by Ruth Aine - 01 December 2014
Uganda is one of the countries that for a long time have been in the news for very many reasons. For as long as I have travelled there have been so many questions about what has happened in Uganda and what is going on at the moment. Sometimes there are weird questions and observations in regard to Idi Amin. Some of them offended me in a way.
But then again, that it is expected. Since 2009, I have been answering questions about the gay rights law in Uganda, a bill tabled late that year. Even people I had no idea knew me were asking me questions. I have known though that many of these opinions, thoughts and observations are shaped by something or by someone. Primarily, it is the media. Their role is to tell the story as it is; draw people into a discussion that will then generate opinions, observations and feedback.
In February 2014, the Ugandian Minister of Ethics and Integrity Minister, Father Simon Lokodo, tabled before Parliament the Anti-Pornography Bill. This Bill was not well received by many Ugandans. The definition of pornography in the Bill was quite vague compared to what we all know and understand pornography to be. What is important though is how the Bill was perceived by the media. It was interpreted as the ‘miniskirt bill’ in Uganda. What is odd though is that the Anti-Pornography Act makes no mention of the miniskirt. However, advocates kept saying that the law banned women from wearing any leg–baring attire hence the name, ‘miniskirt bill’. Within days, women activists took to the streets to demonstrate against the Bill. Why so? Because the locals took on the media’s definition of what this law meant and a number of women were being stripped in public with men citing the law. A wrong interpretation of the law led to many people’s discomfort. That flaw is yet to be corrected. The people that have time and access to the law and are able to read and understand it are a very, very small fraction of the population. The rest will go by what the newspapers and TV stations of the country relay as ‘news’. To them, it is the gospel truth.
In the last two weeks there were two incidents that have happened on social media in Uganda that have spilled over to the mainstream media. #EvilNanny is something that took the whole world by storm. It was a video of a nanny beating up a young child. I got messages from Kenya, Ghana and the United States. I had to correct info on Twitter from South Africans who have heard that the little girl in the video has passed on. The video came out on 20th November 20134. It went viral on that Friday evening. On Saturday I got a call from Ghana asking if I knew the family because they wanted to interview them. From early this week, this story has dominated the media world. On Tuesday for example, it made the headlines of all of Uganda’s leading daily newspapers. It was covered by the Global Mail as well. In the recent past, research has shown that social media became the number one activity on the Web, taking the spot from pornography.¹ While some argue that it is on its way out, I think that it calls for great analysis.
And so I keep asking myself: Who sets the narrative that we live by? Who makes the news, who is responsible for finding the top stories and then accurately telling them? I realize that while the sole responsibility lies with the media, there are still ways in which we get to tell the stories ourselves. Having discovered that, I think that we ought to learn to create narratives that work for us and then spread them as we would want to see them. The future of our continent depends on how vigilant we are in spreading the written message - me, you and the media.