Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Politics Matter


I used to hate politics. Passionately. 
Politics is bad for you! Leave it alone.

I thought nothing was more wearying than being trapped in one of those fourteen seater commuter taxis with a tuft bearded driver whose hand was more on the dial of the taxi radio than on the steering wheel. The dial skittering over screaming frequencies in frantic search of radio political talk shows, fleeing from evening radio music countdown shows-to find the likes of Tamale Mirundi (before he became a Ugandan Presidential Advisor), the Meddie Nsereko’s (before the old spirit of CBS FM radio was crushed after the September 2009 riots), or Andrew Mwenda (when he was still part of Monitor FM, when he was still part of MPL, when you would never dream he could defend a government functionary). 

When I could, I would get out of the taxi and walk. Wishing I owned a Sony Walkman (yes, it was not that long ago though it seems so! Just 2005 here-here!), like some people I knew who owned some, before mobile phones that had FM radio functions became available and I could tune in a station of my choice. 

All I wanted from life, all I asked was for the opportunity to get a very good book to read from time to time, places where to buy many movies I had grown up hearing about on the CNN movie review segments and wanted to watch for myself, friends once in a while to invite over to my small house to share tots of whiskey and just talk, after a day’s work, after a week’s work-as we planned where we would go together, when we had saved up enough money, when our schedules synchronised perfectly, see some of the beauties of Uganda for ourselves, and take ‘villager’ photos posing infront of them, mementos for life. 

I wanted nothing to do with politics. I had ‘seen’ what politics had done to some of what I considered the best minds Uganda had ever had. In polite society phrases at the back of his books, I had read of the heartbroken alcoholic exile of literary greats like Okot P’Bitek (who to this astonishing day no public memorial of exists in Uganda), how the chance of now world greats in the arts like Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, the Christopher Okigbo’s, why even VS Naipaul had briefly considered settling down in Kampala, Uganda then the politics (I thought) chased them away and the opportunity of Kampala becoming another Vienna of the 18th century, a Berlin of the 19th century, a New York of the 20th century vanished with their hot on their heels fleeing. 

I had even more personal examples for loathing politics. For dreading that arena that seemed, once you got in, you could never entirely leave. As if you had kissed the first soft lips of a woman and could never forget her. 

We used, in the early 2000s, with some friends to walk along Kampala road, truant from class and school, looking for what I don’t know! But we would, walking as far from them as possible (did we think bad luck, misfortune, was contagious?), slow down near Uganda House and point out to each other old men with greying Obote haircuts and worse frayed coats who we had heard once upon a time were some of the most powerful men in Uganda. Men who now sat unseeing around Uganda House, sometimes in slippers with bilaka as if, even after all these years, they were still recovering from a thunder strike that had left them dazed. Politics did that to them, we would whisper to each other, and recount to each other ‘stories’ we had heard of how those personages used to live, when they were still in power, when the Uganda People’s Congress was its zenith and Milton Obote was in every Ugandan life like he was on the bank notes. 

So I used to hate politics. 

Thought it very good advice whenever I was told, “Stay away from politics. Politics is bad. You don’t need politics.”  

It is the message we 1980s children grew up hearing. It is the message we were encouraged to pass onto our 1990s siblings. That they are passing onto the 2000s generation. It is the very same message that encouraged the mube bakakamu (be calm, take it easy) response upon every outrage that was perpetuated by poor leadership or deliberate misrule. 

So today...

...I have go down to Owino Market, hoping the luck is with me, I may find a good book because the books I would wish to read are priced out of my tattered brown wallet range most of the time in Aristoc Booklex so that sometimes ignorance seems more affordable...it goes back to the politics...

...I put off going to a doctor, self-medicating (Is there any Ugandan who does not have a small pharmacy in their house?), for as long as I can; incredulous when I still hear from some old people that once upon a time you could go to hospital and the government would pay for you through the taxes you were paying...politics...

...I listen but I do not believe when people from those days tell me how when you started working, in government or privately, within a year you were expected to own a car and your own house, no excuses, government schemes were there, so discouraged from questioning the ‘wisdom’ of certain economic policies that made it so that today I should expect nothing from the government but continue to pay to maintain until I nearly forgot that to have an opinion is not a crime...really politics...

Like I have said, I used to hate politics. Passionately.

Every day you remain silent; you’re cheated out of your inheritance

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