By Yusuf K. Serunkuma
Musicians like Bobi Wine and comedians are standing out as the philosophers of our era
We live in tragic times, David Scott noted in his 2004 book, Conscripts of Modernity. “This is not merely because”, Scott explained “our world is assailed by one moral and social catastrophe after another. Rather because, our time “is out of joint.” The old language of moral-political vision and hope are no longer in sync with the world they were meant to describe and normatively criticise…as a result, our society is suffering from a loss of hope; the slowly settling loss of any acceptable future. After Scott has vividly captured our structured absurd world, art becomes one way of negotiating or coming to terms with our present reality: From the NRM tragicomedies; the lacklustre dramas on Kampala’s streets – Mayor Vs. Executive Director, to our obsession with a written law for every aspect of our lives. In Scott’s words, “are symptoms of a more profound predicament…the anxiety of exhaustion.”
Enter Bobi Wine. Much has been said to disparage the self-styled Ghetto President, and others in the trade. Of course, many artistes deserve a public lashing. However the Ghetto President deserves some degree of respect. For in our time – our tragic times – no single individual has attempted to represent, negotiate, explain, critique, and make sense of our troubled present – in a language so appropriate and a genre so appealing and accessible: Music.
His catalogue: When our country was in the thick of negotiating the Domestic Relations Bill (DRB), Bobi Wine released “Adam ne Kaawa,” a hit that dominated both rural and urban airwaves for quite sometime. Indeed, this song represented a great deal of urban and rural thought on marriage and divorce – opposition from feminist corners notwithstanding. And he had collaborated with Juliana and given us the patriarchal-ly titled, “TaatawaAbaana” – despite the gender equity of the lyrics, and overall message.
Quite recently, Kampala has seen a sort of development tsunami under the newly created Kampala City Council Authority – presided over by the God blessed (or Regime-blessed?) Jenifer Musisi. The level of cruelty that oversaw the process called for presidential intervention: Bobi Wine released the critical but polite “Tugambire Ku Jenifer.” Government was up in arms initially attempting to ban the song from airplay. Without seeking to disagree with the improvements, Bobi succinctly captured the popular thought of Kampalans and suggested an alternative method of work – one with reduced cruelty. It is in this song that His Excellency debates belonging and identity. Bobi sought to remind KCCA that Kampala is nothing without people: eno Kampala Yaffe: This Kampala is ours – a claim that many Kampalans would fondly make, even recent residents. Indeed, the surname of one of his children is Kampala – a most powerful claim on the city. It is also an indication that ethnic categories often inherited in names do matter for our livelihood in the city! One may disagree on this one, but there’s method to it.
The proclamation of the Ghetto Republic is in itself a caricature, if not a satire of the official republic. With the intermittent planning of the main city, a sketchy infrastructure, rowdy sewers in arguably upscale locations; Bobi Wine appears to be mocking the sameness of these seemingly diametric locations. “Kololo, Muyenga, or Bugolobi are not necessarily different from Kamwokya, Bwaise or Kawempe,” he seems to be saying. Interestingly, at different levels, both places have broken sewers, are inhabited by people trying to cobble an existence through different forms of gambling.
Earlier, Bobi Wine had released “ekiwaani- ” Faked or faking. Perhaps the best song to capture our time: masking, faking, pretending, wannabe-ism or even inefficiency! “Everyone is faking” – goes the song’s chorus. Lets see: On February 6, media reported about Ahmed Ssempala who sought to feign death and skip loan repayment. Ssempala had gone to Mulago Hospital to procure “a death certificate and a post-mortem report declaring him dead.” This unlucky Ugandan was “indebted to a tune of Sh200m in accumulated loans.” First, we may never know why Ssempala went to the wrong place: No one had told him about magical Nasser Road? The Makerere University, the Lands Office, the Internal Affairs Ministry (read Passport Office), the Bank of Uganda – among other things – of the Ghetto Republic.
Ku Nasser: In 2011, comedians Amooti and Paddy Bitama (RIP) of the comedy outfit Amarula Family captured the importance of Nasser Road – as another centre of power in Kampala’s social and political life. As presidential hopefuls, they had to present the Electoral Commission with valid education certificates for their nomination. Vice Presidential hopeful Amooti would announce to cheering fans as he held a conspicuously heavy file: “They say they want papers, we have them; we are from Nasser Road!”
Indeed, as a centre of power, Nasser Road has many times redefined people’s identities, created new futures, contested, and outwitted official power for the advantage of the ordinary person. Ironically, Nasser Road inverts the inconvenience of official power: there is no corruption, no bureaucracy, and no incompetence. Unless of course you went to the wrong guy! If Nasser Road is the lifeblood of society’s outcasts, then Bobi Wine is its best historian.
As the NRM wonders about the honesty of their Prime Minister; or as one wonders whether the fellows we date are genuinely beautiful, Bobi Wine stands as the philosopher of the time. Your Excellency! Release more Music.