What you need to know:
- Since you cannot have too much of a good thing, as they say, I decided to go for the “yes” option at every opportunity.
- I have already run into a few scrapes for “yessing” some proposals that are tougher than I first realised.
I am increasingly becoming a “yes-man”. If you ask me these days if I can or will do something, the likelihood is that I will say, “Yes, I can,” or “Yes, I will.” Only later will I reflect and wonder if I really can live up to my commitment.
Actually, there is a delightfully quirky book with that title, The Yes Man, by the British comedian and author Danny Wallace, which was made into a feature film in 2008. The book is also available online, in a Kindle edition or as an audiobook. There, you have your reading and maybe viewing assignment for the week.
The writing assignment is that, if it has not been done already, you may want to write a “yes-woman” version of the story. I would not, however, advise any of my sisters to try and become a yes-woman. With our men being the way they are, you never know what they will ask you to say “yes” to.
Back to my “yes-manship”, it started with my disconcerting realisation, some time between 2016 and 2017, that I was turning down a lot of offers, requests and invitations from my friends and associates.
My perfectly understandable reason was that, with my advancing age, wobbling health and ebbing energy, I would not be able to honour the invitations with worthy and credible performances.
In my field of strict deadlines and live appearances, my caution was justifiable.
Two insights, however, made me abandon my timorousness and throw myself back into the thick of the action.
First, I noted that I was not doing anything really useful with the time and energy I thought I was saving by turning down invitations and assignments.
Secondly and more importantly, experience taught me that the few activities that I did take on, however reluctantly, left me more inspired and energised than I had been before.
Since you cannot have too much of a good thing, as they say, I decided to go for the “yes” option at every opportunity, and it is serving me pretty well so far.
I know, however, that you will not tempt or try me out with any outlandish and extravagant requests, just to see if I will comply.
I have already run into a few scrapes for “yessing” some proposals that are tougher than I first realised.
Anyway, last week I got an offer I just could not refuse, even if I had not converted to “yessism”. It came from CHAKAMA, and the President of the august association conveyed it herself.
CHAKAMA (Chama cha Kiswahili cha Afrika Mashariki), is an organisation bringing together lecturers and teachers of Kiswahili all over the East African Community.
Its current President is Mwalimu Aidah Mutenyo of Kabale University in South-western Uganda.
Mwalimu Mutenyo asked me to address a CHAKAMA virtual workshop (called “kongandao” in current Kiswahili, a compression of “kongamano la mtandao”) on the role of Kiswahili as a tool of East African identity, cohesion and unity.
With such a blend, a lady president inviting me to talk about Kiswahili and East African unity, you can see why I had to say yes. But there was more to it than what first meets the eye.
I am a founding member of CHAKAMA, although I have been rather dormant for several years now, as far as its activities are concerned.
Still I was there on July 7, 2002, when we launched it at the modest but elegant Eland Hotel in Arusha, in the company of what sounded like a list of who-is-who in Kiswahili research and scholarship at the time.
It was uplifting to note that CHAKAMA has been running, quietly but efficiently and effectively, for nearly two decades now, and it was collaborating with other Kiswahili promoting organisations, like CHAKITA, the Kenyan National Kiswahili Association, and CHAUKIDU, the International Association for the Global Promotion of Kiswahili.
Moreover (na isitoshe, as the Waswahili say), Mwalimu Mutenyo, CHAKAMA’s current leader, was in the last Kiswahili class I taught at the prestigious Kyambogo University in Kampala before I started the long process of official retirement. I refer to her endearingly as Kitindamimba (my last born).
Marker of African identity
Mine is not pride or self-praise but humble gratitude and satisfaction to see that people like her and a few of my other students at Kyambogo and Makerere are now among leading Kiswahili scholars, teachers and promoters on the regional and international scene.
Mine eyes have seen the glory, as old Simeon put it, and I can say with confidence and conviction to my fellow struggling walimu, “Msivunjike moyo (do not lose heart), mema yamo njiani yaja (good things are on the way coming).”
My emphatic “yes” to the call to address the CHAKAMA kongandao materialised last Wednesday, November 3rd , and, indeed, it got me and left me buoyantly more focused and energised than I had been in quite a long time.
For one, my largely successful participation in the webinar, with only a little help from a young man a little more tech-competent than I, showed me that I was now reasonably more confident with this mode of communication than when I first tried it, with tragi-comic results, as I narrated it to you. This time I even delivered my presentation over my smartphone.
As for what I said to the several scores of professors, scholars and other participants across the globe, you who know me can well guess. I firmly believe that Kiswahili is performing its role marvellously as a marker of African identity, not only in East Africa but also across the world.
Still, I know that there are hurdles, like competition with other languages, colonial hangovers (kasumba za ukoloni) and lack of coordination in our sharing of personnel and other resources. This is where the role of professional organisations and other specialised agencies becomes crucial.
I am sure CHAKAMA, under the leadership and guidance of my Kitindamimba, is contributing and will continue to contribute significantly to this process.
Prof Bukenya is a leading East African scholar of English and literature. [email protected]