In America it is racism but in Uganda it’s who is your father

Friday June 5 2020


By Benjamin Rukwengye

Salume Alupo. Two weeks ago, Alupo was having pregnancy complications. Scans indicated that she had miscarried and needed to have the foetus removed. So she reported to Amuria Health Centre IV, and was sent to the theatre to be operated on; but there was no medical officer to attend to her.

As this publication reported last week, she died after three days of no medical attention. It is hard to make sense of deaths like Alupo’s because they are irrational and needless. But it is even harder to understand why they do not elicit the kind of proportionate anger needed to find atonement – especially because they are so repeated.

Alupo could have been anywhere – Bugiri, Kasese, Adjumani, Kalangala, Buhweju – and she still would have died, because for the poor, there is no respite. Older folks probably realised this a long while back, which might explain why when you visit your “friend’s” parents, as part of the greetings, they also will ask for your tribe or for your parents’ name.

It is not for small talk’s sake. It is because they have subconsciously internalised an opportunity scale – a little tribonometer – that measures ones worth based on tribe and networks.

Think of it as a prism that shows you who is most likely to find a good job or secure a lucrative tender; to buy or subvert justice; to mobilise funds for medical evacuation – and allows you to hedge your bets on one and not the other. Alupo’s death is symbolic of what happens when poverty and social injustice become systemic, because they create a class of citizens who, based on the matrix our folks apply, bring little to the table – and are therefore expendable.

To understand how it is perpetuated, you need to study how capital and even public resources flow (or are most likely) to one group and not the other. Those without the means will not access quality education; and therefore will not acquire the requisite skills and networks to guarantee decent work and pay.


Ergo, they are doomed to a life of deficit, where access to basic social services is forever out of reach. Those living in rural areas get largely ignored by government and its agents who only show up every five years with T-shirts and more empty promises.

Those hustling in the city might get into some low paying casual work. Either way, when the economy is banged, they are at the frontline of agony and sink even deeper because everyone around them is no different; and those who should create lifelines only do so for themselves.

Eventually, bulking from a lifetime disingenuous, unjust and imbalanced policies that have them ensnared, they are also the ones who are most likely to fall victim to crime or turn to crime and stretching the law in order to survive. Which also means that the Police – the system’s tool of compliance – will come down hardest on them.

Which brings us to the tragic story of George Floyd, the 46-year-old Black man in Minneapolis, who died after a White policeman literally knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Floyd had been arrested for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes.

His killing follows a long line of similar murders against Black Americans, and explains the anger and despondency currently gripping the world. Racial injustices is one side of the systemic poverty coin, horned over centuries of unfair policies that empower and enrich one color of the population while disempowering and impoverishing another.

It might manifest as be wrong skin colour or wrong tribe or wrong gender, depending on location and contexts, and the degrees of severity might be different.

Mr Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds.