What a game of soccer can teach us about standing up for our country

There have been moments in my life when I have come so close to winning and seen opportunity pass me by- a few inches out of reach. Missed opportunities are those moments when either we fail to act or come so close to winning but fail to earn our hard work. As human beings, we are part of a winning culture, an obsession for success that obstructs our ability to see the goodness in failing. People become frustrated when all they see around them are missed opportunities; failure. There is raving impatience when people don’t see change where they think it should be happening. People get tired of being treated to the same cocktail and, as social justice activists say, the status quo. Yet, If getting a straight win every time we work at something is all there is to live for, then our lives would be uneventful.

A few hours ago, the Uganda national soccer team failed to end the 34-year drought to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations in a game that ended 0-0 between the Uganda Cranes and the Harambe Stars of Kenya. We came so close, opportunities were created both on and off the pitch, but failed to register a win. As a friend wrote after the game, the politicians who turned out at Mandela National Stadium in support of the Uganda Cranes today brought us their bad luck. What were they cheering when they have failed the biggest national team – the voters?

Adding to my very gloomy week, I heard some of the most heart-breaking stories this week.  A friend told of a story that made me wonder if we care enough about our country to make it a better place. On her trip to Lira in northern Uganda this ending summer, she visited a school where girls are dropping out of school because they have no sanitary towels. According to my friend, they visited a classroom that looked like a family of thirty sons and one daughter. A school teacher explained that the reason they are seeing more girls drop out is because after their first experience with menstruation, girls feel embarrassed to come back to school because they can’t afford to buy sanitary towels to make them comfortable for social interaction. As a result, they opt for early marriage, usually to older men. Stories like these break my heart not only for the love that I have for children but for how inexcusable  it is that children should drop out of school for reasons such as not having sanitary towels. If members of Parliament in regions where these stories are happening care about improving access to education for ALL, then there should be ways of addressing the unique needs of the girl child to help her stay in school.

As my sad week comes to an end, I cannot hide my anger for the eviction of Uganda’s first openly gay and straight-friendly bar, Sappho Island, which was closed early this week after the owner of the building said she doesn’t need “strange people” on her property anymore. Until LGBT Ugandans are shown where to rent and not to rent, Sappho Island’s eviction remains a hate crime. It could even be illegal if no proper contractual eviction procedures were observed in this case.

Adding to my week-long sad news, I’ve just been reminded that tomorrow October 9, is Uganda’s 49th Independence Day “celebration” since the end of British colonial tyranny that lasted almost eight decades.

As I reflect on the events of this week, Independence Day remembrance comes at a time when we have a lot of progress to be proud of but little has be been done to save the nation from political and economic oppression. One wonders what Independence means in a country where civil servants embezzle public funds and go unpunished except if you are a Gilbert Bukenya by tribe! In its current state of poverty, high unemployment rates, corruption, Uganda as a British protectorate has little difference from the Uganda after Independence. We may be “running our own affairs” but even then, a few people run the country and at their own pace.

Last remarks

I saw the entire nation throw their weight behind the Uganda Cranes today. My facebook wall was jammed with all sorts of posts from people living in Uganda and as far as New Zealand as show of support for the national team. Too bad we didn’t qualify but then we should be reminded that as a nation we are failing at many other things. In fact, Ugandans are getting so used to failure and losing hope in their leaders that even when they support the national soccer team, they lose hope half-way through the game. No wonder I read some people resorting to prayer as the only thing they hoped could make our boys score.

Sometimes prayer is not enough. Sometimes you need to get yourself out of praying mode and fix what needs to be fixed before you can start seeing positive results. The Federation of Uganda Football Association needs to be fixed but so is our country. Let us turn out in large numbers in our Black, Yellow, Red jerseys and blow our Vuvuzellas in the name of  social justice. As a game of soccer can unite an entire nation in support of a team of eleven men, we can join our social justice activists; those few people who still remain true to their commitment to social justice, and cheer them on. Better still, let’s blow our Vuvuzelas as our cry for independence from people who want to run our country at the expense of the nation’s democracy and freedom of rights. Independence is not independent until every citizen is free from political, economic, and social tyranny.  We cannot wait on politicians to create change. We need to take over our country and, as Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda says, Uganda does not need politicians but social movements.

It is not only wrong to be silent in the face of oppression. It is immoral.



Zero Tolerance for Bullying

The subject of bullying is one that I identify with. Not because I was bullied in childhood for being gay but because in many ways I never felt good about myself. As a teenager, there were days when I looked in the mirror and didn’t feel good enough. I had lots of doubt and insecurities. I guess this comes from years and years of being told by people that you don’t measure up to expectations. In fact, it’s only about three years ago that I hit the road to recovery. In my previous note, I wrote about the perfectionism that my mom’s family drummed into me. Still, even when I tried, I didn’t measure up.

For me, it was more about being encouraged to do things I didn’t love than being encouraged to do what I loved. The Bible, which I began learning to read at age 7, is still a difficult book to read if not problematic at times. I was never good at maths. Not even years of coaching in primary school made me perform better. In a way, something that I didn’t like was imposed on me- forcefully because if you didn’t perform well in maths, you were not smart enough. The closest I ever performed well in a maths exam was a Credit 5 and that was after being taken to boarding school where I was subjected to rigorous maths coaching which to me, seemed like brain damage.

The week of October 3rd is anti-bullying week. Last year, Tyler Clementi jumped off from the George Washington Bridge after pictures of him kissing another boy were posted on the internet by his roommate. Tyler’s story moved me closer to the anti-bullying cause so much that it reminded me of one of the stories that inspired the choice to become an intentional LGBT activist. Many teenagers and even grown up gay people as is the case in my country, have taken their lives.

Paula Rwomushana was a student at St. Joseph’s Girls school, Nsambya, where I did my A-levels. I didn’t know her but I could easily relate with the bullying of lesbians that I witnessed and have read about in many of our schools. Like Tyler, Paula committed suicide because she was made to feel ashamed and afraid of herself.

We live a high-tech world of facebook, twitter, blogs, and the visible faces of human rights activism. This means that people are more likely to know how to get a sense of belonging because they can identify with someone else in their situation. Even then, many LGBT people don’t know who to talk to while in their most lonely places.

To all kids and adults out there who are caught up with insecurities and hurt:

I have been in the same place. I have walked this journey of self-acceptance. Even as an adult, I used to get picked on by anti-gay slanderers. The people who hate you don’t deserve you. Learn to love yourself and know that you’re God’s unique creation. As you grow older, you will look back on all those moments when you felt less of yourself and see that there was always someone who loved you. Remember that by being proud of who you are, you don’t only change your world; you make the world a better place for other people like you.

I am still here because I never gave up. Don’t give up. We need you. It gets better.

Have a wonderful anti-bullying week.