The Chief Locust stretched her wings and looked around her. The colony spread out in all directions as far as her eyes could see, a blanket of greenish-yellow covering the trees and the ground.
It had been a wonderful season. Heavier-than-usual rain had provided lush feeding grounds; favourable winds had made the hop across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen into Djibouti and Somalia a breeze.
Her swarm was now in the semi-arid swathe of western Kenya. Chief Locust awaited news from her advance party before deciding the next move. It was a long way from home – the stretch of desert that ran like a Congolese musician’s belt across the chest of the African continent, from Mauritania to Somalia and into the Arabian peninsular.
They could let the winds blow them southwest, into the heart of the continent where the lands were greener and food more bountiful. But the move was fraught with dangers. Though food was plenty, these grounds weren’t favourable for laying eggs. There was the dangerous Lake Nalubaale, which was too vast to be crossed without feeding stops.
Then there was the legendary Lake Mwita Nzige ‘locust killer’ farther west, which not only offered the difficulty of several miles without feeding stops, but was also bordered by the Rwenzori Mountain ranges, which were too high and too cold to cross.
Chief Locust’s daydream was interrupted by the return of one advance party, from flying a sortie over parts of Uganda. ‘We have good news and bad news,’ the head of the advance party said, his thorax straining to catch his breath.
“Well, get on with it,” said the Chief Locust impatiently. “Start with the good news.”
‘The good news,’ he said, ‘is that there is plenty to eat and hardly any meaningful preparations to challenge us.’
“That can’t be true,” Chief Locust said. “The world has known about us since December and countries in the region have been putting together contingency plans for several weeks…”
‘Well, you see in Uganda…’
“Don’t interrupt,” she added. “Didn’t they even approve a budget of Shs15 billion just to fight us?”
‘They did, but Shs11 billion of it went to the Desert Locust Control Organisation for East Africa.’
“You mean they are sending us those ninjas to hunt us down?” Chief Locust cried out in fear.
‘No mama, the money was to clear arrears. They hadn’t paid membership dues since 1980.’
“Not very serious chaps, clearly, but that leaves them with a few billions. They can still cause us serious damage…”
‘Well, they have bought some cypermethrin and chlorpyrifos insecticide…’
“But those kill fish and bees and aren’t even very effective against us!”
‘It’s what they could find on the market, mama…’
“So what have they been doing all this time since we started our great trek southwest?”
‘They have been building capacity, mama, and bringing all stakeholders on board. Committees and task forces have been formed. Baseline studies are being undertaken to ensure the right mitigating actions are taken within a consultative framework that ensures gender mainstreaming and social protection in line with the SDGs. No girl-child or locust will be left behind, mama!’
“What in the hot and humid East African skies does that mean?”
‘They are making us an offer, mama.’
“What’s the offer?”
‘We fly a few swarms down into the countryside – enough to cause small, small panic among natives, but not too destructive – then we fly off whence we came.’
“And what, exactly, would the point be?”
‘This would unlock more money, mama, and the front-line technocrats involved in the fight against locusts will be able to win their personal battles against poverty. School fees would be eradicated and their household incomes will be raised far into middle income status and beyond.’
“In case we went along with his hare-brained idea where exactly would we fly?”
‘We would make a few stops around Karamoja...’
“Karamoja? Karamoja? What would we eat there? They can hardly find enough fig leaves to cover themselves! Where else?”
‘Well, we could head farther into the country but…’
‘Well, we can’t land in Busoga or lay our eggs there because our bu young locusts will be born with you-know-what…’
“You mean those niggas still have jiggers?”
“What about deeper into Buganda?”
‘Abe Masaka will eat us. They are the Chinese of Uganda, they eat anything that flies. Or walks. Or crawls.’
“Can’t we then fly farther into Ankole?”
‘Too risky mama,’ the entire swarm from the advance party chimed, instinctively huddling together for safety.
“Why, arrogance doesn’t kill us locusts.”
‘It’s not arrogance, mama, the leader said. An army general from the area has warned that anyone who tries to invade Uganda will be crushed, completely and also. Turned into eshabwe!’
“Mwaba serious? And where are you all flying off to?”
‘Kyaba too much, mama,’ the leader said as the advance party soared into the air. ‘Let us fly to another place where we are not competing with locals to see who eats up the country faster!’
*Based on a fictional account where life imitates art, and art mirrors life.
Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and a poor man’s freedom fighter.