Between 1971 and 1979 in Uganda, when strongman Idi Amin Dada ruled the country with an iron fist, intellectuals and academics fled their homeland in droves to avoid censorship of not only their dreams but intelligence as well. Writers either ceased writing or began jotting politically correct text that did not critique the status quo or call for national dialogue.

When repressive laws were passed left and right, on a small corner of Kenya, just over the border, sat then 32-year-old poet-academic, author and Uganda national Taban Lo Liyongo. At that stage Lo Liyongo had already built a name for himself as a strong independent thinker who had propelled the success of then unknown James Ngugi- a novelist who was later to be known as Professor Ngugi wa Thiongo.

Lo Liyongo apparently knew wa Thiongo as a fellow at Royal College, now named University of Nairobi. He confesses to have grown fond of wa Thiongo and developed deep interest in his academic progress. "He asked me to help in revolutionizing the then English Department. I did not need to be urged, I did it beyond the call of duty; I did much more than any other participant, Ngugi himself included" Lo Liyongo noted.

It later emerges that the adoration for wa Thiongo had a dark flipside as he later alleges that the article that launched wa Thiongo as a fierce opponent of English domination in African lifestyle and culture, which was published in Homecoming: Essays just a year after Amin took power across the border was actually a collective effort that wa Thiongo either forgot or chose not to credit as such, rather claimed sole authorship and copyright.

Across the border Amin was seizing Asian and white businesses, alienating every leader in surrounding countries, most notably Tanzania's Mualimu Julius Nyerere. Around that time Lo Liyongo moved from one institution to the other, in the meantime writing books and publishing poetry, among them Another Nigger Dead, Cows of Shambat, Words that melt a Mountain and nine others.

While traveling around to build contacts and his stature as a serious intellectual, Lo Liyongo already had a wife that he married in 1964 in the United States of America - a Ugandan girl he made his wife when he was a student at Howard University in Washington DC.

He often relates about how turbulent their relationship was up to the end, "we went through some traumatic experiences trying to adjust to one another. Through it all we produced two healthy, bright and handsome boys. Afterwards, after we had competed in pulling our two sons this was and that way, I finally decided to leave them with her"

That was in 1975 and Amin was defying everyone around him. Lo Liyongo had also started writing poetry that was considered not politically correct to the Amin regime. True to the man he was he wanted it published, including those that poked sarcasm at the Amin administration. It's everyone's speculation what might have happened to the then 35-year-old nomad.

However a settled, well traveled Lo Liyongo took up a post with the University of Venda years ago and began putting together his anger into a poetry manuscript entitled Corpse Lovers and Corpse Haters, made up of most of the poems that he wanted Amin to read and analyze. His wish was never granted as the former dictator died a lonely death in Saudi Arabian exile, more than 20 years after 20 000 Tanzanian troops, sent by Nyerere toppled him.

Corpse Lovers and Corpse Haters is a testament of Lo Liyongo's feelings about that dispensation and his own situation. Though he later got married again, Lo Liyongo remains a nomad to the end. "Perhaps I am protesting too much. For, apart from figuratively speaking, I really never left this life. It is true I left Uganda, I left Kenya, I left East Africa to their own devices. It is also true that I took my portion of Uganda, of Kenya, of East Africa with me whenever I went", he wrote.

After his statutory retirement early this year Lo Liyongo left South Africa as well for Sudan, where he was born before being naturalized a Ugandan. Probably he took a part of South Africa too.

"But all said, the Taban of 2005 is a mature version of the Taban of 1976 returned to earth" he wrote.
Lo Liyongo might finally be gone and found a rest, but Corpse Lovers and Corpse Haters is the one memory he chose to leave behind for all to live. Corpse Lovers and Corpse Haters is available from Timbila at timbila@telkomsa.net or call Vonani at 0721296496.

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