I’m unmarried, not because I see children as a menace but simply because I haven’t had any offer worth accepting. If I do get married I do not plan to have children as I have done my share of raising my nieces for the past 20 years and will be too old to start over – am I selfish?
Many children in Uganda find themselves defined as ‘motherless’. An attitude prevails that does not recognise cultural mothers. Cultural mothers are rarely celebrated, if at all and yet they contribute immensely to nation-building. Cultural mothers, are women who even though they have never been married and have never had biological children of their own, they have stepped in and are caring for children in many different ways. Sadly, Cultural mothers are often insulted for not marrying and having children of their own. They are portrayed in a negative light packed with insinuations – being unmarried and without children denotes selfishness and hate of children. This popular characterisation is unfair and it is not necessarily always true.
It is truly emancipated cultural mothers who do not internalise the denigration that is thrown at them, which perceives them as ‘failures’. “I’m unmarried, not because I see children as a menace but simply because I haven’t had any offer worth accepting. If I do get married I do not plan to have children as I have done my share of raising my nieces for the past 20 years and will be too old to start over – am I selfish?” challenged, Victoria, one of my dear friends, a cultural mother, a distinguished leader and an accomplished woman that I regard so highly.
Draw contrast with biological mothers who receive ‘automatic’ celebration for they are wives and have biologically born a child. On many occasions biological mothers have been known to inflict such suffering and pain on children. Sadly, sometimes when they do so, our society cheers them along. An incidence on the morning of 25th May 2010 is permanently curved on my memory. On that day, the media reported that a member of parliament (MP), Winifred Kiiza, a biological mother, slapped a young poor woman beggar, Agino Lukiyo, from Karamoja, for allegedly abusing a two year old child. It turned out that the two year old child was of another Karimojong poor woman beggar, Lokwere Mongesi, who was in police custody at the time. Agino’s crime, in the eyes of Kiiza, was that she took along with her a two-year old child onto the streets as she went about begging.
It was reported that Kiiza slapped Agino in the presence of the police, at a police station, in the presence of journalists. The provocation from Agino towards Kiiza was that Agino was in police custody at the same time and place as Kiiza, who was also at the station to report a crime. It was also reported that the journalists cheered and urged Kiiza to inflict more slaps on to Agino. In this incidence, the legislators – represented by Kiiza, the state – represented by the police, and the rest of society – represented by the journalists, were all on the same side, inconsiderate of Agino and others less fortunate. The role of Agino as a care giver, a cultural mother, was not recognised. Agino’s friend, Mongesi, was in police custody and she stepped in to take care of the child.
Sad times in Uganda when we see those less fortunate, Agino, Mongesi, street people in general, as dangerous delinquents, whose presence on the streets we fear. They are a social problem that needs to be alleviated, we surmise; and so we dehumanise them, portray them in negativism and treat them as sub-humans. We treat them as though they are not eligible to the same rights and respect accorded to other citizens. We justify our violence against them. We celebrate the authoritarian responses of the state to forcefully remove them from the street and we do not reflect on the root causes of why they end up on the streets.
The Aginos end up as beggars on the street as a result of the uncontrolled and inequitable social and economic system that Uganda has adopted – a corrupted version of the western style neoliberal capitalist system, in which structural poverty is inbuilt. Uganda’s GNP and GDP statistics are meaningless when applied to our quality of life. These statistics do not address issues of income distribution in our unequal society of a few opulent elite, while the majority are wallowing in wide spread and pervasive poverty. Inequality is further reinforced through public spending which favours the elite and urban centres in form of giving support to western style interventions in education and curative health care, which are mostly inaccessible to the majority.
Ironically, those who bear the brunt of this inequity and are gap filling where the state has failed its citizens are the mothers – biological and cultural. Let us celebrate all our mothers and let us take care in the choice of our role models. If Kiiza is the model MP, then Ugandans are in trouble. Instead of legislation that will lead to the betterment of our welfare, slaps are what we will continue getting.