Theatre of the Absurd

Photo by In2East Africa

By Kampire Bahana

I have begun to try to get past security guards, their hands reaching to search my bag; and not because the extra 15 seconds it takes seems like such an inconvenience, such an intrusion on the grand scheme that is my day. I try to zip through entrances to malls and supermarkets while the guard is preoccupied with whoever is in front of me, hoping that they are so deep in kaboozi with their colleague so as not to care enough to halt me. It’s only theatre anyway. I doubt Al Shabaab would find it particularly worthy to bomb the 4 of us wandering around Nakumatt at 2am on a Tuesday. I also doubt that half the hapless individuals we knight “security” would have the wherewithal to stop them should they choose to do so. This is what makes those 15 seconds all the more intolerable; I am that poor, cringing wanker who gets “volunteered” to the stage by “well-meaning” “friends”, forced to create some grotesque mimicry of enthusiasm, all the while appearing increasingly more uncomfortable and embarrassed for what is becoming clear to everyone is not actually a show but  a slow-sinking pile of excrement.

And all of this is an overly-extended metaphor for what passes for the democracy in our beloved nation these days. This is the same throbbing vein of frustration that accompagnies my reaction to being searched whenever I venture out in public, to the crude 700 million shilling neon obscenity that we are calling a KCCA park and the fetid pile of rotting rubbish you are sure to find within a 700m radius of it. This vein arrived pulsing, just off-centre of my forehead as I watched the crashing of the Marriage and Divorce bill and the cresting of the Anti-pornography one.

To me, it is a peculiar kind of hypocrisy that would make one say the problems that the Marriage and Divorce bill sought to address to do not exist. Those problems do not happen; we do not read about them in the paper every morning, we do not laugh at them at night on agataaliko nfuufu. They are not my problems and if they are your problems, well you deserve not the rightful protection of the law but condemnation and shame. Clearly you must have done something to incur them, for those black scavenger birds of sadness to visit upon your head. This is the type of hypocrisy that allows a man like Martin Ssempa to declare himself some kind of thought leader. A man who in one breath can advocate the arrest and imprisonment of those participating in consensual adult activity in their own homes in one bill and then state that the same government should stay out of our bedrooms, when speaking against the passing of another.

So this is what we have become instead of addressing this disconnect between who we claim to be; upright, religious, moral Ugandans, and who we in fact often are; thieves, liars, sexual predators and financial parasites. This is what we have chosen instead of having a national dialogue about why so many Ugandan homes are breaking up, why so many marriages should never have gotten started and yet others continue on, bringing up children in the complete absence of any love or honesty. Your parliamentary representatives were handed 5 million shillings to drum up resistance to the Marriage and Divorce bill, to have one “stakeholders’ meeting” or three public rallies, it didn’t matter, there were no parameters for how these “consultations” should take place. Just put on a show of how the ordinary person in your community does not want this bill, regardless of whether they know what is in it. Most of the sticking points upon which criticisms of the bill were hung, the recognition of cohabitation as marriage for one, were not, in fact, features of this particular piece of legislation.

This exercise, and many of the most recent legislative efforts of the current parliament have been little more than public spectacle, an awkward improv piece of democratic theatre, in the same way that the lady checking your smelly purse for bombs is tedious performance art. It is farce and I feel stupider for having watched it. Coming to TV screens near you in 2013, “A Poor Excuse for Democratic Governance” starring your area MP.

Nine times out of ten, when I try to breeze through security checkpoints without having my personal dignity violated, I get caught and called back. It has not yet stopped me from trying though.


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