How Uganda lost the 'evil maid' to the world

A few days back, I attended the first Social Media Summit in Uganda and met lots of interesting people, but more importantly I took note of various interesting things as far as media and communication is concerned.

A few days back, I attended the first Social Media Summit in Uganda and met lots of interesting people, but more importantly I took note of various interesting things as far as media and communication is concerned.

One of the key note speakers told us how his children do not watch any TV, only YouTube.

Then a panelist, working with a TV station, predicted the death of the newspaper and even gave an approximate time when this will happen meaning this column in future may only appear online.

The summit had lots of Ugandan government officials and it was clear that there was a level of admiration people had for how officials in Rwanda have embraced social media thanks in part to how President Paul Kagame demystified it ages ago leaving them with no option but to take cue.

The Kenyans also were also recognised for not only using social media a lot but using it in a powerful manner. An example was given of a time when President Uhuru Kenyatta attended an event in Kampala and his communications team did more tweeting than their Kampala hosts. All in all the participants agreed on one thing, that social media is not the future but the present.

Before and during the event, other idle thoughts kept running through my head, like they love to, if you earn your living as a writer always looking around for the next story. In the recent past there have been two major scandals in Uganda, one involved the leaking of nude pictures of a musician and more recently a video of a maid battering a child. I will stick to the story of the maid for now.

When the video was posted online, it was not just the talk of the town, but the talk of the region.

The story was featured on Kenyan media and it was a big discussion on Rwanda TV’s new breakfast show, Rise and Shine Rwanda. I have written several times that East African media houses should take more interest in stories happening in other EAC members. For the story of the maid, no reminders were needed.

On social media it was the trending topic even though Ugandans had not been quick to find a hash tag to aggregate all the voices on the issue. Some made fun of the situation; others expressed disgust while others sought to know if the child had died or whether the maid had been locked up.

Various government officials also suddenly discovered their concern on the matter with ministers visiting and making statements. The police boss in Uganda even invited the family of the baby to his offices and promised that police would be following up the case.

What I found more interesting as a media practitioner is how newspapers in the UK, US,

Australia and even South Africa also picked the story and run away with it. Many of them in their usual stereotypical understanding of Africa as ‘a country’ were no longer referring to the maid as Ugandan.

She was now the African maid from hell. It is at that point that a story made in Uganda, bred on social media was now no longer Ugandan enough. It had to be presented as African for it to be digested by those who think Africa is a country. In other words we had moved from trying to deal with the cruelty of maids in Uganda to evil maids in Africa.

This was a case where Africa told its story but lost it in translation. We have seen the same about Ebola in about three West African countries being sold as Ebola in Africa. Media in East Africa has to work hard to fight these generalisations even during bad times.

That cruel maid should remain Ugandan at all costs. If we can own the bad news successfully then we shall also own the good news. I loved what President Museveni said about Uganda being a better tourist destination than Spain. It is much better publicity that the infamous Spain is not Uganda remark two years ago.

As we wait for the case of the maid to go through the courts, a healthy discussion on domestic helpers should take place on various platforms and hopefully result in better policies in future.

The growth of capitalism has killed the extended family and so children are no longer raised by relatives, but by strangers, some of whom are kids themselves. Let us discuss that some more.