The Fireplace: #MEiREAD | Jalada’s Sext Me anthology

When Jalada Africa released the Sext Me Poems and Stories anthology in mid-2014, it was a bold step in the right direction. The two-part anthology was a compilation of twenty stories and poems by African writers exploring the intricacies, complications, and peculiarities of sex. The pieces blew the lid off the box into which sex in African literature had been crammed for ages and thrust a taboo topic into the limelight.
In March, The Fireplace: #MEiREAD, a book club run by Sooo Many Stories, selected eight of the anthology’s stories and gathered at Kahwa2Go in Ntinda to discuss sex in literature. The themes of focus were consent, sexual dissatisfaction, the language of sex, communication during sex, sex as a weapon, sex and children and sexual harassment.


The moderators. Beewol and Laura

The conversation was moderated by Beewol/Talkative Rocker and Laura Byaruhanga. It got off to a raunchy start with Alexander Ikawah’s Sex Ed for Village Boys, a mischievous story where the author writes of virginity and tenacious sexual escapades. The author adeptly utilises language to create a story that teeters precariously on the edge of sensuality, never quite tipping over into vulgarity. I worried that the untranslated non-English words throughout the story would put a hitch in its stride but, as many of the book club’s members noted, it actually enhanced the flavour of the story.
Linda Musita’s Kudinyana raised more than its fair share of eyebrows with its portrayal of children engaging in sex. Over the din of the scandalised readers, some members pointed out that her story brought to light the often-ignored importance of sex education in schools. Naturally, there was argument for and against sex education, with some members asserting that there was a time and place for it, and it wasn’t schools.

In Bobbitt Wars by Nkatha Obungu, a woman exacts brutal revenge on a boss who sexually harasses her. The discussion revolving around this story was particularly passionate, with many female members of the book club agreeing that sexual harassment, unfortunately, occurs often in work spaces.
My favourite discussion of the night was the one inspired by Anne Moraa’s Bound, a story about a heartless Casanova who has the tables turned on him when he’s trapped in a relationship where he can’t satisfy his partner sexually. We brainstormed on the most apt course of action for a situation in which one felt sexually unfulfilled with one’s partner. Some members suggested ripping off the band-aid by telling the partner what they were doing wrong during sex. Others were against this, saying it was too huge a blow to the partner’s ego. Other members suggested seeking fulfillment elsewhere over communication. By the end of the discussion, I felt that we hadn’t come to a satisfactory solution to the problem of lack of communication during sex.
In Richard Oduor’s Sex on a Train, two lovers rendezvous at an unlikely location. The author paints a vivid picture of the scene and yet manages to sneak in the back stories of his main characters, adding a layer of intrigue to what could’ve been a simple lovers’ tryst.
The story for which the anthology is titled, Sext Me by Aleya, inspired quite the discussion. The story depicts a sexting interaction between the protagonist and a man. The story got many of us wondering; what is sexting? At what point does conversation leave the domain of flirting and mutate into sexting? This led the group into discussions about how much was too much, whether sexting inferred consent, and the topic of nudes as a form of sexting. Interestingly, many male members of the book club had a thing or two to say about unsolicited nudes and how they were a violation of consent.

Wanjeri Gakuru also explores themes of consent in her story Transaction, where the protagonist seeks to relieve herself of a perceived burden on the night of her birthday. It’s a multi-layered story that looks at issues of self-worth and body positivity.
The last story on the discussion platter was Inbox (1) by Dorothy Kigen. The story is a simmering pot of slow-building passion tinged with a melancholy I couldn’t quite understand but enjoyed nonetheless. There was both naughty honesty and innocence in this story; it made for quite the interesting read.
It’s interesting that the anthology seems to follow the international trend of gender imbalance when it comes to writing erotica. Are male writers unwilling to write the genre? If so, what could be the cause? The same gender imbalance was visible in the attendance of the book club meet. There were definitely more women than men in attendance. A topic for discussion another day.

In conclusion, the anthology was a delightful read, and I look forward to more stories that will break taboos and bring to the light issues that aren’t spoken of much in African literature.

*The writer attended The Fireplace: #MEiREAD

This June, The Fireplace: #MEiREAD is reading Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s Tram 83 that you can get from Turn The Page (and they will deliver it like pizza!). We would love to see you at our Ntinda Chapter on Tuesday June 13th at Kahwa2Go or at our Bugolobi Chapter on Tuesday June 20th at The Village Mall.

BantuFam presents: On My Way Home

Haven’t read the first volume? First come and read it here: Falling Upwards

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Poetry on The Mountain: On Mt. Rwenzori, there is healing

The Babishai Niwe inaugural Poetry on The Mountain trip on June 11 2016, was one of the most rewarding experiences ever. Mt. Rwenzori is Eden’s original version, untainted with lust for life and envy, because there is such an abundance of awe and wonder. Why isn’t Rwenzori recognised as one of the world’s greatest wonders?

When the tour guide, Enock Owerangi, explains the different nature trails and the camps, it seems so effortless. He will tell you that you will reach the first camp, from where you will hold your poetry session. The truth is, Rwenzori is poetic enough and there’s no need to dramatise the experience. Starting at 1,400m high altitude, we begin this arduous expedition, full of curiosity, adrenaline and cameras.

Rwenzori poetry

We are beset with foliage reaching so high that the sky-line seems submerged. With 217 bird species in the Rwenzori region, there are so many choruses and this natural orchestra is one of the most striking sounds to behold. Only one of us Jackie Asiimwe, has reached the peak at Margherita, and Enock of course, who reaches Margherita at least six times a year. (Show-off, kekekeke). His uncle, Bagheni Zadekia, is also the first Mukonzo to reach the peak. Real family legacy right there.

Rwenzori, Africa’s largest block mountain and home to hundreds of animal and bird species, also has the transformative ability to make anyone gasp at the vastness of its awesomeness. There is a particular plant that is actually believed to eliminate labour pain. Every child-bearing woman deserves this. To be able to alleviate a pain more horrendous than suffocation, should be every woman’s right.

River Mobuku gushes below us, the purest water, clear and sparkling. In our lives too, the more transparent people are, the more clarity there is. There is room for everyone and no need to try and eat off someone else’s plate. Why fight for sloppy seconds when there is enough in the universe for all of us? The Mobuku’s untameable spirit, liberated and strong, makes me want to follow it to where it stops and build my home there. Being encircled by nature is a privilege in a world, besot by drudgery and destruction.

The three-horned chameleon, wide-eyed, elegant and endangered, is placed covertly on some tendrils, unrecognisable until the guide’s expert eyes, point it out. Its tail is coiled like a chocolate pinwheel but less tastier. None of us is able to ease the chameleon on our fingers as gently as Enock. For fear of killing the world’s only three-horned chameleon just out of sheer fright, we take our photos and move to the next place of admiration.

We’re getting more exhausted as we ascend more precipitous staircases, cross wobbly bridges and are told stories of undomesticated elephants. Maybe that’s what the gun, which one of our guides carries, is for. It’s not comforting that the path is too narrow to hide from an elephant. There are about five hours to Lake Mahoma, which is our agreed place for the poetry. Being the democrats that we are, we vote against this incredulous extra five hours and opt for the first base at Masiga. The humidity, the gruelling climbs and the perspiration are an excruciating combination. There are forty-five minutes to go. Now, forty-five minutes on Mt. Rwenzori, means that you will climb over several boulders, slip on the mud and trek through undergrowth that is thicker than the size of our cabinet.

Rwenzori poetry 2

While planning for Poetry On The Mountain, we romanticised about how we would have one spoken word after the other, while gazing at the snow-capped peak. This is what really happens. When you reach, you can barely stand and are so drained of energy that you wolf down every sugary biscuit in your sight, along with juice, fruit and almost, the inedible chameleons. The amount of calories burned is enviable for weight loss addicts but not the more adventurous poets.

Since we set out for poetry on the mountain, brushing off our crumbs, we begin to recite, perform and share stories of the Rwenzoris. In one captivating story, we hear that if a chameleon is killed by a human in the human’s younger days, if this person gives their unborn child a name of a chameleon, that child will be protected. Lukonzo is one of the most musical forms for spoken word. Let’s call it Lukoflow. The language is rhythmic and entertaining.

For our next trip, we’ll elect another gorgeous place in East Africa for a poetry excursion. Being surrounded by nature will teach us not to agitate destiny. This Rwenzori trip proves that once destiny has paved its successful course, destiny will always win.

At our Babishai 2016 Poetry Festival, which takes place from 24-26 August in Ntinda at Maria’s Place, opposite Victory City Church, we’ll be launching our next poetry trip for 2017. You’re welcome.



This article was submitted by Beverley Nambozo Nsenzinyunva. Congratulations BNPA on your inaugural Poetry On The Mountain and thank you for sharing this beautiful and enviable experience with us! We hope to join you on the next one.

Poetry and Kampala: A Review of Boda Boda Anthem & Other Poems | Richard Oduor

Cover Photograph by Edward Echwalu
Cover Photograph by Edward Echwalu

When we think about the city, most often, we want to diagnose. We think of the city as dark and insurgent, as dysfunctional, as the pan for capitalist consumption. The city becomes a foreboding monster – a ruin of ideals, where people, sphinx-like, emerge to produce and consume. Perhaps it is the visage of the city as a source of political order and social chaos, and a home of diversity and boundless promise, that attracts creatives and non-creatives. And creatives have made it their business to image it in various forms and angles.

Poets have talked about cities since the beginning of time. In the Bible, Jeremiah laments of the destruction of Jerusalem, a funeral dirge for the loss of a city, rent out in acrostic verse. We recall Tyrtaeus, the first poet of Greek city state, who composed verses in Sparta. Possibly no other poet in post-colonial Africa has mapped a city – in so few yet so powerful words – as J.P. Clark in Ibadan.

Babishai Niwe (BN) Poetry Foundation, under the guidance of Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva, set out to imagine Kampala through poetry, leading to the publication of Boda Boda Anthem & Other Poems edited by Mildred K Barya. The idea of a Kampala Poetry Anthology is not only ambitious but a first in Africa. This is the second anthology by the Foundation which also presents the annual BN Poetry Award. The first was A Thousand Voices Rising.

The poems in Boda Boda Anthem & Other Poems are loosely grouped into four thematic areas: ‘Ubuntu’, ‘Kampala City Y’ani’, ‘How Do You Say Kampala with an Accent’, and ‘Marry Me, Kampala’. These are portraits of Kampala, but they not wholesome portraits enclosed in burglar-proof glass in national museums. They are fragmented and produce a shock of the real, not unqualified imaginaries, but testimonial literature – a documenting of an age.

The poem, Boda Boda Anthem, introduces us to the chaos of Kampala. Boda bodas are imaged as ‘hordes of demons searching/Packs of hounds game hunting/death throttles clamouring for blood’. These boda bodas whizz through Kampala’s dust-ridden streets leaving carnage and death in its wake. They pride themselves as the ‘unbwogable force of renegade commandos’. ‘Unbwogable’ is a peculiar word here, Kenyanism, coined from a Luo word ‘bwogo’ meaning to ‘scare’. Unbwogable means ‘you can’t scare me’. The term originated from a song by Kenyan rap duo Gidigidi Majimaji. Though not initially meant as a political theme song, it was picked up by strait-laced opposition politicians and became an important cultural force in dethroning President Moi after 24 years of dictatorship. The use of such a term to describe the throttlehold boda bodas have on Kampala streets presents a grim picture of ‘ghost riders on wheels of steel’ conquering and terrorising a city. One wonders whether boda bodas are the cause or the consequence of a city’s (dys)function. One wonders if boda bodas are a political metaphor. Metaphors, from the Greek word metapherō ‘carry over’ meanings. In Contagious Metaphor, Peter Mitchell says metaphors ‘establish equivalences’, ‘scratch the surface’ and allow readers to establish the link between the abstract and the concrete. Boda Boda Anthem & Other Poems is rich in rhetoric that scratch the surface and leave the reader to traverse the luminal zone between the metaphorical and the material.

In Larok from Napak, Kampala is pictured as a concrete jungle. Katanga captures degeneration accompanying consumerism: ‘a/ State-kept /rubbish heap of /Shit Condoms Cigarette butts Tots and People/. The narratives of daily surviving the city litter almost every page. In Two Mighty Hills we are informed that Kampala is ‘a city that is no longer safe for a frog’, yet despite the tone of desperation, the poet still ‘longs for a day when he will/Call Kampala a home of patriots/ Not genuflecting purists.’ Froth, laments the brutality of law enforcers, while Bring then Take laments economic dispossession by the Chinese: they ‘bring in all they can to sell/ they bring in the machines plus the construction materials for the roads./ The Chinese take away all they can’. In U@50 a poet asks Kampala: ‘will you slip into menopausal madness?/ Become a beneficiary of memory lapses,/ Reminiscing about the bush ol’ days?’

Kampala does not kill all her cubs. In Unveiling My Bride Kampala, we find an effusive tone – coy and seductive: ‘My beautiful bride Kampala/ You make my heart sing lalala/ My heart cannot stop staring at you… / On you I will spend all my money/ If that would impress you, honey.’ In Rolled Eggs we are told that “you have not known the true taste of Kampala until you hold in your hand/ Something more precious that your silver watch, (two chapattis and rolled eggs) a Wandegeya Rolex’.

We cannot blame the poets for giving us only passing glimpses of the whole. There is no single image of a city. Kampala is a concrete jungle to some, the Canaan of matooke and pork to others. There are Two Sides of Kampala: one is comforting and gives the confidence of an organised, disciplined, and clean ambience, the other embraces the night’s evil veil and sends cold shivers down people’s spine.

Cities are dynamic, perplexing, and uncertain; notoriously difficult to map, and in most cases, the territorial boundaries of cities no longer exist. They have morphed into fictions that expand with every leap of imagination. One asks: are the poets talking about Kampala or Uganda? Are they talking about Nairobi, Lagos, or Johannesburg? As a reader, one is imprisoned in endless comparisons. Does Kampala have chaotic energy? Does it share the clockwork rhythm of daily life with other metropolis? What are its streets, its people, its dreams like? The imaginable-ness of Kampala is further compounded by the fact that the anthology features poems from eighteen countries. It is a diverse mix of voices whose images of Kampala cannot be pigeon-holed into a single interpretive lens.

The quality of the poems is diverse. Some voices are becoming, some are young – the breadth of introspection no more than the dainty sprint of a young impala on Kampala’s undulating hills – but others are mature and intense. The anthology has weak and strong threads. We are free to judge how well different poets see, or unsee, Kampala.

One thing is certain though, like A Thousand Voices Rising, this anthology – Boda Boda Anthem & Other Poems – is definitive of the rising stature of Kampala as a literature convent and a drinking hole for African poets.

Boda Boda Anthem & Other Poems  will be launched on Thursday August 27 at Goethe –Zentrum Kampala, Bukoto Street. The book is currently available in bookshops and can be ordered directly from BN Poetry Foundation.


Richard Oduor Oduku (@RichieMaccs) is a poet and writer. He studied Biomedical Science and Technology at Egerton University. He works, as a Research Consultant and lives in Nairobi. His work has been published in Jalada Africa, Saraba Magazine, Storymoja, San Antonio Review, among others. He also writes for #MaskaniConversations in the Star Newspaper. He is also working on a novel and a collection of poems and is a member of Jalada Africa (a pan-African writer’s collective) and Hisia Zangu (a writer’s and art society).

Find the programme for the Babishai 2015 Festival here:

A Thousand Voices Rising is, in truth, a million voices | Oduor Jagero


When you open the first page of the poetry collection A Thousand Voices Rising, Beverley Nambozo, begins with what appears to be a sales pitch. “This is an exquisite tapestry of words”, she says in her elaborate Foreword.

The ‘sales pitch’ dissolves into a solid statement of truth as you meet the words of Orogot Pamela in her poem A Face Like Mine. Orogot paints a collage of life’s pain and struggles. She speaks of a baby abandoned on the hospital bed. The baby is unknown, perhaps one of the African kids rescued by the Redcross from the battle fields of DRC Congo or Jonglei State, South Sudan.

It’s a collection that speak of human suffering – or African suffering in the case of war and hunger – but the collection covers hope and the beautiful butterflies of our African autumn. And true to the book, hope is not just looking forward to the death of all African dictators or the sudden emergence of milk wells and rivers of honey.

Barbara Oketta in her beautiful poetical mint, Better at Dawn, points to the little hopes we can enjoy. I say Better At Dawn is figurative in many ways. Beverley Nambozo has waited for her dawn to compile this great collection as there are many problems in the publishing industry. Oketta, not directly and purely on my own interpretation as a writer, calls them the clatter of cups and saucers and the barking of the neighbour’s dogs.

We love our countries just like Kalanzi Kajubi glorifies his country, Uganda. He was born in the pearl of Africa. I love Kenya and I have been in Uganda – those folks cherish their country but every country has her a flip-side, which is mostly a stinking closet:

“…Now my pearl seems to lose its glimmer as it’s muddied by deceit, poverty and violence. She grows weary as her mountains turns into cages.”

The flip sides are perhaps the pots that are boiling in James Dwalu’s The Careless Cook. It’s a short poem that speaks volumes about how badly we sometimes do things in our own countries. Our pots are boiling with corruption, extrajudicial killings, bad roads, and poor services. This is because we are bad cooks – bad leaders.

Africa is a continent blistered and festered with scam leaders. Just like Apuuli Mugasa’, in No Change, we know them. They’re men with large notes; the unashamed folk who walks past the beggar (perhaps the citizen) in the streets and dips his hands into his pockets but he has only a ten thousand note. He walks away. Later, he reminisces over what he saw; “I looked at the window in his ragged shirt and saw where cold had licked his skin; his eyes opened a hole in his heart where love and warmth never pitched tent.”

Emotive events that scarred the continent are also immortalised. Everybody remembers the deplorable events that started on the April night of 1994 in Rwanda and commandeered the global headlines for 100 days. Michaella Rugwizangoga reminds us of the cries of the victims: “…I was not the only one crying for the blood spilled, for in the sky of April 1994 even the stars were mourning…” The victims knocked at the sun’s door and the moon’s door but nothing happened. It is not only Rwanda where people have been ‘wearing this black veil’ and obviously ‘not the only one crying for the blood spilled’.

Richard Ali cries over Darfur: “We do not dance any longer in Darfur, no swaying veils.” No Dancing in the Sudan is another provocative piece that salts our wounds and pierces our collective conscience. Jason Ntaro, in One day, someday will be this day, asks; “But who is to blame? Us or those who choose to rule us? The rebels or those that feed the rebels’ gun lust?”

Harriet Anena is a stinging poet. Oyet Sisto, in review of her beautiful collection, A Nation in Labour, says that she has “a mastery in politics, war, love, and healing.” That mastery is forceful in the subtle sarcasm in We move on.

Every collection must see through trouble and tell the readers that come tomorrow, the shackles and fetters shall loosen their stranglehold. The more you read this collection, the more writivism becomes real. Many Mandela’s, Steve Biko’s, Achieng’ Oneko’s, and many other activists have been reincarnated. Even though they don’t pull crowds at the Kamkunji grounds, they will surely pull a crowd of readers.

May be there are weaknesses of some individual poems but the agenda is well discussed in A Thousand Voices Rising. But like Lagos, Bode Asiyanbi’s poem, this collection is about “water, dust, laughter, and sweat. It’s about “generators whining like mutant bees, sprawling off off the womb of Yemoja”.

This collection is “relentless grip of passion, like mating crabs on the seashore”.

Oduor Jagero is a Kenyan journalist, documentary script writer, poet and novelist with his novel, True Citizen. Read his interview on Sooo Many Stories: Lessons on self-publishing from Oduor Jagero


You can buy a copy of A Thousand Voices Rising here:

Book Review: Kizza Besigye and Uganda’s Unfinished Revolution | Samira Sawlani


Review by Samira Sawlani

Since President Museveni came to power almost 30 years ago, the political landscape of Uganda has evolved and simultaneously remained stagnant. Laws have been made and broken, individuals have come and gone through the gates of Government and battles have been lost while wars have been won. Yet within this myriad of changes a lot has remained the same. The door to power has been a revolving one, the same faces coming in and out. The status quo has continuously been sustained and many, absorbed by a sense of powerlessness have struggled to challenge it.

However in the midst of it all there are those who have gone where many have feared to enter, those that have stood back up after every knock (sometimes quite literally). One such example is opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye. For years Ugandans have watched Besigye take a starring role in the cinema that is this country’s politics; for some the hero, for others the villain. Yet much of what we know about him is formed by how he is framed by the media, by the Government and by those that support or oppose him.

Where did he come from? How did he rise through the ranks to make it into Government? What was the catalyst that led him, a man who was once the personal physician to the President, to desert those in power? And why when so many of his peers were willing to turn a blind eye to the deficiencies of the ruling party so they could enjoy the spoils on offer? Was he not seduced? There are two major questions which most Ugandans have long asked when it comes to Besigye; what exactly led to Besigye’s fall out with President Museveni and what was the real story behind that alleged love triangle involving him, his wife Winnie Byanyima and the President.

The man himself and these questions form the subject of renowned journalist Daniel Kalinaki’s book, Kizza Besigye and Uganda’s Unfinished Revolution. The book charts the journey of Besigye starting from his childhood in Rukungiri to working alongside Museveni against the Obote ‘regime’ and finally, to leading an opposition movement.

The backdrop to the story is a Uganda re-emerging from decades of abuse by tyrants of yester-year. Kalinaki provides a concise account of the history of the country and interwoven into it are the stories of Besigye, Museveni and their respective parties and causes. This perhaps is where the book triumphs. In one volume the reader gains an insight into Besigye the man, the evolution of Uganda and the sins and successes of a government which has possibly outstayed its welcome.

In recent years, Besigye has often made headlines for his acts of rebellion, his inability to be silenced and refusal to stand down. The book goes into detail offering accounts of every beating, imprisonment and act of injustice forced upon him by the powers that be. In the midst of this he becomes a husband and a father, and one cannot help but think that this is what he sacrifices in order to continue with his quest for success. Years are spent in exile, away from his family and home; was it for personal glory or an act so altruistic as being for the good of the nation?

While this story is told through accounts provided by Besigye, his wife Winnie and many others that have fought by his side and against him, Kalinaki makes a concerted effort to shed light upon the huge differences between the Museveni of 1986 and the Museveni of 2016.

Prime example of this is an account of a meeting as the NRM prepared to take power; Museveni asks how long they should stay in office, and as suggestions of five, seven, 10 years are heard he responds with ‘two years’ as soldiers like them had no business staying in power. This is but one anecdote written about in the book which illustrates how Museveni and his supporters have embraced and encouraged those same defective traits which they had so been against.

Some have accused Kalinaki of failing to be objective in his observations of the Ugandan Government and of Besigye. Others have suggested that the book struggles to provide a nuanced perspective on why leaders like Museveni are able to hold on to power and does not address the real problems and potential solutions required to treat the ills of Uganda today.

However, the book neither poses as an analytical tool nor sets out to gauge the conditions which have presented themselves in Uganda and the rest of the continent as being ideal for leaders to outstay their duration in power. Kizza Besigye And Uganda’s Unfinished Revolution is first and foremost about the man in question; who, many would argue continues to fight a losing battle. Specifically stated in the author’s note is the fact that it ‘does not tell all sides of the story, but tells it through the political journey of Besigye’.

Kalinaki’s writing is so compelling that the reader is reeled in, experiencing the nausea of Luzira and the displacement of exile. Alongside this are the sadness, disappointment and anger at the injustices against an entire nation which based on the accounts given in the book are executed by the hands of a powerful few.

There are two sides to everything and this is Kizza Besigye’s, a voice many have committed themselves to trying to silence. The book is a must read for it tells the story of a man who has continued to be a thorn in the side of the government today, furthermore it keeps alive the names of the many who have lost their lives fighting for this country and the sacrifices made by individuals, including Museveni, to bring about peace.

Samira Sawlani is a writer and journalist specialising in politics, economy and development of East and Horn of Africa, in particular Kenya, Uganda and Somalia. A holder of an MA in International Studies and Diplomacy from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, she has written for numerous publications both inside and outside of the African Continent.

Aside from journalism she has also worked in the emergency humanitarian relief and refugee care sector.

Twitter: @samirasawlani


Kalinaki will be speaking about writing non-fiction at the ongoing Uganda International Writers Conference.

Follow the conversations here:  #AWTConference2015

To order a copy of Daniel Kalinaki’s  Kizza Besigye and Uganda’s Unfinished Revolutions, call +256781400484 or email:

In Nairobi the book is available at Bookstop, Yaya Centre & Books Parlour, Bandari Plaza Westlands. 


Book Review: A Nation In Labour | Three voices, one book

Happening today!


Harriet Anena will be in conversation with Juliane Okot P’Bitek today at Femrite on her new poetry collection. Here are three readers’ takes on the book.

A Machine Made Out Of Words | Richard Oduor

Edward Hirsch teaches us that a reader of poetry is like a pilgrim setting out, or what Wallace Williams calls ‘a scholar with one candle’. To set out is to picture oneself as a beginner. To begin is to act – it is to adopt a certain frame of mind, an attitude, and a consciousness. I’m reminded that as a beginner I must open myself to surprise – to risks and thralls – of reading poetry, or of reading too many poems over a short period of time. In reading, I will be using poetry as a tool for reflection and conversation, which by its nature is a narrowing of scope.

A Nation in Labour: A Poetry Collection (2015) by Harriet Anena published by Millennium Press Limited, Kampala-Uganda, is a slender book, less than 100 pages in size, with 55 poems bundled into loosely themed baskets. Throughout the book, the tone oscillates from anger to apathy, sometimes it is sarcastic, sometimes persuasive, yet there are times when it is dour and querulous and patronizing. But even then, there is a purpose in the voice, a galvanizing of support, a steely belief in the society’s ability to turn off the cliff and retrace its footsteps. Though, most times, it sounds hopeless like the instinctual bleats of a wounded antelope stuck in mud.

A Nation in Labour is a multitude of voices, a collective protest against the present, and a stubborn belief in the possibility of new ways of being, in Uganda.

The first poem, Walking on Nails, opens the curtain to a society drowning in phobophobia – the fear of fear itself. We are afraid of being afraid. Even when we don’t know what we are afraid of. We fear because the real truth scorches our tongues. We know that fear is a tool for maintaining oppression, but in a society where others showcase tears of joy as others wipe off tears of pain, the lament is a call to see beyond our eyelashes. Unfortunately, fear also creates ambivalence and indecision. In Lest We Forget To Fear, the poet reminds us that despite the volcano of shamelessness we are sitting on /…/ let’s not forget to fear. And even in the pursuit of ‘change’, scripted political pretence ought to be thrown out of the window. The poem We Need No New Madiba dismisses pundits who unable to stand his (Madiba’s) feats, bring him down / even in death, and yet they cannot even hold the hem of his cloak.

The chant-y ‘we’ in many of the poems is definitive of the collection. It reminds one of the oft-stated observations by critics that the African poet seldom indulges in poetry that mirrors his private concerns, but that of the community. In Politics and the Development of Modern African Poetry, Friday A. Okon says that “modern African poetry is a poetry of commitment, and therefore, it has utilitarian value. It is an intellectual response to the denigration of Africa and Africans by white colonisers.” Though the collection desists from dragging colonialists into Uganda’s present situation, it aligns with the belief that in Africa, the poet cannot afford to just play around with words, and must in some way tackle the realities of the society.

There are many who will disagree with this position, and deservedly so, but commitment to a utilitarian value by talking about social realities is not a bad thing per se. As Paul Cohen says a poem is a “manifestation of language and thus essentially a dialogue”, in this sense, poems too “are making towards something”. And maybe every poem holds a belief that somewhere and sometime it will seep into a conversation and bend it with a new perspective.

The hopelessness of the citizenry is exemplified in Political Poop as citizens clamour for stinking shillings from county gods and dive headlong into our life’s vomit, as their leader clutches at breasts of the Republic / Squeezing and biting it with 70-year-old teeth until the breasts are looted dry. However, Harriet Anena is not alone in calling out the irresponsibility of political leaders. In Okot p’Bitek’s Song of Lawino – one of the greatest literary works in East Africa, concern for the masses is a recurrent theme as the poet decries the elite’s abandonment of the people’s struggle for the struggle for their selfish interests. In Song of Ocol, Okot p’Biket remarks that: And while the pythons of sickness / swallow the children / And the buffaloes of poverty / Knock the people down / And Ignorance stands there / Like an elephant / The war leaders are tightly locked in bloody feuds / Eating each other’s liver.

Still, there are poems culled from a different alcove of being, for love has a way of softening even the hardest of granites. In Kiwani, even though love that was sincere has become diluted and defiled, the tone is calm and confessional. In Say It, the sweetness of the persona’s entreating, glows: Today / I’ll let your breath stroke my neck /… / I’ll let your fingers wander through my hair. In We Are On Heat, the lines We love violently / Cry and kiss at the same time / As our chests heave with longing and hesitation is highly evocative and visual. I Bow For My Boobs and V-Day are some of the succulent servings.

In the Forward of A Nation in Labour, Professor Laban Erapu, says that the book “is not a conventional collection of poems by a young untried poet cautiously taking her first steps into the profession, but a mature selection of by a seasoned poet”. I agree, largely. Whether the poet is praising the diamond bonds of friendship, bemoaning the ways of a crowd unafraid of roasting a fellow human, fazed by the cyclical torture of January broke-ness, or desirous of the tranquillity of the countryside, or castigating the indignity of stripping women; Harriet Anena’s soul is the soul of many Ugandans, and her words – through her poetry – are purse strings to a world that refuses to unsee, a world that believes that rebirth is possible. It is this longing for rebirth that is captured in the poem, A Nation in Labour: hoping it’ll correct a future that’s gone askew.

As William Carlos Williams once said, poems are machines made out of words. There is nothing sentimental about a machine, in the sense that, no parts are redundant. As a machine, “its movement is intrinsic, undulant, a physical more than a literary character.” On this basis, it is the perceived pointedness of the purpose of Anena’s book that encapsulates the book and saves the reader from the tediousness of reading so many versions of the same political themes and complaints in so many poems. One wishes for more inventiveness in style and themes, but these, as are the many ways of viewing the world, are fruits of time and exposures to new environments.

Alternatively, we can deliberately misapply William’s metaphor, by asking what poetry can do to us. A machine is worth what it does. So, how can poetry move us? What can poetry do in Uganda today? What can poetry do in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe? Maybe that is another conversation we need to have, especially how the power of poetry can be harvested, not only as a cup of wisdom or a barrel of love but also how it can be used as a tool for political reflection and renewal.

Perhaps the poem; Scratching Destiny, is the message the poet wishes to pass to her readers. It totes the heavy heart of A Nation in Labour, and reminds us of the resilience of the human spirit – that in this blooming buzzing confusion, we must somehow organise our individual chaos into a stable and meaningful personal world. Resilience is powerful because resilience is life. We read of an Acholi child, born in the bush only to lose parents to AIDS, and forced to live in protected camps where she/he is sexually molested by protectors.

And we ask ourselves questions: How do we survive darkness with our bodies and souls intact? And we think of those who have lived their whole lives wandering and hiding; those who have survived ghettos and concentration camps; those who have escaped through barbed wires and crawled out of burning buildings. We think of lives imprisoned by unending wars and those rendered helpless by decades of institutional dispossession. But like the Acholi child, we scratch our destiny in the hands of a curbing fate, and with belief in the power of resilience and hope, trudge on.

 Richard Oduor Oduku (@RichieMaccs) is a poet and writer. He studied Biomedical Science and Technology at Egerton University. He works, as a Research Consultant and lives in Nairobi. His work has been published in Jalada Africa, Saraba Magazine, Storymoja, San Antonio Review, among others. He also writes for #MaskaniConversations in the Star Newspaper. He is also working on a novel and a collection of poems and is a member of Jalada Africa (a pan-African writer’s collective) and Hisia Zangu (a writer’s and art society).


No labour in reading Anena’s collection | Grace Kenganzi

Mandela, the mini-skirt, Valentine’s Day, the LRA war, that loveable cat. Read apart, these seem like topics which would not be in the same conversation, yet they fit together in Harriet Anena’s A Nation in Labour, a poetry collection she released recently.

When the collection was still warm from the shelves, a colleague dismissively commented that it had no running theme, and so falls under that category of books published only for publishing’s sake. Fortunately, he was in the company of open-minded people who asked him what he meant.

It turns out that he had not even read the collection. His comments were only informed by the contents page, which has the titles of the different poems. Further probing revealed that he had been quick to judge the book because he doesn’t think Ugandans take publishing seriously –a rather unfortunate way of looking at it. But that’s a conversation for another day.

The colleague finally read the collection and to quote him, “really enjoyed it”. And there is a lot to enjoy in A Nation in Labour. If you have studied poetry, especially because it is part of the syllabus, you will agree with me that some of the poems were long, winding and in the end, boring yet we were asked to understand them for interpretation.

You will not be so belaboured with Anena’s style of writing. Sure there are some poems like The Pregnant Village Bus, for which interpretation is not right off the bat but then there are others like Hemline Cop, whose meaning is right there on the pages. Both styles work out for the different poems just right. For instance, had Dry Breasts been written without symbolism, it would have read like those rants we see on social media. Written the way it was, there is no running away from the message she is putting across.

Anena also covers a range of subjects which reflect her generation. From our gift of running out of funds every January in January Blues to how much we immerse ourselves with the intricacies of Valentine’s Day in V-Day. Then there is the politics of our times where the army seems to be taking over the strangest areas in And We’ll Plant Bullets, written with a dash of satire.

And of course the joys and pains that come with relationships. I say of course because I haven’t come across a writer who does not broach this subject –matters of the heart are a popular lot. Anena explores it in different ways. In Kiwani, we see the thin line between love and hate; what seems to be a long distance relationship in Absent; infatuation in And I Die, Many times over, and even the loathing of a spouse in I Bow For My Boobs.

The poems are not limited to a particular length. While We Need No New Madiba is eight stanzas long, I Won’t is all but six, short lines long. This is one of the things that endeared me to the collection. Our thoughts or opinions about issues are varied. Sometimes, we have a lot to say about an issue, and other times, there is little to say.

So while some might find a problem with the collection’s diversity, I find that it is its strength. We are a nation with a tribe of things running through our minds, a myriad of reactions to what is happening around us, that it is difficult to stay transfused to just one topic. A Nation in Labour captures most of these, in a way that gets us to think and stop, but not for so long lest we miss something else around us.

Grace Kenganzi is a journalist. She currently works with the Daily Monitor where she is the Features Editor. When she’s not at work, she is reading and thinkg thoughts that will someday be writeen.

Follow Grace on Twitter: @gkenganzi


a nation in labour


Anena’s work seduces you to read without trying | David Kangye

A Nation In Labour is more like a honey feast; much as you have it in plenty, you will have to lick it bit by bit. The poems in here require a second thought upon reading. This might take you more than just days.

If you value the power of words, in her last poem, Anena reminds you,

“We enjoy each minute as it passes by

Even from places apart

Because that’s us


To you who are such friends, have it as a reason of shelving this witty collection in your home libraries but of course after reading it. Her work, like she says in And I Die; Many Times Over, will seduce you to read without trying.

Kangye is a third year Literature and English Language student at Makerere University. He is currently working on a Creative Writing Project in travel writing. He is a poet and a member of The Lantern Meet of Poets. He is a blogger at

Follow Kangye on twitter: @davidkangye

Here are more interviews of Anena on her new book: 

Harriet Anena

The making of a budding poet


Event Review: BN Poetry Awards’ Love, Romance n’ebigenderako

Where were  you on February 13, Valentine’s Day Eve? Well, wherever you were, #Loveromancen’ebigendeerakomuKampala happened. For two hours, 25 of us sat down to a good session of  poetry, based on exactly that: love, romance and things that follow in Kampala. There were copies of poetry books (A Nation in Labour and A Thousand Voices Rising) on sale, delicious chocolate and vanilla Wordy Cakes, roses to pick from and a sweet-smelling aroma of love. Paul Kisakye, owner of Wordy Cakes, rendered us helpless with his poem, Missing You,

Missing You

missing you
like a terminal disease
that one endures
but can’t get used to

 (first published here:

Roshan Karmali, moderator and host of Poetry In Session revealed her forthcoming collection, one we’re all looking forward to, a collection which unfolds in two parts, Angels and Demons. Rosh poetically submitted  us into another spiritual experience. For her, the entire reading was such a refreshing experience that she felt she was with long-lost friends at a brunch. How’s that for poetry!

 “It was an insight into loving and living in Kampala from the sex tape to the heartbreak and everything inbetween and a reflection of Love from multiple angles.” -Roshan Karmali

Farida Bagalaaliwo read one of Derek Walcott’s famous love poems. Her own interpretation, well portrayed through the melody in the recital brought us into an even deeper surrounding of #loveromancen’bigenderako.

Joel Nevender, blogger and poet, read a parody of 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter in the Holy Bible. His rendition entitled, 1 Valentine’s 13, highlights unrealistic views of love and romance on Valentine’s Day. This changed the narrative with symbols of the absurdities of Kampala City, most of which we laud, amongst them, the recent sex-tape scandals. His two other poems were, The Ones That Don’t Get Caught and Daisy. The Ones That Don’t Get Caught talks about the hypocrisy of society as regards sexual immorality. Daisy talks about a dream girl that will always be a dream, never a reality.

Roshan Karmali (Poetry In Session) reads her poem. Photo by Dilman Dila
Roshan Karmali (Poetry In Session) reads her poem. Photo by Dilman Dila

Caesar Obong, a poet from Northern Uganda, led the readers into a mystical and narrative view of lust and erotica, including the landscapes of love and society amongst various social groups. Roxanna Aliba, a love poet, read from her forthcoming collection which will be released mid this year. Hers is one we should definitely aspire towards.

Half-way the reading we held a mini-launch of Harriet Anena’s A Nation In Labour, a selection of poetry about the irrationality of governance in Kampala, as well as unimaginable pictures of sex at an entirely new scale. Her concise messages remain imprinted and it was a pleasure to have her. Harriet’s book inspired another member to write her own collection. Her poems, Hemline Cop, V-Day and We Are On Heat. Hemline Cop is an excellent version of the hypocrisy of the state of governance in Uganda.

“The event was a great start in the right poetic direction and I look forward to seeing similar events organised for not just Valentine’s Day but other key days on the Calendar.” – Harriet Anena

Christina Ssempebwa is a poet whose truths and convictions lie in the verse. Quite new to the poetry scene, she proved herself wrong by calling herself a non-poet. The rhythm and message were everything poetic.

Christina Ssempebwa said she wasn't a poet but her poem revealed otherwise! Photo by Dilman Dila
Christina Ssempebwa said she wasn’t a poet but the poem she read revealed otherwise! Photo by Dilman Dila

“I was able to meet people of like and different minds and be inspired by their words and to hear truth spoken in new beautiful ways. Amazing. The time of the meeting was great. No hurry, no hassle.” -Edith Nakku

What is love and romance without music? Bosco Young Nomad, a regular at Poetry In session, got out his guitar and sang an all time favourite, How does it feel to be the one that I love? It’s a soft and deep masterpiece, whose lyrics tug at a listener’s heart-strings.

Susanne Aniku, jazz musician and singer brought down the house with two songs. One was written by famous composer George Gershwin in the late 1920s, entitled The Man I Love. It is about a woman longing and dreaming about the man she loves. The second, Susanne’s own song, called Thank You, is a song of gratitude to someone that rescued her when she was down. Both songs will appear in her forthcoming jazz album. Her own poem, Your Eyes also reflects her own ability to be soul deep and unapologetically in touch with her emotions.

Heritage Ddamba, a spoken word performer, emotionally took us on a roller-coaster of  a love target in a man’s life. Beverley Nambozo, BN Poetry Foundation founder, ended the day with her poem, Dear Doctor. The poem is about the unsafe spaces of love in Pentecostal churches, of a strong Christian woman, affected by HIV by her god-fearing husband, and having to show gratitude for all he’s done for her.

Here are some videos from the event by Moses Serugo:


(Submissions to the 2015 BN Poetry Award are open till May 15. Follow the guidelines on: This story was submitted by participants at the #Loveromancen’ebigendeerakomuKampala event. Thank you!-Nyana)

Guy Mambo: Some poetry is suited for the ear

What Shall We Name This Child, a recital by The Lantern Meet Of Poets started showing yesterday and is on today as well. Bwesigye bwa Mwesigire, a friend of Sooo Many Stories  has been talking to the  Lantern Meet of Poets members about poetry, the recital among other things. Below, he talks to Guy Mambo, one of the co-founders of the poetry outfit.



BM: As one of the founders of the meet, take us through the first days. Why did you start? How did you start? Who were you with?
GM: Hahahaha, you are asking me to write “the book”. I’ll answer but in part: it was started with the vision of restoring Africa to its literary prime, to fill the gap left by the first great writers of the post-colonial era. Poetry is the highest form of writing and hence our vehicle of choice. The Meet, in its current formal character was instituted amongst myself, Ojakol Omerio, Sophie Alal, and Colin Asiimwe. The rest belongs in “the book”.

BM: Are you happy with how the meet has grown? Are there things you think you could have handled differently? Are there things that you did not hope for, but happened?
GM: I have been confronted with this question before. The Meet is growing (and growing strong) and it will always grow into what it must grow into for its time. The ethos of the organisation hasn’t been tampered with, I therefore trust that it is where it was meant to be. I am happy with it, I certainly am.

BM: What is the level of your involvement with the meet today?
GM: My involvement recently is advisory, and I like it. I continue to attend Sunday meets too, I find them relaxing. Plus The Meet constitutes a good chunk of my closest pals.

BM: When do we see a collection of poetry authored by yourself? What do you see as the connection between performance poetry and written poetry?
GM: I don’t know when I will publish my own collection. In a few years I suppose. I have no cause to rush, the verses won’t run away.
Some poems are suited for the ear while others require you to carefully read and re-read. My opinion though is that in either case it must not be prosaic. It must evoke.

BM: How did the idea of the recitals begin?
GM: Recitals were conceived as an opportunity to share the work we were doing with the general public. Like many things else at The Meet, recitals developed in an organic manner, it’s primordial nature being our vision to “infect” society with our revolution. I believe it’s still morphing.

BM: About the What Shall We name This Child recital, why should someone attend? What special thing have you prepared for us this time?
GM: Hehehehe, why attend? Attend because the arts are a mirror to society. If for no other reason, come like you were fulfilling an overdue appointment with your dentist. There might be complements about your well grown wisdom teeth, as well as announcements of cavities and recommendations of root canal. Come and be with art.

For more on the Lantern Meet Of Poets:

What Shall We Name This Child: Behind The Scenes

#SoooManyLanterns: A Lantern Meet of Poets and Sooo Many Stories collaboration