It is eight years since government banned the activities of Danish artist Kristian von Hornsleth in Buteyongera Village in Mukono District.
It could have been unknown to the world and majority of Ugandans had it not been the 2006 incident where Hornsleth rewarded impoverished residents with a pig or a goat in exchange for adopting the name Hornsleth.
While Uganda and the world at large may have forgotten the ‘grab a pig for a name’ project that saw more than 360 Ugandans bearing the name Hornsleth, the beneficiaries of the project now sit in groups and curse government for every bit of poverty that eats them up.
It’s is a hot afternoon in Buteyongera Village, about 35Kms from Mukono Town. The long dry spell has dealt a heavy blow to the now lifeless crops.
In the village, only two modern inexpensive structures stand. One of the structures is the abandoned Longsleth offices – now inhabited by a family. The rest of the village residents live in mud-and-wattle houses.
In various compounds, groups of people - old and young, men and women – mill around; having endless discussions. Some, pointing to the drying and dying crops, and cannot help to wonder how they will survive in the days to come, or at least until the next harvest.
Perhaps the looming hunger staring them in the face reminds them, although grotesquely, of the goldmine that was washed away when the government blocked Hornsleth from dishing to them pigs and sheep. Some in a discussion agree that ‘if government had not used an iron fist on Kristian von Hornsleth they would all be far’.
“If government had not threatened people and acted the way it did, people had benefited and Buteyongera would be one of the most developed places in Uganda,” Mr Mufoya Samuel, the village defence secretary, says.
Many of the Hornsleth beneficiaries, however, have nothing to show except the name they adopted from Hornsleth. That man now remains vivid in the memory of the residents.
The story behind Hornsleth
Artist Hornsleth, who on his website sometimes spells his name Horn$leth, indicated that the scheme, offering villagers of Buteyongera aid in the form of a pig or goat if they take on his name, was a commentary on the hypocrisies of society.
While the villagers saw the project as helpful, Hornsleth was adamant that his project should not be seen as charity, but as an exchange – a business transaction.
Its slogan being “We want to help you, but we want to own you” rubbed the government the wrong way and many viewed it as a cult of sorts whose agenda remained hidden.
Robinah Nambooze, one of the beneficiary of the project, says they were yet to be told why they were changing their names.
“Some people even did not know at the time that their names were being changed. We registered our names and gave a passport photo and we were given a pig. We later received Local Council identity cards bearing the name Hornsleth. We were happy and never asked many question,” Ms Nambooze, a mother of four, adds.
Hornsleth was brought to the village by Daudi Kateregga, a politician from the Democratic Party who contested for the Nakifuma constituency parliamentary position in 2011 and lost.
The villagers have so many people and things to blame for the failure of the project. Some blame the then Minister of Ethics and Integrity, Mr James Nsaba Buturo, others blame the politics of DP and NRM, while others blame the village name that has been seen as a curse – Buteyongera (translated as not moving forward).
“We have since started a church and named it okweyongera in an attempt to counter the curse that comes with our village name,” Mr Mufoya says.
In the 2006 project, 307 people signed up, 242 pigs and 65 goats were handed over, and another 365 residents were put on the waiting list.
In the beginning, 110 residents each got a piglet, which, once it matured, they would take to the Hornsleth project office where a “special” male was kept to mount the sows. Over a five-year period, an estimated 5,000 would have benefitted. Once a sow gave birth, and they usually give birth to many, the owner was expected to surrender half the number to the project for redistribution to other villagers.
To formalise the project, the Mukono District Gender office in June 2006 cleared the Hornsleth Village Project as a mixed development organisation, which would be involved in livestock farming, agriculture, and community education. But barely four months later, the government stopped it.
Government threatened to arrest Hornsleth, who was out of the country then, if he ever returned to Uganda. Minister Buturo then said the Hornsleth project lacked evidence that it was a community project.
Knocking at the door to the mud-and-wattle house of Jimmy Ntalo Hornsleth, there is no answer even though the entire village says he is at home. After a while, I move to the backyard of his house.
About 50 metres from the backyard, amid banana trees, stands 48-year-old Ntalo who prefers to be called Hornsleth. With him are three mature pigs and their piglets.
Ntalo holds the pigs with much affection, a glint of light showing in his eyes. He is obviously in love with his pigs.
“Have you come to bring Hornsleth back?” is the first question he asks.
Ntalo has been able to sustain his family of five through rearing pigs. He at the moment has about eight mature pigs even though he lacks a place to keep them and has to move them to a farm nearby.
Like other Hornsleth beneficiaries, he was given one pig which has since multiplied. Every month Ntalo sells about two mature pigs and four piglets.
“I love Hornsleth. He helped me become someone. Rearing pigs is the only work I do, it is what feeds my family and gives me a status in our village. He did what even government had failed to do for us,” Ntalo says.
It was widely published that the pigs given by Hornsleth all died from a mysterious illness but Ntalo refutes the story. To him, it is laziness and lack of patience that made the villagers not to benefit from the project.
“It is true some pigs died from wound and other diseases but most of them died due to not being taken care of, not being fed well and some did not even die, people wanted to make fast money and sold them off,” he says.
Rosio Ssewanyana says he dropped the Hornsleth name immediately the project collapsed.
Like all the others, he has something he benefited out of the project. Sswanyana bought a heavy blanket and a dress for his wife out of the project.
“I reared the pigs for about nine months, sold some and even bought things out of the profits,” Mr Ssewanyana says.
He, however, lost the few pigs he had when they were attacked by a mysterious sickness and died - a thing he blames on the government.
“If they had not chased this people who brought the projects, they would have helped us handle the diseases that broke out,” Ssewanyana adds.
But unlike the many that had stopped their other activities to concentrate on rearing the pigs they had received, he continued to concentrate on farming.