Relating King Lear and 2016 elections

It is examinations fever in all Ugandan schools right now as candidates prepare for their national exams!

Senior Four examinations officially begin today and S6 will start theirs in a month’s time. Around this time, schools invite examiners, consultants, advisers, etc to assist students with exams questions interpretation, how to revise, ensuring knowledge sticks and a lot more!

Last week the S6 Literature in English students invited me, a senior mwalimu, as a ‘consultant’ to guide them on approaching Shakespeare’s King Lear in the forthcoming exams! I am impressed by their knowledge of the play, including Shakespeare’s unique style plus his use of irony and dark imagery.

However, similar to when we staged Mfalme Simba, an adaptation of Disney’s Lion King film, students are not quite able to relate the goings-on in King Lear to the unfolding political drama in Uganda!

It is retired educationist Fagil Mandy who pointed this out to me. He suggested that we should create an opportunity for parents and students to discuss family themes and political links from the play.

Mandy was concerned that students and their parents may have missed an opportunity to learn more about order in the family and the probability of chaos to society if a power-hungry, badly-brought-up, rogue sibling is empowered.

Lion King is set in the animal world; specifically within the lion kingdom. Simba’s own brother, Scar, uses the much-despised hyenas to form an army that kills the beloved king, toppling him from power.

There follows a spell of misrule in which lions die from starvation due to a famine. Eventually order is reinstated when young Simba, the old king’s son, returns and successfully overthrows Scar.

On the other hand, King Lear, in a foolish moment, divides his kingdom and hands over power to his irresponsible, villainous daughters after falling prey to their flattery. He disowns the one daughter who insists on being truthful. Lear soon finds out the evil nature of his older girls who go on to throw him out into the wilderness where a massive storm finds him.

The sheer weight of his loss and troubles make him go mad. Ironically, as Lear rages, and even competes with the storm, it is his madness that awakens him to the realities of the world!

He realises that he should have done more for poor people when he was the king. Most importantly, he accepts that whether you are a king or beggar, we are all the same – frail and vulnerable to the forces of nature.

In a subplot, the two good guys in King Lear abandon their loved offspring for the deceptive ones who make them pay dearly. Indeed, both men die heartbroken and some argue that the play offers no hope for the future.

So, how does this literature play out in Uganda’s politics today? Are there lessons for us as we approach elections in 2016?

King Lear is about political authority. When the king foolishly gives away power to his two evil daughters, the country is plunged into chaos just as it is in Lion King after Scar’s coup.

Lear’s own family is wrecked – all of them die! Ironically, he had good intentions and wished to avoid conflict.

Loyalty and betrayal are strong themes in King Lear. The majority of characters in the play are disloyal and betray each other. Then there is justice and reconciliation. In King Lear, all the bad guys die but it does not seem like justice since Lear and his daughter both die after they have reconciled.

Back home in Uganda, the political games have started. TDA that kicked off with good intentions is firmly in the past. Dr Kizza Besigye opted out because, in his opinion, Amama Mbabazi is still in NRM and cannot be trusted. On the other hand, Dr Gilbert Bukenya, who had seemed to hate the NRM, has returned to the enemy.

What secrets will he deliver? He sat in the ‘room of four’, deep in negotiations at the heart of TDA. What was he thinking? He had even conceded for JPAM! How will his departure reflect on JPAM?

Strangely, 53-year-old Uganda may seem like Lear’s kingdom in some ways. Bukenya announced his return to the NRM fold on Independence day. However, a month earlier, 27 people were declared dead due to starvation in Karamoja.

The economy is stuttering with the shilling losing its power every day! In politics, it is likely that the NRM will support FDC in de-campaigning JPAM. So, who is disloyal and who is betraying whom? And it is still just October!

The author is one of the founding Kigo Thinkers.

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