88.5fm radio presenter, James Onen
Three weeks or so ago, I was informed that I had been un-friended and blocked on Facebook by a gentleman called James Onen.
Huh? I had visited Facebook numerous times without noticing that Onen had blocked me. What had I done to bring such an indignity on myself?
“Well,” the friend who gave me the news explained, “Onen posted something about you irritating him and then told his followers that he had blocked you.” So much then for his claims that he is tolerant,” we both distractedly agreed and the conversation drifted to our perennial topic; the scarcity of eligible gay men in Uganda.
But that conversation has led me to think about James Onen the person. The idea of psycho-analyzing him had gnawed at me for about a year but I have now been able to focus on it after what could very well turn out to be the life-devastating news of my banishment from Onen’s Facebook world.
Who really is James Onen?
I have met Onen twice in the flesh, once when I gave him and his friend a ride, and a second time in a social setting whose location isn’t important. Contrary to the impression he gives, Onen doesn’t come across as comfortable around strangers – except perhaps at night. With merely average looks, a wardrobe that doesn’t look like too much attention has gone into it, Onen is someone you would bypass without a second glance if you weren’t told that he works in radio.
Some of the basic things about the man can be surmised in about 10 minutes of listening to him: he is employed on the morning show of Uganda’s
88.5 88.2 Sanyu FM as a presenter. He is single, 4o years old (give or take one or two years), a self-avowed ex-Christian/atheist/freethinker, and a hedonist who needs no lessons on how to burn the night candle from both ends, preferably with a bevy of scantily clad women hanging around him.
There are other things, too, that don’t need a deep thinker to figure out. For instance, James Onen has opinions on almost everything under the sun and likely has not uttered the words I don’t know to any question in the last ten years.
It is also well-known that Onen supports gay rights, loses himself in video games and movies to an extent hardly anyone over 18, or with a family and/or a 9-5 job will find time to identify with. He also spends an inordinate amount of time on Facebook. The latter makes professional sense because he has a daily radio show to plug and will need inspiration and/or fodder from somewhere. Facebook helps him shake the tree of his ideas to see what falls out. That is when he is not scouring the internet for ideas to provoke his audience with. It’s a nice living if you can get it.
Holding some sort of certification in Philosophy, Onen is an incisive thinker and observer of human nature. He especially has a knack for articulating what you have thought of, but wouldn’t have found the words if you had tried.
And so, Onen will liberally tell his audience how stupid anyone is to believe in God and make a perfectly logical case. From there he will be off to assure everyone that feminists are desperate shrews who contradict themselves simply by opening their mouths about women’s fights for equality. When he lambasts marriage – he consistently argues that it is an institution designed to enrich women at the expense of men – he has rich divorce statistics to pick from, many of them from pillars of entertainment and government in yonder climes.
For a sample of Onen’s faire, here is an excerpt of one of his Facebook offerings from a couple of weeks ago:
The reason why black people cry racism all the time is because they spend their lives wanting to be liked rather than respected. They also are under the mistaken assumption that respect is a thing to be demanded, rather than earned. They bitch and whine 24-7 and wonder why no one respects them, generally speaking. You know who else bitches and whines 24-7 demanding respect and attention? Toddlers. … It is therefore not something blacks will be eager to relinquish anytime soon. Why should they, when they can guilt trip the rest of the world with it and be coddled like babies as and when it’s convenient? Showing agency is too much work, right? No hope, no change, for blacks.
Which black people? Maya Angelou perhaps who has now taken her message of either changing what you don’t like or changing your attitude to the grave? The Mau Mau who chose to die rather than stay shackled to British colonialism? Nelson Mandela who chose to forgive and move on after 27 years of incarceration at the hands of white Boers? Bill Cosby who regularly speaks out against the glorification of black ghetto culture? Barack Obama who has braved the wrath of black American demagogues and publicly told black fathers that they can do better? Or Whoopi Goldberg who has publicly refused to call herself African American because she is American and not African?
In Luganda there is a proverb that, loosely translated, says that losing your mother doesn’t mean you must forever lay yourself on her grave. You put the body in the ground, amidst all the keening you can muster, and then move on. But there is plenty of evidence that large sections of black America have refused to leave the grave-site up to and including blindly calling themselves African-Americans when they don’t even know that Africa is not one country. They have thus thrown their real-time American history in with a narrative that is not theirs, but identifying with which gives them a nebulous umbilical cord to a continent that doesn’t know them, has no propensity to understand them and wouldn’t want them back, even as the same hankering after “Africanness” also alienates them from their own country.
So, Onen has a point on this issue of racism and a people he barely knows, a country he doesn’t seem to have ever visited, let alone lived in.
But as tends to happen with people who have a lot of media time to fill to make a living, Onen is also a master at lurching on to a theory, masticating it in his mind and pronouncing himself on it as if he has just graduated with a PhD in it. And then he repeats it till you are sick of it.
It’s with that superciliousness that he pronounces himself on how bad for everyone marriage is. Yes, he has a point in that far too many marriages predictably end up on the rocks these days, often with the men on the receiving end of a financial fleecing. But how does he know that marriage is bad for everyone or that the soaring divorce rates are not merely a sign of individuals failing to make the right choices? He didn’t answer that one, I don’t think. What about all those people, mostly in the third world who seem to keep their marriages till death do them part? Silence on that one, too.
Loud-mouthed right wing commentator with a huge angry following: Rush Limbaugh
James Onen is thus the Rush Limbaugh of Uganda: he initially sounds erudite and thoughtful but the more he puts out statements on everything under the sun, the more you realize that there’s no one who can know everything about everything and so some of what he is saying must be borne out of conjecture couched as intellectual uniqueness. And once you take a closer look at who his avid followers are, rather many of them seem to be disgruntled, embittered people a part of whose lives has gone awry, thanks to what they perceive, rightly or wrongly, to be the sins of others. So, they need James Onen to assure them that they are perfect; it is their tormentors that aren’t.
Ironically, therefore, James Onen has spawned a legion of followers who agree with his every word because they feel they are victims of the situations Onen rants about daily: shrewd women who have married and divorced for money, broken marriages that never should have happened, gays marginalized by their sexuality, cheating spouses spreading harm and hurt, women who lose themselves in feminism at the expense of blending in, white Americans dying to hear that black people are not victims and never have been, single men who must go it alone (men going their own way or MGTW they call themselves) and not commit to any one woman, and so on and so forth. It of course makes for a negative grocery list but who is counting?
As anyone who has followed this blog will tell you, there is a lot in what Onen says that I agree makes sense. It seems, however that you disagree with Onen in a voice as loud as his at your peril.
For instance, while he is right about the victim mentality of a lot of Black Americans, what exactly does a radio personality on a small morning program in sub-Saharan Africa hope to achieve by parroting that message ad nauseum without advocating a single solution? First of all, it is really none of his business; it is black America’s. Secondly, if he hopes to educate his following, what is the message he wants them to take away in order to better their own lives if not that of the black people he scornfully lumps into one cesspool of self-pity.
Why does it seem that Onen is more interested in being right than in showing others how they could better their lives? Why are his views more valid than everyone else’s on every subject he visits? And if he is intellectually so omnipotent, how come a civil war raged in his homeland of Northern Uganda for two decades but you will struggle to find a single thoughtful statement that Onen has uttered about the horror that Joseph Kony perpetrated on the people there?
The last question is especially pertinent because, during one of Onen’s incessant Facebook submissions, he let it out that he had not visited his motherland, in Northern Uganda, in 20 years. It was as startling as it was revealing. For, how can someone who has shown scant interest in the people from his own home, just 400 kilometers away, take so much interest in the plight of Black Americans on a continent 6,000 miles away?
More to the point, what does it say about a radio personality from Northern Uganda who hardly says anything about his own roots, who adopts a British or American accent depending on where he is at in a sentence, and whose list of core virtues includes playing juvenile video games, using women merely as sex objects, heaping contumely on practically every facet of humanity (marriage, religion, politics, friendship, schooling, education, family, love etc) that most people around the globe would think holds some meaning to social cohesion and order?
The answer(s) wouldn’t matter if Onen didn’t also live in a country where most of the people, even those who have gone to school, don’t think for themselves (he is right when he says this) and so follow the few individuals like James Onen and Uganda’s execrable politicians who carry themselves as though they know it all, but who mainly open their mouths for the sake of it, when it is not to sate their egos.
It doesn’t for an erudite, thoughtful, challenging, independent free thinkers’ forum make but there you have it.
******* This item was edited after the first posting of May 30 ********