Click to buy Print Edition Home Page African Writing Online Home Page  
HomeAbout UsNewsinterviewsMemoirsFictionPoetryThe Call to ActionArtReviews

  Adaobi Nwaubani
  Amatoritsero Ede
  Ando Yeva
  Ayesha H. Attah
  Bobby Gawthrop
  Brian Chikwava
  Chuma Nwokolo
  Crispin Oduobuk
  Fela Kuti
  Fiona Jamieson

  Florence Nenakwe
  Funsho Ogundipe
  Genna Gardini
  George E. Clarke
  Grace Kim
  Isabella Morris
  Isobel Dixon
  Ivor W. Hartmann
  Jane Bryce
  Kobus Moolman
  Meshack Owino
  Mwila A. Zaza
  Patrice Nganang
  Petina Gappah
  Rudolf Okonkwo
  Samed Aydin
  Tanure Ojaide
  Tola Ositelu
  Uche Peter Umez
  Unoma Azuah
  Uzor M. Uzoatu
  Wole Soyinka

Submission Guidelines

African Writing Archives


Meshack Owino

Meshack Owino

Owino is an assistant professor of history at Cleveland State University, Cleveland, Ohio. He earned his B.Ed. and M.A at Kenyatta University, Kenya, and another M.A., and a Ph.D. at Rice University, Houston, Texas. Dr. Owino specializes in the social history of African soldiers in Kenya during the pre-colonial and colonial periods. His academic and scholarly interests also include the origins and nature of the modern African state; the role of ethnicity in African politics; and the prospects of democracy and human rights in Africa. Dr. Owino has taught African history at several universities, including Egerton University, Kenya, and Bloomsburg University, Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. He has also been a visiting professor of African history at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, and an adjunct professor at Texas Southern University, Houston, Texas.


 Museveni as Nyamgondho

Whenever I read reports of Yoweri Museveni’s government officials harassing poor fishermen on Lake Victoria's Migingo Island, I cannot help but remember Nyamgondho wuod Ombare, a popular folktale among the Luo of East Africa. My grandmother first narrated the story to me as a child growing up in western Kenya.
Nyamgondho wuod Ombare was very poor man who eked a living by fishing on Lake Victoria. By all accounts, Nyamgondho’s life as a young man was very miserable. He hardly had anything to eat or clothes to wear, and, every evening, his deprived circumstances forced him to walk long distances looking for a place among kind neighbors to rest his head during the night. One morning, the story goes, Nyamgondho woke up so hungry that he thought he was going to die of hunger.
Summoning his last reserves of energy, he stumbled from the home of the neighbour where he had sheltered the previous night, and staggered to Lake Victoria, wondering what he would do with himself if the net he had set overnight did not catch anything.
He reached the lake and started inspecting the fishing net. His hopes rose momentarily when he felt a heavy weight on the net. Yet, as he reeled it in, Nyamgondho’s hopes collapsed when, instead of a big fish, he saw that the net had caught an ugly, old woman.
Nyamgondho turned away in disgust. He was about to throw the net away together with the old woman when her voice stopped him in his tracks, urging him to take her home and make her his wife, instead of throwing her back into the lake. The old woman told him that if he married her, she would make him the wealthiest man in the land. She promised him a lot of cows, goats, and sheep. She also promised him many wives, children, and a big homestead.
Realizing that he had nothing to lose, Nyamgondho decided to hearken to the old woman’s entreaties. He took her and made her his wife. That act alone changed Nyamgondho’s fortune. Within a short time, Nyamgondho’s fishing net started catching massive amounts of fish in Lake Victoria. It was as though his net had became a magnet for fish overnight. Every morning, Nyamgondho would arrive at the lake, and find his nets bulging with large numbers of delicious fish. He sold much of his catch, trading them for grain, cattle, and farming implements.

With his fortune, Nyamgondho no longer found it difficult to find willing spouses. His homestead grew in size. He married many wives, sired many children, raised many herds of cows, and grew huge quantities of crops. Nyamgondho had everything. He became the richest man in the land.
As his wealth grew, Nyamgondho developed traits that he never had when he was poor and miserable. His riches went to his head. He became haughty and proud. It was not unusual for him to come home drunk, singing his own praises, shouting loud insults at his neighbours and calling them paupers. He often set upon his wives and children, flogging them with a kiboko.
Nyamgondho even started beating up his first wife, his mikayi – the old woman from the lake. One day Nyamgondho beat up the old woman really badly and she warned him that if he did it again, she would leave him, and his wealth would vanish.

Nyamgondho did not listen. Consumed by his wealth and self-importance, Nyamgondho beat up the old woman again, and this time, she decided to leave him. Nyamgondho was shocked when, as the old woman prepared to leave, all the wealth in the homestead also started preparing as well, and got ready to leave. He watched tongue-tied as the cows, goats, sheep, and chickens rose, and as grains of sorghum and millet gathered themselves up in baskets and pots, and trailled behind the old woman as she trudged back to the lake.
As his other wives and children followed the old woman back to the lake, Nyamgondho heard a horrible sound issuing from what he thought were his own bowels, crying to the old woman not to leave the homestead, begging her to forgive him, promising never to misbehave again. His pleas fell on deaf ears; the old woman returned to the lake with all the property in Nyamgondho’s compound. He was back where he was when he first met the old woman in the lake – miserable, poor, and desperate.


The story of Nyamgondho wuod Ombare reminds me of President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, the benevolent dictator of Uganda now terrorizing the poor fishermen of Migingo Island, Lake Victoria. When you look at Museveni’s life, wasn’t he a refugee in Tanzania whose fortunes turned for the better through the generosity of his neighbors in East Africa just the other day? Didn’t he achieve his university education at the University of Dar es Salaam through the generosity of President Julius Nyerere, and the kindness of the people of Tanzania?
When President Idi Amin Dada, the erstwhile Conqueror of the British Empire, was terrorizing Ugandans during the 1970’s, where was Museveni? Didn’t he flee to Tanzania? Didn’t he and his family live as refugees in Tanzania and Kenya in the 1970s and early 1980s? Were they not given a means of survival by Tanzania, and Kenya? Were Tanzanians, and Kenyans not their neighbors, and friends?
Have Ugandans forgotten just how much they were helped by East Africans during their time of need as a military dictatorship, and while a civil war raged in their country in the 1970s, and 1980s? Wasn’t it Tanzania that helped Uganda to overthrow the dictator Idi Amin Dada?
When Museveni was waging war to grab power in Uganda, wasn’t he helped by the ordinary Rwandese, particularly the Tutsis, who composed much of the rank and file of his guerrilla army? Yet these days we receive numerous reports about Museveni harassing Rwandan citizens.
Wasn’t it President Moi who helped to organize numerous meetings between Museveni and the Government of Uganda in Nairobi to end the civil war that Museveni was waging against the Government of Uganda in the 1980s? So, why is Museveni harassing President Moi’s fellow Kenyan citizens who are just trying to eke out a living on Migingo Island?
Museveni’s government has been terrorizing Kenyans over a pathetic, little rocky island known as Migingo, Lake Victoria. Migingo Island is only 2 kms from Kenya proper, and a whopping 250 kms from Uganda proper. Although evidence from various documents place Migingo, an island rock that measures no more than 2 acres, within Kenyan territory, that has not stopped Museveni from sending soldiers 250 kms away from Uganda proper to plant a Ugandan flag on the island, claiming it as Uganda’s. Kweli, ahsante ya punda ni mateke.[3] No good deed goes unpunished!
Disregarding how they survived through the generosity of their neighbors when Uganda was in turmoil during the 1970’s and 1980’s, Museveni’s policemen routinely arrest Kenyans on Migingo Island, and throw them in prison even though the island is in Kenya. His soldiers patrol the island using helicopters and speedboats. His customs officials impose hefty taxes on poor Kenyan fishermen on the island.
Just the other day, Uganda was at it again harassing Kenyans when it tried to raise fees for Kenyan students studying in Ugandan universities by claiming that Kenyan students were foreigners who should pay more fees than Ugandan students for education. Although this crazy proposal was nipped in the bud when President Yoweri Museveni remembered in the nick of time that he and many Ugandans received subsidized education in Tanzania and Kenya during the 1960’s, 1970’s, and 1980’s, when their county was in turmoil, it makes you wonder how people forget so easily.  
I seem to remember only too well that it was just the other day that I was going to school in the Busia part of Kenya with children of many Ugandan refugees. And I am sure that there are many other Kenyans who have stories to tell of enduring friendships, long-term relationships, and even loving marriages forged with Ugandans who sought refuge in Kenya during the 1970’s and 1980’s.
During those days we regarded those Ugandans, not as Ugandans, but as our brothers and sisters, as people, as human beings who had the same needs and dreams like us. We did not even see them as refugees. We simply saw them as people who had suffered the misfortune of coming under the control of a mad man who was masquerading as president of their country during the 1970’s. We provided them with succor. We lived with them, went to school with them, laughed and cried with them as fellow East Africans.
But just look at how their government now treats us? Look at how their government harasses people all over East Africa – from Migingo Island in Kenya, through Rwanda, Eastern Congo, the Central African Republic, all the way to Southern Sudan. There are cries everywhere that Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni is harassing people, that he is stealing resources, that his ruthless soldiers are killing people in neighboring countries. Even the far-way Somalia is not far enough for Museveni to throw his weight around in. This former refugee has forgotten where he and his country were just the other day.
Like Nyamgondho wuod Ombare, it seems that President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni has forgotten how he and his fellow citizens were helped by East Africans during their time of need – a time they suffered from poverty, instability, deprivations, and wars. While we cannot tell whether Yoweri Museveni’s life will come full circle like that of Nyamgondho wuod Ombare, it is getting pretty close to mirroring it. Only time will tell.

Copyright © African Writing Ltd & respective copyright owners. Enquiries to