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BOOK: An African in awe

Ugandan-born writer Kirunda wants an African mental revolution but is he going about it the wrong way?

A little over thirty year ago, Emmanuel S. Kirunda was an ordinary Musoga boy growing up in rural Iganga, in Eastern Uganda. He faced the usual struggles of growing up in a poor society. Even a break time snack at school was sometimes a luxury as the family could not afford it. The opportunity struck.

While in primary four, Kirunda moved to the US state of New Mexico. The firsthand exposure at a tender age to the Western way of life radically transformed his worldview and has also seen him scale the corporate heights to a scale that many Ugandans would unflinchingly bet their inheritance to attain.

Today he boasts of, among a myriad credentials, a master’s degree in Engineering Management from the University of Texas at Austin; he is now a high level executive at Tullow Oil based in London, after having occupied a dizzying list of top positions as an investment banker in the U.S. and in oil and gas in Uganda, Ghana and Nigeria.

Kirunda is also the author of a trilogy of books titled `The Fourth Heritage’, `The Fourth Republic’ and `Beyond the Fourth Heritage’, all written and published while in the U.S. The last of the trilogy was launched in Uganda in November last year at the Golf Course Hotel in Kampala and is our point of focus here.

It is about the inherent power to transcend one’s heritage of birth. In essence, it is Kirunda’s personal treatise about how to rise above all limitations occasioned by one’s birth and become a second creation – this time of one’s own proactive design. He uses his life story as the measuring rod.

The 366-page hard-back book is largely premised on the famous quotation attributed to the late African scholar, Prof. Ali Mazrui. He said: “It can be said that Africa invented man, the Semites invented God and the Europeans invented the world or at least the idea of the world.”

From the face of it, one gets the impression that Kirunda did some good homework, reading quite widely and thus making a wide range of frames of reference. The first sections of the book take the reader through history lessons on everything from ancient civilisations, Christianity, Islam and then make a wild swing into Greek philosophy, modern psychology, science, humanism, etc. He presents several hypotheses.

For instance, he seeks to debunk some of the age-old racist notions perpetuated by Immanuel Kant, Sigmund Freud and their ilk, of grading the human race and always putting the black race at the bottom rang.  He reminds the reader that Egypt was the cradle of ancient civilization that gave birth to Western civilisations and thus the African race cannot be said to be the black sheep among bright goats.

But whereas the writer goes to great lengths to illuminate the notion of birth transcendence, he falls short of driving the narrative in a coherent hypothetical trajectory. At first the book evokes a scholarly accent with scientific and historical references but going deeper exposes a lack of factual profundity and very little of his own voice, save for scanty allusions to his life story before he quickly tappers off to yet another totally different realm. He also goes to great lengths to write disparagingly about the African mentality; the African’s porous and simplistic mind that is responsible for our gullibility and how we are captives of our own negativity. His outright assertion that the problem we have in Africa is 100% mental is a sweeping statement that can easily be challenged by any neophyte thinker. That said, anyone interested in a broad-brush painting of humankind through the lens of history will find this good reading. The book is available in both soft and hard cover in major local bookstores.


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