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Gay Ugandans launch magazine to ‘reclaim stories’

Since her university days, Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, an openly gay woman and activist in Uganda where homosexuality is illegal, has been a victim of vicious tabloid gossip.

“They were writing about ‘secrets inside the lesbian’s den’,” Nabagesera (34) told AFP. She said she had been attacked and evicted “so many times” because of the media coverage.

Now Uganda’s gay community is fighting back with Bombastic, a new magazine published and distributed privately.

The free 72-page glossy publication features personal essays, commentaries and poems by “proud” lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Ugandans, some using pseudonyms.

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera with an issue of 'Bombastic'. (Pic: AFP)
Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera with a copy of ‘Bombastic’. (Pic: AFP)

In the editor’s note Nabagesera said the magazine would “speak for the many voiceless”.

Uganda’s popular tabloid press has outed many of Nabagesera’s friends and colleagues, and regularly fills pages with invasive, prurient stories and lurid tales.

Politicians have stoked anti-gay sentiment by proposing new laws that appeal to the country’s conservative Christianity, the latest of which seeks to criminalise the “promotion” of homosexuality.

“They would target me a lot, they would cook up stories – how I’m getting married… I’m training people to become lesbians,” Nabagesera said.

“People have lost housing, jobs, families,” she said. “One colleague was beaten in broad daylight after appearing in the newspapers.”

Nabagesera said in the last four years, the local media had played a “big role” in the intimidation and harassment of LGBTI people, after naming and shaming them.

In 2011 gay activist David Kato – a close friend of Nabagesera – was beaten to death with a hammer a few months after a tabloid paper published his picture under the headline ‘Hang Them’.

Christmas present

Nabagesera came up with the idea for Bombastic in 2013. When she asked for stories on Facebook, she was flooded with over 500 contributions. Crowd-funding paid for its printing.

An editorial team of eight Ugandans worked on the inaugural issue and foreign volunteers also pitched in helping to build a related website, www.kuchutimes.com, which Nabagesera said attracts so many visitors that it is “almost crashing every two days”.

“We got a lot of support from around the world,” said Nabagesera.

Bombastic was launched in December as MPs were vowing to introduce a new anti-gay bill as a “Christmas present”, after an earlier statute was struck down on a technicality in August.

“So we said let’s give them a Christmas present,” said Nabagesera.

A total of 15 000 copies of Bombastic have been printed and distributed by hand to some unlikely potential readers.

“We took lots of copies to Parliament, government offices, everywhere,” said Nabagesera.

She personally delivered copies, concealed inside brown paper envelopes, to the pigeonholes of MPs such as David Bahati, the architect of an early anti-gay law that sought the death penalty for homosexuals, to the office of the Speaker, Rebecca Kadaga, a staunch supporter of anti-gay legislation, and to the office of President Yoweri Museveni.

Nabagesera said she had not yet received any feedback from the politicians but had heard that, “the president’s wife refused even to open it.” First Lady Janet Museveni is an high-profile born-again Christian.

Big hit?

Churches, media houses, motorbike taxi riders and others across the country have also been handed the magazine, courtesy of 138 enthusiastic volunteers, some from the mainstream media.

“People are willing to be part of the project,” said Nabagesera.

Red Pepper, a notorious Ugandan tabloid which published a list of the country’s “top homos” a day after Museveni signed the first anti-gay bill into law nearly a year ago, was the first media house to be given copies.

“They refused to write about it, they were angry of course, because when you read my introduction I’m bashing the media,” said Nabagesera.

She insisted Bombastic had mostly been a “big hit”, adding that the magazine’s two telephone hotlines have been inundated with interest.

But some people have burnt issues after finding them in shops in eastern Uganda, while in the country’s west some distributors were threatened. Nabagesera herself was threatened with legal action after a copy was taken to a church.

Others told her they wished “a car could knock you down” while Uganda’s ethics minister Simon Lokodo warned she could face arrest for “promoting homosexuality”.

Nabagesera is undaunted. She hopes to continue publishing the magazine and to “stand up and fight for others who don’t have the support.”

“It is our wish, our hope, that if people read just one story it changes their attitude,” said Nabagesera.

Ugandan English – ‘Uglish’ – gets its own dictionary

A “detoother” or a “dentist” is a gold-digger looking for a wealthy partner, while “spewing out buffalos” means you can’t speak proper English. And a “side-dish” isn’t served by a waiter.

Those and other terms are articles in Uganda’s strange, often funny locally-adapted English known as “Uglish,” which is now published for the first time in dictionary form.

“It is so entrenched right now that, even when you think you cannot use it, you actually find yourself speaking Uglish,” Bernard Sabiiti, the author of the first Uglish dictionary, told AFP.

“Even as I was researching, I was surprised that these words are not English because they were the only ones I knew. A word like a ‘campuser’ – a university student – I used to think was an English word.”

Uglish: A Dictionary of Ugandan English, which went on sale in bookshops across the east African country late last year, contains hundreds of popular Uglish terms, some coined by Ugandans as far back as the colonial period.

Bernard Sabiiti, the author of the first Uglish dictionary, at his office in Kampala. (Pic: AFP)
Bernard Sabiiti, the author of the first Uglish dictionary, at his office in Kampala. (Pic: AFP)

Sabiiti (32) said the informal patois was greatly influenced by the local Luganda language, and is a “symptom of a serious problem with our education system” that he claims has been deteriorating since the 1990s.

Uglish is largely dependent on sentences being literally translated, word for word, from local dialects with little regard for context, while vocabulary used is derived from standard English.

Meantime, Sabiiti says, influence from the Internet, local media and musicians have seen additional words and phrases created and slowly enter the lexicon.

The result is colourful but at times confounding expressions. If you haven’t seen someone for a while, for example, you’re “lost”, while if you “design well”, you are snappy dresser.

Today, Uglish is used by people from all walks of life, but particularly popular with youths.

English is the working language in Uganda, and it remains the only medium of instruction in schools and in official business.

But Sabiiti said everyone from the president to simple farmers speak at least some Uglish, which varies according to region, tribe and gender, and is regularly seen on signposts.

“MPs are almost notorious at using Uglish, you see it in parliamentary debates,” said Sabiiti.

Live-sex and side-dishes

But it wasn’t until 2011, a year after the term Uglish – pronounced “You-glish” – had been coined on social media, that Sabiiti began keeping newspaper cuttings, conducting interviews and searching online for material for his book.

“I knew that people talked a lot about this, and my friends used to laugh about it,” said the author, whose fulltime job with a think tank has taken him to different regions of Uganda, and exposed him to the different types of Uglish.

His book contains a brief history of Uglish, and a glossary of terms relating to education, telecommunications, society and lifestyle, food, transport, sex and relationships.

One phrase commonly used when discussing the latter is “live sex,” which means unprotected sex – a term thought to have derived from the live European football games Ugandans love to watch.

“When the ministry of health is doing campaigns to warn young people against unprotected sex, they use ‘live sex’, because everybody will understand it,” said Sabiiti.

On the same subject, if you’re a “side-dish”, you are someone’s mistress.

Sabiiti’s book has proven popular among the middle class, including academics, and with locals and foreigners alike. To date he’s sold about a thousand copies.

“I’ve had incredible feedback from professional linguists, ordinary readers – some even suggesting more phrases – so I’ll be doing another edition,” said Sabiiti.

“I don’t see it disappearing. I’m looking forward to seeing five years from now how many new words and phrases have joined the lexicon,” he said, adding some teachers, particularly in state schools, are passing Uglish on to their students.

But, as the author stresses in the final chapter of his book, there comes a point when Uglish stops being funny.

In 1997 Uganda introduced universal primary school education, which eliminated official school fees and made education accessible to millions more children.

But literacy rates remain low: more than a quarter of the population cannot read or write, according to the UN, and critics say standards remain low in many schools.

“Uglish is not something that should be encouraged, particularly for young, impressionable children. They really should learn what they call proper standard English.”

Tanzania bans witch doctors to deter albino killings

Kazungu Kassim (R), head of a Burundi albino association, listens to proceedings inside a courtroom in Ruyigi, eastern Burundi on May 28 2009. Prosecutors in Burundi asked for life sentences for three people on trial for allegedly murdering albinos to sell their body parts for use in witchcraft. (Pic: Reuters)
Kazungu Kassim (R), head of a Burundi albino association, listens to proceedings inside a courtroom in Ruyigi, eastern Burundi on May 28 2009. Prosecutors in Burundi asked for life sentences for three people on trial for allegedly murdering albinos to sell their body parts for use in witchcraft. (Pic: Reuters)

Tanzania has banned witch doctors in a bid to curb a rising wave of attacks and murders of albinos whose body parts are prized for witchcraft after a four-year-old albino girl was kidnapped from her home by an armed gang.

More than 70 albinos, who lack pigment in their skin, hair and eyes, have been murdered in the east African nation in the past decade for black magic purposes, according to United Nations figures. Many were hacked to death and had their body parts removed.

The government has accused witch doctors of fuelling these killings by luring people to bring albino body parts which they grind up with herbs, roots and sea water to make charms and spells that they claim bring good luck and wealth.

The nationwide ban come less than a week after UN fficials urged the government to step up efforts to end the discrimination and attacks after a girl was abducted last month from her home in northern Mwanza region. She is still missing.

Tanzania’s Home Affairs Minister Mathias Chikawe said the government has formed a national task force involving the police and members of the Tanzania Albino Society to arrest and prosecute witch doctors defying the ban.

“We have identified that witch doctors are the ones who ask people to bring albino body parts to create magical charms which they claim can get them rich. We will leave no stone unturned until we end these evil acts,” Chikawe told reporters.

Chikawe said the operation would begin in two weeks time, initially targeting five regions, including Mwanza, Tabora, Shinyanga, Simiyu and Geita, where the government believes attacks against albinos are most prevalent. The operation would be expanded to other areas later.

He said the task force will also have the mandate to review previous court cases of albino attacks and killings to gather new evidence and further research the motive for attacks. The Director of Public Prosecution would prioritise these cases.

The government has previously been widely criticised for failing to act to stop these macabre murders.

The Tanzania Albino Society welcomed the move, saying it would help end the worsening plight of albinos.

“I believe we can work together to end these acts of pure evil,” said spokesperson Ernest Kimaya.

But Rashid Mauwa, a traditional healer from the Bunju area of Dar es Salaam, said he feared the ban would lead to victimisation of healers of whom only a few engage in witchcraft.

“I am not engaging in any witchcraft. I am only using traditional herbs to help people who do not respond to conventional medicines. Why am I being punished?” he said.

Albinism is a congenital disorder which affects about one in 20 000 people worldwide, according to medical authorities. It is, however, more common in sub-Saharan Africa, affecting an estimated one Tanzanian in 1 400.

Black fear, black men

(Flickr / Magdalena Roeseler)
(Flickr / Magdalena Roeseler)

I can hardly remember a time before I was afraid of black men.

Maybe during those golden, fading afternoons when my father would play his guitar in the warm Namibian twilight or when my brothers would protect my sisters and I from the ever snarling neighbourhood dogs. Throwing large grey stones high into the air with a hiss of “Voetsek!” and a feint that would send the then massive beasts scampering down the road, through a gate and to a master who would toss the dogs treats for their trouble.

I must have been five or six at the time but a few years later I came to know that black men were trouble.

That when they walked alone or in ragtag, guffawing groups they were up to no good and should be avoided, run from or reported.

Growing up, we seemed to be warned against them at every turn.

We watched our mothers shrink away when passing lone ones at night and at school we were cautioned not to talk to black gardeners, menial staff and mine workers for fear of something our parents and teachers wouldn’t name but which we understood would end in some kind of personal and perpetual ruin.

Though lingering alongside any of these men would end in ear boxing, talking to young black mine workers was the way of the worst of us.

And, in Oranjemund, the mere suggestion that you had been in the vicinity of their single quarters would be met with a hiding far sharper than anything metered out for bad grades, messy rooms or backchat.

We stayed away.

And the large building where masses of black migrant workers would spend their time between work and short, shining trips back to their families in the North became a Mordor to be feared and skirted. Filled with dark, ostensibly bad men who could get us whipped faster than it took for us to whisper the name.

I obeyed.

We all did.

All us pretty pubescent girls, in our starched navy blue  uniforms did as we were told except a few who eventually left school with their bellies swollen with children who would be claimed as their grandmothers’ after their real mothers were whisked away to Windhoek and returned looking much more like themselves.

So we ran away from the young men in their telltale blue overalls, we shunned and teased gardeners and menial workers from a careful distance but what I didn’t understand was why I should be afraid of people whose skin looked just like mine.

Why I should shy away from people who looked just like my father in the curling, yellow photographs my mum kept in a Quality Street tin on the top shelf of their bedroom.  And why I was never told to do the same when faced with the overall-clad white men I’d see in town and on the bus or any of the white men of similar age, build and spirit.

I never got any real answer and I’m not sure my 12-year-old self ever felt the need to inquire, but when I moved from idyllic Oranjemund to bustling Cape Town, my fear grew as dark as the headlines which spoke of robberies and rape, murderers and menaces whose names clicked in my mouth like the sound of a door latch opening at night.

I grew wary.

I grew wary, worrisome and wicked.

Darting from one side of the road to the next whenever I felt I was being followed, hurling dirty looks over my shoulder at dark men who, to my mind, looked shifty and clutching my bag more tightly when walking past black men just going about their own days which were just as full of fear and foolishness.

Though, I know I was just trying to be cautious and I could rationalise my actions based on the merit of being safe rather than sorry.

Afterwards, it would make me feel ashamed.

I’d think about how people may see my brothers on a dark night on a lonely road and it made me sick to think that someone may be frightened of the gentle spirits who’ve done nothing but nurture me.

The brothers who taught me to read and who hurled stones at racist dogs before cheering my sisters and me up with apricots picked from a temperamental tree in our backyard.

The brothers who grew up to be the black men we are taught to fear often simply because they are male and black and this has become the default face of murder, menace, rape and robbery.

Seventeen years later my belated shame has changed my ingrained instincts not one bit.

I’m sitting alone on a restaurant patio at Old Mutual Plaza on a sweltering Monday afternoon and two shabby-looking black men make their way towards me and my drink sticks in my throat before  I calculate how quickly I can get up and go inside without spilling my half-finished smoothie or offending them.

I make my measurements but I stay put.

I drink my smoothie slowly and pretend to look past them at the park but my heart is thumping in my chest saying: Stand up, stand up, stand up!

But in the interval it’s saying: Just sit, just sit, just sit.

I want to stay because I know they have done nothing wrong.

I want to stay because I know that wearing a hard life on your sleeve doesn’t mean you’re a criminal or a crook.

I want to stay because I am black and so are they and I am sick of judging black books by their covers.

But I don’t.

At four paces, I grab my bag and walk briskly into the restaurant and the staff looks alarmed at my sudden entry. One waitress even peers out at the two men and sees nothing amiss.

“Is there anything wrong?”

“No, it’s just…those men…I was alone.”

At this the three other waitresses burst out laughing. They tell me it’s okay and that one of the men is the first waitress’ brother who has come to take her home.

He’s her brother.

He’s MY brother.

I look out the window and he looks at me.

And he’s not laughing.

Instead he stares at me the way hundreds of black men have glared at me before when I have made the mistake of thinking the combination of their class, sex and skin speaks of their character.

When I’ve held my bag and darted into shops and crossed the road with skin just like theirs, kindred in my own infuriating assumptions to fend off.

The waitress’s brother doesn’t let me off.

He points at me and shakes his head and his companion gives me a glance that leaves me in no doubt that he is sick.

Sick to death of his shabby clothing connoting crimes.

Sick of his sun-kissed self being an instant indication of  evil.

Sick of his sisters joining in the generalisations.

I pay my bill and walk out with my eyes to the ground and I hear the other man suck air through his teeth in disgust.

And that’s when the waitress’s brother suddenly smiles and says:

“ This is a very nice place. Did you have a good lunch?”

The smoothie was warm, too tangy and there were two ants floating at the top but, feeling frantic and forgiven, I smile back and say:

“Yes. It’s great. These ladies make the best smoothies in town.”

It’s a lie…

But so are a lot of things.

Martha Mukaiwa is a  freelance arts, entertainment and travel writer as well as a weekly columnist living in Windhoek, Namibia in-between short, spirited sojourns in South East Asia. She is an avid coffee drinker, spring cleaner and cinephile with a love for all things hobo and happening. Follow her on Twitter: @marth__vader



Nigeria’s Cafe Neo: Hoping to become the African Starbucks

Cafe Neo in Lagos. (Pic: AFP)
There are three Cafe Neo branches in Lagos and one in Kigali. (Pic: AFP)

Men in suits order takeaway cappuccinos at the counter. A trendy young crowd occupies comfortable sofas, armed with laptops for a brain-storming session over cafe lattes, frappuccinos and soft jazz.

The morning scene wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in New York,  London or Paris but cafe culture is a new phenomenon in Nigeria’s biggest city, where until recently finding a decent espresso was a battle.

The bright young things and senior managers were in Cafe Neo, on Victoria Island in Lagos, which has been specifically designed to cater to the tastes of “repats”.

Ngozi Dozie and his brother Chijoke created the chain with returning Nigerians in mind, in the full knowledge that years spent abroad alter views, tastes and expectations.

Now the brothers hope to conquer Africa’s major cities with 100% African coffee before giants of the business such as Starbucks try to capture the market.

“The demand (in Lagos) is very high. There’s a significant minority of people who love coffee and want to drink coffee but haven’t had access to coffee,” Ngozi told AFP.

The “significant minority” have studied and worked abroad, coming back in their thousands from the United States or Europe as austerity measures kicked in after the global financial crisis.

While they were away, Nigeria – already Africa’s most populous nation with some 170 million people – became the continent’s leading economy — and a country ripe with opportunity.

With economic growth has come an emerging middle class, which has increased six fold to 4.1 million households between 2000 and 2014, according to a recent study by Standard Bank.

Indian inspiration
A number of US chains such as KFC and Domino’s Pizza are already in Nigeria and increasingly popular, despite the astronomical costs of running a business in the country.

Poor or non-existent infrastructure forces businesses to rely on huge electricity generators to keep the lights on when the public supply goes off, sometimes for up to 12 hours a day.

The brothers’ idea is to first conquer the Nigerian market before Starbucks, which has more than 20 000 cafes in 65 countries across the globe but none in sub-Saharan Africa.

A Cafe Neo steward prepares iced coffee for a customer. (Pic: AFP)
A Cafe Neo barista prepares iced coffee for a customer. (Pic: AFP)

Ngozi Dozie is not yet 40 and is himself a “repat”. Before embarking on the business venture, he knew friends who would bring back bags of coffee from the United States.

He said he was inspired by India, where Cafe Coffee Day has largely cornered the market, despite the increasing presence of international chains such as Britain’s Costa Coffee or Starbucks.

“India is a fantastic example with Cafe Coffee Day,” he explained. “We aim at something similar.

“We’re starting young right now and our aim is to grow as such that yes, Starbucks may come, but we want to be the choice of Nigerians, because there’s that affinity with something that comes from here, in Africa.”

Produce and consume
Neo has three cafes currently in Lagos and two others are scheduled to open early this year.

There is another outlet in Kigali. All the cafes only serve 100% Rwandan arabica, which has become one of its main selling points.

The chain is hoping to branch out across Africa and expects to have between 20 and 30 cafes in Lagos alone within the next four years.

“Neo, in Tswana, the language in Botswana, means ‘gift’, and of course it also means ‘new’ in Latin,” said Dozie.

“So, it’s a new way… a new approach to coffee,  a new approach where we, as Africans, drink the coffee that we produce, that’s been a gift for us, as opposed to exporting it and importing sub-grade coffee.”

Africa’s main coffee producers such as Ethiopia, Uganda and Rwanda currently export most of their products to the United States and Europe.

Kayitana John Bosco was brought over to Nigeria from Rwanda to train locals on how to make a proper coffee at Cafe Neo – and said it was time for a change.

“Our first coffee tree was planted in 1904,” he said of his homeland. “We’ve been producing coffee for more than a century. But brewing, the consumption… it’s really still down.

“I visited a coffee farmer in 2007. That old man had been doing coffee farming for 20 years, but he didn’t know the taste of it.

“So, his job was to do farming, harvest, send. He didn’t know where it was going or what it was used for.”