This is the story of a man named Opolot Apollo.
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.