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Keep Calm, We’re Building the Nation

Or else you’ll be calmed.

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Do you remember the phrase “Building the Nation”? Do you remember the name, Henry Barlow? Well… if not, it is my pleasure to refresh your memory. Let us take a trip to memory lane and walk into the literature class for a brief moment. The topic on the board is Poetry.

On your mark, get set and let’s go skim through the rhythmical pages and reflect on Joe Corrie’s Eat More, Claudie Mackay’s If We Must Die, Langston Hughes’ Ballad of the Landlord, Jwani Mwaikusa’s I’m a Fighter and Richard Mabala’s The Socialists. The list is endless.

Literature was and still is my favourite subject, as this form of art has a niche of provoking the mind, intriguing the audience and refreshing the soul at the same time. It is on this basis that I have always been thrilled and enthused by the likes of the aforementioned names and many others.

Inspired by other poets and writers, I have eventually turned out to become a poet and writer of my own, a title I hold dear and close to my heart, that I feel more than proud to pronounce and introduce myself as a poet and writer first and professional blah blah later.

A tale of two lives

Back to Henry Barlow, a late Ugandan poet and civil servant blessed us with a melancholic humorous poem titled “Building the Nation”; he wrote:

“Today I did my share

in building the nation.

I drove the permanent secretary

To an important urgent function

In fact to a luncheon at the Vic…”

In a rather witty and sophisticated fashion, Henry explores the contrasting lives of the extravagant worthless idiots in power against the tormented helpless and hopeless citizens, spectators to those in power.

In a very intriguing manner, Henry captures the uncanny character of the top-notch officials posing and acting all patriotic and die-hard citizens, who are so overwhelmed by public responsibilities and heavily concerned with the welfare of the people. Lol!

Whereas the poem was foremost published in 1970, 51 years later the message therein carries much more life to it than one could ever imagine. Well, probably one could ask, how so? Today, we host a gang of bandits in power who preach to us about building the nation. So accustomed to the phrase, “building the nation” they now chant it without a pinch of shame or consciousness.

They majestically appear on radio, television, social media and in public and insist that it is high time for us, as citizens, to also take part in the overwhelming task of building the nation, a task they so disgustingly display as if they were and are the only ones, solely attending to at the moment.

These honourable or rather horrible members today, mostly being PhD (Philosophical Disgrace) holders, find it casual to talk about the essence of building the nation in the most ludicrous manner and fashion.

They would pull their patriotic scarves stunt, calmly talk about the economy; or speak with prowess with their eyes protruding, almost falling, and lecture us their fallacious theories of development.

Another one, like the prefix of his name, would talk about the vices of building the nation. He would insist, the act of building the nation is definitely and undoubtedly bound with pain, a pain so necessary for us the commoners to now bear.

At the prime would come her majesty, the darling of darlings, all modelled and dressed for excellence, now more accustomed to the podium, in her low composed tone she would speak and insist that we (the citizens) should Keep Calm and let her Build the Nation.

But then she would repeat the phrase, but now with much more command, as she recalls that she legally hoards all such power in her name and title, Keep Calm and Let’s Build the Nation  OR ELSE YOU’D BE CALMED, this time she orders.

If defamation was an art

Soon thereafter, whereas the big guns have set the agenda, out comes the Comrades in Green, or the rather the Ignorant Brigade, they too would start singing the hymns of praises of their peers and cherish their stances. They would analyze and justify the slogan; they would also insist we should all join the cause of Building the Nation.

They would defame and offer a tirade of words and at times actions to the concerned, questioners, doubters, critics, oppositions and to those who are reluctant to buy into the ridiculous muddle.

Today, just like Christopher Henry Barrow, I find the urge and take on the challenge of building the nation and opt to do so through poetry, thus I write:


As we’re just to attain the retirement age,

Here come the sages

Reminding us of the phrase


We are still tasked to the cause

as then, the slogan is still the same,


That’s our sole and soulful theme

Old such shall not become,


They recount…

The so claimed achieved glory and grace

They embrace those deeds

of the once upon a time long lost past,

But silent they remain

and speak not of their illustrious fails

nor of their vicious traits,

They say…

Dwell not onto thy tainted times

for better days are along the way

but yet to come,


In the name of the economy

They chant and say

Long live our solidarity!

They stress…

United we should remain

For thy sake of progress

Least or not should we complain,

In the course of building the nation

We all ought to bear the pain,

Unlike their privileged saggy living

My pain is more intense and genuine.

Jasper “Kido” Sabuni is a poet and writer based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He can be accessed through or Instagram (Kido_Afrika). These are the writer’s own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of The Chanzo Initiative. Want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at for inquiries.


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