What you need to know:
You know that one of the most emotional issues in Teso remains the destruction of its cattle economy during the rebel wars in the region in the early years of the NRM government.
The Speaker of the Uganda Parliament, Anita Among, caused quite a stir a few days ago, when she gathered 300 MPs at her new Namboole-size home in Bukedea, Teso.
With my siblings, we spent half our childhood and teenage years in Fort Portal, Toro, and Teso. Our connections to these lands are still deep, and so when Speaker Among threw down an earth-shaking “homecoming” shindig as she did, I don’t rush to speak “fwa like that”. I contact elders. I spoke to a Teso elder, “Papaa Olinga”, a wise old family friend, now living out the last years of his storied life outside Soroti City.
COO: Papaa Olinga, a daughter from Teso, Speaker Among, threw the party of the year in Bukedea. Why weren’t you invited, or were you? You are Teso, and Teso is you.
Papaa Olinga (PO): No Itatait (grandchild) Charles, I didn’t go, but word reached me that I was welcome. At my age, my teeth cannot chew hard meat, and after a few tots of whiskey my knees become weak, so I thought the dignified thing was to stay away. But I sent them good wishes.
COO: What was the political significance; I mean she later led the MPs to a rally by First Son Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, who is one of the candidates campaigning to inherit President Yoweri Museveni’s throne. I am told a popular drunkard in Bukedea Town was given a lot of beer when he claimed he foresaw the formation of a Muhoozi-Among presidential ticket in future.
That the constitution will be changed again, and a future president elected by Parliament, not directly, and the law will provide that a president and his/her deputy be elected on one ballot.
PO: That might well come to be, but it is too speculative. For me, the most interesting things were, first, Among’s cows, and, second, the herder’s stick (enkoni in Runyankore).
COO: Papaa, you remain contrarian and rowdy even at this age? The largest assembly of MPs at a private home for an event that is not a funeral, and you want to talk about cows and sticks?
PO: That’s where you young and excited people miss the big picture. The real juice is always in the small details. Let’s start with the cows. You know that one of the most emotional issues in Teso remains the destruction of its cattle economy during the rebel wars in the region in the early years of the NRM government.
The cows were eaten by both the rebels, and what is now the UPDF. But some military leaders, who I won’t name, also looted cows and ferried them to their villages to start their herds. The compensations were never done to any reasonable level. The loss of cattle was a cultural blow to Teso culture and self-worth, which has lingered longer than the loss of lives. People will reproduce. But culture, given that it’s rooted in thousands of years of lived experiences of millions of people, takes much longer. Sometimes, it is lost forever.
COO: So you are saying that Among’s large herd was a statement of what? That Teso has risen from the dead, or that there was some signal of cultural defiance in it?
PO: I can’t say, we would have to hear it from her, but her herd is something people in this region haven’t seen in over three decades. I am sure different people in Teso read it differently. But it was pregnant, I will tell you.
COO: And what about the stick (enkoni), what was in it? I mean, you can’t herd without a stick, so perhaps the big deal would have been if Among didn’t have one.
PO: Among held her stick across her shoulder. It is one way to hold it. You will notice that the Masai in Kenya and Tanzania, the Dinka in South Sudan, the Karamajong do too – although both the Dinka and Karamojong might carry rifles too.
In western Uganda and Rwanda, they will usually plant the enkoni and lean on it at a slight angle. In Teso, in the past, our herders would also lean on the stick, but then stand on one leg, and rest the other on the planted leg.
COO: You’ve lost me totally.
PO: The stick around the shoulder is more martial; the planted stick with a lifted leg is more contemplative, a philosophical posture because you will see in photographs that the herder usually is staring in the distance; the planted stick leaned into is more territorial. You are the writer, go and think and read about it.
COO: You are the best Papaa. I am coming soon. I will bring you your Amarula and a new Masai blanket.
PO: And call more often, not just to talk about politicians and their palaces.
Mr Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. Twitter@cobbo3