BOOKS: Insights into Uganda – It’s the funniest, frankest, saddest commentary ever written about Uganda
I like reading because it packs rest, entertainment, learning and more in one activity. Most times though, I am very clear about why I am reading a particular item.
So I was at a loss when a very observant, inquisitive, opinionated, funny, and self-effacing former British diplomat with an itch to document his thoughts on living in Uganda for over 17 years gave me a copy of his new book.
The Mzungu is Kevin O’Connor, or as he prefers to be called; Rt. Hon. Eng. Sir. Mzungu with a big nose, no chin, and no bum MP OBE CBE etc. His book is titled ‘Insights into Uganda‘.
The book is a compilation of newspaper articles O’Connor has written over the years under his `Roving Eye’ column, first in The New Vision and later in The Monitor. That means I had read many of them before since I read most newspapers daily – it’s partly my job and I love it.
However, reading one article of about 600 words every other Sunday cannot compare to the buffet O’Connor serves up when he puts all 200-something of his articles together. My wife with whom I shared the book, and who had read some of the articles before, likened it to watching several episodes of a “series” of say `Grey’s Anatomy’ at one sitting. Still, what was I to make of some of them, after all these years? O’Connor describes some of the articles as thoughtful, often provocative, and sometimes humorous. But I decided to re-read them for fun.
That is not to say the other attributes O’Connor thinks he sprinkles around are not in the book. The book’s strongest points are O’Connor’s expansive knowledge of varied subjects including music, culture, poetry, history, literature, politics, economics, and more. But he wisely serves up the nuggets in basic terms like a side-dish.
I like his approach because I would rather not deal directly with the candour of his piercing observations and bare knuckle views of this `foreigner’ scrutinizing my community. I have been here before; when a visiting child sitting on my sofa shouted `Mummy, mummy rat, rat, see’ and her mother politely pretended she had not seen the embarrassing creature.
As his many followers will testify, O’Connor’s articles are mainly hilarious and possibly exaggerated tales of his escapades. And tales by any person in a foreign country who likes restless roving, enjoys a swig of his favourite bello, and has a deep understanding of cross-cultural issues, would possibly be worth reading.
But O’Connor renders them in a way that‘s so jocularly memorable that he should possibly be marketing his book as a series of stories readers could retool and retell and be proclaimed the funniest people on earth. Take this one titled `The Sagala song hits Uganda’. First the lyrics: Sagala Man U, Sagala Chelsea, Sagala arse, Njagala Fulham…
O’Connor who is a die-hard fan of Fulham, says he likes to bend over and slap his buttocks when singing the “Sagala arse” line. That article is served with a cartoon depicting O’Connor at his despicable best singing “Sagala Arse” – for Arsenal of course!
All O’Connor’s writing has sociological functionality flags. It’s equally true that he would probably deny any instructive intent and say he aims at keeping his deepest pieces at basic social commentary level.
But consider this one titled ‘UB40-No money to go’. It is clearly a commentary on Ugandans economic classes with hints on rural city snobbery. But at another level, it could be describing a community of poor but determined entrepreneurial people as he bases it on conversations with four people; a news-vendor, electrical repair shop owner, vegetable seller, and butcher. Finally, it could be read as the tale of a vulgar mzungu who is feeling guilty about having fun at a UB40 concern when most of his African neighbours cannot afford it.
It’s also clear that, 20 years from now, anyone reading the next article titled “Is Juliana getting fat?” would possibly wonder at the sexist nerve of the writer, but along the way pick some facts about society’s cross-cultural perceptions and attitudes to being fat. O’Connor mentions Straka in the same column. Which means today’s reader might just sigh and say: “kale they have been around bambi”.
The articles definitely send one down memory lane; I had forgotten the VP Bukenya-Nakku saga, Pastor Kiwewesi’s Shs360 million wedding to Sasha in 2007, Norbert Mao and Naome’s fairytale love stories from 2011 (Followed by one titled ‘Chicken chips better than sex!). Some things never change.
O’Connor groups them under 13 titles ranging from Gender and sexual Orientation, Sex and Love, Language, Music, Poverty and Inequality, Health and Death, and finally Katogo (mixture).
My wife and I have finished reading the bits of the book we each like. Still, we keep it by our bedside table – sometimes on my side, others on hers. I suspect the one who always grabs it is the one who is most in the mood for fun. Get yourself a copy of the book. It does wonders – even in the bedroom.