Expat Gaze Part 2 – Meaning of Muzungu

“Little Ugandan kids are enthralled by the sight of white people. They will point and jump and scream “muzungu! muzungu!” at you. “Muzungu” really isn’t derogatory. African Americans are muzungus as far as everyone is concerned.

Francisco Toro

Ugandan children, indeed, are enthralled by the sight of a person with a different skin colour from their own, in as much as children in other parts of the world would be. ‘White skinned’ children, as well, are enthralled by a person with ‘black skin’ in their midst. I know this for sure from my visits and stays in Europe. Children being enthralled by strangers or visitors, therefore, isn’t uniquely Ugandan.

In December of 2019, I was invited and had the privilege to be the keynote speaker at the first Karamoja Women’s Conference. During the conference, this little girl was so enthralled by us, the visitors, and she made her way to my lap.

Be that as it may, “muzungu” is historically a derogatory word or concept, if you will, that has roots from Uganda’s colonial experience. The first Europeans who showed up onto our homeland were of ‘white skin’ and they came under the guise of being ‘explorers’ and ‘missionaries’.

Folklore has it that our ancestors found strange the behavior of those ‘explorers’. The more those ‘explorers’, explored and laid strategy for their colonial project, the more they looked to our ancestors like confused persons who were aimlessly roaming about, hence the description: “muzungu”.

In Luganda, the language of the Baganda, the largest first nation of Uganda, a person who seems confused and is aimlessly roaming about, will be said to be “azunga”. How so painful it must have been for our ancestors when realization dawned on them that those they thought to be “azunga”, were actually the forward team of our colonizers.

Make no mistake, Ugandans normally don’t consider African Americans with ‘black skin’ as muzungus. I personally do not know any who do. Musungu in Uganda is in reference to a person with ‘white skin’, but who is not an albino.

Obviously, however, in addition to skin colour there are other characteristics that are encoded into the word or concept, “muzungu”; some of which I will delve into in my next post.

It is those additional characteristics, other than skin colour, that are encoded into muzungu, that provide the basis, for example, for some Ugandans, usually those with pan-Africanist tendencies, in a derogatory manner, to characterize and to label fellow ‘black Africans’ muzungu.

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WHY THIS FACT CHECK: On 8th October 2015, Francisco Toro, a Canadian expatriate, posted comments on Uganda on his Facebook wall. This month, October 2020, a Ugandan shared Toro’s post onto their wall, from whence I saw it.

I noticed that statements in Toro’s post were false. I established that of the 80 statements Toro made in that post, 55 of them (nearly 70 percent) were completely false or partially false. I found Toro’s gaze on our Country quite disturbing. I was reminded of a statement that was written about Norway by an English industrialist working in Norway in the 1880s:

“There is no use trying to help these people. These dirty, ignorant people are putting too many children into the world. They won’t work; they have no discipline. They misuse every opportunity they get. Every time they get some money in in their hands it all goes to drinking and senseless waste. All the help we give them is just an incentive to laziness, and another opportunity to produce even more children.”

Source Stan Burkey in Chapter 1, “Understanding Poverty” of his book “People First – A Guide to Self-Reliant, Participatory Rural Development”

I could be wrong, but me thinks Toro’s gaze on Uganda, emanates from the same patronizing and offensive attitude as that of the English Industrialist. This motivated me do a robust fact check of his post, just in case, like me, some think his post fits within fake news and provides a basis for others to propagate more fake news on Uganda.  

This is the second of a series of posts in which I publish my fact check of Toro’s post. Click here to read Part I

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