ONE of the many dictionaries on the market defines the word stereotype as “a fixed idea or image people have of a particular type of person or thing, but which is often not true in reality.”
Well, the dictionary puts it well and nothing could be more true.
A case in point here: to most Rwandans, Kenyans, and to some extent even Tanzanians and “Jubans” (people from South Sudan), a citizen of Uganda automatically qualifies to be called a “Muganda”, yet in reality, nothing could be further from the truth! Truth is, a Muganda is a son of the soil of Buganda, one of the many tribes and kingdoms of Uganda. What’s funny (or is it even funny?) is the fact that whenever a Ugandan who happens to be a non-Muganda is referred to as a “Muganda” by a random East African, chances are quite high that that Ugandan will feel at least slightly offended. Usually, the looks on their faces will say it all: “How dare you? How dare you call me a Muganda? Me? Huh?”
This will be harsh to say, but, have you taken time to listen in on E
ast Africans going on about the country that is South Sudan? You will be excused to think they are talking of a village that existed on the African continent some 200 million years ago! People returning to Kigali or any of the East African capitals from Juba usually return with all sorts of horror stories fit for Hollywood horror movie scripts! Usually, it’s an exercise in retelling the well-told stereotype usually attached to that innocent four-letter word: Juba.
For instance, while the place may be understandably hostile and the gun culture still all-evident, I don’t think a Sudanese native will shoot down a brother from Rwanda simply because brother-from-Rwanda ogled his Sudanese wife lustfully. At first, the stories being told about Juba would go along such lines as: They don’t use toilets. They fear them. They spit every second (wonder how that can be possible!) They don’t know how to cook! Just because someone prepares the local staple, not your preferred recipe…does that make them bad cooks?
I still remember the female journalist friend of mine from Uganda who was supposed to be in Juba covering a big musician’s concert at a Juba big man’s house, but who chickened out from the trip after hearing some “real” horror stories about the concert scene and nightlife in Juba. What she had gathered from her girlfriends as she told them of her impending trip – one by one – was something to the effect that no sane person could dare make a trip down to the newest nation in the world!
But of all the horror stories, the one that really did her in was that which claimed that in Juba, come nightfall, everybody that counts himself among men will put out his gun and go to “have fun.” And the last nail in my friend’s coffin came when she was told that a Sudanese will shoot a musician down if they fail to play their favourite tune, or simply because they feel “unrecognized” at the show! In short, my friend was fed on a gospel whose essence was that the only language a Sudanese understands is that of the gun. Well, how true is that?
That said, the notion that South Sudanese are “primitive”, “backward” or “remote” still endures. Ironically, when it comes to size of the wallet, the same people generally agree that Salva Kiir’s boys are loaded. And it’s true. Travel around Kigali or across the region’s prestigious private universities, and a permanent fixture that awaits you in all these places, is the new-found opulence and splendor of South Sudanese nationals seeking a quality higher education.
The boutique operators know this and do brisk business clothing them in suits and hip hop wear. The food vendors, too, will be heard singing praises of Sudanese (and Kenyans, the most loaded students on campus).
Same with bar operators. But while these celebrate the good fortune brought by Sudanese, the average struggling city tenant is angry at the Sudanese for injecting dollars and causing landlords to hike their rent. Sudanese have many interesting aspects to them, but being who we are, (people), we are only interested in those stereotypes that seem to reinforce our own, pre-conceived ideas of who they are.
There are many East African stereotypes about Rwandans as a people. But evidently, none is so widely dreaded as the school of thought that claims that when a Rwandan woman marries a non- native, she will keep a secret Rwandan lover who eventually ends up as the real lover. For this simple reason, many men from across the region have decided that Rwandan ladies are a strictly no-go-area.
This belief is only strengthened by the fact that Rwandans generally subscribe to a laissez faire approach to life, perhaps a legacy of the French culture’s spill-down-effect. For instance, a kiss…well, at least a peck, is generally an accepted way of exchanging pleasantries among good pals. Your girlfriend walks in, hand-in-hand with her cousin or uncle, and kisses him goodnight! Well, not many men are ready for such a spectacle in the name of love. To most, the first reaction is to suspect an illicit affair between his own rib and her purported uncle.
Well, one thing well-known is that not many Rwandan ladies are willing to sacrifice their freedom to hug and peck their uncles. But hey, the community of men in East Africa is also unwilling to change its view on the ladies who hail from the land of a thousand hills!
In Uganda, there used to be a popular stereotype about Kenyan men that easily passed for a joke. It was alleged that Kenyan men ‘only wear trousers without turn ups.’ And when a Ugandan man said this, he was implicitly implying that the Kenyan man was ‘local’ or ‘not styled up.’ It’s been some time since this particular stereotype was at its peak, and fashion trends have definitely moved on.
With the advent of body-hugging fashions like the popular “skinnies”, trouser turn-ups are now almost a thing of the past. But this won’t stop the average Ugandan man from accusing Kenyan men of being “behind the wooden carpet’ when it comes to fashion sense. Other times, I have also heard Kenyan men being accused of being blind to fashion trends, and that it’s the reason they make their trousers specially from the tailor, (with two back pockets), as opposed to hitting a boutique.
And what do we have to say of our brothers from the land of Bongo? There is an unfounded belief especially among Kenyans and Ugandans, that Tanzanians are ‘slow’ or ‘not sharp.’ Kenyans and their Ugandans also believe that Tanzanians ‘fear’ them on account of the good Queen ’s English which they generally speak. Have you found a Ugandan or Kenyan just returned from Tanzania? Most likely, they will claim credit for having “made the Tanzanians scared with my English.” But the fact that most Tanzanians do not use English as their first language does not necessarily translate to hatred for those who can speak it. Or does it?