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Location? Perhaps a remote corner of the usually crowded market place, perhaps a lonely village road. But youth must and will always find a way. And now that they have and are there, they size each other, they let their eyes roam and wander and speak for them. Like Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in the thriller in Manila they circle each other. That’s Acholi love. At least that is the way it used to be. Before Kony and the Uganda People’s Defense Force, the UPDF, entered Acholi land and turned the world upside down.

Against the background distant drums and the song play of mating birds the youth pull and push; they pull and push. And the moment comes and it is time for a showdown.  They draw close, nose to nose, eyeball to eyeball, they wrestle each other. It may happen now and again that one or the other may miss a step and may fall or stagger. But he or she will rise again and the game will go on, till at last there is a winner. It may be that the boy will win; he usually does. It may be that the girl will win; she sometimes does and wins outright.

Acholi love is vigorous and prolonged. There is no quickie. It is not for the faint of heart. Not for the Acholi are the tender lyrics of Dona Summer’s sweet surrender or the melancholy of Kenny Roger’s We got tonight who needs tomorrow!

"Acholi Royal Dance
Acholi Royal Dance

But with the Acholi the idea of a love tryst is  that like that of a sporting event. The soul of the game is the maximization of touch; the purpose the prolongation of pleasure. Now you get it now you don’t; teasing is a big part of the game plan. Strength and valor is at the core of Acholi love and art of romance. Look at their dance. It is all there.

In love and romance there is talk, there is poetry. There is nothing like a silent tryst, an Indian girl once said. So here now in between the pushing and wrestling, the hiding and the seeking, there is talk and poetry.

An per amiti do laco ni. Awachi ne adegi do laco ni. Cit cen! wot cen! dok cen! (I don’t need you this man. I don’t want you this man. I told you I hate you. Go away, get back!)

In the place of sweet surrender are tough words. And it is now that the tough gets going. And from now it is sweet all the way. But after Kony, after the atrocities, after the UPDF, after the concentration camps, there is not that much flavor left in Acholi love or in Acholi land. But they say that time heals a broken heart. (I can’t stop loving you)

John Otim
copyright 2012

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In the early days of the coup that brought
General Haroun Al Mahmud to power
the press of the world
camped on state house lawns
day and night day after day
dozens of them

Their gear hung from every tree
their goings on created a festive air
it was a carnival such as the city
and the country
had not seen

The new Strongman reveled
in the media blitz
he paused for photo ops and granted interviews
he gave press conferences
in his eyes these confirmed without a doubt
his own greatness and invincibility

One night he ordered a barbecue
and invited the press of the world
to eat, drink, dance
and be merry

The wily journalists
encouraged and fanned
the General’s every idiosyncrasy
and busily made footage
a media hungry world waited

In Lagos Nigeria
a mother returning home
after a punishing day at the market
hearing BBC and CNN voices
doubles up

“What ting Al Haroun
dun do again?
he dun kill another Archbishop?”
folks like her were insatiable
and they were legion
there was blood and there was fun

At the court of
General Haroun Al Mahmud
at the grand old colonial mansion
the British built to display power
there was never a dull moment

A marriage bid today
for the hands of the daughter
of one of Europe’s ruling family

Tomorrow battle plans in all earnest
against neighboring states to teach them
in the General’s own words
lessons they will never forget

Now and then a mocking cable
dispatched to Washington
to the most powerful man on Earth
timed to cause the President
the greatest discomfiture

One morning fresh morning
a gift of a young virgin
kidnapped the other day on her way to school
now handed to his friend and companion
the young Scottish doctor
who saved his life from the syphilis bug

Now in the cool of the African evening
the barbecue sizzles
oriental and African aroma
mingle and add color to the night
oh such a night

Wine and conversation flows
the press of the world is in hot pursuit
they reach for their little packs
trinkets, perfumes, handguns, electronics
gifts for the General from the labs
and workshops of Europe

Now the General was a true natural
protocol abandoned
he does what only he can
sprawls on the grass
his monstrous legs akimbo
bantering and hollering

Soon wine and whisky take their dues
the moment arrives and the past returns
and the General is back again
where he once belonged
there now he hears a voice

“You and I must make a pack
we must bring salvation back
where there is love I will be there
“I’ll reach out my hand to you
I’ll have faith in all you do
Just call my name and I will be there

It was the King of Pop
but in Michael’s amplified voice
the General hears the voice of his own mother
it brought him back to the warmth
and comfort of the old colonial barracks
at the river’s mouth

Away from power and pomp and intrigues
away from the slaughter of innocent men and women
that his men carried on a daily basis on his behalf
away from the haunting cries
of the dying and the dead
back to the simple life he once knew
and loved

Years ago his own dear mother
writhed in agony on the dirt floor
of their simple hut
and bestowed upon him
on that silent night
the ultimate gift

Now here he was where it all began
here where as a young man
he and his buddies marched happily to the drill
of the Scotsman’s horse voice
none but Commander Neil Graham

And now the Union Jack flutters again
triumphant again in the cool African breeze
as he and the others march proudly
in tune with the crazed hollering of the Scotsman
Eyes right!
Presenter armes!

Rifles click!
the men come to a dead stop
and for a moment nothing moves
the band strikes God Save the Queen

With a jerk the General returns to the World
back to the Country whose President
he had just shot
and found himself surrounded
by the Press of the World
fighting for a shot of his silly moon face

someone save my life tonight

John Otim


Following the armed seizure of power
in the Mountain Capital
unspeakable things occurred
the networks and the dalies
had a field day

They competed for headlines
and fought for breaking news
and hurled them with abandon
hell blew open
death and destruction spread
like bush fire

An orgy
the networks said
age old tribal animosities
bound to boil over
once White control was lifted
the networks said

Excited and excitable
like a virgin on her nuptial night
naive and totally a novice
the General reveled in the media blitz
when newsmen and women called him
Strongman and Big Daddy
the General was ecstatic

He took to their words
he loved the sound of his name
on white lips
he wished his mother alived again

Who knows Nyerere?
Al Bashir
de Clerk
General Gowan
who knows them?
who is Olusegun Obasanjo?

See me Lakayana with my Spear
my name and face are everywhere
the strong man boasted
and in this he spoke the truth
for that very week Newsweek
and Time Magazine
had him on the cover
and there his moon face beamed
truly a face to charm babe in arms

From the capital of the modern world
came that icon of science and adventure
the National Geographic arrived in a flurry
camera blazing
and gave the new regime
the blessings of the world
even as blood flowed

Reform minded
the erudite editors wrote
and splashed colorful pictorials
of naked tribesmen leaden with gear
across glossy pages of their prized magazine

Now from the old Empire hurried
a baroness of the old lines
pure of blood
honored state guest
she fell in love with the manhood
of the Black Giant

Her royal highness
was a woman of great passions
and great learning
she penned down a portrait
of the great leader:
the people’s General
she wrote
the Napoleon of the Modern World
heroic figure of great proportions

International adulation brought results
beside himself with pride and conceit
the General went on air
with his own fresh mint doctrines
that he called for good measure
the great lakes doctrine

Now there were rumours
making the rounds in the Mountain Capital
that the irrepressible and world renowned
Professor of Modern African Studies
at the Great Lakes University
had a hand in it
now when the final product went on air
suspicion solidified into beliefs

For sure the evening’s broadcast
was in the General’s own coarse and uneducated voice
what else?
but the broadcast bore the unmistakable stamp
of the professor’s famous and flamboyant
bombast

We will divert
the mighty waters of the Nile
and let it flow into the Indian Ocean
we will blow up Mount Kilimanjaro
the rubblle from the mount
we will fill the valleys of the Rift

The next morning the headlines
across the great metropolitan papers
went heywire
the great powers could not belive
what they heard

Good heavens! Is the fellow insane?
what is the matter with him?
they fumed and rebuked the General
but their action contradicted
every word they spoke
when the General would have run out
they kept him supplied
even as blood flowed

Whisky and electronics
to keep the boys satisfied
tanks and automatic weaponens
to keep the people in check
technicians and advisors
to keep the system oiled
the system!

John Otim
copyright 2012


Following the armed seizure of power
in the Mountain Capital
unspeakable things occurred
and the networks and the dalies
had a field day

They competed for headlines
and breaking news
and hurled them with abandon
hell blew open
death and destruction spread
like wildfire

An orgy
the networks said
age old tribal animosities
bound to boil over
once White control was lifted
the networks said

Excited and excitable like a virgin
on her nuptial night
naive and totally a novice
the General reveled in the media blitz
when newsmen and women called him
Strongman and Big Daddy
the General was ecstatic

He took to their words
he loved the sound of his name
on white lips
he wished that his mother were alive

Who knows Nyerere?
Al Bashir
de Clerk
General Gowan
who knows them?
who is Olusegun Obasanjo?

See me Lakayana with my Spear
my name and face are everywhere
the strong man boasted
and in this he spoke the truth
for that week Newsweek
and Time Magazine
had him on the cover
and his moon face beamed
truly a face to charm babe in arms

From the capital of the modern world
arrived the icon of science and adventure
for National Geographic came down
and gave the new regime
the blessings of the world
even as the blood still flowed

Reform minded
the erudite editors wrote
and splashed colorful pictorials
of naked tribesmen leaden with gear
across glossy pages of their prized magazine

Now from the old Empire hurried
a baroness of the old lines
pure of blood
honored state guest
she fell in love with the manhood
of the Black Giant

For her royal highness
was a woman of great passions
and great learning
she penned down a portrait
of the great leader:
the people’s General
she wrote
the Napoleon of the Modern World
heroic figure of great proportions

International adulation soon brought results
biside himself with pride and prejudice
the General went on air
with fresh mint doctrine
that he called for good measure
the great lakes doctrine

Now there were rumours that
the irrepressible Professor of Modern African Studies
at the Great Lakes University
had a hand in it
and when the final product went on air
suspicion solidified into beliefs

For the evening’s broadcasts
though in the General’s own coarse and uneducated voice
bore the unmistakable stamp
of the professor’s flamboyance and bombast

We will divert
the mighty waters of the Nile
and let it flow into the Indian Ocean
we will blow up Mount Kilimanjaro
the rubblle from the mount
we will fill the valleys of the Rift

The next morning the headlines
across the great metropolitan papers
went heywire
the great powers could not belive
what they heard an what they read

Good heavens! Is the fellow insane?
what is the matter with him?
they fumed and rebuked the General
but their action contradicted
everyword they spoke
when the General would have run out
the kept him supplied
even as blood flowed

Whisky and electronics
to keep the boys satisfied
tanks and automatic weaponens
to keep the people in check
technicians and advisors
to keep the system oiled
the system
even as blood flowed

John Otim
copyright 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

to keep the system oiled

the system!

 

John Otim

(Copyright March 2012)

Quote

Posted on: March 26, 2012


From a distance there is harmony and it echoes through the land
it’s the voice of hope, it’s the voice of peace, it’s the voice of every man
                                                                                          

Tender is the Night

The cadence
and the power
of the lyrics
flowing through
the amplified voice
in the blue of
the night
threw a mantle
of pure magic
about the room

On that magnetized
cloud so dense
they waltzed
and the truth
of the lyrics
overcame them

The amplified voice
so cool
threw a mantle
so dense

And the good time
religion
and modern pop
found a unity
so complete

In the tenderness
of the night
they heard a voice
whisper
all music is holy

John Otim
copyright 2012

From a distance there is …


     How the years have run
yesterday
she gathered toys
and played
see me I see you

     Today she gathers
lush braids into a lock
a bride fit for a prince
how the years have run                      

     How events have moved
yesterday a campus youth
bashful and free
in the cool airs of the plateau

     Today an astronaut
the best and the brightest 

        Gliding Spirit 9
along the Milky Way
shooting past clusters of stars
onwards
where none had been before

     Breaking news … 
glowing pictorial
breath-taking sights
places no human eyes 
had seen before

     How the world moves
how time flies
Sail on Silver Bird
sail on by

John Otim
copyright 2012


From the early to the mid-1980s, under the auspices of the International Monetary Fund (IFM), African governments, including that of Nigeria, adopted the policy known as the Structural Adjustment Program. The policy required governments to tighten their belts, cut spending, lay off workers. In return the IFM gave them loans at high interest rates. By the end of the decade most African countries had become chronically indebted to the IMF. African economies were in tatters.

Inspired by years of teaching and learning at Ahmadu Bello, John Otim’s latest work is an informative examination of the challenges and possibilities that exist on an African campus. Crippled by its country’s perilous financial state, Ahmadu Bello University, and other Nigerian universities, suffered from lack of funds and supplies, loss of qualified professors, and sub-standard student housing that resulted in strikes and riots on campuses across the nation. This led to prolonged closures. By 2004, when Vice Chancellor Professor Shehu Usman Abdullahi took over the affairs of the Ahmadu Bello, he faced the challenge of restoring a semblance of normalcy and culture of study and work to the beleaguered campus. Through seven sections, Otim recalls the creation of the university in 1962, its rise to fame and glory; discuses academic matters, administrative issues, rehabilitation of physical structures, and the development of a comprehensive, campus-wide network of ICT.

In an easy to read, informative and provocative treatise, Otim portrays the challenges that almost brought to an end one of the most fabled campuses on the African continent with precision and candor. The breadth of his understanding provides insights into not only the university but the nature of higher education itself. Always challenging and never pandering, The Ups and Downs of an African Campus: Five Years of Steady Progress at Ahmadu Bello University 2004-2009 teaches that anything is possible when you believe in a dream.

About the Author
John Otim, literature major Makerere University, graduate school at Indiana University Bloomington and Loughborough University in England. Taught literature and creative writing at Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria. Poet and writer, author of the novel Dream Campus. Both books available at http://amazon.com