Of commitment and bedroom stage of the Uganda polls


I was thinking of regaling you this weekend with delicious tales of the kitchen and the joys of composing a meal. But then the Ugandan Presidential campaigns suddenly popped up and I could no longer maintain my characteristic reticence about matters political.

I avoid talking politics not because I do not care or I am apolitical. The Idi Amin experience disabused me of such naïvete a long time ago. My problem is that I am pathetically ignorant of the subject. Like those who are colour blind or tone deaf, I just cannot correctly see the dyes and shades or hear the melodies and rhythms of politics.

Most of Uganda, for example, is currently awash with the yellows of the National Resistance Movement (NRM), the blues of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), and the greens of the Democratic Party (DP), although there is a conspicuous absence of the reds and blacks of the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC). But all this does not absolve me from the demands of response to the realities around me.

In our undergraduate and early graduate days, our then-young revolutionary teachers, like Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Grant Kamenju and Pio Zirimu, took great pains to impress upon us the necessity of “committed” literature. Their recurrent line was that it was not sensible to read or write “poems about roses and daffodils while people, peasants and workers, are starving outside your window.”


Excellent common sense, wouldn’t you say? Presumably, our teachers were referring to the kind of romantic literature, represented by pieces like William Wordsworth’s “Daffodils” Blake’s “The Rose” or Burns’ “My love is like a Red, Red Rose”.

But, as is usual with matters academic, some of us were not taking the advice without interrogation. For me, I was inclined to snort at the hint at “my window”, since I had hardly had anything worth calling my window most of my life.

My teachers’ suggestion did come to make sense, however, when I got a room of my own, with a huge French window and a balcony in London University Hall on the Ubungo campus of the then-University College Dar es Salaam. It was from this balcony that I conceived and sketched out my two “have-and-have-not” contrast verses, “Naturally” and “One Same World”.

Still, I and probably many of my contemporaries, like Francis Imbuga, David Mulwa, Laban Erapu and William Kamera, remained sceptical of the prescriptive implications of committed Literature. Commitment, or “engagement” as it was labelled by its initiator, the French politico-literary philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, seems to suggest that all serious writers should work according to a programme dedicated to the empowerment and liberation of their people.

Moreover, I could not see why one could not write about a rose or a daffodil, regardless of the circumstances around one. My take is that it depends on how one writes about the rose. A competent poem about a flower, a gift of nature, may help the starving people outside my window to realise that degradation of the environment is possibly one of the causes of their lack of food.

Anyway, I thought I should briefly bow to my teachers’ precepts and tell you about the reality in Uganda just now. This is particularly in the light of the events just before and after the presidential nominations. Still, do not expect me to have become miraculously savvy against the grain.

What particularly struck me about the takeoff of the election campaign is the intensity of the competition and the lack of concern about genuine issues. The nominations were preceded by what the political savants called “primaries” or the red lines. This was the process of intraparty selections of the candidates to represent the various persuasions.

The NRM had already decided that Museveni’s candidacy was not to be challenged. But in the nominations for other offices, the contests were marked by surprising acts of “dirty tactics”, including physical attacks on candidates, car window smashing, even arson. Tales of bribery, favouritism and rigging among the presiding officials were worth a hundred for a penny on the streets and in the media.

One could not help wondering if we could begin to hope for a “level playing field” during the real elections in February 2016 if members of the same party could practise such unfriendly tactics against one another. Incidentally, many of those who were not nominated by their parties, especially in the NRM, are threatening to either defect, “Lowasalike”, to the opposition or stand as independents, which the Constitution allows.


Regarding the final presidential nominations, eight contestants were cleared, falling, according to the way I see the field, into two groups, one of the “elders” and one of the youngsters. The elders are General Museveni, General Biraro, Colonel Dr Besigye and Major Amama Mbabazi as well as Pastor Dr. Abedi Bwanika. You will probably note that there is more among them than the age factor.

The younger generation comprises my former boss, ex-Makerere VC, Venansius Baryamureeba, and the pair of “dark horses”, Mr Mabirizi and Ms Maureen Kyalya Walube, the only woman in the race. These last two have decided that they will share platforms in their contest for the top seat.

But the most startling and disturbing signals of the twisted nature of this campaign came just a day after the candidates were officially cleared to start their tours of the country. General Museveni, at a mammoth rally in Kampala, described Baryamureeba as this young boy “who could not even properly run a small school called Makerere.” I am still waiting for “Barya” or Makerere to answer him about that.

But the climax of the start to the campaign was that, the night before the campaign tours were to start, Mabirizi, one of the young candidates, was allegedly abducted from his hotel room in Jinja, to an unknown destination. There he was given a thorough beating and thrown helpless into a mud bath.

In which direction does a gesture like this point for Uganda and its forthcoming elections?