I’ve been delinquent in my blogging. After an enlightening few days, capped off by the senseless and tragic bombing of two Kampala gathering places, I haven’t known what to say.
Here are some of the themes of the last week or so in no particular order.
1. Africa, in this case Uganda, is more than we think we know. What seems like a distant drama — complete with kinte cloth costumes, tales of child sacrifice, militant tribalism and inhumane poverty — is real. When we criticize a government, when we discredit someone’s qualifications, when we scorn a way of life, we are dismissing people with a history that is astoundingly rich and strongly rooted. This is difficult to truly grasp without actually being here.
2. Women are human too. Those of us working to promote gender equality and support women’s empowerment can sometimes give the impression that women are a cure-all; that women are, by their very nature, less corrupt, more democratic, less selfish and generally more fair.
This is, of course, false. Gender equality is for better or for worse. In the past week, a new friend and once respected employee of a Ugandan non-profit was accused of embezzlement. Whether or not she is guilty is not entirely the point. The point is, for all my expectations of corruption and cheating and theft, I did not imagine the perpetrator would look like me. But when women rob strangers, take up arms, deny other women rights, and generally engage in acts that are considered ‘male-dominated’, this is also empowerment. For better or for worse.
3. Whose ownership? Modern development practitioners are more aware of the importance of local ownership of development efforts. That means we play supporting rather than leading roles. So I did not expect that the West would be idealized and generalized to the point of complete inaccuracy. I’ve heard, “In the UK, there is no class division.” “In the US, there is no police corruption.” “Things were better when white people taught us English.” (Better for whom?) Now it seems as if doing things the Ugandan way means doing things the Western way, and doing things the Western way means doing things the Ugandan way. Confusing.
Finally, 4. Insecurity is indiscriminate. A loud crash woke me late last night, but I assumed I was imagining things. The sound of sudden destruction, the sight of bodies being carried away, and the shock on survivors’ faces might be familiar scenes for someone who has been in New York, Port-au-Prince, Moscow, Madrid, London or other major cities on a particular day at a particular time. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to get easier. I was personally not hurt, nor was anyone close to my new friends and colleagues (as far as we know at time of writing). Many others were, and I grieve with them.
Posted By Annika Allman
Posted Jul 12th, 2010