I started my career penniless, and even though I had a phone, I couldn’t even afford to use it. Let me pause here to explain something to the youth. Hello boys and girls. How’s unemployment? How’s economic uncertainty and the ever-present temptation to inherit your parents’ alcoholism as a coping mechanism? The 2020s suck so far. You missed the 00s. Cos even though you have better phones than we did back then, we had a far easier job market. The only problem was that our phones, even before OTTT, cost money to use. You had to pay something called service fee before the phone company could let you make and receive calls. It was, we thought then, the most unjust thing a phone owner could endure. Little did we know what was coming. Like revenge porn, OTTT, and people making you argue on twitter because they don’t know the difference between stating valid ignorance and stating a valid opinion. Back then our phones could not even text.
But I was saying, even though I started my career penniless, I was working for a very good company and was soon being paid relatively well. It wasn’t enough to be Douglas Lwanga, but it was enough to dress better, to get clothing and caps that really highlighted the sexier aspects of my very attractive physique and face.
But it wasn’t just about the money. It was about the ego. Because back then I was, and yeah I said it, the best writer in the industry.
Really. Apenyo, Kintu and Namugoji had yet to begin their stints as columnists. Kalinaki was active but, at the time, he was yet to become better than I was. I was the best thing typing on Microsoft Word 98 back then.
Unfortunately for me, this was not an indisputable fact.
You see, there was another writer who got there before me. Her name was Barenzi. The fact that Barenzi was regularly feted and widely admired burned me inside. It made me even more furious that I was also one of her big fans, which I found perplexing and perverse and it pushed my envy even further towards the edge.
I wanted her spot.
So I went for it.
She had a column in the Sunday Vision. It took up three quarters of a page and readers enjoyed her wit, style and insight immensely. This pissed me massively off, especially when I, too, enjoyed it.
When she was invited to be interviewed on a TV show called Writer’s dawn and I was not, that was it. I googled workout exercises for fingers and began to plot her downfall. Murdering Sagara and framing her for the crime, was my first thought, but I had to abandon that plot. Saggy was a sociopathic dipshit so anyone convicted of his dispatch would not be jailed, they would just be given a Heroes’ Day medal and made a presidential advisor. I had to type my way in.
That page had a third of paper left, and it was open for the taking.
I told Simon, my boss, that I wanted a column there.
He did the maths astutely and presented me with the conclusive findings that I already had three columns in different parts of the New and Sunday Visions, but I was able to convince him that overkill was not yet a serious media problem. After all, brands jumping on twitter hashtags and ruining them would not be a thing for several years to come.
He allowed it. He instructed me to bring him this column idea.
I slunk into my dank den of bitterness and jealousy and scratched things all over papers all night.
In 2003, rookie reporters didn’t have laptops. We used relics called notebooks. We also had real loadshedding, so it was mostly writing under candlelight because there was nothing to charge the laptop with even after you didn’t have it.
Eventually I emerged from the shadows with a scrap of squiggled nonsense. Nonsense, but hilarious nonsense. I walked to the New Vision from my Kyebando muzigo with The Slim Shady LP spinning in my discman (Look it up. I’m tired of parentheses for history lessons), typed it up on the office computer and filed it on Simon’s desk. I originally called it “Ernest Bazanye’s Column Idea” then, because I always feel profound doubt about what I write once I’m done, as opposed to the unassailable confidence I feel during the actual writing, a fit of modesty grabbed me and I added a note, “Is this a bad idea?”
The column began to run weekly soon after that. After the hefty meal of Barenzi came the little desert cookie of Ernest Bazanye’s Bad Idea.
I hated it. Being on the same page just made it inevitable that we would be compared and Barenzi always wrote in a glamorous ball gown with a glass of Chardonnay in one hand while typing with the other two.
Yes. Writers have three hands. An extra one for either a mug of coffee or alcohol. Ask Hemingway. He’ll tell you it’s true.
The fates were on my side. It was like when Jordan retired and the other team won the championship. Barenzi headed off to do a masters degree in the UK, leaving the page for me and me alone.
And that is how I became the man I am today: former star newspaper columnist. It was as easy as your nemesis being smarter than you so, whereas you were, for all intents and purposes, a Makerere dropout, she was clever enough to go do masters degrees abroad.
Oh, you didn’t know about the being a dropout part? I’ll make that my next post. Meanwhile, okay. Bye. See you next week if you come back.
(Edit: All those typos in a post about being the best writer? Tuswale kko banange.)
After university I left Kampala for Nairobi, where my mother lived and worked. Subsequent posts in this series should establish that she was and is one of the wisest Africans ever.
Despite being very much like her in terms of genetics, facial appearance and temperament, I was intractably foolish. This was her home but I went back there because I thought that it was still mine as well. Unwise sons don’t realise that once you finish Uni, you are on your own. Your mom’s house is no longer your house. After school is finished you graduate from a resident to a parasite in that house.
I was finally done with Makerere when I moved back to Nai. Part of the completion of my sentence in that gulag had included two terms as an intern at the New Vision. Both were behind me now, as were all my exams*. I felt sufficiently educated. The next step was to get a job. The bundle of fatty porridge laced with misfiring neurons in my head told me that I shall find a nice one in Nairobi, one like my mother’s.
I loved Nairobi, which is several percentage points more than I have ever been able to say about this chaotic rabble-heap of trash, discarded liquor satchets and misspelled shop signs you people call a capital city. Kampala? Mbaff. Keep. Take. I made my escape with gleeful haste. I had done my time, served my sentence, paid for the grievous sin of applying to MUK in the first place and was now done.
I went to Nairobi. There to get a job.
I fully expected to find one, and more. I was hoping that I would also find on the cards a beautiful and leggy wife, probably a late 90’s precursor to Sheila Kwamboka or Victoria Kimani or something like that. At the very least I expected to get my Kenyan accent back with it’s rough Rs. I miss those Rs. Those Rs have Rrrrrresonance. They Rrrrealy make a point. I currently have Luganda Rs, which are a mix of R, L and W. Ask Douglas Lwanga how many times he is called “Douglas Ranga” and doesn’t realise the difference.
At the very most, I expected to get a nice job.
I got off the Akamba bus (late 90’s version of Uganda Airlines), rode a matatu (late 90’s what we had instead of Ubers) to my mother’s house, typed up some application letters, emailed them to the top advertising firms in the city then lay down on the carpet and began to watch Kenyan television.
It was after six months supine on her carpet vegetating in the glow of her TV that mum chased me out.
She started by asking me what I was doing there.
I replied, the fatty porridge neurons misfiring wildly, that I was waiting for a job.
She said, “You left a job in Kampala and came to waste my carpet ogling my TV? Get up and go back.”
(I should point out that my internship was basically the bomb. I was really good. I was an intern with a newspaper column, you be there.)
She didn’t ask aloud whether she had raised a man or a skinny, shabby house plant that was going to root in her sitting room for six months, showering only every other day, but, as I may have mentioned, she was and is a very wise woman. So she must have thought the question. And probably didn’t ask it because she already knew the answer.
So I packed my things, nze Son of Nagawa, and returned to this stinking dump of roadkill dogs and public urination of yours.
Mbu Kampala. More like “Dump”ala.
My first stop right off the bus was the New Vision. I had no plan of getting a job there. I still thought I was going to get a job in advertising.
Let me tell you why advertising: Advertising is writing work, but it is easy writing work. You can work for eight months to produce two sentences, usually something inane and unimaginative built around the phrase “your one stop” something or the other, but you get paid for the whole eight months.
Press work was different. Newspapers expect five hundred words from you in one day, and you can’t fall back on cliches unless you are one Sagara — you have to be creative.
The only reason I was at New Vision offices was it was near the Akamba terminal and so I went there to say hi to the friends I made during internship and/or see if any of them had any leads on where I could stay.
So, there I was in the Vision courtyard, skinny, unfashionably dressed, perennial baseball cap over the afore-described porridge mix, backpack slung over my shoulder containing all my life’s belongings, chiefly cassette tapes, novels, even more unfashionable clothing, extra batteries and five hundred 1998 UGX, which mum had kicked me out with, when up barreled Simon Kaheru, who was then Sunday Vision deputy editor, right hand of the legendary Joachim Buwembo.
Simon didn’t walk around, he barelled. He moved with the force of herds of buffalo. He was brash, urgent, and threatened the kinetic energy of an earthquake.
He was also a genius and so instead of running away I stayed to talk, or rather, to be talked at by, or rather, to be talked at from him.
He was joined in seconds, if memory doesn’t play mischief on me, by then-company secretary Robert Kabushenga. I don’t need to describe the force of Robbo’s presence. You already know that he is a mountain of a man, in the sense of: who argues with mountains. That is not a question.
Simon said, “You’re back?” The question mark was a mere formality. “Bazanye is back,” he informed Robbo, who had just arrived.
This is when Robbo, who was yet to become Mr Kabushenga to me, turned, faced me like Muhavura faces scrawny little punks, and asked, “Do you have a phone?”
The answer was that it was 1998. MTN had only just arrived in town and made cellphones not even affordable, just less unaffordable. Their cheapest piece cost five hundred shillings: all the money I had. The money I was supposed to use to find a place to stay and food to eat while I job-search.
The answer I gave was, “Umm, no.”
He turned around to go off and do some busy Kabushengaring. Such is Kabushenga–always going somewhere to do something that is urgent and vital that does not permit the squandering of time with young boys in Red Sox caps.
Before he turned he instructed, “Go and get one and come back.”
I remember feeling as if I was reeling in the aftermath of something massive and cataclysmic like those that happen in movies starring Dwayne Johnson, where the robots have decimated four US States. I didn’t even get to stutter the first syllable of the question “Why” before Simon scribbled down his and Robbo’s numbers so that when I get the phone and report for duty I can inform them without wasting time. This whole conversation, if at all it counts as a conversation, had proven that wasting time was not something these men did.
So I left the Vision, propelled perhaps by the force of these two men and their command, or by the fact that I am very much my mother’s son and, dumb idiot though I was then, I was still wise enough to know that I had just wandered into the leading media company in the country and been given a job instantly.
Now, as anyone caught in the world of shrieking hyenas called marketing will tell you, branding is an actual, real force, and the name of a thing, circumstance or person can determine its success as much as the immediately evident value of the thing circumstance or person itself.
Marketing people are alchemists– their unique power is to believe absurd and illogical things and believe them so hard that they become true. Marketing people made “Lite” beer actually get bought by humans with real human mouths. Repeatedly.
And “Lite” beer tastes like it is the piss expelled by weak, sad and broken-hearted men after they have drunk real beer.
The case of Mr Opolot Apollo is a case of a marketing man’s faith.
Apollo was a thief. A mugger, one would say, if not for the fact of his cowardice, which ensured he never actually mugged anyone.
He made up for it the lack of courage with his cunning, however. He would wait in dark bushes on lonely pathways after curfew for yuppies heading home on foot. Once he identified one who looked likely to own a valuable phone he would suddenly bark harshly from the shadows.
“Gwe falla gwe.
“Don’t run. If we have to chase you we will catch you and we will melee you with our mitayimbwa, yannastan. Stand still there. Don’t turn around.”
At this point the victim either did run, in which case, of course, Apollo, having no actual colleagues, and therefore no recourse, would sigh, sit back down in his ditch and wait for the next one, or the victim would believe the ruse, that he was in fact surrounded by armed thugs, and would therefore stop in his tracks, at attention like a boy scout.
Here Apollo would bark again.
“Take out the phone and put it on the ground. Don’t turn around. Put the phone on the ground.”
It would not often take long, often just an instant for the victim to complete the calculations of which was worth more– intact skull surface un-smashed by mitayimbwa vs his or her phone– and comply.
Apollo would bark, “Now run!”
When the coast was clear Apollo would slink out of his hiding place, pick up the phone, extract the simcard, which he would magnanimously leave at the scene of the crime in case the victim came back (It is a new culture phone thieves are trying to introduce in Uganda where they leave the sim card on the ground. Just out of courtesy. They know getting your number replaced is such a hassle in Uganda that losing the simcard is worse than losing the iphone.)
Simon Peter Kawanga was a shiftless con artist, a leech whose only talent was identifying other people’s talent and using it to his advantage. He was the one to whom the phone muggers of that suburb brought their loot for disposal.
SP knew how to find phone thieves and how to find people who buy stolen phones and this described his job the month he and Apollo’s acquaintance grew. They were not close friends, just business associates, and that is why it was so many weeks before he found out that the skinny, short, wispy fellow with the skin so dark it was as if it was itself made of the shadows he hid in at work, was not just named Apollo, but also Opolot.
And since election season was approaching, SP came to the conclusion that led to the shave, the facial scrub, the suit, the tie, and the photographs of all these combined that came to adorn posters all over the suburb.
From being an invisible member of the local community, lurking in bushes, Apollo became one of it’s most visible.
Vote Londa Opolot Apollo for MP. Development is every Ugandan’s right.
“What if I win?” Apollo had asked, his main objection to the plan when SP first broached it.
“You won’t,” SP had replied with convincing finality that set Apollo’s mind at ease in that regard.
“Then why are we even standing?” Apollo had asked.
“Because your name is Apollo Opolot. You sound just like a political candidate should.”
“So why are we…”
“Campaign crowds,” SP answered. SP knew how to close questions in a way few Ugandans that aren’t conmen did. Satisfactorily.
Apollo had never seen that much money before. It wasn’t that much– just enough to get the salon treatment, buy the suit, take the photo and print the posters, but soon after he saw it it was whisked away by SP and his cronies, who were to then get busy effecting the cosmetic changes to be photographed and publicised and transform Apollo the low life thug into a high class thug, i.e. politician, but it was important for Apollo to see it to lay eyes on it. It incites greed and is therefore good for motivation. Plus it tempted away any doubt that would have stemmed the establishment of absolute confidence in the idea that SP knew what he was doing.
Apollo’s poster said he was an NUP candidate, but he never asked why he had never met Bobi Wine or even Joel Senyonyi. He just figured out for himself that SP had covered all the meetings on his behalf.
He just climbed aboard the flat bed of the Isuzu and smiled and waved as it dragged through the suburb traffic blaring Kyarenga and Bada, pausing only at intervals for the raggedy youth hanging off the railings to shout “Peeepopawa!! Peeeoppopawa!” before the music would resume.
His first rally was a success. It was attended by a horde of angry market women, boda boda pilots with frowns so thick he secretly wondered how their helmets ever fit, a few elderly men and women bursting with resentment at what the world and their lives had come to and here and there a policeman looking lazy, content and not only recently well-fed, but absent minded as well, as if lost in daydreams of the next good feeding that would follow this rally.
Apollo had been trained for the rally. There wasn’t much work to do. Just slightly adjust his professional bark and use it to deliver a few scripted platitudes featuring the words “enough”, “the people”, “change”, and “time is now” into a microphone attached to a speaker that produced such overtweeted and indecipherable sound that even he couldn’t understand himself.
Not that it mattered. The crowd cheered every time his DJ interspersed his muffled speech with a snippet of Kiwani or Kyarenga.
Apollo was a bit surprised when he did his first rally in the suburb on the other side of the valley, because this time his posters were yellow and his ragamuffin truck hanging youth were chanting “No change”.
He gave the same non-speech through the same word mangling microphone and got the same cheers when the speaker would sporadically clear up to allow the words “clinic” “school” and “road” to ring through.
The crowds looked happier here, each holding a bottle of soda and an empty kaveera with nothing left in it but grease.
The police were fewer, but still had the same expression as they did on all the other rallies.
Opolot Apollo could not deny that he was enjoying this adventure. Living in a hotel outside of town was only one of the better parts. It was a small lodge actually, discreetly hidden at the edge of a squirrel path off the road to Mukono which was probably not used to housing clients for more than a night. It looked like the sort of place that had hourly rates in the daytime. But it was far more luxurious than the squalor of his own ghetto hovel.
It was fun while it lasted.
But it didn’t last.
Simon Peter Kawanga was not a great brand name for an MP, but Simon Peter Kawanga was a savvy campaigner.
SP had made a killing. Small businesses had let go of donations that added up well when they were tantalised with the hope of an MP who would stifle and strangle any tax bills. SP didn’t tell anyone that Apollo would reduce taxes. He said Apollo would catch any tax law and filibuster, delay, obfuscate and bureaucratise it to death before it could hit the ground.
SP had collected from other candidates who were wary of a people power truck showing up on the same day as their campaign.
And of course SP had a team of pickpockets busy at work at every rally.
One Monday morning in November Apollo realised that it was three pm and he had not been collected from his room. He activated his VPN and opened his WhatsApp. SP was last seen two whole nights before.
By five pm he was still on a single grey tick.
At six pm he was told the number he had dialled was currently switched off.
Opolot Apollo finally realized that he was not going to be called any honourable member, but there is honour among some thieves, so there was at least enough money in his trousers, from the last time SP had handed him a wad of cash, ostensibly in case his fellow hotel guest asked for extra fees for any extra services Apollo might suddenly require, for him to grab a bike to a bus depot and beat a hasty exit to a small town on the border with South Sudan, from where he could work his way up to Juba, where there were plenty of iPhones being carried through lonely dark streets.
This story is made up. It’s all fiction and insomnia. I don’t even think this sort of thing is possible– I am sure the electoral commission has measures in place to prevent it.
I just couldn’t sleep and writing long stretches makes me tired. Okay. Goodnight. NRM Oyee or whatever.
But seriously, really, when it comes down to it, as people, down to the basics, do you really think this man believes that?
The words are open fuses, and can be exploded into a number of implications but when it comes down to it, with us in our rooms alone with no phone, no blue bird, no one to preen for, no one to threaten us, nothing to attack, nothing to defend, just us and our honest simple inner truth, do we really believe that Patrick “Salvado” Idringi thinks that there is no police brutality in Uganda?
Or that what brutality there is is acceptable?
Or that… you know, every other interpretation I try to make of this statement just becomes wilder and more implausible. Unless the man is secretly a Sith Lord from the Dark Side (Darth Shrek, perhaps) I can’t see Idringi honestly believing that asking police brutality in Uganda to stop is far fetched.
I just cannot picture it, and I can picture Salvado doing many things. I can picture Salvado sucker-punching Kilmonger and taking the powers of the Black Panther from him and then driving around Wakanda in a royal convoy of pimped out Kira Smack EVs with vibranium rims, for example.
But I cannot imagine Idringi actually disagreeing with the rest of us and our laws that say even a single extrajudicial killing by police is already fetched way, way past too far.
I can see him typing it out — he evidently did. It’s right there on twitter in black and blue– but I can’t see him believing it.
In fact I strongly suspect that in Salvado’s opinion lawful arrest, due process and fair trial must be granted to all citizens before any punishment for any suspected crime begins. In life there is what is is obvious vs what is ludicrous. Usually we avoid the latter and cleave to the former. So I believe that Salvado is a normal person who doesn’t want cops to kill chaps fwaa.
But twitter is not real life. It takes a few nasty experiences and a few painful lessons to finally learn but usually we finally get it and understand that what is said on twitter may behave as if it is the same thing as what we have happening in real life but this is a nasty ruse. Don’t fall for it. Do not ever take twitter seriously.
Twitter is like enguli: enguli ingested through the thumbs. It is like mainlining enguli through our fingertips and straight through a special twitter artery which takes a shortcut that avoids the rational and reasoning portions of the brain and goes straight to the gut, where all the wild animal instincts and impulses and emotions slither and slink. Then, like enguli, it begins to excite the vanity and the narcissism within us. Once these are properly incited they rise and begin to trick the higher functions into rationalising them. Waragi makes you think, but it makes you think susuling off the balcony is a good idea. Twitter, in a similar fashion, makes you think pissing 280 characters into the whole internet is a great idea.
Especially political twitter, intellectual twitter and woke twitter. Those ones? Ayayaya!
It starts with this tendency we have to believe that, if everyone is of one view, and you alone are of a different view, this means you have a unique awareness, that you know something they don’t, and you are cleverer than them.
Of course if everyone says the sky is the same colour as jeans and you see the sky as being the same colour as a giraffe, it doesn’t actually mean you are a genius, it means you are colourblind, so differing from conventional thought doesn’t necessarily indicate rare genius. Nevertheless, the temptation to deviate from common opinion still offers a quick and easy way to satisfy your inner desire to appear intelligent.
So when a person who already had this impulse to disagree with what is trending saw “#StoppolicebrutalityinUganda” and surrendered to that twitter heroin…
But I don’t know Salvado personally, so I can’t say for sure that he is just trying to feel clever.
I don’t know if he falls in the category of those stuck in the twitter trap, but I do know that people who do fall into it will stand their ground on the most absurd position just because the opposite position is popular. So desirous are they of the feeling that they are the iconoclast, the renegade, the maverick, the different thinker, that they will defend the most self-evidently stupid idea.
Salvado may, in actual fact, be a fascist who believes that the police have the right to immediately execute civilians caught breaking curfew and that asking for arrest, charges and court cases before we let them kill us is far-fetched. Or maybe he is not aware of the fact that Ugandans are frequently beaten and brutalised if not murdered by the police and that this has been going on since before, during and after lockdown, which is when the hashtag begun. Whatever his reason…
…I replied to his tweet.
I usually don’t. I never engage on twitter unless it is fun and games. I only go to twitter to be amused, entertained, promote Chandler and Frasier books and then leave. I don’t see twitter as a place to have any useful discussion on any issue of any substance.
But I responded to Idringi.
I fired off a thread of sarcastic replies to his tweet and now that I think of what I have done, a cold chill comes over me. Now I have to deal with the notifications and the responses. Oh no. What have I done. That is not a question. Now I have penetrated the wrong echo chambres. And some of them will reply! Oh no! My data!
I know why I did it. It is because the same instinct that would cause someone to ball up their fists and punch their keyboards all-capsing about how if they can’t shoot us whenever they fucking feel like it there is no point in having cops in first place, the same instinct that would make a guy see a trend against police brutality, swish their cape and twirl haughtily off in the opposite direction, that is a very common instinct. So common that I have it, too.
The desire to be right.
The desire to be correct.
To be right.
Oooh! It’s sweet sweet sweet dopamine! Being right on Twitter feels so goooooood!
So good that when someone is wrong on social media I usually have to close the page, switch off the phone, leave the room and sometimes break my fingers to resist typing back.
You must never type back. It’s a trap. And it’s made even more seductive for how cunningly simple it is. When somebody says something whose fault is easily demonstrated all you have to do is type two sentences: “Actually, you will find the statistics show…” that’s all you need to do, and the wrongness will be gone. The rightness, your rightness, will take its place.
But if you have been on social media any time since 2012, you know this is not what happens. The other guys also want to be right. And they will fight you about it. They will dig in. They will do battle. They will defend their shit aggressively. They will use all kinds of weapons. They will come at you with diversions and distractions and digressions, each one confusing and clouding the question further and further, until you, who is also fighting to be right, find yourself lost in a mist, wondering how you got from debating whether Taiwan isn’t China to arguing whether mixed race people are more likely to be gay.
It’s best to stay away, but it is hard to.
When the dust dies down, after all the bullshit, I don’t believe Salvado tweeted that in a bid to promote police brutality in Uganda.
And I confess that I don’t believe that tweeting at him will have any influence at all. We just both gave in to a nasty instinct that makes messy things worse.
So since we are somewhere safe now, let’s talk like sane people.
Compatriots, there are good cops out there, man, and they are fighting the bad cops as well. And they need the support of good citizens in this fight. So let’s hashtag, but let us also believe in our brothers and sisters in the force who are there to protect and preserve the security of their countrymen. Yes, let’s report cases. Let’s make noise about brutality. But let’s not be entirely cynical. Let’s believe that we, us, and the police force together, can change things.
Also, if you are nabbed by a crooked cop and you are going to capture a video, make sure it is a live feed. They can’t delete those.
I was a professional writer for twenty years. That’s a long time.
If you are a “lit”, “swaggerific” youth, bathing in all the glory and àdulation my current occupation smothers you with (wait. Hold that point. I am going to take one of many parenthetical breaks. I write like that now. In short bursts for short attentions. That is to say, I write ads now. It’s deep slumming, miles beneath me. My talents are a hawk with a shovel digging a tunnel underneath the rift valley. Time and my own lack of foresight clipped my wings. I an old man. A dull head among windy spaces. )
But for twenty years I was a wonder in full flight, from sky to sky, airborne and loving it as much as my readers did, because I was very very very good.
Twenty years is a long time. To be young is to lack perspective so you need my help to understand this. If you are in your twenties you need to understand how long twenty years is.
When you slipped out of a fallopian tube the night the other constituent parts of you shot out of a pair of testes, I was already out there typing for money.
While you gestated, curled up and asleep, formed a tail then reabsorbed it, when you chose which genes to keep and which to abandon — your father gave you a strong will, your mother a mild and timid demeanor and you picked one and dispatched the other– when you were doing this, I was already out there typing for money.
After you were finally born, while you spent that first year doing nothing but crying and crapping at the most inconvenient moments and driving your poor mother crazy, I spent the whole time with my fingers gliding over keyboards, making words dance.
You learned to walk and started doing it, shakily and badly, falling over often, while I was clicking save and send. You were in shorts and socks the same colour as everyone else in the school when I was spinning spiels of stories out of nothing but my neuroses, the sunlight, and spiderwebs.
When you finally learned how to read, I was already there to be read, my face a cartoon, my name a bold marquee on my own page in the best selling newspaper magazine in the land.
When you were pissing the bed in boarding school, when you broke your voice or had your first period, when you first came to be aware, or rather, (because it usually happens in the other direction) when the awareness came to you that the world is not yours, but that it owned itself, and you were confused and angry and adolescent, I was out there arguing with editors about my commas.
And when you got to legal maturity and the gates of adulthood, when you were finally able to count as a proper human person, I was getting restless. You were just getting started. I was beginning to wind up.
So now we meet. I have been writing your entire life. You missed most of it. Some of the best paragraphs. But now, here we are.
You know me because I have always been visible somewhere in your life– the cartoon or the photo in your peripheral vision (excuse the pun) of the newspaper every weekend.
You are what? Twenty three now? I was twenty three when I started. I know something about being twenty three. I know that twenty-three-year-old people know nothing at all. Certainly not how little they know.
I have not been a famous writer for some years now. I quit my column and vanished into an invisible wilderness, a dark forest, Selva Oscura some call it, and have not yet reemerged.
I still write, though. Plus, I am forty five now, so, going by unbroken precedence in my field, I am better than I ever was.
You want to be a writer too? You want to be good? Or you want to be famous? Or you want to be rich? Or perhaps all three?
I can help.
The Artfield Institute called me and asked me to do a couple of days of sharing what I can. It’s going to be on October 19th and 20th.
I will tell you everything I know, every secret of success and every secret of failure (The failures are especially enlightening: like why I ditched Anita Everything, Suki and ULK, why Ballad of Black Bosco was free to download and now I can’t use it to get an authors fellowship, why I can’t lie and why I can’t tell the truth, why I can’t be Charles Onyango Obbo or Bikozulu or Jennifer Makumbi, and why I never called Binyavanga.)
I could also tell you how nothing feels as good as making a story, and how words illuminated my darkest times and how reaching people with a funny paragraph gave a mediocre life like mine a sense of meaning and why this crap literally saves my life every day.
I’ll tell you how to be famous and how words can get you laid (then heartbroken, of course) and I will tell you what not to do so that by not doing it you become wealthy.
Remember when I said I write ads for a living now? I thought of writing an ad for this master class.
But then, nah. This isn’t something to advertise. Let Artfield advertise it. They are the ones selling it. I’m not going to sell you anything. I’m going to give you my twenty years.
I have not written for a while. And am not going to for a while longer. Ironically, the reason for this is that I have just become even more prolific. I started working again and now I am too busy to sit down and write blog posts.
I am too busy with proposals and presentations and edits and zoom meetings and concept edits and putting the pins in that for a minute now when the boss suggests that course of action, which is every time the dumbest fu** in the Zoom meeting thinks they have a idea.
That is not an idea. That is your brain doing with synaptical and neural energy what intestines do with methane and undigested protein. That is a fart being formed and seeking a way out.
It has been hard being away from this for so long. Even though, to be frank, between just the two of us, I had kind of planned to take a break anyway…
Because this is the thing.
The difference between a good writer and a great writer is not style. It’s sincerity.
Now, me? I have got style. I’ve got moves, baby, I groove. I have funk and rhythm. I have style.
I perform a song and dance for your amusement, mostly, because I like validation. But I don’t actually write, in the sense that a Writer writes. I don’t tell you what I am thinking, feeling, what I really am behind the screen or beyond the keys.
But guys, I am about to turn 46 years old. Technically, I am now an old writer. It is time to come of age. I have earned the right.
So, I am going to leave for a bit longer and collect myself, and return with my kanzu and kufi. It’s going to be brutal. You have four weeks to get ready.
I was looking for this thing I wrote about Independence last year and found this thing I wrote about Independence in 2012. You guys, I was hilarious.
I had told these two impudent teenagers of mine them over and over again that no one watches Lil Wayne music videos in my house. If that meant I was a hater, then let me be a hater and, true to my calling, let me hate. We had a long argument about this and I remember Chandler’s final submission: “Tunechi swagg too deep for yall!” To which I responded, “My intellect operates in coherent English, not in whatever language the word ‘swagg’ occurs.” Then I turned the channel and walked off with the remote control.
Little did I know they would figure out the secret very few teens in Uganda know — which is that you can actually operate a TV without the remote control. It is an unfortunate result of their inheriting my intelligence and their mother’s cunning; but they managed to find the buttons on the TV itself and switched the station back on to Lil Wayne.
I had to step in to both assert my authority (by turning the station the hell off YMCMB) and punishing them (by turning it into a documentary about Ugandan agricultural development since independence. Yes, you hapless teenagers. Let your eyes watch agricultural development. Let them bleed from this.)
Then: I thought they would writhe on the floor in agony but instead, and you could have bashed my head in with a leaf of lettuce just then, they just actually sat there and PAID REAL ATTENTION. Flabbers have never been so violently gasted in the history of flabbergasting. Chandler and Fraiser were actually interested in this documentary.
They even had questions to ask me after it ended.
Fraiser went first: “Dad, what was Uganda like before independence?”
Still shocked, I replied, “How should I know?”
“Have you forgotten?” asked Chandler. “Maybe you could check the archives and see what you used to write in your column in those years.”
Imagine: How old did these kids think I was, banange?
“As old as the hills?” suggested Fraiser.
“As old as the ancient songs of sadness from the African heart?” opined Chandler.
“Yeah, e’en unto the dawn of time whence thine people spake thusly,” went Fraiser, who then ducked to dodge the shoe I flung at him.
“I was not born in the sixties, Uganda was independent when I got here!” I snorted.
“But what were the old days like? I heard from an economics expert who wrote on a prestigious news site that things were much cheaper then than they are now,” said Fraiser, passing my shoe back to me. “I bet you could get an iPhone for like sh200.”
“Yes, they were,” I replied, “but we didn’t call it an iPhone. We called it foolscap paper. And if you wanted to send a person an email, or an sms or a whatsapp, you would use a stamp instead of an internet bundle.”
Futhermore: I continued, now that I had their attention. “Uganda was excellent when I was your age. We used to focus on our studies and we never wasted time wearing skinny jeans and listening to Lil Wayne.”
“Who did you listen to?” they asked.
“Jay-Z and Busta Rhymes,” I replied.
“You are kidding me. Jay-Z and Busta were there in the sixties?”
What is more embarrassing than walking around in public with your dress stuck in your knickers, asked a highly-valued and respected member of our Ugandan online community recently.
I say highly valued and respected because she is an inspiration; she is a source of national pride; she brings joy to all her fans, and on days like today, when some of us are stuck in a takeaway in the rain, and we had come to get takeaway because we don’t eat in people’s public restaurants because #StaySafe, duh, but now we cannot escape to do our social distancing bulungi because of all the rain; at times like this, when we have to run to the furthest, most inhospitable corner of the takeway– there is a corner there that looks neglected enough; I see cobwebs there and smell cockroach droppings and it looks like the part of the premises where nobody ever goes, not even to clean, so I deduce that if no one has been there, no one has put their covid there, so that is where I go to hide from possible infection– I have long sentences in my second paragraphs these days, don’t I?– so I run to that corner with my phone with the intention of watching Ugandan tiktoks until either the rain or the pandemic stops, and for this I am thankful to Martha Kay, because even though she isn’t alone in its initiation, she was pivotal in the starting of this gangsta shit. She alone is a watershed moment in Uganda’s modern history and one of the most significant of our compatriots.
I have not gone overboard with the praise. Game has just recognised game.
What I admire the most about Martha Kagimba is that she actually made money by being talented on social media. Do you know how hard that is? Have you seen how many talented Ugandans we have on social media and have you calculated the ratio of those vis the ones who have actually earned a single peanut from it? Kagimba is a unicorn, man.
What is more embarrassing than kapintos, she asks.
The circumstance described is known as kapintos (Citation needed) and occurs when the back of a person’s garment gets caught in their buttcrack. It is usually the result of not wearing underwear and then sitting kisajja on a bodaboda that then rides over humps such as those found in Najjera, Bugolobi, Bukasa, Mutungo, Nsambya and Kampala in general. Kampala roads are a series of potholes followed by a series of speedbumps. Kampala roads have speedbumps like popup ads on a copyright infringing website so kapintos has a high incidence among its boda passengers.
Speedbumps everywhere these days. Honestly I prefered the potholes of old.
Take the case of Naguru potholes, for example, which my car and I used to fall into daily as I attempted to drive to work. Say what you will about how vicioiusly you want them to go fuck themselves, but at least they offered variety and adventure and some amusement. Because they moved.
Yes, Naguru potholes used to move. One would be seen on the right side of the road in the morning as you drive to work, so you think you will dodge it on the way back, therefore, because you will be on the opposite side of the road. But no. It crosses the road during the day and is waiting for you in the evening.
They also multiplied, like amoeba and paramecium, and one pothole would quickly spawn all over the road with the result that, within a week, you have fourteen.
While generally caused through the process described above, it can also arise under other means. Some have achieved kapintos with trousers. Even jeans. Some have managed kapintos in their underwear alone, particularly boxers, while the outer garments are unaffected. Some, I have heard, even sustain kapintos in the front and there are rumours of a fellow from lower Makindye sides who has kapintos on the side.
You ask, how, Sway? But you don’t want to know the answer. The person who told me the story began to explain how the guy had two sets of testicles, one on each hip, and how these would catch the folds of… I stopped him before the trauma embedded itself too deep because wisdom is not the same as knowledge. Sometimes it is more wise to know less.
What, children, is more embarrassing than having Kapintos?
Let me tell you a story. There I was, a nice, chivalrous, kind-hearted civic-minded gentleman walking up Luwum Street one day, not even minding my own business because I was a journalist and it was my business to mind everyone else’s business. I wasn’t ogling people’s bums, I was being observant of society around me and the community at large.
That it just so happened that somewhere in the scope of my observation lay a couple of corporate chicks looking fwiiine was not reason to cast aspersions on my professional integrity. I was not ogling. I don’t ogle.
At least not on the job. I would ogle in clubs at night on my free time.
So when I noticed the woman walk by with the fold cleaving her two bums, it was not just because they were very nice bums. It was because they were amidst the societal environment I was there to observe.
But observing is not the only role of a reporter. Sometimes, when you see a problem, you have to speak out, so I felt it was my duty, and you understand, especially you, Dr Nyanzi, I felt that I could not just stand there and say nothing. It was my duty to speak out.
I made the completely innocent, benign and yea, even patriotic decision to say to this lady, “Madam, good evening. I am a local journalist. In the course of my duties on this street it has come to my attention that your otherwise impeccably balanced and resplendently-clad bums are being invaded by that scourge of fashion known colloquially as kapintos. If you are not from around here, even though, if I had to call upon my experience to make an informed guess from the shape of the bums we are currently discussing, I would say you are from Masaka District, the northern part, above Lake Nabugabo, but if I am wrong and you do not know the local term kapintos, then, what I am trying to bring to your attention is that your dress is creased up into your buttcrack. You might want to adjust it. Or not. That is up to you.”
So I began walking up to the lady. She saw me and began walking faster. I walked faster too, trying to catch up. She noticed that I seemed to be running after her and sped up.
Did I mention that she had been talking on her mobile phone and that this was a time when Luwum Street was notorious arena for phone-snatchers? Niggas were like Steph Curry on Luwum Street. They would snatch your phone while you were in the middle of a conversation and disappear like vampires before you had even finished lolling at what Bridget just said.
So that is what is more embarrassing than kapintos. Trying to tell someone that they have kapintos and getting mistaken for a phone thief.
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This is a horror story. Very violent. Thick with gore, bloodspattered and gruesome. It is all cruelty, no mercy, just murder, murder, murder and death. Netflix donneveniknow wasgono. This is the story of the time I had a chicken in my flat.
As all horror tales begin, so did mine, with a peaceful, sedate, virtually rural life in Kyaliwajjala. Kyali in those days was very backward: I hear that you now have malls and swimming pools, and there are rumours that solar powered streetlights have been sighted in the background of some selfies set by the main street, but in the old days, the neighbourhood was, though technically, within the greater Kampala area, so underdeveloped that we even had wildlife.
We had flying roaches, we had millipedes and, most telling, we had monkeys in the hood.
There is a difference between urban animals like miyaayu or stray dogs and wildlife. Stray dogs know their place, but the Kyali monkeys were categorically wildlife in the sense of how casually disrespectful their attitude towards humans was. The stray dog sitting in the middle of a panya road will get out of the way when it sees a human approach. The Kyali monkey of those days would continue chewing its kikajjo and look at you for two seconds to decide if you were relevant to any aspect of its life before concluding that the answer was nil then turning back to its sugar cane.
When you said, “Shoo!”, it would, in a reversal of the urban norm, look at you with a contemptuous glance, as if you are the one who was kumanyiraring it.
Then the monkey would say, “No, you shoo.”
In its language, of course.
None of them saw us as a threat in any way, not even to their ecology or habitat. We were so bucolic we didn’t even litter plastic bottles or buveera because we were so rural, our rolex guys wrapped their wares in endagala and our nightly inebriation was served in endeku, not bottles much less satchets.
But that was not the only un-urban thing about life in the area. There was my neighbour across the compound. A dude named Tony.
Tony had just arrived from a hamlet outside Fort Portal. This meant that he was not as savvy to the local culture. He did not know that yuppies in Kampala apartment compounds kept to themselves and did not socialise, so he just went ahead and made friends with all of us, myself included. Like a villager in a village, Tony would often barge into our houses and do the unspeakable– actually visit! As in sit down and stay inside for extended periods of time.
One other neighbour had the balls to be appropriately metropolitan and stake her territory. I don’t know her name because I am a Kampalan too, so I don’t know my neighbours’ names, but she had told him to leave.
“Gwe, Tony, where is your house, is it inside mine, then why are you bringing yourself, no no no,” she said, loudly enough for us to hear the words, if not the punctuation, “I don’t live with men, you don’t even know how to use toilets, like the seat, up or down, and then ever knocking when I have just got my Javas, since when do I allow, no no no. Tony, your side is there those ends far away, me don’t disturb me.”
So Tony learned a valuable lesson about foreign cultures that day. If you want to hang out with your Kyaliwajjala neighbours in Kampala, do it at the nightclub in Bugolobi.
It took the lesson a while to sink in, though, and while he avoided Number Six like she was the syllabus supervisor from Slytherin, he was free and friendly with the rest of us, treating us the way you would expect from foreigners who have believed the widespread rumour that Ugandans are friendly and hospitable.
One early evening he arrived at my door dressed in a kanzu and coat, complete with the little kamuli in the lapel. Tony had just returned from a Kwanjula and was on his way to the kasiki.
The kanzu, he observed, had tempered his male chauvinism. At first it had inspired envy– what a comfort to be able to wear something like a dress: the freedom and the space to move your legs was an unexpected pleasure and he particularly enjoyed how manspreading is made exponentially easier in a kanzu.
The lower parts of his brain were quietly deciding to be suspicious of women for not telling us about dresses before, and wondering what else they were not telling us, when another facet of information boogied itself into the disco– a kanzu is restrictive: It limits the length of your stride to the length of the kanzu. You can either learn this the hard way, by tripping and falling, or the less hard way by almost tripping and almost falling and then, henceforth, walking with the corner of the kanzu clutched in your hand, above your knee.
I look forward, as our cultures evolve, to kanzus coming equipped with slits that increase mobility.
Tony, having been part of the groom’s entourage, did in fact fall, because when the ceremonial kwanjula chicken was handed over, it did not go gently into that good night. It sqwawked, “If you punkassniggas want me, come get me! Thug For Life!” then flapped valiantly and made a break for it. The entourage quickly broke formation from the accustomed grace and elegance of these Ganda ceremonies, hiked up their kanzus and set off like rugby halfbacks in pursuit.
It was Tony who finally caught the renegade bird with a dive that would have made any goalkeeper proud. There was two stains on his kanzu now– grass and mud– but he had caught the bird, salvaged the ceremony and therefore, as far as he was concerned, saved the marriage. He even, as per his narration, secured rights to have the couple’s first son named after him.
He told me all this before finally getting to the point which was, “Keep this for me till I come back.”
By “this” he meant the chicken.
He handed me the chicken.
And then he dove back into the car with the other kwanjula attendees and they vroomed off to continue their revelry at the venue of the kasiki. I didn’t even know so many Masaka babes could fit into one VW Polo, but I was left with other things to consider, like the fact that there was now a live chicken in my house.
I looked at it.
It attempted to look back at me, but chicken eyes are on the sides of their heads, one on the left side, one on the right, yet us humans have both in the front.
“I can already tell that there is no point in me doing this, but the lack of a point has never stopped me from doing the things I do, so I am just going to go ahead and outline the rules that govern this household. Number one is that around here we are law-abiding and moral so smoking of marijuana and abuse of other recreational drugs is not permitted on the premises. Use the balcony cos weed smoke gives me cramps. Secondly, we uphold the constituion of Uganda and the international human rights charter as regards to freedom of expression and therefore, naturally, we also spiritedly believe, with the same verve and vigour, in freedom to shut the fuck up. The latter shall be enforced whenever deemed necessary. The third rule is no music in this house by anyone named Lil Anything.”
I said all of this to the chicken just as a matter of course though I knew it would have no effect. As we have already established, this hen and I were never going to see eye to eye.
Then Tony vanished. He disappeared. The day he gave me his chicken was the last time I ever heard from him. There are rumours that he had gambling debts which had grown to the point where one’s options are narrowed to an edge even thinner than “Either pay up or die”. The option of paying up having been removed from the table, it is now either die or flee to DRC, change your name and start a new life in Kisangani under an assumed identity.
I had been looking after his bird for a week and a half before I saw the landlord’s goons dragging Tony’s furniture out of his house and taking camera photos of it to upload on OLX and OLX-like facebook sites. That is when the circumstances were explained to me: I had been keeping this bird for a man who was never to return.
If I had known I would not have put up with it at all.
Having a chicken in the house, much less having one for ten days, had brought many zibs.
I had dealt with the two main problems you would expect– I sellotaped its mouth shut at night so it wouldn’t make noise while I was asleep and my thesis that pampers don’t have to work on only humans was proven accurate, but besides these, there were other problems.
For example, I kept it indoors. I couldn’t let it out of the house because, and if this blog post resurfaces ten years from now when cancel culture has reached the point where we are now dealing with animal rights, this is the one that will kill my career:
I couldn’t let it out of the house because there were many random chicken in Kyaliwajjala and they all look the same to me. I couldn’t tell them apart. If Hennessy (I named her) got out of the house and into the general population I would not be able to identify her and bring her back.
Being indoors would have been fine if she had a sense of how to respect boundaries, but she was worse than a cat, and you know how cats are.
You know how cats are. Who among us has not borne the trauma wrought by a cat that wanders into the bedroom while we are making love, and then starts casually licking its arse? We’ve all been there. Come on, it can’t just be me.
And there’s still no facebook support group.
Hennessy was shameless. Hennessy would stroll around the dinner table while I was eating rolexes and cluck at me.
“Don’t even judge. It’s not like you were even related,” I would sneer, but I have to admit, I did feel a bit guilty.
She broke my favourite whiskey glass. The one that cradled the last sip better than all the others.
But disaster struck on the third of a consecutive series of nights when I was drinking myself to sleep after Peninah broke my heart.
She had dumped me in the most cruel way possible. By telling me the truth.
She had always wanted a guy with a full beard and she thought that after some time she would convince me to stop shaving and grow one out. I was a fool in love, so I told her, like an idiot, I told her, like a moron, I told her, instead of just going to Facco or asking Karitas if she has wigs that can do the job, I told her that some guys just don’t grow beards and that I was one of them. My genes only put hair on my chin and above my lip, nothing on the cheeks. I just blurted this out.
The least she could have done is tell me she was leaving me for another guy, but she just flat out said it, “Baz, I cannot love a man with no beard. It’s over between us.”
I felt worthless, I felt diminished. I felt humiliated. I felt broken into little pieces and crushed underneath a stiletto heel of shame by the cruelty of her words. My heart was a wreck. Three days. Three days of drinking myself to sleep.
Then this fucking chicken jumps onto the table and kicks over my favourite glass.
While I live in a suburb so rural that the best replacement possible is a tumpeco.
There were other things. Like after the first few days the pampers obviously needed changing. Yes Pampers. Plural. Hennessy was a random chicken, not my child, so I didn’t feel obliged to sustain her hygiene. I strapped on one pamper. When it began to pong, I just covered it with another. And so on. This is at best a short term solution but after seven days one has to confront the necessity of having to remove stacked layers of pampers filled with chicken shit.
I made a note that the next round I was going to take her to the local court and ask if there is any convict there who has done something bad enough to deserve a really disgusting punishment, and then have that person deal with Hennesy’s diapers. The smell of accumulated chicken shit in accumulated pampers is dehumanising. That is the kind of thing that makes you mean it when you say you will never do things again. Perfect crime deterrent.
No. First wait. First picture it. First picture it. Now you understand. Don’t throw up on my blog. Puke to the side.
It was after putting up with this for ten days that the landlord’s goon told me that Tony wasn’t coming back. Which means I didn’t have to keep this hen. Which meant I could get rid of it.
So I slaughtered her her and ate her. Hence the murder and gore.
I had this Chandler And Frasier story lying around for years. It is not new.
I had tried to self publish a few several years ago, but they came out of the printers looking like — well, I would rather give my work away than try to sell something that looked as crappy as that cheap print-job did.
There is a longer story to this: which involves why there are still four volumes left, but I shall keep that for when we both have the whiskey, the data, the wherewithal and the peace of mind for a long ramble.
But for now, without further ado, Wiggly Nankani Productions Presents, Straight From The Kitchen of Wampisi and Associates Publications, Chandler and Frasier Vol 3: From China With Love In which two Kampala teenagers find love, find heartbreak, and find the true meaning of R&B songs