The late Rushegye (or Old Fox, as he was popularly known) is best remembered for his witty column in the Sunday Vision. The Corrupt, the Quick, and the Dead embodies Rushegye’s unique style, great humour and bitter satire, while dealing with the complex social and political issues of modern post-colonial Africa. It contends for space with giant works (with related themes) such as Meja Mwangi’s Going Down River Road or even Wole Soyinka’s The Trials of Brother Jero.
The book centers around a successful housing contractor, baroque businessman, philanthropist, and religious entrepreneur, Festo Sempa. He has done everything rich men do except one, getting himself an heir. He is aware, Peter, his son and apparent heir is not actually his son. He might not know who Peter’s real father is, but he’s sure his wife, Sofia intends to use this son as a highway to his wealth in case calamity strikes. And calamity might not be too far!
Sempa is desperate to have a baby boy. He beds a string of girls; barmaids, town whores, his secretaries and new office recruits. Sofia, his official wife is deeply troubled by her husband’s penchant for women and must do something before this rogue gets another son. She is aware of his suspicions about Peter. Sofia is not ready to wait for the passing of time. She must take these issues into her hands, and Sempa must die. How do you manage killing a renowned businessman without causing danger to yourself? The stage is set for a rush against time, luck and smartness will dictate the course of action in the next few hours, and the days ahead.
The police have been involved in Sempa’s business for a while in one way or another. At times, they have been recipients of his generous kickbacks, and in other times, they have been the pitiable victims of his roguery. Between the time Sempa is poisoned in the night, and the break of day, he is not dead as had been anticipated. But in that single night, there are more than five deaths, several robberies and disappearances — all related to the man in hospital and his businesses. One of the dead is a senior police officer! How will the police unravel all this mess?
The book makes for nervous reading. Rushegye sustains the tension throughout, hard surprises and grotesque descriptions of both place and action. Just like Homer’s Iliad, this modern day epic spans territories and the characters survive a thousand odds, from bloody accidents to complicated snares in ways that are magical. Sempa could be released from a cell in a way that even lives the officer releasing him in much danger. In fact the bribe question, “How much?” is not just a question.
Set in Kampala, the DRC, Mombasa and the Seychelles, and told in typical Old-Foxian style, endless windings and ribald humour, this story explores very complex themes that have come to define modern day Africa — a continent that has commodified and monetised every aspect of the people lives, from sex and marriage, to religion and public security. It is big joke on the 20th Century’s biggest gamble, capitalism.
The Corrupt, the Quick, and the Dead is set to be released in December 2012.