I was recently working on a small project with a Mzungu(white) lady when the power went off. The lady having recently arrived from Europe was astounded. She immediately picked up the phone and dialed the number of the electricity company. A bit skeptical, I sat watching the situation, a bit curious about what the outcome would be. On the other line a voice picked up and inquired about the nature of our call. On hearing the accent of my colleague, the tone suddenly became extremely friendly and empathic, promising to personally look into ‘our’ problem and report back immediately. I was bedazzled. What was going through the person’s mind? Was he thinking, oh.. this poor Mzungu lady, has come to Uganda and found us very disorganized, what can I do to elevate the status or reputation of Uganda? Or, this lady might put in a good word for me with my boss or the opposite if I do not treat her well. Or was he simply being what most Europeans describe us as- Friendly. It seems to me a lot of Ugandans aware of the sub standard levels of our service provision in Uganda, are always so keen to ensure that those same conditions that we live in and face on a day to day basis are not extended to our visitors from the West. Reminds me of a story I read in the papers recently about a Mzungu doctor who left his country and came to work in what the writer described as “this God forsaken land” Uganda.
A few months ago, I went to renew my internet subscription at my internet service provider. There was a small queue of people seated and waiting for their turns to be attended to, so I took my place at the end of the line or the last seat to wait. A few minutes later a Mzungu(white) man in his late 30’s walked in and completely disregarding the queue went straight to the counter. I was appalled, and immediately expressed my discontent to the lady he who had immediately started attending to him.
A few Ugandans seemed to be in a form of passive agreement with me, but everyone else remained calmed and seated. A few even stared at me like I was the one being unreasonable and rude to the poor Mzungu ‘who was obviously not used to waiting in long lines and such’. So the lady at the counter speaking in Luganda, which was unusual since we always speak English to each other, suggested that I be next in line and all the others would be dealt with after wards since I was the only customer who seemed to have a problem with our Ugandan way of doing things. Because of the lack of solidarity, I was forced to accept the offer to save my own face. But in retrospect, I should have perhaps walked out in protest or demanded that the Ugandans be treated ‘fairly’. But again, what good would it have done, since I was the only one who seemed uncomfortable with the situation?
I remember a Ugandan politician some years back shamelessly advising young Ugandan women to marry Bazungu men and go abroad and get money. A few years later in a contextually similar note later a Chinese lecturer was advising female Chinese students to stop their ever increasing familiarity and associations with African men (male
students) who usually have more disposable money because of the scholarships they obtain from the Chinese government the complete opposite.
So why do Ugandans love Bazungu so much? Or have we always been courteous and friendly to all outsiders? It would appear to me, that this behaviour is really exclusive to Bazungu or people from the west. But why is this? Why don’t we treat Indians and the Chinese with the same amount of enthusiasm? And is this behaviour reciprocated, or do we even expect it to be?
The answer might be found in the nature of British administration during the colonial era on the one hand, and the dominance of western media and literature as sources of information on the other, meaning that our perceptions about life and reality are shaped to a very big extent by the West. The British used indirect rule to govern Uganda. The ideology of indirect rule for which Fredrick Lugard 1858-1945 may be considered the patron; through his work The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa which describes how Britain was able to administer its colonies many of which were several times its size, by using already existing political and administrative systems.
This meant that the British could save their own labour for less tedious jobs and not get their hands dirty in the complicated business of running a colony. So, from the perspective of most Africans, during the colonial era it would have appeared as though our demise was a result of the greed and in-humanness of our own local leaders and not the colonial masters who only made appearance on festive occasions to give out medals and gifts to ‘good Ugandans’ and never have to deal directly with the disenfranchised majority. The result is that through intelligent systems of control in colonialism, neocolonialism, and the United Nations (which started in 1945 and now has 192 members stated but really evolved out of a necessity to prevent war between the super powers and respect the powers’ spheres of influence or claim to resources within those spheres).
Today Westerners enjoy a very unique position in Ugandan society. Our forefathers most of whom were uneducated peasants regarded them with awe for their knowledge of military affairs and their superiority in medicine and knowledge in general. As a result of the brilliance of the British in administering Uganda as a colony the word Muzungu came to synonymies intelligence and a state of being that Ugandans aspired to but never dared to equal. A Ugandan would be called a Muzungu for demonstrating cleverness or for ability to keep time, and other virutes.
Our forefathers were convinced that it would be more appropriate for us to adopt European (Christian) names, our lakes and national parks were named after or by British dignitaries, we encouraged to put on western clothing, we adopted the English language as our national language, and the use of local languages in schools was prohibited. We were encouraged to discard all things pertaining to our past and we began to lose our identity for the more ‘civilised’
British way of thinking and doing things. The term ‘Local’ originally used by the British to describe indigenous Ugandans-You and me, became a derogatory term used by Ugandans today to describe someone less educated or less sophisticated. We have become second class British citizens in Uganda, aspiring to be British in any way possible, but failing to hit the mark because of one simple reason: We are not British, we are Ugandans.