Suncolor's Blog

Archive for November 2010


how ‘things fall apart’ was written
by john otim

If we seek to understand history, few events would illumine better the moments and the circumstances preceding and surrounding the rise of the modern African novel and by extension modern African literature. One seemingly mundane event was a dinner party at the campus home of Professor Molly Mahood, head of the department of English at the newly created University College Ibadan in colonial Nigeria. At table was the entire faculty. Among them was the German Ulli Beier. In the years to come Beier along with his wife Suzzane Wenger, a talented artist, would become central figures of the new literature.

"university of ibadan"

university of ibadan

        Ibadan was the lone university institution in the country; one of only a handful in all Africa. In 1947 Professor Kenneth Mellanby, a liberal British academic, had become the first Vice Chancellor of the new college. The college was affiliated to the University of London. That meant it awarded degrees and diplomas of the University of London. Mellanby’s declared intention was to create in Africa, a higher institution of learning comparable to any in the world. In pursuit of his dream Mellanby put together a crop of young and talented academics gathered mainly but not exclusively from Britain. Molly Mahood was one of the young pioneers.

            That evening at her home despite the tropical heat her guests all showed up in stuffy formal wear. Perhaps it was colonial pride, but the mode kept everyone free of such tropical pests as the feared mosquito. The mosquito had kept Nigeria free of white settlement. The country had avoided the severe form of oppression that came with settler dominion that one saw for instance in Kenya, which eventually resulted in a brutal war of liberation in that country.

            In the colonies among the white communities, who had few other options for entertainment, such evenings were rare and they were valued. They were invitations to drop all pretensions and become human again. Colonial situations forced everyone within it to act the part. At such party someone was sure to come with exotic tales about Africa, true or otherwise. The kind the author of the Last King of Scotland weaves about Africa in the award winning novel.

          Stories are important. The guests at the dinner party compared notes and told stories as they settled into the evening.  Africa was fun. But Africa was for many white people a place out there on the fringes teaming with the unknown. Stories were a way of mediating the unknown. They were a way of positioning one’s self where one wanted to be and putting others where you desired them to be.

          Joyce Carry’s novel Mister Johnson set in Nigeria, published in the year of the dinner party, was not unusual. It was a work that mocked the Nigerian character and by extension the African. In accordance with the times, Time Magazine declared Mister Johnson the best African novel published in the last fifty years. It was a sentiment most of the guests at the dinner party easily shared.

          By now dinner was over, the drink session well underway. For the expatriate community life in the colonies was good. The dinner hall was a large colonial room, high ceilings; large low windows set to catch the breeze. White clad black servants hurrying about dispensing drinks and delicacies. There was a romantic feel about the evening.

          The dinner hall buzzed with small talk about Africa. Guests discussed their role as teachers in the heart of darkness. They were the first university people in Africa. To be white in Africa was to be Lord. Joseph Conrad’s novel, Lord Jim, although located in South East Asia, read like it was set along the water fronts of Lagos. Lagos was the administrative capital of the colony. Ibadan was its intellectual center.

          Conversation and the partying ate deep into the night. But beyond gates of the colonial campus, a parallel world buzzed, full of its own life. Barring James Baldwin’s Harlem Ibadan was the largest black conglomerate there was. It was chaotic, slummy, and vibrant. A thing “monstrous and free”, Conrad would have said. Ibadan was exploding as few other places on the continent were, with what it meant to be African in the middle of the twentieth century. Ibadan was the future.

          Where in Africa, would you have come upon a joint like the Black Morocco? At Black Morocco, city crowds and campus hot heads rubbed shoulders. Whites and blacks came together. It is two in the morning, music still on, the drinks are flowing. The girls are doing a special show, something like this Yemaya and Oshun dance. There is hardly room inside. But the joint is still filling. In the years he lived in Ibadan as a young man about town Black Morocco was playwright Wole Soyinka’s favorite haunt.

"Yoruba Women"

yoruba women

          Dapo Adelugba, the actor and theater expert, who lived in Ibadan as a young man in those days remembers the time well. There were musicians; there were dancers, theater groups, artists, and politicians. Everyone was doing something. The city was an open space, a marketplace of ideas and activities. The coca economy, whose center was Ibadan, ensured there was a degree of affluence

"igbo women"

igbo women

 

          From where they caroused, party guests could hear distinctly the beat of Yoruba talking drums. Some of it came from the Black Morocco. The beats were irrepressible in their melodic force. They recalled the days when the names of Oyo and Ife Ile Ife were synonymous with pomp and glory. The rhythm of the music of high-life throbbed like a torrent. The music of Fela Kuti that flurished in the late sixties up to the eighties, came from here.

          Ibadan was not Nairobi. Nairobi was famous for its troupes of big game hunters that converged at the Norfolk Hotel. Then as now Nairobi was the place of royal adventure. Here Queen Elizabeth first became the Queen.

          Ibadan was not Kampala, the city on seven hills where young Africans mindlessly flaunted Oxford street gear. Where young Indians drove the latest American models and sampled the music of Elvis Presley. Ibadan was not alone. Much of Nigeria was in a state of ferment, the run up to independence. Ghana got there first but it was a close call. The three year differential doesn’t tell the story.

          In Nairobi on the white highlands in lavish whites only clubs, local whites told visiting whites. This is not Africa, Kenya is Europe. There will be no change here.

          In Kampala the Kabaka of Buganda got into trouble for opposing colonial policies. His efforts led him to exile in cold London. This and the emergency that was upon Kenya dampened the mood at Makerere University College, the equivalent of the University College at Ibadan where the new literature was brewing. At Makerere Kikuyu students suspected of links to Mau Mau, the movement that was fighting the war of Kenyan independence, were spirited by the night. Makerere was not Ibadan; East Africa was not West Africa!    

          At Ibadan guests at the dinner party were surrounded by the aroma and feel of Africa. The carousing lasted deep into the night. The sky was filled with stars. It was a night as could be had only in Africa.      

          A moment came and there was an announcement. All the ladies please to proceed at once to the ladies’ room. Left on their own the men were invited to enter as the host put it, darkest Africa. The men trooped to the spacious garden outside. Facing the late-night moon the men line up, unzip and shot straight at the heart of darkness. Uli Bleier writes about this somewhere. A few kilometers away were the shrines to the great Oduduwa, the ancient Yoruba deity.

"duduwa diety"

oduduwa

          Modern African literature got going at the University College Ibadan. Poetry, short stories, printed on the pages of crudely produced student magazines, supported and encouraged by the kindly men and women at the dinner party. Robert Wren captured the period in his book, Those Magical years, the University College of Ibadan during the period 1948-1966.

          And so the time came, it was early in 1958, the new literature had grown and matured within the rich culture mix that the Ibadan offered. Now from nearby Lagos where many of the graduates of Ibadan now worked and lived, the new literature erupted. Some critics sought out flaws they might point at.  Things Fall Apart seemingly had no flaws. This was Africa unbound, English words, African idioms skillfully crafted by a master craftsman to create the African story. Modern African literature would blossom around this single work. The novel would rise to become a classic of world literature.

          Chinua Achebe, the young author of Things Fall Apart was in those days part of a group of young people centered on the new University College. People who had graduated from, or were still students at the University College. Among them, the poet and dramatist J.P. Clerk, the poet Christopher Okigbo, the dramatist Wole Soyinka who later would win the Nobel prize, and Mabel Segun who was one of the few women in the group, and others.

"young achebe"

the author of things fall apart

          Robert Wren asked the question. How come modern African literature got its start at Ibadan and in no other place in Africa?  University colleges of equal merit existed in other places. Why Ibadan? To ask this question is to ignore for a moment those who would argue that the modern African novel did not begin at Ibadan at all.

          In our analysis we demonstrate how the political situation in East Africa: a fully fledge war in Kenya, a political crisis in Uganda, had put a hold on things there.  We show that in Nigeria, the cultural and political environment were favorable. Ibadan was the locale where all the forces needed to make the new literature were coming together forcefully and adding up.

          Intellectually Ibadan was at the core of a countrywide movement that sought to define the African experience and to live the African essence in the modern world. Out of this came the new literature.

          It helped that the faculty at Ibadan was what it was, men and women of talent who were at the same time creatures of their time. In their perception of the literature they taught, in their dealings with the students they taught, they were defined by empire. Their endorsement of the crude stereotypes of Africa and Africans purveyed by Joyce Carry in Mister Jonson was the tipping point. It was the catalyst the colonial students needed to set them free. Where before they hesitated or even shied away from things African, now in rejecting colonial stereotyping, they embraced their African heritage. In the process they created a new mode of African self representation. Things Fall Apart is the enduring symbol of what they achieved.

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King’s College Budo Schooldays
by john otim

I was in the Upper Chamber devouring international publications, British really. They included Boys Own, fine adolescent adventure stuff. They included the Illustrated London Magazine, Filled at the time with glossy pictorials of British elites and their European cousins. The London Times was there as a matter of course.

"Budo's Upper Chamber"

popular student hangout at king's college budo

            Time Magazine and Newsweek, were not officially there. But once in a while some young American on the faculty brought in a few copies. At times he threw in copies of Sports Illustrated for good measure.  Sports Illustrated was typically American. Its contribution to sports’ photography is a story. Its marvelous photos of sportsmen in action, gave the Illustrated London Magazine a run for its money
            The lone Indian teacher at the school had not the resources to showcase the sub continent’s rich heritage. He was a proud man nevertheless and enjoyed nothing more than to rattle a few nerves among the majority English on this White enclave on the shores of Lake Victoria.
            As students we were on our own. There was not a single black face on the faculty. And this was a prestige school. Today King’s College Budo on the shores of Lake Victoria in Uganda still ranks among the best. Further south in Malawi, President Hastings Banda was yet to create his dream school, the Kamuzu Academy that would rise to rival our school if not surpuss it. On th President’s orders the school when it got going would be staffed exclusively with holders of the masters’ degree from Oxford and Cambridge. People laughed at Haistings Banda. But in today’s Africa Banda’s model is hot cake and they cost a fortune to attend.

         
"Kamuzu Academy"

Hastings Banda's dream school

            The British authorities at our school were smart. They distanced themselves from the former colonial authorities of which they had been a part. They won a lot of goodwill. While firmly maintaining control they appeared not to insist on anything. They did not verbalize it but they were saying. We are part of the new Africa. We are Africans really. They lined up a coterie of Africans from downtown who came to the school to talk to us. They were young people and immensely successful. They had studied in Europe and North America. They were the inheritors of the colonial state. They talked no revolution. There was no need, independence was won. They were saying. The future is now, you are lucky fellows. Get on with it. Don’t make noise. Look at us.
            One day I was in the Upper Chamber. Named for the room in which Christ and the disciples had the last supper. It was a large upstairs room, wooden floor, large mahogany tables, shelves of books and magazines. The room made you feel good. Here boys and girls converged on Sunday afternoons. You came washed and dressed. For girls these were precious showcase moments.

            Here I was one Sunday afternoon when a stunning young woman made her way. Followed by a crowd of students I knew were members of the Christian Union. This was a group whose membership proclaimed themselves the inheritors of Christ. Now they created a stir. There was nothing to it, the evening was at an end. I stood up to leave. A girl grabbed my hand and bade me stay. I spent the evening receiving the message of Christendom, streaming from the lips of the starlet.
            It turned out the babe was a Makerere University student and had graduated from our school a few years back. Makerere was big stuff. Clearly someone had brought this girl over to dazzle us. I had never seen a woman that lovely. The organizers of the evening for sure had class. Huray! Boys and girls stayed on, nobody left. There was quiet in the room. The young woman began to speak.
            Look around. You are gathered from all corners of this country. You are the best. But you are also lucky. How many of your primary school fellows do you see around? You must be thankful. You are the cream of  the world. We are the cream! What did that mean?
            The theme of duty and of responsibility was absent. You are not here. Luck is not with you. You are not smart. You are excluded. The system said. Exclusion meant neglect. It was demanded of the excluded, that they offer their services in the interests of the lucky ones. Nothing was extended in return. Exclusion degerated into abuse. Primitives, good for nothing. Abuse brought conflict. African education systems such as it was, such as it is, set the course and now provides feeds.

John Otim
Formerly of the Ahmadu Bello University
Zaria in Nigeria


 john otim
(excerpts from the novel
dream campus)

The Last Evening
No one that ever saw it
could fail to see
that the day was out of
the chronicles of the gods
or that the evening
when it arrived
was out of Arabian nights

The dream campus rose
and got going
before the crimsons
and the majesty
of the dawn hour
the city of leaning buzzed
with joyful sounds
of celebrant youths

Everything commanded
the sense of beauty
the sense of wonder 

 The day after
everyone were leaving
some never to meet again
it was hard to imagine
this could end

“I’m leaving on a jet plane
don’t know
when I’ll be back again
I’m leaving oh babe
I hate to go”
(John Denver-leaving on a jet plane)

The elements
so mean and wild lately
…. vengeful storms
… hurricanes …
unleashed furies
wrecking havoc
… now even now
turned sweetly pleasant
**

Throughout
the morning hours
fairyland showers
barely visible
to the naked eye
washed and cleansed
the city of learning

At the approach
of the royal hour of noon
surprise of surprises
the dawn hour returns
a blushing bride
draped in soft embroideries
of gold indigo and violet
stupendous

By even tide
brilliant blue skies
decorated with streaks
of green-gold-cream-silver
painted on the canopy
a work of art of
rare magnificence

The count down
to the hyper event
of the school year
now drawing to a close
the count down to
the show of all shows
was on

The grand show
whose memories would linger
a thousand years
treasure piled upon treasure
– additions
to the store of legends
of the great school
**

And now arrives
what all awaited
what the day was all about

The Empire heiress
bursts upon the scene
a light upon the eventide
the Queen of Sheba
would have understood

In the fading rays
her face was brighter
than cosmic constellations
her radiance triggered
shockwaves
along the breadth
and length of the arena

All eyes were upon her
time stood frozen
… she parts her lips
light of lights
raining spacious lyrics
upon the night air

A cluster of vibrations
animations
acrobatics and dance
to melt the mountain walls
of the Nanga Parbat

“I heard he sang a good song
I heard he had a style
And so I came to see him
To listen for a while
And there he was this young boy
A stranger to my eyes”
(Roberta Flack-killing me softly)

The very anthem
of the celebrants
… fire in her eyes
she sang in a voice
passionate
and tender
the crowd grew wild
… and wilder

“Strumming my pain with his fingers
Singing my life with his words
Killing me softly with his song
Killing me softly with his song
Telling my whole life with his words
Killing me softly with his song”
-Roberta Flack

Other singers and performers
came on board
there was a girl from Kenya
rumored to be a Masai
a modern day Venus
everything girls dreamed of
and a voice to kill for

She puts all this
into the rhythms of the  eternal hymn
the love anthem from the birth place
of mankind
the unforgettable malaika
years ago immortalized
by Miriam Makeba

“Malaika, nakupenda Malaika
Malaika, nakupenda Malaika
Nami nifanyeje, kijana
Mwenzio
Nashindwa na mali sina we
Ningekuoa Malaika
Nashindwa na mali sina, we
Ningekuoa Malaika “
(Miriam Makeba-Malaika )

The evening long ago
on a roller coaster
breached the final frontiers
headed to the farthest stars
spitting fire upon endless
light years
shading lasts drops

The night grew soft and livid
a moment came
the dream campus
utterly consumed
melted and dissolved
into a timeless zone

“Imagine there are no countries
it isn’t hard to do
nothing to kill or die for
and no religion too
imagine all the people
living life in peace

“You may say I am a dreamer
but I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
and the world will live as one”

As he listened to the words of
John Lennon
he encountered again
the rhapsody of
the Burmese girl

And he felt again
the heady motions of
those early days
on the dream campus

And he saw now as though
a Picasso laid on a wall
the visions
of the Burmese girl

A world without boarders
united in celebration
of the harmonic
and the beautiful
**

Later in the night
long after the music stopped
long after the dream campus
had gone to sleep
the golden dome even now
radiated
grandeur incomparable

The city of learning was
a scene from Arabian nights
‘even a deathless god
would look in wonder
hearts filled with pleasure
were he to come upon’

Westwards across the vast
expanse of  play fields
… the exploding skies
signs the storms
the hurricanes
would come again

Eastwards towards the groves
rose a daintily
freshly minted moon
adorned in layers of veils
bride of the East
bashful
on her maiden voyage
to the bridal chamber
**

Years later when semblance
of normality had come back
to his shattered life

When dashing towards
city center
along uhuru highway
by uhuru park
from his base at the foot
of Ngong Hills
a poster caught his eyes

Paragon Pictures Presents
The Last King —

It hit him like a bolt
he thought the past was
well – all gone
now when he entered the city
he saw everywhere
young people
pushing and shunting
as only the young can

Snapping away tickets
for the pleasure of caned images
of the great leader
a kaleidoscope
seen through the eyes
of a young Scottish adventurer
on the tropics

Paragon Pictures Presents
The last King of Scotland

Some things never change
he said out loud
surprised now at the sound
of his own voice
as he pondered rave reviews
spewing from
channel after channel

 

From scores of print pages
of the great weeklies
strewn about the room
on tables and chairs
as though
a mad man had cast them
other reviewers teased

Powerful
Thundering
Colossal
Brims with charms

Do not miss this movie
Bloody and funny
**

I can’t stop loving you
useless to say
I’ll just live my life
in dreams of yes


 Story of  Opac Village
by john otim

Formerly of
Ahmadu Bello University
Zaria Nigeria 

After years of despair at the internal refugee camps of war torn Northern Uganda a war shattered community returns home to the ruins that were once their village, with nothing more than bare hands to work with they start to build a new life                                                                                      

True North
We left the city of Kampala late. We crossed the River Nile at sunset at the Karuma Bridge. Here the mighty Nile is a raging torrent surging over rocks past narrow stone corridors before plunging one hundred and thirty feet down below a few kilometers away at the Murchison falls. The roar, the splash, the sprinkles, in the fading rays, is a scene to behold. Here a young British colonial officer once paused, and admired his country’s new imperial possession, unable to believe what his own eyes saw. Here now, two hundred miles away from the city we entered the north proper. The irony did not escape us.

"agless nile (pride and majest)"
beauty in motion

Northern Uganda had been trapped in the throes of a brutal civil strife which lastedfor years, twenty to be precise. Despite the desperation to bring things to a close the war went on year after year till finally it drove social life in this otherwise fertile land to a standstill. Now in the aftermath are traumatized people that have lost the gift of laughter. Many of the kids born during this period are young men and young women now. Today they are the majority in their communities. With over seventy percent of Uganda’s population under the age of 30 the country has the youngest population of any place in the world.

Ochan Self-help Alliance
We drove steadily over bad roads in an old truck and hours later arrived at Opac, a village located in the east of the Lango Sub region. In the local language, the name itself means that which is scattered. Now Opac was among the communities most scattered by the war. To say Opac was a place where laughter had died may sound like exaggeration but sadly it is not as we soon found out.

We arrived like marauders in the night. In the lightless universe the village clinic was the lone exception. Its unblinking solar lights burned like a beacon at sea. The clinic and the lights as were other projects in the village, such as the construction of houses for the most needy, were the works of Ochan Self-help Alliance; www.ochanalliance.org/, a civil society organization based in far away Maryland in the United States of America.

The entrance of Ochan Self-help Alliance into the life of the village is a story that has been told. … One hot afternoon a retired professor of the City University of New York holidaying in Africa stumbles upon a group of desperate men trying to return home after years in forlorn internal refugee camps of Northern Uganda. The men had to start from the beginning.  They had to erect new houses, plant new crops, harvest them, feed their families, and slowly rebuild their communities; a daunting prospect.

Insecurity in northern Uganda was still rampant. The men had nothing with which to accomplice their mission. They had no money, no resources, and no equipment. The only thing the men had was their belief in the goodwill of Western charity. It was the lesson life had taught them. In their long years at camps it was Western donor agencies that had stood between them and outright starvation. Now that peace was returning, no matter how tentatively, it was time to reclaim their own lives and live again the life they once knew. But how were they to do this? Who would help them?  To make an intolerable situation even more desperate a severe draught hit the area. Enter Ochan self-help Alliance.

In the eye of the storm
At the height of the war Opac had been in the eye of the storm. Its communities uprooted, torn and flung to the four the winds. It was here the final battle between government forces and the insurgency had been fought. Long before trouble came, Opac and the surrounding villages had been rich in cattle and farm produce. For years the peasants practiced mixed farming. A railway ran through their locality. Twice a week it ferried produce including cattle to markets further south in Kampala and beyond. The railway line is defunct now, has been so for years. The small Railway Station that once functioned as the hub of village life and village commerce is no more.  Here hungry travelers once bought roasted nuts and local brews. Here

"disabled rail link to northren uganda"

Once vibrant lifeline to northern Uganda

village youth staged their dances.

The prosperity of the area such as it was, had attracted marauders. In neighborhoods we traversed people pointed to the spots, often door fronts, where victims had been slain. Bayoneted, shot and left to die. Cattle, goats and sheep marched away, houses torched. Even the lowly chickens did not escape. The village and the surrounding communities were systematically bled dry. During the long years of camp existence the people lost what little they still had and grew steadily dependent on the charity and the goodwill of Western donors. At the filthy crowded refugee camps, long held customs and social mores broke down; normally preventable diseases became killer scourges, many villagers perished, the sense of community disintegrated like a lump of snow in the hot sun.

 "the village railway station"
once trim lawns of the railway station 

A new spirit among the people

The smell of rain was in the afternoon sky. Great circling clouds turned a shade lighter before our eyes and grew liquid. Winds broke. Little girls tracking from the new village water pumps with buckets of water on their heads quickened their pace. I absorbed the horror stories. My mind reeled.

Suddenly I remembered John Wayne and his Hollywood frontier movies that I once loved to watch. I shared my thoughts. My companions look at me. I quit the comfort zone of my dream world. There were no parallels, there were no comparisons. Here in Opac those dark days there were no good guys, here were merely the bad, the ugly, and their victims. Here was a story without the possibility of redemption. That is until Ochan Self-help Alliance stumbled upon the scene and recognizing the emergency and the determination of the people, moved swiftly to extend a helping hand. Now the village was moving again. But it would be a slow uphill task.

We arrived at Opac deep in the night. Early the next morning we woke with the birds of the air and were at the village church as the sun fought with approaching storms that mercifully in the end held off, at least for now. I had this image of us trapped in the deluge, and attempting to wash and clean without success in the disused village dam, whose sparkling waters once fed the teaming live stocks of the area.

"weed chocked village dam"
weed chocked village dam

The service began as soon as we arrived. Using drums and other hand crafted musical instruments long known in the area, the okembe, the nanga, the village ensemble breaks into music. It was the traditional song of Christendom: nearer my God to thee, nearer to thee. The assembled congregation went into animation. The ancient song found a new life and a new meaning. I look around me. Everyone was smiling. There was a new spirit in the village. I thought of Louise Armstrong’s song: what a wonderful world’  

You got talents I got talents
When the sermon arrived it was charged. It was energetic. It was a celebration of the individual. I thought of the Generals of Pyongyang and of the other great men of iron and steel that span all of history. But I heard the voice of the preacher man. By now he shared the stage with someone from the audience. But he didn’t mind. I heard his words:

Each individual has talent. God saw to that. The individual bares the responsibility to use his talents in the service of the community. Talents left unused were riches cast to swine. No, it wasn’t new. But this was a roller a coaster all the same. The preacher and the congregation were in concert. As if to add color, carefully selected songs and readings from the Scriptures were interjected apparently spontaneously. The Good Samaritan had the gift of empathy with the sufferings of others. He gave care and succor to the victim of brigandage. You got talents, I got talents … everyone got talents. Discover yours today … put it at the service of the community. Amen.

As abruptly as it began the service ended. The church became a social club and a marketplace.  People exchanged information. People bought and sold produce. The church was replacing the old Railway Station of early Independence as the new village hub. Here too the youth danced. After more than twenty years away from the church, living and teaching at Ahmadu Bello University among Islamic communities of northern Nigeria I was pleasantly surprised by my experience in Opac. I got talents, you got talents. Everyone got talents.

John Otim
Suncolor Media Consultants
Kampala Uganda
johnotim@yahoo.com

October 7 2010


Story of an African Dictator
by john otim

The General and the Doctor
The military man he was his targets were carefully chosen. With him everything had a purpose. Once at a military parade in what looked like a stupid act he had his own men proclaim him King of Scotland. In years to come media men would call him the Last King of Scotland. Now he had no means to enforce such claims. But in the eyes of his men this simple act gave him the appearance of a strong and fearless leader. With the General appearance was everything. No one understood the art of propaganda better than he did.

          The move played well in the international media. Suddenly the networks were filled with news and features about him. Pictures of his ebullient face filled the screens and the tabloids. Most were negative but the more negative the reports the more the General prospered. In the eyes of millions in Nigeria and elsewhere across Africa he was the champ, he was the king. Forget Nyerere.

            So now his enemies identified, his mind made, with the lightening speed of a cobra the General strikes. Blow delivered he slides slowly back to his manhole at State House, as though nothing at all had happen. Waiting for him were a bunch of State House beauties, carefully chosen from among the tribes. A habit he invented as army commander before he took power. Now that he was in power it served him perfectly. He had a brother in law in every nook and corner of the country and beyond, his eyes and his ears.

            None of his legendary joviality and affability that had made him a darling of the world press in the days he first took power seemed touched by the atrocities, the cruelties, and the violence he committed as a matter of routine. Openly he flirts with the girls now. Never was there a more perfect prince charming. The girls young and comely as you please thought the world of him. But like a kid with his toys, soon he tired of them and turned instead to a game of poker with his new friend, the dashing young Scottish doctor. As King of Scotland he had to have a Scot for a personal physician.

"Princess Elizabeth of Toro"

Elizabeth of Toro

            Cleverly the Scotsman allows himself defeat in two straight games he could easily have won. The General beams and smiles genially. The doctor gets his rewards but they nearly knock him out. Heavy paws hit on the back, well that was the pat. His authority established the General invites the doctor to make his own pick from among the harem.

            The General was by nature a generous man and he could be magnanimous. Besides he truly liked the doctor. In the doctor’s young and easy company he forgot the torments of state power. He forgot that he was a man scaling fifty rather than going forty. On his part the doctor was thrilled by the nearness to power and the privileges it brought, especially in an economy wrecked by the General himself now plagued with scarcities and shortages of all kinds. How sweet to be young and carefree. Forget the politics. Who cares!

            On the other side of town, a world a way from the trappings of State House, business was winding down for the day at the Goan Institute. Members were driving home after a game of tennis and plenty of booze. A young man steps out into the cold damp night. As he moved along the tree lined residential district of this lakeside town he was hit by a burst of music. The lyrics touched a cord within him. He walked till he was one with the spirit of the song. We’re caught in a trap, can’t get out.

Caught in a trap
From the moment he heard the broadcast Ronald knew he had a story. Ronald was a Dambian Goan [read Ugandan]. In the local parlance that meant he was an East Indian. Dambia is a country in central Africa once ruled by the British. It had a significant affluent and quite visible East Indian minority. But race relations were easy here, even friendly in this temperate and resource rich country, nothing like the Congo or Kenya.

            To end the news here is a summary of the news. His Excellency the General has decided, following a directive from God Almighty that all East Indians will have to leave Dambia.
The General was giving the East Indians, hundreds of thousands of them, little more than a couple of weeks to get cracking and get moving. Ronald or David [read Peter Nazareth], both Dambian Goans, had predicted in a novel he wrote and published a year ago that this was going to happen. The nation will be plunged into calamity. The good life would disappear. But none took him seriously. Nervously people laughed it off. Imagine him thinking such things. This is our land and we love it. Dam it. Too much book does make a man mad. Drink and be merry.

            Dambia was an African country. But life was good in Dambia. People regardless of who they were just wanted to enjoy themselves. No one wanted to think such things. Ronald walked through the deepening darkness, framed only by street lamps and flashes of lights coming from the houses he was passing that were still awake. We’re caught in a trap, can’t get out, because I love you so much more. He marched to the beat of modern pop.

The brutality and the dictatorship
Ronald had a knack for weaving common occurrences into compelling tales. When the burst of music hit him on that cold Dambian night his brains started to work. He pondered now. This great piece of Americana originated among black people. Look how they found themselves, spirited out of Africa, enslaved! Now their sweet sounds were returning to Africa reconfigured. Now in Dambia the music was a galvanizing and unifying force. Young East Indians and young Dambians love it. We’re caught in a trap, can’t get out, because I love you so much more. In ways that they could not yet comprehend the music defined their own situation perfectly. Caught in a trap, can’t get out.

            The music drifted from a house he was passing. The source, a popular late night show aired from the state run radio, The King of rock and roll laying bare his soul in the magic of the African night. Just minutes before the same radio had calmly announced the expulsion. Now it was back to its usual fun time.
But the clouds were darkening and Dambia was entering a period of brutal dictatorship not unlike those centuries ago under Emperor Caligula. Though none knew it, even worse time still lay ahead for Dambia. A few years down the line from now, the makers of The last king of Scotland will turn this epochal misery into a soap opera. People would flock in their numbers to see it. In Kampala, scenes of some of the most gruesome atrocities, and where now they shot the action, the movie became a blockbuster. We’re caught in a trap, can’t get out.

Young ones shouldn’t be afraid
One cool afternoon students from the prestigious local university [read Makerere] had a shock coming their way. At the orders of the General students were forcefully marched and paraded through town. At the city square, where were gathered the press of the world, the General stood before them. All six foot three of him, an impressive black figure in military fatigues, and addressed them. This was his idea. I will demonstrate to the imperialists that my people still love me. It is the truth. Can’t you see?

             The students were uncomprehending. Before the coup these young people were movie stars, virtual heroes in a garden neo-colonial city, adored by city babes. The girls among them were little angels pampered throughout the land. Now their lot was worse than slaves. Was it greed? Was it power? Why should a grown man like the General do such things? We are caught in the grips of an incomprehensible demon. It is a dreadful nightmare.

             Face with common danger, young Dambians and young East Indians responded in the same manner. They felt the same forebodings. In their opposition to tyranny they employed the same idioms and ran the same risks. They felt: we’re caught in a trap, can’t get out. They drowned their sorrows in the sounds of modern pop. Help me if you can I’m feeling down. Help me get my feet back on the ground. The Beatle movie, Help, was again playing in town that week.

Who wrote the story?
Peter Nazareth, the Iowa professor of English wrote the novel, this we know. But which persona in the novel wrote the story? It is a close call. But in the end it was Ronald that wrote the story, the story as told in the novel, The General is up.
Within the close plot of Peter Nazareth’s novel Ronald wrote the story but it could well have been David. David was the man with the eyes for details, he was the analytical mind. Stories gushed out of him like the great river into which the General in real life dumped bodies.

 "River Nile at Kruma Uganda"
so much beauty witness to so much pains

            David and Ronald were never the less two distinct personas. But at times it appeared they were two people rolled into one. Both love music. Both love Dambia, their country and land of birth. Both have good rapport with their black compatriots and are friends with them, a fact which brings them into conflict with older East Indians who loved to stick to the old colonial ways with its racial prejudices. The kind of prejudice the General now himself deploys.

The racial census
The order went out from State House. All persons of East Indian ancestry must turn up and be counted. It was a hostile decree, clearly preparation for the expulsion though none could guess at the time. But they turned up.
Lines of people in the heat of noon, the General turning up just at that moment in his armored jeep, its top rolled back. The people must see him. His motorcade proceeded slowly, menace and mischief written all over his face. He moved slowly so that the world may see that he was not afraid. See that he was free in his country and had no need for Presidential guards. But in fact the land swarmed with all manner of security personnel and undercover agents and the General was among the most guarded men in the world.

             David could have written the story, a compelling follow up to the prophecy contained in Peter Nazareth’s first novel: In a brown mantle, now damningly coming true. But Ronald in fact wrote the second novel, The General is up. Ronald was the information man. He was a dreamer. An exempted man Ronald stayed on after the expulsion. David did not.

            Only Ronald had the chance to complete the story in the form we have it. Only he had that snap shot on Al Kamene, the brain man on hire scorned in the end by the master he championed and helped nurse to power. But did Al in the end write the script for The Last King of Scotland? That scandal hailed by hailed by the world as a masterpiece. Was it Al’s way of getting even? Giles Foden for sure wrote the novel but Al Kamene must have written the script. Of course the script is straight out of the novel.

Ronald in exile
When we meet up with him again through the urbane Lebanese American somewhere in the vast reaches of America, we find Ronald much matured. Ronald is now truly a global man. Of the Diaspora he says simply. They are the same as before, but they are worse than before. Ronald means the ex Dambians now residing mostly in Europe and North America have become part of their new world. Ronald means. There is no place like home. No one has the right to take it away from you.
George Kapa, the young Dambian, could well have written the story. His would be a different story of course. George had a journey to make away from his initial fuzzy response to the General, and the catastrophe that was unfolding. His was a popular response at the time, the kind that helped the General weather the storms, consolidate his grips and stay in power. But George’s story would still be the same story. As a Dambian and a highly placed civil servant he was well positioned. He was a friend of David. They had studied together at the university. And he had completed his journey away from parochialism.

The great cover up
Under David’s presidency at the Institute when the place was still Goan, George had been vice president. Together the two labored to give the Institute a new image that would be national, Dambian and African. They and others like them, mostly young people from across race and ethnic lines, shared a common dream. The sudden appearance of the General was a terrible blow. The international press with the help of Al Kamene at the local university, worked to cover up the enormity of the crimes that had been committed. The people must not be allowed to see their loss. The people must be prevented from regrouping. The Last King of Scotland is in reality a continuation of these maneuvers. It is part of an elaborate trap which in the troubled mind of Ronald the Elvis love lyrics gives expressions to. Caught in a trap, can’t get out.

           The crisis flung all of Dambia into a mess. Out of the mess sprang a new bond between young Dambian Africans and young Dambians of East Indian origins. Both understood and saw the problem in the same way. Both saw the way out in unity and struggle. It is the case of the long and winding road. That leads me to your door. The long and winding road … I have seen that road before.

            At the farewell when the last of the East Indians were leaving, Gorge talked movingly about an intruder who like all intruders is eventually ejected. This was a brave thing to say. This was a new George. David, who was now leaving, spoke calmly. He told a story, about a man who tried to rule without the wishes of the people and appeared at first successful, but only for a while. In the end the wishes of the people were important. Slowly in the minds of the young people, the way out for their country was emerging. But it won’t be easy. New pitfalls will emerge and would have to be overcome.

The men of the new Diaspora
The American was struck by the quality of the man. The man was dark and tall. There was about the man nothing of the cheep imported labor that abounds in America. The man appeared ethereal; such that if you shot at him the bullet might miss entirely. There was an air of confidence even arrogance about the man. He was totally a brain man.

            Here was a man of the new Diaspora that the General or the Last King of Scotland had flung across the world. From this new man out of the new Diaspora, came the sublime response of a non violent man to a world grown incomprehensibly violent.

            As they both walk a way from the dead dog their car had accidentally run over. The sight the American dreaded to see and had wanted to run away from. The American heard him say. No life, however insignificant, should pass away at least without a notice. The American was amazed. Here is a loony, he thought, but not for long.

The General and the Pisi
It is difficult not to contemplate the very last line of the second novel, the line that is said to be a quote. History is sometimes changed by an idiot. It is difficult not to remember the university students that were humiliated through town and then paraded before the international press as supporters of the man that was humiliating them.

            It is difficult not to remember the pisi. The word pisi means cook in Swahili. They think we don’t see. They think we don’t know. Where would the Mugoa [expelled Indians] go? The pisi is the original simple goodness of the human heart, the heart that made possible the human community. The General too, is simplicity, the simplicity of insanity that threatens community.

          Listen to the voice of the General, none but Idi Amin himself, recorded by Nazareth towards the end of the novel. I do not want any politics. I do not want any quarrels. I do not want any useless talk. I do not want criticism. … … No politics. … … As for those people who were only interested in politics where are they?
Dispatched!
John otim
suncolor consultancy
Kampala