Sunday, February 2, 2014

Michael Onsando visits Kampala

Photo credits: All photos with Michael and Femrite members in discussion, photos by Dilman Dila.

Photos of Tom Forrest, Michael Onsando and scenic view of Buziga Hill, photos by BNN. Photo gallery of the visit coming soon.

BN Poetry Foundation recently partnered with Femrite, Transcultural Academy and Poetry-in-session to bring Kenyan poet and blogger, Michael Onsando to Kampala. The fully packed literary itinerary included a very late night bus ride, dinner at Wandegeya’s finest, a heavy Q and A at Femrite Author of the Month session, relaxed evening at Poetry in session and a day out at Tom Forrest’s house with an unbeatable view of Kampala. Delightful. Yes, indeed.

Michael is the first of several other East African poets who will be travelling to Kampala in the next couple of years for cultural exchange visits which are sponsored, authored and managed by Africans and Afrocentric non-Africans.

On arriving close to 11:00pm on 26 January when the rest of Uganda had long slept after celebrating, or not, the 28th anniversary of the ruling National Resistance Movement, the first part of this extraordinary visit was to Wandegeya. It was the only suitable place for fine food at such a fine hour. Wandegeya is adjacent to Makerere university and caters for all sgudent needs. Michael, coming from Western Kenya, adores matooke and binyeebwa, which made my life so much easier. His guest house in Ntinda was not far off in the traffic less city, close to midnight.

During the day of 27th, he toured a little and chanced upon Afriart gallery which true to its name, held fine art exhibitions and craft, which raised our guest’s expectations of Kampala’s art. The gallery is run by Daudi Karungi and every month, there is an exhibition of a different artist be it painter, scuptor, bark cloth genius or oilsmith.

Femrite’s evening session of Author of the month occurs every last Monday. This was the first serious literary space that Michael entered and was nothing short of spectacular. Having followed his blog at, there were a number of questions I had, given his vulnerability and social awareness, reflected off these pages. The members at the discussion filled the session with lots of questions of their own as well.

Q: On your blog, you mention how you were incapable of celebrating Kenya at 50 in 2013. This is in reference to the 50th anniversary independence from British rule. Why weren’t you able to celebrate with the rest of the nation?

A: Why should I celebrate when there is so much injustice. For example, an open air market was razed for having been built on illegal ground but Westgate Mall was also built on illegal ground and never razed.

Q: You have been told that being a poet is not aspiration enough. If you were a decamillionaire, do you think their views would change?

A: Yes, because money has now become an end and not a means to an end.

Q: What is your view on literary prizes?

A: A number of people have been given a platform. Prizes do not validate the work and they are only as good as the judges. They are also mainly of value to those giving them and not to those receiving them, in my opinion. They are a grey area and have done more harm than good. In Africa especially, writers are only validated by prizes and yet even without a prize, writers remain excellent at their craft.

Q: Does everyone have talent?

A: Yes, we all have talent. We must not believe that all talent has to be artistic though.

Q: But as a teacher, I have had to let down some of my children who have no talent in poetry by telling them to try another specialty. A: As a teacher though, it is your duty to encourage that child no matter what to pursue poetry, if it is in her/his interest.

Q: When writing a poem, do you pay attention to particular rules? A: For a long time, I paid attention to rules and metre but even though everything is new, we must still be deliberate and not just let things happen.

Q: Uganda is a literary drought. What can we do to change this and market ourselves as well as Chinua Achebe and Ngugi wa Thiong’o?

A: Who are you reading? Uganda and East Africa are far from literary droughts. There is a lot of work coming out for example, Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Oduor, which I recommend all to read.

Q: Chinua Achebe and Ngugi wa thiong’O did not remain on the continent to and take part in the real struggle? What do you make of this?

A: Look at the circumstances that make them go away. Ngugi was in a very precarious political and personal state. After his first return, his wife was raped brutally and there were many other political repercussions.

Onsando also believes that we are fundamentally gifted by largely one specific thing be it poetry, carpentry, archery. A number of participants at the session disagreed. This rose from the fact that many writers and artists take on several other roles to sustain them financially.

After reading three memorable poems namely Whispers, Unlearning Death and Maktub, the evening ended with more questions which could only be concluded at another forum. It was an impressive, reflective and ebergetic evening at Femrite. Tuesday’s Poetry in session was more relaxed. With a few regulars and some new faces, Roshan Karmali, the host and founder, allowed each poet a maximum of 3 poems and to engage the audience more. This was a fantastic way to begin the new year as she led us to a theme of breaking new as opposed to finding ourselves in 2013. It was a night of pleasant surprises, concluded by the gifted Bosco and his guitar. Singing some of my favourite songs like, How does it feel to be the on that I love?”p>

After many late nights, Wednesday was resting day at Tom Forrest’s exquisite house on top of Buziga Hill, overlooking the extraordinary Kampala city. At his place which is spruced up with an enchanting mix of flowers, shrubs, old trees, roots, guava trees, trees hanging with leaves commonly called Old Man’s Beard, hibiscuses of all shades and rare cacti, we allowed ourselves to seep in the new and the fresh.

Tom Forrest is a distinguished Biritish academic who hoards literature, mainly poetry. Fascinating. A welcome alternative from the engaging previous two nights. Visiting with Femrite members Jackee Batanda and Sophie Alal who are writers,creators and entrepreneurs, Tom was only too delighted to host an East African writer at his premises.

Michael’s wish is to return to Kampala as soon as possible.

Many thanks to sponsors and friends who made this visit possible, the first of many.

By Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva

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