Thursday, September 7, 2017

Why I kinda, low-key, actually care about Profit Mbonye mania

I am atheist, which means that when people pray, I just politely stand by waiting for the moment to pass. Same way I stand still, close my eyes and hold down my skirts during a dust storm. But I can't lie. This time, I am interested in this Mbonye mania. 

This Tuesday, Joseph Kabuleeta, a former colleague from our New Vision days, and one with whom we share mutual respect for each other's writing gift, opened the Prophet Mbonye weekly fellowship at Kyadondo Rugby Club. This being the first after the dinner for which faithfuls paid up shs 1 million to honour the prophet, Kabuleeta predictably opened with salvos at those "people on social media" who made a frenzy about what happened at that dinner. If you've been living under a rock, reports indicate that some chosen faithfuls (including Kabuleeta) got to kiss the prophet's shoes. I have also heard that the steep admission fee bought the faithfuls plates of katogo. What more does an event need if it's going to go viral? "They can love you. They can hate you. But they can't ignore you. Tufuuse ensonga," Kabuleeta said to applause and ulalations from the congregants. Ahead of me in the security queue two ladies could not contain their excitment. "They will be fine!" one said of the social media detractors. "Tukikole neera!" she added, high fiving her mate. 

What was I doing standing in a queue to Prophet Mbonye's fellowship? Well, technically, the same thing I patronise the rugby club for: I was there to drink beer. Even though the club's pitch becomes a church every Tuesday, the bar remains open & cheap, for those of us whose thirst isn't spiritual. But I was also there for the fellowship. In fact, that would be my second time attending it. I enjoyed live tweeting the theatrics of it, the first time.

You see, Kabuleeta is right. Love or hate, we can't ignore them. I don't even love nor hate the Prophet Mbonye mission. I have a very limited emotional bandwidth so most things fall out of its range. Mbonye would be one of those things. But, I am endlessly fascinated, not by Mbonye or Kabuleeta and the other shoe kissers (they're making bank), but by people like that lady in the queue who dances at the thought that what she does with her spirituality is a slap in the face of some faceless people out there. That crowd of faithfuls that has grown from about 2500 to possibly 5000 in the past 16 weeks that the Mbonye fellowship has been at the rugby club. What is the utility of the fellowship to them? Why do they give their money to get prophesies on who will win the oscars in the U.S? 

For the most part, testimonies at the fellowship are underwhelming: they leave you wondering what miracle was worked. A young man was on the verge of eviction in 2006  because he owed shs 3 million in rent arrears. Then he saw a poster advertising the Mbonye fellowship at Theatre La Bonita. He attended and the God of Prophet Mbonye "moved a friend" to lend him shs 1 million which he put towards his rent debt and that way bought time with the landlord. "The God of Prophet Mbonye is powerful!" he says. Except, that sounds a lot like the standard hustle in this town for folks religious or otherwise. In fact,  it feeds a thriving loan sharks sub-economy. Why would someone lending you a million (if you're the kind of person whose rent is large enough for arrears to rise to shs 3 million) somehow be a miracle that can only be accounted for by the power of a prophet? "Also, your rent problem didn't get resolved!" the writer in me, who hates sloppy storylines, wanted to point out. But, considering I was in the bar upstairs, about 50 meters removed from the Silk Events stage that is set up to serve as pulpit each Monday evening, I would have had to scream to get his attention. That then, might have led me to being tackled by the counter terrorism policemen who patrol Kyadondo during fellowship. 

Did you know that? Yes, the counter terrorism police (or men in its uniform) guard the fellowship. It used to be the military police but the security appears to have been upped. An hour or so before fellowship, counter terrorism sweeps the venue with sniffer dogs, stations some officers along Jinja road to guide pedestrians crossing the road to the fellowship, and positions armed sentinels at the corners of the bar upstairs. I haven't the faintest idea how much Mbonye pays for our national security apparatus to guard him, or if he pays at all. I know though that he does pay Kyadondo sh10m every week to hold the fellowship on it's pitch. 

Back to the testimonies. A lady testified that she & her husband had wanted a family car for years but failed to afford one. Desperate for it, she printed an image of the model she wanted & went to fellowship with that piece of paper for the entire month of May. "Prophet Mbonye said God can decide to spoil you. You can point at a car and it becomes yours," she recalled. So, she consulted car dealers who told her she would have to pay 32% of the car price before they imported it. Her husband insisted they still couldn't afford the car until 2018. Then, sometime in July, at work (I surmise she works for the Uganda Revenue Authority), she saw that Prophet Mbonye had applied to transfer a car into his names but hadn't paid the transfer fees. She paid the fees for him. "I knew that was my point of contact [with God] for my miracle," she explained. She also "was blessed to be part of the people who processed a personalised number plate for the prophet. Then she asked him for a prophesy regarding her car desires. He said he saw her driving that car in the 8th month of the year. Then, "the holy spirit ordered the car without me paying any deposit," she revealed. When the car arrived, her husband paid the installment needed to get it out of the bond, and "by the second week of August, I was driving that car." Cue: ululations from the crowd. 

In the above testimony, I especially like the part where the holy spirit orders for the car. It reminds me of a lady who worked for me back when I run a chappati business in my S.6 vacation. In the beginning, she was clearly pregnant. We woke up early to make the chapattis and her morning sickness was major! Then she was sort of ill but not in the morning sickness way. Just ill. Then, we realised she wasn't showing any pregnancy signs anymore. Somebody asked her what had happened, perhaps for gossip or out of genuine concern that she might have suffered a miscarriage. Her response: nasaba mukama nebiterera (I prayed to the Lord and matters were made right). My friends and I still speak about abortion with that euphemism. "She's brave, keeping it under the circumstances. In her shoes, I would have prayed to the Lord for matters to be righted," one might say of a pregnancy that happens in a failing relationship. Not to get totally derailed though: in the above testimony, where a husband finds himself with no choice, but to pay for a car the holy spirit ordered, despite the state of family finances, are there counter prophets who can send mites to keep his wife itchy all night? 

From the three Mbonye faithfuls so far, I surmise two reasons to believe fervently in the god of Mbonye. One: by default you believe you have haters and detractors and even the most personal things you do with your life (like worshipping your god) keep them awake at night. So you do more of those things. Long live passive aggression. Two: You are a person who is uncomfortable with your own agency. You may or may not subject your friends to harangues regarding lending you money for rent you don't afford. You may or may not have arm-stronged your husband into buying a car he wasn't ready for. But let's just say, the spirit moved them to do these things. 

Although his patterns & rhythms are hard to discern because he jumps from one train of thought to another, sometimes abandoning the previous idea mid-sentence, the prophet's 1-hour sermon is mostly woven with two motifs; salvos at detractors & good fortunate despite oneself. "They haven't seen anything yet. I told you we messed up the devil's crowd. We came to take it to them. We are offensive with it. We are not playing defence. We came to take it to them. We are the remnants of the Lord. When we showed up, what they thought they knew about Christ, they will have to rethink it again," the prophet says. It sounds like gibberish but only if you haven't been tuned into the online wars between Ugandan Christians interpreting "The Word" correctly since Mbonye arose. He zooms in to the personal, "I am speaking here as a prophet of God. Whoever has given you a hard time at your work place... they will crumble. We came to take it to them. Hahahahaha." Occassionally, he breaks into actual gibberish. "Rabashata rababa rashata..." he says in a low devotional voice from time to time. It drives his congression into a frenzy for some reason. Every time. Other times, he goes into a bit of TMI on himself. We, for instance, learn that his sister once tried to set him up with a white babe. "Hahahaha," he likes to break up his speech with a dry laugh from time to time. Sometimes, he quotes the Bible, reading its verses off a teleprompter positioned to the side of the stage, just below eye level. As he reads from it, the undiscerning might conclude he is reciting memorised verses. It's not hard for me to imagine people who would be that gullible. One Saturday morning in 2010, I discovered one of my relatives was that way lacking. 

It was about 8:20am when I got the call. “Lyd, come to Nakawa. Bring your car. There is a problem with Mike,” said Saul, my cousin. Saul is as illogically generous as his father before him. He therefore is everyone’s distress call. He’s the guy who bails out detained relatives and mediates talks between fathers and their disowned sons.  If there is a child out there who was fathered in an extra-marital affair by one of relatives, it will be Saul who slowly assimilates them into the family fold by showing up at funerals and weddings with them. Typical calls from him go something like, “Gundi ali ku police eNatette. Yalya sente zabaandi. Bamukutte. Yamba nze. Kikolere nze, ssi ye. Mperezaayo emitwalo ettano, tusonda kakalu ka kooti.” Usually, the shortest way out is to acquiesce. Saul has both moral high ground & tenacity. He will beat down every argument you have for not getting involved.  So, that Saturday, even though I didn’t quite remember who Mike was nor how I was related to him, I drove to the specified Nakawa location. 

It was a row of single room rentals & Saul was peeping into the window of one. He seemed to be bargaining with someone inside. When I got to the window, I saw that inside the room was a man-child. A tiny malnourished, yellow eyed person, squatting with his bony knees touching his chin. He didn’t seem mentally present. Saul was trying to get him to come to the door and let us in. Eventually, dragging himself using feet, bony bum and palms, he approached the door, turned the key and we got in. 

The room was empty except for a plastic chair (broken) and four basins full of water. It was, miraculously, also clean. I had expected to find a mound of faeces in a corner because there was no way this person could make it out to the toilet outside. It turned out, he hadn’t had anything to take to the toilet in weeks. This was day unknown of his 40-day fast, as instructed by the prophet of the day: a man of god, whose name & title I don’t recall. His faithfuls congregated on a hill somewhere off Entebbe road. He is the guy who first popularised the idea of seeding: giving some money to your pastor such that it grows into a blessing many folds bigger. Actually, that idea is as old as church itself. What he popularised was the Luganda phrase for it: okusiga. 

What had happened to Mike’s property? He had seeded it all into the pastor. His wife? Yes, she too had either been seeded, or had seeded herself, into the pastor. Mike himself seemed still intent on seeding his very life into the pastor. He still didn’t want to break his fast. He has absconded from his government job as a secondary school teacher months earlier and all he had done with the time is worship this pastor. 

So far though, it seemed that all Mike had reaped from the seeding was beriberi disease. His limbs didn’t work. His eyes moved involuntarily. He could hardly speak. His mind was hardly there. It seems that in the weeks he had been lying starving in the house, he had grown an affection for the water in his basins. When we poured it away, his otherwise confused face was overcome with the saddest of expressions. Water in basins was all the material wealth he had left and he had just watched us pour it away. Defeated, he let us carry him to the car. Saul worked his family cohesion magic and got Mike taken in by a relative who nursed him back to health with literal baby food, like they give malnourished children at the Mwana Mugimu clinic at Mulago hospital. 

Thank god for government inefficiency. When Mike recovered, he found that nobody at his old workplace had reported his prolonged absence. So, he had a job waiting for him, and his name was still on the payroll. I never learnt what fruits the seeding of his wife bore. I suppose neither did Mike. 

I really want to leave matters of Mbonye to the faithfuls. I figure that if you can find shs 1 million to pay for a dinner of any kind, you are not a vulnerable person that needs my protection. You know what value you are getting from your association with the man of gaad. But, you also might be a Mike. Surely, there must be several Mikes in the crowd of 5000. People selling all their earthly possessions, for a chance to kiss the prophet’s shoes, in the hope they’ll be catapulted into the middle class comforts of the other well dressed people in the tent with them. How cruel it is for anyone to make them believe that is going to happen. That’s a cruelty I cannot pretend not to care about. 

Then again, what can anyone do to dissuade them? I may care about the Mikes believing in Mbonye magic, but I also know I can't help them. The only path through this is: they will invest themselves, hit beriberi bottom and if lucky, they will start over, wiser for it. So, next Tuesday, I will drink my beer and watch the frenzy below, praying my own non-prayer: may none of the Mikes in the crowd be related to me. I would feel much better respecting their freedom of worship, knowing that it indeed will never cause me to lose sleep. Not even Saturday morning oversleep.
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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Where do they go, the things that leave us?

When I was a child, I was a performer. At 6, I did a solo play at the National Theatre. I was Mukyala Nakigudde, an anti-vaxer mother. “Abaana abange nabageema dda. Nabasibamu obusso mu bulago, n’edaggala mu biwaato.” It’s okay. During the course of a 10 minute monologue, she changed her mind and took her kids for immunisation. I don’t act anymore except when I am trying to come off as nice. I am not nice but you can’t get through life as a woman without at least seeming to be. So, sometimes, like when a former sour colleague runs into me at a bar, I act . I think though, I would piss my pants if I were asked to stand on stage, before an audience and act. 

When I was a teenager, I loved dancing. I danced all 7 hours of every school cow-dance in the dining hall, every 3rd Saturday of every month. In Masaka where I went to school, Ambience Discotheque was all the rage. When school broke off and we were meant to be boarding taxis back home to Kampala, we instead sneaked into Ambience and danced the day away, admiring ourselves in the wall to wall mirrors, getting clumsy bad touches from teenage boys. Journeying home, high on our own youth, we amused ourselves & outraged fellow taxi passengers, by rehearsing stories we would tell our parents when we got home after dark. “The taxi broke down in Lwera. I was so scared. I thought I was going to get kidnapped. Then they sent an even older one from Masaka to pick us. It broke down in Mpanga Forest. Maybe those men were making the cars break down on purpose. Maybe they wanted to rape us. *Cue teary eyes.” I was on the Club Silk dance floor at age 15. Yes, I was one of those kids your parents warned you against making friends with. The fence jumpers. But your parents wouldn't have known that. My face & manner have always had a certain innocence to them...(Hihihihihi). Now though, if you made me dance in public, I would never speak to you EVER again. 

Five years ago, I was so in love, I floated on air. I could have given everything up for the relationship. I wanted to give everything up for it but I was never allowed the sacrifice. In those calculations men long decided are theirs to do, he chose what was best and you know how that story always ends. I will tell you anyway: 
It ends with the woman pulling the plug on a relationship she no longer has, but was never quite told as much. Why, though? Why don’t men just end the thing when it has ended in their heads? You’ll go years with every one of his actions saying it is over, while everyone of his words insists he is “fighting for us.” Aaarrgghh….Does modern love vocabulary have a passive aggressive term for that thing? 
Anyway, last year, in the back room of a dark New York bar, we sat together in awe at just how fine we each were without the other. “When you left, I was convinced that life would forever be smaller for it. But it hasn’t been. I joined a work team I like. I'm finally in grad school. I get to spend nearly a year of my life in New York & see all the musicals we were going to see together one day. When I go home, I might even get married. I'm not sure but I think he asked and if he does ask in a way that's real, I will be elated to say yes. It feels surreal. You were supposed to be the love of my life.I shouldn’t be this fine without you.” He laughed softly and said, “yeah, you should have worn sac cloth & sat in ashes for me, for the rest of your life. Come on, live your life! You deserve it. I was staring at you on the train today, thinking how incredibly brave you are for yourself. You’ve earned your peace.” And it was okay. I didn’t feel like crying, or secretly yearn him to show some remnant desire to be back in my life. He was right. I had earned my peace and it was as real as the brick walls that flanked us. 

Less than two years ago, I wore dreadlocks and did sexy like an art form. My drawers were EVERY.THING.

Corsets? ✔ 

Tails?  

Fishnet stockings?  

Yards of lace?  

Bras that push your tatas into your throat?  

Bras that cover everything except the nipples? 
(Really weird but , again)

Balcony bras. ✔ 
(God, government should export and hand out Nalubaale medals to global bra designers. They really have thought of everything! )

Fishnet jumpsuits? 
(Really not as sexy as it sounds but  again)

Boots not meant for walking anywhere in? 
(Yes, please ✔)

The right camera phone to share dress rehearsals with chosen brother? 
(But, of course!)  
I wonder where all that stuff went? I saw a leftover leather & lace dress in my closet, the other day, and I was momentarily disoriented. Far from the urge to wear it & check myself out, I turned it over in my hands wondering how a dress with so little coverage was ever sown. 


Where do they go, the things that leave us? The things that once used to float our boats to nirvana? Where are they buried when they die? And how come our boats still float, long after, what once seemed like, our very life force is gone?

Monday, July 24, 2017

When I was 28, I regularly fantasised about my wrists. Slit. Now, clever people might wonder if I have the depth to contemplate the absurdity of life. No, I don't. I climbed out of it.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

68 Ugandan Writers Call on Government to Drop the Charges Against Dr Stella Nyanzi

I co-sign here to safeguard my own interest as a writer, journalist, Muganda who would like to continue using the full vocabulary of my mother tongue (including #Lutako :)), and a feminist who knows that feminine display of emotion is often censored as unsuitable for contesting the public space.

But above all that, I co-sign as a Ugandan who is deeply concerned with the shortcomings of our government and their implications on the lives and prospects of ordinary Ugandans, especially the young ones. I would like the truth of those implications, spoken to the government, through all peaceful means available to ordinary Ugandans: protests, high minded logical argument, colourful language, art, journalism, boycotts, etc. On that note, I couldn't agree more with the co-signer who says, “Mr. Museveni and his wife need to know that they are leaders, not gods. They have fallen short, and it must be made known to them. Stella Nyanzi spoke to their shortcomings, as a citizen, artist, writer, journalist, mother, taxpayer, Ugandan and educator. She is not on trial but rather Mr. Museveni and Janet Museveni are on trial for not respecting the law and not respecting the words (promises) that come out of their mouths. Nyanzi must be released.”

Update on the case: Dr Stella Nyanzi, has appeared at Buganda Road court today, April 25th, 2017 but that case has been adnjourned to allow the High Court to review the application earlier filed by the state to have her undergo a psychiatric evaluation. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Most Insulting Thing About Sexism in the Media is How Basic It Is

Look, I am a professional woman. Part of my mantra is; thrive despite the sexism. That being said, I am picky with what sexism I must deal with. I don't go to Owino because the sexism there is too basic and I'm paid enough to curve it. Unfortunately, I find that the level of sexism among my fellow journalists is approaching that level of basic. I don't even know what I will do. I kenat!
For two days, a discussion on women in the media has raged on Twitter. Why do we have so many all men panels (manels), so few women voices in the media (22% of people interviewed, 12% of those who make the news), so few female journalists in as newsrooms (4 of 24 writers at The Observer reporters, although generally we have gender parity among working journalists). A lot was said. Then as happens in these things, the opposing side argued that women are either uninterested (especially in political discourse) or incompetent and potentially unethical if hired (see photographed text!).
Well, well, well... I am of course interested in political discourse. I even wish I was less interested. Trump keeps me awake at night and when I do sleep, I dream of Museveni and his dramas.
I'm competent. I made Senior Writer at The New Vision before my third year of employment there, way back in 2008. I now teach data journalism and manage media research at the African Centre for Media Excellence. I hold an honours MS in Journalism, from the world's top journalism school and write for Quartz, the bleeding edge of global digital journalism. I am not an ethical risk. You can ask Steve Coll of The New Yorker, two time Pulitzer Prize winner, Dean of the world's top journalism school. He awarded me honours in his ethics of journalism class and he, a New York Times editor, and a former NPR journalist with 25 years experience gladly agreed to be my referees going forward.
Now of course, none of this shows on my body when you meet me. What shows, is that I have a vagina. So I suppose one might be excused for assuming that a vagina is all I have to offer. Because you know, people with nothing to offer but their genitalia regularly walk into newsrooms asking for jobs or to sit on talkshow panels. I have in fact walked into talkshow studios with said vagina. Twice! But kudos to Ugandan journalists. Each time, they put me in my place.
The first was when a producer on KFM Hot Seat, asked me on very short notice to go over because he didn't have someone to take the 5th place. I showed up. Early. Andrew Mwenda, the host, was already there. He came out looking for the panelists, was pointed to me, and he asked, "are you a Ugandan journalist? How come I don't know you?" To be honest, I had never set eyes on Mwenda before then myself & I think the last time I tuned into his journalism was when he made the 'M7 killed Garang' insinuations on live radio. Even as a university student not studying journalism, it occurred to me that there had to be sources of analysis on public affairs that actually presented more facts than conjecture. But of course, I remained aware that he was practising journalism. He is Andrew Mwenda. You can't miss him. He didn't know me. There was no reason he should have. I knew him and thought his journalism standards have been less than stellar in the past. Yet, of the two of us, he was the one that felt entitled to being dismissive. He actually said he would not allow me into the studio because he didn't know me. I recited my CV and meekly walked into the studio when he got out of the way. When I took a seat, he still objected. I recited my credentials again but this time added, "I don't have to do this. I'm doing your producer a fill-in favour and I can walk out if you don't want me here." He left me alone, saying, "you work for Peter Mwesige. I know him." I couldn't be more proud to work with Peter Mwesige, but that wasn't the point. That was just the dog whistle to remind me journalism is a boys' club; something that actually would have annoyed Peter had he been there. After all, the organisation does actually have a fucking registered name and I had just said it. Anyway, we settled in, and I thought the show itself went fairly well, although one of my brother later texted to say, they should have allowed me more mic time. It's sort of hard on a 5 people show. Why do they put so many panelists on a radio show, by the way? Who taught them radio journalism? Probably not Sally Hership nor Ann Cooper! (Yes, I am throwing some Ivy League shade.)
The second time, a newsroom manager who had only met me at a conference that day and couldn't stop pointing out my good education (sir, you did wonders for my vanity), texted at about 10pm asking me to go to the studio at 6am. Again I did. Unfortunately, that good man wasn't the show host. A journalist (who really needs to attend my data journalism classes), was (in that breathless TV announcer voice they favour), bullshitting his way through numbers from a research study he hadn't read. The same one we were there to discuss. It wasn't a disaster. The two guests he had were familiar with the study and could steer the conversation. My main perspective on the findings was that they showed an unhealthy level of reverence to our leaders among the youths. "That's not how governance works. We need to be skeptical and that way remember to hold them accountable." That was the cue for the moderator to remind me I had come in with a vagina. "You are harsh Lydia. I am sure you have been in relationships. When something happens, do you just walk away? That is what you are saying. That we should be cynical not trusting." See, no man makes a statement about governance and is then bamboozled into a discussion on the relationships between girls and boys. But I'm not a man, am I? From that point on, I just wanted the show to end so I could go outside and kick a wall.
I am of course just one woman who has been on just two shows but pick any random female journalist and you will get an earful. My colleague Grace Natabaalo, talks the big picture of sexism in the media here. When she left The Daily Monitor for ACME, The Red Pepper reported that a sexy bumzella had changed jobs! Don't even get me started on how women are covered in those women's sections, often by female journalists. But, those are our colleagues, you people! Oba, what are we going to do, even? Other than drinking scotch at 9am, that is.
 

I would like to be on more talk shows but I'm not invited (I guess, planned guests don't cancel that much), but I would also hesitant to go. Studio are small spaces I generally prefer to share them with people I don't already want to punch in the face. I am also not keeping my long term faith in a Ugandan newsroom career. As I learnt when New Vision salaries were made public, that would be the wrong financial choice to make as long as I have a vagina.

So, yeah, newsroom managers, men who get onto talk shows because other men know them, and everybody else with Twitter time, can say all they want about how it's our fault. But people who become journalists are generally people who don't take bullshit. So, surprise, surprise, we aren't going to show up for your casual and basic sexism!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Of Course, I'm A Little Person

For a decade, I have wanted to be a single mum who rocks that shit and all the other shit too. You might think that's the 'have it all' baggage that all feminist women seem to carry around. It isn't. What it is, is a middle finger stuck straight up at the father of my child. Look, I loved that man. I thought he loved me too. Then, he abandoned me, pregnant, because he figured it would set his life behind. I want to be richer than that guy.  I want to take out of parenting, not just my share of the joy, but all of his too. Then I want to have a career so intellectually exotic to him, that he can't even pronounce my job titles. So, there. In case you were wondering what drives me.


Now, I want to marry my soulmate and throw an intimate cozy reception for family only; except I will invite my biological father to it, even though he really isn't family. In another human being, that would be extending the proverbial olive branch. An old man ought to be forgiven the mistakes of his youth. True. But then again, if your mistake is an entire person, me; tough luck. I will be inviting my father to my intimate wedding reception so he can watch me dance with my husband and stepdad, in turns, to this song.



So right; as far as warmth on the inside goes, I come down at this:

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Dwarf of a Life

Yes, love,
I should be
better than I am
I should smile
more often than I do
I should go out
pinch at life a little
be less of a nimbus cloud

But, love,
I am not
better than I am

So, love, agreed;
you choose well
for yourself to leave
with me, life is only a dwarf
you deserve better
and will get much better

But, love,
I had hoped
you would be
what I do
with my
dwarf of a life