To the star that never shone…

Government releases O-Level results. In Ntungamo District, Sekyondwa goes to pick his results from school. It is Third Grade. Aggregate 68. He is devastated! He goes home. Takes poison. Dies. His parents weep. His friends miss him. His head teacher recalls he was “an average student” because he also got third grade in mock exams.

Elsewhere, O-Level “stars” are starring in national newspapers (for a bloody full week), smiling and lifting each other on national TV and dreaming aloud about becoming pilots and doctors and engineers and lawyers and pursuing all manner of posh careers in the future. We can’t blame them! It’s either that or they are doomed. We told them that, we tell them that.

In Ntungamo, a family is burying a child because we – yes all of us – made it a capital offence, a sin (the General will soon declare it treason too) to get nothing less than a “good” first grade.

And some of these stars will go to A-Level expecting nothing less than 1AAAA, whether that involves excelling through “alternative” means. And on to the university they will go, buying or sleeping their way to first class or second class upper degrees, buying or sleeping their way into jobs…and at some point getting caught boxers or knickers down when they can’t deliver on the job…

Some of the stars sweated their way to stardom, they have it sorted when it comes to books, you know! Genes and all. We (will) envy them, rightly so. They will soar beyond the classroom and reassure you, we still gaat this! But some of the “legit” stars will also flunk in life, because all they know is ace exams and flunk in anything else other than pen and answer sheets (because we didn’t give a proper shit about them becoming all-round people).

To those ones we will say, eh but that dude had a brain mahn, I wonder what happened to him? Eh but that babe used to whip our asses in exams mahn, oba who bewitched her?

And some of the “fake” stars, the ones who forge their way into everything and everywhere, will surprise you by doing just fine and you will wonder, qwe, do you remember that babe/dude? Kale she/he was aaaaaaaa but see where she/he is now!

And we can’t blame them! Our education system is a single-formula affair. You either know the formula or you don’t. If you don’t, give way!

When shall be stop being so average? Oops, my bad!


The Other Chapter

I told my sister,

Okot plunged his tongue in my mouth when I was 13.  He called it a kiss

He inserted his hands in my blouse and tried to make dough out of my breasts.

He called it romance

My sister said,

Why are you telling me this now, 17 years later?

I told my sister,

My stomach wasn’t strong enough to empty the secret and

my mind did a good job helping me forget

My sister said,

I’m going out to throw up

I told myself,

How lucky!

My own vomit has been stuck in my throat since 1999 when

the man my cousin calls a husband introduced me to The Other Chapter.

I killed a man last night

It started like this. The Doc said I have a syndrome.

When the syndrome comes, it sets my spine on fire, my intestines go into a pull and shrink mode, my mind forgets what it should remember and remembers what it should forget.

My hormones get jumpy; sometimes (most times) I don’t want to get out of bed because my body acquires the weight of a train and aches like it’s aching to win a Nobel. On those days, I hate the music that usually make me smile and I shrink like a tortoise, convincing the world I don’t exist.

On such days, I hate popcorn and sweet bananas and sugarcane and I refuse to make pancakes even when on other days they are the only food that drive my foul mood to the woods.

On such days, I take long walks around the neighborhood and ignore the dogs I usually fear; close my ears to the hissing of men who call me sweet baby without a clue about the bile I carry inside.

On days like those, I jog on that steep hill even when the Doc said, keep it low impact, dear. I jog long and hard because sweat drowns some of my demons.

On such days, I get fatigued without lifting a finger and sleep becomes a difficult lover to woo.


Sometimes I wake up before my alarm shrieks, I prepare breakfast and actually enjoy it.

On such days, I wear my hair wild and put on red lipstick and a mini-skirt and ditch my bra and play loud music in the car and drive fast.

On those days, I arrive at work on time, work so hard I get scared my boss might think I’m after his job.

On such days, I watch movies with guns and mischief and love. When the night arrives,  I cry looonnng and hard for no particular reason and feel good about it; I dance before the mirror and walk around the house naked.


When the Doc told me about the syndrome, my mind deleted its contents in a flash, my eyes zoned out everything and I felt my ears fly off my head. I didn’t hear the Doc ask if I am okay.

Of course I was not okay. But I told the Doc I was perfect and smiled that smile that I only smile when I am with my mother or when fantasizing about twins and living in a tree-house.

The Doc said I had taken the news better than he’d imagined and I heard his breath stroll out of his nose loud and relieved, his face creased in a cautious smile.

How could I not take it well when it’d been years of whoring from one doctor to another, one hospital to another trying to find the clan and religion that this disease subscribes to? How could I not smile that smile, when it had taken years of guess diagnosis and misdiagnosis and mis-treatment.

Does the Doc know what it means for your hair to start falling off your head because they got fed up of the meds and stress and neglect? Does he know what it means to learn that you were on anti-depressants you could have done without? How do you detox your mind from such gamble?

How could I not smile when the disease I had moved around with for years suddenly had a name, even if it’s a chronic?


This Doc didn’t just shove tablets down my throat like I had gotten used to. He said, take note of how you feel when you eat anything. Exercise in moderation. MANAGE STRESS. I loved him for that. For putting me in charge of my syndrome. My IBS (Google it).

I have done all that. I do all that the Doc says. In fact he says I’ve become a Doc myself (I guess I just need a practicing certificate).

But you see, my body still throws tantrums and my skin hasn’t grown tough enough to shake off stress with ease; my tummy is still proud, choosy and bossy. I’ll take wheat for breakfast today and my system coils its tail like an obedient dog, and the next day I eat wheat for breakfast and my body gets defiant and every body part wants to do a Brexit on me.

I try.

I know I try because my back got one solution. It loves the hardness of the floor.

On most days I ditch the softness of my bed and embrace the hardness of the PS – the Presidential Suite (see, someone had to give it a befitting name to make it lovable). My back loves how the PS extends its arms past the fluffy carpet and kneads by skin and spine and everything. The fire in my spine dies out on those days and I lie there, eyes on the ceiling, creating stanzas in my head or storming out of the PS to grab the laptop and write down words before they retreat to that place in my mind that forgets what it should remember.

And then it happened.

It was on one of those nights when sleep gets tired of playing hard to get and offers itself for free. On one such night, my eyes fluttered open when my ears caught a click-click sound. From my PS, I saw him standing outside the door. I waited, and held the blanket tighter.

The click-click came again and the door flung open. The security light from without followed him in and I saw shock engulf his face when his eyes landed on the frame in the living room. The encounter had come too soon.

He moved closer, pulled the blanket off my body and I sat up in that speed that seizes my body on days when I wake up before the alarm.

I hit him on the neck in that spot where they say life resides. I left him to finish dying and I walked out of the house to take some air outside.

There was no dead man in the morning. No blood. Just bits and pieces of what used to be my blender, scattered on the floor like it died struggling to take say a prayer.

You see…

I do everything the Doc tells me to do.

He just didn’t tell me how to snap out of a dream that involves killing a man.

1. Are you wearing a bra?

The #ImaginedConversationSeries takes place in the writer’s mind.                               Believe it at your own risk.                                                                                                                        


So, how have you been madam poet?


That’s all?

Were you expecting something greater than great?

Now you’re going all philosophical on me, aha?

I repent for my philosophical sins

I have always wanted to ask; what inspired you to write A Nation in Labor?

Do you want me to tell you a secret?

Yes yes…

Never ask a writer that question. Ever!


It’s like insulting the person of the president writer

You’re just dodging the question

Must there be an inspiration?

Yes! Of course!


Anyway, are you wearing a bra?



I hate bras. So today when I was putting on this dress, the upper part was a bit tight and I figured if I removed the bra, it would fit better. I did just that!

Don’t you feel uncomfortable walking around without bra?

No. My boobs are quite well behaved.

So why do you wear them at all?

So that people like you don’t knock off their toes staring at my stuff and so you don’t get an excuse to start a #GetAnenaABra campaign

That reminds me. Your show, “I bow for my boobs”…did it have anything to do with your hatred for bras?

No. It had everything to do with my love for my boobs

Lol. How?

My boobs are political, just like any other woman’s I think. They are a weapon. In my case, they are the most favorite part of my body so I get every excuse to fix stuff about boobs in my poems and stories.

What do you mean your boobs are political?

I’ll tell you more in my upcoming book


(Oh! You believed that?) No.

Kale, but you shortchanged us in that show. We thought you’d show us some boobs like for real real.

Bambi, the show was political erotica, not political porn. I also didn’t want to lead Fr. Lokodo into temptation.

Hahaha as for that minister, leave him! Anyway, are you seeing someone?


Woooow. Congrats. Who is the lucky guy?

Junot Diaz

Yiyi Anena, now you are lying

Honestly. I had a fling with his brain and eyes and it has matured into a fully-fledged long-term affair of unimaginable escapades…

Only his eyes and brain?

Well, and his dimples too

What about his eyes…they are so intense

Look at you, having a man-crush on people’s crushes!

Hahaha my bad

You are forgiven. Next time get your own crush

Are you a virgin?

Of course! Not.

Wow. Kale you don’t look

I know! Wait, I don’t look what?

You don’t look like a sex person



So you sex people have what, poems inscribed on your foreheads screaming…

Okay okay I get you. Moving on, what are you listening to?

Why the rush? I thought you’d ask me more questions about this sex thing


You look disappointed.

Of course not

Good, just breathe. You know, the world would be a much better place if we were a little more open about sex. Don’t you agree?

Well, that depends…

Anyway, what was your question again?

What song do you listen to a lot these days?

Are you gonna kiss me or not?

Ehm whaat?

It’s a song by Thomson Square

Phew! You really got me there…

I know! I saw your hands retreating to your pocket! It’ll pass…

Anena, you are evil!

You’re the second person to tell me that

Who else told you that?



So you reporters are these days taught at J-schools to jeer at your sources?

Hahahaha I am sorry. Wait, I have remembered. When did you last have sex?

Which year is this?


Okay, so it was 201…

Aha wabula you chick you want to lie again. Anyway, what’s the latest movie you’ve watched?

Me before you

That romantic drama film?


How was it?

I cried the entire time. It was so painfully sweet! The crying I mean. You get such a release after crying. But I also hadn’t cried in a while so I just found an excuse to reduce the amount of tears in my tear thingie. Is it tear duct or tear gland?

I’ll have to google that. Okay, as we wrap up, what’s your favorite line right now?

It’s from my upcoming poetry collection


Set me on fire

Whaaaat? Now? You want me to end up in jail?



My midro income status

I was just minding my mouth eating a samosa when I saw them. I slowed down as I inched closer to the roundabout and the traffic lights turned red. The rest of the cars ground to a halt and they, like majestic bees scanning which flower has the sweetest nectar, started towards us.

I watched them huddle near windows of cars ahead of me. I saw them knocking on the windows gently, insistently, and stretching out their hands to the man or woman on the wheel.

Knock, look the driver in the eyes, and stretch out your hand or both. It is a pattern. The rhythm rings in the head.

I was too busy chewing and watching the spectacle that I didn’t see him approach.

 Auntie, mpa kikumi. Auntie…

I swear I didn’t have the Shs100 he was asking for.

When I set out for a meeting in town that morning, Shs10,000 was the only cash that stood between me and brokiasis (the highest point of brokeness, according to an important person at Makerere as he briefed us on reckless spending one afternoon in 2006).

Since there was no parking space at my meeting place, I drove to the National Theatre for relatively safe parking. I wouldn’t have to worry about someone harvesting the body parts of my car if I’d parked on Musisi’s roadside parking lot.

Problem is, by the time my meeting ended, the parking machine alleged I owe it Shs8,000. Not that I was surprised (the parking here is pocket unfriendly), my only beef was that the meeting encroached on my lunch time and my purse was gloomy.

With Shs2,000 left, I bought two samosas and two bananas and started back to office. I was enjoying my lunch until this boy (of about 10 years old) happened.

Auntie, mpa kikumi. Auntie…

I turned to look at him properly and said, I don’t have money, with my hands. He gave me that I don’t believe you look, and I think I replied with my eyes too; I swear, I don’t have money. Then his eyes landed on my lunch which was on the co-driver’s seat. Damn!

He asked for it.

I looked at the lights and they had turned green. Phew! But no car was moving. The traffic cops must have decided we won’t follow the lights after all. Their whistle and swinging hands would direct us on when to move.

I turned to look at the boy, standing there, tapping at my window as hunger tapped on the walls of my stomach.

‘I am hungry,’ he said and added a don’t be so mean reprimand with his eyes.

I picked the remaining samosa and banana and gave him.

He smiled, said a thank you and quickly hid the eats under his shirt (away from the prying eyes of other ‘give me Shs100’ girls and boys, men and women).

By the time the cars on my side of the road was flagged off, my fuel gauge was blinking a warning. There was Shell fuel station right across the road but my purse was blinking red. Kyaba too much for this dream of ‘midro (read middle) income status!

Then I remembered what my friend Rosie (or was it Jackie) said, that even if the gauge starts warning, it doesn’t mean fuel is completely done. “See that last bar with an E? Yes, as long as the thingie isn’t on the E, don’t worry.”


But as I approached Kabalagala, I couldn’t shake off the discomfort that the car could just die for me in traffic jam. I turned off to Shell fuel station where an ATM was (thankfully) located. The savings account will have to be invaded today.

The security guard manning the place smiled at me broadly, followed by an elaborate greeting and a joke. It felt good, relaxing my sulking stomach muscles with a good laugh. I didn’t know I would pay for that laugh.

When I was done withdrawing money, the guard, in between goodbyes and a smile said, madam, something small for lunch. I gave him lunch and reversed the car to a fueling point. When I was done, I looked for a parking spot so I could buy proper lunch (not really proper because junk makes me sick, literally, and I had long gotten over the excitement of KFC).

I was almost done parking when another security guard appeared and started directing me on how far back I should reverse. She smiled and gave me a thumbs up when I was done.

About 10 minutes later, I walked out of KFC with my junk lunch and was ready to go earn my pay for the remaining part of the day. As the car roared to life, the security guard appeared from nowhere, walked casually towards me and smiled. Usually, that is a sign for you to smile back, roll down your car window, call them over,  and press a note of Shs1,000, Shs2,000 or whatever amount, in their hands.

I smiled back and drove off!

Another meal on this #HighTable

I am chocking on laughter that’s too demoralised to leave my mouth

Yesterday l was bloated whole day on laughter that was too high on hope to stagger out of my mouth

Months earlier, l’d hoarded my laughter, certain you’d finally leave the High Table so l can take a bite and laugh a proper laugh


Hope can be hopeless

Now l know

So please understand if my mouth remains locked

It’s just that l am ashamed

My laughter may come out constipated

My laughter may come out exhausted

My laughter may come out kwashiorkored

My laughter may come out aged and wrinkled

I’m sure you understand

That 3 decades is not a short time to keep laughter jailed in the prison of ones’ mouth



Do accept my stomach-felt congratulations

As you take take another bite of delicacy from the High Table

…but who is still fully dressed in this country?

Before the people (s) who invented clothes invented clothes, humans were strutting their things in the full glare of the sun – without care, without shame.

Then we were struck by the evolution lightning and suddenly our Lacomi was not big enough to cover our loins anymore and no piece of cloth could wrap our breasts well enough. We needed dresses, gomesis, trousers and all manner of attire to keep our privates out of public eye.

For most women, the longer the outfit and the more skin you covered up, the more claps you got – for being morally upright, self-respecting, a real ‘mother’ etc. A woman who wears a mini skirt or bares her skin beyond ‘acceptable proportions’ earns herself the title of Apoli, Malaya or a cheap, desperate seductress and many more.   

Among my people, a woman could only reveal her nakedness when she is really angry…like when her son starts behaving like an asshole and ignores all advise, his mother will wag her breasts at the son, invoking a curse; or if the woman feels wronged, she’ll strip before her kinsmen – to express her frustration and helplessness. Nudity thus became a weapon, a trumpet that once sounded couldn’t be unsounded. But that too is now frowned upon by many.

That’s why when in April 2015, women in Apaa, Amuru District stripped  before ministers, government officials and investors in protest against the grabbing of their land, the nudity weapon had been taken out of the granary; only that many didn’t feel amused by the action – it was an outdated practice, uncalled for.

I won’t go to neighbouring Kenya where in 1992, environmental activist Wangari Maathai led a group of women who protested nude against the detention of political detainees by the Moi regime, or the 1992 police station invasion by a group of women led by Muthoni Nyanjiru in protest of the jailing of Harry Thuku.

It’s important to note that behind most (if not all) nude protests by a woman, there is a man. Which begs the point that while has society fashioned women as the weaker sex, nudity makes them slap back the cheek of their male tormentor, it strips their aggressor of their power (at least in many cases).

So when I woke up to a video of Dr Stella Nyanzi protesting naked against her eviction from office at Makerere University, I was not very shocked, mainly because I know Stella is not one to be caged. Her only option is to die fighting, it doesn’t matter how.

The commentary that have followed Stella’s nude protest is what has amused me.

  1. Many have said striping was not Stella’s last resort, that she has a pen, a brain (a PhD for god’s sake!) and many other ‘civil’ and less shameful avenues through which she could have sorted out her employment problem. So the point is, a PhD-holding woman is over qualified to protest nude. Leave it for the Amuru women whose butts hardly touched desks in school.
  2. Then there are those claiming temporary blindness because of Stella’s breasts – the breasts have ‘fallen’ and should not have been exposed to the public, they say. Actually a friend of mine says if those were his breasts, he would bathe with clothes on. Another is utterly disgusted at the professor for spoiling his week with her unpalatable breasts! In other words, if you want to protest nude, make sure you have pointed breasts, firmer than adolescent oranges. But there’s no guarantee you will pass this test with ‘saluting’ breasts though. Some may find them too small, too big or just not their type. See, even Anita Fabiola hardly passed the boob test when her nudes leaked!
  3. And of course most people will think the strings in your brain have been eaten by weevils, or that you are a pathetic attention-seeking loser, a disgrace to womanhood. So don’t console yourself that maybe some of those condemning your nudity during day have the quickest hands to tear off clothes behind closed doors. And in this era of nude pictures and Rihana-style outfits, don’t imagine that just like most people bow to nudes in the comfort of their phones, they will bow to your day-time nudes.

Anyway, when all is seen and said, no one, especially in this our republic, should pretend they are not naked. When an MP votes to have their pay exempted from tax, they take off your blouse; when the ruling party holds a billion-shilling celebratory party while you try to touch the bottom of your pocket, they take off your pants; when you go visit your sick mother in hospital and there’s no blood for transfusion, no machine to scan their aching bones, or no radiotherapy machine to burn cancerous cells from their body; they take off your undies; when you wake up to headlines that your taxes have been eaten by termites or that it’s become a debris in a shoddily built dam or road, they leave you bare to the stare of a government that doesn’t care…

Unlike Nyanzi and the Amuru women who have the luxury of taking off their clothes, ours is an involuntary by a government blind to our nudities. And even those eating from the table with the emperor, may not realize they are naked, but when god comes to their Garden of Eden one day, their eyes will open to their nakedness.

The act of stripping is always deeper than what we see on the outside.

While you cringe over nudity by the Stellas of this world, have the clear-headedness to realize yours too is an Adam suit, just in another colour maybe!


My lover has screwed me so hard, for so long I feel his semen rise in my throat

And now I walk with a stagger, drunk on fermented manhood

Waiting for my middle finger to dig out the vomit lingering in my throat

Last time I zipped up my womanhood he said,

 Come on beloved, stop the defiance

This is my last term in your State House

Teach Me How To Loot

(Extract from a novel in progress)


The mouth of Aswa River is full, its stomach rising and falling against panting waves.

By its banks, an army of men, women and children stand in a line, their hearts beating loudly in their mouths.

Their eyes shift from the rope in Commander Ocan Bunia’s hands, to the expanse of water ahead of them.

Their legs tremble. Their eyes turn misty. They wait.

When the rope is securely latched from Tree A to Tree B on the other end of Aswa, everyone takes a deep breath. It could as well be their last. They wait.

“It’s time to go,” Commander Bunia bellows.

Holding onto the rope tightly, Commander takes the lead, wading through the water, balancing his weight against slaps by waves until he’s at the other end.

The rest follow, slowly, as they wonder what’s quaking more – their bodies, or the neck-high water around them.

Fifteen minutes later, everyone is on the other side, except Lapwony.

He grabs the rope, starts the walk, slowly until he’s in the middle of the water. Then the rope starts to give way. He can hear it crack, and then snap.

“He’s going! He’s going!”

He can hear the voices getting louder, then they begin to fade until what’s left are whispers from the waves.

His kicks to the stomach of Aswa yields little. It swallows him instead. And he swallows it back – the water.

By the time Commander Bunia drags Lapwony to the shore, his stomach is a river, bulging and drowning his breath, one minute at a time.

When he finally snaps out unconsciousness and sees the pairs of eyes scanning his body, he knows this journey will be as difficult as castrating a dog.


Auntie, there’s blood on your dress.



Listen, don’t tell anyone about this, Okay?

Yes, Auntie.

It’s our little secret, hmmm?

Yes Auntie.

Akello dashed into the house, even though her legs suddenly felt like dry leaves being rustled by the wind.

Once inside, she took off her white dress, raised it up like an offering to a powerful being, a being residing beyond the ceiling of her house.

How could you do this to me Father? How could you?

The sermon from the early morning Sunday service came rushing back to her mind, Pastor Mark’s voice drowning her sobs.

“Praise His Mighty name!”


“Praise Him, for He is the author of miracles.”

“Yes He is!”

“Whatever your heart’s desire, consider it fulfilled today. Because He is able!”

“Yes, He is.”

Didn’t your servant say you are able?

How long must my shoulder carry this load?

From her eyes to the floor, tears rolled. From between her legs to the floor, blood flowed, abundantly.

It was the fifth miscarriage in three years.


Today, Kiden sits under a mango tree in Grandma’s home and remembers Auntie Akello.

She remembers their blood on your dress secret. She smiles.

Then she remembers the day Auntie taught her how to mingle millet bread, how to eat sugarcane without getting a cut on the lips, how to winnow, how to cut onions without tearing, how to put the right amount of salt in the food, how to tell that the potatoes cooking on the stove is running out of water…

Her reverie is cut short when the twins come running, chasing a ball.

They roll on the grass, grab the ball, throw it against the wall and run again to catch it. Their infant voices tear pierce the sky, the energy in their bodies, abundant.

That energy reminds Kiden of Auntie Akello again. The day Auntie delivered the Opio and Acen, she was possessed by the mother of all energy. She pushed even when the TBA told her to wait a little. And when she pushed the last of the twins out, a calmness descended over her.

The sweat that had dotted her face, started drying off, like dew exposed to the morning sun.

Then she breathed, a loud, lengthy breath as though it would be her last. It was.

Looking at her grave stone now, Kiden finds herself smiling – smiling that her Auntie didn’t die a child-killing witch like Laliya Village believed.

She died a mother.