Wednesday June 4 2014

Oh Uganda, where is such violence, prejudice coming from?

Imagine a young pregnant woman stoned to death in front of a court building by her father and family. This happened in Lahore, Pakistan on May 27. The reason for the attack? The 25-year-old woman had chosen to marry the man she loved against the wishes of her family.

Relatedly, imagine more than 200 young girls abducted from their dormitory at night by gunmen. This happened in the Chibok town of Nigeria in April. The reason for the abductions? Boko Haram stated that “Western education is evil.” But we need not look far, because this is happening in our country on the streets of Kampala, where a girl is stripped naked for wearing a mini-skirt, or a young man is mobbed for being gay.

Fundamentalism is slowly creeping into Uganda on its knees, and I say on its knees because hatred, intolerance and prejudice is being preached by religious and political leaders. Religious leaders are preaching fundamentalism and calling it religion. If Religion was fundamentalist, Mary Magdalene would have been stoned, and Jesus would have been the first to throw the first stone.

Right now, there are petitions in the Constitutional Court against the Anti-Homosexuality Law. There is another against the Anti-Pornography Law, which is mainly understood by the population as forbidding mini-skirts. I’d like to share with you how our fore-fathers dealt with mini-skirts by a song which goes:
Oweyo Cheep opdho x3
Aka chwore amu dimo

That means she danced until her cheep (a mini-skirt made with dry banana leaves or rafia) dropped and her husband picked it up. So it was left to her husband to pick up the skirt, she was too busy enjoying herself to even notice the skirt had dropped! Was she accused of pornography or of low morals? Not in the least! And nor did anyone think she deserved to be raped.

Uganda is a country that is deeply wounded and struggling, where everybody is fighting each other. When a country becomes highly litigious, when everything is resolved in court, then there is a problem. It is a sign that the country has lost its wise men and women, religious or political, so deprived of wisdom; they are driven to the courts. But the courts and judges are mainly concerned with the correct interpretation of the law, not with the quest for wisdom

Wisdom is intangible. It is close to truth and to beauty. Wisdom is found in literature and poetry. It is found in the beautiful voice of a singer or glimpsed in a fine work of art. Sometimes it is seen in the artful techniques of a footballer or in the gaze of a new born baby.

And some of the people who are the vessels of such wisdom, beauty or truth, are those boys in torn jeans wearing earrings in only one ear, and the young girls in mini-skirts. So let’s look upon them the way we look upon ourselves, because that’s just the way they are. It is time for Uganda to reflect upon itself.

We need to ask ourselves where such intolerance, prejudice and violence is coming from, and where it’s taking us. We need wisdom to pour its oil over the troubled waters of this country.

When it comes to grown up men molesting young boys, be they gay or straight, I say let the law take its full course. However, the law should be applied equally so that it also takes full course on the men in suits, ties and uniforms, who defile young girls and rape and beat grown up women. And finally, we must stop using religion as an excuse for fundamentalist and radical preaching. It is time for Uganda to uphold God and not take his name in vain.

Ms Turner is the executive director, MIFUMI.