By Philip Matogo
These days, the subject of much of Ugandan art is catharsis.
It comes with a social media age in which baring one’s soul is perceived as art simply because it is reflective of confessional trends.
Polite reception is of such “art” is promoted over honest criticism, since one cannot critique an outpouring of feeling.
So praise replaces dispraise as everyone is considered an artist, for everyone has a confession or a story to relate.
However sometimes an artist, in this instance a writer, goes beyond such “art” to conjure a historical novel of the Dan Brown school.
Mr. Francis Tucungwirwe may arguably have achieved this with his literary offering, “Meeting With Those You Killed: Osama bin Laden Meets with 9/11 Victims at the Rutangaaza Conference.”
Although the title is a little clumsy as to its length and comical as to the accusatory tone it takes with anyone who reads it, this book is an engrossing read. Well, mostly.
Although a book of fiction, it is interlarded with facts, factoids and historical references. The author was inspired to write it after surviving a terrorist attack on account of a flat tyre preventing him from reaching the venue of the 11th July 2010 Kampala bombings.
These bombings were the dark handiwork of the terrorist organization al-shabaab, which is linked to Al-Qaeda.
In the aftermath of the bombings, the said terrorists celebrated the attack and hailed their suicide killers as martyrs!
Such callousness, by turns, angered then anguished the author.
He was appalled that innocents were slayed by terrorists seeking to become martyrs so as to be welcomed by angelic virgins in the afterlife!
This 298-page book seeks to unravel through Rutangaaza, a traditional means by which the living commune with the dead, why such mindless violence occurred.
At the heart of this story is a 118-year old man called Mzee Festus Rutikarirwa or Senior Senior, as he liked to be called.
After Senior Senior loses his grandnephew Ericald Kakuru in the 11th July 2010 Kampala bombings at Kyadondo Rugby grounds, he is inconsolable.
A wealthy man, Senior Senior uses his vast resources to attempt travelling to Pakistan and Somalia to get some answers from Ericald’s killers, al-Shabaab and Osama bin Laden.
However he is denied travel on account of his advanced age.
When bin Laden is killed by American Navy SEALS on May 2nd 2011 during a raid on his hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan, Senior Senior determines to stage the Rutangaaza Global Peace Conference.
The participants of this conference are Osama bin Laden, 9/11 victims and global witnesses.
At the conference, Osama bin Laden expresses remorse to the world for his dastardly ways and for misrepresenting Islam.
The victims of 9/11 victims share their agonies as the global witnesses offer suggestions towards global peace.
The Rutangaaza Conference ends with a joint communiqué from the 9/11 victims, Osama bin Laden and the global witnesses. This communiqué expressly aims at ending terrorism in the world.
Although the buildup to the conference is impelling, the preachy tone of the book throws off some of its literary power.
The author’s moral teachings and pleas for geopolitical reform in the world divert him (and his story) from the delineation of each character during the development of plot.
I believe the morality tale embedded here should’ve been incidental not central to the story. It would’ve made the book far more interesting.
Often, in the author’s quest for moral themes and historical realism, he falls prey to overelaborate writing.
As an offshoot, this story is steeped in emotional realism with a teary-eyed emphasis on reconciliation and forgiveness without delving too deeply into the underlying factors which lead to terrorism.
Hence, the tonal focus of this book is more on pathos than wit and narrative clarity.
Osama’s ghost or incarnation at the Rutangaaza Global Peace Conference doesn’t seem convincing.
He seems too eager to ingratiate himself with the 9/11 victims.
Though Senior Senior seeks to understand terrorism as an act committed collectively, not individually, Osama continually comes under the cosh as being responsible for the world’s uneasy state of affairs with regard to terrorism.
In this book, Osama’s guilty humanitarianism seems ripe for his own overnight redemption instead of the resolution for political reform on both sides.
This presupposes that his cause is morally wrong and America’s foreign policy, which largely fostered such a cause over the course of 40 years, is unimpeachably right.
Thereby the realities which have made terrorism possible are swept under the carpet by an author with a pro-America bias.
All personal and social problems arising out of terrorism are rendered, by the author, through a haze of sympathy, which is, however, not allowed to obscure his implied moral censure of terrorists and terrorism.
Instead of the blame for terrorism being conscientiously laid on the defects of shared geopolitical ills, it is blamed on the terrorists. The author clearly fails to view terrorists and terrorism as symptoms instead of causes of a world at war.
Maybe that’s why pathos begins as an undertone before becoming the overall tone of the book.
Granted, the book is written against a background death and loss, so it is prone to sentimental overstatement and historical oversimplification.
That said, this book is a very good read.
I highly recommend it to all those who are interested in recent geopolitics as well as geostrategic quest for lasting peace on earth.