Monday, March 26, 2012

ILLITERACY, MEDIA AND THE PETTINESS: Uganda





















There are two kinds of illiteracy in Uganda, or even most likely Africa; first there are the people that can’t actually read or write, then there are the ‘illiterates’ who actually can read and write but suffer from the usual lack of reading culture that is rampant in this country…should I say continent? No. The general lack of interest in all things that come in the format of text. I used to be one of those people.  There are plenty of people like me, whiling away at keyboards and writing articles that only a portion of middle class Ugandan society will see or comprehend. It is unimaginable that there are middle class, educated Ugandans of my age that only use the internet for facebook…that’s the internet for them. Give them facebook and they’re happy. It seems shocking but you’ll be astounded at how true this reality is. It’s a sad sad situation. Everyone is always shouting about how Africans need to be educated about what homosexuality actually is…how do you do that? Hand fliers/books out on Kampala road? Open a newspaper/magazine dedicated to gay rights? Have public forums in the city square? We all know that is not possible here or in Liberia or in Zambia, at least not in the next five years…you’ll get yourself lynched or arrested…all it takes is one idle person to single you out on the street.

One major subject I want to touch is the pettiness of Ugandan society. A large portion of our society seems to be interested in tragically menial issues like who is sleeping/cheating with who, which tycoon flashed his money in public this time (another petty act in itself), who the new it-girl is…blah blah. Just take a look at newspapers like Bukedde and Red-pepper. The latter thought it relevant to publicize pictures of gay Ugandan men at one point so you get where I’m going with this. Bukedde, which is written in Luganda, the most dominant language in central Uganda, is read by the lower middle class, who are the majority in this country. It focuses on issues such as those I just described. There is absolutely nothing of substance in those pages! Nothing! The daily monitor, which is written in English and could be seen as the ‘hipster’ of Ugandan media, is read by upper middle class Ugandans, well, the portion of the upper middle class that bothers to read anything worth reading. It is the only newspaper in the country that offers a substantial amount of quality discourse besides news. I should also point out that a significant portion of this higher class also reads Bukedde and the red pepper. Tragic indeed!

The question here is how do the masses get educated or empowered if the media has taken on such a format and who is responsible for letting the media get so petty and childish over the years? Bad leaders? I think so. I mean sure there should be a law that governs what kind of information is fed to the masses, because in the end it is always what kind of information you feed a population that determines the quality of people that you get as a result. You can judge for yourselves the nature of people we have roaming Kampala’s streets today. Petty and one dimensional as they come; petty in their thinking, petty in their ideas, petty in their choice of dress, petty in their choice of beliefs, petty in their understanding of life…PETTY!!! Have you been part of a typical Ugandan conversation of late? With an educated Ugandan 25 year old? It’s a dire situation! It’s really no wonder that Ugandan women are always complaining about how Ugandan men remain boys until the age of 35.

Another example of how engrained this pettiness is in our thinking is the quality of graduates we get from the universities today. Take the average Ugandan law student as a sample for this. His choice of the course was an act of pettiness in itself. One major characteristic of a petty mindset is an inability to see the big picture. The Ugandan law student fails to see that Makerere has been churning out multitudes of law graduates annually for the past ten years, he also fails to see that many of these graduates are still roaming the streets looking for jobs, he fails to see that the average Ugandan does not have the resources to hire a lawyer. He failed to see all this despite the fact that these statistics were hinted at several times in the Daily Monitor and similar newspapers. (He probably reads Bukedde.) He filled those application forms anyway; he kept that pen rolling, he filled them with the encouragement of his Ugandan parents, who are in love with the momentary feeling of superiority that comes with telling their friends that their kid is in law school. Petty brats raised by petty parents, all fed by the petty media. Pettiness and one-sidedness; I see it all! I see it everywhere, I see it when I watch Point Blank on NTV, I see it on the football field, I see it in the Ugandan primary school teacher, I see it in Martin Ssempa’s sermons,  I see it in Ugandan architecture,…I saw it in myself.

You might ask me though; is it bad? Don’t we all just want to be carefree and free spirited and…happy? And to that I say to you, maybe in another world, because the only kind of happiness that has emerged in Uganda so far as a result of this way of petty thinking is petty in itself as well…it is a momentary happiness. A cheap kind. You see it in the fact that despite having been in the worst regional recession of our time for the past year, alcohol consumption has stayed on the increase in Kampala. It is the kind of happiness that comes from materialism and show-off. Men continue to spend their life savings buying range-rovers, range rovers that they park at their shanty houses in shanty parts of Kansanga, because come on, he really cant show off his house, he doesn’t move around with it.

I came across a friend who does sociology here and I found it amazing that they had a question on a study of Ugandan men in a Southern African University. Apparently the study concluded that the local students had a negative attitude towards their Ugandan counterparts because of a perceived arrogance that stemmed from their materialism and pomposity. Whether this was an actual study or just a decoy for the exam, I found it fascinating that thousands of miles away from Kampala, in a place where the media is saner, an entirely different breed of Africans had emerged that found this kind of behavior sad and annoying. Or were the poor Southern Africans just jealous? 


I acknowledge that western countries do have multitudes of these sorts of people. Hedonism and materialism are all products of the west...they were born there. The reason I write with more urgency about this syndrome in Uganda is because, the problem is more complex in Africa...for some reason every problem that touches African soil seems to transform into an even more complicated form. Hedonism and materialism in the western world stem from capitalism/consumerism and their lack of a solid sense of culture. We have a solid culture, and capitalism has barely set its roots here, so our hedonism comes from a more complex combination of factors. The pettiness in itself is also facilitated by the dire mess that is our education system, hence what i am trying to do here is not to highlight the media as the only cause but to highlight the power it has to undo the tragic dimension-less state of the modern Ugandan that has come about through the media itself and these other factors.

This phenomenon of pettiness and all of its effects is why the future of Ugandans is in real danger! We are in danger of ending up with an economy that is only based on necessity and not innovation, not on the big picture/a big picture of any sort. Which is really what it is now. No big ideas, no solid desire for improvement, for progress. This is the point where foreigners start flooding in and opening more unique businesses/ventures than Ugandans. It’s already happening; foreigners coming and taking opportunities away from Ugandans, opportunities and gaps in the Ugandan market that have been staring them in the face for the past ten years.

Question here though is; has the middle class been purposely fed this nonsense in an attempt to keep most Ugandans ignorant about the things that really matter, such as the reality of corruption, greed? Is the media an intended Opium dose for the Ugandan masses? Is this a cleverly executed smoke and mirrors effect? I think not! It has largely been due to neglect, because it isn’t really that hard to see that the leaders we have sitting in government today are as petty as the people they govern. Somehow we have let ourselves deteriorate to this disgusting state…and I blame it on the media and the leadership because I refuse to think Ugandans are just naturally like this. Absolutely not! I also do not deny that this mindset is also a result of other historical factors that were/are beyond our control; for instance the fact that African society did not naturally experience a direct equivalent of the Modernist Movement, or even the enlightenment, Modernism and Industry were just thrust upon us in colonialism, and that, we couldn't control at the time and we can't control now. What i'm trying to do is highlight the causes/catalysts of this mindset that we have the power to control, one of which is this media we absorb. 

Now, how does this condition affect gay rights in Africa you ask? The fact that people are born gay and that they deserve equal rights is not as simple to accept by everyone as it sounds. Some people just accept it in an instant, others take a while and the rest do not do it ever. This ability/inability to accept difference is dependent on a number of factors, one of the major ones being an ability to be rational and open in your thinking. The condition of the homosexual is a topic that requires an almost subconscious zooming in and out on the subject and a rationalizing of thought and of all the facts that are being handed to you as the listener. How then is this mildly complex aspect of human sexuality to be communicated and absorbed by a population dominated by people that are unable to see the big picture, to be rational? How do you speak about it with someone who is focused on the momentary, too focused on the momentary disgust he feels towards the homosexual that he abandons all possibility of emotionally detached pure thought and analysis?
Ladies and gentlemen, I beg that instead, the question you ask from all this be; How does this condition prevent any form of progress in Uganda and how do we collectively snap out of it? I believe it starts primarily with the knowledge of its existence, which is what I am trying to create here. There are a thousand things you can do after that to free yourself, its all up to you.

1 comment:

  1. Good day! Would you mind if I share your blog
    with my facebook group? There's a lot of folks that I think would really enjoy your content. Please let me know. Thanks
    My homepage ... seo toronto

    ReplyDelete