A ‘pair of buttocks’ and the big silent war over the Museveni years

Wednesday April 19 2017

 

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

And just like that, at least according to Mr Google, Dr Stella Nyanzi became the most reported and commented-on Africa story in world media of the last 10 days.

We shall not return to the wider political meaning of the arrest of the outspoken feminist Makerere University academic and social media provocateur.

Rather we shall focus on the power of the three words that have captured everyone’s attention.

The Nyanzi story took off at a specific point—when it gained salt of the Earth simplicity. If you read most headlines, they are saying she was arrested for calling President Yoweri Museveni a “pair of buttocks”.

What is it about bottoms/bums and their appendages that evoke so much emotion?

In fact, Nyanzi is an amateur when it comes to spinning catchy and dramatic lines about the nether regions. The master is her present adversary—President Museveni himself.

A story is told about one day when Dr Suleiman Kiggundu (RIP), who was then Governor of the Bank of Uganda (1986-1990) went to State House to meet Museveni.

State House was then in Entebbe, before it made its long move to Nakasero, and then returning there again in recent years.

Museveni had a long list of visitors, and Kiggundu had business to do in Kampala. Kiggundu sat and waited for most of the day.

Finally, toward 8pm, he plucked courage and pressured a Museveni aide to tell the President he was still waiting.

Museveni, according to one of the people who was with him, told the aide (in Runyankole), “Tell him to wait. Are there ants in his anus?”

That is deep stuff, and you do not have to be a student of African philosophy to understand it.

In December 2015, Museveni, this time publicly, again drew inspiration from the derriere region to issue a memorable warning following clashes between former prime minister Amama Mbabazi’s fans and NRM supporters in Ntungamo.

“If you put your finger in the anus of a leopard, you are in trouble”, Museveni said, as he warned in a televised statement that the Amama supporters would pay dearly. And from there, he earned the nickname the “leopard”.

And, indeed, one of the most powerful African proverbs on action, consequences and obligation, is again derived from the same place. “If the throat can swallow a knife, the anus must find a way of expelling it”, it says.

The bottoms and their neighbourhoods are among the most contested spaces all over the world, but evoke more emotion in peasant societies because they are still imbued with an existential element.

Thus, in many societies, women who are well-endowed will find themselves receiving a lot of both wanted and unwanted attention from men.

Careers are made from it. Perhaps one of the most successful global brands built around a generous rear is the American reality star Kim Kardashian.
Though talented in their own right, musicians like Jennifer Lopez, and more notably the beloved Beyoncé, have got a lot of bonus points from what their rear views offer.

And anyone who has even a passing interest in African pop culture, will know that these days there are women who have become rich from, as our African American brothers and sisters say, “using what their momma gave them” well.

Being well-endowed gets you a well-paid appearance on music videos and high society parties, because you attract photographers, and your pictures will go viral on celebrity-obsessed social media and thus give publicity to the event that you attended.

In African culture, ample backsides are also associated with fertility, and therefore evolutionary success.

But while the derriere is a premium sexual objective and procreative advertisement, it is also where we get rid of the waste in our bodies, and the most stinging sources of African insult. Nyanzi drew from the latter.

However, Museveni (and Kahinda Otafiire and Amanya Mushenga) among Uganda’s politicians is the master of this visceral cultural form.

In 1996, we saw him deploy it with deadly effect with his “Olubimbi” (grinding stone) imagery against Paul Ssemwogerere in that year’s election, allowing him to speak to rural voters in a language his opponents did not have an answer to.

He returned to it with the “Another Rap” song in his 2011 campaign, perhaps the best-run vote hunt of his career. And lately, another admittedly catchy video, “Kwezi, Kwezi”, a spoken traditional poetry offering.
And that is the other point that needs to be made. Nyanzi actually stole a page from the Museveni playbook.

I have always held that there are two battles in Uganda. One is the broader political one. The second, and more critical, one is over the narrative about the Museveni years, culture, and idioms.
A “pair of buttocks” has just opened the floodgates on the latter.

Onyango-Obbo is the publisher of Africa data visualiser Africapedia.com and explainer site Roguechiefs.com. Twitter@cobbo3