Unscramble for Africa, Part 3: Uganda
One of our Contributing Editors, Twesigye Jackson Kaguri, was recently named a CNN Hero.
This presents a real challenge to all of us fellow Mez Mag contributing editors because now we have to tease Jackson even more relentlessly so that this recent accolade does not go to his head. We refer to Jackson with nicknames like “The Warlord” and “The Pencil Breaker“.
The most intriguing quality of Jackson is the way that he aligns together the practicality of grassroots African Development work in our modern day, with the aspirations of thought-leaders, philosophers and metaphysicians throughout history. Jackson’s heroic quest is reminiscent of heros throughout the ages, from Gilgamesh, to Elisha to Arjuna and Ashoka.
The story of Twesigye Jackson Kaguri is the story of a hero’s journey.
Nyakagyezi, Uganda (CNN) — Visiting his former village in rural Uganda, Jackson Kaguri was the epitome of a success story.
He had escaped poverty, earned a college degree and moved to America, where he studied at an Ivy League school and planned to put a down payment on a house in Indiana. He’d often come back to Uganda, passing out school supplies to children.
But on one particular trip home in 2001, he realized he had to do more.
“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
— Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces
Uganda after the Scramble for Africa
“Churchill had swapped his seat on the cowatcher for a seat on the boat to Uganda…
The CO must have felt grateful for those implacable diseases – malaria and sleeping sickness – that kept Uganda pure from white settlers. Churchill found Uganda a ‘pearl’.
Here at last was one of the fruits of the Scramble that really seemed to live up to the hope of its promoters. ‘Disinterested’ British officials helped develop the new export economy, using the new railway. Churchill recommended that the railway should be rapidly extended.
He was also delighted with the network of schools and hospitals run by the British Protestant missionaries and he was captivated by one of their pupils, the eleven year old Kabaka, Daudi Chewa, installed by the British instead of his father, Mwanga. At Namirembe… the high school was now full of black schoolboys who sang English hymns…
Glowing with renewed faith in Britain’s Empire – and his own star – Churchill bounded back to Elgin’s side in January, 1908.”
The Scramble for Africa: Restoring Britain’s Old Ideals, by Thomas Pakenham
Thinking Outside the Battle: The Power of Imagination
According to the late historian and Wesleyan professor William Manchester – a biographer of Winston Churchill, Churchill won the war against his nemesis Adolf Hitler because of the power of Churchill’s imagination. It is true that he was a great soldier and military strategist. However, those qualities alone may not have been sufficient to keep the Nazi threat at bay.
Isaiah Berlin saw Winston Churchill as a leader who imposed his “imagination and his will upon his countrymen,” idealizing them “with such intensity that in the end they approached his ideal and began to see themselves as he saw them.”
In doing so he “transformed cowards into brave men, and so fulfilled the purpose of shining armor”.
— William Manchester, The Last Lion
What really caused the tipping point toward victory over Hitler, was Churchill’s ability to think out of the battle – to envision and imagine victory even before it was realized and thereby to instill the Blitz Spirit in his countrymen. In a sense, to not think too “realistically”.
In doing battle with the enemies of infection, poverty and hunger in Uganda, Twesigye Jackson Kaguri is demonstrating the same indomitable spirit and instilling the same Blitz Spirit into his local Nyaka community. Nothing is impossible and no challenge is too overwhelming for Mr. Kaguri. Nothing is “unrealistic”. This is an infectious attitude and it transforms reality.
What the Buddha Thought
A valuable insight from my interview with another one of our Mez Mag Contributing Editors, Richard Gombrich, a professor at Baliol College, Oxford University, is that The Buddha preferred the activate, pragmatic compassion of men like Mr. Twesigye J. Kaguri.
“Passivity, sitting in lotus position without an active and energetic intent to take charge of one’s own destiny is not a Buddhist concept, but may well be a concept in popular psychology or popular culture.
The Buddha emphasized that his purpose in teaching was simply pragmatic… Pure theory he regarded as a waste of time.”
Painting entitled “Prince Siddharta Guatama (The Buddha) on his chariot”, painter unknown, The Tang Dynasty period, China (618 – 907)
The Epic of Gilgamesh
Before the writings of Cicero in the Roman Empire, before the King James Bible, before The Bhagavad Gita and The Upanishads, and one thousand years before Homer’s Iliad there was The Epic of Gligamesh, the original hero’s journey.
“Gilgamesh is a hero’s journey; one might say that it is the mother of all heroes’ journeys… The archetypical hero’s journey begins in stages… It leads to a spiritual transformation at the end, a sense of gratitude, humility and a deepened trust in the intelligence of the universe.”
The Epic of Gligamesh: The Oldest Story in the World, by Stephen Mitchell
Krishna and Arjuna
“The grandmothers who gathered in Kaguri’s childhood village begged Kaguri to help them. And he felt an obligation to give more than just pens, pencils, paper.
‘These are women who had seen me grow up in the village,’ he said. ‘They carried me when I was hurt, they prayed for me when I was away studying. What was I supposed to do?'”
The relationship between the grandmothers and Jackson Kaguri, is the relationship between the elder sage or mentor and the young warrior and hero throughout history and mythology.
What makes the hero endearing to us is that he is flesh and blood – sometimes flawed, sometimes discouraged – something we can all relate to. He is the same as all the rest of us. What sets him apart is that when he is discouraged, he seeks the spiritual strength of the Wise. He listens and he absorbs and he permits Elder Wisdom to transform his character.
In Jackson’s case, it was the wise grannies in Uganda.
In Prince Arjuna’s case, it was the wise Lord Krishna in the epic of The Mahabharata:
ArjunaWhen I see all my kinsman, Krishna, who have come here on this field of battle,Life goes from my limbs and they sink and my mouth is sear and dry, a trembling over comes my body...My great bow Gandiva falls from my hands... my mind is whirling and wandering.
All heroes, Twesigye Jackson Kaguri included, experience periods of extreme doubt, fear and discouragement. This is the point at which the wise elders step in and snap them out of their despair – and deliver them into a state of grace – where they are reminded who they truly are:
KrishnaWhence this lifeless dejection Arjuna, in this hour, the hour of trial?Strong men know not despair Arjuna, for this wins neither heaven nor earth.Fall not into degrading weakness, for this becomes not a man who is a man.Throw off this ignoble discouragement, and arise like a fire that burns all before it.Arise, great warrior. Arise!
The Bhagavad Gita, As translated from the Sanskrit by Juan Mascaro for Penguin Classics
Painting entitled “Prince Arjuna and Lord Krishna on chariot”, painter unknown
Elisha and Gehazi
In the The Bhagavad Gita, Krishna assures victory to the hero Arjuna, who stands on the battlefield. Krishna opens Arjuna’s eyes to witness an army of angels who are there to fight alongside Arjuna with his white horses pulling chariots of fire.
There is a similar story in the King James Bible with Elisha and his servant Gehazi.
And when the servant Gehazi of the man Elisha was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots.His servant said, Alas, my master! how shall we do?And Elisha answered, Fear not:They that be with us are more than they that be with them.And the eyes of the young man Gehazi fell open and did see: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.
The King James Bible, II Kings 6:15
“Elisha taken up in a Chariot of Fire”, oil on canvas, Giovanni Battista Piazzetta (1683-1754)
The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
An Army of Angels
Kaguri, Founder and Executive Director of The Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project (NAOP), started the organization in 2001 in response to the AIDS pandemic in Africa. NAOP, which operates two primary schools in Uganda, is working to end systemic deprivation, poverty, and hunger through a holistic approach to community development, education, and health care. HIV/AIDS has affected one third of the adult population in Uganda; almost two million children have been orphaned, including nieces and nephews of Kaguri.
“The children and grandmothers we serve are the true heroes of Nyaka. Having lost their own children to HIV/AIDS, these elderly women are now raising their grandchildren without any type of child welfare or social security,” explains Kaguri. “From day one we realized that without food, clean water, a safe home, and other basic human rights our students could not excel. Building classroom walls wasn’t enough. Our holistic approach to breaking the chains of systemic poverty is working. Our students, 96% of whom are double orphans, are graduating at the very highest achievement levels.”
Press Release: Advocate for HIV/AIDS Orphans Named a 2012 CNN Hero
By Kelly Voss, Director of Development, The Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project
Like the greatest heroes throughout history and mythology, going all the way back to Gilgamesh in the Mesopotamian city of Uruk in about 2500 BCE, Jackson does not fight his battles with human will or mechanized weapons. He fights his battles with an Army of Angels.
Twesigye Jackson Kaguri’s story is an old story and a new story.
The form may change but the substance remains constant. The story of Gilgamesh was told in Akkadian and Assyrian and scratched upon ancient Sumerian cuneiform tablets. The story of Twesigye J. Kaguri is told on CNN through HD TV, and transcontinental space satellites.
It is the same new-old story, the story of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and the story of how true victory in battle can only be sustained with an Army of Angels. Warrior Twesigye Jackson Kaguri has gifted us with a new method by which wars should be fought in the future.
Warrior Twesigye Jackson Kaguri’s Army of Angels