Monday, March 18




By Christopher H. M. Barlow (Uganda)
I drove the permanent secretary
To an important 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 of the laughs
Ice-ream 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 sliming!
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,
Arrived home this evening
With terrible stomach pains
The result of building the nation –
Building the nation is a poem by a Ugandan
poet Christopher Henry Muwanga Barlow that principally
explores the lifestyle of African bourgeoisie who came to power after
colonialism and ideally, simply replaced the coloniser. There is a need for
African leaders to create hope for those they lead but they are caught up in
the same evil lifestyle of their colonial predecessors. The aspects of nation
building which were supposed to dominate public and political policies have
been thrust to the periphery of human thought. In a way, the persona calls for
a reaction towards the ruling class’s hypocritical nation building where they
pretend to have welfare of the masses at heart while in real sense they just
want to capitalize on their efforts.
The kind of disillusionment portrayed in
the poem is that which Africans have towards their leaders who have adopted the
very tenets of the colonisers from whom they got power. Essentially, the idea
of nation building turns out to be a very complicated phenomenon where those
who are central to the process have their efforts wasted by leaders who can
implement policies.
The persona shows more disillusionment by
stating that at the meeting “the menu reflected its importance/ Cold Bell
beer with small talks/ Then fried chicken with niceties/ wine…/ ice cream
… (lines 6-11). This reflects the triviality of a meeting where
serious issues were supposed to be discussed.
This has been a vital tool for most
politicians when they want to win more votes from the ignorant masses. They
make heaps of lies on the optimistic crowds but eventually everything turns out
only a nightmare. The PS lies to the driver that he did not have any meal just
as did the driver yet you and I know that he had a very heavy and sumptuous
lunch.  He even shows his hypocrisy more clearly when he asks this
question. “then to keep awake he suddenly asked/Did you have any lunch
It is rather sad to note that he does not ask whether the
driver has eaten anything because he is concerned about his welfare, but it is
simply to keep himself awake throughout the journey.
In a broader way the poem thoroughly
depicts two classes in one society. There is high class and lower class. Both
of them are supposed to mutually benefit from the national resources, yet the
high class that is represented by the PS exploits the lower class that more
often than not comprises those who are involved in the modes of production. For
example the chauffeur drives the PS to the place where there is feasting
(eating) while the driver does not take part in the feasting. The persona
himself comes from the marginalized class. The role of both classes is building
the nation, but the high class has just become the parasites who feed on the
national resources at the expense of the masses. They are not building the
nation at all but building their stomachs.
Furthermore in the poem, the two parties
represent the two strands of nation builders that are in most African states.
On one side there are those represented by the driver (the local masses) while
on the other hand we have high class being represented by the PS. The later is
very busy squandering the public funds which can be used to rebuild the
nations. The masses are the hardworking people whose benevolence is easily
taken for granted by those in power. There are those who eat extravagantly and
those who work on empty stomachs. The persona knows about this exploitation
done by African leaders and informs his fellow countrymen what is actually
The poem paints a picture of awareness
that those who are oppressed, exploited and marginalised are now aware of what
is happening. This is an important step as long as the liberation of the
oppressed is concerned. It is also a significant step if the nation is to
realise sustainable development where the national resources will be mutually
utilized for the benefit of not only the ruling class but the masses as well.
If we examine the end of the poem, it
seems to induce a kind of anger that should lead to vengeance (revenge). The
persona is appealing to the oppressed to rise to the occasion and deal with the
ruling class. 
The fact that “two nation
builders/ arrived home this evening/with terrible stomach pain/the result of
building the nation/different ways
” is more like an appeal to emotions
where the persona seeks actions from the masses.
The persona shows that the PS goes to the
meeting where important matters were supposed to be discussed. Instead the PS
meets his friends and all they do is eating, cracking jokes and laughing. If we
need to do well at nation building we must respect everything that belongs to
the state. We must not misuse the public funds, the working hours and the state
properties like cars for our own interests. The PS goes to feast using the
government car, and after the feast he is driven back home. So he wastes not
only the public resources but also the working hours.
Nevertheless, the persona seems to have
hopes in some facts that both the African bourgeoisie and the proletariats have
their points of vulnerability. They both suffer in one way or another because
of their own actions and lifestyles. For instance the driver becomes sick
because of lack of food while the PS becomes sick for eating too much.
My ulcers I think are equally painful
Only they are caused by hunger,
Ø  If
we wish to do well in nation building we must as public servants respect
everything that belongs to the state; money, property, working hours etc.
Ø  If
the high class is not careful with nation building one day the oppressed may
Ø  Hypocrisy,
classes, and exploitation should be discouraged.
Ø  Awareness
is very important in the liberation of the oppressed.
Ø  All
human beings have their points of vulnerability. They both suffer in one way or
another because of their own actions and lifestyles
Ø  The
poem is relevant in our country in a number of ways.
Ø  Today
we have a lot of leaders who misuse the public funds while those who are
involved in the means of production live in dire poverty.
Ø  Hypocrisy,
Classes, exploitation and marginalization are also major issues in our society.
a.    What
is the poem about?
The poem is about the concept of nation
building as taken by African bourgeoisie class who came to power after
colonialism. The poet shows that independence was just the change in colour but
the leaders adopted the very tenets of their predecessors.
b.    Who
is the persona? How do you know?
The persona is a driver (chauffeur) who
represents the low class.
In line 3 he says “I drove the permanent
c.    Suggest
some literary and poetic devices used in the poem.
         i.        Alliteration
Highly delicate diplomatic duties..
And secretly smiling…
       ii.        Barbarism
Mwananchi, I too had none!
      iii.        Onomatopoeia
Ah, he
continued yawning again.
This is the sound of yawning
      iv.        Satire
To an important urgent function
In fact to a luncheon at the Vic.
Lunch is called an important urgent
function, this is very satirical
        v.        Irony.
The title of the poem ‘Building the
 is ironical because the guys in the poem were not building
the nation.
d.    Why
did the PS ask the question “Did you have any lunch friend?”
It was just to keep himself awake
throughout the journey and not because he is concerned about the welfare of the
e.    What
is the tone and mood of the poem?
The tone is both sad and
ironical/satirical and the mood is angry and hatred towards the ruling class.
f.        What
type of the poem is this?
It is a lyric poem as it expresses the
strong feelings of the chauffeur but it can also be a narrative poem as it
tells the story about the PS.
g.      The
poet says in the last stanza ‘so two nation builders arrived home
this evening’
were the two people building the nation?
Not really. The poet uses this as a
satire to criticise the idea that people always claim to build the nation but
they end up building their stomachs.


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