‘Flame and Song’: Down memory lane

Sunday April 23 2017
pic down memory lane

First it was Jackee Batanda. She of the feisty and indefatigable nature. She invited me to attend a ‘meet and greet’ function for her company.

At first I was reluctant but Jackee has the will of a crocodile’s jaws. She never lets go if she is onto something. She kept calling up to the last minute, so I had to drag myself there.

She had an amazing story. She told us about her journey to being an author. Not only had she gotten to rub shoulders with the likes of Chimamanda Ngonzi Adichi (Purple Hibiscus and Half a Yellow Sun), she had also managed to pay her way through Witwatersrand University by telling stories.

Now Jackee had started a company and she was giving writing workshops. As a result of her work, several people had gotten to write and tell their stories.

At the ‘meet and greet’ she introduced me to a publisher, Nyana Kakoma. She was so young you could have thought she had escaped from home to be here. But she had published some serious stuff under her company.

Not only had she gotten to publish this stuff locally, it was really good quality. I wished she had gotten to help some of the prominent persons who have written manuscripts understand the difference between printing and publishing.

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Nyana Kakoma proudly showed me some of her output and before I knew it, I had purchased two books for reading. One was by Peter Kagayi (The Headline That Morning). Peter Kagayi is a poet and he writes beautiful lyrical verse. He is a mirror of the past, the present and the future. The other was by Philippa Namutebi Kabali-Kagwa (Flame And Song). Philippa’s book is a portrait of Uganda’s history, written in both prose and poetic verse. It intrigued me because she is of my generation and a number of the characters in her book were people I had met in my own yet undocumented journey.

Philippa tells a haunting story. A story of love, joy and pain. A story of innocence shattered by the midlife pangs of a nation. A story of growing up, blissfully unaware of the cauldron, which was her Uganda, being uprooted unceremoniously and returning to a strange country (home) many years later.

A story of a raped nation, and a story of innocent souls caught up in the throes of a conflict that is difficult to comprehend. The death of her father resonated with me - dying because of the callousness creatures life has made of us.

The builder of the nation is dead.

But he was old,’

they said.

On the 6th floor, in the VIP room

of our national flagship hospital

he lay.

Six weeks

he waited for his hip to be fixed

only to be

buried with it untouched.

The builder of the nation is dead.

But he was old’,

they said.

Waiting three days

for the physician

to say ‘His heart is okay, you can fix his hip’

and then have the surgeon disappear

to a conference, they say.

His health ebbed away,

as he lay on his back.

Then his stomach ached.

So they cut him open

and stitched up his gut,

his hip still untouched…

Certainly, Namutebi (as she is wont to be called) did make me have a nostalgic Easter. Reading her powerful and simply written story made me feel that probably if we ordinary folk did tell our story, through our own words and value system, there could be a future for our children. Or maybe, it is just flame and song. (NMG)

Prof Sejjaaka is country team leader at Abacus Business School. @samuelsejjaaka