I am disappointed at how shallow and superficial popular debates on Ugandan culture and gender issues are. Take for instance the discussions in reaction to the reported comments that President Museveni made, in which he is quoted as having said:
I haven’t cooked since I married Janet.
First of all, I have not known President Museveni to have ever expressed an alternative view. This has always been his position. And while he holds such views, many have celebrated him as a ‘progressive leader’ who has allegedly done a lot for women.
Secondly, President Museveni’s comment is consistent with what is considered normal within the Ugandan culture-normal criteria, which is that married men do not cook food in the home. Ugandan cultures constrain married men from cooking in the home.
There are several derogatory ways used in Uganda to describe a man seen cooking food in his home. The Iteso people, the fifth largest first nation of Uganda, from whence I am descended, for example, refer to such a man with variations of the word ebwacit, which means either a transvestite or a man dressing and behaving like a woman.
Another example, coming from the largest first nation of Uganda, the Baganda, is the fact that when a woman gets married, the Baganda will use variations of the word “okufumba”, which means “to cook” to describe her new status as a married woman.
The connotation in both examples is that, according to the culture-normal criteria of the Iteso and of the Baganda, cooking food at home should normally be a role of women. Meaning, therefore, that according to Ugandan culture, men cooking at home is a taboo – as in the man’s business is definitely not in the kitchen.
The logic that men do not cook at their homes is in fact what predominantly informs how women in their roles as mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmas, wives, daughters, you name it, socialise men in Uganda.
Thirdly, Uganda’s gender-differentiated socialisation processes are consistent with the tendency for predominantly peasant societies to allocate gender roles on the basis of biological attributes.
I consider shallow and superficial the reactions to President Museveni’s comments that I have so far read, because those comments seemingly launch from the culture-normal criteria of global-western centric cultures. And because of that those comments are nurturing diversionary debate; the kind which diverts attention from the realities in Uganda.
Castigating President Museveni for his comments diverts attention from the fact, for example, that many married professional carrier women and politicians, such as Hon. Janet Museveni, who is currently not only the First Lady, but is also the Minister of Education, likely hardly do the cooking in their homes, if at all.
The reality is that in some cases, in fact, I have heard that in the homes of such women, the wealthy carrier women and politicians ,I mean, they actually hire chefs, including male chefs, who do the cooking.
Or at worst, it is often the case that the labour of poor people is being exploited, including that of poor relatives, as maids or houseboys, who do the cooking in the homes of the wealthy at no pay or at very low pay; and moreover often in shitty working conditions.
You may want to know that the views herein expressed are based on empirical research findings.; which research findings were found valid and interesting to be included as Chapter 5, “Food Security in Uganda: How Culture Affects Access to Food”, in the book: “Africa Rising – A continent’s future through the eyes of emerging scholars”, edited by Erica Shaw and Hayley Mackinnon and published by the AfricaInitiative and The Centre for International Governance Innovation.