Sunday, February 19, 2017

Is the colonial ring road only a preserve of Kampala?

A picture of Nile Village Hotel and Spa one of the luxurious hotels at Kiira Road
Having read that story about Kampala’s Ring Road and its racial implications, it got me thinking about so many things, particularly Jinja where I spent the formative years of my life. My article is solely based on personal experience as related to the ideas expounded in the article and nothing more. Jinja is arguably Uganda’s second largest town after Kampala (the capital city) with a splendid residential area in the name of Kiira Road which boasts of prime properties along the shores of River Nile (Read Kiira) and also a school nearby in the name of Victoria Nile school, the school to which I went for the entirety of my primary education. It now all seems to me it was for Kiira Road residents (read British) back in the day.  Now I get to know why we were the only school in Jinja at the time (1995 when I joined) where English Speaking at school was compulsory. And this also reminds me of that teacher of English Mr. Okoth Ochieng (he taught us to refer to him as a teacher of English and not an English teacher). He had some of his training in Germany and though he rode a bicycle to school which he happened to have great attachment to, he seemed to find greater satisfaction in the fact that some of his training as a teacher of English was in Germany.

He was very particular with English pronunciations and it was something over emphasized in his classes. I first met Mr. Okoth Ochieng at a Maternal Cousin’s Birthday party whose family happened to have a home at Kiira road which actually had a Boy’s Quarters. Though my father was not a Kiira road resident as he was dealing in selling second hand clothes (which he still deals in to date) he fancied having his first born son study from Victoria Nile School (the good school and also the school where English was compulsorily spoken). I was told my admission was a result of a bribe because I failed the entry interviews.

For me that is undoubtable because I could not speak English at the time which must have been a yardstick to determine those who got in. Off course I could speak, read and write Runyoro plus speaking Lusoga and Luganda but I guess it all didn’t matter. Actually my first day at school, I got the “shock” of my life when my first friend in school Mansoor Nsubuga informed me that “vernacular” was not an option. Its then that I started speaking the queen’s language for purposes of survival and also to escape punishment.

I will revert back to Mr. Okoth Ochieng later and that Birthday Party.  Birthday parties at the time were a preserve of the rich and fortunate. We were often invited by our cousins for the parties but never got to return the favour because it was not a privilege we had. I always had reservations indulging in such parties perhaps because of some tinge of envy which should be natural for anyone who gets invited to birthday parties but does not even know his own birthday. It was to some extent an alien concept to us. Anyway long story short, I attended. We trekked from our muzigo owned by an Indian on Napia Road opp Jinja Bus Park to Kiira Road.

Our life at the Muzigo on Napia Road was a stark contrast of the life at Kiira Road. At the Muzigo our opposite neighbor was a lady whom as children we only knew as Mama Fatuma. Mama Fatuma woke up every early morning half naked with a lesu draped around his large body and knotted above her bust in front of her Muzigo, blowing green powder in the direction of our habitation. For some reason we were told that Mama Fatuma’s powder was a charm sent to our beckoning in what proved to be a futile attempt to bewitch us. All this was in the noisy neibourhood of the bus park where we had mastered the horn blown by Gateway buses and Kiira Coach when they were getting into the park. 

Conversely Kiira road was the home to luxury and as you may guess a hugely quiet neighborhood. We were warned against going to Kiira road at night because most homes in the neighborhood kept trained bull dogs which they let loose at night to pounce upon any potential burglar. I guess many of those being guarded against must have been residents of Napia Road because burglaries at our muzigo were not uncommon back in the day but we had no dogs to stop them. The lush compound at Kiira Road was littered with a fleet of abandoned Mercedes and a lorry. Opposite our cousins’ home was a double storied house owned by a white who often came out to seep coffee on some nights and enjoy the cool breeze of River Nile on his balcony. The man in the home, our uncle was an affable, old gentleman who held a senior managerial position in one of the big industries in Jinja at the time. In our mothers family he was the darling muko because he was nice and he also had good bullion.

So on that birthday party, Mr. Okoth Ochieng was the Master of Ceremonies at the party. He juggled our minds with a riddle about a farmer who wanted to cross a river with a lion, potato leaves and a goat. He asked us to find answers to how the farmer who had only one boat for his transport got across the river with the goat alive not eaten by the lion and the potato leaves not eaten by the goat. It was a great night, we cherished the challenge of the riddle. I can barely remember who got it solved but it was the talking point when we got back home. I got to meet Mr. Okoth much later as my teacher of English in Primary Seven. He never got to know I was at that party because I was not a friend of teachers in primary school and it was so long since Primary two when we had that party. However there is something particular we got from Mr. Okoth Ochieng. He always made us pride in good English speaking and writing. Actually over the years I have sub consciously prided in the fact that I scored distinctions in English at Primary Level and O’ Level. Off course I am one of the people who hate the fact that I speak and write fairly good English but the same cannot be said of my abilities in Runyoro or Lusoga.

Pupils of Victoria Nile School in their school uniform 

However, there is a silver lining to this because I have realized that many aptitude tests employers set in Uganda are disguised primary English, Mathematics and Logic tests and it actually pays when you went to schools like Victoria Nile School.

So to me, the colonial ring road is not only in Kampala, it also probably exists somewhere in Jinja separating Kiira Road from Maggwa, amber court, Jinja Regional Referral Hospital, and other places. This would require thorough research to be established as done by my brother for the case of Kampala but there are some pointers as highlighted here. The figurative colonial ring road also seems to exist in our employment today where jobs are ring fenced for them who can best express themselves in the colonial master’s language and logic.