From Karl Marx to Full Figure

Sunday March 07 2021
By Philip Matogo

There was a time when our politicians spoke like philosophers. They made love to words and undressed ideas into naked truths. 
Mao Tse-tung said if you get an egg and put it in an incubator, after a while it will hatch a chick. 

But if you put a stone in an incubator, nothing will happen even if you leave it there for 100 years.

This is what rebel leader Yoweri Museveni said in 1984, when he tried to turn politics into an art form with painterly rhetoric and colourful posture.

Back then, he coloured the Luweero Triangle into ‘liberated zones’ with the broad brush of his passion for freedom (or was that power?). 

During the Bush War, Ugandans would say ‘’Sunday’’ or ‘’two-plus-five,’’ as code for Mu-seven-i. 

The very mention of his name curdled the blood of government tough guys and lent president Obote the broken wings to fly into a rage about “bandits!”


So righteously indignant was Obote that he was most eloquent when talking about Museveni. 

Indeed, his remarkable persuasiveness led us to forget that we were only getting his version. Unwittingly, however, Obote’s eloquence shaped that of his opponents such as Museveni. 
The latter had to sound statesmanlike in order to be viewed as a veritable replacement to the man from Akokoro. 

Although the rumour was that Museveni could transform himself into a cat which sat impassively at the feet of the UPC powerful during Cabinet meetings, the truth was he became a political magician. 

Not the kind who said abracadabra in a Runyankole accent (ablacadablah). No, he became a conjurer whose vision generated a sense of excitement, of hope, of expectation. 

Today, politicians are the obliging shells of yesteryear. Mostly speaking into our sleep with their senseless speeches.  Where did the thoughtful eloquence go? 

They say “a fish rots from the head down”, and so when Museveni started saying things like: “Some people think that being in government for a long time is a bad thing...” what was to stop Hajj Abdul Nadduli from sounding like, well, Hajj Abdul Nadduli? 

Politics was thus Nadduli-ted by the inexorable pursuit of power. To justify such lust for power, our leaders had to dumb down as there was no justification for the abortion of the love Ugandans once gave them.

This could explain why, these days, political arguments approximate a slay queen’s convention: bad intentions, broken English and bleach to whitewash the truth.

Nowadays if you dare quote Karl Marx in the manner Museveni used to do, you shall invariably be met with the meaningless protest: “Too much English!”

We should appreciate this decline in our political vocabulary as a sign that our society is fast becoming a bedrock for mediocrity, and our politics merely reflect that.
This is why the ‘elite’ are derided by a political class they (the elite) believe is beneath them.

What is wrong with using the English of Obote?
Is it any wonder that a featherweight government has shaped its own image out of a lightweight Opposition? 

Intellectually speaking, grammatical simplicity is the sign of a vernacular. The word ‘vernacular’, formed from the Roman historian Varro’s phrase vernacula verba,  means ‘unliterary expressions used by slaves or serfs’. 

So, subconsciously, as we demand for ever lower standards in our verbal skills, we inadvertently legitimise our own intellectual enslavement. 

This enslavement unbottles genies such as “Full Figure”, who probably thinks “Marx” are the “marks” she didn’t get in high school.

Furthermore, this verbal dumbing down confines us to the position of a permanent underclass in a world which offers more to those who pursue excellence regardless of context.

Mr Matogo is the managing editor Fasihi Magazine.