Thursday, 23 August 2018

AFRICA'S WHITE ANCESTORS—A solemn take on Cross-Generational Corruption

I was at a rendezvous with old friends from my schooldays this past weekend, when we got around to—as is the wont with the continent’s chattering, tall-talking but deed-dreading ‘middleclass’—trading thoughts on our beleaguered country and its myriad ills.

One among our number, who happens to be on a month-long respite from his doctoral studies in one of the Schengen territories, got to filling us in on how the past few months—since he’d left to start the learning program, that is—had proven a greater eye-opener regarding global political-economics than all the books and informed opinions he’d listened to over the years.

If civilization is a theater and life its stage, then Africa is really a bunch of hopeless comedians and clowns where the rest of the world is engaged in high, transcendental art.’

I’ll admit those were not his actual words, but you do catch the drift, don’t you? 

The acid of his tone and the melodrama with which the words were delivered served to evoke strained laughs from the gathered group—but while we chuckled and occasionally guffawed at our own unfavorable comparison with the rest of this unkind earth’s variegated comity of nations, the sting of the accusation’s import wasn’t lost on us.

A barrage of disappointment, anger, blame-portioning and sheer resignation were voiced as the conversation soon degenerated into the unnavigable swamps and bogs of dismay at what our self-imposed governors were doing to us.

After much circumlocution and round-abouting along the alleys and boulevards of small talk however, the question we all valiantly tried but abysmally failed to find an answer to, was—How does Africa raise a corruption free generation?

The following are my afterthoughts on the matter.

*

Desire-induced, Not Necessity-Driven Corruption

For any society to succeed in weaning its citizens off the teat of public theft and graft, I’m persuaded—the incentive for corruption must be restricted to the desire for luxuries, and taken fully out of the domain of meeting one’s immediate exigencies. Those tempted to pilfer resources or dip their fingers into the public purse ought to be, at the core-most, seen to be pursuing purely sybaritic and ostentatious ends.

A man diverting monies meant for construction of a primary school in some rural outpost, so as to send his children to a pricey private elementary school in Kampala—on account of the rot in public equivalents like Kitante and Nakasero—may be empathized with in his temptation, though certainly not exculpated for the misdeed.

The relevance and impetus for ‘necessity-driven’ corruption must therefore be done away with, substantially if not entirely. Public services and goods, of a quality and accessibility satisfying enough to the civil servant and public office-bearer, must be provided so that if the civil servant must steal from the treasury—it should be only to buy a new ball-dress for his girlfriend—and not to procure the Mercedes that would save her from the deathtraps and contagion-colonies that are Kampala’s public transport motorcrafts. 

We need to keep SUVs as luxuries in the eyes and minds of our people, not necessities. We need to ensure that sending a matriculated daughter to Kuala Lumpur for University is an extravagance that can be eschewed, because the quality-cum-efficacy of tertiary education offered at Makerere would be just as good as any procurable elsewhere—not the current travesty, veritable intellectual-wasteland and time-quaffing farce public (and in many ways, private) University education in Black Africa has incontrovertibly become.

Fame and Wealth are not admirable goals

One of the major downsides of Capitalism—perhaps in direct opposition to the much touted merit of incentivizing work and fueling innovation—is the promise of individual recognition and personal fortune dangled in the face of citizens, the so-called American dream.

If my biggest goal in life, as a young person coming up through the social and age ranks, is to own the biggest house among my peers or have the most exotic harem of concubines—then it becomes only a matter of time before I use my pedigree and intellectual resources to grab as much as I can of the inherently scarce resources society has at its disposal.

This is exactly the kind of mindset Africans of my generation and slightly older possess—a ‘‘hunter-gatherer’’ paradigm framed in the context of 21st Century acquisitiveness—in which the elephants and wildebeest of old have been substituted by flashy cars, fancy clothes and sundry modernistic toys and playthings.

If we hope to birth and raise a posterity less inclined to these crude and materialistic proclivities of primitive accumulation—then the ethos and value systems we hold and consequently impart have to change radically. 

Being famous should be deemed immaterial, even contemptible—we need to teach our children that the number of Facebook friends one has, or being seen on the Telly is far less important than helping a struggling classmate with their homework, or teaching a playmate how to make a more accurate bird-sniping catapult.

They should be taught that learning our people’s proverbs and poems by heart, and seeking to apply them in one’s day-to-day is far more desirable and worthy an aspiration than owning the latest gadgetry-release from Silicon Valley or its Sino and Indo equivalents. 
They ought to learn that being respected as a kind and gentle human being and co-citizen, is a greater guarantee of social security and memorial immortality than anything intellectual property rights, patenting and copyright laws can ever assure.

A reconfiguration of society’s values, aspirations, ambitions and definitions of success and human worth is not only important, but direly necessary.

A successful man is one who loves, guards and cares; and a successful woman is she who mothers, nurtures and protects—among other vital contributions to personal and collective social life.

Politicians wait on the devil, Civil servants attend God

At the national and societal level, what has to be done is to separate politics from the civil service. While the former is a personal, individualist and expectedly selfish enterprise—the latter is an institutional ideal.

Politicians are emotional conmen and psychological tricksters whose only claim to fame is the ability to appeal to our vulnerabilities and psycho-social imperatives. This is why we need them to be eloquent, suave, debonair and exciting—they ought to be able to sway us with their words, and charm us with their looks, manner and style.

Civil servants on the other hand—only have to be reliable, principled and essentially concerned about their professionalism. It doesn’t matter how ugly a Headmaster is, or how homely the female director of a government agency appears—what counts is that they are able to dispose of their duties in the most expeditious and trouble-free fashion. 

And as a sane society—it is our duty to ensure that the silver-tongued politician we elected in our drunken hysteria and moment of sentimental abandon, does not get in the civil servant’s way.

This seems to be Africa’s greatest failure. We mistake the persuasive tongue, sharp suit, and sequined bow-tie of the politician for a sober brain and level head. We confuse his humor, sheer ruthlessness and manipulative prowess—his intimate knowledge of our fears, prejudices and cravings, to which he then devilishly appeals—with genuine care about results, and heartfelt concern for social progress.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Isn’t this evident gullibility of ours the reason why evangelical Pastors—in whom the roles of political head and organizational accounting officer are quintessentially fused—have been able to fleece, hoodwink and manipulate us in a manner, and to an extent none of their clerical antecedents ever could?

The civil service must be freed from political influence and meddling to the greatest degree possible. Politics is a personal caprice that people enter and leave at will, but the public service is an institution, a lifetime career that forms the central locus of a man’s identity, aspirations and sacrifices.

We must create a governance dispensation that gives real power and respectability to institutional actors and civil professionals—teachers, nurses, clerks and tradespersons—so that our children will grow up in the knowledge that it’s possible and desirable for one to serve their country in a capacity outside politics and still be able to cause real, meaningful and lasting change without having to appeal to the biases of mostly ignorant masses in war-like electoral contests.

And this change must be shielded or inoculated against the populist reversals of future political strongmen and ignoramuses, through power distribution arrangements that guarantee the independence-of-action and policy formulation, on the part of institutions like school and hospital management boards, police prefectures etc.

It is tragic therefore—when we place career-building and professionalism, at the mercy of ambition and fame-seeking. This has been our postcolonial African lot.

Our undead White men

In an ostensibly unrelated story—I received my secondary school instruction in a ‘traditional’ school. The word is used in Ugandan parlance, often to proud effect, to refer to Junior and Senior schools set up by and during the colonial administration of the country. (This is the same school in whose name my Old boys and I had met, as intimated earlier, during which meeting we failed at the question that inspired this opinion.)

The schools—trailed closely by hospitals, cathedrals and governance systems—are perhaps Europe’s greatest legacy in post-colonial Africa—for despite the anti-colonial wars that were fought, won and lost on these soils—those institutions very much remain haunted by the pale, insipid wraiths of their founding figures—all invariably Caucasian men and women.

The presence of these ‘traditional’ schools to-date—in a postcolonial world once buoyed but now irritated by the rhetoric of self-rule and independence—remains an indictment on our inability to mature and outgrow the obsolete remnants of what is sometimes called a ‘civilizing mission’.

Much has been said about the decolonization of the African University—yet hardly any mention is made in academia about decolonizing the secondary school, or even better, the elementary schoolroom and kindergarten—which happen to be the university’s natural ‘fishing grounds’.

Any disease is best cured when caught in early days—and if our thinkers agree that colonialism and its latter-day offshoots are ailments, then the choice regarding their prognosis and treatment regime should be a simple one.

I do not think there is anything more damaging to the esteem and self-worth of a black child—in this case the ‘elite and thinker’ of his people—than the pre-embedded, subconscious knowledge that all of their educational development and knowledge acquisition rests upon the shoulders of a dead white man or woman. That their pursuit of enlightenment is borne on the legs of some lionized ancient Christian missionary mis-adventuring in the ‘dark world’.

It will be difficult to have a world in which the leaders of our people—business, professional and political—remain indebted to the William Crichtons of this world—and still be expected to function free of the trauma that being a Frankenstein-like, mass-produced object of Europe’s ‘civilizational philanthropy’ engenders.

White schoolmasters, long dead, just won’t stop teaching our black children—and in my estimation, this is a snaring web from which generational corruption—moral, emotional and otherwise, cannot be (easily) extricated. 

The black teachers who stand tall in Africa’s post-independence classrooms only do so because they’re propped upon the powdery shoulders of apparitions lurking in the deep recesses of their own European-forged minds.

This link every African child educated through these proud, centennial schools—jubileewo-anthems and all—bears with a white ‘educational’ ancestor, must be severed once and for all, if our sons and daughters are to have any chance of growing up whole and hale.

As our peerless Elder and luminary, Bantu Biko, once remarked years ago— ‘It has always been the pattern throughout history that whosoever brings the new order knows it best and is therefore the perpetual teacher of those to whom the new order is being brought. If the white [colonists] were “right” about their culture in the eyes of the natives, then the African people could only accept whatever these new know-all tutors had to say about life. The acceptance of the colonialist-tainted version of civilization marked the turning point in the resistance of African people. We were irredeemably emasculated.


Upon reception of a thorough beating from a rival team, the boys opt to ruminate on the dismal failings of the Ugandan national experiment




©Surumani Manzi
23rd-August-2018.

Friday, 17 August 2018

CHURCH & STATE—To Separate, or Frustrate?


*This essay was written in the short aftermath of a debate on SEPARATION OF CHURCH & STATE IN AFRICA held in Kampala on 20th, April 2018. It is a personal reflection on the day's proceedings, and an unofficial record of events. Consider it my very own minority report:


Last Friday evening found me riding pillion on a moped—in some haste to beat the ominous rain clouds looming over a darkening Kampala sky.

A few non-believing comrades and skeptic ‘‘co-religionists’’ had invited me, through the good graces of social media, to sit and listen in on a panel discussion in which the topic of the day read: The Separation of Church & State in Africa.

After waiting around eventlessly for nearly an hour, the organizers began setting right what proved to be a disorderly meeting room. I soon lapsed into banter with a heavily-bearded friend named Ruyonza on what each of us had been up to since we last met. The bushy-faced and forest-chinned comrade startled me by asking how many books I read a day—given my seemingly infamous reputation for intellectual interests—to which my answer was an unintelligible stammer.

We were soon asked to shift places, from a corner of the room where we’d unwittingly drifted in the course of my and Ruyonza’s chat, and draw closer to the front in order, as one of the ushers shyly explained, ‘‘for the place not to look too disorganized’’.  

Between our choice of seat and the hosts’ evident lack of preparation, I couldn’t say exactly which was responsible for said disorganization.

Minutes later, the place now fairly abuzz with voices as more of the audience trickled-in, the moderator walked, or more fittingly, swept in. He was a stern-faced fellow swathed in white West African ceremonial robes complete with a bag-like headpiece—he gave one the impression of a colonial secondary school Headmaster.

To further make the point for me perhaps, the crowd’s collective hubbub quickly sunk to a hush—evidently silenced by the medieval royal presence.

This gentleman, who started off his evening-long ramble by declaring his Pan-African credentials (as if the sartorial pantomime wasn’t statement enough)— duly announced that the day’s event was a collaboration of organizations—his own The Pan African Pyramid, and The Uganda Humanist & Ethical Union; whose President he went on to introduce as the day’s co-moderator and host.

It turned out that the event was actually a regular (possibly weekly) talk-show held by Mr. Irumba’s organization and broadcast live on Facebook [Andrew Irumba Live] as well as a little-known startup online broadcaster un-intriguingly named Court TV.

The panel being duly constituted, thus—‘‘Pastor’’ Solomon Moses Male, Ronald Kaddu Kitonsa, Khatondi Phiona Valerie, Serubiri Africa Uhuru, and Don Mugarua (in ‘arbitrary’ order of speaking)—the debate was permitted to kick-off by the eccentric moderation duo.

‘‘Pastor’’ Male plays it safe

The renowned and mostly controversial Solomon Male took to the floor with characteristic flare—announcing how glad he was that his long-waged crusade against ‘partisan politicking on religious podiums’ was finally coming of age in the mind of the Ugandan ‘‘thinking’’ public.

Yet hardly had Male got his trousers off than the coarse voice of Mr. Irumba interjected with an injunction for the former to pause his remarks and attend to the (now much circulated) video clip of an iconoclastic African-American Evangelical preacher, on a Pastoral visit to Bishop T.D. Jakes’ Potter’s House, railing against the inefficacy of prayer in solving Africa’s socio-economic woes. The preacher lambasted Zambia’s misguided privatization of her copper mines and Asia’s meteoric advance despite its largely non-Christian religiosity.

[This unannounced and rude interruption of debaters by the moderator was to be a characteristic feature of the rest of the unweildy evening.]

In this first instance though—Pastor Male, to his credit, listened to the clip respectfully before reverting to form and declaring the playback an irrelevance since he wasn’t ‘‘your average ignorant Evangelical unaware of complex global issues’’.

Indeed, the long, prepared notes he went ahead to read for his speech were a reflection of how (potentially) balanced and objective a mind the man has—were he, in my opinion, to disabuse himself of the opportunistic need to still cling to his indefensible Christian metaphysics, while still calumniating his fellow faithful for misusing and misapplying the ‘‘true’’ faith.

Skirting about the bull’s-eye     

Having listened to Male’s half-hour remarks—passionately if not angrily delivered—my mind began racing in several directions.

I began thinking how the real trouble with our world today is not, as Pastor Solomon put it, the misapplication of an otherwise good and true doctrine to serve the self-interested ends of parochial persons. The real problem was that these doctrines are false and inherently bad to begin with—having no shred of credible evidence whatsoever to support them. No one makes this point better than the American New Atheist, Sam Harris.

Pastor Male attempted to have his cake and eat it—by standing upon the platform of a historically incredible and scientifically falsified theology, albeit widely popular— and that is where in my view, all of his energy-consuming and high-decibel attempts to paint his wayward compatriot-clerics black left him in the awkward position of the soot-coated pot ridiculing the smoke-smeared kettle.

Poverty will keep you popular

A BBC bulletin I’d caught earlier that morning had reported how apostasy was on the rise in Ankara and Istanbul—despite the most ridiculous attempts by establishment clerics to vehemently deny the same, declaring irritably how ‘‘… Turkish youth are strongly grounded in the knowledge of the one true faith, and that is Islam.’’

I am painfully aware how much further down the road Africa has to go, before we can begin witnessing social-evolutionary trends of this nature. The pivotal reason for this, of course—being the biting poverty and abject privations most if not all of our people, have to grapple with daily, through experience or association.

I am convinced that there is a reason why Afghan or Bangladeshi youth aren’t renouncing their commitment to Islam—and young people in economically empowered Turkey, which is on the brink of joining the EU, are gaining more confidence to break decisively with said 7th-Century Muhammedan superstition.

It seems one of the key ingredients to sustaining religious faith in any society is poverty. In short, if you want to keep your people religious, keep them poor.

Poor people have the uncanny tendency of being obedient and ‘disciplined’—they don’t ask too many uncomfortable questions, aren’t needlessly ambitious, don’t take any credit for the work of their heads or hands (or lack any achievements to seek credit and acknowledgement for to begin with)—and above all else, poor people are thankful for whatever little they get; they do know how to count their blessings.

Pastor Male a bigger problem than that he seeks to redress

The trouble with the tough-talking liberal is that he succeeds in blunting our sensibilities to the magnitude and acuteness of the problem at hand. Be that problem racial inequality, gender disparity or theocratic stupidity—the liberal, who very often is a well-educated, glib-tongued advocate of redefinition and reappraisal of the problem and its perpetrators—succeeds in painting a wholly different picture from that which in reality exists.

The liberal will say that the problem isn’t Islam, but rather the ‘extremists’ who misuse an otherwise innocuous and peace-promoting faith to further their own terrestrial ends—that the problem isn’t the white Nationalist racists propagating Apartheid in South Africa under the spiritual guidance and patronage of a convicted Dutch Reformed Church, but a ‘complex milieu rife with multi-faceted socio-political intricacies in which black and white have failed to understand each other …’.

The liberal will say that the solution isn’t to attack the Quran or the wonderful ideas of brotherhood exemplified by the Prophet, but to ridicule the fundamentalists who wish to stain and slander the good name of the faith. The liberal will say that the solution to Apartheid isn’t to teach Black Consciousness or to encourage blacks to identify their problem as white people and the oppressive system they prop-up through commission or omission—but rather that the trouble is a ‘narrow’ and ‘mere’ white crony-elite at the ‘‘top’’ bent on keeping all good whites and blacks divided.
In short, the liberal is the mother of all spinmasters.
  
*

And this precisely is my dis-ease with Pastor Male and the ‘solution school’ he represents.
The man portrays himself as a reformer—a kind of new-age, revivalist neo-Christian whose ‘‘divine’’ mandate is to rescue the Contemporary Ugandan Church from the depravity and rot it has sunk into on account of its failure to stay the course of true Christian worship. One wonders what true Christian worship entails in Male’s opinion?—his own interpretation of the scriptures, most likely.

But who is he to rank his subjective and keyhole interpretation above other competing ones?

In matters of scriptural interpretation—the only sustainable arbiter is God himself—who must settle the competing questions once and for all—not through clandestine appearances made to self-deceiving, solipsistic and delusional individuals in the quiet sanctums of prayer; or whispered ‘truths’ conveyed in the vestries of supplication—but God must solve this conundrum by beaming down from his celestial hideout, preferably on a blinding cloud trailed by tendrils of fire, and sit in mediation (or judgment) over the contending parties.
Short of that—all interpretations of whatever scripture are equally true—or indeed, equivalently and manifestly false.


OUGHT WE REALLY SEPARATE CHURCH FROM STATE?

My own conviction on the broader matter of the day—SHOULD CHURCH BE SEPARATED FROM STATE?— is that Church should not be ‘simply separated or merely culled’ from State life—Church should be extirpated  and permanently excluded from all pretensions to social influence and political authority.

In fact, Church as an idea should be stamped out of currency.

The Church I refer to here is not the human clergy, congregants or physical edifices that comprise the material corpus of religion—no. I speak rather, of the Church as an idea, a way of life, an approach to truth and the world. I speak of the ideology that informs superstition and beliefs in the metaphysical, especially as concretized in the numerous contradictory, disparate and mutually antagonistic theologies of each religion’s ‘‘Holy’’ scriptures.

There can never be a sustainable and meaningful ‘separation’ of church and state—in terms of gazetting constitutional roles or mere legalistic rhetoric—not as long as religious theology still seriously believes in and actively teaches citizens and their children things like the omnipotence of God and the totality of religion.

Scripturally sanctioned statements like—‘God’s ways are higher than man’s ways…’, ‘all leadership comes from God…’, ‘touch not my anointed…’, ‘store your riches and rewards in heaven…’, ‘the watchman watches in vain unless God watches beside him…’ —and all of the litany and raft of other nonsensical gibberish that is rotely spouted and ritualistically spewed by religious spokesmen and their converts (or more accurately, victims) in an attempt to undermine the efficacy and potency of human institutions, abilities and problem-solving interventions developed over the many millennia of our heuristic, pang-ridden, jolty and start-stop civilizational experiment—flies fully in the face of the laughable idea that the Church, after all its centuries of historical privilege and blood-inspired power lust—can take a back seat and let ‘mere humans’ in State government do the work on earth that is rightfully God’s.

We cannot mollify a rabid dog with confectionaries—a quick death is always a mercy.


©Surumani Manzi


Group photo with all key/leading suspects identifiable






























Short Clip of the response detailed in ere-going essay


23rd-April-2018.











Monday, 2 July 2018

BUY BLACK?—African States should spend the first shilling


The ultimate success of any protectionist measures—economic, intellectual, cultural and otherwise—in Africa, lie with the state.

It is the all-pervading nature, leviathan anatomy—to use Thomas Hobbes’s 200 year-old instructive phrase—and substantial resources of the state that can turn BUY BLACK or LIVE LOCAL campaigns on the continent into the victories they urgently need to become if our people are to survive the depredations of the carnivorously ruthless globalism we subsist under.

And yet present policy has seen the few governments on the continent that pay the issue any attention relegate it to a fringe side-dish served merely to supplement the laissez-faire breakfast of national conversation(s).

We cannot continue on this path, and if we have the faintest care to safeguard the future of our people and their children—then we ought to swing around the index finger of duty-apportioning to point squarely at the men and women reclined on the ostentatious sofa of state government.

Yet instead of doing just that, the hubbub around ‘Buying Black’ places the individual African consumer at the center of the arena of responsibility—and in a language redolent with neo-classical rhetoric—our political economists, social scientists and sundry intelligentsia absolve the state of its burden as a necessary, indispensable actor in the undertaking to secure Africa’s markets and stem the hemorrhage of her wealth.

To expect the individual in any economy to shoulder decisions that are meant to have structural impact on the workings of the market is to strap a Brobdingnag baby on the back of a Lilliputian mother.

And this situation becomes even more acute in Africa—where the entrenched deficiencies of our people render them particularly ill-suited to bearing the intellectual and fiscal crucifixes that are rightfully their governments’.

All shades of economic theory are agreed on the notion that individuals make spending decisions on the basis of self-interest. This is the central idea in game theory, which lends its conclusions about this predictable human selfishness to decision-makers in public and private lending, investment and regulatory institutions.

States on the other hand—make (or are expected to make) decisions based on collective interest. They are supposed to plan for everybody’s interest, rather than any given or particular someone’s objectives.
For explanations ranging from evolutionary predisposition to Edenic iniquity—these two ends happen to be perennially parallel, and just like many Ugandans’ current economic fortunes, are unlikely to be made to easily meet.

So the interesting thing about collective interest is that it often, if not always, flies in the face of self-interest.

To illustrate—let’s say that a national highway is planned to be built straight through my clan’s burial grounds. In that case, I’d retain every right, as an individual market-actor, to resist the government’s attempts to build that road—even if it means, as is often the case south of Africa’s Sahara, resorting to the defenses of symbolic heirloom and taking up my grandfather’s spear to chase the road contractor from my village.

Conversely, the state as a ‘‘collective person’’ is duty bound to disregard any endearments I may harbor toward my dead ancestors’ bones and, with the brusque, remorseless help of a few emotionally uninhibited excavators—cart the skeletal debris away before placing a tarmac carpet over the site; which development should rightly expedite the next market trip for the old woman in the village after mine.

The moral in this is to say that macroeconomics must precede microeconomics in the movement to ‘Buy Black’—through policy instruments engineered by the state, to effectively limit the options available to the individual consumer, whose perceived ‘competition’ with fellow individual actors in the same economy may compel them to buy clothes or raw materials for their factory from Guangdong or Mumbai to teach their ‘citizen competitor’ a ‘‘lesson’’.

The choices made at a microeconomic level cannot be relied on to be entirely rational and wholly objective—susceptible as they are to the trivialities of jealousy, ill will, outright sabotage etc.among citizens operating in the same market who inevitably (even understandably) see each other as direct competition for the same finite resources.

As an average African consumer of this ilk—I’d thus rather buy my child’s plastic schoolbag from a distant, anonymous Yemeni importer than from the hand-woven stock of a Ugandan neighbor whose clan is famous for witchcraft, or whose daughter may be doing better than mine in the classroom they share.

***

In continuing to consider these issues, perhaps the final argument would/should be that of sustainability.

Economies—in seeking to redistribute (for better or worse) the finite resources present in them, work in transactional loops and market cycles. If money eventually leaves the system, it doesn’t matter how it exited circulation, or at what stage of the loop it was expropriated.

Let’s say I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Pan-African who doggedly wears bark-cloth underwear and suits tailored from Kanga and Vitenge fabric. And to seal the bargain, I insist that these my indispensable items of apparel be made by seamstresses in a needy women’s group working out of a hole-in-the-wall workshop in a slovenly Kampala suburb. Let’s allow for Bwaise.

So after I’ve done my part in purchasing her Uganda-made Kanga product, let’s then say the poor seamstress—in seeking to look beautiful for her Taxi-driver boyfriend, then takes the money and uses it to do the only appropriate thing imaginable in an African female’s context, in this case buying Brazilian hair extensions and Thai mascara.

Do you then see how all my (microeconomic) Pan-African pretensions—starched smallclothes notwithstanding— become a sorry joke?

If on the other hand, though, Ugandan macroeconomic policy made it impossible through import restrictionsfor the hair of Brazil’s female corpses to find its way onto the heads of Ugandan women—then perhaps our Pan-Africanism wouldn’t be the ridiculous pantomime it’s currently been made out to be.


© Surumani Manzi












Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Aisles of blood: On weddings & brutal endings


At the start of last month, Uganda’s women were at it again—waving placards, marching out of formation, singing against the dictates of tune, vociferating, then finally—hurling obscenities at the posse of constables ringed about the National Police Headquarters in Naguru. 

Their cause?—the blood-dimmed tide of rampant kidnaps and unsolved murders that’s gripped the country’s capital these past few months.

In the end—both the day’s oppressive sun and government paid them little mind.

But the march didn’t fail to leave its (or at least, a) mark—and least of all because Dr. Stella Nyanzi was the procession’s de facto leader. With the volatile, and in equal parts infamously famous feminist activist in the recipe, a lasting ‘impression’ was no doubt in the offing.

To that effect, tactics were changed, so that instead of merely shouting themselves hoarse against a wall of intransigent, uniformed masculinity—the protesters drew from their holsters plus-sized dildos.

The eye-catching artifacts were subsequently held against the protesters’ gyrating crotches, wagged angrily at the visibly uncomfortable cops, and lest their ‘revolution’ go untelevised—some activists took the chance for photo ‘‘ops’’ with their ammunition—which images then swirled virally through the ever obliging social media currents.

Uganda’s men—personified by their government and its (some say) impotent President—had been effectively emasculated.

For his part, John Martins Okoth-Ochola—the newly installed Police Inspector General—had received his baptism of fire, sealed complete with a kiss from Dr. Nyanzi who blew it to him through the television cameras of a primetime news talk-show at which she was hosted later that night.

Hardly a fortnight after these events, Ibrahim Abiriga, MP—was mowed down by assassin gunfire in a Kampala suburb as he retired home after a hard day of, well—not doing much to speak of, actually.

In response to the mounting national outcry, Museveni ordered his security chiefs to arrest his former IGP and a host of the fellow’s cronies; such that the latest reports from Makindye Military Police barracks reek of anxiety-sauce laced with whispers of betrayal and entreaties to ‘see-ko the big man’.

My sympathies are with Ochola—who no longer needs the services of a Prophet (be it Mbonye or otherwise) to foresee his fate in the next few months.

And speaking of Mbonye, that fellow whose Zoe fellowship at Lugogo Cricket grounds is soon to be a remnant of memory; news has it that the ‘anointed’ man has had to ran to court seeking legal redress against the IGG’s eviction notice.

Isn’t it strange that a ‘Prophet’—at that, one who regularly receives phone calls from Jesus (something thousands of University-educated Ugandans believe)—should turn to earthly institutions for justice?

Evidently—Ochola’s own political instincts will serve him better than any prophetic pretensions in planning his delayed (but doubtless imminent) exit.

My recommendation would be for the IGP to expose whoever is behind these kidnaps and killings—perhaps someone(s) among those that sign his paycheck—and leave with his dignity intact, though I wouldn’t make a bet on him keeping his head on its shoulders.

As for the rest of us, I daresay we’ll hear again from our hunters before too long a while has passed. 

Yet if we have the slightest interest in self-preservation, it’s long due we grew sharper teeth than those who would make meals of us—in lieu of the paperknives passing for canines in the mouths of our supposed protectors.

***

In a 1987 book, the late Anglo-American journalist Christopher Hitchens wrote of the persistence of Anglo-American Ironies1, and how Blood, Class & Nostalgia were Britain’s most enduring (but certainly far from greatest) legacy to her upstart former colony across the Atlantic, or ‘pond’, as the region’s colloquialism would term it.

But perhaps nothing typifies these ironies better than the much-vaunted, now past, and in this age of goldfish attention-spans and leonine appetites for latest fads (sartorial and otherwise)—swiftly forgotten nuptials of the ‘African’, ‘former slave’ and ‘ex-subject of the British empire’—Meghan Markle, and a Prince of the (blue) blood.

Hitchens’ argument is institutional—arguing that modern American institutions, for all their claims to progressivism—are no more than a mirror-image of the demonized mother country, and reflected in their workings and ideologies is a deep-seated nostalgia to uphold and perpetuate the legacy of Empire.

Churchill himself, conceding the fading light of the island country over which he was Prime Minister—declared that the flambeau of the ‘White Man’s burden’ had been passed on to America—for better or worse.

Well, in Meghan Markle—poetic justice has finally come full circle—and America has finally taken the last untouched stronghold of British monarchical purity, if not by storm, then by nouveau charm and beauty.

Britain’s blue blood has at long last been stained by Meghan’s deep, rich and dark red—and who knows; perhaps the stain may show up in the skin of a head under the Imperial State Crown someday.

Yet lest we should forget, blue is an unnatural color (for blood) to begin with, and as the saying holds—not every Tom, Dick and Harry can have it.

***

Returning to Kampala, whose streets increasingly find themselves painted red with bloods that are neither royal nor aspirational.

A friend and I were, for sheer lack of solutions, joking about the kidnappers, gunslingers (and if you watch Agataaliko Nfufu like I, serial grave robbers) having a field day in and around our traumatized townwhen he brought (or more accurately, thrust) some scandalous theories into my know.

Apparently, according to available demographics, the kidnaps have had a curious ‘ethnic dimension’ to them. He pointed out how one of the first victims, a female student at YMCA who was gruesomely violated before her body was dumped in Mutundwe, was from a certain ‘part’ of the country.

I argued that it was mere coincidence.

My friend mentioned a few more names, including the shady businessman’s daughter whose case added fuel to what was until then a small candle in the national conscious.

I said it didn’t make sense. He said that it was being done to create an illusion among people from that part of the country that they were unsafe. 

I asked him how common criminals could be that sophisticated. He said it wasn’t common criminals to blame.

I asked who was to blame. 

He responded that I knew who, and withdrew into that tried and tested mode of guaranteeing safety to the Ugandan person—feigned cluelessness. 

Yet try as I might to pry him out of it, my pleas of sincere ignorance fell o deaf (or for that matter, deafened) ears, and further inquiries into the matter were vehemently boomeranged.

So you see, this is how conspiracy theories are born. 

Especially in this small banana-growing village of ours, which despite all contrary evidence, stubbornly insists on being called a country.


·         1, Hitchens, Christopher. Blood, Class and Empire: The Enduring Anglo-American Relationship. Nation Books, 2004.


© Surumani Manzi



On Boats, Pirates & Matters Riparian (A Speech Transcript)


These are the notes/transcript of a talk I gave at the inaugural event of Kampala’s CHAi Talks, dubbed Inception. I thought I’d avail them here for cross-reference to any future ideas I might adopt, especially regarding alterations thereto:

*

Comrades & Friends—it is my utmost hope and expectation that you are well and hale—because the intention at the end of my remarks tonight, and indeed what I have been told is CHAi’s overriding & guiding philosophy—is to disrupt your certainty about things. I’d like to say that I labor under no illusions as to how tall an order this is, and were it to be applied borderlessly—we’d not leave this place until the proverbial cows returned home, so I’ll limit myself to discussing some very specific and I hope simple & comprehensible notions.

But before we get into the business of provocation—before we enter disruption mode, I hope to win over enough of your confidence in order for you to let me persuade you in the general direction of my stated aim.

So I’ll tell a little tale; about myself.

Now, shortly after I was born, many years ago, twenty-some odd—which is a heck of a long time by our national demographics that claim 70% of our population is younger than 24; meaning most if not all of us in this room are senior citizens—my parents decided to name me Surumani Manzi
This was a time when Facebook wasn’t even a word and twitter was just the annoying sounds made by disrespectful birds.

So my parents, after what one would imagine were detailed, thorough and comprehensive consultations with family, friends, the clan and perhaps even village—this was the naming norm in their day, when a child belonged to the nation and not just to the two reproductive-gamete-contributors, otherwise known as biological parents.
Today, you are less likely to name your newborn after the most famous hunter in your clan, and more likely to name them after your favorite Telemundo actor or actress.

Anyhow—guess what, as the curator’s introduction of me earlier testifies, the name my parents gave me stuck—and so I’ve had to refer to and identify myself by it since I learnt how to pronounce words.

Now, please note that this is not a particularly exciting name—I’m sorry to confess, I mean, it doesn’t turn heads or elicit uncontrollable screams of hysterical admiration—and who knows, had I been given a choice in the matter of my Christening—I’d have had a suggestion or two to put to by beloved parents and the Anglican priest who sprinkled those droplets on my temple as my two-year old self shrieked, kicked, scratched and otherwise unsuccessfully fought-off what I was convinced was a conspiracy to drown me that fateful Sunday.  

And so, like most of us here tonight—I got a name that involved consultations with everybody else but me. This means we’ve led all our lives, and negotiated our way in the world, standing upon the legacy of other people’s decisions.

Of course, along the way—and I’m certainly not unique in this—my teenage-self experimented with funkier and more catchy variations of this nominal code. In my more informal and peer-to-peer engagements—I preferred to truncate, abbreviate, season and otherwise pimp the name. So Surumani, or its Anglo-Saxon variant Solomon, became Solo, Sula, Solo the Dude, Solo the Great etc. The possibilities were endless. And as for Manzi, I’d better leave that to your no doubt rich imaginations.

And yet they say the sweetest-tasting word in anyone’s mouth or ear is the sound of their own name. For me it’s the eight Latin alphabets and six syllables.
Life is full of ironies, and this goes to show just how elusive and illusory our sense of self and claims to unique, personal identity can be—if not how intrinsically narcissistic we are.

Now, make no mistake, my parents—just like most parents—are well meaning folk, and their intentions were no doubt good in giving me the appellation that they did. And so my intention here tonight, is not to indict them for not having waited till I was old enough to have a choice before giving me a name.
My intention in this talk is not even, despite appearances so far, to complain about our names and ask us to change them if we can. I am aware that many African people have taken steps toward doing just this—formally through notarial affidavits, or informally through Twitter handles & Facebook IDs.

It is certainly a phenomenon worth exploring—but I shan’t make that my burden today.
I only chose a story on names for the opening analogy because names are the most potent symbol of identity. Our concept of language as toddlers begins with naming things. So here, the name is an analogy for value-systems, moral codes and many other acquired ‘identities’.

What therefore, after such a winding and roundabout way of introducing myself, do I wish to speak about?
Well—three things, simply.
I want to talk about the high seas, I want to talk about boats, and I want to talk about piracy.
I’ll say at the outset that these words or concepts are meant to be purely figurative and/or metaphorical—and the thread that binds them together, is identity.

Boats denote identity, the high seas denote life, and we’ll find out what piracy means later.

So in a way, I’ll be trying my hand at street-side philosophy. The one best epitomized by the animated and pixelated patrons of single-pot, many-straw drinking joints.

Let us begin with boats.

For those who have done some sailing, you know that once a boat lifts anchor and pushes off the shore into the last untamed habitat of our planet—the sea, then it becomes the last shred of hope for us.
Man has conquered the air, and people live at the top of mountains, and are trying to colonize other planets, but no one lives at the bottom of the ocean.

And I chose the boat as my metaphor, not the airplane—thought it could be argued that air is as much a fluid as water— but I prefer the boat analogy because marine accidents have the lowest survival likelihood.
In fact, there are 20% chances of surviving a boat accident, compared to 50% chances of surviving a car accident, and 95% chances of surviving a plane crush on land.

If you’re plane lands on water though, you may end up being one of the Malaysian airline crash victims who are still being searched for three years later.
Once you’re in the middle of the sea and your vessel develops a hole and begins to fill with water—there is no crash landing available to you as a recourse.

And unlike when your car stalls on a road trip, and you just get out and walk to the nearest motel or hitchhike through a forest while eating wild berries, at sea, you are just surrounded by miles of water you can’t drink.

And the difference between a life jacket and a parachute is that a parachute leads you down to safety, while a life jacket keeps you floating as you wait for death.

We are terrestrial or land mammals, and it’s good to know that we can be safe on the land, where evolution has shaped and equipped us sufficiently to be able to deal with most threats and challenges to our survival.

But life, thought of abstractly—though our personal and collective realities tend to corroborate this abstraction— is not like the land; predictable, safe or familiar. It rather is like water in its massive forms— fluid like the sea, restless and ever migratory like the river, ever hungry and never sated or filled like the oceans.

In fact, even well-known adage of water being life lends itself quite neatly to this argument.

Because while the land is rigid, stable and fixed—water is always on the move, pushing against itself, riding on currents, lapping against the coasts and sometimes, quite unluckily for us—because we’re neither amphibious nor aquatic—invading and claiming the land.

So my theory tonight is to hypothesize or postulate that our human experience of life, and the world, is like that of sailors on a vast ocean. And we undertake this journey upon the safety of our boats, which boats in this case are our identities.

Now what makes an identity? Are there real identities and fake or illusory ones? Is there such a thing as a single identity, or can a person assume multiple identities? Is it something that is fixed and inflexible, or is it a notion that can be refined, changed and—like computer software—updated over time?
And perhaps most importantly—who is in charge of giving one their identity? Is it you, the identity bearer, or it everyone and everything else that has authority over you?

And I’m referring here to authority figures like the state, family, elders, employers, community, church, mosque, companies etc.

I will not presume to answer these questions tonight. I strongly suspect that, I have neither their inclination nor the wisdom to do so ably.

So I’d like to invite you to think over a few things arising from these questions over with me.
We’ve already talked about how akin life is to seafaring, or a journey by water. And how our identities are the boats, the vessels if you like, we use to make this journey.

Now, like our identities—boats, even the best of them like the ill-fated Titanic, come with their own complications.
Of course some boats are more formidable than others—tankers and cruise ships are hardier than canoes and rafts, for illustration.

But even the most powerful boats cannot travel in a straight-lines across the water, or they risk using too much fuel and being inefficient, or damaging an engine and stalling. So from time to time, they have to change course, and take advantage of current pathways or avoid tides and headwinds.

And we should not forget that there are some little streams and rapid-infested river sections where canoes and rafts do a better than large ships, which would only run aground.

The point here is that identities are as different as there are individuals and communities, but each set and type has a purpose that it plays which should suit the needs and interests of its bearers.
Because humans, like all life forms, never act against their own interests, unless functionally compromised.

So if you’re an introvert, female, Black, Indian, middle class, unemployed, Christian, Hindu—these things should suit your needs.

And yet it’s very easy to know when one’s identity fails to align with their interests—there is an almost immediate and concerted attempt to alter it; be it in the form of hair extensions or skin bleaching for African women; or phony English accents for the continent’s elite.

Notice than some of these things are presumably more permanent than others.

But if a ship steering a particular course encounters a cyclone, or realizes that it’s on a collision course with another ship—then the wisest thing to do is to change direction.

In the same way, I think that what we consider African identities are a complex, multidimensional, many-sided thing.

Most of us have inherited some of these dimensions by virtue of our birth, a few have acquired them through socialization, and even fewer have had the liberty of authoring their own identities and senses of self.

But just like a river empties one sea and fills another, our search for who we are must not be limited by where we come from, or who are born to—who our friends are, what schools we went to, or what books we read. Our identity is all of these things, yes, but it is also more.
Just like a river carrying water headlong is likely pick up minerals and other solutes along the way that create different water compositions at source and mouth.


It’s not a question of technology and modern civilization, or the lack thereof—I hear many of my fellow Pan-African enthusiasts romanticizing how being truly African involves dressing in hides and living in round huts thatched with straw.

But we are not the first people to live in these huts or wear leather—if we were, there would be no English or Japanese words for them.

It’s also not a question of mutilating the genitalia of women in order for one to be declared a real African woman—we are not the only community to do this, nor are we the first. European people did the same thing for years, but eventually abandoned it. In fact, the Amish—who are a minority people from Germanic Europe that immigrated into the US—still practice FGM today.

So there is nothing uniquely African about FGM, or witchcraft, child sacrifice or kneeling, female subservience, patriarchy, ancestor worship and animism or any of these things. Indeed, I suspect that the reason many people who call themselves Afro-Centric and Pan-African hold onto these things is because they are suffering from PCSD and PSSD.

So there is nothing African about wearing a Kanga or Kitenge made in China from cotton grown in Sri Lanka—it’s rather about wearing a suit made in Nytil, from silk produced in Youmassokuru or Lusaka. It’s not about eating Ugali made from American corn, rather than eating a bar of chocolate made from Kumasi-grown cocoa.

Culture, and in this case being African, ought be about essence, and not appearance.

There is nothing African about poverty and nakedness and hunger, just like there is nothing European about wealth or nothing Asian about hard work. These are human virtues and human vices, and every society should struggle against them and overcome them.

Colonialism and Slavery aren’t new stories, and neither is a recounting of their horrors a novel undertaking—but one dimension I would like to mention concerning them is that they, like Samwiri Karugire says in his pamphlet, hijacked our journey of progress. The interruption of our history.

So what happened is that when our journey was hijacked, we didn’t get an opportunity to learn things for ourselves, and choose what should be kept and what should be discarded as far as civilization went.

We were fed on civilizational GMOs and our ‘‘modernization’’ was fast tracked so we could be ready for the labor market of mass consumption.
The effect of this, is to inspire a romantic nostalgia in us, or a nostalgia-induced schizophrenia.
We are detached from the challenges of our reality, and appear permanently unable to face them, because an essential part of us yearns of the past and feels remorseful about an Africa that is gone too soon.

We are like children that were robbed of their childhood, or adults that skipped the adolescence stage of life— forced to become men before were had left boyhood, compelled to become mothers before we could become women.

Imagine an African seafarer setting off on a raft to beard the high and mighty seas, and then just as he leaves the coast, he is captured by pirates—let’s imagine European Pirates since its easier—and bound in servitude to them instead.
Now, this seafarer, had they not been captured, would have died from drowning when their small raft capsized a few miles from shore—but they don’t know that, because they were not given an opportunity to die.

And I think the very concepts of free-will and freedom are predicated on this; the liberty to fail, and room to make mistakes.
So they will spend the rest of their life aboard the pirate ship dreaming of all the glories they would have had aboard their raft.
This is the same thing with us, contemporary citizens of Africa, and our so-called identity.

We dream of a glorious past that we didn’t see, and of which written accounts are more legend than reality.

So we essentialize. We fight off the cognitive dissonance brought on by contradictions and insist on what the versions of truth we want.
On the one hand, Africa was a dark continent with no good in it, and on the other hand; Africa was a paradise with no evil.
We think of Bunyoro’s Kabalega only as a Hero, and we forget that he was also a brutal conqueror before Lugard stopped his marauding Abarusura with a wall of Nubian mercenaries.
We think of Ousmanne Sembanne, the Senegalese-born father of African Cinema, as a spotless hero; and we forget that he once plagiarized a movie script from his students and by his own admission; was a man full of contradictions.
We think of our past as fairy-tale like utopia; free of strife and anxiety.
Yet Africa, like any place else; is not unalloyed. We come in all shapes and sizes, in all shades and colors, in all tones and timbres.

We dream for instance of a united Black African empire—which has never existed effectively. 

Egypt, Mali, Axum, Songhai etc. were all mostly regional empires. And most of them were Muslim empires built around Islamic ideology as unifier, which is synonymous with Arab Ideology.
Yet nearly every other race has had an empire it can truly call its own. 

The Caucasians had Rome, the Han Chinese had several dynasties, the Western Asians had Persia, Assyria and Mesopotamia, the Arabs had their Caliphates and later empires like the Ottomans, India had the Gupta Empire which was a Hindu empire.
So what Pan-Africans dream of is an empire to unite all black people. And we could have had it, if we hadn’t been interrupted by colonialism, but especially by the Arab Slave Trade.

For instance, nothing should stop Uganda from colonizing and annexing Eastern Congo and South Sudan. I don’t think that the concept of ‘ territorial sovereignty’, which was devised by fully evolved European Nation-States after their birth pangs had been exhausted, is more important than the security and welfare of South-Sudanese Citizens which would be guaranteed if they were part of Uganda. 

In any case—if the stream of refugees fleeing S.Sudan persists at present levels—then Uganda will have more S.Sudanese in her territory than those in S.Sudan itself. Why not pursue the matter to its logical conclusion and have territorial control as well?

I wish to insist that this suggestion is purely hypotheticalaware as we all are that what we have in Africa are mostly robber regimes and bandit governments. But in a more ideal world, few arguments could be successfully marshaled against an African state that chooses to establish political control over an unstable neighbor for the sheer purpose of safeguarding the welfare of her black kinsmen living in that troubled territory.

Perhaps this is how a future continental African government will be formed. 

Nonetheless, these dreams our people and romantists hold are legitimate.

Of course there are many things that Africa still has, and the rest of the world has discarded – which are likely to save humanity as we know it; things like the need to depopulate cities and return people to small, communal settlements and villages where people know their neighbors and everyone’s name. They also know which wife cooked meat and which one cooked beans, and therefore which husband is lazy and which one is enterprising.
They also know which man is raising his neighbor’s child, unknowingly.
Europe is struggling to move its people out of towns, but 90% of Africa’s people still live in these villages.

Things like the Extended family, which Chinua Achebe talks about in one of final essays – arguing how European sociologists are now realizing that the much-taunted nuclear family is the breeding place for selfishness, individualism and sadism. This should explain why Europe complains of being overrun by socio and psychopaths.

We have something to teach the world through our round architectural motif – because even occidental architects now agree that rounded houses cancel out configurations of the earth’s magnetic field that cause cancer. People who live in houses with corners, are being magnetized and are very likely to develop cancer over their lifetime.
But Africa’s homes have always been round; and not only the humblest or poorest, but even the ruins and remnants of the great castles and courts of Timbuktu in Mali were circular/round unlike the ancient castles of European, Arab or Indian nobility with their square keeps.

Things like the art of conversation, which is the baseline of our humanity, as the only creatures capable of complex/sophisticated language forms; in this age of solitude and internet-induced super-independence of individuals. For example, just thing morning, I greeted a colleague by asking him what the scores of last evening’s football World Cup Matches were. I have an internet-enabled mobile phone of course, but for some reason, like many of us – I felt it would be more authentic coming from his mouth, and anyhow, it was healthy for our friendship.

All this being said, I argue in conclusion that we must be allowed to make our own mistakes, because making mistakes is the only way people turn their backs completely on solutions that don’t work.
I think that the identity crisis in Africa will only be solved when we are allowed to return to that raft and see it capsize with our own eyes—and then hopefully swim to shore—or if not, then at least we’ll die with the taste of freedom on our tongues.



END