A Review of Martin Aliker’s Autobiography

By Ofuonyeadi Chukwudumebi Mercy


  • Title: The Bell Is Ringing  
  • Author: Martin Aliker
  • Publisher: Fountain Publishers
  • Number of pages: 251
  • Year of publication: 2018
  • Category: Autobiography 

History has always been of great relevance. Every society needs to be well informed of past events in order to tackle the various vital aspects that make up its present. Knowing full well the relevant role history plays in society, Martin Aliker, an elder statesman in Uganda, uses his autobiography, The Bell Is Ringing, to relate his account of the historical development of his country. Born during the colonial era of the then British Protectorate of Uganda, coupled with his father’s position in the country, Aliker possesses first class information on both colonial and post-colonial Uganda.

Using the first person point of view, he recounts information, events and past happenings from as far back as his childhood and even farther, as some of the information he provides were collected from his father. The narration is chronological, beginning from Aliker’s childhood and ending with the adult Aliker and present day Uganda. The book is divided into thirteen chapters with each chapter focusing on a different phase of his life.

Born in 1928 as one of nineteen children to a traditional chief, Aliker marks himself out as an excellent student from the beginning. He experiences little difficulty moving from the school in Acholiland, where he was instructed in vernacular, to the prestigious King’s College, Budo, and then to Makerere University before winning a Fulbright Scholarship to study dentistry at Northwestern University in the United States in 1950.

While at Northwestern University, he meets his wife, Camille, an African American with whom he returns to Uganda, after they get married in 1959. He immediately sets up a successful dental practice in Kampala, the capital, and also involves himself in successful businesses until he is forced into exile in 1972 by President Idi Amin. He and his then young family move to Kenya, where he lives for over twenty years. He opens another successful dental practice in Nairobi.

He later returns to Uganda and begins climbing the ladder of politics. He develops close friendships with all the leading political figures and, before long, becomes a respectable politician. With all his knowledge and firsthand experiences, coupled with his thoughtful, consistent character, he is more than qualified to become the country’s president but that never happens.

In this intriguing and sometimes dramatic autobiography, the author strikes a defiant, independent tone:

You have given me the opportunity and I have said what is in my mind. I stand alone and take full responsibility for what I have said. I am a Ugandan, who was alive and mature when this nation was born on 9 October, 1962. It is not a perfect country, but it is a beautiful country with mostly good people. It is the only country we call our own. Nobody can deport or expel us from this land of ours. I love this country…. To members of the future generation my parting advice is ‘always be true to yourself’ (p 238).

The author’s level of competence and knowledge must be acknowledged as, although he never majored in any literature courses, he is able to put together a refined and commendable piece in impeccable sentences. The book is a realistic narrative with vivid imagery. The author’s infusion of words in his language further enhances the originality of this book. Some examples of such words include ‘wang-oo’ which means ‘fireside gathering’, ‘Katikkiro’ meaning ‘Prime minister’, and ‘muzungu’, meaning ‘white’.

The Bell Is Ringing is a humorous, captivating book on the need to build, to grow and to learn from life’s experiences. His story is also very real, and he links past events to present-day realities. In conclusion, this book is not only a good read but bound to be an inspiration to the younger generation on the various aspects of life and, most importantly, bound to encourage them to be much better individuals and members of society.


Photograph: ‘Soon To Ring’ by Ben Chun


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Ofuonyeadi Chukwudumebi Mercy is a student of English Arts at the University of Lagos, Nigeria. She believes herself to be a personification of the Arts. She prefers writing to all other art forms as it allows her express all the others at once. She aspires to become an ambassador and a renowned writer. She is a Wawa Book Review Young Literary Critics Fellow.

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