If you looked in the mirror this morning and grimaced at your exaggerated curves, double chin up, there is finally a means to the end of self-loathing.
In Uganda – and only in Uganda – we are adding curvy women to the big five tourist attractions of elephants, rhinos, lions, leopards, buffalo – and mountain gorillas and chimpanzees. Tourists who end up in other destinations have only themselves to blame for missing out on this unique product package.
Watching the recent press launch by the Tourism minister was tough. Even he, for all his boyish, somewhat-good looks seemed chagrined by his own audacity. Some ideas are genius; some are ingenious. This was neither. It is the sort of idea that any sensible person should kill in its infancy, long before it grows into a monster failure that takes you down with it. But only in Uganda do you call a press conference to shoot yourself in the foot.
In what other universe is it possible to publicly label a human being a ‘tourism product’, based on nothing else but their body shape? Seeing as ‘curvy’ is a rather abstract concept that applies to most women, I am preparing myself for the inevitable bonanza of trading my modest curves for cash – hardly a radical idea; in fact, I think I have probably done that before, only the transaction wasn’t sanctioned by the State – and trying to get my mind around the practicalities. Shall I stand mute while a gaggle of tourists admires me from every angle? Should they be allowed to touch, and shall the fee I ask for be taxed?
We can thank the Tourism minister for a history lesson he doesn’t even know – oh the bliss of ignorance – for hurling feminism more than 200 years back in time, to when Sarah Baartman was trafficked to Europe as a commodity of ridicule, to be ogled like a zoo animal because she had an enormously curvy backside. Google it. To be fair, compared to her, our best exports wouldn’t stand a chance.
People will see some key differences in the two scenarios. In this case, the tourists are coming to Uganda; women are more empowered, it’s their (bad) choice to participate in the meat market; supposedly the economy will grow. But wait, what? In the name of expanding its tourism portfolio, our government is willing to market the curvy bottoms and love handles of Ugandan women as a tourist attraction? Exploitation, in any form is still unacceptable, even when it is dressed in a false narrative of culture and social normalcy. Unless we are expecting the barbarian hordes at the border points, no self-respecting tourist is going to participate in modern day slave trade, even with such an amateur makeover.
At the press launch, what was worse than watching the so-called curvy women parade their wares – let’s not be coy, you are a commodity – and express their gratefulness for the opportunity to be noticed? Perhaps, if it had been packaged as a plus size beauty pageant, we might be tempted to look the other way. In this case, be prepared to stare aghast as obesity is repackaged as beauty. And while it is morally reprehensible and cynical to set people up for ridicule, you can be sure any voice of reason will be shouted down by so-called proponents.
In the competition between health and beauty there is a clear winner: science. Excessive fat, under any name, isn’t beautiful; it is dangerous. But who cares about that when you are a tourist attraction? Enough said. We can’t wait for the fever of idiocy to subside and we get back to actually figuring out how to fix our education system. Perhaps tourists can pay to view UPE schools?
Ms Barenzi is a communications professional and writer