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UGANDA IN CONVERSATION

Part Five

Words by Simeon Gready - June 2014


Edgar Ogutu lounged on his armchair, feet dangled over the side, lanky and languid all in one measure. The roots of shorn dreadlocks still stuck out at odd angles from his head, while his shirt was emblazoned with the similarly relaxed portrait of Bob Marley. Edgar was a Kenyan man who effortlessly resonated with an easy going nature and a lazy smile as we watched a FIFA World Cup football match and slowly sipped on slightly lukewarm beers (that is, apparently, how they like them in Uganda - he was drinking a Guinness while I was drinking a local Ugandan beer called the Nile Special).


Our conversation, in which others also flitted in and out, was refreshingly reflective and uninhibited. We spoke, predominantly, of Africa, and her future. Edgar, specifically, spoke of the need for Africa to escape her current victim mentality. He bemoans the fact that we, the people of Africa, still blame our conflicts, our corruption and our lack of development on the colonists. He bemoans the fact that we still point to the arbitrary state lines drawn by meddling Westerners of past years as a reflection of their harmful legacy that still affects us today. He bemoans the fact that we are still obsessed by the colonists and what they did to Africa.


We still cry foul on the colonists, while we hold our hand out for aid.


For Edgar, neo-colonialism is created by Africans. We continually imagine ourselves as the victim, as the puppets on the end of strings pulled and pushed and manipulated by the superpowers of the world and their mountains of money. We pretend to hate it when the rest of the world looks at Africa with pity in their eyes, saying how much of a shame it is that the continent has yet to fulfil anywhere near her potential, but, in reality, their pity gives us an excuse to keep fighting each other, keep large percentages of our population in poverty and keep chasing individual agenda’s.


We spoke of the role of ‘Non-Government Organisation’s’ (NGO’s) in Africa. Or, as Edgar refers to them, ‘Nothing Going On.’ They take advantage of Africa’s victim mentality, using big reports to justify receiving big donations with which they exercise ineffective practices that betray local customs and revive painful memories of colonial mismanagement. They entrench this victim mentality that so weighs Africa down, and highlight the power imbalance that Africa sits on the wrong side of. Edgar spoke of the need for constraints relating to the practices of foreign NGO’s in Africa: they should each get a specified timeframe within which to work, and once that timeframe is up, they must leave the continent. We spoke of Africa’s rich pool of natural resources, and how our victim mentality disallows us from properly making use of what we have at our disposal.


Edgar spoke of the need to concentrate on participative democracies and civil society. Where there is no individual leadership, as is currently the case in Africa, there must be collective leadership in its place. Civil society is where the potential of Africa lies, untouched and undiscovered. That is where Africa will rid itself of its victim mentality - in the people who, as of yet, have no voice. Indeed, in the people who, as of yet, don’t even know they have a voice because they haven’t had the opportunity to unlock those voices.


Edgar spoke of himself. He spoke of how he dropped out of school before he had finished, because “he believed in the power of the alternative.” He spoke of how the only degrees he has on his CV are the accumulations of the forums and conferences he attends. He spoke of his radio station, Ghetto Radio, the most popular radio station in Kenya, and of how they call him ‘The Liberator.’ He spoke of his foundation, and his dream of opening up a community library where children can come and read everything he has read and written for free. Where children can come educate themselves if the state does not provide education for them.


He spoke of how he is not a believer in religion, because of how organised religion is a tool of the oppressor, allowing groups to emerge in rivalry and hatred and conflict. Religion, the state, and the economy - all are one and the same, designed, in the current African context, to crush the small, the poor, the weak, the marginalised and the minority. He spoke of how he believes in social movements and in humanity, not in institutions run by the power-hungry.


He spoke of his work in the community - how he goes on trains and other public spaces and just talks to people about political and economic issues. He told me how he was once arrested for spreading discontent, and said the following to the police officer: “You are oppressed in a blue outfit. I am oppressed in blue jeans. We should be on the same side!” He told me how he attempts to tackle the sex worker trade in Kenya and Uganda, by offering money out of his own pocket to the prostitutes on the street so that they can go back home for the night - he admits that they will most likely be back on the street the next evening, but it is a start.


Edgar is a deep thinker and a hopeful dreamer. He is the Liberator. His Pan-Africanist ideologies are admittedly optimistic, some might say unrealistic, but I believe that these are the kind of people that will shake Africa out of its degrading victim mentality and into an era of growth and development under collective leadership. Maybe he won’t be the one to do it, but the ideas of him and others like him lay the foundation for change to occur. Through his radio station, he has created a platform from which to educate and to spread his ideals, although his contributions are just the start - his hope lies in the youth to take up his mantle. Africa is a victim of its own mentality, and only Africans can save her from that.