Confessions of an Accidental Activist

As an erstwhile PERTBUM (Privately Educated Riot Thug Backing Underground Movements), I had, in my youth, occasionally enjoyed the company of real activists. My preferred Underground Movement, Hekate sound system, was only collaterally activist, and the politics were correspondingly sloppy and oblique – we were only ever loosely (some would say ‘louchely’) involved with politics, and that is the way I liked it. Imagine my horror, then, when last year I found myself the subject of an international media shitstorm, and my innocent name tarnished with the label: “gay activist”. This would have caused no little derision in the dormitories of Westminster School, had the unfortunate incident occurred 20 years earlier.

2007 found me at a loose end in Uganda. The London underground had lost its lustre and my life had degenerated into meaningless anaesthetic abuse (to be distinguished from progressive psychonautical exploration). Africa held promise, particularly Uganda, with its absence of haughty white settlers, seemingly anarchic society and pulsating night-life. For a PERTBUM who simply wanted to open a Bohemian cultural centre in the tropics, the soil there looked exceedingly fertile and uncomplicated.

However, when I set forth from England with this missionary intent, Uganda, unlike some other parts of East Africa, had no historic tradition of western-style ‘arts’, except in music and dance. Painting, sculpture, cinema, literature and stage theatre were all barely nascent in the 1970s when Idi Amin came to power. Despite his nasty reputation, Amin was the last Ugandan leader to pump serious money into the artistic crucible of Makerere University. However, this patronage was curtailed by the slow eruption of a vicious civil war, which effectively continued from the mid-70s to the early-90s. This was accompanied by the epidemic of AIDS, of which Uganda was one of the worst cases in the entire world. “In such condition”, as Hobbes noted, “there is no place for… arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death.” However, such condition was perfect for a Leviathan-type state, externally-imposed economic structural adjustment, a recourse to fundamentalist religion, and the invasion of an army of NGOs. In this daunting, post-conflict condition, where were ‘the arts’? [Read more →]