Thought Process: Prof. Mahmood Mamdani

Back in 2011 or is it 2012, when I was at the College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology (CEDAT) or commonly known as the Faculty of Tech(nology), Makerere University, I represented the students of CEDAT at one of the International Conventions on science and technology at The Imperial Resort Hotel. As a student leader, we were selected to both act as rapporteurs but also as representatives of students at this convention. This convention had the cream of the cream in science and technology from various universities across the eastern and southern Africa. We also had a couple from Nigeria too.

I was so excited to attend because everything was fully paid for. We were also going to be treated like VIP at the hotel. Being students, this also meant some time away from school and some sort of paid vacation.

At the opening ceremony, Professor Mahmood Mamdani was going to be the guest speaker. I had heard little to nothing about this amazing and quite outspoken professor and seeing as he wasn’t in any way related to the science and technology field, I wanted to see what he was going to talk about.

As I sat down early that morning preparing myself for the conference, an old looking Indian gentleman came and sat next to me at the back. He asked if the seat was taken to which I answered no. He then proceeded to take it and have his coffee. I assumed that he was among the many dignitaries we would be expecting from across the world. He asked me who I was, what I was doing and he seemed rather interested that students were attending the conference full of experts and professors from across the board. I didn’t pay much attention to who he was. When he was done with his coffee, he moved to the front as the conference begun. I remember he sat at the front, on the ‘high table’.

To my surprise, when they introduced him, they introduced him as the guest speaker and opener of the ceremony. I was astonished that I was that close to greatness. I was amazed at how someone that simple also exuded such power and greatness. Professor Mamdani went ahead to introduce himself and joke about how a social scientist like he was, was addressing a congregation of technology experts. But that was not what caught my attention.

The Professor was remarking at the excellence and the extent with which the continent had gone as far as research is concerned but to him, such a function as great as this didn’t have to be held in a hotel. The future or rather the students who could have benefited were close to 30 miles away while these experts sat and enjoyed a nice comfy hotel to discuss excellence. Who was going to benefit from this? The students? Or the experts? Or the research? He continued to remark and exclaim at how many empty rooms at the university could have accommodated such a function where students could attend and benefit for free. That the research that was being done eventually benefited the students and not the people at the hotel. He remarked at how this also was reflected in our politics. And I then my mind awoke. This was the truth.

This is when I started to ask myself questions. Was it important to hold such a function at a hotel when we had so many empty main halls at the university and where the only students in attendance were a handful selected and who might or might not relay the information? Where the students were there to act as secretaries mostly! I started to see the light.

Recently, a couple of people have been campaigning about ‘Invest in Children in Uganda’ (Link) and the same thing happened. The function was held at a fancy hotel where a couple of children were invited to sing the national anthem and fill up the hall mostly and the key stakeholders the ‘businessmen’ to give speeches to these few. I wondered, there’s plenty of schools where this can happen, couldn’t something like this have been done there. If you Invest(ed) in children by putting this function at a school and not a hotel maybe you can getter a bigger and further outreach, right?

Well, some didn’t see the sense and questioned whether I knew what the campaign was all about whilst others blatantly said that the event didn’t  actually concern the children but the business community while others had the audacity to claim that the CEOs present at the function couldn’t go to a shanty ‘school’. I was amused by these opinions and hoped that maybe they too could see the light. It is such thinking that holds us back as a nation, as a people of a nation and as individuals. Shallow, pathetic and rather archaic thinking that has held us back, where the key points of influence and and the benefactors are neglected because the people trying to affect change are holed up in a hotel discussing how best to impact change.

This same conversation reminds me of Professor Mamdani’s talk on the Global Funding given to Malaria, TB and HIV and how it was/is spent but that is another conversation for another time. Just look him up on youtube. You’d be impressed by his thought process.

Reminds me of this poem;

Building the Nation – Henry Barlow (Uganda)

Today I did my share In building the nation.
I drove a Permanent Secretary
To an important, urgent function
In fact, to a luncheon at the Vic.

The menu reflected its importance
Cold bell beer with small talk,
Then fried chicken with niceties
Wine to fill the hollowness of the laughs
Ice-cream to cover the stereotype jokes
Coffee to keep the PS awake on the return journey.

I drove the Permanent Secretary back.
He yawned many times in back of the car
Then to keep awake, he suddenly asked,
Did you have any lunch friend?
I replied looking straight ahead
And secretly smiling at his belated concern
That I had not, but was slimming!
Upon which he said with a seriousness
That amused more than annoyed me, Mwananchi, I too had none!
I attended to matters of state.
Highly delicate diplomatic duties you know,
And friend, it goes against my grain,
Causes me stomach ulcers and wind.
Ah, he continued, yawning again,
The pains we suffer in building the nation!

So the PS had ulcers too!
My ulcers I think are equally painful
Only they are caused by hunger,
Not sumptuous lunches!

So two nation builders
Arrived home this evening
With terrible stomach pains
The result of building the nation –
– Different ways.

Well, I was inspired by Prof. Mamdani to effect change at the focal points, where its needed most.

Music!

I hate it when people claim that they were the first to listen to a certain song.

I hate it when people think that the song playing on the radio must be the best song on the album.

I hate people who just listen to radio waiting for the latest hits.

I hate people who claim to be experts in particular genres.

I hate people who flaunt that they’ve listened to the newest songs.

I hate when people ask if you like a particular artist.

I hate people who think their music is deep.

I hate people who hate you for trying to associate with a particular genre because its ‘theirs!’

I like that I take time to listen to any kind of music, and I struggle sometimes, just hoping that the album could surprise me.

I like lots of genres, but I am more attune with rap/hiphop/techno/rock/alternative/edm/rnb.

I prefer to listen to a whole album.

I sometimes skip songs I find boring on an album.

I don’t care much to the lyrics. I like the sound and you’ve caught my attention.

I like sound because it is easy to figure out the undertones.

I like techno/edm because of the original Jabba.

I like watching movies/series for their soundtracks.

I think most of my playlists are from soundtracks of movies or series I watch.

I sometimes download the whole album/or a bunch of songs if the soundtrack is amazing.

I have the weirdest (I hate using this word because it seems to make people special or something) playlist.

I like my playlist because it sounds a lot like I am watching a scene from a movie or a serie.

I play/listen to music according to my mood.

I can’t do without my earphones.

I think the fastest and most replaced item in my music life are earphones. It is the first thing I put in my pockets.

I sometimes play albums while working because if it is a nice song, it will definitely catch my attention.

I try to listen to all genres. For me, it has always been about sound.

Music is just that. Beautiful and eclectic.

Devolution

I worry about the state of affairs in the world.
Ebola in the west, ISIS in the east,
Economic depression in the north and the ice polar caps melting in the south.
We could sit down and discuss the dystopia the world is right now,
and how we are at the brink of evolution.
But where we really are is devolution!
We’ve stopped building civilizations and have resorted to tearing them apart.
We have turned to consumerism and forgotten about production of any kind.
We are now more worried about where the next dollar is going to come from,
Rather than what the sunrise or sunset looked like.
We’ve put aside the notion of natural and have turned to artificial.
Artificially grown is what is written on every box of food being sold out there.
We have turned to the mechanization of the human race, and the humanization of the mechanical race.
We’ve lost what’s human about us and have transferred it to inanimate objects.
The 24 hour day is now a blur. Time is slowly eluding us and before you know it, we shall have devolved into

Nothingness.

Lucy

Have you watched Lucy? No?

Lucy has been one of those movies I patiently waited for to see in the cinema this year. After watching and re-watching the preview, I wanted to see what it would turn out to be and I wasn’t disappointed. I met a friend at the cinema that day who was also going to watch the same movie and amidst the conversation, I stated that the movie’s concept ended in her being obsolete or rather omnipotent.

And that exactly happened.

I am at that stage in life where the thirst for knowledge and the time to actually acquire that knowledge are two mutually exclusive elements, a dualism that has left me with nothing but emptiness. I can barely read a book (Cassandra’s Compact by Robert Ludlum) mostly because I don’t have the time. I have had this novel for 6 weeks now and the 300 paged book which could have taken a day or two, has just been in my back pack.

Today, whilst heading to work early in the morning, I started to hum my nursery school rhyme. I don’t even know how the words came to me but their placement felt natural, felt like that’s how I had sung it over 20+ years ago. I was amazed but also continue to question how that is possible and watching Lucy a week ago has helped me rather understand and question the potential capability of the brain.

There was the notion that Einstein used up to 13% and we considered that genius, so what would happen if we could just push the basic 10% to a near 11%? Two or three years ago, my brain activity/capacity was at all time high, my language, inference to elements, understanding and perceiving of somethings was beyond me but of late, I can barely think through a conversation. There’s definitely been a compensation from the usual cognitive and daily thought process and from the usual banter to focus of elements of passion and desire, where I am at 100% when it comes to architecture (my profession) and a mere 80% or less to things other than architecture.

I think the brain is an amazing element. Its potential is beyond us and my quest is in trying to unlock some of these mysteries. But the daily hustles and norms cannot fully permit such. I worry about my job, money, relationships, family and business and whatever little time I have to ponder about the capabilities of my brain is non existent but then, I also realize that for me to be able to do this, is also amazing. Maybe unlocking the secrets of the brain is not the key to happiness.

But I was excited about watching Lucy. I wasn’t disappointed in the graphics or the script or even the layering of the story, albeit I felt I needed more at the end of the movie.

And as I left the cinema, I couldn’t help but tell my friend, “I told you so!”