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Stephen Rwangyezi Speaks on African Issues

AfricaSpeaks.com and TriniView.com
Interview Date: August 05, 2008
Posted: September 05, 2008

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RAS TYEHIMBA: People in the Caribbean would not be very familiar with Uganda. What can you share about life in Uganda?

RWANGYEZI: First of all they don't have to worry about being familiar because when I got here everything was just the same; the faces of the people, the methods of expressions, and the terrain. What we don't have is an ocean. I that think there are two basic things I would want to share. One is the communal aspect of life. What the world has been trying to do is to individualize life; to make everybody live in such a way where you can get up, you can go into your house and lock it up and if you want to know about the world put on the television. When you get out you get into your car, put your windows up, drive to your office, and lock it up. You don't have to deal with anybody and you only get information through the media. In Africa that's not the case. You are a neighbour, you are a relative, you are a member of the community, which is an indispensable component of life. Without them you can't exist. I would love to see this as a tradition of Black people: being a contribution to humanity. I think that the individualization has already shown its disastrous consequences. If you go to the so-called developed world the biggest killer disease is stress. I think the fundamental reason why stress is such a problem is because by nature human beings are communal social creatures. If you isolate yourself and live a solitary life the need to be with people is replaced by stress. If you go to schools in Africa inadvertently everyday begins with an assembly in the morning. All the kids get to the assembly, they are talked too, they sing together and then they go to their classrooms. Everyday ends with an assembly. And then they go to games and finish and then they get together and the teachers talk to them and send them home. When they go home they sit together and eat together. I think that is one thing I would love to see promoted because it will reduce a lot of the problems that we have today.

The second thing is that the existence of human beings should not be a favour, it should be a right. I have seen the downward trend of respect and contempt that is continuing to grow. I feel that if we are to secure our slot in the world, I don't know how it is here, but I know how it is back home, we have to get to teach our children the things that matter-the right history, the right geography and the right skills to turn what is around us and what is available to us into what we need to consume, and the mentality we need to consume what we can afford to make and what we can afford to produce and not to yearn for what doesn't exist in our abilities and in our economies. Otherwise, I really wish that the Caribbean could be part of Africa. I mean, our ancestors were brought here without our consent but we are here anyway. So rather than looking at Africa as a separate part of the Caribbean why not just extend the boarders of Africa and include the Caribbean into Africa? That would mean, therefore, that the people in the Caribbean who have been exposed to different technologies and ways of life would then formally and by right interact with the people in the African continent. That exposure and experience would then help to turn the natural wealth of Africa into the things that we require for our day to day life.

RAS TYEHIMBA: You spoke about education. I looked on your website and you have a part that explains how the colonial education system branded every African cultural practice as being evil, primitive, shameful and backward. Tell me some more about that?

RWANGYEZI: When our ancestors were brought as slaves to the Caribbean, to the Americas, and other parts of the world ... when the Europeans came to Africa, (I was reading some book) the Africans were extremely spiritual people. So when these people came with their colour, the Africans, those who were at the coastal areas (when you look at the ocean it sort of curves a way and the ships were coming like they were coming from underground at the end of the horizon) when they come out of the ships they were coming from within and they were climbing up. The Africans looking at them thought that these were the ancestors who had died and were now returning without skin. So they gave them ancestral respect. To their horror they were captured instead of being treated well by these ancestors. They were captured and taken. The weapon they came with was their spirituality which was expressed in song, dance and everything. Their resistance was communicated through this spirituality. So what the captors did was to try and kill that spirituality by stopping them from speaking their language, by stopping them from worshiping their Gods and by stopping them from singing and dancing to their music.

Hundreds of years elapsed with the slave trade and eventually it became untenable to continue bringing slaves over. And with all the revolts that were in Haiti and all these places they changed tactics and said they had abolished slavery. But what actually happened was they took this enslavement system back home. The lands in Africa were fertile and the so-called explorers had already mapped out the continent of Africa. They did the production back home using the same African labour. This time rather than capturing and beating up, they did a systematic indoctrination through religion, through schools and you can see the pattern. First you send the explorers to map out the place. Then you send the missionaries to work on the psyche and feelings of the people, tell them your Gods and ancestors are all primitive and backward and that civilization is with the Western religion. Then you send the colonialists, the administrators, who started setting up governments and enforcing production of coffee, tobacco, tea, sugar and so on.

The schools that came were introduced and owned by the churches. But it was the same churches that were teaching about the evil nature of Africanism and the holy nature of Western life. Those who went to these schools learned how to read and write. They were the ones who eventually got jobs as school teachers and as clerks in administration areas and, therefore, got money and started living a life that was totally different. They were the ones now acquiring the clothes, the jewelry and setting up house structures that were different. The other people who had not gotten into the formal education started admiring their brothers and sisters who had been schooled and, therefore, started getting the Western economic standard way of living. And as a result, everybody struggled to drop the Africanness in them to acquire the Western education which went with the Western beliefs and religion in order to get to economic standards of the Western way of living.

Those who insisted and remained African were then punished physically. For instance, blacksmiths who continued manufacturing hoes and tools even went to a level of manufacturing guns had their thumbs chopped off. If you made a weapon the colonial government would cut off your thumb. So you were either coerced forcefully into their way of doing things or you were brainwashed through the educational and religious systems. In Uganda today if a child speaks vernacular in school they are punished. All examinations are written in English and all government work must be done in English. All interviews, all signposts, all newspapers, everything is done in English. When you insist on being African you are left out.

Just before we came here we had a performance at a wedding. Two people who had been living in Europe came to wed in Uganda and they hired the troupe to come and play at their wedding. But the moment we brought out the drums and the instruments their parents walked out because they are supposed to be civilized and educated. They couldn't stand being at a wedding of their children where these primitive drums are being played. The parents walked out and the couple had to come to me and say, "Look, we don't want to go to embarrass our parents. Just wait, let them have something to eat and when they are finished they will go, then we can listen to the music."

It has been a whole one hundred and fifty years of deliberate degradation of the African life and way of living. The schools unfortunately, forty/fifty years after Independence have not changed the curriculum which was brought in 1886/1887 and we are still teaching our children. The history book they are using in primary schools is "Africans Learn About Europe." We learn about what the Europeans did and not about African heroes. I was intrigued when I came here and found names of Africans that resisted colonialism being taught here, and found Africans being worshipped and opening big functions by pouring libation which we don't do back home. This indoctrination has been massively corrosive and is still going on.

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