The Chwezi Code by Nick Twinamatsiko is a grand work of Ugandan fiction which hilariously exposes issues facing Ugandan society in a way that has never been put in the country’s literary print before.
Emmanuel Arinaitwe is dismissed from University for examination malpractice when he seeks to aid Josephine, a coursemate, cheat in an examination in attempt to win over her heart. Living with the disappointment of three wasted years at University, he enlists in a band of Ugandan exiles with whom he unsuccessfully storms a military barracks to flush out Amin’s soldiers. Having lost his identification card at the frontlines, he adopts the alias Mugu, and masquerades as a medium of the Chwezi spirits in order to hide from the state that is now looking for him. Very soon, Emmanuel begins to question whether the Chwezi spirits he has made up in the charade may actually be real. After a strange novel is delivered to him, he begins to question if the incredible gullibility of the Ugandan masses has something to do with the feared spirits.
The author, through Emmanuel’s friend Tindiwensi, discloses to us that the societal problems we face in our society are due to an oral cultural orientation which encourages mythical beliefs about phenomena and not a literary culture that demands rigorous intellectual analysis of phenomena. This is the argument at the heart of the author’s story.
In the story’s theme of religion, he draws a contrast between the traditional Chwezi religion and Christianity to explain to us that Chwezi myths that drive Chwezi beliefs like night fires that are mysteriously lit on hills, are not subject to rigorous intellectual analysis or investigation by masses because of their oral orientation and so are easily used by fake religious leaders to hoodwink the masses for personal gain whereas Christianity’s literalism in which there is open rigorous intellectual analysis of literary texts there’s less chance of fake religious leaders to hoodwink the masses as they can read and analyze texts for themselves. However, the cases of fake religious leaders now present in Christianity, he points out, are from the rising Pentecostalist stream that has an oral orientation of Christianity rather than the literal orientation of true Christianity.
It is from this background of oral orientation versus literal orientation that the author traces the degradation of our society’s Institutions. In this case, religious institutions. He illustrates how Mugu (Emmanuel Arinaitwe), a fake Chwezi priest in a Chwezi shrine, easily becomes successful in conning the Nyonyozi villagers despite failing at a university and failing at a battle to take the country, in turn showing us how the traditional healers deceive people in our society today. Because of the villagers’ oral orientation, Emmanuel manipulates the villagers’ mythical belief in the Chwezi and makes a fortune!
He also shows how churches have degraded into personal businesses for individuals because of the oral orientation of the masses that encourages mythical belief in them. The author hilariously demonstrates this in the way Emmanuel starts Emmari Church. He purchases the church from another pastor, names it to his own tastes and appoints an unanointed pastor to lead it. This is all possible because of the orally oriented culture of the masses which disinhibits their curiosity.
This argument on the effects of oral culture on our society, makes the author picture religion as a form of natural art where actors step on the stage to act out their parts. This is easily the most powerful and challenging disclosure in the book. For if the religious texts are a lie as he hilariously warns us, then religious devotees are performing art, naturally. The author confronts religious devotees by putting their beliefs to the test.
In the story’s theme of Education, he shows us how the society’s oral orientation influences it to perceive education. For example; society puts mythical emphasis on academic qualifications like certificates while ignoring practical analysis of abilities hence revealing a mythical belief of society in academic qualifications as a decider of ability. This is exposed with a self-taught engineer Rutaro who, despite tallying the calculations of the collapsed building as accurately as Tindiwensi’s, a certificated engineer, is dismissed in court as not having the prerequisite academic qualifications.
The author also illustrates this through Leila. She becomes a great bank teller despite lacking the necessary certificates for this profession. With this mythical emphasis on academic qualifications, the author further discloses to us that it makes us fail to develop our abilities beyond the designated education system something that would have not been possible with a literary culture.
The author also shows us how the influence of oral culture the on the education system deters students’ intellectual curiosity. Mwebesa emphatically rebuffs Emmanuel’s request for his school students to read and review his nonfiction books. He explains to Emmanuel that his books are not on the syllabus and therefore useless to his students since they are non-examinable. The author here shows us how this mythical emphasis on beautiful grades, encourages cram work in an effort to attain qualifications ignoring practical analysis of knowledge further proving the damaging influence of oral culture on our educational system.
The impact of oral culture on the education system is also demonstrated to us through the excesses produced by this mythical emphasis on qualifications through Emmanuel’s very successful research bureau business which sells degrees to clients. This kind of education system influenced by an oral culture we also see that it does not install good values. Mwebesa who is a highly educated person participates in the plundering of education institutions.
The author also discloses to us how the society’s oral orientation influences political institutions. For example, Politicians present academic qualifications for political approval from the masses rather than ideological competence. Since the oral orientation of the masses aids their mythical beliefs in academic qualifications as evidence of ability, politicians like Rutafa even get away by plagiarizing other politicians’ works since the masses wouldn’t have read them. This illiteracy that is produced by the oral culture, allows the masses to be easily deceived by corrupt, dishonest and ill-intentioned politicians.
We are also shown how economic institutions are influenced by society’s oral culture. Businesses as illustrated by Emmanuel’s Bookshop can not sell positive and healthy book products like the classic novels that impart values because masses will not buy them. Therefore, Emanuel’s bookshop business ends up stocking valueless even destructive book products to the masses something that would not have been different with a literary culture.
In conclusion, the Chwezi Code is a masterpiece of Ugandan story telling at its best. The author’s choice of an autobiographical narrative for his opinions is an excellent one. It makes for a great flow of events and helps the author to keep good pacing as well as good suspense to keep the reader hooked. At times, like a thriller, the author keeps catching the reader off-guard with unexpected events. The choice of using the antagonist as the narrator is also perfect because this point of view helps to vividly illustrate the author’s ideas, opinions and arguments.
This is a book every Ugandan should read.