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Dear Prof. Bukenya, You Were Not Looking Like A Ghost At The Makerere Conference

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I was left agog on reading your story in the Saturday Nation of the last weekend. The first sentence of your story was that you were looking like a ghost at the recently concluded second international conference on literary and cultural studies at Makerere University. Professor, I want to assure you that you were not. May be you are only over-conscious about yourself. It is you who cheerfully welcomed me to the main hall on the first day of the conference. Your hospitality was so huge that even you invited me to share your breakfast. I keenly observed your appetite, it was good. You swallowed boiled eggs and toasts of bread like a ravenous young man.

You were bouncing majestically and strongly, your voice was shaking the hall with your typical cacophony as you regularly laughed at the jokes we made. You were strong and attentive to my comments about your book, the Mermaid of Msambweni and your play the Bride as well as your prolific literary essays you write in the weekend editions of the Saturday Nation. Towards the end of our delicious breakfast we delved into the topic on the possibility of literature Nobel Prize coming to Africa, about which you said something about Nurudin Farah.But you said it in esoteric English that I did not understand, even if I pretended to have understood. To my chagrin I discovered that you can also fail to be exoteric when dealing with a matter that is not intellectually palatable to your taste.

Remember how you were vibrating in your physique and quick movements, with the reading glasses tangling around your neck as you introduced me to Dr. Susan Kiguli of Makerere University (read Chikuli) and Prof.Musila of Stellenbosch University, then all over a sudden we pumped into Dr. Siundu of University of Nairobi, he teased you to speak some Kibukusu, a joke to which three of us broke into a maddening cacophony of laughter.

Later on I discovered your sense of a man was too high. Especially, when Dr. Kiguli assigned you a personal assistant. A young and very beautiful Mnyankole girl, she was also an undergraduate literature student at Makerere University. You became so active moving here and there, joking, and laughing and so actively quick in an intellectual spree, until your personal assistant became irrelevant so soon.

I disappeared from you in my juvenile style, to a different hall where there was session on the perspectives of Ngugi wa Thiong’o .After which we met again during lunch break, you were in the company of Dr. Weaveny Olembo.You introduced me to her and then jokingly you told me in Kiswahili with a coastal accent, that I rush to the queue lest food will be finished. I ran away laughing, as you and Olembo looked on.

Your mood and Physical appearance was so youthful and jollified all through. Not only on the first day, but on the second and third day as well. On the third day your were more energetic as you delivered the cardinal speech. Your memory and intellect was razor sharp like Napoleon. You effectively deciphered facts and fruits from the initially delivered speech of the author, Professor Penina Mulama Muhando. You brought the audience on fire, just like Professor Mhamood Mamdani had done on the first day when he delivered the key note speech in which he joked about Idi Amin Dada having promised that he would execute a courts-martial to those lecturers and students at Makerere daring to look up other than reading books continuously.

You finely brought out the concept of African literary ancestry. How Makerere University has worked as the shrine in which African ancestors of literature were blessed. Showing how Nyerere (with his love for Shakespeare alongside sharp hatred for European cultural imperialism) was intellectually groomed at Makerere.

You limelighted all the ancestors of African literature that attended the first international conference of literature at Makerere in the mid of the last century. You fondly memorized Ezekia Mphalele, Chinua Achebe, Cyprian Ekwensi, Christopher Okigbo, Grace Ogot, Buchi Echemeta, Nadine Gordimer, Hughes Langston, and many others that were the participants in the first conference.

You proved very brilliant and spiritually strong when you refused the mistaken ascribtion of the word orature to your name, but you clearly attributed it to your, teacher the late Zirimu as you tactfully went ahead to confirm that your neology under this context was the word ‘oracy’.

Your key-note speech was so complex. It could not be delivered by a weakling who looks like a ghost. Addressing new literary concepts of textualities, intricacies and intimacies cannot go against the truth in the words of Shakespeare that a sick man has a sick mind. Truly a sick mind could not have come up with a new term like textology, in the manner you did when coming up with a neology for literature; theory and practice. It was the fine frame of the mind and body that enabled you to extent the dialogic of Paul Freire and Trialogic of Ali Mazrui into polyalogic as an imperative perspective of African textology, Just but now to try using your word. How you recognized the new concept of literary onamastics, that had only been brought to attention of the intellectual public by Dr. Chilala of University of Zambia remains nothing else but a strong body, sharp mind and active as well as quick spirit.

Your strength was like a spur of the cock, in fact you rose above the moods of the time, beyond intellectual sycophancy and intellectual xenophobia that was somehow felt in the Ugandan atmosphere, to high levels of intellectual audacity by openly pointing out the political as well as intellectual strengths and weakness of President Museven.The is the moment in which you employed allegory as a skilled literati. It was also when you went pan-African in spirit and energetically admired Peter Anyang Nyong’o for his academic prowess, Mwai Kibaki for his brilliance, Wole Soyinka for his intellectual uniqueness, Ngugi wa Thiong’o,Okot P’Bitek and Taban Lo Liyong for their consistence, Benjamin Mkapa for his discipline as a student, Oginga Odinga for his positive radicalism and intellectual honesty in his post-colonial literary work; Not Yet Uhuru, Zarin Patel and Wangari Mathai for their bravado and life of purpose, Dr. Dipio the Shakespearean ,Julius Sigei, the polished literary editor working at Saturday Nation and then lastly you mentioned felicitously, your good student during your hey days at Kenyatta University, the one Kimani Njogu. To this extent it was overt that an emotion of youthful ego somehow gripped you to spontaneously declare yourself as Mwalimu Bukenya, an Omuganda and Musaja wa basaja.This energy came from a strong man who could not be weak looking like a ghost. Cheer up prof.

Alexander Khamala Opicho
Lodwar, Kenya

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Articles by Alexander Opicho