We have short memories here. Part of it is self-preservation and desensitization, how else do you explain reading about our money being misappropriated and stolen every single day in the newspaper and feeling nothing?
We have had a long and bloody time in our short history as an independent nation and therefore it is necessary to re-forget every day that our President is a war criminal, that our cabinet is full of thieves. That way we don’t have to consider our own role in creating, nurturing and enabling these leaders we choose every election cycle.
Because there are levels of war criminals and degrees of genocide and there is distance between me and you and Kampala and Gulu and Kigali and Darfur and Port au Prince and the Bronx and time does not heal all wounds but we keep going anyway.
Chimamanda Adichie, who reminds us that when it comes to Africa Many Stories Matter, has a short story collection called , my favourite of which is The Headstrong Historian. It tells the story of Nwambga, a widow who protects herself from her in-laws by giving her son to be educated in the ways of white missionaries, and her granddaughter who grows up to write a reclamationist history of Nigeria. I love this story because how many African stories are blessed with the continuity of both pre and post-colonial history. How many of us know the multigenerational epic that is our own family history?
If the damage that colonialism did to our history can be compared to complete retrograde amnesia , then not only must we go back and relearn our past, we have to keep reminding ourselves of the present. We must force ourselves to see the malnourished kids on Jinja road as if seeing them for the first time. Art has a role to play in making us see and feel the same images again, differently.
Remember this image?
It was taken on day 3 of the Walk to Work protests, by Echwalu Edward, whose dynamic photos straddle the lines between news and art. The image shows a protestor in Kireka carrying a stone to block the road. The composition is striking and it made sense as the cover of that week’s Independent magazine.
A couple of weeks ago, sitting in another endless traffic jam on Kyagwe road, I happened upon this mural.
The same image repurposed onto an iron sheet fencing off a building site. The artist, David Kigozi is a talented member of Kampala’s art fraternity, who creates works that apply the same sense of nostalgia to both traditional and contemporary Kampala.
The text reads “billions spent to fight a man with a stone”
The photograph and the mural build a layered narrative that reminds us that Walk to Work may be over but the anger that drove those protests has not died. Rising prices, the falling Shilling, traders and taxi drivers striking, the issues affecting ordinary Ugandans are real.
Art is all around you, even in Kampala, pay attention.
*with thanks to Moses Serubiri, an amazing photographer in his own right