Poems Analysis BUILDING THE NATION By Christopher H. Barlow - Selected Poems

Poems Analysis BUILDING THE NATION By Christopher H. Barlow – Selected Poems

EAT MORE By Joe Corrie, The Awful Dentist By Jwani Mwaikusa Poems Analysis BUILDING THE NATION By Christopher H. Barlow - Selected Poems

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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.

The menu reflected its importance

Cold Bell beer with small talk,

Then fried chicken with niceties

Wine to fill the hollowness of the laughs

Ice-ream to cover the stereotype jokes

Coffee to keep the PS awake on return journey.

I drove the permanent secretary back.

He yawned many times in the back of the car

Then to keep awake, he suddenly asked,

Did you have any lunch friend?

I replied looking straight ahead

And secretly smiling at his belated concern

That I had not, but was sliming!

Upon which he said with seriousness

That amused more than annoyed me,

Mwananchi, I too had none!

I attended to matters of state.

Highly delicate diplomatic duties you know,

And friend, it goes against my grain,

Causes me stomach ulcers and wind.

Ah, he continued, yawning again,

The pains we suffer in building the nation!

So the PS had ulcers too!

My ulcers I think are equally painful

Only they are caused by hunger,

No sumptuous lunches!

So two nation builders

Arrived home this evening

With terrible stomach pains

The result of building the nation –

Different ways.

Poems Analysis BUILDING THE NATION By Christopher H. Barlow – Selected Poems

Poems Analysis BUILDING THE NATION By Christopher H. Barlow - Selected Poems


Building the nation is a poem by a Ugandan poet Christopher Henry Muwanga Barlow that principally explores the lifestyle of African bourgeoisie who came to power after colonialism and ideally, simply replaced the coloniser.

There is a need for African leaders to create hope for those they lead but they are caught up in the same evil lifestyle of their colonial predecessors. The aspects of nation building which were supposed to dominate public and political policies have been thrust to the periphery of human thought.



This refers to the state in which a person is disappointed because the person you admired or idea you believed to be good and true now seems to have no value and cannot attain your goals.

The kind of disillusionment portrayed in the poem is that which Africans have towards their leaders who have adopted the very tenets of the colonisers from whom they got power.

Essentially, the idea of nation building turns out to be a very complicated phenomenon where those who are central to the process have their efforts wasted by leaders who can implement policies.

The persona shows more disillusionment by stating that at the meeting “the menu reflected its importance/ Cold Bell beer with small talks/ Then fried chicken with niceties/ wine…/ ice cream …/coffee… (lines 6-11). This reflects the triviality of a meeting where serious issues were supposed to be discussed.


This refers to the behaviour in which somebody pretends to have moral standard or opinions that they do not actually have. This has been a vital tool for most politicians when they want to win more votes from their ignorant masses.

They make heaps of lies on the optimistic crowds but eventually everything turns out only a nightmare. The PS lies to the driver that he did not have any meal just as did the driver yet you and I know that he had a very heavy and sumptuous lunch.

He even shows his hypocrisy more clearly when he asks this question. “then to keep awake he suddenly asked/Did you have any lunch friend?”. It is rather sad to note that he does not ask whether the driver has eaten anything because he is concerned about his welfare, but it is simply to keep himself awake through the journey.


This refers to the structure of divisions in a society determined by the social or economic grouping of its members. It is also a system that divides members of the society into sets based on perceived social or economic status.

In a broader way the poem thoroughly depicts two classes in one society. There is middle class and lower class. Both of them are supposed to mutually benefit from the national resources. Yet the middle class that is represented by the PS exploits the lower class that more often than not comprises those who are involved in the modes of production. For example the driver drives the PS to the place where there is feasting (eating) while the driver does not take part in the feasting.

The role of both classes is building the nation, but the middle class has just become the parasites who feed on the national resources at the expense of the masses. They are not building the nation at all but building their stomachs.


Furthermore in the poem, the two parties represent the two strands of nation builders that are in most African states. On one side there are those represented by the driver (the local masses) while on the other hand we have high class being represented by the PS.

The later is very busy misquandering the public funds which can be used to rebuild the nations. The masses are the hardworking people whose benevolence is easily taken for granted by those in power.

There are those who eat extravagantly and those who work on empty stomachs. The persona himself comes from the marginalized class. His disillusionment is caused by lifestyles of African leaders and informs his fellow countrymen what is actually happening.


This can simply be defined as the knowledge that someone has about something good or bad that is existing within the society together within the society together with its advantages and disadvantages.

The poem paints a picture of awareness that those who are oppressed are now aware that those in power are exploiting them. This is an important step as long as the liberation of the oppressed is concerned.

It is also a significant step if the nation is to realise sustainable development where the national resources will be mutually utilized for the benefit of not only the ruling class but the masses as well. If we examine the end of the poem it seems to induce a kind of anger that should lead to vengeance (revenge).

The persona is appealing to the oppressed to rise to the occasion and deal with the ruling class.

The fact that “two nation builders/ arrived home this evening/with terrible stomach pain/the result of building the nation/different ways” is more like an appeal to emotions where the persona seeks actions from the masses.

In a way, the persona calls for a reaction towards the ruling class’s hypocritical nation building where they pretend to have welfare of the masses at heart while in real sense they just want to capitalize on their efforts.


Nevertheless, the persona seems to have hopes in some facts that both the African bourgeoisie and the proletariats have their points of vulnerability.

They both suffer in one way or another because of their own actions and lifestyles. For instance the driver becomes sick because of lack of food while the PS becomes sick for eating too much.

So Ps has ulcers too!

My ulcers I think are equally painful

Only they are caused by hunger,

No sumptuous lunches!


If we wish to do well in nation building we must as public servants respect everything that belongs to the state; money, property, working hours etc.

If the high class is not careful with nation building one day the oppressed may revolt.


The poem is relevant in our country in a number of ways.

Today we have a lot of leaders who misuse the public funds while those who are involved in the means of production live in dire poverty.

Hypocrisy has also become a way of life.

Classes, exploitation and marginalization are also major issues in our society.


1. What is the poem about?

The poem is about the concept of nation building as taken by African bourgeoisie class who came to power after colonialism. The poet shows that independence was just the change in colour but the leaders adopted the very tenets of their predecessors.

2. Who is the persona? How do you know?

The persona is a driver who represents the low class.

In line 3 he says “I drove the permanent secretary”

3. Suggest some literary and poetic devices used in the poem.


Highly delicate diplomatic duties..

And secretly smiling…

Cold Bell beer


Mwananchi, I too had none!


Ah, he continued yawning again.

This is the sound of yawning


To an important urgent function

In fact to a luncheon at the Vic.

Lunch is called an important urgent function, this is very satirical


The title of the poem ‘Building the Nation” is ironical because the guys in the poem were not building the nation.

Why did the PS ask the question “Did you have any lunch friend?”

He asked the question just to keep himself awake throughout the journey and not because he is concerned by the welfare of the driver.

4. What is the tone of the poem?

The tone is both sad and ironical/satirical

5. The poet says in the last stanza ‘so two nation builders arrived home this evening’ were the two people building the nation?.

Not really. The poet uses this as a satire to criticise the idea that people always claim to build the nation but they end up building their stomachs.