Title: The Ambitious Struggle: An African Journalist’s Journey to Hope and Identity in a Land of Migrants
Author: Yasin Kakande
Publisher: Florida Academic Press, Inc
Reviewer: Watuwa Timbiti
Available: Book stores in Kampala
The best way to indelibly tell the story of human existence and relations, at whatever level, is not in just the uttered but in the written word; for the written word transcends generational limitations and lives on for posterity to take stock of times that predate their existence.
Indeed, Yasin Kakande, a Ugandan author, who formerly worked as a journalist in the United Arab Emirates and is now back in Uganda, rolls out in his book a trail of his life.
The book is not just a story of his childhood struggles and dreams, but a testimonial of a life that has been scarred by circumstantial inhibitions and no matter how powerful they have been, Kakande surmounts these tempests with conviction of purpose and determination.
That is, this autobiographical tale of poverty, the dynamics of growing up in a polygamous family, the nitty-gritty of going through school amid scarce financial resources, crass corruption in the government and worst of all, the reality of unemployment and the second-class humiliation of being an immigrant in the UAE, assumes a first person narrative point view.
Consequently, Kakande pegs the reader on his back and moves places for a firsthand experience of the realities the book illuminates; for that reason he grips the reader from the start to the end as the story line takes on a cyclical twist — from Butambala to Kampala and to the UAE, and from the UAE to Bahrain and then to the UAE and back to Uganda.
Born on October 21, 1980, Kakande’s tale, its few negligible grammatical hiccups especially in word ordering and typos notwithstanding, infuses graphic description with a powerful sense of humour and narration that commences in Butambala district, his birthplace.
In this 306-page story, which for the eyes navigational ease comprises 74 chapters but is thematically structured into seven parts, Kakande communicates the urgency of pursuing out ambitions however distant they may be.
He combines ambition and resolve and works hard to be like his maternal grandfather, Sheik Hood Kabamba, an Imam at Gombe mosque, whose funeral eulogies pull him into reading the Quran to become the best reciter.
A glance at his school days presents a purposeful struggler; despite days off school due to late school fees payment, he wades through to touch the tape at the finishing line of high education.
Like the case is with most degree holders, the reality of unemployment and the attendant frustration gnaw hard at Kakande’s heels.
Subsequently, the struggler he is gets him an expectationfilled landing in the UAE. His experiential tale of events, however, to an extent is an antithesis of the commonly held perception of the UAE, as a destination of no errors, but abundance of opportunities for all.
For all to see, Kakande flashes a sharp beam into the parallel class structures between the Emirati, the indigenous and the migrants, comprising different nationalities and largely low scale workers living in crowded places and on verandahs.
He presents a society where, although not legally sanctioned, segregation, racism, discrimination which manifest, among others, in the difference in salaries of people from different nationalities and a thriving commercialized sex network, unabatedly permeate.
Ironically, beyond the glitzy skyscraper erections and multibillion dollar infrastructural establishments, lies the script of hard labour, university educated migrants loading cement and tiles and deportations on account of being HIV-positive.
Similarly, it is a story depicting nationality profiling and stereotyping, but bizarre of all, a tale laying bare the proliferation of deceptive labour recruiting agencies whose manipulative overtures have left most migrants conned, slaving away in the UAE with little or no saving at all or eternally impoverished.
That the book is a story laced with courage and a conviction to unravel reality, well aware of the ramifications, different from what is largely perceived, earns Kakande an automatic deportation from the UAE.
The deportation subsequently, underpins the book’s representation of the UAE as a society intolerable to a free press and independent-mindedness, thus a severe sense of editorial self-censorship in favour of the ruling sheikhs and their associates.
Back in Uganda, Kakande’s narrative power, however, comes with a melancholy air towards the story’s end; the liveliness of expression with which the reader is taken through the story suffers a knee-jerk slow in the epilogue; a recount of the slow and painful emotional attachment the author experiences seeing his mother succumb to cancer.