How to come out as gay in Africa 2

So you are now settled in your mind that you are a same-gender loving man or woman. You are happiest loving your fellow man or woman and wouldn’t have it any other way, yes? If you are not yet sure about this aspect, do not come out.

If you are, here are some tips:

First and foremost, you have to know who your important relatives and friends are. The reason this is critical is twofold: the really important relatives in your life are the ones you can afford to offend or take for granted as they will never find another you, or you another them, and they know it.

Friends are trickier because we cultivate them as opposed to being related to them through blood but rarely do we have more than five solid friends the moment we cross the 30-year threshold. Those 5 friends should know sooner than later.

Once you know your important relatives and friends, don’t be two-face around them; live as you feel without talking about your sexuality or throwing it in their faces. If you can’t be yourself around the people who matter most to you, trust me you have far bigger problems than being gay.

Why is this critical? For the simple reason that your committed relatives and friends will never abandon you because they have discovered that you are gay. Never. They will also be perceptive enough to know who you are without too many questions being asked. Let it up creep up on their realization. That is why you must not be fake around them.

Mothers know, always, unless they haven’t raised you. They just pretend not to. Don’t expend valuable time worrying about what they will say as no mother will disown their child on account of their sexuality.

Fathers are often the last to know because men compartmentalize things and even refuse to focus on what’s staring them in the face. It’s why men are more difficult to bring around to their kids being gay. Fathers are also conspicuously uninvolved in the 9-month process that brings children into the world so their attachment to their offspring can be nebulous.

Don’t suffer it as to whether your father knows or not.  It makes sense to hide it from him while he is still paying for your education, but once you can look after yourself, ignore his reaction – he will eventually tone down his expectations. If he finds out at a time you still need his financial support, there is nothing you can do but hope he keeps a level head. His reaction is out of your control anyway.

In terms of how to conduct yourself as a gay African, in Africa, please understand that we are all a product of our environment. Ugandans (Africans?) are not a demonstrative people – we thus don’t talk about love; we show it, often through tangential actions.

Therefore, don’t go blurting it out that you are gay to all and sundry. That’s as un-African as it is needless.  Never announce that you are gay, not even to people who already know – that is plain bad manners. Unless you wish to embarrass the relatives who matter to you, don’t take on public gay activist roles without coming out to them first.

Avoid public displays of affection. Even straight people take it home in Africa so it is pretentious if not ill-bred to start holding hands in bars or, worse, petting and kissing with everyone looking on. That is simply exhibitionist and you will deserve any opprobrium heaped on you. Take your displays home. If you don’t agree with this, try thinking about what happened to the last relationship of Africans you remember flaunting their affection in public. Precisely.

If you are already independent (read you have left home and pay your way in life however humbly), there is absolutely no reason for you to explain to anyone why you are still single. If you are still living at home, past 25, the reason you are still single is that you are still living at home!

Never, ever, project an apologetic air around those who might wonder aloud why you are single! Ever. Gay boys and girls make the terrible mistake of slinking into the shadows around straight people, perhaps hoping to avoid nagging questions. Yet nosy relatives or friends have things to hide themselves. They are thus always looking out for someone to bully to deflect attention away from their own shortcomings.

The relatives who are quickest to ask you when you getting married tend to be the ones whose marriages didn’t work out, whose spouses left them for someone else, whose children are not successful; people who are disappointed about some aspect of their lives and are now trying to pull anyone they can down with them.

Remember, misery loves its own company. Don’t project the air that you want to join anyone’s pity party. Never, ever, act timid or project the impression that you are vulnerable because of your sexuality. Therefore, don’t sit in the shadows at family gatherings. Calmly stare down anyone who might want to ingratiate themselves into your presence to ask loudly why you are still single. As long as it seems you are miserable there will be someone asking you to marry their dull daughter or to hump someone, anyone, in order to extend the family tree.

Be nice, be polite, but be very firm in the way you carry yourself. “When I am ready to get married, you will be the first to know,” works wonders all the time. Or “Is it really appropriate to ask a grown-up such personal questions, aunty?” Just say it in a tone that leaves no further room for discussion. Another one yours truly likes is to totally ignore a question while, however, making it clear one heard it.

You will always get the horrible aunt who insists on prodding even further after that. Don’t lose your temper with her – just let your attention visibly wander by, for instance, turning your attention to someone on the other side of you. If they continue prattling on, pat them on the arm gently and excuse yourself.

Do not trick unsuspecting women or men into thinking you are straight and are into them. You can have a ‘beard’ for show, but that grows tired once you are past 25 which is when one should have stopped playing silly shadow games with themselves. I still see my gay friends running around with women, and some even getting them pregnant and attempting to settle down with them. It never works of course, and it fools no one – just hurts even more people, makes you totally intolerable as a human being and wastes critical time that you could have used to be happy.

As a gay man or woman, always remember that we should not think only about ourselves. So always look out for others; be a good listener if you have it in you, engage in family events if you like that sort of thing, pay someone’s school fees, give to a deserving charity, donate to a refugee center, do some good without expecting anything back in return. If people see that you are not a selfish, introverted, lofty bastard, they are more likely to accept the gay side of you even though they might never understand it in their lifetimes.

If people ask you directly about gay stuff, it means they already know you are gay. Don’t be a bitch about it. Many times people ask because they genuinely would like to understand so it is best to give them the benefit of the doubt. Just be clear about what you are comfortable discussing with them. Yours truly once fielded a discussion with 10 straight people on the intimate  ins and outs of gay sex. But that is yours truly – a unique class act that’s impossible to emulate!

Be knowledgeable about your life and lifestyle. You can’t for instance fail to know that not all gay men indulge in penetrative sex. Knowing that helps one explain to whoever might ask that being gay is not just about sex, but about loving. In so doing, you detract attention away from the more prurient questions you might not want to deal with, while acknowledging that you know about gay life and are not apologizing for it.

Finally, don’t expect everyone to understand why you are gay. So, choose carefully who you discuss it with, who you invite home when your gay friends are around and who you pour your heart out to when your Nth boyfriend dumps you.

Once you are over 30, you are also ready to narrow down the list of friends to the only ones who really matter. Rather than blurt it out at a social gathering , embarrassing everyone in the process, use the tried and tested method: connive with a reliable friend  (preferably straight) to “gossip” about your sexuality when you are not around. Yours truly did this years ago with a particular set of friends and it saved him a lot of trouble; the real friends took it in their stride and the superficial ones ran for the hills. Talk about hitting two birds with one stone.

Hope this helps. If not, don’t hesitate to ask, through the inbox (supakoja@yahoo.com) or here, anonymously if you wish.

Miss Uganda 2014: proxy battle between hearts and minds 2

The much pilloried winner: 2014 Miss Uganda - Leah Katunguka

Knight to the rescue: pageant organizer, Joram Muzira, rides to Leah Kalunguka’s defense

She is a striking woman who, however, should have been in a different competition – Africa’s Next Top Model, Nokia (has it been killed off completely yet?) Africa, or something commercial like that.

But Leah Kalunguka, no doubt full of confidence about herself, entered the Miss Uganda beauty pageant and, to the consternation of the social media talk-e-rattis, she won.

The backlash against her win should propel her to an honorable mention on the list of Ugandans who generated one of the most tumultuous uproars on social media in 2014.

Even if she gets a competent make-up artist, Leah Kalunguka, Miss Uganda 2014, will not win, does not deserve to win, the Miss World crown because she entered herself in the wrong competition; she  is simply too brash, her smile too cookie cutter, her knees too big, her posture too manly and her overall showing too brittle to make any impression in a competition that looks for demure, sedate, elegant, porcelain, waif-thin, shrinking violet but extremely striking “show stopping” women who need no defending because their beauty speaks for them.

Kalunguka’s look is one that doesn’t arrest you immediately, if at all, making her eminently forgettable on a Miss World runway. But all that is actually beside the point.

The point is that Kalunguka is now being pilloried and defended in equal measure over a proxy fight that has nothing to do with her at all.

That fight is between political correctness and in-your-face telling it as you see it.

Stood no chance of winning but nonetheless was selected to compete: Chantelle Brown-Young

Of course she stood no chance of winning but nonetheless was selected to compete in a nod to political correctness: Chantelle Brown-Young

On one hand you have the shrinking violet, let’s all get along Kumbaya brigade who would have the world only say nice things because to speak your mind is … unkind, mean, cruel, harsh – all the things that shouldn’t course through any caring human being’s veins.

Oustanding: Uganda's Maurice Kirya has led Leah's Kalunguka's praises

Roundly ridiculed on social media: Uganda’s Maurice Kirya has nonetheless led Leah’s Kalunguka’s praises

On the other is the practical, blunt, “judgmental” side which takes no prisoners and allows little time for frilly pie-in-the-sky fluffiness when the naked truth is staring one in the face. They make up their minds quickly and have no patience for fence-sitting. If you want a representative of this group, think … Judge Judy Sheindlin.

It is indeed the reflection of the struggles for ascendancy between the liberal, Pollyana-esque, wear your heart on your sleeve world that seeks to offend no one and the stoic attitude that looks at life as a set of vicissitudes we have to shoulder by just getting on with it without making excuses or expecting sympathy.

In other words, should we all be kind, considerate, caring and mindful people who do all who we can to get along, even if it means sugar-coating the truth? Or should we accept that life owes nothing to anyone and we have to make the best of what we have up to, and including, accepting that some of us have no place in a Miss World beauty pageant however much we might want to grace that event?

The jury is still out on that but the tussle has been joined in earnest by the two sides. In Kalunguka’s case, the forthright brigade threw in their lot moments after she was announced winner. But they haven’t had it their own way as even musicians have waded in, singing Kalunguka’s praise in what should ultimately be a vain attempt to assure us doubting Thomases that she was the right choice.

Ultimately, Kalunguka might go on to do very well for the future which will be great for her of course. But it will likely not quell the battle for ascendancy between political correctness and die-hard practical common sense that is now being fought all over the universe, yes even in Uganda.

The battle has indeed been joined.

The Facebook Confessional Reply

Forgive me father for I have sinned. Since my last confession, I have lied ten times, been greedy at lunch, and squeezed out what was left of my friend’s toothpaste without permission.

That was the kind of confession I often resorted to before the obligatory weekly Sunday mass back in primary school. The reason why I stopped doing confession, and now go to church mostly to hear the choir sing, is that at that age one eventually runs out of ‘sins’ to confess.

Yet the confession was mandatory before one attended church service and communion. So, what does a child of 8 do given those sets of circumstances? It makes up the sins of course. Interestingly, though, even when I made up the sins which was most of the time, I was given absolution. The entire exercise was thus a sham and my 8-year-old mind figured it out relatively easily and treated it as such.

Which brings me to the real issue gnawing at my mind. What is the point to a public confessional? Forgiveness from society? Taking things off our chests to make us feel better? Or might it be out of a lofty, but ultimately naive, desire ” for the wider public to learn from our experience and be better people themselves?”

responses1

Can a confession to faceless strangers really change the world for the better?

The commonest confessional today, which was given credibility by the queen of talking, Oprah Winfrey, is the I am a bad person because I was abused one. America seems to understand it without reservation, criminals tearfully embrace it and we are all supposed to sympathize else we are heartless.

On Facebook a couple of days ago, there was a confession of a different kind that startled yours truly. It came from a person I respect and whose prolific Facebook postings seemed, until then, to be harmless even if some of them rather too informative: I am horny, Gays deserve our understanding …  My kids said this and that … I hate death (after the death of her father), My kids’ absent father … Why do women stay with men who abuse them …? We ate fries, sausage and black tea for breakfast … And so on and so forth.

Then came this: “Father beat his pregnant wife of seven months …” To my horror and total consternation, it turns out it is a hitherto untold true story about her father and mother. 39 years ago, when the writer was just one-year-old, her father apparently beat her mother up over the whereabouts of his car keys and hospitalized her. She lost her 7-month pregnancy and he duly buried the fetus before she came to from the ordeal.

… He beat her out of our mother’s womb before she was mature enough to survive. Did she welcome him into the world of the dead with a daughter’s embrace? Did father recognize her? Did he apologize to this unborn child for ridding her of the chance to live as a human being? …

It’s raw, harrowing, heart-rending, totally shocking. But it is also totally captivating.

The problem I have with it is two-fold: the father in question is now dead and cannot give his version of events. Though her freshly widowed mother is still alive, it is doubtful that she gave her consent for this traumatic story to be publicized to faceless, voyeuristic, strangers on Facebook.

If that is the case, my friend, with her peerless writing skills, would have appointed herself to own her mother’s story; a sin of superciliousness surely.

Never mind who I am; I want to be your friend

Never mind who I am; I want to be your friend

As you scroll through the comments, almost all of them complimentary that this horrific episode has been dredged up 39 years later (give us more they exhort), you get the sense that the respondents think it is worthwhile sharing’ these types of personal, painful, lurid stories on Facebook because ‘ it will help others not to do the same.’ It is thus curious that none of the almost 200 respondents share their own gory family details in solidarity.

Welcome to the Oprah-esque world of mass-media public confessionals – Ugandan-style.

Ever since Oprah Winfrey admitted to being sexually molested as a child by one of her own, how has child abuse in America been reduced exactly? As a direct correlation, what is the ratio of Americans who now blame their bad manners and criminal activity on early child abuse as opposed to those who confess that Miss Winfrey’s prime time 5pm confessional helped them stop abusing their children? Mightn’t Miss Winfrey merely have spawned a blame industry that helps people absolve themselves of responsibility for their heinous actions as adults by allowing them to blame it all on their past?

But we all know that Miss Winfrey hasn’t done badly at all, thank you very much, since she made laying oneself bare an art form.

I am skeptical that unburdening oneself to total strangers makes any sense, even if it weren’t self-serving. If one has something so emotional to take off one’s chest, it seems to me to make better sense to do it in a controlled environment where the issues eating at one can actually be addressed with the seriousness they deserve: in a family setting, in a shrink’s chair, with one’s spiritual leader, in a support group of like-minded peers such as alcoholics anonymous, with carefully selected friends … where productive help can be provided.

But on Facebook? Where people you’ve never heard of, many of them faceless, ask to be your friend simply because you’ve posted something they think is witty or catchy?

Only one or two of your close friends should know this!

Only one or two of your really close friends should know this!

Let’s face it, if you have more than100 Facebook friends, only 30 of them deserve to really be called ‘friends,’ the rest are mere acquaintances. If you have 500 Facebook friends, still only 30 are worth your personal time, and of those 30 only one or two should  be privy to how much you hate your job or at what angle your toes curled in the heat of the moment last night.

In other words, there is really what is called too much information when you are “sharing” with people who don’t know you, cannot know you and, therefore, whose fascination with your innermost personal life is not dissimilar to the fascination rubbernecking drivers have as they go past a mangled car wreck.

However riveting the wreck might be, they are ultimately glad they were not, are not, part of it.

Gay Justice 6- Anti-gay Foolishness 1 Reply

Had it been an amateur tennis match, the 6-1 scoreline would have been really bad.

As it were, the 6-1 result we have from the Ugandan courts on the high stakes gay issues lies in the realms of mortifying – if the opponents on the other side had any sense of embarrassment whatever.

The drubbing started in December 2006 when Justice Stella Arach ruled in favor of Victor Mukasa/Oyo in their suit against the Government of Uganda for abuse of their human rights. $7,000 was awarded. Since then, the pro-gay side has won legal skirmish after legal skirmish, losing just one to Minister Lokodo when they sued him for disrupting an LGBTI meeting in Entebbe.

But since that loss, however, Uganda’s constitutional court nullified the Anti-gay law Museveni had signed barely six months earlier on procedural grounds. That was a 6-0 drubbing all by itself.

More recently, Samuel Ganafa walked free after the case against him, alleging HIV homo-sodomy, collapsed. Hot on the heels of that great news, two men, Jackson Mukasa and Kim Mukisa, who had been arrested and humiliated by law enforcement also walked free when the state failed to make a case for arresting them.

The anti-gay side is in total disarray, they have lost allies all the way up to the Vatican, and continue to bleed support everywhere they turn. Only a couple of days ago, the states in the USA where gay marriage is legal rose to 30. 30 out of 50 states is a majority in whatever way you look at it.

And now Uganda’s political campaigns have started in all but name, relegating what people do in their privacy of their bedrooms to irrelevance. The anti-gay law will not be returned to Parliament if Uganda’s president has his way, which he likely will.

It might sound odd to anyone who doesn’t live the gay lives we are living in Uganda, but it is a rather good time to be fighting in the Ugandan courts for gay rights right now. It really is. To anyone wishing to pursue the anti-gay crusade through Uganda’s courts, it’s an excellent time to ask them to bring it on!

One feels like whistling a Queen song  …

I’ve taken my bows/And my curtain calls/You brought me fame and fortune and everything that goes with it/I thank you all/But it’s been no bed of roses/No pleasure cruise/I consider it a challenge before the whole human race/And I ain’t gonna lose.

We are the champions my friends/And we’ll keep on fighting till the end/ We are the champions/We are the champions/No time for losers/Cause we’re the champions … Of the world.

Museveni lays money trap for Uganda’s Parliament 2

Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, has laid out his stall in yet another bid to defeat Uganda’s Parliament over the Anti Homosexuality Bill (AHB).

Having bullied Uganda’s lawmakers in 2010 and succeeded only long enough for Canada’s John Baird to upend his efforts in 2012, Museveni has returned to the tried and tested antidote to politicians who refuse to tow his preferred line.

Money, money, money
Must be funny
In the rich man’s world
Money, money, money
Always sunny
In the rich man’s world
Aha-ahaaa
All the things I could do
If I had a little money
It’s a rich man’s world (ABBA)

His rambling argument for trying to re-position the anti-gay debate is as confused as it is confusing but it doesn’t really matter. Amidst the contradictions and obfuscations, the president has wielded the weapon he has  used successfully to quieten his restive Parliamentary caucus in the past:

Money.

With Uganda’s Parliamentary elections about 15 months away, Museveni knows that a of Members of Parliament are desperately broke, with their necks in the noose for millions of shillings they owe to loan sharks. They thus have no money to run their campaigns. Some of those loan sharks have the president on speed dial, and vice versa. It stands to reason that the president has a Mikado-like list of members of parliament (MPs) who are hanging on by their fingernails on account of crippling loans they owe to voracious money lenders.  He also knows that the last election campaign was funded by donor money, most of it used to prop up his National Resistance Movement (NRM) campaign.

It is manufacturing and trade that has completely transformed countries like South Korea, China, India, Mauritius, in just one generation. This is what the NRM meant when, in point No 5 of our 10-Point Programme, we were talking of “building an integrated, independent and self-sustaining economy”. We cannot do that without trade. Those countries that neglect that fail. (Museveni)

The 2016 election will also need money, billions of it. The President doesn’t need to tell his caucus that this money has traditionally come from America and Europe – precisely the places where the backlash against the AHB have been strongest.

IMAG1024_1By bringing China and the emerging Asian tigers into the equation, he is telling his MPs that they have to make a choice. China will fund infrastructural projects but is not in the habit of handing out money that they know is easily fungible to also fund political campaigns. America and Europe, however, have a rich history of doing exactly that. Moralize on bedroom matters at the expense of Uganda’s economy. The sting in the tail is that any MP willing to make that argument must do so in the forthcoming elections without the president’s (donor) support.

It worked in 2010, with the 2011 polls looming. Parliament passed the bill in 2013 when there was nothing for them to lose. Now there is – re-election in 2016 which, without Museveni, means certain political death for many MPs in Uganda. Even if so many parliamentarians weren’t financially against the wall, they need the president’s patronage to get re-elected since, even after 30 years, he is still the biggest decisive element in Uganda’s politics.

Museveni is saying he is the key to the overflowing largess needed to help return MPs to their seats. Back me on this or risk being unable to have funding for your election campaigns.

It is now with all of us following the Court ruling. What is the way forward? (Yoweri Museveni)

Indeed it is now up to the ruling NRM parliamentary caucus. They can continue trying to cut off their noses to spite their faces, or they can fall  behind the president and abandon their efforts to return the AHB to Parliament, thereby improving their chances of financing their re-election.

Might Sweet Cakes’ Melissa Klein have a point? Reply

My heart can only make one perfect set of lace, not two!

My heart can only make one perfect set of lace, not two!

I am all for equal opportunity [not necessarily equality as that is a much trickier terrain to navigate - if you want to believe in equality, try pitting the best female boxer there is against Mike Tyson in his prime] but the American Sweet Cakes saga has got me thinking about where we should draw the line when emotions are factored into running a business.

The basic facts are not in dispute: Melissa Klein of Gresham, Oregon (USA) refused to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple intending to get married. There was a huge media and social backlash, largely condemning Klein and her husband who ran the shop with her, for being anti-gay bigots. The couple decided to close their shop, Sweet Cakes, and now take orders off the internet and from their home which is where they have migrated the business.

At first I wholeheartedly took the gay couple’s side. After all, who wants to feel that their perfectly legal nuptials are being denigrated by a sanctimonious baker?  But then something that Melissa Klein says in her tearful defense caught my attention:

“For me personally, when I would sit down with them, I just would want to know everything about her wedding. I’d want to know about the flowers, her dress, the centerpieces, her colors, the way her hair is going to be. I would even want to talk about ‘where are you going on your honeymoon?’

Melissa Klein is saying that she has to immerse her whole being completely  into the wedding project else she cannot do the best job that she is capable of.

I am skeptical about Klein’s claim since she is now taking orders online, a certainly less personal forum than in her reception office. But I think she, unwittingly perhaps, raises a valid point.

At last! Beyonce to play West Virginia trailer park!

At last. Beyonce to perform in West Virginia trailer park!

Hers is a vanity business which requires the “artist”  to engage with the client on a very deep level, sometimes for months. It would be the equivalent of a female painter saying she doesn’t paint men because they don’t engage her artistically. Likewise an artist could argue he works only with dogs, not human beings. 

It is thus true that some jobs require such emotional output from the vendor that they can’t do them perfectly for or with certain clients, isn’t it?

Take another example:

What if incest were legalized tomorrow? Would a marriage counselor be expected to flick a switch, turn off their sensibilities and start counseling fathers calling to discuss marrying their daughters?

Imagine that a 500 pound bride-to-be waddled into or, worse, was carted into the designer’s studio for a wedding dress. Should the designer suspend her disbelief and mirth and dive feet first into the job the way she would with a size 8 hour-glass beauty? What would be wrong with Vera Wang telling such an obese woman that she has no idea how to make anything pretty for one so … how can one put it delicately?

Do we condemn musicians who will not perform in certain venues ostensibly because they are ‘too small,’ or ‘out of the way’ which we all know is coded speak for down market? If musicians can sneakily pick and choose which class of audiences they will perform for by avoiding certain venues, what is wrong with a cake maker following her heart and entertaining only clientele she can truly give her emotional whole?

In other words, what is wrong with an artist or artisan rejecting a job because, to borrow from street parlance, he or she doesn’t feel it?

The danger of a single story (by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) 3

An excellent comment on what has gone wrong, and is still wrong, with the dynamics of Aid for ‘poor people’, one-dimensional activism that anoints itself to decide who needs to be helped, and the dangers that arise when listening is merely perfunctory. This, to my mind, is what is wrong with much of Western (white?) activism from the West – patronizing, insulting, racist, and very confidently so.

None of it is mine so I will relay it verbatim. I hope it is not copyrighted – it is simply too valuable a statement to have any kind of lock on it.

**************************

The danger of a single story (by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie):

I’m a storyteller. And I would like to tell you a few personal stories about what I like to call “the danger of the single story.” I grew up on a university campus in eastern Nigeria. My mother says that I started reading at the age of two, although I think four is probably close to the truth. So I was an early reader, and what I read were British and American children’s books.

I was also an early writer, and when I began to write, at about the age of seven, stories in pencil with crayon illustrations that my poor mother was obligated to read, I wrote exactly the kinds of stories I was reading: All my characters were white and blue-eyed, they played in the snow, they ate apples, and they talked a lot about the weather, how lovely it was that the sun had come out. (Laughter) Now, this despite the fact that I lived in Nigeria. I had never been outside Nigeria. We didn’t have snow, we ate mangoes, and we never talked about the weather, because there was no need to.

My characters also drank a lot of ginger beer because the characters in the British books I read drank ginger beer. Never mind that I had no idea what ginger beer was. (Laughter) And for many years afterwards, I would have a desperate desire to taste ginger beer. But that is another story.

What this demonstrates, I think, is how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, particularly as children. Because all I had read were books in which characters were foreign, I had become convinced that books by their very nature had to have foreigners in them and had to be about things with which I could not personally identify. Things changed when I discovered African books. There weren’t many of them available, and they weren’t quite as easy to find as the foreign books.

But because of writers like Chinua Achebe and Camara Laye I went through a mental shift in my perception of literature. I realized that people like me, girls with skin the color of chocolate, whose kinky hair could not form ponytails, could also exist in literature. I started to write about things I recognized.

Now, I loved those American and British books I read. They stirred my imagination. They opened up new worlds for me. But the unintended consequence was that I did not know that people like me could exist in literature. So what the discovery of African writers did for me was this: It saved me from having a single story of what books are.

I come from a conventional, middle-class Nigerian family. My father was a professor. My mother was an administrator. And so we had, as was the norm, live-in domestic help, who would often come from nearby rural villages. So the year I turned eight we got a new house boy. His name was Fide. The only thing my mother told us about him was that his family was very poor. My mother sent yams and rice, and our old clothes, to his family. And when I didn’t finish my dinner my mother would say, “Finish your food! Don’t you know? People like Fide’s family have nothing.” So I felt enormous pity for Fide’s family.

Then one Saturday we went to his village to visit, and his mother showed us a beautifully patterned basket made of dyed raffia that his brother had made. I was startled. It had not occurred to me that anybody in his family could actually make something. All I had heard about them was how poor they were, so that it had become impossible for me to see them as anything else but poor. Their poverty was my single story of them.

Years later, I thought about this when I left Nigeria to go to university in the United States. I was 19. My American roommate was shocked by me. She asked where I had learned to speak English so well, and was confused when I said that Nigeria happened to have English as its official language. She asked if she could listen to what she called my “tribal music,” and was consequently very disappointed when I produced my tape of Mariah Carey. (Laughter) She assumed that I did not know how to use a stove.

What struck me was this: She had felt sorry for me even before she saw me. Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa: a single story of catastrophe. In this single story there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals.

I must say that before I went to the U.S. I didn’t consciously identify as African. But in the U.S. whenever Africa came up people turned to me. Never mind that I knew nothing about places like Namibia. But I did come to embrace this new identity, and in many ways I think of myself now as African. Although I still get quite irritable when Africa is referred to as a country, the most recent example being my otherwise wonderful flight from Lagos two days ago, in which there was an announcement on the Virgin flight about the charity work in “India, Africa and other countries.” (Laughter)

So after I had spent some years in the U.S. as an African, I began to understand my roommate’s response to me. If I had not grown up in Nigeria, and if all I knew about Africa were from popular images, I too would think that Africa was a place of beautiful landscapes, beautiful animals, and incomprehensible people, fighting senseless wars, dying of poverty and AIDS, unable to speak for themselves and waiting to be saved by a kind, white foreigner. I would see Africans in the same way that I, as a child, had seen Fide’s family.

This single story of Africa ultimately comes, I think, from Western literature. Now, here is a quote from the writing of a London merchant called John Locke, who sailed to west Africa in 1561 and kept a fascinating account of his voyage. After referring to the black Africans as “beasts who have no houses,” he writes, “They are also people without heads, having their mouth and eyes in their breasts.”

Now, I’ve laughed every time I’ve read this. And one must admire the imagination of John Locke. But what is important about his writing is that it represents the beginning of a tradition of telling African stories in the West: A tradition of Sub-Saharan Africa as a place of negatives, of difference, of darkness, of people who, in the words of the wonderful poet Rudyard Kipling, are “half devil, half child.”

And so I began to realize that my American roommate must have throughout her life seen and heard different versions of this single story, as had a professor, who once told me that my novel was not “authentically African.” Now, I was quite willing to contend that there were a number of things wrong with the novel, that it had failed in a number of places, but I had not quite imagined that it had failed at achieving something called African authenticity. In fact I did not know what African authenticity was. The professor told me that my characters were too much like him, an educated and middle-class man. My characters drove cars. They were not starving. Therefore they were not authentically African.

But I must quickly add that I too am just as guilty in the question of the single story. A few years ago, I visited Mexico from the U.S. The political climate in the U.S. at the time was tense, and there were debates going on about immigration. And, as often happens in America, immigration became synonymous with Mexicans. There were endless stories of Mexicans as people who were fleecing the healthcare system, sneaking across the border, being arrested at the border, that sort of thing.

I remember walking around on my first day in Guadalajara, watching the people going to work, rolling up tortillas in the marketplace, smoking, laughing. I remember first feeling slight surprise. And then I was overwhelmed with shame. I realized that I had been so immersed in the media coverage of Mexicans that they had become one thing in my mind, the abject immigrant. I had bought into the single story of Mexicans and I could not have been more ashamed of myself. So that is how to create a single story, show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.

It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power. There is a word, an Igbo word, that I think about whenever I think about the power structures of the world, and it is “nkali.” It’s a noun that loosely translates to “to be greater than another.” Like our economic and political worlds, stories too are defined by the principle of nkali: How they are told, who tells them, when they’re told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power.

Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person. The Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti writes that if you want to dispossess a people, the simplest way to do it is to tell their story and to start with, “secondly.” Start the story with the arrows of the Native Americans, and not with the arrival of the British, and you have an entirely different story. Start the story with the failure of the African state, and not with the colonial creation of the African state, and you have an entirely different story.

I recently spoke at a university where a student told me that it was such a shame that Nigerian men were physical abusers like the father character in my novel. I told him that I had just read a novel called American Psycho — (Laughter) — and that it was such a shame that young Americans were serial murderers. (Laughter) (Applause) Now, obviously I said this in a fit of mild irritation. (Laughter)

But it would never have occurred to me to think that just because I had read a novel in which a character was a serial killer that he was somehow representative of all Americans. This is not because I am a better person than that student, but because of America’s cultural and economic power, I had many stories of America. I had read Tyler and Updike and Steinbeck and Gaitskill. I did not have a single story of America.

When I learned, some years ago, that writers were expected to have had really unhappy childhoods to be successful, I began to think about how I could invent horrible things my parents had done to me. (Laughter) But the truth is that I had a very happy childhood, full of laughter and love, in a very close-knit family.

But I also had grandfathers who died in refugee camps. My cousin Polle died because he could not get adequate healthcare. One of my closest friends, Okoloma, died in a plane crash because our fire trucks did not have water. I grew up under repressive military governments that devalued education, so that sometimes my parents were not paid their salaries. And so, as a child, I saw jam disappear from the breakfast table, then margarine disappeared, then bread became too expensive, then milk became rationed. And most of all, a kind of normalized political fear invaded our lives.

All of these stories make me who I am. But to insist on only these negative stories is to flatten my experience and to overlook the many other stories that formed me. The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.

Of course, Africa is a continent full of catastrophes: There are immense ones, such as the horrific rapes in Congo and depressing ones, such as the fact that 5,000 people apply for one job vacancy in Nigeria. But there are other stories that are not about catastrophe, and it is very important, it is just as important, to talk about them.

I’ve always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.

So what if before my Mexican trip I had followed the immigration debate from both sides, the U.S. and the Mexican? What if my mother had told us that Fide’s family was poor and hardworking? What if we had an African television network that broadcast diverse African stories all over the world? What the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe calls “a balance of stories.”

What if my roommate knew about my Nigerian publisher, Mukta Bakaray, a remarkable man who left his job in a bank to follow his dream and start a publishing house? Now, the conventional wisdom was that Nigerians don’t read literature. He disagreed. He felt that people who could read, would read, if you made literature affordable and available to them.

Shortly after he published my first novel I went to a TV station in Lagos to do an interview, and a woman who worked there as a messenger came up to me and said, “I really liked your novel. I didn’t like the ending. Now you must write a sequel, and this is what will happen …” (Laughter) And she went on to tell me what to write in the sequel. I was not only charmed, I was very moved. Here was a woman, part of the ordinary masses of Nigerians, who were not supposed to be readers. She had not only read the book, but she had taken ownership of it and felt justified in telling me what to write in the sequel.

Now, what if my roommate knew about my friend Fumi Onda, a fearless woman who hosts a TV show in Lagos, and is determined to tell the stories that we prefer to forget? What if my roommate knew about the heart procedure that was performed in the Lagos hospital last week? What if my roommate knew about contemporary Nigerian music, talented people singing in English and Pidgin, and Igbo and Yoruba and Ijo, mixing influences from Jay-Z to Fela to Bob Marley to their grandfathers. What if my roommate knew about the female lawyer who recently went to court in Nigeria to challenge a ridiculous law that required women to get their husband’s consent before renewing their passports? What if my roommate knew about Nollywood, full of innovative people making films despite great technical odds, films so popular that they really are the best example of Nigerians consuming what they produce? What if my roommate knew about my wonderfully ambitious hair braider, who has just started her own business selling hair extensions? Or about the millions of other Nigerians who start businesses and sometimes fail, but continue to nurse ambition?

Every time I am home I am confronted with the usual sources of irritation for most Nigerians: our failed infrastructure, our failed government, but also by the incredible resilience of people who thrive despite the government, rather than because of it. I teach writing workshops in Lagos every summer, and it is amazing to me how many people apply, how many people are eager to write, to tell stories.

My Nigerian publisher and I have just started a non-profit called Farafina Trust, and we have big dreams of building libraries and refurbishing libraries that already exist and providing books for state schools that don’t have anything in their libraries, and also of organizing lots and lots of workshops, in reading and writing, for all the people who are eager to tell our many stories. Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.

The American writer Alice Walker wrote this about her Southern relatives who had moved to the North. She introduced them to a book about the Southern life that they had left behind: “They sat around, reading the book themselves, listening to me read the book, and a kind of paradise was regained.” I would like to end with this thought: That when we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise. Thank you. (Applause)

These LGBT Americans are totally tone deaf! 5

If there is anything you eventually learn about far left or right leaning ideologues, it is that there is little point in talking to them. They have already made up their minds that they are correct, it is their God-given will to save the world, and no amount of talk will sway them from their divine mission.

And so it is, it seems, with the brigade of condescending American LGBT do-gooders who have elected themselves to fight Uganda’s (and Africa’s) gay battles whether we want them to or not.

It doesn’t matter if it is a gay African activist, someone on the ground living the gay life or angels from heaven blowing bugles beseeching them to shelve their cordite. These people will act as they please, damn it.

Their latest reckless salvo is aimed at Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni who is due in Texas around now. Reports suggest that his host hotel has canceled his reservation “over gay rights abuses.”

Really? Which gay rights abuses do they attribute to Yoweri Museveni, one would like to ask these [usually faceless] people? This gay man lives in Uganda and really doesn’t know of any.

To aim this sort of action at Uganda’s Museveni is pointless, militantly foolish, over-the-top and, totally counter-productive since, whether you believe it or not and his motivations notwithstanding, Museveni has been a godsend to the gay community in Uganda over the past 4 or so years. For starters, Museveni did NOT pass the anti-gay bill, Parliament did! Neither did he re-introduce it in Parliament after the courts annulled it!

This sort of ill-advised, patronizing, unilateral action (I bet you hard cash the gay community in Uganda didn’t sanction it) will simply play into the cynical politics of Uganda and Museveni can return home to show how ‘colonial’ Americans disrespected him over gays in Uganda, something the anti-gay chorus in Uganda will lap up as they strain at the lead in trying to pass the anti-gay bill again. This is thus a replay of the needless interference that Canada’s John Baird indulged in in 2012 which, likely, led to the signing of the bill after a four year chill.

There is thus nothing for it but for one to ask the Dallas Voice which seems to have started all this:

Which genocidal gay rights abuses, pray, do you attribute to Uganda’s Yoweri Kaguta Museveni?

This gay man living in Uganda doesn’t know of any.

Over to you Dallas Voice. Or anyone with evidence of it.

Is that a deathly silence one hears?

Joan Rivers – loss of a real trouper 1

Joan Rivers' 'preferred' exit

According to lazy critiques, this is what Joan Rivers wanted for her exit

In this, the first week after Joan Rivers died, one doesn’t feel charitable at all. How could one?

Joan Rivers’ death is a tragedy so profound that most ordinary people will not understand its significance for at least another 25 years.

An astute observer of human nature, Joan Rivers represented the last of those cuttingly funny characters who, deeply aware that we are all here to play our role on stage for only a season, were willing to poke fun at human foibles and frailty, but who also were willing to make fun of themselves in equal measure.

In a world that has become too literal, Joan Rivers remained a wonderful epitome of bluntness – refusing to apologize for saying what was on her mind and, most importantly, refusing to allow herself to lay supine in the face of the relentless march of militant political correctness that now permeates every aspect of our existence.

Joan Rivers was apparently on Facebook, mostly peddling vanity merchandize to make a buck. She would, I am sure, not have been impressed by Facebook’s lack of a ‘dislike’ platform. Yours truly is on Facebook, too, and is struck by how much people on Facebook try to pretend that everyone in the world is nice, a wonderful parent, not jealous, mean or evil. Facebook then hands them the perfect camouflage by deliberately ensuring that you can only like what someone has said or done, and have to express your dislike in a more wordy manner which, of course, most people today aren’t schooled properly enough to manage.

In other words, Facebook perpetuates an Utopian world in which everyone gets along; the idyll of the Garden of Eden before the first murder – a world that doesn’t exist, has never existed anywhere.

Yet, if you have gone to school and actually got an education, three-quarters of the people you are going to meet in your existence will be dim, stupid, clueless, vapid space-fillers who you nonetheless have to suffer gladly, silently or otherwise. Joan Rivers refused to suffer the fools of her world gladly but was smart enough to figure out how to make a living by throwing their idiocy back in their faces.

She has thus gone out of this world as the master of sarcasm, satire and blunt witticism that the politically correct brigade is working round the clock to extinguish in all humanity. Joan Rivers fell repeatedly in the process of practicing her craft, but always rose again. She would thus have appreciated Lauren Bacal’s (now, there is another icon we have lost this year) clarion cry about the world not owing anyone a damn thing – yet another reality that today’s mourning ninnies are trying to banish and replace with an entitlement mentality that must be nurtured until the entire world is one giant pity party.

Alas, Rivers has left us in a world where the purveyors of pity are trying to sell it to the world that to offend anyone could herald the end of the world as we know it. A world where we are being cowed into letting children tell their parents how to raise them rather than the other way round. A world that asks schools to do as the parents wish rather than as the rules the parents knew about in the first place dictate. A world where to beat a woman up, apologize to her and she walks down the aisle with you a month later means you must lose your job if the beating ever becomes public. And yet it is the same world that exhorts us not to judge others because to be judgmental is … bad, offensive, hurtful, blah, blah, blah.

It is the sort of shrinking violet, mourning ninny, Pollyana-esque world that brought us Adolf Hitler and is now creating fertile ground for Russia’s Vladimir Putin. It’s a craven world that has allowed lawyers to flourish and profiteer from the foolishness, cowardice and lack of common sense that has us running to sue every time a neighbor looks at us in a way we don’t like, or whenever someone “puts their hands” on our belonging. After all, how can we, the wonderful children of God that He put on this earth to be happy, be offended, angered, violated, ridiculed by others?

In the spirit of the pretense to perfection that pervades all the lessons we are now exhorted to learn by the so-called “experts” who make money telling us how to live our lives, it is little wonder that the BBC and CNN chose to pretend that Joan Rivers got the funeral “she asked for.”

Risible!

It can’t have escaped the educated minds at the CNN and BBC that the statement  they based their claims on had very little to do with Rivers or her real end-of-story wishes, but why expend valuable time being analytical when it is so much more convenient to be literal?

Of course Joan Rivers knew that she would get a Hollywood send-off – that is what anyone today who has had 15 minutes of fame, let alone Rivers’ lifetime, gets. Hollywood works like that.

Rivers was really telling us that at the end of the day we all end up dead, so to be offended or self-absorbed, to take ourselves so seriously that we fail to laugh at ourselves or others is silly. She was telling us that are we are entitled to our  cosmetic make-believes, but that we should also accept it with grace and equanimity when others laugh at our efforts.

It’s in that light that she mentioned Beyonce’s pretend “hair” which requires air machines to make it look dramatic. Only a very brave person would put money on Beyonce’s husband ever having seen what her real hair looks like but it doesn’t matter. We should enjoy the illusion, or laugh at it, and move on.

In her inimitable way, Joan Rivers was telling us to enjoy the trappings of life – cosmetic enhancements, butt implants, horse-hair extensions, excellent cuisine, Valentino gowns, jewelry. We should also enjoy the pleasures that are brought into our lives by the incomparable talent of  artistic icons such as Meryl Streep because at the end of the day we will all end up dead.

End of story.

Bobi Wine: when it rains, it pours 1

Poor Bobi Wine!

Following on from the humiliation he endured when his scheduled appearances in England this month were cancelled by the venues, Bobi Wine (real name Robert Kyagulanyi) has suffered yet more embarrassment.

Now You Tube is not interested in his homophobic lyrics, and they pulled a homophobic song he uploaded there without it getting any air play.

Kyagulanyi's concert in a interested barely anyone

Kyagulanyi’s concert interested barely anyone

It doesn’t end there. A week after his infinitely more talented rival, Bebe Cool (Moses Ssali), staged a sell-out show at the extremely upmarket Kampala Serena Hotel, at which tickets were snapped up for anywhere over $100.00, Mr. Kyagulanyi  staged a show in Kampala at which hardly anyone showed up, making it one of the biggest flops in the history of Uganda’s entertainment industry.

It’s not the first time either that the struggling drum-machine assisted musician who regularly recycles one single tune has had to be confronted with his irrelevance. Reports show that he was forced to turn a planned cash-generating concert into a charity one upon realizing that no one was interested in paying to see him perform live. He elected to do the show for free rather than accept that audiences had found his faded talent out and weren’t interested in parting with their money to listen to one tune, albeit with different lyrics, over and over again.

Kyagulanyi’s best days as a singer are clearly behind him. It thus beggars understanding that he has chosen to alienate the gay community, some of whose members have no doubt been erstwhile fans of his.

Kyagulanyi has clearly never heard of the adage about not continuing to dig when you are in hole.

Tut, tut.