Boda Boda Anthem: A Kampala poetry collection

Tuesday January 9 2018

Boda Boda Anthem and Other Poems, A Kampala Poetry Anthology

Boda Boda Anthem and Other Poems, A Kampala Poetry Anthology. PHOTO | BENSON MWANGI

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If you had a chance to talk about your city poetically what would you say?

What if you incorporated foreigners and requested them to speak about your metropolitan from their point of view?

What would a blend of the two come up with? Boda Boda Anthem and Other Poems, A Kampala Poetry Anthology is a result of such an experiment.


The book edited by Mildred K. Barya brings together different poets from within Uganda, East Africa and around the world to eke out verses about the popular city.

It’s a unique dose of beautiful poesy revering the city of the impalas. The history and lure of Kampala is known all over Africa and its influence is well documented.

Verses solid in their elegance and celebratory in diversity make for a wonderful adventure through words in an inimitable sumptuous read.


Refined rhythms take you with them through a poetic excursion revealing in trill the realities of Kampala while reaffirming a number of themes.

You get a bird’s eye view of challenges the city faces, somewhat similar to Kenya's capital Nairobi: emergent potholes on month-old roads, avenues loudly shouting the names of national heroes, streets filled with dust and noise and busy marketplaces where boda bodas lithely zigzag around traffic on streets lined with anything from ladies shoe sellers to food hawkers.


Cities give a voice to echoes of poets and the book is a loud poetic expression of a personified city.

Kampala is portrayed not just as an urban jungle but as a person to be reprimanded; feted and embodied; loved, advised and instructed if need be.

The outsiders and insiders paint a picture of an African city, alive and busy, sometimes hurtling in the wrong direction but altogether invoking tens of poetic voices you will love reading.

Like a lady with curves to sing about, the anthology is as loud as an anthem, perfectly describing the glitzy jaggedness of Kampala, the pride of Africa.


The poems intone lyrics, shout realities and paint a picture of almost every black African city. Think about the boda boda mayhem in Kenya and you’ll agree with Paula Biraaro’s ‘Boda Boda Anthem’ muse:

…unbwogable force of renegade commandos,
We are
Ghost riders on wheels of steel,
We are
A secret brotherhood with a code of honor
‘Breaking all the rules’
We know where to find you
We know where you live


Boda Boda Anthem and Other Poems is also a song of the young. Twelve-year-old Lydia Neeley in ‘Safari City’ sees parallels between the wild and Kampala where “the hyena, a sly and tricky hunter, is like the street sellers changing and raising their prices”. In ‘Sleep Until You Slip’ by Kitooke Amoni you can taste the perceptive sarcasm that:

For life is short
Just sleep.
Since you are still too young to be clean,
Just sleep

Categorized in four sections, the Kampala Poetry Anthology is a birdsong discovery of a pearl in Ubuntu, Kampala City Y’ani? How Do You Say Kampala with an Accent? and Marry Me, Kampala.

It is a glimpse into the past, rush into the present and bask in modern times expressing a sense of becoming. They are poems of a city over 50 years young or old depending on how you look at it.

The unpredictability of the city in the eye of the poets is real, uncertainty a concern and perpetual transformation a measure of hope shaped by the people who call it home. The continental authenticities in poetic verse make for a transmuting delicious read.