I attended the reading of ‘Just Me, You, and the Silence‘, by fellow Ugandan JUDY ADONG. During the panel discussion, which included notable, and often “quotable” Binyavanga Wainaina, an audience member asked what they could do to help Uganda and Ugandans, now that the anti-gay bill had already passed. Could they call or email their respective government to put pressure on Uganda, for example?
Sensing hesitance from the panel on how to answer the question, I thrust my hand up (natch!) and begged to answer the question.
From my perspective, a captive audience had spent nearly 2 hours focused on the hysteria around the anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda. High level controversy like this tends to cloud one’s perception of a country. Over the last 30 years we’ve coasted from one bad single story to another — from Idi Amin, to Joseph Kony, to the stupid anti-miniskirt bill, to Museveni and now to the “kill the gays” bill. I wanted to remind the audience that the Uganda I know is far from a single story. There is far more beauty in Uganda than there is danger or controversy.
So I raised my hand to say that the best thing people could do for Uganda and her citizens, is not to write their governments requesting intervention. The best thing that could happen is for everyone who wants to help the Pearl of Africa, write to their governments and tell them to shut up. Stop inserting yourselves into the sovereign affairs of other countries. I reminded everyone of the colonial origin of the anti-homosexuality bill that the British left us with. Adong had previously clarified that the new bill simply clarified and strengthened the mandates of the original. I also reminded everyone that sovereign interference from American evangelicals put the fire under this new bill.
We have had enough interference into our affairs. The best thing any individual can do to help Uganda is to sidestep the sensationalized dogma and engage us. Sanctions, wagging diplomatic fingers, and interventions have done a fair share of their damage. We suffer from identity whiplash because we are so easily led astray from who we truly are. We’ve forgotten that we once were a people that had our own ideas, customs, traditions and ways of living that we created and passed on for generations.
As I’ve said before – and despite fervent cries that homosexuality is un-African – it is in reality, very African. Homosexuality is as much African as Africans are, in equal share, part of the human race that lives on this tiny spec of a planet floating in the vacuum of space. Homophobia is what is un-African.
So the best thing that any individual can do for Uganda, is come and see the beauty that is Uganda. Engage with our people, hear our stories, share a meal with us and tour our beautiful countryside. Then, come back and send a letter to your congressman or parliamentarian and urge them to stop wagging their stained moral compass at us.
We have a long way to go in finding our identity again and answering the question of ‘who are we in this world?’ What do we stand for? What were our values? And what value do we contribute to the human race? So if you want to help, consider that the best thing you can do (even though it might seen counter-intuitive) is to take your hands off the handlebars. We’ll wobble a little, maybe fall from time to time, and sometimes we’ll outright crash horribly. But we’ll get up, we’ll rub our eyes and nurse our bruised limbs.
But how does one say this to where it does not come across as an affront to the overbearing Western privilege thrust upon us? How does one present what I consider a most common-sensicle solution to our development woes without it coming across like we are being ungrateful, rude or threatening a legacy moral, political, or economic superiority that the world enjoys over us?
But what if we don’t need to ask permission? What if not asking politely is the recipe to our own salvation? What if the only way to gain our sovereign independence is to simply snatch it back, decorum be damned?