Bukoto, a Kampala suburb, has evolved into a bastion of agencies. Here, middle class techies and marketeers exist alongside social welfare/non-government organizations. These establishments are punctuated by demarcated units of bars, restaurants and boda boda (motor-cycle) stages that serve the needs of a growing population. A standard meal in Kamwokya is about five times cheaper than the same meal in Bukoto, although the two exist less than a kilometer apart. Bukoto borders the infamous Kamwokya where a spirit of blood, sweat and struggle is embodied by many a proletariat who have had backrow seats in the arena of education and privilege.
On Thursday, as the Supreme Court of Uganda made a ruling that could possibly sentence us to a life presidency of Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, I met with a group of fellows in shiny urban Bukoto.
My friends and I, fellows of the Leo Africa Institute’s Young and Emerging Leaders Program, got together to celebrate and bond over milestones. The backdrop for the evening was a new spot called the Kabalaza restaurant. Kabalaza is the Luganda word for Verandah. I am reliably informed that verandahs were a politically hot term in the 1970’s, in tandem with Kafunda’s (small space bars). Due to widespread fear of the Amin regime, many opted to drink from the verandahs of their homes.
In 2019, verandahs have evolved into commercial assets for the middle class to congregate and exchange thoughts on current affairs and, on this warm April evening, boy were we exchanging!
Speaking of exchanges, a bitter disagreement over a column on this site comes to mind. The disagreement in question existed in a bubble of online outrage and words of abuse were exchanged between an author and critics of his views.
At the risk of sounding like a mediator, I thought I’d share my personal views (or unconventional thoughts!) on the matter.
Following the successful Sudanese rebellion, Chris Ogon drew an iconic cartoon of Alaa Salah, a 22-year-old woman who the liberal media attempted to make the face of the uprising. Alaa Salah shunned that appointment, saying it would downplay the importance of other women – and men – that contributed to the struggle.
Judged purely on its merit as a work of art, the cartoon is a great piece. It achieves two of the most important goals of editorial cartooning; expressing the opinion of its creator and drawing public debate. In arguing against the column, there was a suggestion by some that it shouldn’t have been published at all. This incites yet another debate on two fundamental rights of the media – the right of expression and the right to annoy.
With that said, as a work of advancement of liberal ideals, the cartoon fails. It creates the impression that the Ugandan woman, unlike Salah, is engaged in listening to music and ‘stunting for the gram’. It ignores or rather washes out the years of feminist mobilization against the political leadership of the day. It mocks, albeit subtly, women like Night Asara, Doreen Nyanjura, Ingrid Turinawe, Stella Nyanzi and many others who, despite state sanctioned violence continue to mobilize for political change. It also makes the horrid assumption that the Ugandan girl must aspire to emulate Alaa Salah.
Its defence, offered by Nelson Bwire, places it on a pedestal of liberal values and ideas. He uses analogies of football and goes ahead to express veiled ad hominem attacks. Expressing his opinion, in that belittling and patronizing manner, did not invite any readers to the debate but rather unveiled patriarchy, mansplaining and patronage.
Back in Bukoto, the last topic of discussion was the protection of liberal values. The affirmatives of the debate were quick to lay the groundwork for the debate suggesting that liberal values are universal and all round, well meaning; The freedom of expression, the rule of law, free market economies and the accompanying right to define self, they argued, needn’t be explained or excepted from.
In the end, we all agreed that these values aren’t universal. For those who believe them, they are worth defending and those who don’t believe them owe a debt of listening and challenging them on their merits.
I must say, debates of this manner are suitable and enjoyable but more so in Bukoto than the pages of a liberal platform like Nilepost.