Living in blissful ignorance

A few months ago, the Karamajong, an ethnic group of Pastoralists in north-eastern Uganda finally learnt that human faeces should be deposited in latrines and not compounds {for kids} and nearby bushes {for adults} as they had been doing for many years in 'blissful' ignorance!

A few months ago, the Karamajong, an ethnic group of Pastoralists in north-eastern Uganda finally learnt that human faeces should be deposited in latrines and not compounds {for kids} and nearby bushes {for adults} as they had been doing for many years in ‘blissful’ ignorance!

If you have lived in Uganda before then you probably heard of the mantra, ‘we can’t wait for the Karamajong to develop,’ used on people who are behind social trends.

The story was broadcast this week by a regional television channel and it was hard to believe that in the 21st century, there are still sections of Africa that are yet to be ‘liberated’ from rudimentary lifestyles.

I am told that even today, some Karamajong still have strong suspicions that people who wear clothes are ‘hiding’ some kind of infection.

Maybe I am wrong to call it blissful ignorance but how does one explain such backwardness in context of a largely modern Africa?

Historians say that when the first Europeans came here, they found most communities living in blissful ignorance just like the Karamajong, so uncivilized that they dubbed Africa ‘a dark continent’ which they had to ‘lighten up’ with Christianity and western education.

But in some parts such as the great Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom, King Kabalega put up fierce resistance against these so called agents of civilization until he was defeated and exiled.

Elsewhere, other opposing forces were crushed giving way for long years of colonial rule in Africa during which Africans allegedly learnt how to live in a ‘civilized’ manner like their colonial masters.

So how did people like the Karamajong remain behind as the rest of society got civilized?

I brainstormed over this question with Sunny Ntayombya, my senior workmate and he seemed to suggest that most backward and marginalized communities today tend to be far from the centre of power.

True, Karamoja is far from Kampala, Uganda’s capital, but how come other equally remote communities are not that crude?

In parts of Busoga region, in Eastern Uganda, not far from Kampala, the people there are infested with jiggers; the situation is bad that that parliament in that country is considering putting the matter on the national agenda.

Busoga is where Uganda’s first female speaker of parliament hails, the region also provided Uganda’s first female Vice President which nullifies the argument of proximity to power centres.

So where’s the problem?

In Rwanda, we have a category of people called ‘historically marginalized communities.’ This theory suggests that the problem could be rooted in colonial mal-governance approaches where some communities were simply ignored.

The British didn’t have time for the Karamajong because they were dismissed as ‘wild’ pastoralists who didn’t pose a threat to their rule.

In Rwanda, the Belgium colonial government focused on two ethic groups, the Hutu and Tutsi and went ahead to design a national identity card that emphasized the point.

That historical mistake condemned the Batwa people deep into the jungles and deeper into their wild lifestyle of hunting. During the monarchial days, the Twa were entertainers in the royal palace; close to power.

After independence, the post colonial governments carried forward the same colonial error and didn’t bother to bring the Batwa into the general community. They weren’t considered for education, health or social protection services from the central government.

But that’s beginning to change with the current governments in Uganda and Rwanda finally coming to terms with these colonial errors and seeking ways to correct them with help of NGOs.

The Karamajong are gradually getting used to going to latrines, they know that even waste from children is dangerous and many now voluntarily wear clothes.

In Rwanda, President Paul Kagame’s government started taking a share of the national cake to the Batwa people. They now have representation in parliament and other services such as healthcare and education are being taken closer to their communities.

My first encounter with the Batwa community was in 2010 while on an assignment in Nyaruguru district. I noticed that unlike other rural Rwandans who had said ‘bye-bye to nyakatsi’ the Batwa still lived up in the hills, in little shacks constructed out of wild leaves and grass.

Their kids didn’t go to school and little girls pregnant.

With more pro-active initiatives from government, we can get the Twa out of their hovels in the hills, nurture their natural talent to entertain for cultural tourism, send more of their kids to school, have some Twa TV programs and if possible, have some talented Twa on the National Soccer team Amavubi.

We may not wait for Twa or Karamajong to develop but we can show them the way to catch up later.

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