In his new book; Non-Essential Humans, author Yusuf Serunkuma Kajura, a columnist with The Observer, casts a bright spotlight on the scale of suffering in Uganda during the Covid-19 pandemic as government enforced restrictions to slow the spread of the virus.
Serunkuma shows how Uganda has paid a hefty price for implementing Covid-19 lockdown policies that he says were designed for well-off economies in North America and Europe. In the interview, Serunkuma also talked about getting a PhD from a German University.
It should be recalled that Serunkuma has been involved in a prolonged court fight with Makerere University over the grading of his PhD. The High court ordered Makerere University to assign new supervisors to Serunkuma and also give him the necessary facilitation to complete his studies. Dissatisfied, Makerere appealed the ruling and the Court of Appeal is yet to determine the matter.
I understand you recently completed your PhD. How did you manage to pull it off?
Allihamudulilah, as we say in the Islamic tradition upon completing anything. I completed graduate school and earned a PhD in Anthropology from Martin Luther University in Germany. I passed magna cum laude, masha’Allah. But I still have that pending case with Mak, and I hope to have two PhDs upon completing the one at Makerere.
What is your area of expertise, you seem to have studied several disciplines?
I masquerade as an anthropologist. But the interdisciplinary training I received at Makerere University during my three years of MPhil [Masters of Philosophy] exposed me, with commendable depth, to many debates and persuasions.
So, I have a leg in debates on political economy especially agrarian studies, debates in decolonisation are so close to my heart as is popular culture and literature. I am a cultural studies major. I recently attended Nyege Nyege festival for fieldwork. I also love theory, abstraction. I want to see things in wholes.
What plans do you have ahead upon completing graduate school?
I am a researcher, writer and publisher. My experience at Fountain Publishers, where I mastered, among other things, ghost-writing, editing, publishing itself, thanks to my friend and father, James Tumusiime. My earlier experiences at The Independent magazine remain instrumental too.
But I am also a creative writer, and currently, I am finishing my second play, I have tentatively titled, The Meat Eaters. I hope you have had chance to read The Snake Farmers.
You recently published a book on Covid-19. Why was it important to write such a book?
Non-Essential Humans, which we are launching on Thursday at the Uganda museum, is a book of pain. This book is a collection of essays I wrote in the course of Covid-19. I was angry with the copy-and-paste ways in which Uganda responded to Covid-19.
Look, I lived through two lockdowns, one here in Uganda, and another in Europe, and I can tell you, when the World Health Organisation (WHO) insisted on lockdowns as a way of mitigating the contagion, they didn’t have Africa in mind, but only Europe and North America. It was like theatre of the absurd in Kampala. A coerced fakery. Just pick my book.
What inspired the choice of the headline you gave the book?
I still struggle to understand the labels, Essentials and Non-Essentials. I have no idea how and when we are “non-essential.” A father hunting for food for his family is the single-most essential person to that family, how then does he become a non-essential to be locked in the house?
What was this “common good” that he’s part of when his kids are starving? This labelling of non-essentials was violence to many ordinary persons. And power marginalises and thrives by labelling others. “Non-essentials” was the language through which crimes were committed.
Why would anyone buy this book let alone read it?
I should say we need to keep the Covid-19 conversation going. The absurd world that Museveni’s Covid-19-control measures created is still here with us, and will be for a long time. This country will never be the same again.
Teenage mothers, lost businesses, orphaned children, etc. The ministry of Health recently told us 14 million persons have mental health challenges. Surely, the two years of lockdown have a lot to do with this mental health crisis. Sadly, not many people seem to care.
Who is invited for the launch and how does one interested in having a copy get it?
The general public is invited for this launch. Copies are available at The Observer offices in Kamwokya, and also Mahiri Books, an online store. We shall also be selling them at the Uganda museum, and will soon make them available across leading bookstores.