When you first pick up the poetry book “Footsteps of the Kakalabanda” by Ronald K Ssekajja, you will be forgiven for thinking you will be reading about ghouls and ghosts.
However, this poetry anthology is about love, betrayal, pain, politics and Africanism with the word “Kakalabanda” being used as a metaphor for the telling of all these (five) sub-themes.
The anthology kicks off in heady fashion with the poem; I am going to smoke a joint:
To feel nice;
walk on the solid clouds just below heaven
sip on the cup of life that is non-existent,
and while I am high
I will at least forget
the bad economy,
the bad roads,
the bad governance of this country…”
The formal simplicity of the words gives to the poem a kind of momentum, as though each thing that happens in it leads to the next.
One thought simply follows another, starting off lightheartedly. Then the poem takes on a different, less playful and more serious tone.
The image of weed and the persona’s longing to get “high” becomes subject to a complex combination of innocence and cunning.
What we thought was possibly parody (of the persona) now leads to short, staccato condemnations of the socio-political and economic realities in Uganda.
Through deceptively straightforward poeticisms, the persona emerges slowly into plain sight via paratactic syntax, which is s a literary technique, in writing or speaking, that favors short, simple sentences.
The use of irony too, being freighted by such syntax, is a clever and necessary sequence. It makes the message appear necessary and natural, when the poem’s action in fact pursues a course of active condemnation.
This condemnation takes on the primary colors of severity in the poem entitled: Uganda, Ever Falling Short:
“Uganda has run short of able-bodied leaders
Perhaps because the country is short of full-minded voters
Because we ran short of the cores of humanity
Got filled with greed, corruption and self-destruction…”
The use of ellipsis (a set of dots after the words “or largely” in the third line) helps the persona leap from one subject of condemnation to the next.
The persona first begins by condemning the leaders and then goes on to muse that the feet of clay used by the voter in their walk to “freedom” is also at fault, possibly.
This is protest verse relying on the soft lyric of silent rage felt through almost every line and every word.
It is cautious yet incautious, employing a subtlety of wit to examine contrasting yet complementing realties to strike a balance between the two.
It is believed that this carrying of poetic fire along with poetic water presents an objective persona’s concerns.
However it is also a technique which evolved from a sociological need to survive the Idi Amin era.
Back in the 70s, the country was ravaged by death and destruction. So creatives, in order to survive and thrive, employed elaborate and obscure wit to employ sophisticated forms of criticisms.
I suspect Ssekajja’s use of the same is a cultural inheritance brought into play in seeking to express social-political outrage without any dangerous repercussions.
In this sense, while poetry cannot be reduced to a social function or political purpose, it nevertheless must be seen as taking shape within social contexts and political interactions.
After this lofty verse, Ssekajja switches lanes and decides to delve into lighter verse. This is captured in the poem, Me, My Youth & Girls (part 2):
“My female pursuers were attractive to no end.
Well you didn’t believe but I ignored them,
And they noted and waited.
Well while I thought I had gone through it all;
They launched their massive attack
Hawking their gorgeousness in my eyes like articles on discount
Crossing my proximity with pure provocation
As they questioned my manhood with the words:
“You can only watch, what more can you do??”
It’s a flippant poem, filled with fun and levity.
However how did he “ignore” these females and notice their “gorgeousness” and “pure provocation” at the same time?
Somebody who was not paying them any mind wouldn’t have noticed their obvious allure.
Clearly the poet, or the persona, was either shy or simply “slow”.
On balance, though, Ssekajja has written a highly readable collection of poems which will make you think and laugh. Sometimes, they might even make you cry.
Each poem is crafted to communicate a sense of anger, disappointment, and hope with a strong sense of exhilaration.
The straightforward directness of his words is underlined by a lack of straightforwardness found in the poet’s subtle use of imagery.
Finally, his choice to focus on a broad sweep of experiences and personal opinions lends to the possibilities of poetic creation.
Also Ssekajja, like many Ugandans, is often of two minds about everything. And so his verse must be diverse and thereby awaken each reader to participate in what he perceives as right or wrong.
Then, just when you think you have him figured out, Ssekajja flips the script to obscure his diction in order to capture the mystical nature of the Kakalabanda.