Here in Uganda, there are always negative people who just want to criticise-criticise everything. Since I am one of them, I am not going to congratulate you on being independent for 57 years, O Uganda, I am going to criticise you: you are not independent enough, guys. This isn’t enough.
I am not talking about the fact that we still get pocket money from the parents we are supposed to have emancipated ourselves from. After all, we already have a new sugar daddy called China so things are kawa those ends.
I’m talking about what really matters.
I recently met a section of the youth chastising their fellow Ugandans for speaking broken English. Of course my response as an elder pressman, one with over a decade of experience in editing and proofreading, was, “That what? Broken of where?”
Their response was to turn their accusations of breaking language on to me. I protested as much as I could, asserting, “Me you leave me! Me who you see here, you think I don’t know English? As I know English!”
I have no idea why that just inspired them to attack with even more fury, because I had not spoken broken English. I had spoken word-perfect Uglish.
But they couldn’t accept that. They insisted that anything less than standard Queen’s English was sullied, impure, damaged and called for censure.
It was as if there were troops of pith helmet-wearing handlebar-mustached, whip wielding effendies stomping around our diction and vocabulary poised to send disloyal subjects to the reservation if they don’t predicate as per their dictate. Well, me as me, I object.
This is what we are talking about when we say you don’t have enough independence. O Uganda, we need to recognise Uglish as a legitimate national language. We call upon government to gazette this also. Recognize Uglish.
There is a term, an English term, the term “Creole”, that you should meet.
It is an English term because English is imperial so it takes bits of other languages.
The term Creole is used among academic linguists to describe what happens when two or more languages get together, mingle and produce a child. The child looks vaguely like both parents but is nevertheless its own individual.
We have what we laymen call Pidgin from West Africa. We have what we call Patois from the West Indies. (If you want to be persnickety about it, pidgin and patois are terms used to describe stages of creolisation, but well, in the Nigerian pidgin the word Pidgin means the local creole. So sit down).
And these are evolving, living languages with their own shape and form and character and rhythm and they taste their own way in the mouth.
So let it be with Uglish.
I am not saying let’s legitimise bad communication. There is such a thing as broken English (just as there is such a thing as broken Luganda, broken Acholi, broken Lusoga) where one fails to communicate properly out of carelessness, laziness, or maybe just, innocently, a lack of awareness of the rules of syntax and grammar of the language.
Or just being distracted while they were editing their column.
But there is such a thing as broken Uglish, too. After all, if I want your opinion, I don’t ask, “You sees howly?” I ask, “You see how?”. If I want to dismiss a group of kids with colonised mindsets I refer to “Those of Mark and Betty” not “Them there Mark and Betty dem.”
So members, I’m not saying let us cast aside standard English. It is, after all, an invaluable asset for international communication, and the ability to speak it well enables us to exchange ideas far beyond our own borders. It’s a tool, a piece of equipment we inherited, like John Babiha Avenue. (The one you call Acacia Avenue.) But it’s ours now. So we decide how to use it, adapt it and rename it. We are independent.
So, we do like so: let us emancipate ourselves from the colonial mindset that our words, the tools we use to shape our thoughts, must still be dictated by the entity which colonised us.
In fact, when you are talking to those of Commonwealth or those of donors or those of the High Commission, even if you don’t just talk anyhowly, even if you have a well-prepared, well-crafted, well-edited speech that precisely, artfully and succinctly carries your points across, throw in a ka-small-small Uglish in there for Independence.
In your address say, “We have many challenges before us, but for us we believe that together we can overcome them.”