If there is one thing Ugandans are good at, it is twisting English words to give them alternative meanings. We have been at it for so long that Trump’s team shouldn’t steal our credit for the alternative facts concept.
Right now we have “child labour” in reference to finding tender talent. A seven-year-old boy going by the name Fresh Kid has taken Kampala by the storm with his singing. The Minister for Youth had promised to arrest him and his handlers for child labour.
Still with arrests, you know the man suspected of holding the world record for being arrested the most number of times, Dr Kizza Besigye.
After the 2011 elections, the police had run out of charges to slap on the man after arresting him for the hundredth time, yet he was still provoking them with his Walk-to-Work’ protest against the high cost of living.
So they send a squad to camp at his gate to keep him inside. Asked what the man had done, the police dag up an old colonial law and said he had committed “preventive arrest.” Yes, in writing on the charge sheet, Besigye’s offence was “preventive arrest.” It didn’t state who Besigye had preventively arrested.
As for me, I was one of the few thousand Ugandans the new government “forgave” and did not arrest in the late 1980s when we dragged our feet before returning and “joining hands with other Ugandans to rebuild our country that had been ruined by primitive, backward blah blah blah… regimes.”
While we thought we were just migrant workers, the government said we were committing a crime called illegal exportation of national manpower.
But time sorts out everything; now it is the government that encourages people to go get jobs outside.
Still with arrests (and exports?), I recall a young Member of Parliament who died suddenly after she had an unrelated verbal altercation with the president in 2012.
It was so sudden everybody wanted to know what had killed her. The government said it believed that she had gone on a binge with her boyfriend and consumed more substances than her body and a liver weakened by extended medication could handle.
Her MP colleague were suspicious and deployed a pathology specialist on a parallel investigation. The pathologist was arrested at Entebbe airport with the deceased’s samples, which he was taking to South Africa for advanced laboratory analysis. And guess what the media said his offence was?
Attempting to smuggle body parts. Sounds grim! Images of a finger or an ear in a briefcase come to mind.
The running story in Kampala today is traders’ battles with landlords in disputed shopping malls, as we watch fires and teargas in that crowded part of town where many of us no longer dare to go. We call it “downtown” in our culture of giving English words alternative, sometimes distorted meanings.
In normal English, downtown means the city centre, the CBD, actually the most decent, respectable part of town. On one urban Internet dictionary, downtown is describe as “the coolest part of town where you go to chill with the coolest people…”
But we Ugandans call the worst of the worst slums “downtown Kampala.”
Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. Email:[email protected]