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: When I traveled to Kenya, I also noticed the enduring legacy of colonial attitudes. For example, the issue of colourism, that is, the preference for lighter-skinned people which happens in Trinidad and the Caribbean. I also noticed that strongly in Kenya where you have a lot of skin-lightening creams being sold in various stores, et cetera. Tell me a little bit about the colour preference as it happens in Uganda because I wasn't able to observe it in Uganda.
RWANGYEZI: It's a cancer. It's a disease across the African continent. The whiter, the better. Let's begin on ordinary practices. Let's take two things that happen in life: marriage and death. On marriage you wear white. But marriage is hope; marriage is celebration; marriage is future. On death you wear black; its end of life. That's not our tradition; that's the Western tradition and that moves from cloth to body. The White person, when they lived in Africa, created an impression. If you were a governor you lived on top of a hill, you had a big house, you had ten servants, you had one to hold an umbrella for you, and you had people to cook for you. You created an impression that being White means swimming in wealth. One time I took a picture of a beggar from Copenhagen to my mother and I said, "Mom, this is a beggar in Europe." She said, "No, that's not possible." I said, "Why?" She said, "First of all a European cannot beg. Two, he is wearing shoes he must be rich." The legacy, whether it is in Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, or wherever, the Europeans who came there were living an artificially wealthy life.
In Uganda, when the first Europeans came as explorers people looked at them with contempt-they looked at them as aimless wanderers. The Swahili word for an aimless wanderer is "muzungu." "Kazungu" can mean to move around aimlessly, so a muzungu is someone who wanders around aimlessly. All White people were called "bazungu", one is a muzungu. Today, the same word "muzungu" means White, but it has gone further to mean anybody who is rich. People look at a rich African and say, "Ooh, that one is a muzungu," meaning anybody who is rich has crossed the boundary of being African and becomes a muzungu. It implies, therefore, that everybody else is aspiring to become a muzungu. The symbol of being a muzungu is changing the colour, but the changing of the external colour is the final process. What is more fundamental is the changing of the internal mental set up and thinking where you feel like eating, walking, talking, behaving and taking the side of the muzungu. It's a terrible thing and that's why still I insist that we who are in this generation now are sufficiently damaged. But if we want to decolonize, decongest and detoxicate Africa, we change the curriculum now! We change the way children are being taught now, and we spend government budgets on cultural activities. We spend the cultural budgets on media that is promoting Africanism, that is promoting the African food, that is looking at the wealth of Africa as something that we can survive on.
RAS TYEHIMBA: Are there any Black Africans who own media to address some of these historical problems in Uganda?
RWANGYEZI: Not one that I know of. If you leave media, if you leave culture to survive on the income it generates by its activities then it's going to survive on people who can advertise. It's going to survive on advertisers expressing themselves to large viewership. If the majority of the viewers, the rich ones who are the ones who are following the Western ways because they are products of Western education then it means that the media houses are going only to respond to the wishes and desires of the people who have the money. And if the people who have the money are the Western-oriented then those who are promoting African cultures and values will have no viewership. They need to be sponsored by public funds. They need to be cushioned in such a way that when money is not forthcoming from advertisements, when money is not forthcoming from the box office they still can go on. BBC is not surviving on advertisements. BBC is there as a British mouth and, therefore, surviving on British funds. The African media is only surviving on incomes from private activities, so what options do they have but to promote what is selling?
If you look at the musicians in Uganda, in Africa, they have to strip themselves naked or they have to sing in Western styles. That is what the audience will come to watch because that is what they see on CNN and all the other media, so until and unless the African governments become conscious of this, put budget on to this.... I see a lot of budget put on in defense, and infrastructure, but how can infrastructure survive if the people have no value for it? How can you talk about defense if the people are going to be infiltrated by foreigners and foreign intelligence and they are not able to protect themselves by not releasing certain vital information. You are wasting money buying guns but you are not going to prevent infiltration when your people are not properly educated. It's a waste of money. If this money can be turned to education, to culture values, to African-based media, it would be a matter of time things will change.
RAS TYEHIMBA: All over Africa there is a pressing land problem where from the colonial period the Europeans invaded and stole land from indigenous Black Africans. What is the situation with regards to land in Uganda?
RWANGYEZI: Soon we are heading for a disaster. When the Europeans came, they applied different methods of colonialism. One was in countries like Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia and so on, was to bring Western or White farmers and give them the most lucrative and fertile pieces of land. The Africans went into the less fertile ones. Now in countries like Uganda, they were more subtle. Uganda, first of all, was declared the protectorate. They didn't call it a colony, they called it the protectorate, and they started ruling through indirect methods going through the indigenous people. Once they got a certain clique of people, in 1900 they formed a certain type of land tenure system where, for instance, in the central and Western regions, land was taken away from the ordinary Ugandans and given to a few Christian chiefs-a system that was called "My Land". For instance, the central kingdom had twenty counties. The twenty county chiefs had to be Christians, and specifically Protestant Christians, and then all the land was given to them and they got land titles.
There were three land holdings. One was the "My Land" where all the best land was given to African Christian chiefs and anybody else who was living there previously suddenly became, what we call a squatter, a tenant of these chiefs. The other was crown land which was seen as land for the queen of England. The other one was for the king of that region. They waited until the king, who was then Mwanga, had died and his son, who was two years, took the throne and his regents, the people who were bringing him up were Christian chiefs. They divided the land among the fellow Christian chiefs and signed an agreement, the so-called 1900 Agreement. From there the ordinary Ugandan became a squatter and had no more right to this land. The chief and his other big men owned the land. The people started producing and giving payment - percentages of their product - to these chiefs. But the chiefs were the ones around the king, so opposing the system looked like opposing the king. And so these chiefs ordered the plantation growing of coffee, of tobacco and of sugar by their "subjects." A person who had lived on the land for so long suddenly became a subject and a tenant of the king and the chief but the Christian chief. The chief would then order the production that would favour the colonial system.
When we got the so-called Independence, this land tenure system didn't change. Idi Amin had abolished it but after Idi Amin, it was reinstated. Now you have the current government trying to reverse this. They are saying if you have lived on a piece of land for so long you are being called a squatter. But you are a bona fide occupant and this land should be yours. The chiefs are turning round and manipulating people and telling them, "You see, this government doesn't want you to own and respect your king and your traditional system. Don't accept the land." Some people are saying, "No we cannot take this land because that is disrespecting our tradition." What has been introduced later is now manipulated as the tradition and, therefore, you cannot find these people meaningfully producing or using this land for serious production. The owners of the land, these chiefs, were the ones who are able to educate their sons and daughters and they are living in European and American capitals. They are absentee landlords. The ones who are on the land cannot use it productively. The ones who own it are living in Europe and the land is just there. It is a more dangerous land tenure system than, for instance, what you have in Zimbabwe or South Africa. Because in Zimbabwe at least it is known that that piece of land was taken from Africans and given to this person and we are struggling for it. Here you are seeing it is as if it belongs to fellow Africans who had it by right but who is actually not even using it.
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