Why “Axa” is worse than “$$%!£!”

The last time I had to endure this thing that we called “axa” was when I still watched TV. Someone on screen was trying to be glamorous in those lifestyle shows we had. It was Showtime Magazine, I think. Or was it what Login became during and after Rabin? Whoever and whichever it was, the host of this show was very enthusiastic, very eager to impress herself so she flung wayward rs everywhere. She did not care that nobody needed them; she was determined to provide an excess of them.

It was very very very irritating. 

Luckily for us, Uganda’s economy and education system has developed since then and nowadays radio and TV stations can find and hire people who pronounce soft vowels naturally, saying, “But he bought a boat and a bat” like real bazungu. They do not need to pretend, because it is the way they always speak; they are not faking any of it. 

The new broadcasters can do this either because they were raised in ocs, or because they went to one of those international schools where the alumni all say, “Like, whaaaa? Like, furreal? Gidouta here! Whaaa?”

We no longer needed posers and fakers gibbering “That worse are curly worth are burr leave are corn floor” when “That was R. Kelly with I Believe I Can Fly” was all that was required of them.

Social media and greater internet access also helped to show media bosses what real American accents sounded like, and this contributed to closing the market on fake ones. At the very least, internet access allowed us to finally cancel R. Kelly.

The Ugandan slang term for fake accent doesn’t have a spelling, because we have never bothered, but it sounds like akza, or accsa. May I render it as “axxa” from here on?

The second most irritating thing about the fake axxers was how bad they were at it. They did not pronounce words in American ways, which was their goal, they just mispronounced everything. They had this stupidly stubborn notion that to speak like an American all they had to do was to draw their tongue back into the “R” position wherever a vowel was encountered and urs are rursurlt thur erndred urp srourndrng are burt lurk thurs.

Yes. TV show hosts and radio presenters, professionals hired and paid to speak, would deliberately speak badly. People who had the option of saying words properly would choose, intentionally, no gun to their head, to speak in gibberish instead. 

During the past ten years, real axxa got on air, and some of the speakers had real wit, real charm, and were worth listening to for what they had to say, not just how they said it. This astounded the media industry. “What? You mean it is content and not axxa that entertains listeners? What a shock!” 

The past generation of TV and radio presenters were just as taken aback, only they said “Wart a shark!” 

Once the programme directors realised that no axxa was even necessary, they got the confidence to hire people who speak in natural, crisp and clear, genuine, good-old, homegrown Ugandan accents.

Since that happened I even forgot what a faxxer sounded like. 

Until yesterday.

I would much rather have told you that I was in a cafe lunching on rice-beef when a bull barged in and killed me for eating its wife. I would rather tell you that one of the tomatoes sprang to life and insulted my choice of hat. I would rather say the beef I had ordered turned out to be grilled bat. 

But instead, this is what I have to tell you. I heard a faxxa. 

“&*%$^!!” I consequently said to myself.

I will not give you the actual word I said because some people find that language offensive, but just take that word of mine for it, &*%$^!! is not even half as offensive as the way this man was talking.

It was someone young with big hair, light skin and an iphone earbud poking out of each lobe. He was leaning inwards to talk to the girl he was with.

He was a Ugandan man. This was made more evident by the fact that he spoke too loudly. Ugandan men have no inside voices. That is why when you see a man and woman having a conversation outside the gate, while you are on the fourth floor balcony, you can hear every single word the guy says, but you cannot hear the woman. It is because he is a Ugandan man. Ugandan men do not have volume modulators. 

This Ugandan man was rwwrrwwwrreweerwering away, loving the sound of his own voice and the words it uttered, rrrrurrrling on and on and orrnrrr. 

I would have preferred it if he had just beaten me up, snatched my phone, milly-rocked and left. In fact, next time I am robbed, I will take that as consolation that at least the robber did not have a fake axxa.

This article is not about that fellow, so I will not dwell on him. In fact, the description I have given you is inaccurate so as to protect the identity of the guilty. This article is about the whole habit of axxa and why it irritates us, and why, if it doesn’t irritate you, it should.

Fake axxa is annoying on two levels. The first is the level of them just getting it wrong. 

In today’s world, there are several people who fake American accents and get renown and plaudits for it. Hugh Laurie. Nicole Kidman. Christian Bale. Margot Robbie. The last two boys to play Spider-Man in the movies, Tom Holland and Andrew Garfield. They have been hired and paid to not speak in their native accents, which are from Britain and Australia, but to speak like Americans. They delivered the goods and it was entertaining to the whole world because the difference between them and the axxa in my cafe was not just that it was called-for, but that they actually did it properly. Where an American would say “All I know is sometimes, if there’s too many white folks, I get nervous,” Daniel Kaluuya said, “All I know is sometimes, if there’s too many white folks, I get nervous.” And not, as a faxxers would blither, “Ore ll are nurr urs sormtrms rf thurr tire murnr rrrmrrrmnnrr rrrrn…” and then present the speech to you, awaiting your admiration, like a dog wagging its tail next to its puke.

Speaking of Hollywood, remember that Hollywood version of an African accent? That accent Hollywood actors do when they are called to portray Africans? Slow-paced with a tendency to veer left on the vowels? “Misteh Chechill, the independdence is awa reight es Efricans,” is what they say when their character is rebuffing the colonial Prime Minister

It is offensive because we don’t talk like that. There is no such thing as an African accent because there are too many things as an African accent and they are so different that you can’t amalgamate them. 

It would seem at first that the faxxa people are doing the reverse–it is Africans doing a bad American accent– but instead of this being a defiant retort, a fitting revenge, just desserts, it is the opposite. They talk like that because they think it is better speech. They talk like that because of a sycophantic, and, yes, slavish attitude to white things. They are house negroes of phonetics. The fake axxa is born of a personal belief on the part of the faxxer that speaking white is better than speaking like an African. It comes from their– so many adjectives spring to mind, but the best one to explain the situation is stupid– it comes from this stupid idea that white things are more correct, refined, civilised or elevated than African things. 

Faking an axxa is vocalising the belief that Africa is not good enough. Africa is inferior. Africa is primitive, vulgar and dirty, and white is better. 

That is why I feel like that guy’s throat should be slit open. He does not deserve vocal chords  so I want to rip them out. He offends me on behalf of my entire globe of African people

I have been called a nigger by a non-white person before. (Incidentally, it was when I was in an Aga Khan school myself. I didn’t stay long enough to get an accent. I enrolled with a Kenyan accent, finished my A Levels and moved to Makerere, where I lost that accent for a Kampala one, the one I have now.)

I have been called a nigger before. The surge of fury that word incites is legendarily so strong that in America you can have a murder charge reduced to manslaugher if you can show that the white person you killed used the n-word. That is provocation, It is a viable defence in a murder trial. That is how incendiary it is. I have been insulted my whole life. We all have. But the n-word is different.

I am not exaggerating when I say that hearing an African faking an American accent in Uganda is, not the same, but not that far below. If it does not spark off anger, it creates a long disgust. 

It is already bad enough that we have whole generations of Africans who have lost access to our own culture, traditions, and even language. Our culture was deliberately denuded in the colonialist effort to systematically erase African ways as they bid to reconstruct us as satellite Britains for the queen. It’s bad enough that our fashionable youth get tattooes of Africa on their biceps because they don’t know what tribal scarring would do the job better. It’s bad enough that I will be kicked out of your office if I showed up in a kanzu. It’s bad enough that we are left with someone else’s stuff to make a new culture out of. 

But we more than made do with leftovers and scraps; Africans have recreated ourselves. We have forged, from the rubble a new culture, a new community, new traditions and a new identity. We made kidandali out of rock ‘n roll instruments. We made agbada and gomesi and mushanana out of cotton fabric. We made pijin and sheng and yes, even Uglish, out of what was left of the Africa they destroyed.

And I am proud of it. We did well. I am proud of the fact that even you, reading this article did not even notice the parts where I banked off into Uglish syntax because it is already the natural way we speak to one another. Guys, we did it. We made an Africa for ourselves. We should be proud.

I love the English language. I love the things I can do with it. I love its vocabulary and idioms. I love the wordplay. But I do know that it is the “language” part I love, not the “English” part. If I had as much training and exposure to Luganda as I had with English, I would be as good as Mozey Radio was at saying things with Luganda. I would probably be as good a Luganda writer as my grandfather was.

But I love the way Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, all African communities that were colonised by Britain, have taken English and turned it into something of their own. There are Britons and Americans who have spent  so much time in Uganda that you start hearing hints of our accents in their speech. I remember when one of our American friends had to take a call from her parents while we were at Que Pasa, and we overheard her telling mom and dad that something was “just there there”. 

We made an Africa for ourselves. We made an African English, and it was and is ours. We should be proud.

Not prrourrdrr.

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