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The East African : July 28th 2014
The EastAfrican OPINION JULY 26 - AUGUST 1, 2014 21 Is f≥eedom just anothe≥ wo≥d fo≥ dis≥espect and chaos? departure of Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, who ruled that country with an iron fist for 30 years, some Malawians look back to his era with nostalgia. In Banda’s Malawi, according to one aca- S demic commentator, “the security apparatus enforced Banda’s power and that of his elite with considerable ruthlessness.” What to some Malawians represents the golden age gone by, is also the time when conduct construed by the powers that were as undermining the authority of the state or public confidence in the government was punishable by up to five years in prison. It was also the time when the president had power to detain people indefinitely without charge; the press was strictly controlled and journalists routinely locked up; and when the only news available domestically was government-generated news on state-owned electronic media. It was also the time when one could be locked up for possession of books such as George Orwell’s “deeply subversive” Animal Farm. So with all this in the background, why do some Malawians hanker after what seems like a terrible past? This, clearly, is an empirical question. There are, however, anecdotal indications as to what turns them off about the present. For one thing, they have concerns about multiparty politics and the divisions they claim it has caused in society, the freedom of speech that came with it that allows anyone to say whatever they want regardless ome weeks ago, while discussing politics in Africa with a Malawian acquaintance, I was interested to discover that two decades after the Throughout Banda’s three-decade rule, Malawi was peaceful and stable.” F≥ede≥ick Golooba-Mutebi of the consequences; and the “rising indiscipline” manifest in people behaving whichever way they want, including questioning or disobeying lawful orders. It is important to contextualise all this. It is noteworthy that throughout Dr Banda’s threedecade rule Malawi was a peaceful and politically stable country, something that evoked much pride among Malawians as wars and coups raged across the African continent. Stability had a lot to do with Dr Banda’s total control over political space, which was fully occupied by his Malawi Congress Party. With the introduction of multiparty politics, however, the political arena has become something of a free for all, leading some Malawians to claim, with some exaggeration, Blaming democracy for the chaos may be simplistic, but many Malawians and Ugandans point to authoritarianism as the answer that it has destroyed the uninterrupted peace they once enjoyed. There is, however, something even more fundamental: Values. Democracy, some Malawians claim, has undermined important values to which they attribute the golden past they claim they have lost. Listen to one Malawian speaking to a researcher during the Banda era: “You know why Malawi is peaceful? Because we are taught to respect our elders. We respect our parents; we respect our teachers; we respect those above us. All Malawians believe in unity, discipline, and obedience.” Last week, as I followed developments across Uganda in the media, my mind went over these intriguing things I have heard or read about Malawi every now and then. Three particular events struck me, raising questions in my mind regarding what it is about Uganda that makes them possible: One report narrated how a female Member of Parliament representing a rural constituency had been ‘beaten and left with a swollen jaw by tax collectors after she tried to intervene in an argument they were engaged in with traders who were not willing to cough up money they owed. In a normal country, an MP would not interfere in the work of agents of the state so brazenly. And they, in turn would dare not take the law into their own hands in the event that such undue interference occurred. Elsewhere, a small group of youthful infor- mal traders in a small town outside Kampala were reported to have fought spirited battles with the police when the latter tried to evict Made in England: Ugandans ≥ejoice at Anglican decision on women bishops The idea of men running religion is one very central to the Abrahamic religions.” Kalundi Se≥umaga been heard celebrating the recent decision of the Church of England to allow its female clergy to also be eligible for appointment as bishop. Make no mistake; being a bishop is no small matter, particularly in the Anglican Church as it operates in Britain. Beyond being the official religion, V the Anglican Church is actually part of the state. Clergy from the level of bishop get 15 seats in the upper house of parliament. Through this, the church retains important rights and privileges, including having its own supreme body being able to pass policies that carry the power of law. This all may be seen as strange when one bears in mind that the Anglican Church is nearly dead at ground level in much of the UK. Or- oices from within the Church of Uganda (originally known as the Anglican Native African Church) have ganisationally, the church’s dilemma is simple: The bulk of its active membership is found in the former colonies. Nigeria and Uganda alone hold more active Anglicans than can proportionally be found in the United Kingdom. The populations remain materially bound to their churches in a way not seen in England since the creation of the welfare state. The complication now is that the church’s essential organisational head exists in Europe, while its substantive body resides in what they would see as the Third World. This is rooted in the historical con- sequences of the church choosing to bind itself to the fortunes of the then expanding British Empire. It had come into existence more as a result of a constitutional crisis a few centuries before under the then reigning King Nenry VIII, who then gathered various strands of anti-Catholicism around him in a new body. This may explain the endless ideological horsetrading that takes place in its policy- Many Anglican places of worship physically sit atop what were once the sites of native places of worship that were destroyed making bodies before a new position is arrived at as can be seen even with this two-decade plus debate on the gender for priests and bishops. There is therefore an element of both moral and cultural delinquency in this. At the moral level, it implies a belief that they are perhaps above the law in certain matters. Culturally, it reveals an organisation that was more backward than many of the cultures it participated in trying to obliterate. This is not “progress” because it is not a new idea across religions. It is not progress, because it is being driven more by legal considerations than theological ones. It is not progress because it is being used to continue to promote the idea that this colonial-enabler is somehow at a forefront of human progress when, in fact, it has been the one holding people back. With an estimated 9 million adher- ents, custodianship of nearly half the country’s schools, being one of the biggest single landowners as well as owner of numerous rural hospitals and clinics, the Anglican church is a mainstay of Ugandan society. Such influence can be seen in the fact that of the nine heads of state Uganda has had, only two have not been Anglicans, and not one has been a Catholic (despite their greater numbers). them from a public space they had occupied illegally, which the local council accused them of rendering filthy, and which it wanted to reclaim and clean up. The police triumphed, but only for a short while. After they scattered the traders, demolished their kiosks and left, the traders returned and started building new kiosks. Brazen violation of the law is hardly un- common in Uganda. Anyone who has been to Kampala would have noticed that the vast majority of the city’s motorcyclists operating motorcycle taxis otherwise known as boda boda, ride without safety headgear. Many carry more than the recommended one passenger, some ferrying as many as four, right under the noses of seemingly powerless traffic cops. One consequence of this peculiar state of affairs is that there are more people with broken limbs and cracked heads in the city’s hospitals than should be there if traffic laws were enforced with the required consistency. As for motorists, again if you live in Kampala ,you would have seen many drive or park on pedestrian sidewalks. Ask Ugandans why all this happens. Many will claim “too much freedom” and blame it on “democracy.” Call it simplistic and, truth be told, it is. Interestingly, many Malawians and Ugandans would disagree and possibly point to authoritarianism as the answer. Is it? F≥ede≥ick Golooba-Mutebi is a Kampala- and Kigali-based ≥esea≥che≥ and w≥ite≥ on politics and public a≠ai≥s. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org The Anglican Church in Uganda has also been standing in violation of the rules of equal employment opportunity. Much as it is nominally independent of the original mother church, it has not seen fit to take its own line and appoint a bishop who is also a woman. Native religion was strongly tar- geted by the church. Many Anglican places of worship, including the church headquarters, physically sit atop what were once the sites of native places of worship that were deliberately destroyed by armed militias that had seized control of Buganda in 1899. The idea of men running religion is one very central to the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Islam and Christianity). Native Africans did it somewhat differently. So Christian hostility, which led to the disempowering and driving underground of native worship, was also a process of disempowering native women since they have always comprised the overwhelming majority of priests in native religion. This places Christian Africans in a contradictory position. Their “advancement” or even “evolution” owes everything to the very institutions that have undermined their ancestral knowledge base. It is this legacy that has led to a thinking that any and all solutions to problems we face today must come from a non-African space. This is why any celebration of the church’s decision on women bishops would be a misreading of the situation. A more direct route to having females in positions of senior religious authority would be through re-establishing native religion.
July 21st 2014
Aug 4th 2014