The Woyingi Blog

Woyingi Links of the Week: August 1 2012 to August 7 2012

What the Woyingi Blogger stumbled upon this week

Uganda

Police Raid on Historic Ugandan Pride Event

Ugandan GLBTTQ rights activists in Entebbe organized a historic weekend of Pride events, including a private beach party and march. Unfortunately, the party was raided by police and several activists were arrested, although they were eventually released without charge. The fact that charges were not laid is not surprising as the bill to make the “promotion of homosexuality” illegal has not been passed in parliament yet. The beach party and march was organized as a private event, in order to avoid police attention, however, it appears that the police were notified somehow. Jamaican GLBTTQ rights activist Maurice Tomlinson was the Grand Marshall of Uganda Beach Pride March, which took place on the grounds of the Botanical Gardens on the banks of Lake Victoria. He was also arrested during the raid. Tomlinson, who was the first winner of the David Kato Vision and Voice Award, in honour of murdered Ugandan GLBTTQ Rights activist David Kato, had this to say about the experience, quoted in an article by Dan Littauer in Gay Star News:

After a very confusing and utterly disgraceful performance at the station by the police (including the officers insisting we all sit on the bare floor until we were processed, one officer pushing a young female to the floor and another verbally abusing the 60-year-old female anthropologist from Makerere University) we were all released without charges or an explanation.

Prominent Ugandan GLBTTQ rights activists Frank Mugisha, winner of the 2011 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award and Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) and Kasha Nabagesera, founder of Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG), a Lesbian rights organization, and winner of the 2011 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, were also arrested and eventually released without charge. After the arrests, FARUG published a press release condemning the police raid and calling for activists to not be deterred from continuing with further pride-related events.

Comparing Conflict Resolution in Bosnia and Uganda

A Bosnian colleague of mine, Jasmin Mujanović, forwarded me this article by Ugandan activists Richard Obedi. The article is entitled “Bosnia – identity should go hand-in-hand with reconciliation“. Obedi, based on his experience working on conflict resolution in Uganda, shares his reflection on possible solutions to the Bosnian situation. I found this really refreshing because I really want to see more exchanges like this between activists from different countries where there has been violent conflict because they are in a far better position to understand each other’s situations and offer advice than people who have not lived through violent conflict. Obedi describes the current situation in Uganda:

Ever since Uganda attained its independence, the country’s youth have been confronted with social economic and political problems, whose root causes have not been effectively addressed. There is increasing ethnic tensions, acute land pressures, widening economic divides, deepening socio-political cleavages and corruption. Ethnicity, politics and economy intersect to shape Ugandan society across the whole country. Country-wide, Ugandans identify more closely with their respective tribal identities than with the broader Ugandan national identity. Other problems include civil conflicts, land conflicts, corruption, ineffective and inappropriate education systems, unemployment, HIV/AIDS, rapid population growth and abject poverty.

However, Obedi concludes his article on a hopeful note, offering possible routes out of conflict for both Ugandan and Bosnian society:

Reconciliation is important in conflict prevention, co-existence and nation building. It is an over-arching process which includes the search for truth, justice, forgiveness and healing. It involves finding a way to live alongside former enemies; not necessarily to love them, or forgive them, or forget the past in any way, but to foster sense of co-existence and co-operation that lays the basis for a better life together. BiH urgently needs to pursue a comprehensive process of national reconciliation. And of course, this should be executed in good faith and in a manner that achieves sustainable peace and development, whilst building a dynamic and harmonious society.

Richard Obedi, a graduate of Makerere University’s Population Studies Program, is the founder of The Populace Foundation-Uganda. The humanitarian organization promotes reconciliation and peace-building among conflict-affected communities. The organization is non-profit, non-sectarian and non-partisan and focuses on the particular needs of vulnerable communities such as women, children, and the elderly. The Foundation has worked on resolving conflicts between the Acholi and Karamojong peoples of Northern Uganda.

Angola

Luanda-The Most Expensive City in the World

British journalist Barbara Jones with the Daily Mail visited Luanda, which she considers to be the most expensive city in the world. In this article, she notes the staggering prices of many items in Luanda. She writes:

A one-bedroom apartment in the city centre costs £7,500 a month to rent. A pizza is £16, tomatoes sell for £7.33 per pound and gym membership will set them back a staggering £5,000 a year. Only the guns are cheap. An AK-47 costs just £19.

Luanda’s is so expensive because everyone wants a piece of it, as Angola is not the second-largest African oil exporter after Nigeria, there is money to be made here. Jones writes:

But this is an oil-rich country that looks forward to a predicted 12 per cent growth in its economy this year. While major powers lick their wounds over collapsing markets, Angola strides forward at breakneck speed, confident of double-digit growth for years to come.

Shiny new shopping malls and satellite cities of condominiums and bungalows are springing up to hasten Luanda into the 21st Century.

Expats are attracted by generous salary packages, free private education for their children, a driver and 4×4 and two business-class trips home each year. No wonder Mercer, a leading firm of financial analysts, has put Luanda at the top of its annual expat cost-of-living survey more than once, as has the respected ECA International ranking system.

Politicians hanging on to power, super-rich businessmen with government connections, Chinese construction companies and expat oil executives – everyone wants a piece of the opulence that is today’s Luanda.

Even Angola’s former colonizer, Portugal, is coming to look for a piece of the action, as Jones writes:

Two weeks ago, Portugal’s Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho came with his begging bowl. Formerly the colonial master of Angola, Portugal is now broke and in debt, its economy shrinking by almost three per cent this year.

Passos Coelho manfully announced that ‘this is a good time to strengthen our bilateral relations’ and Angola’s President Jose Eduardo dos Santos somehow managed to keep a straight face. ‘We are aware of Portugal’s difficulties and we are open and available to help,’ was his careful reply.

There won’t be bailouts from Angola, but massive and canny investment. Angola is effectively buying Portugal, a supreme irony.

The country that plundered the African state for more than 300 years for its slaves and its natural resources now watches helplessly as Angolans buy up prime real estate in Lisbon and develop luxury housing where its politicians, its army generals and its businessmen smugly install themselves for long holidays.

But this wealth is only being enjoyed by a fraction of the population. Jones writes:

Two-thirds of Luanda’s five million residents live in shanty-town squalor. Sheltering beneath little more than cardboard and planks of wood, families cook over open fires, scavenging through rubbish on the street.

Billions would need to be spent to make Luanda an attractive destination. Venturing up to the eighth-floor cocktail bar of the Hotel Baia overlooking the South Atlantic, it is disturbing to look out of a picture window and into the pitiful lives of shack-dwellers who have set up home on a dirty mudbank.

Small children and mongrel dogs play with plastic rubbish in the filth, wading into a putrid-smelling lagoon that serves as their lavatory. There is no electricity, no running water. Along with two-thirds of the country’s population, these people live on less than £1.28 a day.

During Angola’s civil war between the Russian and Cuban-supported People’s Movement For The Liberation Of Angola (MPLA) and the American and South African-supported National Union For The Total Independence Of Angola (UNITA) guerrilla forces – the last knockings of the Cold War – millions of families fled the countryside for the comparative safety of Luanda city.

Here they have lived the life of refugees ever since. Their rural areas are strewn with land mines, agriculture and industry was destroyed. There is nothing to return to.

A lot of this poverty will continue due to government corruption. Tranparency International ranks Angola 168 out of 183 on its corruption perception index in 2011.

Exploited Zimbabwean Migrants Working in Angola

I found a story about exploited Zimbabwean migrant workers in Angola on the Transparency International website. According to Transparency  International:

Eager to find work, Leeroy told us how he had responded to an advert calling for professionals in the electrical, plumbing and carpentry field to work in Angola. He said that the recruitment company – a foreign owned firm – helped process the visas for him, and five of his colleagues, enabling them to emigrate to Angola.

After working in Angola for a month, Leeroy says he and his colleagues were suddenly informed by their employer that they had not been issued working visas, but humanitarian ones. Apparently the recruitment firm had told Leeroy that Zimbabweans are poor and would work for free food and accommodation instead of a salary.

Far away from home and without an income, it is easy to see how many people could become trapped in a cycle of dependency – becoming homeless and jobless if you refuse. In fact, Leeroy and his colleagues only managed to come back home after the intervention of the Zimbabwean embassy in Angola.

On their return to Zimbabwe they came to Transparency International – Zimbabwe’s Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre, told us their story and asked how to lodge a complaint against the recruitment company.

Namibia

The Sterilization of HIV-Positive Women in Namibia

The Namibian High Court has ruled that the human rights of three HIV-positive women were violated when they were coerced into being sterilized. The women filed the case back in 2009 and were supported by the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC). It all started when the women came to public hospitals and requested caesarean sections in order to reduce the risk of passing on HIV to their newborns. They were told that they could only have the procedure done if they agreed to be sterilized at the same time. This judgement allows the women to pursue damages against the government. However, it is a bittersweet victory because the court dismissed the claim that the women were discriminated against because they were HIV-positive. According to the article about the case in IRIN:

“We were not very happy with the judge’s decision on discrimination – maybe it’s the way we presented the case, focusing more on informed consent than on discrimination – we will talk to our lawyers and strategize on whether to appeal or accept the judgment,” said Jennifer Gatsi-Mallet, executive director of the Namibian Women’s Health Network, which assisted in bringing the case to court.

Nigeria

Nigerian Gets International Dentistry Award

Prof. Emmanuel Adekeye, the first professor of dental surgery, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, received a Lifetime Achievement award for his work on maxillofacial deformities.  He received the award at the 2012 Biennial World Cleft Lip and Palate Congress, which took place in Mahe in Seychelles. According to Chidi Okoye writing in the Daily Times:

Adekeye, a University of Edinburgh alumnus, pioneered oral and maxillofacial surgery in the northern part of the country, and played a foremost role in the conception and establishment of the surgery department of the ABU Teaching Hospital.

During his 30 years of active service, the professor had over 70 publications both in local and international journals. He also trained more than 16 Nigerians and Ghanaians as residents in oral and maxillofacial surgery, up to consultant status.

Kenya

First Gay Kenyan to Run for Political Office

Daniel Kuria, founder of the Kuria Foundation for Social Enterprise,  is running for a Senate seat in Kiambu County, Kenya. Why this is news-worthy is because he is the first openly gay Kenyan to run for political office. In an interview with Identity Kenya, The Kenya Sexual and Gender Minorities News Service, discussed his campaign:

I think the issue of sexual orientation may come up. I do not think it has any bearings on my capacity for leadership, and I will certainly be urging listeners and Kiambu voters in particular to look at the leadership qualities.

One of the things that we shall also address is ethnic entrepreneurship, where we the people have become commoditised on the basis of our ethnic origins. So the ethnic kingpins ‘own’ us and trade among themselves into coalitions – on the basis of the size of the people they ‘own.’ This is neo-slavery and the saddest part of it is that most of us are willingly taken ourselves into this form of slavery.

Haiti

Haiti’s Gold Rush

Jane Regan, coordinator of Haiti Grassroots Watch, was interviewed by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, about Hait Grassroots Watch’s report “Gold Rush in Haiti!: Who Will Get Rich?” The shortened version of report was published in The Guardian and also in Haïti Liberté. The investigation was made possible in part by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and discusses the activities of two mining companies in Haiti, Eurasian Minerals and Newmont Mining Corporation. In her interview, Ragan explains that she found about about this situation from a Haitian farmer and community radio journalist. According to Regan:

This story was brought to the attention of me and my students, who are all Haitian investigative journalism students, by a guy who’s probably about 65 years old. And it was a—he had a letter in his hand that said that Eurasian Minerals has the right to explore in 16 communities. And he said, “We’re worried because we heard that gold mining can sometimes pollute the water, and we’re farmers.”

Regan dismisses the argument that these companies will bring jobs to Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere:

Well, hundreds of jobs in a country of 10 million people, and you’re taking out how many acres or hectares of agricultural land? And also, these are very low pay—they’re low-wage jobs. Haiti has been through these mining booms before. Reynolds was in there exploiting bauxite. There was a Canadian company in there that took away a lot of copper. I think at the boom period, there were 900 people working for a couple of bucks a day. So, that’s not really the way to develop Haiti or help the country fill its state coffers.

The most important thing is for Haiti to look around the hemisphere at countries who are doing a good job of trying to protect the interests of their country and of the environment at the same time as they take advantage of what’s under the soil. So, for instance, Cuba, where nickel is—the nickel mining is owned mostly by the government; or Peru, where they’ve now started to push back against the very company, Newmont Mining; Bolivia—Morales government says, “Yeah, we have lithium. We’ll exploit the lithium. Thank you very much. If we need your help, we’ll call on you.”

Film Review: Flirting

Posted in Australian Film, Black British Actors, Films, Interracial Romance, Uganda on Film by the woyingi blogger on January 10, 2011

While scouring the cheap DVD bin at my local Giant Tiger, I struck gold. I found one of my all-time favourite films, Flirting (1991). It was only $2! Flirting is definitely one of my “Top 5 Desert Island Films”. I’ve loved it since the first time it played on Canadian Cable when I was about twelve or thirteen.

So, why did an Australian Film set in 1965 at a Boarding School speak to me so deeply as a tween?

Thandie Newton and Noah Taylor, Pic Retrieved from Queensland Art Gallery website

Flirting (1991)

Starring: Noah Taylor, Thandie Newton, Nicole Kidman, Naomi Watts

Written and Directed by John Duigan

Flirting is the sequel to Australian writer and director John Duigan’s 1987 film The Year My Voice Broke (a film I also adore). It is narrated by the central character of both films Danny Embling (Noah Taylor). Danny has been sent away to boarding school in New South Wales by his parents in the hopes he won’t become a delinquent after the events that occurred in The Year My Voice Broke. At boarding school, 17 year old Danny is the butt of jokes because of his stutter and long nose (for which he is nicknamed “Bird”). He describes life in Boarding School as follows:

One thing about boarding school, 24 hours a day you’re surrounded. Either you abandoned yourself and became a herd animal or you dug a cave deep into your head and skulked inside, peering through your eye sockets.

His only friend is Gilbert, who likes to smoke a pipe and is hardly any more popular than Danny himself. Danny looks down on his fellow classmates as imbeciles and oafs and prefers to read Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. But, as he is a teenage boy, he does long for female companionship and takes as much pleasure as the other boys at any opportunity given to see the girls from Cirencester Ladies’ College, the girls’ boarding school on the opposite side of the lake.

At a rugby match, Danny’s clever remark that he is only interested in rugby from an anthropological viewpoint because it’s a mating ritual catches the attention of Thandiwe Adjewa, played by the amazing Black British actress Thandie Newton, who has just arrived from school in England. Her father, a Ugandan, is lecturing at university in Canberra. Thandiwe has befriended Melissa and Janet (played by Naomi Watts) but she also sees herself as “above” her fellow students and has to put up with their racism which includes taunts about bananas and Ugandans being only able to compete in the Zoo Olympics. At a debate between the two schools in which Danny, despite his stutter, is able to deliver an eloquent speech on how rugby exemplifies the epitome of human endeavour and Thandiwe throws the debate by quoting the song Tutti Fruitti Au Rutti, the two finally get a chance to speak and Thandiwe invites Danny to the Boarders’ Dance.

Danny ends up not being able to attend the dance because his headmaster thinks his hair is too long. Thandiwe breaks the rules by going to look for him and the two sneak away to his dormitory. Thandiwe explains that although her father is Ugandan, her mother, who is deceased, was Kenyan and had an English mother. After finding a copy of an English translation of Jean-Paul Sartre’s book Intimacy and Other Stories on his bed, Thandiwe tells Danny that she met Sartre in Paris.

Danny: What did you say to Sartre?

Thandiwe: I suggested marriage was a doomed institution.

Danny: What did he say?

Thandiwe: He agreed most people marry to please their parents or society.

Danny: Not keen on marriage yourself?

Thandiwe: I see so many terrible ones. People just stop communicating. My father and stepmother are brilliant communicators. They hardly ever talk to each other these days, except in public. Anyway, I doubt I’ll ever find anyone complex enough to keep me interested. I lose interest in people. I imagine they’re far more fascinating than they are. So I’m always disappointed.

Danny: Hard Life.

Thandiwe: Hmm.

It’s clear that Thandiwe and Danny are well matched as they both think that are too smart for their surroundings. Thandiwe kisses Danny and demands that he write her. Thandiwe is punished by the headmistress for leaving the dance without permission and is given chores by the prefect, Nicola Radcliffe, played by Nicole Kidman. Soon after, Thandiwe’s letter to Danny is taken by Burke, one of Danny’s constant tormentors and the school’s boxing champion, and is read allowed to his classmates. In the letter, Thandiwe writes: “I’m told your nickname is Bird. Well I like long noses it means your well-endowed-with brains of course”. Word of the letter spreads and Thandiwe ends up getting teased about it. She doesn’t believe Danny when he calls her, pretending to be her father and putting on an “African” accent, and tells her that the letter was stolen. She refuses to partner with him when the two schools work together to put on a school musical. Danny is determined to win Thandiwe back and fains illness in order to take a boat across the lake and find Thandiwe at her school. While at dance class, Nicola Radcliffe explains to Thandiwe that the letter really was stolen. Thandiwe regrets not trusting Danny. By this time, Danny has gotten into the school by climbing into the dormintory window of some of the College’s younger students. They help him find Thandiwe and the two are reunited.

In a fascinating scene which is accompanied by a montage of “African” images from the 40s, 50s and 60s in print and on film, Danny reflects about his knowledge of where Thandiwe comes from:

When I started thinking about Africa I realized that the only images I knew were from old annuals, Tarzan comics and Hollywood movies. Cannibals with bones through their noses, lions tearing the throats out of antelopes, and a lot of wondrous, moving words like Limpopo, Zambezi, Mombasa, Tanganyika.

As Danny and Thandiwe’s relationship grows, he gets to learn about Africa from Thandiwe’s perspective, although he doesn’t really take it all in. He reflects:

Thandiwe started telling me about Africa as she knew it. How her mother was killed during the Mau Mau period in Kenya. How her father wrote books about African nationalism and the problems created as the colonial government scrambled to get out. There had been terrible times for the last few years: The Belgian Congo, Zanzibar, Angola, Kenya, places I’d barely heard of. Often, I never really heard what she said. I’d be staring at her legs. They were very comforting ‘cause sometimes there would be little bruises or marks around her ankles from the elastics in her socks. That’s how come I knew she was real.

While getting ready to perform the musical, the boys discover that they can see the girls getting changed and Burke decides to take a picture. Danny attacks Burke and their fight is broken up by their prefect who proposes that they instead box each other later in the week. Danny and Burke end up boxing and of course Danny is beaten severely. At one point, after sustaining hard blows to the head by Burke, Danny hallucinates that he can see Jean-Paul Sartre in the crowd of students watching the fight. Gilbert and Thandiwe take Danny to the school’s infirmary.

After the performance of the musical, Danny introduces his parents to Thandiwe and her parents. Danny’s mother is obviously shocked and unsettled to be meeting Africans but his father is quite charmed by Milton Adjewa, Thandiwe’s father. Danny and Thandiwe meet later that night and make out in an amusing and awkward scene. Things seem to be going so well for the young couple but the political crisis building in Uganda leads Thandiwe’s parents to return to the country. Thandiwe fears that her father, who has written about government corruption in the country might be a target as he has many enemies. She is right and soon after her father’s return, he is arrested. Thandiwe feels he must return to the country in order to look after her younger brother and sister as her stepmother might also be arrested. Lying about her true departure date, Thandiwe leaves the school a day early in order to spend the night in a motel with Danny. The two get a chance to make love but soon after they are caught by school officials.

Because of his indiscretion, Danny is expelled from St. Albans and returns home to work in his father’s pub. Thandiwe regularly writes him letters from Uganda. In the letters, Danny learns about the deteriorating situation in Uganda, an army general named Idi Amin, and of Thandiwe’s father’s execution. Then the letters stop.

People have speculated that John Duigan’s Danny Embling films are autobiographical. This is not the case, as Duigan explained in a 1996 interview:

To some extent. I used that character to describe my evolving sensibilities on various things, but it’s not strictly speaking autobiographical, except in the most rudimentary way. His background is completely different from mine. The boarding school experience is very similar. I tend to give the characters certain experiences I had but I give them a lot I didn’t and a lot I would have liked to have had. Like meeting Thandie Newton at the sister school. It’s a liberating form of oblique autobiography because you can do anything.

I really love the main theme The Lark Ascending, a composition by English composer Ralph Vaughn Williams for violin and orchestra which Duigan uses in both Flirting and The Year My Voice Broke. According to John Duigan, he chose this theme because he thought it reflected Danny’s adolescent yearning.

Personal Reflections:

I watched Flirting during a very dark and troubling time in my life. I had dropped out of junior high and was spending my days watching TV, listening to Ottawa’s Classic Rock Station Chez 106 (This is how I became a fan of Led Zeppelin) and wondering why I was such a freak. I would eventually return to high school but have to withdraw and receive visiting teachers because my social anxiety and depression made attending regular school unbearable. Ever since I can remember, I had felt like an outsider, a misfit and I couldn’t relate to children my age. At the beginning of the film, when Danny talks about digging a cave in his head and skulking inside, I felt that he was describing what I had been doing my whole life. I longed to find someone who would understand and appreciate me. I wanted to fall in love and do pretty much what other teenagers wanted to do when they were in love. But my prospects seemed so slim. The film Flirting gave me hope that I could find love with someone as awkward and intellectually precocious as myself.

Thandie Newton, who was only 16 when she starred in Flirting, began a romantic relationship with John Duigan, who was 39 at the time. She has described the relationship, which lasted for six years, as “traumatic”. In a 2006 interview she stated: “Sexual abuse is shaming. I was in a relationship with a much older person and in retrospect, although it was legal because I was 16, I was coerced.” In a 2009 interview she stated: “I was 16. I didn’t tell my parents about it (the relationship) but really young people who are vulnerable have to be looked out for. I’ve just been out to South Africa to Oprah’s Leadership Academy. I looked at the 16-year-old girls there. How can it possibly be right to start a serious relationship with someone that age when you are so much older? I’ve been through a lot of therapy so I sort of know why people do things now.” Despite this rather disturbing revelation, I still love Flirting, even if some parts of it now seem a bit pervy in light of  Newton’s relationship with Duigan.

If my older wiser self could speak to my younger lonelier miserable self, I would tell her that “it gets better” and that friendship is really what you should be looking for. For lonely loners who are too smart for their own good, friendship can be far harder to find and maintain than romance. I was able to get into a romantic relationship at 17 with a 25 year old before I had any real friends. This was disastrous and pretty traumatic. But soon after, I made two of my dearest friends, who I’m proud to say are still in my life after all these years. So, for all you lovely lonely losers out there like I was, watch Flirting, it’s a film made for us, but make good friends before you go out trying to find love.

Interesting Trivia: Flirting won the Australian Film Institute Award for Best Film. The film ranked #46 on Entertainment Weekly’s The Best 50 High School Movies and The Guardian included Flirting in its list of the Five Best Boarding School Movies.  John Duigan would go on to direct Thandie Newton in The Journey of August King (1995) and The Leading Man (1996) starring Jon Bon Jovi.

Further Reading:

American Trailer for Flirting available online

Interview (1996) with John Duigan available online

Interview (2006) with Thandie Newton available online

Interview (2009) with Thandie Newton available online

Entertainment Weekly’s The Best 50 High School Movies  gallery available online

Top of the Class: The Five Best Boarding School Movies 2009 article in The Guardian available online

A List of other great Australian Coming of Age Films courtesy of Queensland Gallery of Modern Art available online

Black Canadian Profile: Opiyo Oloya

Opiyo Oloya

Opiyo Oloya is a Ugandan Canadian educator, journalist, and African music enthusiast and radio show host living in Toronto, Canada. 

He is the subject of Voice of Freedom, a documentary in the series A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada about immigrants to Canada. 

I first came across Opiyo Oloya when I was doing research about the Canadian-based organization GuluWalk

Opiyo Oloya describes Gulu Walk as follows

The Gulu Walk is organized by two young Canadians Adrian Bradbury, 35, and his friend Kieran Hayward, 30. The immediate objective of the walk is to highlight the plight of Acholi children who trek each night for personal security to town centers in Gulu, Kitgum and Pader districts in northern Uganda. 

The children are afraid of staying in the villages less they become victims to abductions by Lord Resistance Army rebels (LRA), rapes and wanton murder by lawless individuals. To draw the attention of Canadians to the “night commuters”, Mr. Bradbury and Mr. Hayward will walk 13 km. every day in July. 

Along with supporters, they don a bright orange t-shirt with the Guluwalk emblem at the front and stroll along the busy Danforth Avenue, to Yonge Street and finally to Nathan Philip Square in front of Toronto City Hall. 

Every night they are joined by large groups including members of the Uganda community. The final goal is that the Guluwalk will become a worldwide event, putting pressure on the government of Uganda to seek permanent peace so that the children of northern Uganda will not have to walk to town any more in order to find security. 

Gulu Walk has been key in raising Canadians’ awareness about the plight of children in the war-torn areas of Northern Uganda. It is no surprise that Oloya would be involved with the organization and try to promote its work to his fellow Ugandans. Oloya himself is an Acholi from Gulu Town. 

Opiyo Oloya  works as the principal of Divine Mercy Catholic School, an elementary school in Vaughn, Ontario. To my knowledge, there are not many Black school principals in Ontario, so being able to become a school principal both as a Black man and a refugee is something of a feat in and of itself. He also writes a weekly column for New Vision, one of Uganda’s national newspapers, is the founder of International Resources for Deaf and Blind Children as well as the Acholi Diaspora Association of Toronto. He started Karibuni, an African music show on CIUT 89.5 FM. 

Oloya grew up on the savannah of Gulu where he played with cows and goats. It was also in Gulu that developed his love of music. He writes

My interests in music started at an early age. In fact, I can’t remember a day when music was not a part of my life. I remember how we would wake up to one or the other of my brothers whistling in the brisk morning wind. Later in the day, as she pounded millet or grounded simsim paste, my mother would be humming a tune. 

It was his student activism that eventually led to his decision to flee to Canada in exile. Oloya attended Makerere University from 1979 to 1981 as a political science student. This was a pivotal time in Uganda’s history. 1979 saw the exile of Idi Amin and the return to power of Obote. Ugandans had hoped that this would be the end of dictatorship but this was not to be. Opiyo Oloya was elected as the President of the Makerere University Students’ Guild. Although, one might not think of student politics as of any importance here in Canada (although this is a misconception as most student politicians I know have gone on to work for political parties) in many developing nations, student politics can be quite influential and therefore are seen as threatening to repressive political regimes. Oloya’s presidency was overruled by a veritable “coup” in 1981. He subsequently fled to Kenya from where he applied for refugee status in Canada. He states that among his many reasons for fleeing Uganda was a fear that the Obote government was trying to promote ethnic divisions in the country, something which Oloya deeply opposed having been raised by a father who, he states, “never saw Baganda or Acholi”. While in Canada, he continued his studies at Queen’s University, graduating with a political science degree in 1986. He went on to attain his Master’s of Education at the University of Ottawa. 

Oloya has helped to bring African music to Canadian ears as host of Karibuni on CIUT 89.5 FM. This is fitting as it was the radio that exposed him to the beat of Africa. He writes

African pop music first came to me through the radio, which we used to carry around everywhere, even when we working in the fields. Radio Kinshasha and Bunya (both in Zaire) were our favourite stations. This is how I first learned names like Zaiko Langa Langa, Empire Bakuba, Lipua Lipua and Bella Bella, all upstart groups in the 70s. Franco and Rochereau were already big in the 60s on Radio Uganda. 

Opiyo Oloya came to Canada with the name Joseph, but decided to return to his Acholi first name while here. When asked why he gave up his “religious” name in a 2010 Interview, Oloya replied: 

I am a Catholic and we go to church every Sunday. One of our children, Oceng, serves as an altar boy. We don’t use Christian names because we feel that it’s not important to be Christians with Christian names. 

 Oloya stumbled upon teaching as a career unintentionally. He states

Making it as a teacher was one of the best experiences I’ve had. It was a turning point because I never knew I was going to become a teacher. I was doing graduate work when I discovered that I am passionate about teaching. 

I was a replacement teacher for a day at a school in Ottawa. I told the children a story with a sad part and pretended to be very sad. They all came and fell over me and I felt panic stricken because I thought I was going to suffocate under this mountain of kids. But I found that teaching is something I love doing and I was completely at home with. 

Oloya went on to become the principal of Divine Mercy Catholic School. One of his students, Hannah Godefa, an Ethiopian-Canadian, who while in Grade 4 decided to organize Pencil Mountain, a supply drive to collect 20,000 pencils to send to Ethiopian students. On a family visit to her homeland, Hannah had been shocked by the country’s poverty and the fact that many Ethiopian children did not have such basic school supplies as pencils. Hannah sought her principal’s help to bring her idea to fruition. Oloya was initially hesitant to support Hannah’s idea because of her young age and the fact that he wasn’t sure how serious she was. But Hannah’s persistence won him over. Hannah worked with local businesses in Vaughn to help with the “pencil-raising” and with her fellow Divine Mercy students to sort and package the pencils. She was able to raise 25,000 pencils which she delivered to students in Ethiopia. To learn more about Hannah Godefa’s activism visit her website

Oloya had this to say about Hannah

“I have never encountered anybody in Grade 4 who has come up with some idea to save the world,” he said. “She’s very committed and very focused.” Mr. Oloya describes Hannah as a smart girl whose understanding of poverty has a lot to do with her recent trip. “She saw the difference between the life she was leading here and the life of children her age there,” he said. “She realized she should be able to do something because she is a lot better off.” 

Along with being an educator here in Canada, Oloya tries to educate his fellow Ugandans through his weekly column in New Vision, one of Uganda’s national newspapers.  I have always disagreed with the idea that immigrants to Canada should cut all ties with their homelands out of sense of loyalty to Canada. When people accuse immigrants of not “letting go of their baggage” because they try to raise awareness here in Canada about issues facing people in their countries of origin, people who could very well be their own family members, I am appalled. But I hear this quite frequently, even from immigrants themselves. I agree that one should not continue conflicts here in Canada but it would be a missed opportunity to not try to enlighten one’s fellow Canadians about these conflicts, even from a biased perspective. I feel this is doubly important for immigrants, and anyone of African descent. The image of Africa is so obscured here that it is important to have African voices trying to educate both Africans and non-Africans about what is going on. I have found Oloya’s articles, along written with a Ugandan audience in mind, very useful for me as a Canadian of African descent trying to understand what is going in on the continent. 

Oloya’s articles discuss a variety of topics from genetically modified foods, to the use and abuse of Ugandan workers by Security corporations in Iraq, to Uganda’s involvement in Somalia’s civil war, to the Ugandan government’s treatment of homosexuals. It is on the last two subjects that I would like to discuss Oloya’s writing in some depth. 

Uganda’s involvement in Somalia 

Oloya actually went to Somalia this year to write about the conditions there and even had an opportunity to meet the current President. Uganda, along with Burundi, currently supply the bulk of the troops sustaining the US backed African Union’s Somali Mission. It is for this reason that Uganda was targeted by the Somali terrorist group Al Shabaab for retaliation on July 11, 2010. During a gathering of large crowds at a local restaurant and a local Rugby Club to watching the final match of the FIFA World Cup this year in Kampala, Uganda, three explosions went off killing over 74 Ugandans and injuring 70. Oloya had expressed his concern about such possible retaliation by Al Shabaab in earlier articles. He also has been quite to point out the following

It would be counter intuitive to start clamping and harassing peaceful law-abiding locals of Somali heritage living within the country, say in Kampala or Bujumbura. They are the eyes and the ears to first alert authorities on suspicious individuals and events. 

This is an important point as there are many Somali people living in diaspora in East African countries like Uganda. One would also hope to hear this from a Ugandan Canadian who is active in Toronto’s African communities seeing as the Somali make up the largest communities of African descent in Canada. 

In his 2010 article, Miracle in Mogadishu, Oloya writes about the doctors working with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) to treat women who suffer from obstetric fistula. He recounts the story of Fatumah Sheik Hassan as follows

Hassan’s problem began with the birth of her first child, now 14 years old. The birth was difficult because the baby would not come out, and had to be coaxed out by the midwives. The baby lived, but Hassan began to have problem controlling her rectum. With each birth, the problem grew until became intolerable to those around her. Nobody wanted to talk about it because of the shame associated with it, and Hassan became a leper in her village, avoided by neighbours and laughed at by children. 

As luck would have it, Hassan’s sister came to Mogadishu for a visit and heard rumours from other Somali women about the miracle “daktari Amisol” who could cure women. Although the sister could not believe it at first, she met a woman who claimed she had been cured. 

She rushed back to Baidoah to tell Hassan who wanted to leave the very next day for Mogadishu except she did not have money for transport. She had to cool her heels for a month to raise funds which she did by selling four goats for about $100. 

On July 20, 2010, Fatumah Sheik Hassan was “liberated” by AMISOM doctors who operated on her, and fixed the problem she had lived with for almost two decades. According to Commandant Dr. Evariste Nintunga, a surgeon with the Burundi contingent, and who operates alongside Col. Dr. Kiyengo on women with Fistula, Hassan will not have any side effect. “She should have a normal life when she returns to her village”, he said. 

It appears that the purpose of articles like this is to reassure Ugandans that their involvement in the African Union Mission in Somalia is welcomed by its people and actually proving successful. 

Uganda’s Treatment of Homosexuals 

Beginning in 2009, Uganda made international headlines not because of the plight of communities living in Northern Uganda but because of proposed legislation to sentence Ugandan homosexuals to life imprisonment, as well as sentences for people who rented to known homosexuals and knew homosexuals and didn’t report them to police. Although homophobia in Africa has been known to be prevalent this proposed bill appeared extreme to say the least. Oloya had written about the issue of treatment of homosexuals much earlier. In 2005, Oloya wrote a letter to the then Commissioner of Special Education, Guidance and Counseling, Martin Omagol, expressing his concern about Omagol’s urging of head teachers to do whatever it takes to stop the spread of homosexuality in Ugandan schools. Oloya presents a voice of reason, making two very important points. He writes

Two issues arise from your statement. First, your statement suggests that homosexuality is like the common cold that is passed on from one person to another. 

Nothing could be further from the truth. Though debate about the cause of homosexuality continues, scientists and social theorists tend to agree that nobody chooses to be homosexual. Available data from the US, Canada, Australia, and elsewhere in Europe tend to place the homosexual population between 3-8% of the total population. Here, in North America where gays live and work alongside heterosexuals, the gay population remains steady. You don’t see young people suddenly catching the “homosexual disease” simply by interacting with homosexuals. In other words, without data that suggest increase of homosexuality in Uganda schools, you are merely fanning homophobia. 

Secondly, by crying that the sky is falling and we must do something about it, you are perpetuating the stereotypical notion of homosexuals as social deviants who must be stamped out. 

In 2009, Oloya wrote a letter to Ugandan Parliamentarians, outlining his concerns about the proposed “Anti-Homosexuality” Bill. He makes a very important distinction between homosexuality and the rape of children by adults of the same sex, which is pedophilia. However, the bill considers pedophilia by members of the same sex as “aggravated homosexuality”. It appears clear that there has been and on-going panic in Uganda about the rape of children by homosexuals as well as their “recruitment” to homosexuality. However, Ugandans do not seem to be equally concerned about the rape of young girls by men. As Oloya writes

….by using the term “aggravated homosexuality”, Bill 18 gives the appearance that a homosexual man raping a boy has committed a far more serious crime than a heterosexual man raping a little girl. In reality, whether a male pedophile rapes a girl or a boy, the consequences of these heinous crimes are the same; the child is scarred for life.  The low life criminals in both cases are pedophiles who must be punished to the fullest extent of Uganda’s law. 

First, look at rape as rape, and then look at homosexuality as a stand alone issue.  Once you have separated the two issues, keep in mind that just as only a tiny minority of heterosexuals rape girls and women, only a tiny minority of homosexuals rape boys or adult men. Should you choose to make homosexual rape of a boy punishable by death, then you also have a duty to make heterosexual rape of a girl punishable by death.  Both are victims of rape who deserve to see their molesters face the same justice.  It is that simple. 

Oloya is a practising Roman Catholic who is sensitive to African cultural and religious sensibilities towards homosexuality; however he time and again reminds those in government that Uganda is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He understands rightly that if you erode the human rights of one group it is only a matter of time before other groups will be attacked as well. In a country grappling with ethnic conflict and poverty as well as coming to terms with a history of dictatorships, opening the door to such stark violations of human rights could be opening a floodgate. I personally found Oloya’s articles on this subject comforting as my discussions with Africans and Ugandans in particular had been very unsettling due to the level of paranoia they expressed about a global “conspiracy” organized by human rights organizations and homosexuals to “recruit” African children to homosexuality. Who is telling them this?Many Africans I spoke to seemed more concerned and knowledgable about this “conspiracy” then they were about the conflicts in their region, the state of their country’s economy, or even their country’s literature. Focusing on such a half-baked conspiracy theory seems to be a distraction from addressing the real life and death issues affecting the continent. 

Opiyo Oloya is both a committed Ugandan journalist and dedicated Canadian educator. One need not give up one identity in order to properly fulfill the other. I am sure that Oloya is performing both roles just fine. 

Further Reading: 

Profile on Roots World available online 

Profile from A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada Voice of Freedom Documentary available online 

Interview (2010) with Opiyo Oloya by Elizabeth Namazzi available online 

Webpage for Karibuni on CIUT 89.5 FM, this program is available to be listened to online 

Oloya’s Articles on Ugandans working for Security Corporations in Iraq available online: 

Do Africans Recruited for Security Jobs Get Compensation for Injury or Death? (2005) 

Did Askar Security Lie about Recruits for Iraq? (2005) 

Others on the subject: 

Hundreds Seek Work as Guards in Iraq by Daniel Wallis (2005 article from Reuters available online) 

Oloya’s Articles in about the treatment of homosexuals in Uganda available online: 

Gay Bill should be about crime first, then morality (2009) 

A Letter to Education on Homosexuality (2005) 

Others on the subject: 

The U.S. Christian Right and the Attack on Gays in Africa by Kapya Kaoma (article available online) 

Homosexuality and HIV/AIDS in Uganda by Victor Mukasa (article available online) 

Oloya’s Articles on genetically modified foods in Africa available online: 

Norah, tell Europeans what they are not used to hearing (2009) 

Monsanto Had Their Agenda (2003) 

Others on the subject: 

Uganda’s Position on GMOs: Whose Position? Reflections on Uganda’s Policy Making Process on GMOs by R. Naluwairo and G. Tumushabe (ACODE Policy Briefing Paper available online) 

Interviews with African musicians by Oloya available online: 

Interview (1996) with Salif Keita from Mali 

Interview with Geoffrey Oryema from Uganda

Short Story Review: The Winner by Barbara Kimenye

I recently read the short story The Winner by Ugandan writer Barbara Kimenye. The story is included in the collection Modern African Stories edited by Charles R. Larson, published by Fontana Books 1971.

About Barbara Kimenye

Barbara Kimenye was born in 1929 in England but considers herself Ugandan by birth. Kimenye began writing at an early age and put together her first newspaper when she was 11. Kimenye studied nursing in London. She married a Tanzanian and returned to Uganda in the early 1950s.

Kimenye became the private secretary of the Kabaka of Buganda, Mutesa II. Kabaka is the title given to the king of Buganda.  Buganda was once an independent kingdom in what is now called Uganda. Uganda is actually the Swahili term for Buganda that was adopted by the British. Buganda is the largest traditional kingdom in Uganda and is inhabited by Uganda’s largest ethnic group the Baganda or Ganda people. The Ganda speak Luganda. Kampala, the capital of Uganda, is located in Buganda.

Kimenye was encouraged to pursue a career in journalism by Kenyan politician Tom Mboya (Barack Obama’s godfather). Kimenye went on to become a columnist for the Uganda Nation and Kenya’s Daily Nation. Kimenye is considered to be the first Black female journalist in East Africa and is one of the first Anglophone women writers to be published out of East Africa.

The short story The Winner comes from Kimenye’s collection Kalasanda(1965). The stories in this collection and Kimenye’s  later collection Kalasanda Revisited(1966) follow the ordinary lives of the inhabitants of the village Kalasanda in Buganda.

Kimenye has gone on to become a prolific writer of African Children’s Literature. Her most popular series is about a boy named Moses who attends a school for boys who have been kicked out of more reputable schools for misbehaving. Moses and his friends get in to all kinds of trouble but are not really bad, just mischievous.

The Winner

The elderly Pius Ndawula has won the football pools. This has totally disrupted his quiet life. Now swarms of distant relatives have converged on his home and reporters want to talk to him about his good fortune. Pius’ closest friend, Salongo, also wants Pius’ money, but for the restoration of the tomb of a great Bugandan hero, of which he is the custodian.

Pius is particularly irritated with Cousin Sarah.  He doesn’t really know her or the exact nature of his relationship to her (We later learn that she is the widow of a stepson of one of his cousins, hardly a close relationship). She has begun taking over his house as if it is hers, and remarking that Pius’ needs a woman to take care of his home. Salongo warns Pius that Cousin Sarah might want to trap him into marriage.

Pius has his own dreams for the money. He wants to add a new roof on his house or perhaps build an entirely new house out of concrete blocks. He would also like to extend his coffee shamba (garden) and invest in raising hens.

Pius was initially delighted when his close family members came to visit him after hearing the news about his winnings but was overwhelmed when relations he didn’t even recognize flooded his shamba. Salongo convinces Pius that he shouldn’t tell anyone what he wants to do with his winnings-including reporters. A reporter with a Ugandan radio station attempts to get an interview out of Pius but Salongo orders him to say nothing.  Cousin Sarah ends up coming to the rescue and gives an interview on Pius’ behalf. Much to his horror, she states that she plans to stay and look after him for as long as he needs her.

Pius’ friends Yosefu Mukasa comes to visit him in the evening and is shocked to see how tired Pius looks and is also surprised to be greeted by Cousin Sarah who behaves as if she is mistress of Pius’ house. Yosefu offers to have Pius stay at his house and Cousin Sarah agrees that is it a wonderful idea and packs his bags. Salongo also thinks it is a good idea so that Pius isn’t left alone over night with Cousin Sarah.

Pius spends two days with the Mukasas being taken care of by Miriamu, Yosefu’s wife.  While at the Mukasas, Pius gets the unfortunate news that there has been a mistake and he has not won all the prize money but must share the original amount he thought he won with 300 other people.  Much to everyone’s surprise, Pius is not that upset.

Cousin Sarah ends up clearing all of Pius’ relatives out of his house but his shamba has been wrecked by them. When Pius returns to his house he finds that Cousin Sarah is still there and has plans for the repair of his house with his winnings. She also plans to bring over her own hens. By this time, Pius has begun to like Cousin Sarah but wonders why she wants to live with him. She tells him that both her sons are married and she doesn’t feel comfortable having another woman in the house. After seeing the news that Pius had won the football pools, she remembered Pius from her wedding when he had been very helpful. She decided that he needed her help to keep away greedy relatives and to take care of his house. 

At the end of the story we learn that Pius gives Salongo some money for the tomb but, much to Salongo’s chagrin, Pius has decided to marry Cousin Sarah.

Commentary

The Winner is an enjoyable read. It is a simple story but Kimenye manages to weave a few references to some dramatic changes in the social life of the Ganda peoples in post-Independence Uganda. For example, we learn that certain taboos around what women can and cannot eat are being challenged:

“Salongo and he had always said that there was money in hens these days, now that the women ate eggs and chicken; not that either of them agreed with the practice. Say what you liked, women who ate chicken and eggs were fairly asking to be infertile! That woman Welfare Officer who came round snooping occasionally, tried to say it was all nonsense, that chicken meat and eggs made bigger and better babies. Well, they might look bigger and better, but nobody could deny that they were fewer! “

 Pius and Salongo, as representatives of an older generation of Ganda, are not happy about such changes but that won’t stop them from trying to profit off them.

The change in women’s eating habits reflects the changes in women’s position in Ganda society in the modern era which also relates to the “take-charge” character of Cousin Sarah. Initially, Cousin Sarah’s assertiveness is seen as threatening by Pius but eventually he warms to her and realizes that he needs her. Her assertiveness actually seems to rub off on him because at the end of the story Pius is able to stand up to his friend Salongo in a way we have not seen him do before.

On a side note, I wonder if Pius’ friends Yosefu and Miriamu are meant to be Muslims. These are Muslim names and there is a Muslim population in Buganda. In the mid-19th century, under the rule of Kabaka Mutesa I, a small but significant minority of Ganda were encouraged to adopt the practice of Islam from Swahili missionaries, particularly as it was seen to be advantageous to the Buganda Kingdom to have people who could read. However, as there is no other indication that Yosefu and Miriamu are Muslim it might simply be that they have taken the Swahili versions of the Biblical names Joseph and Mary.

To learn more about the origins of Islam in Buganda I recommend reading Buganda: Religious Competition for the Kingdom in Muslim Societies in African History by David Robinson.