Heroes of ‘Pamojanisation’ and the quiet Mashujaa of civilisation

Patrice Motsepe, president of the African Confederation of Football (CAF), announces the host countries for the 2027 Africa Cup of Nations during a ceremony held in Cairo on September 27, 2023.

Photo credit: Khaled Desouki |AFP

Time seems to fly these days, or is it only for me and my advancing years? You may remember a passage in Shakespeare’s As You Like It where a character aptly observes that time travels at different paces, according to people’s situations.

Rosalind (Ganymede), the character, says that time trots for the prospective bride waiting for her wedding. It ambles at a leisurely pace for the lazy preacher who doesn’t like reading. But it gallops for the convict on his way to the gallows.

Anyway, for me, Mashujaa Day seems to have fallen upon us with the speed of lightning. There was no time for us scribblers to speculate on which heroes would be named or to comment on those who have been named and recognised this year.

This, however, left us with the leisure to name our own heroes (mashujaa) and celebrate them within the private stadia of our minds. Compare your nominations with mine and with those who were honoured in the Tea City of Kericho yesterday.

The first batch of Mashujaa I will call “Pamojanisation heroes”. I first heard of “pamojanisation”, with amusement, from a choir of schoolchildren who performed for us at the celebrations of the International Kiswahili Day in Kampala, in July this year.

The term “pamojanisation”, a coinage which the linguists would characterise as a neologism, needs little elaboration within the East African Kiswahili context. It simply means “togetherness”.

But then came the success of the “Pamoja Bid” in bringing the AFCON27 (African Cup of Nations 2027) football finals to East Africa. This means that the three original countries of the East African Community, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, will jointly host the 2027 edition of the continent’s most prestigious football tournament.

The three countries applied and competed together (pamoja in Kiswahili) to host the tourney, and they won, defeating a number of powerful rivals and known football powerhouses. Now the ball is, figuratively and literally, in our court, or is it on our pitches, some of which are even being built.

I admire and respect football, but I would not describe myself as an ardent fan (shabiki, fanatical supporter). I would not troop to stadia, come rain, come shine, as my dear departed friend, Francis Imbuga, used to, especially when AFC Leopards were in action.

Still, I enthusiastically celebrate the triumph of our “Pamoja Bid”, mainly because it is just that: “pamoja” (East Africans truly together). It symbolises and illustrates what we can achieve if and when we genuinely work together as the one people that history has destined us to be.

I would, therefore, name as my 2023 mashujaa our three Football Associations who initiated, promoted and defended the “Pamoja Bid” to its triumph on September 27, 2023. They alert us to the power and value of genuine East African cooperation, and inspire us to explore and exploit all the benefits of our “pamojanisation” in the region. Incidentally, do you know that Mwalimu Julius Nyerere had, in 1961, offered to delay Tanganyika’s independence until Kenya and Uganda were ready for theirs, if they were willing toplay ball and go into uhuru as an East African Federation? Imagine where we would be today if we had “pamojanised” then!

My second batch of heroes will probably startle you with both their simplicity and their rarity. These are men and women, whose favourite expressions are, “excuse me”, “please”, “thank you”, “sorry” and “hallo” (samahani, naomba, tafadhali, ahsante, kunradhi, salaam/shikamoo). These, indeed, are regarded as common and commonplace expressions, and some of you may be wondering why I am associating them with heroes. They are common sense expressions and we should not be “wasting” precious time talking about them, you may be thinking.

Yet, as our teacher Taban lo Liyong used to remind us, common sense is not at all common. He was probably paraphrasing the French philosopher and novelist Voltaire, who tersely remarks somewhere that common sense is very rare (le bon sens est très rare).

This is also true of the polite expressions mentioned above, especially in the speech of our new generations of East Africans. What happened to our “mila na desturi” (customs and traditions) of which we keep boasting?

I have spoken and written about this in various fora, attributing it to a tragic lapse of our people into “inoracy” (speech illiteracy). People are getting increasingly unable to talk to one another as human beings should do. They are not even willing to talk. The result is a dull, sullen populace that communicates only in murmurs and grunts, when they have to, and certainly does not “indulge” in those polite expressions that are the oils of civilised interaction.

The era of the “dumb generation” is upon us. Can we advance by only grunting and honking into our smart phones? I remember a prominent spiritual leader recently begging people, when they sit at table to eat, to try and put away their phones and talk to another face to face, for a change, please. I fully agree with this advice and I would decorate as super mashujaa those who strive to restore the precious treasure of human conversation to our society and de-barbarise our interactions from the poverty and lack of polite expressions.

What, anyway, does it cost you to say “hello” or “jambo” to your neighbour? Why shouldn’t you say “thank you” to someone who has rendered you service, even if you are paying them? Does it make you any less “Honourable”, dear Mheshimiwa, if you say “sorry” or “samahani” for your lateness to a group you have kept waiting for minutes or even hours on end?

Maybe here I should go back to my unfailing mashujaa, my fellow teachers, and advise them to, please, build into their CBC language teaching the mastery and constant use in the learners’ daily lives those simple expressions that make the difference between savages and civilised humans.

Remember, however, that no one can give what they have not got.

- Prof Bukenya is a leading East African scholar of English and [email protected]