UGANDAâ€™S No1 COLUMNIST.. INFORMED, CONTROVERSIAL AND PROVOCATIVE
By John Nagenda
Glad to be back home, after 35 days away in the great city of London, much as I enjoy and admire it and its stylish inhabitants.
It is a relationship stretching back to â€™63, and lasting more or less 20 straight years from â€™66 when I was in exile because of the governments of Obote, Amin, Obote. Long may their regimes be remembered in infamy! Glad also to resume the column, or did nobody notice I was away?
Still, is it too much over the top for me then, to now experience dynamic surges of energy and emotion upon my every return to this country of ours â€” especially after long sojourns away?
With the romantic William Wordsworth I feel that â€œthrough a long absenceâ€ in â€œlonely rooms, and â€˜mid the din/ Of towns and citiesâ€¦â€ I have of my country â€œFelt in the blood, and felt along the heartâ€ feelings â€œthat lie too deep for tearsâ€.
No wonder some bend and kiss the ground at their feet upon return but your columnist is still somewhat too self-conscious to follow their example! In ferociously heated London, where taxi drivers invariably inquired, â€œHot enough for you, guv?â€, I would answer, â€œIn Uganda, especially in our part, the airflow mostly ameliorates this savage heat we are experiencing in London!â€ Or, to be less pedantic, I must have said that for us we always had a cooling breeze! I didnâ€™t care that they seemed largely unbelieving, but my mindâ€™s eye flew back home. And indeed as I write this the plants and foliage outside my window fly and dance as far as the eye can see, telling me welcome home. There are those who frown on nationalism, rightly, when it turns into jingoism and worse, but I cannot fault my pride and joy for Uganda and its people.
When told recently that it was Heroes Day in Uganda I sighed to think that, but for my absence, I would have been one of the honoured crowd sporting the medals on our chests. In the same breath, on hearing that another leading Chinese politician, this time no less than the Prime Minister, was due in Uganda, I was much relieved that we had held our relationship intact with that mighty nation; and it with us.
At one stage indeed we got to the brink of recalling our ambassador from there for commercial and financial reasons, admittedly as with other countries. But China?! The mind boggled. There were a very few Ugandans, among them the late, lamented, James Wapakhabulo, who persisted in pressing for Uganda to stay alongside China; until good sense was restored and we stayed. As a consequence, then Vice President, now of course Chinese President, Hu Jintao, visited Uganda on his four-nation tour of Africa. Not only that.
When our Premier, Prof Apolo Nsibambi, visited China, he was invited to meet the President; a most rare honour in protocol for a Prime Minister to see a President, and especially of such magnitude. Can you imagine that happening, say, in the West?
Now Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has been accorded the same honour by our own President Y. K. Museveni, who additionally received him at the airport on arrival, on his visit to seven African countries. If these matters do not spell special relationships I donâ€™t know what does. Would they have happened if we had left China? Soon I will return to that giantâ€™s ever increasing visibility in Africa. And what that means for the future. And why other countries which were taking us so much for granted are now running scared. Happy days!
There is more good news, at a slightly less elevated level! Last year, a film company called Cowboy Films, came to town. (The Cow stood for its producer/owner Lisa, the Boy for her husband, somewhat younger than herself!)
The President, when I took the advance filming team to meet him, was amused at the nameâ€™s reasons. What Lisa and her crew wanted was to film the book, The Last King of Scotland by Giles Foden, and to do so here in Uganda. Usually the venue would have been the ubiquitous South Africa, failing which, Kenya. But the book, despite its title, is a fiction based on Amin Dada, so why not film it in Uganda?
The argument struck the President like an arrow, as it was bound to do. But Cowboy, operating on a slim budget, wanted some favours, including the waiving of some taxes, especially VAT. The President said yes, seeing that the film, if successful, would appeal greatly to potential tourists, business people and those needing beautiful surroundings for movies.
For Director, the already highly held Kevin Macdonald, with an Oscar and a Bafta, was secured, as were big actors led by Forrest Whittaker. The film was duly shot in Uganda.
Those who have seen the â€œrushesâ€ are going crazy. Your columnist had been lucky enough to be directed by the President to be the government coordinator for the project.
In London last week, enjoying a glass of a great red in Lisaâ€™s grand house, I was assured that Last King was about ready to hit the world between the eyes.
Nominations were expected for awards such as the Oscars, particularly Whittaker as the Monster, but, unlike trash such as Raid on Entebbe, played â€œin the roundâ€ not as plywood.
Expect a world premiere right here in our town, and who better to grace it than the one who gave the project the first, vital push, the President of Uganda, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni? Enjoy Uganda!