Jimmy Beda and his companions are travelling to the four parts of Uganda to celebrate the winners of the Uganda@50 National Anthem Essay Competitions. It’s a journey that unravels Uganda’s past, and plants dreams for her future as each line of the National Anthem is expounded by different students.
You think you know your history till you read. What I am saying is read. “The Precious Gift” is a well-crafted tale that while celebrating the beauty and depth of the National Anthem of Uganda also digs deep into the history of the nation, exploring its journey into independence.
The first time I was handed this book, it was with two other titles, however because of the subtitle, I suspected it would be the most interesting. The subtitle read “An Insight into Uganda’s National Anthem.” Initially my mind thought someone had written a record of the process that birthed the country’s National Anthem. I was excited by the thought that this was a work of non-fiction that may be shared papers, debates, essays into what our National Anthem should be.
I don’t read blurbs often. In fact, I avoid them. I try to let the story tell me its story on its own. Then I opened the book and read the introduction and my mind tilted a bit. In short, this book is the product of a writing workshop held at Ndere Centre in 2010 and my word, I think the participants/publishers did a good job.
“The Precious Gift” is a pleasant surprise albeit with its little foxes. From me thinking it was a book with over 100 references to perhaps articles and documents pre the 1962 era, to a grin after I had travelled with a young man called Jimmy Beda all the way from UK to the major parts of Uganda, it certainly impressed me enough to suggest it is placed in every library in the country.
This is the thing with this book, when you start reading it, you’re looking for essays (at least I was) then you see chapter one. It’s actually a story. You’re in a flat in “Brentford”, London with a young man and his two parents. The young man, Jimmy wants to go home to Uganda but the parents do not encourage him because of the war going on in Northern Uganda.
Let me interrupt this though, this was one of the foxes in the story – the war in Northern Ugandan never stopped travel to and fro Uganda but continuing – when he eventually gets the chance to travel to the country, it is in 2012, the year of Uganda’s Independence Golden Jubilee, a year when the war in the North has also stopped.
Since he is an educator and a student of music, he conceives the idea of having a national essay competition about the National Anthem. Understanding what it means and what it especially communicates to the young people of the country. He learns that not many students know more than one stanza of the anthem, he himself learned it before travelling after singing “God Save the Queen” instead of “Oh Uganda” when asked to sing it.
It’s the simplicity and tools used in the telling that makes the story likeable. It’s also recognising facts about the country that may be fading in memory already. An example is when “Zanzi” is made mention of, a name that brought memories of the place’s roast meat fame days (especially pork) in the late 2000s.
I almost thought this was a work of non-fiction shortly after starting to read but then names like Kampala College School brought me back to reality. I also had to check Google for names like Dr. Eva Kakuru who was on the “Uganda@50” team.
You want it to be real because the journey Jimmy and his friends take is so noble and so far from what happened during the 50 year independence celebrations and generally what inventions are in the Ministry of Education (especially currently).
The wisdom dispensed by the students they meet, the leaders of schools they meet, the speeches that are written, the consciousness of “Ugandanness” seems so much of a dream yet the way it was written made it seem like this was something that happened during 2012.
For example, as they travel Uganda starting in the East, then going to the islands of Kalangala, then to Kabale and the beautiful Lake Bunyonyi, then North to Gulu, they meet people like Prossy Kadama, a headteacher of St. Peter’s SS in Mayuge who tells a tale called “The Precious Gift”. In this tale, the lesson is simple “Sometimes it’s not the wealth you have but what’s inside you that others need.” There are many other tales like this, like the story of “Morning Sunrise” about how a father chooses which suitor will end up with his daughter.
When we are introduced to a prize winner Brenda Namudiguli, she questions what kind of foundation our independence was based on if even before independence we had two different prime ministers.
The historical lessons are many and necessary. This book manages to tell our history from before colonialism till independence albeit in snippets but necessary snippets. Like how Kabalega’s resistance against colonialism was “bad-mouthed” because in the words of Chinua Achebe “Until the lions learn to write their story, history will always favour the hunter”; like why the Sebei people have four missing teeth in their lower jaw; how even though Lake Bunyonyi is a beautiful lake, its history in places like Kisiizi and Punishment island is shameful; how Uganda’s name changed from Baganda ba Katonda, to Buganda, to Uganda….wow, I could go on. It asks questions like “Do Ugandan children get to learn about their heroes?” emphasising the necessity of a patriotic spirit.
It’s interesting that as Jimmy tells this story, Uganda’s history is tied in with not just her colonial masters England, their praises through the mouths of notables like Sir Winston Churchill, but with the inconsistencies of the Asian question.
A lot of good literature is shared within the story, for example, David Rubadiri’s “Stanley Meets Mutesa” and Patrick Kinney’s “The Cold Within” which are shared as performances within the book.
What is very overt is that the book is heavy with Christian themes although they will do little to offend an objective reader considering the book is talking about a country whose motto is “For God and My Country.” The book like mentioned at the beginning is the brainchild of Uganda Faith Writers.
The little foxes are of an editing nature. The typos seem to suddenly appear as we get to the end of the book, words are misspelt, characters’ names are interchanged, places’ names too. The good thing is they did not distract too much although I asked a friend whether he was the “Joel Jjemba” being referred to in the book only to discover the character’s name had changed to Joel Jjingo a few pages forward.
Personally, I love the book because it’s an easy way to learn about our country, to hope for our country only that it felt too real in that when I compared the state in the book with the state in reality….I was reminded it was fiction.
It’s a recommended read.
P.S I am nitpicking, but the white stars on blue and red rad strap of the guitarist on the cover sort of lead me to another country despite all of the black yellow red happening elsewhere.
Publisher : Quiet Garden Publishing