When I named Prof Kimani Njogu of Twaweza Communications as the guru of dialogism in our region, he did not “dialogise” (talk back to) me. Well, the gentleman is a professional communicator and he well knows how not to waste time and energy by indulging in the obvious.
You may remember my telling you, rather obviously, that dialogism is the systematic approach to all communication, including literature and orature, as a pattern of conversational exchanges, a dialogue. This means the exchange of messages among participants in a communication act or event.
But the buzz in the air this week has been “love”, and it set me thinking again that love would be really lovely if we regarded it and conducted it as dialogue. It reminded me of what my friend and rika-mate, Gacheche Waruinge, a former Head of Literature at UoN and the founder of Phoenix Publishers, once told a group of young people in Nairobi. I quote from memory, but I believe that Waruinge said that one of the reasons why present-day man-woman relationships are depressingly shallow, deceitful, exploitative and even violent is that we have lost the art of writing love letters.
I take the liberty to interpret “love letters” here as the whole art of interpersonal communication. Maybe I should also tell you that Mwalimu Waruinge’s observation was made several decades ago, and writing has drastically changed in the intervening years. The concept of a well-penned message in elegant cursive writing on a quality piece of paper, enclosed in matching envelope, sounds far-fetched in this age of truncated sms messages and electronic social media chats, inboxes and posts.
But this only highlights the need and urgency of “actual reality” person-to-person exchanges. The newfangled fancy gadgets seem to be reducing our oral and writing communication abilities to mere grunts and mumbles! This is no good for love. Whatever else we might be seeking in a relationship can and will be enhanced with clear, articulate and sincere communication.
Moreover, moments of good conversational sharing bring their own rewards of intellectual and emotional satisfaction. This is what we feel when we have had a good, relaxed chat or gumzo with our good friends. If this element is missing from a relationship, however “passionate”, the outcome is likely to be confusion, embarrassment and disappointment. The blunt question is: after the “passion”, then what? It takes us back to the old dictum that good lovers must first of all be good friends.
I will not mention names as illustrations of this observation, but I am sure we all know of people whom we can regard as model couples, and my impression of them is that they unreservedly enjoy each other’s company. They love their dialogue.
But let us broaden out into the fascination of dialogue and dialogism, where we see not only texts but also situations and events as enriching, elaborating or complicating one another. I was startled by developments this week, both here and beyond, that seemed to be directly talking back to what I have been seeing or saying over some time now.
Let me take you back to 2014, when we had the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland. That very year that northern region of Great Britain was holding a referendum over withdrawal from the United Kingdom. Those of us who were interested in the developments expressed the hope that Scotland would not secede. Common sense prevailed, and the Scots remained.
A few years down the road comes “Brexit”, and the UK votes, by a narrow margin, to break away from Europe. One could say that the Brits have always had the problem of assuming that they are Europeans but not really in Europe. One would call that a rather insular attitude! (“Insula” means island, in Latin). Anyway, now it looks as if no one knows for certain whether, come March 29, Britain will exit Europe, be thrown out or simply stay put.
Whichever way things go, a host of queries remain. Scotland, as a region, voted overwhelmingly for staying in Europe. If the UK leaves, will it not be only a matter of time before the Scots seek another referendum, with predictable results, about remaining a part of the Kingdom? I will not even speculate about Northern Ireland, a region of the UK which is happy to be a part of Europe with the Irish Republic.
Just in case you are wondering why I am, uncharacteristically, dabbling in these political speculations, I should remind you that many of my nearest and dearest relatives are Ugandan-Kenyan-British. Several of them work in Britain for European companies. This, I know, is the case with many East African families. So, even before we get to the implications of Brexit for the social and historical ties between our countries, we have its jitters right inside our homes.
Then you heard of the exceptionally frozen weather in the American Midwest, brought on by what is called a “polar vortex” effect. People in Chicago were told not to go out of their houses while it lasted, or, if they had to go out, to avoid opening their mouths while out there. My silly thought was that I would have loved to see one of those loud-mouthed deniers of climate change go out and stand on the frozen surface of Lake Michigan and bellow out the message: “Climate change is an Obama hoax!” I also have close relatives in the US.
Then, even as you and I continue the beauty debate, the Ugandan Parliament, and even the President, are called upon, this week, to pronounce themselves on the acceptability of the proposed “battle of the bottoms” contest. This is the Uganda Miss Curvy Beauty pageant, advocated by the relevant minister as a tourist attraction.
Meanwhile, my favourite “accidental” granddaughter gave me a scented red cloth rose on Thursday. Did that mean that I should be her Valentine? It will take me some time to get to the bottom of this.
Prof Bukenya is a leading East African scholar of English and Literature. [email protected]