On The Power Of Ugandan Stories And The Problems That Clever Children Face

40 Days over 40 Smiles Foundation has written 4 children books, and will be launching them this Saturday. Ernest Bazanye shared his thoughts leading up to the event.

The problem with being a child is that no matter how clever you are, still, a lot of your thinking is being done for you. You still depend on other people to interpret things to you and you don’t know yet how wrong so many of them are so much of the time. If you are a clever child this is even worse, because you ask a lot of questions, and you ask people who aren’t as clever as you are, and they tell you things you would have been better off not hearing. Things you would have been better off figuring out for yourself. You are bombarded by perspectives and views and opinions and ideologies from all angles and, especially if you are a clever child, you won’t even be satisfied with these, you will seek others. And so you will read books. That is where the problem with being a child, particularly a clever one, becomes even more intense. There is a vast selection of books for children available now, and it’s great. It opens doors to so many different experiences that one may never have otherwise been able to benefit from. Books are great, not just because they entertain, but because they show you parts of life other than your own, and show you more of life that way. You learn. Not just “education”, but learning. Each book is a different eye through which we see a different angle of this multifaceted thing called the world. And we can put these together in the back of our minds to build a cohesive picture of this world. That’s how you get clever children to become educated and cultured adults.

Because we get so many of our books from America and Britain, what we tend to see is an American or a British life. An American or a British world. It is already apparent among grown up generations that this sort of thing takes effect and doesn’t let go. Many of us now think of modern Western culture as the default. That is how the world is. October 31st is Halloween, marriage is monogamy, kings are noble and wealthy, boys ask girls out on dates, intelligent people become scientists, buttocks are things to be ashamed of, physical beauty is a virtue and other cultural tropes which are in actuality uniquely western, are taken as universal. Then it gets worse. That is not actually our world. We fall in step and sync ourselves with it, but western culture is not really ours. There are resemblances and places where we borrow and share, but it is not really ours. It is theirs. And so when these books rarely mention our Ugandan or even African lives, and when they mention them only in regard to how they fit in with Wisconsin, Winchester of Wyoming or Westeros life, we will feel as if we have been relegated to the margins. We assumed that we were fully certified members of the world, full participants in it. And this is a portrayal of the world. Why is it that in this picture we are cast to the margins? It can cause some subconscious self-bigotry, a feeling that African lives are in fact incidental, less significant and inferior in the great scheme of things. Our literature and especially the literature that our children read is partly responsible for the idea that we are less than the rest of the world. But can you ask yourself why? Did any writer, or did any group of writers decide to create and present this ideology to us? Was there a plan to ruin our children’s faith in themselves? There have been councils and conspiracies against us, yes, but I don’t think this was one of them. I think CS Lewis, Enid Blyton, JK Rowling… all did what storytellers do everywhere. Including here in Uganda, and in Africa. They told stories, they drew a picture from their point of view and shared it and added it to the general tapestry of the planet’s stories.

Which means that the mishap was here, on our end; that our own storytellers were not doing the same. There are many reasons why so many of the fifty five years of Uganda went by without Ugandan children’s books. Now, finally, we are able to change that. We have not just one writer, but several writers, not just one book but several books, all here to tell stories, to show life, to define the world, to help shape our children’s view of it, to help them see that they count in it, that they are just as much a part of this planet’s people as every other child, and even to teach children from America and Britain a little about Uganda.

On the 11th of November, 40 Days over 40  Smiles Foundation will be launching a series of children’s storybooks written by Ugandans, for Ugandans and telling Ugandan stories. I was asked to write reviews, but please forgive me, I am skeptical of reviews. Too many critics get it wrong. They say a book is bad, and then the book brings joy to readers. Or they say a book is a masterpiece but the public loathes it. Ultimately, I find that you should make your own judgment for yourself. I love Wimpy Kid, but I don’t like Harry Potter, so what do I know? I loved Moses series, but I wouldn’t recommend them to younger children. Those boys used to escape from school to drink. I enjoy Winnie the Pooh more as an adult than I did as a child, and I find Famous Five flaccid and charmless. So no reviews. But I will say this. It is about time this happened. And we should be glad, proud and grateful that it did. This is a time when we need a generation that will think better than us, one that will be keener, more conscious and more ready to make the changes the world needs.

We need Ugandan books for Ugandan kids.

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