Kampala, 2012

Sunday is overtaken up by a rainstorm that brings squalls of cloud and makes the roads in Wandegaya red with mud. By Monday morning the sky is still overcast, with intermittent sun. I buy a local SIM card and try to organize my communications: two phones, one laptop, several haphazard Wi-Fi servers. Eventually, I make connections to the UK, but it’s unpredictable, if not downright mysterious.

My first appointment is with Hugh Moffatt and Patricia Okelowange, Director and Arts officer for the British Council. The BC office has been downsized and I no longer know a single member of staff. The office has relocated to the British High Commission compound on Kira Road, with enhanced security. It’s a friendly and helpful meeting where we catch up on developments at BC and Lancaster, then arrange to meet later in the week to discuss possible collaborations.

After lunch at Kisimenti, Femrite is just a short walk along Kira road. I work in the Resource Centre for an hour, meet some old friends, and interview Hilda Twongeirwe about her experience of literature on the secondary schools curriculum. At 6.00pm the Writers’ Club is held and the small courtyard is packed by about thirty men and women. It’s always difficult to hear with the traffic at fever pitch on the road outside, but Beatrice Lamwaka leads the session and we critique some new writing before she throws the floor open to me. I raise the issue of Ugandan literature in the curriculum and, after a tentative silence, the whole group engages in impassioned discussion. The sun drops and the session finishes in darkness with a single bulb dimly burning. Then pancakes and black African tea brewed in the cup.

On Tuesday morning I’m due at Kyambogo University to interview Angela Kyagaba at the National Curriculum Development Centre, taking my camera and digital recorder. It’s about 7km and sweet burning bonfires by the roadsides smell like joss. The trip is quick and my interview goes smoothly, with Angela adding a new perspective to the debate of the previous evening. I’m struck by her emphasis on the ‘moral message’ needed in a set text, but I’m not surprised. Nor do I think this sentiment would be controversial to most Ugandans.

I ask my driver to drop me in Nakasero and call into the Bancafé for some Ugandan coffee, which is excellent. The driver – a dead ringer for the young John Lee Hooker -tells me his name is Kato, meaning a male twin. His sister is Babiyre and I have an uncanny sense of coincidence since I myself have twins and am supervising a PhD about twins in Uganda! After pondering that I stroll back to Makerere along Bomba Road. It’s still cool and overcast, but by the time I get back I’m drenched by rising humidity and thunder is gathering.

Bomba road teems with traffic, pedestrians, child hawkers, students walking to Makerere University, women in bright gomezis sweeping the roads. Pedestrians have to be nimble avoiding traffic, potholes, distressed pavements, and the many open manholes. There are a number of conspicuous new buildings here – mainly office blocks with reflective windows that repel one’s gaze – and the Hilton Hotel, still under construction, rising over the city. If anything, extremes of poverty and wealth have become more extreme here. The city is growing its business sector but the teeming slums and shantytowns continue to grow alongside. People here are hungry for political change, reminding me of President Museveni’s campaign slogan in 2001: ‘No change.’ That once-reassuring declaration has now grown a patina bright with irony.

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