Letter to a Kampala Friend
July 23, 2001

By Muniini K. Mulera
In Toronto

Dr. Kizza Besigye: Like Beethoven, was deeply disappointed by his hero.

Dear Tingasiga:

Slowly the morning mist begins to lift, leaving bare the naked truth of the barren hills and valleys of the once gloriously beautiful land of the Bakiga.

Isheduraaka Bakeihamwenkyi, a learned Mukiga man who has made a fortune tilling the land of his ancestors for the last fifteen years, takes a closer look. The beauty is gone, replaced by a baldness that is as cruel to the eye as it is impoverishing to the inhabitants.

The great River Kiruruma, which once provided water to the residents of these mountains for many centuries, is now a stream, no larger than the pee of a healthy cow.

But before he begins to pound the barren ground to vent his anger at mother Earth for letting her people down, Bakeihamwenkyi hears a soft voice of a child coming out of the valley.

“It was your fault old man! This barren land is your work, you and your kind who would not listen. Accept your fate, for that was your choice.”

“What, pray tell, do you mean by our choice?” the startled man asks.

“You should have seen it coming, but you closed your eyes to the truth,” the voice replies.

“You were told to change your ways, but you shouted ‘no change!’ You were told to reform your methods, but you shouted ‘no change.’ You knew the consequences of your actions but you chose the easy route. Do not be angry with mother Earth. She is giving you what you want.”

Bakeihamwenkyi collapses in pain and tears, unable to comprehend what is happening.

“Why, oh! why?” His voice tapers to a whisper, as tears roll down his cheeks.

Deeply distressed and emotionally exhausted, he falls asleep on the dry patch of land that was once home to a verdant bush of wild flowers. But soon he wakes up, the scorching sun too unforgiving to let him sleep.

He staggers home, dazed and dehydrated, wondering what has become of his beloved land.

“How could this have happened?”, he asks his older brother Baturumayo Tibahurira. “How could we have allowed our land to go to the dogs?”

“Well, is there anything that you were not told?,” Tibahurira replies, with undisguised impatience.

“Aren’t you the very person who thought me a fool when I warned you against what you were doing?

“You see my friend, the Baganda have a great saying about one of their stubborn kings, Kabaka Kayemba.

“The saying goes something like: ‘Kayemba nantabulirirwa yasaabala obwebbumba.’

“Kabaka Kayemba was a very stubborn man who did not take advice. One day, he wanted to go sailing on Lake Nnalubaale. Two canoes – one wooden and the other made of clay – were parked on the shores of the great lake.

“Against all advice, the stubborn king chose to sail on the one made of clay. Need I tell you what happened to him? To this day, he is believed to be at the bottom of the lake. No, my brother Bakeiha, save your tears. You are no different from all these people who are now crying foul because President Yoweri Museveni has handed them a ‘no change’ cabinet.

“After shouting ‘no change’ and even joining in the frenzied condemnation of those who wanted change, these people should be happy that the president has listened to their wishes and given them no change.”

Tibahurira has said his piece. He pours himself another cup of Omuramba (beer) and reclines in his seat, to resume his thoughts about the poverty that has reduced the once proud people of the mountains to a state of perpetual begging.

The silence is deafening. Bakeihamwenkyi, a dyed in the wool supporter of ‘no change,’ can barely contain his tears. But then there is that voice again. “Accept your fate. That was your choice.”
He looks behind and there she is. Young, barely out of her teens, but wise beyond her years. She is Tibahurira’ s daughter. “Uncle Bakeihamwenkyi,” the young woman begins, “were you not a cheer leader in the ‘no-change’ choir?.” She is shoed away by her mother. It is not good manners to speak the truth to your elders.

Hoping to relieve her husband from his misery, Mrs. Bakeihamwenkyi plays some music, choosing Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony Number 3, also known as the Eroica symphony.

That delicious symphony by the great German composer should uplift her husband’s dejected spirits.

Indeed it does and Bakeihamwenkyi, a connoisseur of great music, has not heard a more magnificent rendition of this symphony than this one.

When the music stops, he asks his wife to remind him of the story behind the Eroica symphony.

“Beethoven lived from 1770 to 1827,” Mrs. Bakeihamwenkyi reveals. “He was not only the greatest composer in Europe, but also a politically conscious individual who had little patience for the regal pomp and attitudes of the aristocratic establishment, and the exploitation of the masses by the blue bloods of Europe.

“Needless to say he was a supporter of the French Revolution and a great admirer of Napoleon Bonaparte, the Corsican military genius who had seized power in post-revolution France.

“To Beethoven, Napoleon was the embodiment of the aspirations of the hitherto oppressed people of Europe. And so, as a tribute to his hero, Beethoven had dedicated his glorious Symphony Number 3 to him.

“But even as Beethoven was creating this musical masterpiece in honour of his hero, Napoleon was busy subordinating his principles to personal ambition. Re-creating the very conditions he had fought against, Napoleon declared himself emperor of France.

“When news reached Beethoven in May 1804, that his hero had crowned himself emperor of France, he (Beethoven) flew into a rage and famously cried out: ‘Is he then too, nothing more than an ordinary human being? Now he too will trample on all the rights of men and indulge his ambition. He will exalt himself above all others, and become a tyrant.’

“So Beethoven tore the title page of his third symphony, on which he had written the dedication to Napoleon.”

As an afterthought, Mrs. Bakeihamwenkyi adds: “Napoleon was to Beethoven what Yoweri Museveni has been to people like Dr. Kiiza Besigye. Muniini Mulera and all these Movementists who are deeply disappointed with what has happened in this country.”

Bakeihamwenkyi rises from his seat and, slowly, as if in great pain, walks out towards the banana plantation. He is heard muttering to himself: “Kayemba nantabulirirwa ………”, before being interrupted by that small voice once again: “Accept your fate. That was your choice.”

He returns empty handed. His head bowed, his shoulders sagging and his eyes red, he stares at his wife in silence, without blinking or moving. Then, softly, he whispers: “I will not accept any fate. I will do what it takes, what is asked of me, to reverse this tragedy.  I am not afraid. Too many comrades gave their lives. Too many to be forgotten.”

It is OK for a man to cry, Mrs. Bakeihamwenkyi mutters, as she covers him with a soft throw, and pats his brow, with a life-sustaining tenderness.




One Response to “Accept your fate, for that was your choice”

  1. Muniini – I do recall when you first wrote this story. The Beethoven rant is a classic. … So is the story about Kabaka Kayemba and the clay boat. …. There is also another version of the story that I tend to take with a smaller grain of salt. I even heard that version told on Radio Uganda once.

    This version is that Kabaka Kayemba was considered to be a most ruthless, cruel dictator-Kabaka. The people got fed up and got tired of his long rule. (There is no dispute that he had a long life.) In the end, Lukiiko members, Palace courtiers and the military leaders decided to help “nature” to quicken Kayemba’s exit. So they built a grand boat of clay. Playing on Kayemba’s vanity, they convinced him to attend a great regatta (boat show) of his “navy”.

    A suicide-bound volunteer decided to row Kayemba out in the clay boat at the climax of the regatta. So, Kayemba and the volunteer set out from the shore and headed for “obw’egula” — the unknown land away from the shore. As the boat rowed out, Kayemba’s subjects stood on the shore singing his praises. But the farther the boat went, the more it began to dissolve. Both Kayemba and the rower drowned. The rower knew that he had to die with Kayemba: it is a capital offense in Buganda to kill the Kabaka. ……

    According to this version of the story, Kayemba stayed so long on the throne and was so tyrannical that he was drowned in finely a choreographed plot. …. I am not sure how such a plot was not revealed to Kayemba before it was carried out. Historians record that Kayemba had survived many other plots to kill him.


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