Yesterday, a group of friends and I were planning some Black Monday action and we agreed to take food to one of the schools which, though it feeds all its children, is not able to give them enough food rations at lunch time and has to make the budget stretch. After the agreed action I was charged with calling the head of the school to set up the appointment – which I did. I called about three or four times and each time the head pleaded with me that the action should not be political/politicized.
Despite my assurances, the head felt he had to make this point several times. It was when we had had the last conversation that the thought hit me – Uganda is currently comparable to a woman in a violent relationship. She knows the relationship is not good for her, but for now, she is too paralyzed with fear to leave and so she resorts to survival. She resorts to saying and doing only what the batterer wants, in the hope that this will not attract further harm. At the same time she lives in fear of the next temper tantrum – because most batterers are unpredictable and they pounce at any time.
This is the exact same thing I see happening in my country between citizen and the state. The state has effectively gagged the population, and Ugandans are now fearful of an all powerful state. The state has shown that it comes down hard on anyone who dares confront it – the pictures are relayed in the media for all to see. The silent message is that we dare not leave the state – our husband – or else….
And so, just like a battered woman, we fear to leave because we lack economic autonomy. The majority of Ugandans are poor and Government is the biggest employer and so in a sense, one fears to bite the hand that feeds them. We are dependent on the state for meager salaries and poor services and we console ourselves that the little is better than nothing – even as we starve, even as our children are not learning, even as we die in droves in our hospitals.
Just like a battered woman, we have been effectively isolated – Uganda has been fragmented into smaller and smaller [unviable] units called districts, we have kingdoms with subsets, ethnic tensions have increased over the years, we have been pitted against each other, we are suspicious of each other, and we fight each other instead of facing up to and confronting the state that batters us.
Like the battered woman, we are often reminded about the magnanimity that the batterer shows us and we are also reminded of how underserving we are. We are told that if it wasn’t for certain people who ushered in peace and prosperity – we would be nowhere. We are reminded to be grateful that we can sleep. The batterer is very skilled at spinning the narrative that without him, we would be nothing, we would be nowhere, and we would not amount to much.
Just like the battered woman, if we ever dare to leave, the batterer sets up barricades. We have seen it before – we are reminded of Luwero skulls, if we should dare walk away from our ‘husband’, or we are told even if someone else wins an election, handing over power would not be so obvious, we are threatened with coups – which conjures pictures of the bad old days we have been through, and so to avoid all that, we stay with our batterer.
People often ask why battered women do not leave a violent partner. Look at the picture of the Ugandan citizen and the state and you will understand why. Leaving is a process – slow and painful, but it must be taken. We must continue the work of helping the battered citizen see that they actually have the power to determine their destiny, the batterer is only a bully, whose power to bully is taken away once the battered decides to take back their power. Uganda is a traumatized, battered wife, but she can be healed. There is still hope for her yet.
We must be that hope for our nation.
By Jacqueline Asiimwe,