It is in debate of the marriage and divorce bill when it was re-introduced in Parliament and the subsequent public debate that I have seen evidence of a phenomenon I have for some time suspected but could not touch – the hijacking of a nation’s mind. This sounds like something out of a science fiction movie but I can now say with certainty that it is possible. Our country has been hijacked — not politically but through the psychology of hate, intolerance and fear. Someone or something has robbed us of our critical mind. This blatant theft of the national mind has been contrived through a deliberate campaign of lies so that we can neither question the message nor the messenger. It is obvious that those who cannot win the argument about contrasting visions for Uganda must intimidate others with violence and the threat of violence. The intention is to gag all parallel visions.
When I stood to advocate and support the Bill on national television I was shouted at and had water poured on me. Public debates around the country saw similar or even whose reactions and I asked myself when the Ugandan people ceased to be a peaceful people and became so hateful, so intolerant, so violent and so lawless. I know men and women have been taught to fear and this reaction was born out of fear. It is this fear that I hear in the questions and comments. Men are afraid of losing that last bastion of control – control of his wife and the women in his life. He has been robbed of economic power, political power and now the Bill seeks to encroach on his social power. I heard women afraid that men would no longer wish to make lasting commitments with them or entrust them with property. Men were also afraid of the “thieving woman” who is not necessarily his wife and I wondered whose wife she was if not his.
After the television show, someone I know called my cousin and asked her whether I am a catholic yet she knew very well that I have professed that religion for the over 38 years I have lived on earth without wavering. Then I wondered if I should question whether she was a woman but then I would not be any better than her.
When did the Bill become about what religion I profess? This speaks to the manner in which debate about the Bill has been shaped. It is sad to say but religious leaders have contributed to this. They have played into the hands of the hijacker of the national mind. Being a catholic is part of what defines me but it is not all that defines me. When I engage in a debate about such a critical piece of legislation I bring all my life experiences to bear. In addition to being a catholic, I am also a lawyer, a human rights activist, a wife, a mother, a daughter, a Muganda, an African, etc. I have told many people that I feel no inner conflict when I support the Bill yet I believe I am we’ll grounded in my religious and cultural beliefs. I will not succumb to any distortions of those beliefs and lies by people who wish to gag me and make me believe that I am less of a human being than the next person. Jesus said the devil is the father of lies and all that is false (John 8:44). I will not let the enemy steal my birthright.
I have been a member of FIDA for about 20 years and I have volunteered for community legal awareness programs countrywide. I see and hear first-hand the pain of men and women who have suffered from not only ignorance of the law but also from an obsolete legal framework on marriage and divorce. It is the experiences of these people and of people I know personally that makes me an advocate of this Bill.
To the religious leaders in my own catholic church who have shaped my spiritual ideology I say this: you taught me that Jesus came to save sinners, to free captives and oppressed, among other people. It is this ideology about the justice that Jesus stood for (taught to me by you and my parents) that made me became an advocate for the poor and oppressed. It is your teachings that made me serve these people using my profession because the Bible says we should not hide but positively use our talents. Now the religious beliefs you taught me appear to have put me on the wrong side of the argument. How can that be? How can I be on the opposite side to my teacher, when I have followed his teachings, unless something somewhere has changed with my teacher.
Ugandans may not subscribe to it but a national psyche of hate, fear and intolerance has been mainstreamed into every aspect of our lives and threatens to overwhelm us. It is always made to appear as if our sect, our ethnic group, our nation or our religion is constantly under attack and we must fear and attack the ‘other’ before being attacked ourselves. The fight to regain control of our lives is on. There is a constant source of violence in our midst. Our lives are no longer ours to live.
The manifestations of the rising violence and the accompanying fear it generates are many but I have chosen this debate for purposes of this article but if your mind has not been hijacked look around and you will see what I mean. As the saying goes: Wake up and smell the coffee.
By Christine Mugerwa Kasule
Consultant Law, Gender, Human Rights, Governance, Community Development