Three-quarters of the reason I came to Addis relate to the fact that it was Akwasi Aidoo who invited me. I actually hate workshops. And a couple of months ago I was raked over the coals by my activist and academic colleagues for suggesting that workshops in Uganda should actually be banned! However, I must confess that I am extremely happy I came because this event has brought home to me in a fashion that no other occasion has ever done, how the personal and the political are inextricably linked. My last name is Oloka-Onyango, and immediately tells those familiar with Eastern African history where I am from. I belong to the Luo Nation that stretches from the south of the country the colonialists called Sudan, through Northern Uganda, into Western Kenya, and ending in the upper tip of Tanzania. My community is called the Jopadhola – the people of the wound – who were left behind in the great trek south because (you guessed it) one of the brothers developed a wound that forced him to stop. On the Ugandan side we are a tiny community, but closer in every way to our larger Kenyan Luo cousins who lie across the border that split us apart.
Every third Kenyan Luo is called ‘Onyango,’ understandably so because it means ‘born in the morning,’ and reflects the division of the day into three; those born at daytime or in the afternoon are named ‘Ochieng’ or ‘Achieng,’ (for women), those born at night are called ‘Owor’ or ‘Awor.’ Onyango is my father’s name.
My own name – given at birth – is Oloka, which means ‘born away from home.’ I will not tell you where I was born, but the place and the fact of my birth haunted me whenever I came to my country of birth and sought entry. My Ugandan passport would be scrutinised with double efficiency. I would be asked, ‘were you