When I was a teenager back in the 1980s, I was curious, young, and impressionable. I did numerous things, much of which I forgot. But I know some things because I loved history and poetry.
The first Space Shuttle, Columbia, lifts off in 1981; US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev ease tensions between the two superpowers, leading to the end of the Cold War; The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 is considered one of the most momentous events of the 1980s.
In 1981, the IBM Personal Computer is released; In 1985, the Live Aid concert is held to fund relief efforts for the famine in Ethiopia during the time Mengistu Haile Mariam ruled the country.
Pollution and ecological problems persisted when the Soviet Union and much of the world is filled with radioactive debris from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, and in 1984, when thousands of people perished in Bhopal during a gas leak from a pesticide plant.
That is till I read and loved the works of Ugandan poet Henry Muwanga Barlow.
I was fresh from Muthaiga Primary School heading to Strathmore College where I schooled with many friends whom we still hang out with, from time to time. Dr Vincent Ogutu, now Vice Chancellor at Strathmore University, was my favourite.
Our pass times included indulging in drama and plays to the delight of our parents and teachers. Many will tell you that I was TG even then! Dazzling my age mates with a good command of English and theatrical skills was my claim to fame and adventure.
I was an avid reader and enjoyed satire the most. Henry Barlow’s ‘Building the Nation’ is a humorous tale of two nation-builders: one is the driver, and the other is the Permanent Secretary. Both ‘suffer from ulcers’ but in different ways. The driver’s illness is caused by hunger, that of PS is caused by overeating!
Barlow humorously narrates their story to point out the hollowness of the officials appointed to work for the nation.
While the real nation builders are those who do their job wholeheartedly. Be it a taxi driver, boda boda, mama mboga, or worker, they all have their share in nation-building.
“Today I did my share in building the nation. I drove a Permanent Secretary to an important, urgent function, in fact, to a luncheon at the Vic. The menu reflected its importance. Cold bell beer with small talk, then fried chicken with niceties; wine to fill the hollowness of the laughs; ice-cream to cover the stereotype jokes and coffee to keep the PS awake on the return journey.
“I drove the Permanent Secretary back. He yawned many times in back of the car. Then to keep awake, he suddenly asked, “did you have any lunch friend?” I replied looking straight ahead and secretly smiling at his belated concern that I had not, but was slimming!
“Upon which he said with a seriousness that amused more than annoyed me, “Mwananchi, I too had none! I attended to matters of state. Highly delicate diplomatic duties you know. And friend, it goes against my grain, causes me stomach ulcers and wind”. Ah, he continued, yawning again, the pains we suffer in building the nation!
“So the PS had ulcers too! My ulcers I think are equally painful. Only they are caused by hunger, not sumptuous lunches!
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“So two nation builders arrived home this evening with terrible stomach pains, the result of building the nation - Different ways.”
The likely downfall of President Ruto’s government will be as tragic as the 1980s because the country will experience senseless loss occasioned by high cost of living and a Finance Bill which has the impact of taking oxygen from all of us. After all, he - Ruto - says he is “building the nation.” Obviously, we are building it in different ways.
-The writer is a veteran journalist and the director of communication at DAP-K