The Power of Language

This morning as I enjoyed my cup of Ugandan coffee and read stories from one of my favourite news sources, the Daily Monitor, I came across a story headlined: “I only eat boiled food, says Monica Lubega.” I was fascinated by the feasibility of this, since I had once read or is it watched a story of a woman who claimed to eat all her food raw.

Yes, there is a lifestyle, “raw foodism, also known as rawism or following a raw food diet, the dietary practice of eating only or mostly food that is uncooked and unprocessed,” Read more in Wikipedia.

Anyway, in the story, Monica explained: “My day starts with a fruit, this can be a banana, avocado and my favourite the cucumber, which is a must have everyday… All the foods I eat must be boiled because I avoid fat at all cost.” Begging the question: Does Monica eat her fruit boiled?

It is unlikely however that Monica eats her fruits boiled. It is more likely that she and/or the journalists and editors who wrote and published her story are victims of language discrimination – a person’s ability or inability to use one language instead of another.”

Many Ugandans who are otherwise articulate and make sense while using one of the languages of the first nations of Uganda – Luganda, Runyankore, Lusoga, Rukiga, Ateso, etc., are constrained when they are limited to use the English language, the official language of Uganda.

English, a language President Museveni is quoted as having described as “a captured weapon we are now employing.” Yes, language as a weapon can be used to construct power and to maintain power over another – individuals or groups of people.

For example, very recently, Hon. Victoria Sekitoleko, expressed her objection to the manner in which women are referred to in official discourse and documents in Uganda – as “victims”, “vulnerable”, or often grouped with children, as in “women and children …” By doing so, through language, women are effectively rendered as second rate citizens to men; and they are viewed as needing saving by men.

It, indeed, follows that if a person is not fully competent in a particular language that is used to make decisions that impact their day to day lives, then that person is not able to fully participate in those decision-making processes and to effectively influence such processes. This, arguably, is the context in which the funniest woman in Africa, Anne Kansiime, has located one of her signature hilarious skits: “Mrs. Beitunga Karemera.”

Dressed up in a suit, the accepted dress code for high level leaders in Uganda and addressing a press conference, Mrs. Karemera confidently, but clearly nervous, has a couple of false starts, which she explains away, saying: “This does not happen often, it happens daily.”

She then proceeds to describe herself as an “advocator of conspiracy, an advanced aspect of constitutional concepts of indigenous aspects.” Asked by the journalists to explain what she means, she explained: “if you advocate for oil you can advocate for sugar.” Asked to explain the difference, she clarifies that “oil has high molecules.” I am sure you catch the drift.

Make no mistake to think that Mrs. Karemera, Monica, the journalists and editors who published Monica’s story are the minority outliers in Uganda for they are not.

Take some time and access any Government of Uganda document and you are bound to find versions of Mrs. Karemera-think, basically glaring illogical and easy to prove wrong statements such as Monica’s assertion that she eats only boiled food.

And therefore, confirming President Museveni’s assertion that he has captured the English language and uses it as a weapon.

Image source: OPT Health

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