What you need to know:
- Banana Republic, Where Writing is Treasonous. This book caused Kakwenza Rukirabashaija to get arrested recently. Andrew Kaggwa reviews the book.
By now, even if you did not care that much, you have an idea of who Kakwenza Rukirabashaija is. Many prefer to call him Kakwenza.
If you do not mind, he is a Ugandan lawyer, author and columnist. He is a writer that most people who appreciate literature learnt about when his novel The Greedy Barbarian was published in April 2020.
The Greedy Barbarian is Kakwenza employing his satire and political wit in the best way he knows.
The book follows a story of Bekunda and her toddler son, Kayibanda who cross an international border. They are in dire straits and desperately need sanctuary, human kindness and divine favour. The new country gives them sanctuary, the natives show them kindness and the local spirits do the miraculous on their behalf. But can Kayibanda be as gracious to his new country as it has been to him? Can he overcome his profoundly flawed nature, which appears to be hereditary?
The importance of knowing the synopsis of The Greedy Barbarian is because this book lays the foundation of what would become Kakwenza’s follow-up book, Banana Republic, Where Writing is Treasonous.
After the release of the book, Kakwenza was arrested at his home in Iganga District by security agents. He was arraigned in court and charged with allegedly involving in acts likely to spread the infection of Covid-19. He was remanded to Busesa prison but the charge was later dismissed by the magistrate over lack of witnesses. The book is an account of Kakwenza’s experience when he was arrested, it is an encounter that details the arrest, torture and house search.
Kakwenza uses vivid description while talking about events, for instance, he will tell you about his teachers folding a toe that tried to peep out of an old shoe, the head teacher grin while punishing him for jumping over a school window and dusty rusty wall in some room.
His language is easily understandable and relatable. It is not surprising that as you read the stories, you could think you are either watching the events as a film or are there with him.
In the first chapter, Kakwenza takes us back to his childhood. He opens with a story of the day his father showed up to his school with his home mattress.
His father had cautioned him to always put his bedding out when he wets the bed. However, the writer seemed to forget this most of the time and on this day, his father had had enough that he had made up his mind to punish and embarrass his son at school.
At that point, he tells us that sometimes he took punishments and insults that were not necessarily meant for him, if there were benefits at the end of it all.
Take an example of the bed wetting, he was beaten and punished various times for a few coins that came from the herdsman he shared a room with and the actual bed wetter.
But the biggest story among the many he tells was that one about Teacher Maganya. The teacher gave them an assignment to write an essay and the young man decided to write a mean one about him.
He was worried that the teacher was going to beat him for his write up and knew that the teacher had found out.
“Kakwenza, you wrote about me in your essay, not so?” he asked angrily, and, this time, his voice was audible.
“But sir, you asked us to be creative and write about anything,” I responded, fearfully.
I was terrified and wished that the ground would swallow me up. He had books and papers in his left hand and a cane in his right hand, so I was expecting him to instruct me to lie down and receive my punishment. Instead, he walked away and left me standing alone under the tree….. “Do not tell anyone about this, OK? And I will not return your essay.”
“Thank you, sir, for forgiving me. I am sorry,” I apologised.
He walked back to me and whispered ..., “Do not apologise for being creative…”
The excerpt is a story of how Kakwenza became unapologetically blunt, it is about the day he learnt he did not have to be sorry for creating, even when he was being provocative and the day that started his mentorship with Maganya, the teacher he had always loathed.
A big part of the Banana Republic is a provocative affair, how Kakwenza chooses to describe his characters and events during his arrest. He is particular especially with his descriptions of his oppressors’ potbelly or missing teeth to the way he spoke.
He does not make mistakes when calling out people - for nearly 120 pages, he deliberately refers to the man by his name, not the title, which says a lot about the way he views governance and those on the steering.
But Banana Republic is an ordeal that explains so well his first arrest in great detail, and while at it, you get to understand Kakwenza the writer or why most of the time he writes the things he writes.
He genuinely believes in his freedom to express in the way he has to and when he writes, he always expects his writing to have an impact.
The Banana Republic was first published in 2020, after Kakwenza’s first arrest, this being a second edition, there is more to the story, a new chapter, the re-arrest.
Published by poet Kagayi Ngobi’s Kitara Nation Publication, the book documents events of Kakwenza’s second arrest on September 18, 2020. Both the first and second edition open with the poem, These People by Kagayi.
When the author was re-arrested, events unfolded between 6am and 6.30am, plain clothed men had accessed his home and later bedroom and instead of arresting him, they accessed his documents such as the manuscript for the first edition of this book.
As the second edition sums up, you cannot help but wonder how Kakwenza still writes the way he writes. For instance, how he penned the additional chapter of his arrest and wondering if he will pen an addition to his latest episode.
The other lesson is a fact that the writer as a boy managed to make peace with many of his tormentors such as the teacher who later became his mentor and the old man who beat him to pulp. Will his childhood play out in his adult life? Neither he nor us can confidently answer that. For now, we can enjoy his writing because he has dared to tell