Surviving a 4th Grade Class!

Whoever coined the phrase, Never say Never”? Google tells me this phrase was first recorded in Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers, 1837.

Still, have a beer on me, and pass on the check! I am a living testimony of my contradictions!

Once upon a moon, I said, I will never teach elementary school! Did I tell you that, already? Well, I was comfortable with my college, graduate school and adult students. I did not even want to try High School; I imagined all those kids would not take me seriously, ‘hit’ on me or play foolery with me. I imagine them trying to give me a run for my investment in their learning. I did not want to test humiliation.

I swore off Elementary School, as well; I wanted no more responsibility with little ones ever again! Don’t get me wrong, I grew up around little children and did a ton of babysitting for my family. As the last-born girl in my family, I was still young when my siblings had babies. Being a socio-culturally grounded girl, I did not have the luxury of saying no to babysitting for my family. I invested fully in my little nieces and nephews. Yes! I cried whenever my niece cried, played with those little munchkins, and entertained them lavishly. I had my fair share of ‘babysitting’, to blissful satisfaction, never again clamored or desired!

Well, that was before I birthed my own, and all the sworn off ’No more babysitting’ flew right out through the window! As a parent, I embraced my new responsibilities as smoothly as I did for my siblings. I learned anew the meaning of taking care of children, more than I did before. Soon I realized that, while I could bail out on my siblings, I did not have the same with my own. Fortunately, the experience raising my child stimulated my eagerness to learn more about Early Childhood and Elementary Education. It sparked my interest in entering the classrooms to learn how children learn, and to augment my own knowledge and expertise.

Recently, I began teaching in the Elementary School Classrooms in my school district. I started out with pre-K, K and Special Needs classrooms, and have since upgraded to higher levels. I am really enjoying the experience as “Commander in Chief” of an elementary school classroom.  I have since gained a new-found appreciation for teachers, teaching and young learners.

Last week was my first experience as a Sole Substitute Teacher in 4th Grade. All my full fears and anxieties were put to rest, because the kids were not as terrible as I had imagined; they were just being kids. I am thankful for the experience of parenting my son, because it has given me a lot of perseverance, education and new perspective on children’s education and development.

As a Substitute Teacher, I had to follow the class teacher’s schedule. Still, I found an opportunity to engage the kids in learning about myself. I was excited to find kids open and friendly to their ’strange teacher’, especially in our America of “Do not Smile with Strangers”. One of the kids told me she is on the same school bus with my son, and had seen me at the bus stop. The other kid said his brother was my son’s best friend in Kindergarten! Awesomeness!

To break the ice, I asked them, if they could guess where I was from? Many guessed all the countries associated with majority black immigrants to the United States: Caribbean, Jamaica, Trinidad, Cuba, Africa, and surprisingly Kenya and South Africa.

When I asked them if they thought I was from London, almost everyone said “No”. Why? “You have an accent?” So, I asked, “Do you think people in America have an accent?”, Some said no. Then I asked, “Do people from Pennsylvania speak the same as people from New York or Georgia, Tennessee or California? Then they began to engage with the question about “accents”, acknowledged that even Americans have accents, and different parts of America have different accents.  One said, “People in Tennessee speak like country.”

I told them I was from Uganda, but literally none had heard of Uganda. Except one girl who said, she watched on Disney TV show called “Jessie”, with a character from Uganda. The one who guessed Kenya said, it was because President Obama’s father was from Kenya. [Impressive!]

I then asked, if any had parents born outside the United States, which was easier understood than asking them, “who had foreign-born parents]. A couple of hands went up, with parents from: Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad, Albania, and two Africa. While everyone else said the specific countries where their foreign-born parents came from, the ones with “African parentage” did not have a clue about the specific countries! When probed further, they didn’t seem to have taken an interest in finding out their parent(s) country of origin! I gave the kids a lesson that Africa is a big continent with more than 50 countries, just like the 50 united states, a shocker to many!

Overall, it was a great classroom experience! I managed an entire day with 4th graders with no major incidents. They were eager to help, some more than others, and eager to learn and participate in classroom activities. They were just young kids, like my six year old. They helped with the schedule, especially classroom recess and play activities. I even had the chance of engaging in more responsibilities outside the classroom, including managing the kids at fire drill and taking them to gym class. Let’s do it again!

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Help Your Children Dream

I strongly believe in the power of dreams. They shape lives, build relations, mentor professions, restore hope and courage. They could be the keys to our personal and professional trajectories and success!

Just about every morning, my son wakes up with a dream. Either he is building a machine that will stop snow falling in winter, or he had Ninja powers or he was laughing with his cousins. Lately, he has had plenty of dreams about mommy getting married, to her [ex]boyfriend, who lives in another country. The first time, that dream made him sad and cry, because it meant, “mommy would leave him and go live with her boyfriend”. Since I told him, “I can never leave you, because I live for you, and you and I will go live with my PM when I get married,” he is now happy to dream more about mommy getting married. In fact he wants to dream about mommy getting married, as much as about mommy getting long hair! Never mind that “the dreamed for” does not exactly have marriage in her dreams or foresight. She has another dream, colored “green”. Yes! And it is part of that dream I would like to talk about.

Recently, I was coaching a fifth grader, and we were talking about traveling. I asked if she had been to her father’s country, Nigeria? She said no, and told me that she would never travel to Nigeria because there is Ebola. In fact, her father wanted to go to Nigeria, but she begged him not to go. I asked if she would go to other Africans countries, to which she responded with a vehement “No!” There are many diseases and people are poor! I asked her if my son and I looked poor, or her father. She said, No!

Yeah! That is the story about Africa, as told in America. I told her that Ebola is not everywhere in Nigeria, or every Nigerian would be dead. I told her my son and I took planes to come back to America, and while in “Africa”, we ate food everyday and did not catch or bring back any diseases. Then she told me that she would never got to place on a plane or boat or train. She will only go to places where she can drive or walk. She is not taking a plane, a boat or a train because she is afraid to die. Then I told her that one can die in their sleep or in the house or on the road. She said, “at least she would die peacefully”. I asked her, “how about in a car road accident,?” Well, she did not exactly have a response to that, but still no traveling, not to Africa and not by plane, boat or train. Life jackets do not work, planes fall in big oceans. Excuse after excuse!

I wondered, how a child of an immigrant from Nigeria could be devoid of a dream to travel and see the world? Didn’t “Tiger Mom” tell us that Nigerians are among the “Triple Package” aka  the “eight highly successful cultures”, thanks to their superiority complex! True, Tiger mom (with hubby co-author) mentioned something to do with “insecurities”, but in the sense of feeling inadequate or underaccomplished, instigating the strive to become and accomplish more. Not to shun traveling the world or getting on a plane!

I worried about this American 10-year old fifth grader, not having a dream beyond her fears. I wondered what may have shaped her fears? After all, her mom, many generations American has also traveled the world, including to Africa studying and learning about the world. Why would her daughter not wish to follow her mom’s footsteps, even if it were to board the plane to the world of California that is “without the African diseases”? Where is her curiosity about the world of her father, beyond the images and tale-tales from her news sources? Why can’t she compare herself to her parents who have been around the world?

Very often we are told that in order to be happy, we should not to compare ourselves to others. That is so cliché!  Plenty of my accomplishments are a result of comparing myself to others I have interacted with or got to know about. Watching, reading or learning about their accomplishments gives me the boost to keep going. Stories of folks who dropped out of formal schooling and built empires and lived large. Stories of people struggling worse off than myself, yet still afford a reason to smile, remind me to keep positive. Stories of my grandparents who never went to school but had the dream of educating their children. My paternal grandfather was not very wealthy, and could not afford to educate all his four children. So, him and his three older children agreed to send my father, the last born to school, with the hope that he would look after this family upon competition of his education, and got a good job. My maternal grandfather educated over 15 children while serving the church [unpaid] as a clergy, in pursuit of a dream that his children would never have to lack anything in life. They would afford to buy themselves clothes that he was never able to afford them.

In Africa where I was born, dreams are what childhood is made of! We are not afraid to dream! As a child, we often heard people dreaming about “going to Makerere”, the main university in the country and epitome as success. It was once the “Harvard of Africa”, so you can understand why many dreams focused and stopped at Makerere. Coming from a family that afford us a livelihood and decent education, not frequent flyer miles, I would say my dreams were not too far from Makerere either. Then as a little girl I went to Nairobi, Kenya with my mom, to shop for my first-born sister who was going off to secondary school. That was a big deal, where rich Ugandans resided, including my uncle and his family. Perhaps that shaped my love for adventure and travel, I cannot say so with certainty.

But I travelled the world, including within my own country. The more people I met and interacted with, the more my dreams widened. I thought of opportunities beyond my background, and seized them at a tender age. Nothing unique to me, but it is the characteristic of the African spirit. Little children dream of an education, they dream of becoming pilots, teachers, doctors, lawyers. Yes! Including dreams of meeting the US President and themselves becoming the US Presidents. Yet, we also know of the “American Dream” of getting rich and living large. Or as 50 cents said, “Get Rich or Die Trying”. Plus the Black struggle in America was sustained by the dream of freedom. Slaves, not allowed to exist as humans, to vote or to read and write, often found ways of ‘stealing’ the resources to learn to read and write and one day free themselves. Frederick Douglas, a slave, self-taught himself to read and write and publish, and went on to have a very illustrious and influential career. Political prisoners on Robben Island with Mandela during Apartheid South Africa told stories of ‘stealing’ empty brown cement bags and creating own writing tools that they used to write out their political strategies, which they tossed to each other over the cubicles in which they were detained. They also wrote letters and poems to their families and loved ones outside prisons. They had a dream to stay alive and sane by any means, and achieved it.

So, what stifles little minds like the one I encountered here in America, the land of “Big Dreams”, from dreaming? We as parents have a huge job of helping our children dream. Help our children live their dreams beyond the fears pandered by sources around them. Undo their [un]truths, to avoid them getting suffocated. Let them live a world of adventure, or risks, or searching and imagining. The world were impossible is nothing. Were careers and personal relationships are built on dreams beyond our wildest imagination. After all, dreams can come true. Haven’t they?

Of Mice and Farmer’s Wives: Unveiling the Broader Picture behind Recent Legislation in Uganda.

If you have been following the recent Uganda government escapades, legislating Morality and Sexualities in Uganda, the Human Rights & Peace Centre at Makerere School of Law held a public dialogue yesterday, Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Here is a keynote my friend, the very witty indefatigable professor and scholarly activist J. Oloka-Onyango gave , “Of Mice and the Farmer’s Wife”.

I heard the attendance was “full-house, with level-headed reactions”. 
………………………………….

 

I. INTRODUCTION

There is an old African story about a mouse who found a trap in the farmer’s house, and how she went to various animals on the farm (including the chicken, the goat and the cow) informing them of the news and asking them to assist her to deal with this new enemy. Each of them told her it was not their business; eventually, the farmer’s wife was bitten by a snake caught by the trap, and each of the animals the mouse consulted—except the mouse for whom the trap was originally intended—was eventually slaughtered by the farmer: first the chicken to provide soup to nourish the farmer’s wife; then the goat to cater to the relatives, friends and in-laws who came to visit the ailing wife, and finally, the cow, who was sacrificed to cater to the mourners who came for the lumbe. Drawing from this parable, my talk today is entitled Of Mice and Farmer’s Wives: Unveiling the Broader Picture behind Recent Legislation in Uganda.

On the face of it, each of the laws under discussion in this Public Lecture today applies to different categories of people. The Public Order and Management Act (POMA) ostensibly applies to dissidents, protestors and ‘hooligans,’ while the Anti-pornography Act (APA) to porn-dealers, newspapers like the Red Pepper and people who like to publicly expose their ‘kundis’ and other ‘private bodily parts.’ On its part, the Anti-homosexuality Act (AHA) appears to focus on homosexuals who Ugandan society prefers to view as ‘deviants’ and ‘perverts.’ Two out of three of these laws refer to issues of morality and social order, which, we are told by Ethics Minister, the former Rev. Father Simon Lokodo, have reached a stage of complete disintegration. Ironically, Lokodo is much less vigourous in carrying out his proper mandate of fighting graft and corruption, as well as promoting transparency and accountability in Government.

The POMA is more directly political, but in my view it is intricately linked to the other two. My argument today is that each of these laws affects all of us, regardless of our political opinion or status; sexual preference or position; they affect us whether we wear shorts or trousers, burkas or saris, busutis or mushanana, kanzus or coats. They apply to us whether or not we have ever watched a pornographic movie, and they should concern us whether or not we believe in human rights. Let me begin my analysis with the POMA.

II. THE PUBLIC ORDER AND MANAGEMENT ACT

The short title to this Act stipulates that it is a law designed to ‘… provide for the regulation of public meetings; to provide for the duties and responsibilities of police, organizers and participants in relation to public meetings; [and] to prescribe measures for safeguarding public order.’ It is important to recall that the POMA was designed in the heat of the Walk-to-Work (W2W) protests led by opposition leader Kizza Besigye. In a broad sense, the law can therefore be referred to as the anti-Besigye Act or the ‘ABA’ as it was clearly designed to tighten the grip of the Police and security forces in the wake of the W2W and For God and My Country (4GC) protests which rocked the country in the aftermath of the 2011 election. In its earlier manifestation—with provisions that barred three people from holding a meeting without Police permission— it reflected a government in an extreme state of panic as the winds from the Arab Spring blew further South.

Despite its professed noble intensions with regard to the maintenance of law and order, the ABA/POMA is fatally flawed for several reasons. In the first instance, the Act reverses the basic premise on which the right to freedom of peaceful assembly is based. In other words, the ABA/POMA forces those who oppose the government of the day and want to translate such opposition into protest to justify why they should not be stopped from protesting. The Act should instead be compelling the Police to give sound reasons for refusing a protest to take place. Secondly, the ABA/POMA places an inordinate degree of discretionary power in the Police, and specifically in the Inspector General of Police. This is obviously problematic because it makes the IGP prosecutor and judge in his own cause, violating basic principles of natural justice. Thirdly, the law gives lower-ranking Police officers the perfect excuse for not taking action which supports human rights rather than curtails them. The first words out of the mouths of officers like Sam Omalla and Andrew Kaweesi are: ‘I’m (simply) acting on orders from above.’

Aside from the contents of the Act, there is another dimension that is often lost in the discussion. The case of Muwanga Kivumbi v. AG challenged the excessive powers of the Police especially those in Section 32 of the Police Act which allowed the Inspector General of Police to prohibit the convening of an assembly allegedly “on reasonable grounds.” Agreeing that this provision was unconstitutional, Justice Mpagi Bahegeine stated, where individuals assemble, if the police entertain a “reasonable belief” that some disturbances might occur during the assembly, all that can be done is to provide security and supervision in anticipation of disturbances. It is the paramount duty of the police to-maintain law and order but not to curtail people’s enshrined freedoms and liberties on mere anticipatory grounds which might turn out to be false. Lawful assemblies should not be dispersed under any circumstances. Most importantly in such cases the conveners of the assemblies can be required to give an undertaking for good behavior and in default face the law.1

But Section 3 of the ABA/POMA gives the IGP (or an authorized officer) the power to regulate the conduct of all public meetings in accordance with the law, effectively reintroducing S.32. The reintroduction of this provision of the law is in direct violation of Article 92 of the Constitution, which provides that ‘Parliament shall not pass any law to alter the decision or judgment of any court….’ To make matters worse, the definitions of places of assembly and the types of prohibited meetings are so broad as to cover any kind of gathering and to subject them wholly to the subjective belief of the Police and not to any objective standard of oversight. This explains the so-called ‘preventative arrest’ that the Police subject Besigye and Erias Lukwago to on a daily basis. It is also why the government can claim to be against corruption, but whenever Bishop Zac’s Black Monday Movement (BMM) simply distributes flyers about the vice, they arrest him!

In Burundi over the weekend, the Police stopped a group of opposition politicians from jogging around Bujumbura, detaining several and sentencing a number of them to prison terms extending up to a life sentence.2 Now the Police there have introduced new regulations as to where people can jog in the city! On Sunday,PoliceinSorotiblockedoppositionleadersfromgatheringforlunch!3 Arewenextgoingtoreceive guidelines of where opposition politicians can eat? While this may seem like the epitome of ridiculousness, it demonstrates that the only direction in which a State can go once it begins to restrict freedoms is downwards. The ABA/POMA thus introduces a slippery slope of growing infractions, and is a perfect representation of that downward slide.

III. THE ANTI-PORNOGRAPHY ACT
Of all the three laws under consideration, the APA has produced the most immediate and vocal reaction from the public, particularly from women human rights activists.4 The provisions in the Act most responsible for this development are the definition of the term ‘pornography’ and section 13 of the same which outlines the penalty for the offence. The passing of the Act was met by vigilante acts of undressing women by street mobs, of Police officers stopping women in the street and ordering them to return home and change their clothes, and even the case of a judicial officer in Bukomansimbi summarily sentencing the parties in her courtroom to 3-hour imprisonment for wearing miniskirts.5 It is this upsurge in sexual harassment and the imposition of a de facto dress code on women that is most problematic from a legal and human rights point of view.

Although the government—represented on this issue by Ministers Mary Karooro Okurut and Lokodo—have been at pains to claim that the law neither imposes a dress code nor is it addressed to women the above actions point to the opposite. Indeed, the language of the Act opens it up to ‘unrestrained interpretation,’6 such that not only is such interpretation available to anybody regardless of whether or not they are a government official, but also to all kinds of actions that such a person deems fit in the circumstances. Although Karooro and Lokodo have been at pains to claim that the Act is gender neutral and has only been ‘misunderstood’ by the public, one needs to query why it is only women who have been targeted by the mobs and not men. Secondly, why is it only the APA which has caused such confusion in terms of interpretation and enforcement? Thirdly, how come the Police and the Judiciary are also part of this confusion? Finally, how did such a discriminatory law escape the attention of not only the Attorney General, but also of the many women representatives in the House? Quite clearly, if a law needs so much additional explanation and clarification, then there is something fundamentally wrong with it.

There can be little doubt that the law is in fact inherently discriminatory and amounts to an attack on women’s personal autonomy and expression. But worse, according to Stella Mukasa,

The Anti-Pornography Act clearly set the stage for a rollback of women’s personhood and autonomy as upheld by our constitutional guarantees on equality before and under the law, including laws that protect women from sexual and gender-based violence, intimate partner violence, and Female Genital Mutilation, to mention a few.

It is nevertheless naïve to view the passing of the APA in isolation. Rather, its enactment must be married to the broader attack on the rights of women and the failure of the State to effectively ensure that issues concerning women’s security, autonomy and well-being are better protected. It is part and parcel of the traditional attempts of the patriarchal state to regulate and control women’s sexuality and reproductive capacities. Hence, the NRM government has still failed to enact a progressive law on Marriage and Divorce and has instead reverted to passing laws which undermine, marginalize and directly discriminate against women. The Karoro/Lokodo condemnation of the reported unlawful acts by the public based on this law is too little, too late and only a smokescreen to protect a regime that has abandoned the cause of the protection of women’s rights. Ironically—and to underscore the interconnectedness between the laws under discussion—the Police invoked the ABA/POMA in order to prevent women human rights activists from protesting the APA! 7

IV. THE ANTI-HOMOSEXUALITY ACT

The AHA quite clearly contravenes several articles of the Constitution, specifically Articles 2(1) & (2) on the supremacy of the Constitution; 21 (1) & (2) on equality and freedom from discrimination, and 27 on the right to privacy. To make matters worse, the criminalizing of touching by a person of the same sex creates an offence that is overly broad and inconsistent with Articles 28 (1), (3) (b), 28 (12), 42 and 44 (c). Questions are also raised about the criminalization of consensual same sex/gender sexual activity among adults in which one is a person living with HIV or in which one is a person with disability (Art.35) as is the compulsory HIV test. Finally, by criminalizing so-called aiding, abetting, counselling, procuring and promotion of homosexuality, the AHA creates offences that are overly wide. It also penalizes legitimate debate and professional counsel in direct contravention of the principle of legality, the freedoms of expression, thought, assembly and association, academic freedom and the right to civic participation. The Act goes over the top in classifying houses or rooms as brothels merely on the basis of occupation by homosexuals. It basically creates victimless crimes against people who are otherwise law-abiding citizens of society.

But the AHA is more problematic at a broader level in that it institutionalizes homophobia and thereby promotes a culture of hatred and clearly violates the right to human dignity. Like the ABA/POMA and the APA, the AHA is motivated by hatred, discriminatory impulses and by the over-arching desire to suppress and dominate political and civil society.

In this respect, we have to turn from only looking at the law to a critical examination of the politics that led to the passing of the Act. According to President Museveni in deciding whether or not to sign the Act, he chose Science over emotion in trying to resolve the matter even though such action was itself inherently discriminatory and inhumane.8

But what exactly did the scientists commissioned by the President say?:

  1. a)  There is no definitive gene responsible for homosexuality;
  2. b)  Homosexuality is not a disease;
  3. c)  Homosexuality is not an abnormality;
  4. d)  In every society, there is a small number of people with homosexual tendencies;
  5. e)  Homosexuality can be influenced by environmental factors (e.g.culture, religion, information, peer pressure);
  6. f)  The practise needs regulation like any other human behaviour, especially to protect the vulnerable, and
  7. g)  There is a need for studies to address sexualities in the African context.

And yet, the Presidential statement in relaying his decision to sign the bill concluded: “Homosexuality is not a disease but merely an abnormal behavior which may be learned through experiences in life.”

What did this mean? First of all, the President deliberately distorted the message which the scientists had given him.9 Secondly, the President clearly abandoned the key message being sent by the scientists both about the multiplicity of explanations for homosexuality and about the need for more sobriety on the issue than the legal/punitive approach, and substituted it with a political one, i.e. a populist message that would earn him political points against his two main rivals for the presidency. The first of these was House Speaker Rebecca Kadaga who he had previously lambasted for passing the Bill without quorum, and who—going in to the meeting of the NRM Caucus at Kyankwanzi—was riding high in political ratings. More importantly, it was necessary to trump the ambitions of Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi who had been supported with chants of ‘Our Man’ in the early days of Kyankwanzi. The Mbabazi Phenomenon troubled the President from that time onwards, and continues to haunt him today.

Thus, although the debate about the APA and the AHA has been mainly about sex, in my view that is not the real issue at stake. Rather, the focus on sex serves the single purpose of justifying discrimination against LGBTI people and against women.10 It also serves as a major point of distraction from more important issues of governance and democracy. After all, how much time do we spend having sex, even for those who do it on a daily basis? But by focusing on sex—especially when it is represented as ‘deviant’ or ‘abnormal’ as the President has done—helps us to find a scapegoat for the larger problems of governance and democratic failing that we are faced with in contemporary Uganda. As Sylvia Tamale points out:

intensive scrutiny, regulation and control of non-conforming sexualities and gender identities reflect both a deep historical connection to colonial structures of governance and marginalization, and to more contemporary attempts to control the body. In this way, sexuality is deployed as a tool for perpetuating patriarchy, inequality, and injustice and to consolidate the process of othering.11

Focusing on sex also provides an escape route for a President who after 28 years in power is finding himself increasingly backed into a corner by rivals within his own NRM party who are asking the question: Why not me? Why can’t I also be President of Uganda? Indeed, given the panic that the challenges presented by Kadaga and Mbabazi represented, it is of no surprise that even thinking about succeeding the President has now been equated to a criminal offence. Finally, the AHA fits precisely into what has been described as the ‘Anwar Ibrahim Syndrome,’12 i.e. the use of sexually-oriented legislation to penalize legitimate forms of political opposition.13 It is only a short step away for those who oppose President Museveni—male or female—from being charged with aggravated homosexual rape.

V . CONCLUSION

We live in a time of legal gymnastics, a time when the law is being openly used as a mechanism to consolidate and perpetuate dictatorship and autocracy and where there is a need for lawyers, activists and intellectuals of all shades of political opinion to come together and speak out against this legal autocracy. We are witnessing the legalization of mob injustice; the granting of a licence to do anything to people who have done nothing but express their dissenting opinions and their different sexuality. The acts I have discussed today represent the very essence of the problem we are confronted with in Uganda today, namely growing impunity, autocracy and neglect of the Rule of Law accompanied by increasing nonchalance on the part of the Public.

Although the preceding analysis has largely looked at the individual aspects of each of these laws, there is a larger picture. In other words, by focusing in on the individual Acts we could fail to see the forest for the trees. Taken together the enactment of these laws reveals a definite and clear and definite pattern. It is not surprising that such desperation has culminated in the proposals for a Patriotism Bill which will simply add to the arsenal against political opponents. Nor is it surprising that the NRM is making nearly 50 proposals for constitutional amendment,14 while seriously resisting any serious discussion on reforming the Electoral Commission, or why it wants to change the rules on the election of a speaker and her/his deputy or why it fought so hard to get the rebel MPs expelled from the House. And don’t be surprised if the alleged ‘rumour’ about a bill to extend the term of Parliament and the President turn out to be bitter fact; for stranger things have transpired in this country. In the final analysis, the spate of legislative action being recently pursued by the NRM government is not accidental; it simply represents the final stage of total dictatorship. So the next time you hear of legislation being passed that does not appear to affect or concern you; do not act like the cow, the goat and the pig. Remember that when the least of us is threatened, we are all at risk.

ENDNOTES

1 Constitutional Petition No.9 of 2005, accessed at: http://www.ulii.org/ug/judgment/constitutional-court/2008/4

2 See BBC News Africa, ‘Burundi Opposition MSD ‘joggers’ get life sentence,’ http://www.bbc.com/news/world- africa-26681586.
3 Simon Peter Emwamu, ‘Police Block Opposition Rally on Electoral Reforms Rally,’ Daily Monitor, March 24, 2014 at 4.

4 See Stella Mukasa, ‘Anti-Pornography Act a setback for gains made in women’s rights,’

http://www.monitor.co.ug/OpEd/Commentary/Anti-Pornography-Act-a-setback/-/689364/2249082/-/aywph5/-/index.html

5 See Malik Jingo, ‘Women get three-hour jail term for wearing miniskirts’ Daily Monitor, March 7, 2014
6 Jimmy Senteza, ‘Language in the Law Against Pornography is Vague, Biased,’ New Vision, March 4, 2014 at 12.

7 Kashmira Gander, ‘Uganda mini-skirt ban: Protests after women are assaulted and forced to undress in public,’ accessed at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/uganda-miniskirt-ban-protests-after-women-are- assaulted-and-forced-to-undress-in-public-9155773.html.

8 cf. Sulaiman Kakire (interview), ‘Fox Odoi: Why the Antigay Law is Illegal,’ The Observer, March 24-25, 2014, at 23-24.
9 Michael Balter, ‘Science Misused to Justify Ugandan Antigay Law,’ in Science (www.sciencemag.org), Vol.343, February 28, 2014, at p.956.

10 Godwin Murunga, ‘The Issue is Not Sex but the Social Consequences of Homosexual Acts,’ Saturday Nation, March 1, 2014 at 14.
11 Sylvia Tamale, ‘Standing, Sitting and Sleeping: Unveiling the Politics of Sexuality and Gender Identity in Africa,’ Nelson Mandela Lecture on Human Rights presented at the Pennsylvania State University, USA, November 2, 2011, at 1-2.

12 Ibrahim was Deputy Prime Minister to Malaysian dictator Mahatir bin Mohamed and was charged with sodomy when he criticized the latter over his dictatorial methods of governance.
13 State Minister for Lands Mariam Najjemba questioned how Amama could have had the audacity to question the passing of the AHB, ‘as if he had a different agenda from the President.’

14 See ‘Constitution to Be Overhauled,’ The Observer, February 21-23, 2014 at 1. 5

Of COURSE! SSENGA’s Have a Place in Modernity!

Funny how plenty of folks are quick to dismiss traditions in many cultures as “archaic”, “barbaric” and without a place in “modern society”. By modern society, most are often referring to anything deemed western, specially European and North American, and unmodern as particularly African or Asian (outside Japan maybe). Such people include Africans I know…and Africa-exposed Westerners. It is often a talk of “us v. them”, which for the most part divides into two camps of “dismissive v. defensive”.

I was more intrigued recently by a member in this fb group which calls itself “Freethought Uganda”, posting a link about a Belgian electing to die by euthanasia after blocked sex change: 
 
He then added, “Everybody has the right to decide on their own life. I admire my, government to have put such laws in place. In other countries they cane the corpse of someone who committed suicide
 
For that, he got 5 *LIKES*, including this comment from a person with Uganda sounding names, “I to agree with a person’s right to choose” [sic].
 
Grrrrr! Cut this crap…I wanted to add, “And in other countries, the law denies the right to choose.” 
 
But I chose not engage this lot–and instead do what I know best…blog about it…
I am trying not to engage this lot in any discussion ever again, even though I am still a member of the group. I am even tempted to follow their founder to quit the group…but hanging there as looking in…Because I know for sure, my style is anti-freethought Kampala.  Unlike them, I am not deluded by the fallacy of liberalism. I am intolerant of intolerance of others that do not think, act or are “not like us”. That’s pretty much my summation of the attitude of FTK – Free Thought Kampala
 
ImageThis bunch of FTK is intolerant! They do not like anything outside their “little mindset of what is acceptable”. They have not exercise their “freethought” to create “original thinking”.  Among them, “free thought” is not a “free-for-all”. Instead, “FTK is equated to “thinking and adhering to mainstreamed western thinkers and what is “politically correct in the west”. For instance, you have to be “pro-abortion”, “pro-gay”, anti-female genital exercises”, “anti-religion” [and anti-anti gods], pro-Darwism, pro-population control by contraceptives, pro-English…or whatever is along those lines….They dismiss the need to learn the predominant language within Uganda where they live and grow up, but will proudly brag about speaking multiple languages of the west – English, French, Spanish [and now Chinese]. They will jump onto any rhetoric about population control because “Africa is overpopulated and we need to stop everyone from having more babies.” They applaud “single unmarried life” as “an epitome of freedom and sound judgement”. They justify their profiling of all muslims as terrorists with shallow nonsensical regurgitation of western media failings to recognize that the roots of evil are not devoid of political suffering. Mmany dismiss racism as pity parties, victimhood mentality and sour grapes by blacks who have failed to “move on” or “pull themselves up by their own boot strips. OR as “naturally acceptable not to like everyone based on their ethnicity,” one said. Anything at par…
 
..They will shut you down as a “bigoted black nationalist”, because you replied to a thread in defense of Native American culture. Ironically, these “freethoughts” have pre-determined that anybody who defends traditional or nation-groups cultures, and has a “black-sounding name…is a “bigoted black racist who hates white people”. You will not get too much support for thinking about the box OR for trying to point out the there is no perfect world, and no country without pockets of thugs, street beggars, poor. You are wrong to suggest that the west is not “rich”, that English is not a superior culture, and should not be promoted as a “must learn/must speak language of the world. They do not see a place for multiple languages or minority languages to be nurtured to international status.  That formal education is not for everyone, is an oxymoron. And you are more wrong to suggest that we should hang onto our cultures and not allow to get swallowed into the “globalizing world”. You are archaic, barbaric and an abomination to identify as a proud Muganda who loves her Kabaka and heritage, because that is divisive and archaic. 
 
They will dismiss Ssengas, paternal aunts in Buganda, for instance, who passed down wisdom to their brothers daughters when coming of age as teenage girls and in preparation for marriage. These, apparently area  “violation of the right to individual freewill.” Yet, even in “the modern west”, Ssengas are still important and highly paid as “relationship counselors”. Did they know that, yes, western men also love “traditional women”, who are willing to stay at home, while putting their brains and independent thinking to run the family and fulfill their exciting and ambitious life goals. Why do you think American men, keep skipping their  “my mechanic is a woman” and run to Eastern Europe and Asia for marriage? 
 
True, dating might fetch you a one night stand, but even if you belong to the Millionaires Club, abstinence and cupid have more chances of hooking you up to a longterm relationship. And no! courting is not old fashioned! Go ahead and “go dutch”, but be prepared to go home alone and enjoy your big a$%e mansion. Why do you care looking around anyway, if you have and would rather keep all you have? Even Simon Cowell has left “fantasy land”, to accept that he needs someone who will hold his walking stick when the time comes around, and make him feel human.
 
So, go on, talk to yourselves, applaud each one of your same mind. But do not call yourselves “Freethought”…unless of course you meant “Freethought devoid of critical thinking and intolerant of religion, culture and traditions”. 

 

FAMILY STILL DOES MATTER!

Biko and Fam 3

I guess the older I grow, the more I appreciate the value of family….especially the notion of what is often called “extended family”. This does not necessarily have resonance in the African sense, since family is family – When we were in Uganda, my son always referred to his cousin, as “my brother”, which his America father (based in America) bound rather odd. He kept asking me, “Do you have another child?” I would explain, “No, but in my language it makes sense.” Or when my little two-year old niece calls me mummy because my son calls me mummy and I babysit them together. Now, my son’s daddy (again in his America understanding) does not like it when she calls him “daddy”. Never mind that this child knows exactly who her daddy and mummy are! My thinking is, she perhaps thinks,  “mummy is my name”..since no one else really calls me by my own name…And I couldn’t care less!

I love the notion of “communitarian family”…something the African tries to lay a claim on…but not entirely true, anymore. I say, most of these labels are transient, and dissolve with changes in time. For instance, many educated Africans across the country are now comfortable with just one or two kids, or none at all. Some are even keen to keep to their “nuclear” family – father, mother and children, often associated with western/European societies. That is enough for their attention; they do not want to be bothered by grandparents, cousins, uncle and aunts.

Yet, no matter how much they slam the door int he faces of their larger family, they can never run away from the fact that FAMILY STILL DOES MATTERS!

I am not simply talking about family by blood, but our babysitters, caretakers, daycares, teachers and friends who raise us and our children, and lend a hand to our upbringing. I have very higher respect for them. For the tolerance of putting up with all our demands, selfishness and needs.

Since coming back to the United States, about a month ago, I have spent most of my time babysitting my son and my niece. Well, I am yet to settle back in and work-out-of home. I still have a couple of assignments left over from my Uganda work, that are keeping me busy. Plus, it is summer holidays and the kids are out of school, so I need to take care of my son. I do not recall the last time I spent so much time with my son in the last three years that I lived in Uganda. Don’t get me wrong, I have literally raised my son. When I got pregnant, I quit my job to focus on being pregnant and enjoying and preparing for my unborn son. I took a trip to Uganda, my country of origin where I spent my first trimester. I returned to the United States, did a one-month work stint, and then settled back into pregnant and waiting.

After I had my son, I stayed at home for the first year. While it was challenging, this is something I ALWAYS wanted – to have the luxury of staying at home and looking after my son for the entire year. So, I had time to fully take care of him: feed him, bathe him, play with him, teach him and build confidence in him, that I will ALWAYS be around. Soon after he turned 1 year, we moved to Oslo, Norway, where I went – for academic work. My son with me, in a new country and new lifestyle. -now a mom on a student stipend in the second most expensive city in the world! But we made it through, and our bonds just kept growing stronger. He cried each time I dropped him off at the daycare….but only for a short while. I was told, he recovered as soon as I existed the daycare. Then we moved to South Africa, when he was 15 months -again, for school.. After overcoming the challenges of finding accommodation acceptable to little kids, we settled in tougher, got our car and made it happen.

In both Norway and South Africa, it was just the two of us but with a wealth of backup and center-front support. The daycare people, the friends and strangers, who helped out whenever I need a hand with my son. I could drop him off at the daycare in the morning and go to class, library and the computer center to focus on school work until the evening when I had to pic him up for school. Sometimes when I wanted to go on a night out (in South Africa) , I could leave him with my friend -whom I met in my first days in South Africa, but was super-good to me!

And then, I returned to Uganda, and there I had my family, my friends and school support. While my son and I were initially hesitant to be raised by “new faces”, we transitioned into acceptance of that. We had such a wonderful time doing this. My family was ALWAYS available to help, day and night. I could go off the entire weekend, to run or work in the villages, knowing very well that I have a cushion of support to rely on. Granted, they did not do things the way I wanted them, but they did support. I could take off Monday night to hash, knowing that my friend, who had a child at the same school as my son, or my brother would help me pick up my son whether I provided transport or not. And would keep him at their home, until I returned to pick him up. Plus, I was assured that from Monday to Friday, he was in the safe, caring, educative and exceptionally experienced hands of his teachers. If I took him to my workplace, I could excuse myself off to the bathroom or go find food, knowing very well that my colleagues will help out. And when I took him to the hash, everyone felt they knew a piece of him and enjoyed him.

All these people re-emphasized the concept of family to me. That it is NOT just your “children and spouse/partner”.. but a wide array of social network that involves mother, father, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, teachers, daycare assistants, transporters, workmates, social groups and admirers. Now that I am a “full-time” babysitter, my appreciation of my family has skyrocketed even more. CHILD MINDING is the MOST difficult job in the world…for you have to take care little minds and souls, keep them entertained…succumb to their manipulations, sometimes…or negotiate through them…to make sure they do not run you over. Put up with ALL their nagging. Forget about Teaching they way you want them to learn, and Teach the way they Learn. Most importantly, you learn to tolerate other kids, beside your own. As someone who boosted about, “knowing it all about kids”, since I grew up baby siting all my elder sister’s kids, I have developed a renewed understand and appreciation of the job of “having one of your own”…which you CAN NEVER quit.

I am grateful for my family! I miss my family in Uganda, I miss ALL my son’s teachers, my son’s babysitters, my son’s friends, and my social networks. Who would even consider sparing a minute, just to put up with my son.

YES! FAMILY STILL DOES MATTER!

Ramadan 2013: We are ALL Africans

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Ramadan Kareem to all my Muslim friends and family!

I find myself actively taking part in Ramadan 2013, with 14 days of fast. This is not a conscious decision; it is totally by coincidence. And it is not so easy, since I am surrounded by all the foods I like -fruits and vegetables- that I cannot touch until after the 14 days (my fast is coming with a twist). Moreover I am babysitting two little kids…whom I have to feed during the day…without touching or tasting their food.

But  I am glad it is happening, and I can share this special moment with my friends and family. Those who know me have had that, if I were to attach myself to any [dis]organized religions we are bombarded with in this world, I would be a muslim. I know you might be thrown off with surprise that I DO NOT subscribe to any religion. You are not the first; my family cannot believe it either! Nor my friends!

“How can you not have a religion?”

Well, it is possible, I often say

“So, you do not believe in God?,” the questions continue

“Well, maybe I do not believe in God as you think of him/her. But that does not mean I have no faith or belief system. My religion 

is humanity.

See, as I grew up, I made a conscious decision NOT to subscribe to any religious group, after my experiences with, especially Christianity and all its relatives. I grew up around three main religions – Protestant, Catholicism and Islam – within my family and among friends. My mother is of a double religion in a way – father’s immediate family is predominantly Catholic, although her father was Protestant. Apparently, her father grew up with a Protestant family, and went on to become a Protestant Reverend (Preacher). So  my mother and her family took after he daddy. Of course, within my own family are inter-religious marriages, bringing us a variety. As I grew up, I went in and out of the revivalist evangelist religions imported into Uganda from, especially North America – Baptist, Pentecostal, methodist, ….

Talking about friends, my best friend in elementary school was muslim. During Ramadan, she would invite myself and a couple of her other friends to break the day’s fast at her family home. I remember us feasting on rice (the origin of my LOVE for rice) with beef, fresh fruits and juices! It did not matter that we were not muslim, we were allowed to eat to our fill. Similarly, area mosques would feed anyone who came to eat at the mosque during the “break of the fast” every evening at seven O’clock.

That and other experiences have shaped my outlook on Islam. Plus, I was once engaged to be married to a Senegalese, and I lived and conducted graduate research in Senegal.

Senegalese are one of the best people the world has ever blessed us with, that I wonder if it is the African in them or the religion. In 2007, family and friends still eat together on one large plate, like we did as kids at my grandmother’s place. If one’s family brought him/her lunch food at work, they would park for more mouths to feed, and five or more of us would  eat together. Senegalese also have this level of contentment with who they are and what they have. I do not know if that is derived from or shapes their belief system? Perhaps that explains why they have NEVER changed political power through a military coup!

Now I have a moslem family, not only among my sister’s marriages, but my son’s grandparents who are practicing muslims. I respect that and I enjoy watching as they commune together, in food, worship and sharing. To me, Islam manifests itself as a communitarian bond not a religion, contrary to the Christian religions I grew up with. The way they were pushed to me was exclusionist, “if you do not believe in JC, you go to Hell.”

Why I am saying all this? Well, because as I was reflecting on Ramadan 2013, it appeared to me as the opportune tagline for “We are ‘ALL] Africans, the name of my blog. The communitarianism that comes with Ramadan, when we are all invited to feast and share in

the celebration is a key branding of the African spirit of Ubuntu or humaness. That we, Africans care and lookout for one another more than any other grouping in the world. Although I have strong reservations about that.

First, if human origin is in Africa, then all humans are Africans with the spirit of Ubuntu. Secondly, do we Africans really have a monopoly of Ubuntu, when we are branded the world over as the center of senseless killings, human sacrifice, wars, hunger, famine and mal-government? How is it possible for all that to exist with Ubuntu?

After spending about a month (May 21 to June 20) visiting Scotland (Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen), I am inclined to say that, perhaps Scotts have a thing to teach Africans and the world about Ubuntu. They, like Senegalese are some of the most POSITIVE spirited people I have EVER encountered. and YES! they live almost their entire calendar year wearing sweaters because of the cold (similar to northern America and European), which is often an excuse for “why people are cold to one another”. But they are pure spirited, positive, kind and loving. They voluntarily offer to be good, to speak to strangers, to help out a stranger and to talk to one another. It was odd  (though shocking to “the American” in me) to hear my best friend, we had gone to visit, strike up a conversation the cab driver, even in a city like Edinburgh. In New York City, you sit in the cab, shut your mouth until you are paying to disembark. No conversation, no contact with the cab driver.

While plenty of restaurants are bars where kids are not allowed, once you find one, sitting is not allocated based on “color of your skin” -at least it appeared to me. If a seat is available, anyone will take it. We talk to one another at the bus stop, in a shopping or grocery store and on the streets. A stranger will waive down a taxi for you because he overheard you talking about finding one. The spirit of the Scotts is absolutely golden and beautiful that it makes me wonder, if our focus should not be on humanity in our midst, rather than subscribing to those religions whose home is NOT here…but in some imagined place! Perhaps the Scotts are the true Africans and home to our promised land – of free giving and Ubuntu!

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Are we all “the marriage-type”?

Doreen-LwangaWhen you live in a “wedding country” like Uganda, you begin to wonder whether, contrary to your clueless head, you in fact did not know that you are a “bride in waiting”! Sometimes your cold feet drop, and you catch “cold fevers”. You worry if you are the only person who is going to stay single for the rest of your life. After all, even your single friends love to talk about marriage, attend weddings, date married men and believe that “to be a part of ‘normal’ society, you have to get married”.

In the past three days, the subject of marriage has hit me into discomfort, with the impending wedding of Prince David Kintu Wasajja, brother to Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II and last born child of the late Kabaka Muteesa II. I am a self-confessed, “I am not the marriage-type”! In fact, I hate weddings and do not do weddings –as a bride or guest-please do not invite me. I also believe that I cannot star as a cast or extra in a wedding film. I sort of have this fear that a wedding is the ultimate speedway to losing an intimate relationship.

And being among married couples in Uganda fortifies my belief. I wonder why they go to church or mosque, make vows of in sickness and health –you are the only one for me –then pile onto that relationship another two or three girl/boyfriends with barefaced shame! A married man with girlfriends or mistresses or “side dishes” as they are referred to here in Uganda seems socially sanctioned, as much as a single woman dating a married man. Barely any friends or relatives throw a fit over it, except when the “First Wives Club” folds its fist to move a law regulating Marriage & Divorce, through Uganda Parliament (but that is a story I will tell you soon).

I love commitment relationships though, till death doeth us apart. Though, I wonder if my self-confessed “I am not the marriage-type” stands in my way of a perfect commitment intimate relationship. I once read somewhere [not in the bible] that, whatever you confess or wish for yourself comes to haunt you and shape your life. But I often try not to think about it as an explanation to why I am still single in my adult life.

Then, why I am even bothered by the marriage of Prince Wasajja? No! I was not expecting him to ask for my hand in marriage. Matter of fact, I have never looked at him “twice”, with all the opportunities I have to see him every week. You see, we belong to the same running group – the Kampala Hash House Harriers (KH3), which meets every Monday at a different location in and around Kampala to run socially. I know some may cringe at the association of a Prince with The Hash. We are the self-ascribe Drinkers with a running problem, but who also go on to run 42 km in competitive marathons, 7 “hard knock” Hills of Kampala February, and Kampala-Jinja Relay every July. We do all competitive and charity runs around Kampala, some of which we have won. We just believe that beer is a better hydrant and energy boost for running than waterJ

Being in the middle of my “social group wedding”, since Prince Wasajja belongs to us -hashers, I have had the honor of being privy to all wedding preparations right from the first wedding back in December 2012, which some would like to conveniently refer to as “Introduction Ceremony” or “Traditional wedding”, when the bride Marion Nankya officially revealed her groom to her family. Plus, I am the communication guru for my running group, which puts me at the center of receiving and disseminating information about KH3 activities. I have had to communicate back and forth KH3 invitations to the many Bachelor parties and church wedding for Prince Wasajja. I have also gained access to plenty of “behind the scene gossip” on wedding preparations. Moreover, Rubaga Cathedral in my hometown is where Prince Wasajja gets married on Saturday, April 27, 2013. So, as I sneaked away at seven O’clock in the morning to go to work, I caught a glimpse of what looked like wedding preparations in the neighborhood. There, reality hit me real hard.

If a happy, jovial, carefree, meek and happy bachelor Prince Wasajja can bow to societal pressure to get married, do I need to conform to societal pressure and “make myself marriage material”, whatever that means? Should I throw away my favorite Tyler Perry DVD of Why did I get married and Glen Campbell’s A Case Against Marriage? Does this mean there is a Mr. Right for me and for all the Single girls out there? I went ahead and asked http://www.brainmeasures.com/calculator.aspx?calcid=76&catid=7 Are we all “the marriage-type”?