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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


story by john otim

Oh it was a night

Early last year I returned home to Uganda after years of teaching on a Nigerian campus. To my surprise I found that Nollyhood, the Nigerian equivalent of Hollywood, had taken over the local video scene. It was generating a lot of interest in all things Nigerian especially the Nigerian woman. Friends would stop me on the streets and ask. Are Nigerian girls that cute? How would you compare to East African women. Are they that sexy?

I told the story of my encounter in Lagos years ago. When at the arrival hall a uniformed official confronted me. It was my first time in Nigeria. Nothing hostile mind you, Nigerians are a warm and friendly people. Anyhow the official demanded my passport, whereupon I surrendered.

You are a teacher? She asked, as she scanned through my details.

Yes! I nodded. Whereupon she looked me in the face, straight and direct in the eyes as only a Nigerian can. She said or rather commanded.

Teacher! Teach me!

I was nearly put of balance but I considered the prospects. And for the first time I saw beyond the uniform. She smiled. I smiled. We exchanged personal information. And I thought no more of it. Weeks later at my new quarters at the Ahmadu Bello University up in northern Nigeria during the cold months of the harmattan far from steamy Lagos on the coast there was a gentle knock on my door one evening.

And there she was: my uniformed interlocutor at the arrival hall, adorned in national costumes, totally transformed, a more beautiful woman I never saw. The words returned to me. Teacher! Teach me!

John Otim
Kampala Nov 2011


the coup de tat
by john otim

on this dream campus
in the middle of a once
great European empire
were gathered the youths
of the world

this glittering citadel
was once the center that ravaged
his far away land

among these youths
were the descendants
of the spoilers

he searched for them
a glittering charming lot
bright of face

where were the slave lords
the brigands and the pirates
in these comely youths

he turned where laughter was
there he found them

a group of his own kin
in a spirited chat
with a company of Orientals

chinese
indians
arabs and others
empire victims
all

in the soft lights of the lofty hall
where once dined and wined
heroes of empire
where trophies of empire still glitter
their deep hues glowed
their manner self assured

he listened for a while
fascinated by the flow
of their new dialectics

a burmese student
a girl of singular beauty
exile from thailand
enthused over a borderless future
seamless without exiles

when sky trains will link
the entire universe
and new technologies
bring the people together
in a festival of peace and love

try as he may he could not
take his eyes away from her
and she appeared no older
than his own sister

he listened till his spirits
subsided
and the sense of something
about to happen
overtook him

he found himself reliving
the days of his fore fathers
great sportsmen
folks much abused now

folks that once held sway over
endless fertile plains
herding their flocks
in the bounty of nature

while shepherds watc their flock by night
all seated on the ground
the ange of the Lord came down
and glory shone around

suddenly it was as though he shared
those moments with the shepherds
as though he had been there
as thoug he lived their lives

and now before him rose new nations
new peoples cleansed and purified
filled with new life

it was a continent on the move
on the march to the beat of its
own drummers

he did not know
but he found himself humming
the beat of the anthem
of Christendom

onward Christian Soldiers
marching as to war
with the cross of Jesus
going on before
click

he relished the thought
of his imminent departure
and homecoming
and of the task that lay ahead

a vision crossed his mind
a dazzling la jeune fille

daughter of th royal house of payira

And every strangest face I see
reminds me that I long to be
home ward bound

I wish I was homeward bound
home where my thoughts escaping
home where my music’s playing
home where my love lies waiting
silently for me
click
(Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel)

the great song wheeled inside his head
the great hall stirred with the energy
and the scent of youth
he knew now the meaning of the word
equilibrium

midway through the evening
as he laid plans for a new tomorrow
and looked forward
to a new world on the tropics
a hand signalled him

from the large screen
at the far corner of the great hall
news came through
a clean mechanical voice
a pretty face tore through him
but he listened on

I listen to the wind come howl
telling me I have to hurry
 I listen to the robins song
telling me not to worry
 hu hu hu hu
click

beep beep beep: beep beep beep
breaking news breaking news

reports are coming in of a military coup
in the mountain capital
where a few hours ago fighting broke out
between opposing units of the armed forces

reports reaching us speak of complete
pandemonium
hundreds have been killed
thousands wounded
many more on the march

throngs of mainly poor peole
are on the move on their bare feet
carring their meager possessions
on their bare backs

they are presumably headed
for the safety of the rain forests
like their fore fathers had done
before them
nothing changes in these parts

I’ll never let you see
the way my broken heart is hurting me
I got my pride and I know how to hide
all my sorrows and pain
I will do my crying in the rain
click
(Everly Brothers)

the reality today
on this hilltop capital
of this landlocked country
under bewitching blue skies
is pure nightmae

martial rule has been declared
by the new military authorities
a dusk to dawn curfew imposed

after what appeared eternity
of continious barrage
the noise of automatic weapons
and shell fire
have died down

Amazing Grace how sweet
how sweet the sound that saves
a wretch like me
was once lost and now am found
was but now I see
click

as I speak a dazzling sunset
glides down the orizon
beneath this fairyland
once thought the abode of the gods

Caroline Cool
CNN News Mountain Capital

bittersweet memories
that ‘s all I’m taking with me

so goodbye please don’t cry

we both know
I am not what you need

and I will always love you
I will always love you
click

(Whitney Houston)