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A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF MADNESS: SSEGIRINYA MUHAMMAD'S PRISONS-FREE NEW UGANDA

Have you seen the video where Ssegirinya Muhammad (Mr. Updates) says that in the new Uganda where Robert Kyagulanyi Sentamu (Bobi Wine) is President, there will be no prisons, that Kitalya and Luzira prisons will be turned into a shopping center / mall and arcade respectively? I have just sampled “Ugandan” responses to Comrade Mr. Updates’ dreams of a new Uganda without prisons, and most (including people who otherwise portray themselves as progressive) are labelling the activist-politician, crazy, mad, high, etc.

This is how low the public imagination in Uganda has sunk, oppression has been ingrained so deeply in the minds and worldview of many that when you dream and imagine freedom, they call you mad, crazy, high, in need of help. Freedom to the “public” Ugandan imagination is madness!

We need to be mad, to get crazy, to get high, there was that poem that Sylvia Tamale once quoted to say that Ugandan women rights activists need to get drunk on Feminism, Ugandan activists, the Ugandan public needs to run mad, if that is what imagining freedom requires.

Thomas Sankara in 1985 said: “You cannot carry out fundamental change without a certain amount of madness. In this case, it comes from nonconformity, the courage to turn your back on the old formulas, the courage to invent the future.”

Even before the Police and military and the paramilitary organizations and the pro-Museveni militias descend on us to brutalize us, to violate us, to kill us, the oppressive infrastructure is in our minds. That inner cop that says that imagining a country without prisons is madness is the oppressor. We must liberate our minds. That is where freedom begins. Remember Steve Biko warning that: “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”

If your immediate reaction to Comrade Mr. Updates’ dream of a new Uganda without prisons was to call him crazy, a comedian, mad, high, drunk, sick, a joker: I am delivering the news that indeed we have been conditioned to not only fear freedom but to regard it as impossible.

There is a history to this connection between freedom and madness. Drapetomania was a conjectural mental illness that, in 1851, American physician Samuel A. Cartwright hypothesized as the cause of enslaved Africans fleeing captivity. Literally, freedom from slavery = madness.·

This is where we are in Uganda. We are at the point where we label those who imagine freedom, mad. Of course, we all still remember Museveni trying to subject Dr. Stella Nyanzi to an involuntary mental examination, don’t we? The oppressor calls those who imagine freedom, mad.

For me, as me, I want this madness, this craze, this illness, this drunkenness, this high, of freedom. I am counting on the People Power “manifesto” to have a dose of this madness. To have dreams of “the impossible”. We must dare to dream the impossible, that is the meaning of freedom.

And that is before I turn to Frantz Fanon, who in the last chapter of The Wretched of the Earth provides us a professional and medical diagnosis of oppression as a mental illness that afflicts both the oppressed and the oppressor. The oppressor is mentally traumatized by the torture they inflict on the oppressed. The oppressed of course are traumatized by the torture, the bad things they have undergone. Freedom, liberation is therefore not only of benefit to the oppressed, but also the oppressor.

In short, bring on the crazy dreams, bring on the mad stuff, bring on the drunken possibilities, because we need a “certain amount of madness” to imagine and bring forth revolution. To bring forth change, RADICAL change, we need a “certain amount of madness.”

My thinking / processing of the responses to Comrade Mr. Updates’ dreams of a prison-free Uganda is informed by La Marr Jurelle Bruce’s book, How to Go Mad without Losing Your Mind: Madness and Black Radical Creativity, coming in April 2021

I admire La Marr Jurelle Bruce’s “mad methodology”. La Marr studies artists who “activate madness as content, form, aesthetic, strategy, philosophy, and energy in an enduring black radical tradition” including Amiri Baraka, Ntozake Shange, Sun Ra, Nina Simone, Lauryn Hill etc.

In the continuing freedom struggle in Uganda, look to the people whose dreams are called “mad” “crazy” “drunk” “high”, etc … our immediate case of Ssegirinya Muhammad (Mr. Updates), Stella Nyanzi, Bobi Wine Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu etc… Those are the ones imagining freedom.

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