Friday, December 12, 2008

Ugandan Women Activists: Prove You're Not Oppositionist

To some of us, right or wrong, the prominent women's rights activist machinery in Uganda is oppositionist. We see them quick to point out with zeal cases of suspected women abuse involving people connected to NRM but slow and almost blind to others. The case involving the gruesome murder of a young woman and an opposition MP has not drawn the amount of interest from women's rights activists I have been accustomed to.

It is, however, not too late for them to redeem the oppositionist impression they have put in us. Their invovement in making sure that the investigators handle this case with utmost professionalism and alertness will be very important. In the meantime, I urge them to put pressure on the police leadership to punish whoever is responsible for the 12 hour delayed repsonse to calls about the murder of Ms. Rehema Caeser. An opportunity for justice could might have been lost because of some police officer's negligence and incompetence.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Ugandans' Support for Obama is not Principled

I am not one of those that are euphoric about Barack Obama’s ascendancy to the presidency of the United States. I prefer to applaud the part of the performance I like and when the curtains come down, depending on overall delivery. Nevertheless, I understand the excitement that has led to the man taking on popular star and deity status to the extent that it is fashionable to be seen in a T-shirt bearing his image.

Mr. Obama is a symbol of progressiveness, among other things, but most of all, an inspiration to many. The ‘inspiration’ bit that is often mentioned is what bothers me. We have often queued up to identify with personalities because of what they stood for but have hardly shaped our beliefs and actions to match them. How many times have we heard our leaders naming Julius Nyerere, Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah, Anwar Sadat and others as role models yet they themselves are some of the most fractious individuals? How exactly is Obama supposed to be an inspiration? When we have lined up to congratulate him for his achievement, what are our thoughts about what he stands for? Is Obama a package or a charismatic Black man separate from his principles and general belief system? If I may, let me suggest to my fellow Ugandans what Obama should inspire:
  • Respect for minorities: Obama is a member of a minority community in the US. This is an important lesson for those of us who look down on minority communities to the extent of ignoring and suppressing their identities
  • Tolerance: Obama could have ran an angry and bitter campaign. He won on a message of unity and reconciliation
  • ‘The past is in the past … let us look to the future’: Obama could have gone on about the absence of his father in his life, reparations for slavery, e.t.c. He chose the message that we should use the past to shape the future but not to transplant it to the present.
  • Spiritual and cultural figures are not infallible and if they fail, we should not hesitate to let them know. Obama distanced himself from his spiritual leader when the latter fell short of his expectations.
  • We get inspiration for others in history not so that we can be fashionable or feel good about ourselves but to inspire others and form a ‘chain of inspiration’. It would be pointless for me to say that Obama inspires me when my messages to others are divisive and inflammatory.
  • ‘Yes we can’: Yes we can let Baruuli have Sabaruuli; yes we can carry out a campaign against spiritually-inspired murders; yes we can influence our drivers to be more disciplined; yes we can be Ugandans first and everything else after; yes we can confront corrupt and abusive officers, e.t.c. The possibilities that exist if we apply that slogan in the cultures, politics, business and other sectors of our country are limitless.

Let Obama not be just a fashion statement like many African icons have turned out to be over the years. We should take everything that he symbolises and tailor it into our personal and collective belief systems

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Racism = Africans Only Supporting Obama because He's 'Black'

Take away Barack Obama’s skin colour and recent-generation African roots and I find nothing else of benefit in his campaign to Africa, Uganda and me in particular. That is, of course, if one does not (like me) consider superficial feel-good sentiments that are going around much of Black Africa a benefit. I painfully listened to a call-in programme on one of our local language radio stations in which a caller said, “… nsaba omusajja waffe, Obama, awangule naffe tweyagale ko …”(… I pray that our Obama wins so that we can feel proud too …).

Obama’s tenure, if he gets it, will be first and foremost about the US domestically. Africa would be the casualty of raised hopes dashed by an administration looking inwards, as it should, in order to guarantee election for a second term. That is of no concern to me. Obama’s would be an American government by the American people and for the American people. What concerns me is the values that I cherish as an African and Ugandan and how the Obama campaign and possible administration would affect them.

Like a significant majority of Africans, and Ugandans in particular, I am rabidly pro-family, anti-abortion, against homosexual relationships, would like strong religious-based morals taught in schools and support a pragmatic rather than idealistic approach to environmental issues. These issues are very strong to me. Given the saying that when America sneezes the rest of the world catches cold, an Obama administration would strengthen the forces around the world that do not share our values and whose pockets are quite deep. A Democratic administration at Washington would use agencies like USAID to advocate for and fund anti-African values causes.

It is also my observation that much of the support Barack Obama is getting among Black Africans at home and overseas is simply because he is black and has nothing to do with his position on issues that are dear to them. Ironically many of them would give Obama a torrid time campaigning in many African countries due to his mixed parentage. Had his father been Kenyan and mother Ugandan, I believe he would not even get nominated by any of our political parties to run for president. He would not be considered Ugandan. We all know how President Museveni’s ethnic origins have been used as a weapon against his presidency. Otherwise, for the sake of Africa and Uganda’s real hopes and aspirations, rather than assumed ones, we should look beyond Barack Obama’s skin colour. Our future should not be compromised by sectarian and racist perceptions.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Why Only Small Fish Will Always Fry In Uganda

I thank Dan Ogwal and H.G.K. Nyakoojo for their letters in The New Vision of 16th June in which they point out MPs’ selfishness in their boycotting of the Budget speech in parliament. The habit of thinking mostly about themselves does not stop with our MPs but also spreads to all of our politicians, it seems. Miria Matembe added her voice to the issue of the recent police harassment of two female MPs criticising everyone but herself.

In my opinion, she should be in the same dock as those she is pointing her finger at. Thousands of women are facing some form of injustice everyday right under her nose but she will not say anything because they are ‘small people’ who are not likely to attract a quote in the news media. Matembe and her peers see them everyday that they drive along Kampala streets sweeping, raking and digging without any protective wear or protection from potentially getting knocked down by vehicles. The upcountry hotels they sleep and attend workshops in pay their girls peanuts for 15-hour shifts of work. Young women employed in small businesses that Matembe may sometimes transact with face the worst working conditions on top of insecure terms of employment.

What people like Ogwal, Nyakoojo and I are saying is, like Shakespeare’s Shylock, when we commoners are pricked, we too bleed; when we are tickled, we too laugh. The women in the situations above face injustice every single day of their lives, which should be more significant compared with the few hours of discomfort faced by the harassed MPs. But, alas, they are just small fish in a big pond where only the big sharks are noticed by Matembe and her likes.

Friday, May 23, 2008


“First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out because I was a Protestant. And when they came for me, but there was no one left to speak out for me.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer – 1906-1945 (executed by Adolf Hitler).

This poem always comes to mind when I hear leaders and authorities in Uganda and abroad making excuses for xenophobic acts and utterances to the effect that they are just vents for social frustration. What is happening in South Africa is xenophobia – period. The above poem shows that one of the characteristics of xenophobia is that it is like an insatiable animal that must always be fed.

The roots of xenophobia in South Africa grew deeper during the Apartheid era. What limited black-on-black prejudices was the bigger and common fight against Apartheid. Liberation in the mid-1990’s offered more distractions that kept xenophobia at a low. What we are witnessing now is the true South Africa that has been artificially suppressed by historical events, which we all know are not permanent.

The authorities and leadership in South Africa have for long exhibited disturbing levels of naïveté both domestically and internationally. They seem to have forgotten that descriptive phrases such as “The Rainbow Nation”, “Many Cultures, One Nation” and “A World in One Country” are merely publicity slogans and not necessarily reality on the ground. With Apartheid out of the way, the insatiable animal that is xenophobia is seeking to be fed. Today it has zeroed in on immigrants, tomorrow it will want someone else and what it wants, it usually gets