Do We Know? Do We Remember?

Peter Kagayi during conversation at the recently concluded Kampala International Theatre Festival tells George Okot, “We need to remember our heroes”. He is referring to former chief justice of Uganda- Benedicto Kiwanuka who while a key person in the forming of the state was forgotten after his assassination by the state in 1972.

Benedicto Kiwanuka’s death is a thing of horror. Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia: “according to eyewitnesses, involved Kiwanuka ears, nose, lips, and arms being severed, a disembowelling, and castration before he was finally immolated..” Sages of the day could have named this the reign of terror – Kiwanuka’s death under the hands of Idi Amin.

Interestingly, “The Reign of Terror” is the title of a play by Geoffrey Oryema, the son of Uganda’s first Inspector General of Police – Erinayo Wilson Oyrema, who along with Archbishop Janam Luwum and Charles Oboth Ofumbi were assassinated by the state for trying to plot a coup which can be read as “questioning the reign of terror in the country”.  

Geoffrey had found a voice in the arts. In writing, in music. He is one of the pioneers of “Theatre Limited”, the first Academy of Dramatic Arts, and professional Theatre troupe of its’ kind, in East and Central Africa, in the seventies. This school produced some of Uganda’s best actors / artists / musicians, under the direction of the famous playwright / actor, the late Robert Sserumaga.

His play “The Reign of Terror” was a statement of rebellion, a statement of consciousness. Who knows if he knew his father would be a victim. He staged the play first in Kampala, then in exile in Nairobi before finally ending up in France and embarking on a career of storytelling through drama and music. 

Geoffrey Oryema (Bayimba)

Him and his father share a fate. The aloofness and forgetfulness of home. It wasn’t until 2014 that most of Uganda recognised or remembered Erinayo Wilson Oryema as Uganda’s first African IGP, honoring his service to the nation despite serving under one of the country’s worst leader. Before this year, very few can say they knew Oryema or his achievement in world music.

His first Album (Exile), was produced by Brian Eno (ex Roxy Music), and world famous producer (U2, David Bowie). His hit track Yé Yé Yé went on to sell 500,000 units in France and was chosen by FRANCE 2 (National TV Channel), as the signature tune for a cultural talk show, (Le Cercle de Minuit).

He was invited by Peter Gabriel (Genesis) to participate in the “Mega Concert” for the “Liberation of Nelson Mandela” at Wembley Stadium to a crowd of 78,000 people eventually  meeting with Mandela after the show.  Some of the world pop stars in the lineup included Johnny Clegg, Neil Young, Simple Minds, Tracy Chapman, Neneh Sherry, Bruce Springsteen, Chrissy Hynde, Patti Labelle, Térence Trent Darby etc. Masters of ceremony for event, were, American film star Denzel Washington, and English comedian, Lenny Henry.

His most recent tours involve taking part in 2 of the LIVE 8 concert venues in 2005, playing alongside the likes of Youssour N’dour, Dido and Bono; plus performing “La Lettre” at The United Nations for the Premiere of “Children of Men” in 2010. His artistic work is more than I can list here.

3-geoffrey-oryema-un-philharmonic-orchestra-ny-2015
Geoffrey Oryema at the United Nations Philharmonic Orchestra NewYork in 2015

He returns to his home country 39 years later. One can say, east, west, home is best. I cannot imagine how he managed to escape 39 years of homesickness except through attention to the arts and music but finally when he returns, perhaps we shall have the purest of his music, a celebration of home, a welcoming hand from home. Having his story in mind, to me it feels like a journey of healing, of embracing home as a place, as a hope, as a celebration. Of making peace with the past. 

His father was honoured by the Police during their 2014 100 years celebration and 2 years later he himself comes home to be honoured by Bayimba.  Perhaps we are not that aloof, perhaps some among us will not forget those Ugandans who contribute to the story of the land. Perhaps they are also calling us to remember.

Oryema’s homecoming will be celebrated on 17th December, 2016 in a concert at Bayimba Honours at Lohana academy. 

Featured Photo: Erinayo Wilson Oyrema oryema.blogspot.ug/

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