BUKENYA: Young people, an artist and plastic on my mind

Saturday January 13 2018

Back to the ladies on my mind as the old year ends and the new one begins, Lupita Amondi Nyong’o, once again, makes my list. . PHOTO| BANG SHOWBIZ

By Austin Bukenya

Usually, at the beginning of the year, we scribblers love to name those who have made or marred the preceding year for us.

Often it is both, a sort of bouquets and barbs. I had thought I, too, might do that this January, but I have given up on the exercise, for two reasons.

First, there are so many deserving nominations, on both the bouquets and barbs sides, that I just cannot do justice to all of them. (Do not ask me to which side Donald J. Trump belongs). Naming one instantly begs another. That is what they call an invidious task.

Secondly, the time is flying so fast and the events piling up so quickly that 2017 seems to have so seamlessly blended into 2018 that I can hardly tell who or what “happened” late last year or early this one.

I will thus just mention a few of the people, and things, uppermost in my mind and try to show their relevance to our current concerns.

What matters is that they should elicit some response from you and, especially, challenge you to relate the discourse to your own concerns.



One good example of this is a detailed response I got from a Reverend friend to my article about Kwanzaa. He did not think it would be a good idea for us to celebrate the festival and he eloquently stated his reasons.

I am privately responding to him, but if time and circumstances allow, I will share his views with you, together with my own comments, especially as we approach Black History Month, soon after celebrating Martin Luther King Day on January 15.

Anyway, back to my jumbled “nominations”. I still feel that my woman of 2017 was Chepkura, the lady who was born “in” a voters’ queue last August.

She may not have made the Jamhuri Honours List, but I believe that she and her mother symbolise the ordinary people’s faith in and commitment to democracy and good governance.

Those who consider themselves to be leaders owe it to Chepkura and all wananchi to deliver on these people’s profound desire for peace, prosperity and progress.

The people’s prayer and plea, I believe, is that, in the aftermath of our recent experiences, the leaders should rise above all the traps of narrow self-interests, ethnic chauvinism and megalomaniac personality cults and work together for our present and our future.

We should also realise that when Kenya sneezes, the whole of the Great Lakes region catches a flu. As a person who, literally, lives with my relatives across all the East African borders, I can hardly exaggerate the agony, the angst and the exasperation to which Kenya’s prolonged 2017 ordeal subjected the region.

It is with justifiable pride, but with even a more profound sense of responsibility, that we should acknowledge that all East African roads lead to Kisumu, Nairobi and Mombasa.

Back to the ladies on my mind as the old year ends and the new one begins, Lupita Amondi Nyong’o, once again, makes my list.

You know my admitted partiality for the lady, ranging from my acquaintance with her “family” since my Makerere student days to her making a major film, Queen of Katwe, in a suburb where I spent some of my childhood days.

But this time it is because of her heroic concretisation for us the reality of the #MeToo revolution. This epoch-making raising of the woman’s voice against sexual harassment, exploitation and objectification, even at the highest echelons of society, is bound to expand and grow in a crescendo throughout this year.

You heard, for example, of what happened at the Golden Globe Awards early this week. For once I agree with Trump that it is not likely to make

Oprah Winfrey a Presidential candidate in 2021. But one thing is certain: our gender relations will never be the same again after #MeToo and Lupita.

But back to Nairobi, do you remember someone at a United Nations conference dropping the bombshell that, in a few decades to come, there might be more plastics than fish in the sea? That is mind-boggling, even if you do not love fish as dearly as I do. Incidentally, do we Jonams (lake people) know or care how much harm the pollution, mainly by plastics, is doing to Lake Victoria and her sister lakes?

But on a lighter note, the exploits of a young musician caught my attention. Twelve-year old Daniel Colaner of Akron, Ohio, recently performed la fantaisie impromptu by the famous Franco-Polish composer Fredrick Chopin at the Carnegie Hall in New York. The Hall is one of the best-known performing venues in the world. Now, that in itself would be significant enough. Indeed, Daniel Colaner is appropriately described as a child prodigy.

But there is something more to Daniel. He is a cancer patient. He was diagnosed with a usually-fatal brain malignancy in his infancy, and given a 25 percent chance of survival, with the best treatment available. In addition to interventions like chemotherapy, his doctors suggested that playing music might help to keep his brain developing. That is how piano playing became part of Daniel’s treatment and growth. The rest, as they say, is history. Daniel Colaner is on his way to an international performing career, and his cancer is in remission, meaning it is not causing him any more immediate harm.

This story struck me with a particular poignancy because I have heard sad murmurs that the teaching of music might be scrapped from the Uganda school curriculum. This, I suppose, is in the context of the demented clamour for “science” subjects. Imagine what would have happened to Daniel Colaner if there had been no music in his environment.

The arts can, like some sciences, be matters of life and death. Anyway, do listen to some Chopin music, especially the Nocturnes. They are scrumptious.


Prof Bukenya is a leading East Afri- can scholar of English and Literature. [email protected]