Poetry Corner: Building the Nation.

Poetry Corner.

Winsala Muses.

In the days when Julius Nyerere was president of Tanzania, the term ‘nation building was a kind of political slogan. It became very widely used, not just in Tanzania, but in Kenya and Uganda as well. Nyerere was famous for his honesty and idealism, and for him, nation building meant just that. However, as the ordinary people – the wananchi – quickly spotted, it became used, as a euphemism, to mean anything liked!

In this poem, the Ugandan poet Henry Barlow takes a satirical look at what nation-building could mean in practice.


Building the Nation.

Today I did my share,
In building the nation,
I drove a permanent Secretary,
To an important and 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 if the laughs,
Ice cream to cover the stereotype jokes,
Coffee to keep the PS awake on return journey.

I drove the Permanent Secretary back.
He yawned many times in the 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!

So two nation builders,
Arrived home this evening,
With terrible stomach pains,
The results of building the nation-
Different ways.

-Henry Barlow.


Culled from Senior English Project For Secondary Schools.

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