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    Moses Isegawa

    Abyssinian Chronicles

    A lively first novel from Uganda - Abyssinian Chronicles, Moses Isegawa's sprawlingly ambitious first novel, is set amid the carnage and chaos of post-independence Uganda. Its title has nothing to do with ancient Ethiopia, but puns on a country that was "a land of false bottoms where under every abyss there was another one". First published two years ago in the Netherlands, where Isegawa lives, the novel was hailed as a Ugandan The Tin Drum or Midnight's Children. GĒnter Grass and Salman Rushdie are indeed spectral presences. Yet it has African precedents, too, in perhaps more assured novels of the past 15 years that meld history with myth and metaphor, entwining personal fates with those of nations and communities - from Nuruddin Farah's Maps (1986) and Kojo Laing's Search Sweet Country (1986) to Moyez Vassanji's The Gunny Sack (1989) and Ben Okri's The Famished Road (1991).

    Nor does Abyssinian Chronicles rely on the "magical realism" of Rushdie and Gabriel Garc?a Msrquez, or the so-called spiritual realism of Okri and his Yoruba forebears. Its mode is gritty, even grungy realism, despite extravagant imagery and an omniscient narrator, Mugezi, who is able to recount the faraway deaths of his father, Serenity, in the jaws of a colossal crocodile, and his mother, Padlock, gored by a bull and tossed "like a Korean trapeze artist".

    Mugezi's watchful, sly intelligence and acerbic, sometimes lacerating tone dominate the novel, in which his coming of age keeps pace with the country's. Born in 1960, with independence, he witnesses the 1966 state of emergency, the rise and fall of Idi Amin and the ousting of the returned dictator Milton Obote in 1986 after renewed civil war. This freewheeling history is grounded in the lives of Mugezi's family - united only when watching Muhammad Ali fights - in coffee-growing swampland festering with illicit passions and religious rivalries. It reaches back to the sectarian battles of the 1950s, as Protestantism and Catholicism vie with Islam and traditional beliefs.

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    Mahmood MAMDANI

    When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda

    "When we captured Kigali, we thought we would face criminals in the state; instead, we faced a criminal population." So a political commissar in the Rwanda Patriotic Front reflected after the 1994 massacre of as many as one million Tutsis in Rwanda. Underlying his statement is the realization that, though ordered by a minority of state functionaries, the slaughter was performed by hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens, including even judges, human rights activists, and doctors, nurses, priests, friends, and spouses of the victims. Indeed, it is its very popularity that makes the Rwandan genocide so unthinkable. This book makes it thinkable.

    Rejecting easy explanations of the genocide as a mysterious evil force that was bizarrely unleashed, one of Africa's best-known intellectuals situates the tragedy in its proper context. He coaxes to the surface the historical, geographical, and no political forces that made it possible for so many Hutu to turn so brutally on their neighbors. He finds answers in the nature of political identities generated during colonialism, in the failures of the nationalist revolution to transcend these identities, and in regional demographic and political currents that reach well beyond Rwanda. In so doing, Mahmood Mamdani usefully broadens understandings of citizenship and political identity in postcolonial Africa.

    There have been few attempts to explain the Rwandan horror, and none has succeeded so well as this one. Mamdani's analysis provides a solid foundation for future studies of the massacre. Even more important, his answers point a way out of crisis: a direction for reforming political identity in central Africa and preventing future tragedies.

    Mahmood Mamdani is Herbert Lehman Professor of Government and Director of the Institute of African Studies at Columbia University. He is the author of:

  • Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism
  • (Princeton), which won the Herskovitz prize of the African Studies Association. Among his other books are:

  • The Myth of Population Control, From Citizen to Refugee, and Politics and Class Formation in Uganda.
  • He is currently President of the Dakar-based Council for Development of Social Research in Africa (CODESRIA).

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    Okot p'Bitek(1931-1982)

    Okot p'Bitek was born in Gulu, the largest town in Acholi town in Uganda in 1931. He began writing at an early age. Okot played for the Ugandan national soccer team, and in 1958, he remained in England after a soccer tour to continue his education. He received a certificate in education from Bristol University, and earned a law degree from University College of Wales at Aberystwyth. In the early 1960's he studied social anthropology at Oxford, and received a B.Litt. He returned to Uganda to teach at Makerere University in Kampala. In 1967, he went to teach at Nairobi University. He died of a liver infection in 1982.

    In 1953, he wrote his first novel, Lak Tar (White Teeth). It is the story of a young Acholi man who must work away from home to earn money for bridewealth, so that he may marry. After working in Kampala and on a sugar plantation, he returns home with only a small portion of the necessary sum. On his return trip, he is pick pocketed, and returns to Gulu with nothing.

    In 1969, Song of Lawino was published. It is written in the style of a traditional Acholi song. It is an Acholi wife's lament about her college-educated husband, who has rejected Acholi traditions and ideas for Western ones. Much of Lawino's anger is directed at her husband's lover who embodies these Western values and customs, and who she contrasts with herself. In Song of Ocal, her husband responds to her, decrying what he perceives as Africa's backwardness, and extoling the virtues of European society and ideas. Lawino and Ocal's debate reflects the discourse taking place at the time in African societies about the implications of adopting Western culture and ideals. Other works, including Song of A Prisoner (1971) and Song of Malaya (1971) are written in the same poetic style.

    Okot p'Bitek has been criticized by other African writers, including Ngugi wa Thiong'o, for not adequately addressing the underlying causes of Africa's problems. Okot, however, believed that his work, like all good African literature, dealt honestly with the human condition and had "deep human roots." (KJ)

    The Writings of Okot p'Bitek

    Lak Tar. Nairobi, Kenya: East African Literature Bureau, 1953.
    Song of Lawino. Nairobi, Kenya: East African Publishing House, 1969.
    Song of Ocal. Nairobi, Kenya: East African Publishing House, 1970.
    Two Songs: Song of a Prisoner, Song of Malaya. Nairobi, Kenya: East African Publishing House, 1971.

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