First published in 1997 by East African Education Publishers, Kosiya Kifefe is about growing up in pre and post independence Africa, as profiled in the life of Kosiya Kifefe, the main character in the book. It is set in Uganda and Kenya.
Born to illiterate parents, Kosiya Kifefe chooses September 1941 as his date of birth. He goes for the month of September because that is when his favorite sport, mushroom hunting, is done. He chooses 1941 as the year of his birth because it is quite enviable to go to school at a young age.
The writer gives a glimpse on what Kosiya’s life was like while growing up as a child: he is ridiculed, by his family, neighbors and schoolmates because they believe he can’t do anything right.
“Kifefe, why don’t you escort those who are going to gather firewood and bring your usual faggots? They are better than nothing”.
On the day he is going to school, an old woman comments:
“I shall also go to school one of these days. If Kifefe can manage so can I.”
But someone defends him saying:
“Stop underestimating Kifefe………………you will see him riding a bicycle…………………”
And everyone laughs at this remote possibility. Little do they know that Kifefe is determined to achieve much more than a mere bicycle.
The funny part is even when he does something right, nobody gives him the compliment he so deserves. Whereas Kifefe is ambitious, his father is conservative. He prefers things he knows to those he doesn’t. In one instance when Kifefe tries to explain to him the idea of independence, he asks:
“How will people get money when the white man goes away? Do they know how to make it”?
We then go through Kifefe’s education and employment. He does rather well but he believes none of what he achieves is by his own efforts but merely by luck- that maybe fate decides his destiny all through. His major weakness though is lack of financial and moral discipline.
After the junior certificate, he is employed by East African Railways-he thinks it is luck because he thought he would end up working in a bank. He goes back to school, graduates after independence. He is employed by the Uganda Plastics Corporation. He achieves his dreams-a car, a house and he rises steadily through the ranks. But even with all that he is not a happy man.
His marriage is unstable-his wife is not the kind of woman Kifefe had planned to marry. She moved into his house after she became pregnant when he raped her. His relatives don’t help him either- they cannot supervise the laborers he appoints to do the manual work at home- they even refuse to wear the shoe he buys them!
When he becomes the General Manager of Uganda Plastics, the economy of the country is in turmoil. It is at this time that he decides to do something to make enough money to prepare for the hell ahead. The seed of corruption has been sown.
During Amin’s regime, Kifefe is forced into exile in Kenya. While there he operates a bar and dates Agnes. It is here that he gets to know he has high blood pressure. But he is also active in putting an end to the repugnant regime.
He comes back to Uganda a Minister and now he knows he has found happiness. But on the night he is giving a small congratulatory party, Agnes turns up. This mixed with all the excitement gets his pressure up. He ends up in hospital and dies!
Kosiya Kifefe (Heinemann Frontline Series) reminds us of the inevitability of death. Kifefe thinks of what he still has to do and that he can’t die just yet. It also teaches us that sometimes having money is not a guarantee to happiness. Gakwandi captures his readers in this historical and highly emotional tale.