conflicting evidence.’

Hajj Balat Kabatenda. Arrested on November 2, 2006 for marrying Majid Bin Sadik’s 14-year-old daughter. Also confessed to the crime, but was released because of ‘conflicting evidence.’

Jackson Byenkya, bodaboda cyclist from Rukondwa, Masindi town. Arrested on November 24, 2006 for tying up his son with a heavy-duty 10 kilogram chain everyday for a month. Also denied his son food as a punishment for leaving the house without his permission. Not cooperating with the police. Is in police custody.

Jennifer Atiro of Oluffu in Maracha-Terego District. Arrested on November 22, 2006 for drowning her child in a river. Whereabouts unknown.

Annette Nagudi of Tororo town. Arrested on November 15, 2006 for dumping her one-year-old baby girl into a pit latrine. Confessed to the crime. Is in police custody.

Richard Mukwaya, former headmaster of Kapere Parents’ Primary School in Lukaya town, Masaka. Arrested on November 15, 2006 for defiling his 16-year-old student. Escaped lynching by angry mob. Is in police custody.

Unknown. Police in Katakwi on November 6, 2006 rescued 27 girls from child traffickers in Katakwi district. Girls were being taken to Ocorimongin Cattle Market where they would have been auctioned off in to a thriving sex industry in the area. Suspects in hiding.

Fred Muwanga. Sentenced to life imprisonment for raping a 3-month-old baby in 1999.

The King of Crass lives in my Neighbourhood  

Posted by Tumwijuke Mutambuka in , ,

Last night I was treated to an appalling example of Ugandan bourgeoisie.

It was about 7:30 p.m. and I was stuck in traffic at the Clock Tower junction on the Kampala-Entebbe Road.

As usual, I was passing time listening to a boring radio talk show that was hosting a mind-numbingly simplistic political discussion. I was also counting the number of suppliers of affordable laser-guided missiles, which I would use to take out every lousy radio show host in Uganda.

In the middle of that obviously stimulating mental work out, my attention was drawn the car ahead of me. It was a new, flashy silver-gray Mercedes-Benz E 200 Kompressor. One of those with impressive-sounding numbers attached to its performance review – 2,295cc; 2.3 liters; 4 in-line front engine with 90.9 mm bore; 8.8 compression ratio; a 53 litre fuel tank. Complete gibberish to me.

What drew me to the car was not its impressive portfolio, but a small 12 inch screen placed at the front, just below the rearview mirror. There it was, the epitome of automotive vulgarity: a vehicle DVD player.

Let me explain the futility of owning that ostentatious electronic.

Uganda’s roads are richly endowed with potholes. The potholes are not the small, ordinary, run-of-the-mill kind you get in other developing countries. These are large and deep enough to drown a year-old infant and are available every 5 meters along many of Kampala’s major roads.

Playing a CD or DVD in these conditions is pointless, no matter how great the anti-skip function on your player is.

Complicating the problem is the absolute madness on the streets of Kampala. With more than 2,000 clinically insane motorcycle riders zigzagging through the streets and passenger service omni buses fighting for every inch of the roads, one glance off the road will land you in a ditch.

Still, I was transfixed by the DVD. I followed the Merc out of the traffic and on to the main Entebbe Road, speeding past other cars in my old Hobbly Wobbly to catch up with it. I was very interesting in finding out what the occupants of the car were watching and how fascinating it was they could not wait for the 30 minute ride home before watching the movie in the comfort of their home.

About five kilometers away, at about Najjanankumbi, I caught up with car. I was aghast at my discovery. First of all, there was only one person in the car – the driver – whose attention was clearly on the road. Why was he playing the DVD? For whose benefit?

More shocking was the kind of movie he was watching. The archetype of mediocre populism in Africa’s film industry: Ekinigeria. Nigeria’s biggest product - shoddy, pedestrian Nollywood movies.

I was too horrified to drive any further and parked Hobbly Wobbly on the side of the road. How could this be? The Merc had such flash, such pizzazz and yet … Ekinigeria?

Why would someone who clearly worked hard to elevate himself in society take such a leap backwards? What was he looking for? Did he identify with the cheap tales of superstition and witchcraft that the movie had to offer?

Bewildered, I continued my journey home, the Merc safely a long distance ahead of me. I thought of a grassy pasture and talking cows to take my mind off the horror.

I was nearly cured by the time I arrived at my gate a few minutes later. However, as I walked around my car to open the gate, another vehicle zoomed up the road and flashed its lights at me. Thinking it was a friendly neighbours, I stood aside and waved at the car. But instead of a wave in response, the driver of the car whistled at me.

“You ala chute mama,” the driver shouted before speeding off.

It was my nightmare. The Merc was back.

The King of Crass lives in my neighbourhood.

Video Meliora Proboque Deteriora Sequor  

Posted by Tumwijuke Mutambuka

Change Uganda’s motto.

Video meliora proboque deteriora sequor.
I see the right way, approve it and do the opposite.

Nalubaale Power Station. Output of 260 megawatts.
2005 - massive shortage of electricity. Current output 150 megawatts. Blame to political opposition and its nefarious leader.

Promote local technical expertise.
Hire Zzimwe Construction – a company with no road construction portfolio, no equipment, and no relevant human resource – to build two major roads in Kampala. The multi-million dollar project stalls for two years. No one is made to account for the shame.

Invest in post-primary education and adult literacy.
Give secondary school teachers a minimum wage and no more. After all, they should be grateful they have jobs. Call university lecturers strike for more pay a ‘non-issue.’ Publicly say it is not a Government priority.

Actively promote culture
Draft a Cultural Policy and after its fourth draft in 2003, let it gather dust on Government shelves. Appoint a Presidential Advisor on Literary Affairs who doesn’t understand her own mandate. Cut funding to the National Theatre and kill the performing arts. Create a Department of Antiquities and allow the National Museum to be plundered and lie rotting. Regularly have His Excellency YKM7 call the Department of Music, Dance and Drama at Makerere ‘useless.’

Deepen democracy and decentralize power
Create 17 new districts and provide them with funding enough to run only a handful of functions like typing memos, holding workshops, paying local authorities and authorizing the disbursement of large sums of money for per diem.

National Measles Immunization Program 2006
During program days from November 10 -12, cut off electricity at main hospitals and health centers in Masaka, Sironko, Masindi, Lira, Pader, Kabale, Kamwenge. No refrigerators to store treasured vaccines.

The arguments are too many to be listed here, so let us be realistic. The current motto “For God and My Country” is no longer applicable. It was a good aspiration, but too high for Uganda to attain.

Hata ukinichukia la kweli nitakwambia.

Uganda – Video meliora proboque deteriora sequor!

As Blind as Justice; As Redemptive as Life  

Posted by Tumwijuke Mutambuka in , , , ,

In the Bible, the physician Luke relates the story of a woman caught in adultery.

An angry mob of Pharisees brought the unnamed woman to Jesus demanding that as a respected leader and rabbi he should he should pass sentence on her.

Jesus, in typical style, didn’t respond immediately, letting the mob stew in its anger as he wrote something in the sand. Then he looked up gave them an answer that threw them completely off track.

“He who has not sinned, cast the first stone,” he said.

Convicted of their own sin and guilt, none in the mob could dare take action. None raised his fist in anger. None cast the first stone. Shame faced, they all went away.

Jesus in his compassion lifted the woman's head, looked her in the eye and forgave her sin.

A pastor in Kampala, Uganda would have served himself well by reading this story before he publicly humiliated his wife, accusing her of adultery.

On Monday October 2nd, after five years of marriage, Pastor David Kiganda of Christian Focus Center summoned the press and the Council of Elders from his church to witness his separation from his wife. She was compelled to read a long confession ‘admitting’ to her guilt, a confession that was promptly rubbished by him.

Pastor Kiganda had spent thousands of shillings tracking his wife’s movements and spying on her. Now he was happy that she had been caught. With a smirk on his face, he pronounced his wife guilty and invited a crowd to witness him pass sentence on her.

Despite her loud sobs and heart-wrenching pleas for forgiveness, the pastor scoffed at his wife’s sorrow, calling her a liar. He said he was humiliated because the man she allegedly chose to have an affair with was a simple street-side food vendor.

"Were her lover a rich tycoon," he said, "maybe I would have forgiven her."

His pride was clearly broken. His marriage has fallen apart. In his eyes, his wife was an object of scorn.

What Pastor Kiganda did not realize that life has a strange sense of humor. Hindus call it karma – the law of cause and effect. Paul the Apostle of Jesus said it so succinctly in his letter to the Galatians:

“Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. You reap what you sow.”

The man who sought to humiliate his wife, is now rejected for refusing to forgive. He who in his pride demanded justice for himself, is now seen as unjust and conniving. In his attempt to destroy his wife, the very man seeking to establish his masculinity was emasculated.

I don’t know that I would act differently if I was in the Pastor’s shoes. Would I throw the first stone? Probably …

I would like to embrace justice – boldly, blindly. And use the ironies of this life to heal when the worst is over.