As an avid reader of Hajji Ashraf Ssemwogerere’s stories, published as a literary series in The Sunrise, I am always astonished at the extent the human condition is able to swing between love, appreciation and thankfulness to malice, hatred and murder. His exposes are so graphic that they have rendered the news stories of the same subjects to be banal.
To be sure, the setting of his stories is not very different from the beat that the news stories cover. In these series, Ssemwogerere’s beat – which also doubles as the plot for his literary settings is Luzira Prison. He finds it a fertile ground that also provides the base for his television soaps on Bukedde TV.
He hit on the notion that, having a write-up for these stories, was probably more evocative than the mere ocular video aspect. I agree. It is probable that no writer/story-teller of late, here, has had such an elevating effect upon the readership in the last one and half years.
Ssemwogerere has had a wide range of dealing with this human condition, but I shall only select those things which appear mysterious and hidden to the actual experience of most people, though they may have heard them in uninterested passing.
Take the case of his up-coming work which will be published in the next series- Lweje. (I have had the opportunity to read it before it is published.) It is easy to come across the reference of boiling water poured on a person as a weapon, but what can prompt such a murderous action from even an intellectual, a professional and gentle person? That is Lweje.
Ssemwogerere is keen to alert us that his prison tales are real life stories; that they are not faked and they refer to actual people. The only rider is that he has altered their names so as to protect their identity; but in the streets of Kampala, we are constantly rubbing shoulders with these people unaware of their escapades.
A brutal masquerading friend of Lweje’s father in Kawempe, wants his son to be married to Lweje, but she does not want to marry the son, partly because they grew up together – and she regards him as a brother. (Does this jig your memory a bit, regarding a recent high-profile news story happening?)
In the process, because the father’s friend is always on hand at the family functions, he is the one who arranges all Lweje’s weddings. Eventually, she marries three men in quick succession, because of his perfidy, as he tries to manoeuver her to wed his son.
When all fails, he malices her marriage to the latest “victim”, by faking that she had been married to eight men. This happens as she is on a hajj to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. As in all the other cases, it leads to the man – like the two before him – divorcing her.
In all this, Lweje cannot figure out why her husbands are divorcing her; until she confronts her step-mother, who tells her the truth. That is when Lweje heats an electric kettle full of water – and you have guessed it – at a function her father’s friend is the organizer – releases the kettle on him.
She pretends that she is still innocent and unaware of what has taken place. To make sure he has no suspicions, she presents him with an expensive watch she had wanted to give to her husband. Then, she approaches him with the kettle of boiling water – and throws it at him. (I am also at pains to repeat: this was a real happening about two years ago.)
Other Luzira Prison series Ssemwogerere has recorded concern; the Acid Girl, Baby Toi and Cathy. All there girls end up in Luzira Prison, having been convicted of the murder of various persons. Before that, they were all lovable women who were faithful to their partners.
It is even easy to blame the judges tor sentencing these women to terms in prison for their acts of revenge. That has to be rendered to the inexplicable dictates of the rigid laws that define that a certain “criminal” action will fetch a certain number of years.
Except for the tragic case of Jalia Kisitu, whose step-mother, as you come to conclude after reading the series, not only murders her father, but her uncle, too, who inherited his brother’s lucrative hardware business. Jalia’s step-mother did this so as to inherit the business herself.
In the process, she organizes for Jalia go to Saudi Arabia, to be used as a sex slave, where Jalia is repeatedly raped. The step-mother expects Jaia to die in the process- and not return to Ndeeba, where the hardware business is located. Nevertheless, by a good hand of fate, she returns, but only to find that the Police have helped the step-mother to relocate and hide the businesses and other property, which Jalia should have inherited.