The fifth book by the Ugandan author David Ssembajjo titled Mr Batwala’s Farm is about a slave called Mr Batwala, who is freed and returns to Africa where he sets up a coffee farm that has a mixed bag of fortune and misfortune.
Mr Batwala's farm is in the fictitious village of Bukuku. His family, workers and the entire village depends on the prospects of the venture, which is a pilot farm and people across the land came to inspect its goodness.
Having been a slave himself, Mr Batwala should have been humane and considerate and not overworked his workers. He employed his workers to work all year round including weekends without respite or rest.
He and his workers would not listen to Father Motala, who is preaching the good news to the workers and also campaigning for the reservation of Sunday as a day of rest as requested by God to keep the Sabbath as a day of rest.
When the prices of coffee nosedived on the world market all workers left and categorically refused to work for less pay. They deserted the farm in droves. They became idle and never took up work on the farm. Mr Batwala was left alone to work the land — a daunting and unbearable task.
Mr Batwala gave up work on the farm, as he had failed to convince people to return to work. He decided to marry Nalukuli and they had two children. He migrates to the capital city Kampala with his family.
Whatever Mr Batwala did or laid his hands on came with fortune and misfortune. He is arrested and found guilty of assisting the pickpocket and sent to Luzira prison.
When he was freed from prison he returned to his farm. And soon he becomes very wealthy and owns the whole village and all the economic sectors.
Mr Batwala becomes a journalist covering the plight of the powerless, destitute and the squalors and all those that were marginalised by the state. The inept and corrupt government officials labelled him a saboteur, rebel and not competent enough to address the nation on issues of national interest. The Deep State eventually prevails by having him banned by the journalist tribunal.
After his stint in journalism he became a pacifist and a human rights campaigner.
Meanwhile, in the depth of Africa people were being rounded up as slaves to carry ivory, cotton, gold and cloth. There was a jihad, where they captured captives for force them into slavery.
Mr Batwala was the child that lost his parents to slavery. He moved forward to unchain some slaves who felt that they need help and assistance.
Determined to find his parents Mr Batwala decides to become a slave. He knew that his life was not important without his parents. He would change the world if he met his parents.
As a slave he declined to change his name and he was not converted to any single religion but remained believing in one single God. He stuck to his name and language despite threats from the slave masters. He was unable to trace his parents in his adventure.
Armed with his new skills Mr Batwala returns to Africa and begins teaching people what he had learned as a slave. He set up the first coffee farm in Bukuku.
Floods and an earth quake destroy the farm and people’s lives.
He finds it hard to run the farm. He is advised to sell the farm but no one is willing to but it. Frustrated he turns to heavy alcohol drinking and pays no attention to his wife and children.
In the tragic novel he ends up becoming a useless drunkard.
The 132-page novel that was published by Austin MacCauley Publishers Limited in 2019 is divided into 11 chapters tackling the themes of slavery, freedom, hope, hard work and entrepreneurship, the extremes of capitalism, corruption and human rights and values.
However, the novel has several errors and typos indicating that proofreading was not done.
In her description of Mr Batwala’s Farm Ioana Danaila writes thus: “In this novel whose style is quite similar to a folk tale, David Ssembajjo sets the portrait of a remarkably original character: from his drinking problem to the following tragic events, Mr Batwala has to move on and keep his farm going.”
“The sometimes dystopic atmosphere of the novel, the collective delusions and uprisings, the rhythmic and yet sober language illustrate the journey of a man who, freed from slavery, must then make his life through the dramatic events that occur on his way,” Danaila adds.
Ssembajjo was born in Uganda. He went to Britain in 1991 and began writing the following year. He has self-published four books, The Stolen Gift, A Journey to Maleba, Chronicles of a Soldier and Servants of the Underground, and writes plays, poems and novels.