On Sunday, I was having a conversation with a good friend of mine about books. He is a lover of books, with regrets that perhaps he would have used time in the Seminary to read books. Like myself, this friend of mine was dismissed in the Seminary. However, we both held reading with the highest regard. It was our escape from the tormenting and ridiculous power-hungry teachers. Our centre of discussion was about “the honking” by Mulumba Ivan Matthias, he wanted to know whether the book was good enough for him to purchase. I told him, the story is very simple and relatable. I thus gave him a pitch to which he could use to accept how powerful Mulumba is, when he heard my voice note he decided to remind me about a popular book, we all yearned to read in high school; “Habakkuk the Catechist” by Dr. Peregrine Kibuuka (RIP). This novel was a darling amongst my peers back then. Many of them read the book apart from me. I truly had bias about Ugandan literature whilst growing up. It was something I didn’t fancy. I found it ridiculous and time-wasting on my side – something I regret to date. Perhaps, if I had begun earlier to read my local writers, I might have moved further and better in the field of writing by now. Well, Habakkuk the Catechist was the center of the conversation. He told me, he regretted not reading in the Seminary. Now he has to buy books to “feel” that void. I only told him, it is not too late to start. Though, I cautioned him that books are extremely expensive better be ready to embrace your wallet.
Out of guilt, anyways, I decided to begin looking for “Habakkuk the Catechist”. Put the information in various groups, hoping that maybe someone might have heard about the book and he/she would come to my rescue, but no one came through. Very absurd and disappointing, and I felt so sad. Dr. Kibuuka was a head teacher at Namilyango College. In his tenure, we witnessed over the news a young person who was bullied by fellow students to death. May his soul rest well. He was a teacher and he was supposed to be celebrated.
Why this long post, I have noticed over the years that anyone in Uganda who claims to be a writer has failed to think beyond their present. They have forgotten, maybe, that they can die one day. Death is the mighty equalizer. My point is that, when a writer dies in Uganda, their work dies with them. Why? Doesn’t this bother you all? All powerful writers that died a long time ago, their work is difficult to access/find. Their work is something you might never see again when these writers die. We have failed to brand our heroes. We awash them with praises and forget how important it is to continue the legacy. A writer dies, their beauty dies with them. It is almost the same thing in the music industry. What have we done wrong?
People should understand this. The reason why Okot p’Bitek still sells in his death is not because we relate to his story in the present. No! The reason why Okot is still celebrated or widely read is because a white man profiled and branded him. That is it. Anything that has been branded by a white man has proven to be durable in the long run. Okot and his cohort of writers are the case study. Look at Ngugi. Look at Achebe. Look at Alan Paton etc. All these figures were branded and profiled by a white man. Their legacy still lives on to date.
Back on my point. When a writer dies in Uganda. They die with their content unless branded by a white person. We could stretch further how they create relevance around you. They take off time, to invest in you. To supply your content. To book for your TV/Radio interviews. They donate your work to museums and University libraries. Your work is found in all major bookshops in the world. They make sure you get the marketing you deserve. They truly prepare a hero in the making. Furthermore, the white man makes sure when you die, your voice never dies with you. They continue feeding us with your books. They make changes and eulogise your legacy. They endeavour to spread the gospel in your own country, later on. Your country’s people begin appreciating you later. They begin celebrations.
How does this work? This is not rocket science. No! This is simply understanding the importance of publishers in our lives – especially those who have the financial muscle to pull on many things. A publisher, who is well-equipped with the right tools will save a writer’s children from starvation. Why say so? I have witnessed first-hand how long-dead authors, their work dies or gets pirated at Nasser Road because no one is there to monitor these sales. It is sickening to admit that, even children of such writers don’t care to push the art of their dead parent. No! A writer who has not been honoured by this kind of luck (being published by a white man). Will perish immediately, and it is the harshest reality.
My good friend told me thus, that his biggest regret was that he now has to purchase books. Back in the Seminary books were in plenty and free and he did not care that much to read those books. Now things have changed. Knowledge is expensive.
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