About a month ago, a friend and I took an Uber from Kisementi to Muyenga where we’d gone to visit another friend. 3 minutes away from our destination, the Uber driver hesitated at a junction. I asked him to continue ahead. He said he wasn’t sure. I told him that I was, and that our destination was right ahead. While we argued, a guard to one of the VIPs living in the area who was standing not far away stopped us. We told him that we were just passing by. He insisted that we do not proceed. We asked what the matter was. He hesitated, stattered in a manner of a clueless, absent minded student who has just been picked on by a teacher to answer a question. After which asked in reference to me telling Uber driver to go ahead: “who are you to order the driver?!”
Is this guy really asking me not to tell OUR Uber driver where we’re going?!
I was getting irritated, rightfully so.
“What do you want?” My friend asked him.
I-I-I-don’t want anything! You’re ordering the driver!
“In fact, for that reason, no car will pass here!” He barked.
My friend and I opted not to waste any more time. We asked the driver to end trip and trekked the rest of the short night journey. I attributed it mostly to the fragile male ego and toxic masculinity. How dare 2 young womxn riding in a car, challenge my BS? I thought, he had thought before launching into a stammering contest. But perhaps that was only half the story.
A few weeks later, a young womxn told me her traumatic encounter the previous night with one of the guards at the office building where I consult. Apparently, she and her friend had come back from an evening errand (as they usually did) to pick up their personal computers, before retiring home. The guard had denied them access this time; and when they appealed to his colleague to let them in, he cocked his gun, before pointing it at one of them. The boda-boda guys nearby started to panic and retreat. The young womxn stood still. She asked the guard if he thought he was going to shoot her and get away with it. To which he responded:
“You’re just a womxn! There’s nothing you can do!”
Thankfully none of these 2 events turned fatal. But they both tell us something. Besides the very obvious sexism in both instances, there was a need by both gun-wielding guards to assert power over people who they perceived to be of a higher social class than they’re. Therein is the disaster that could happen to any Ugandan, at any time. But the immediate potential victims, if I may, are you and I. The University-educated, white collar job slavers who spent the better part of last week unveiling our true emotions on the equally pressing issue that is ethic tensions which can be traced back as early as Uganda’s inception in 1900.
But here is another time-bomb. The guards and askaris with whom we interact on our way into office buildings, shopping malls and the rich neighbourhoods of Muyenga seem to have long suppressed their own feelings on their dehumanization and 2nd class citizen classification. They see you everyday, with your laptop bags and car keys, walking into what is generally considered a better place – the offices in the buildings and supermarkets and apartments that they are charged with standing outside to guard. They are aware that theirs is the bottom tier position in this hierarchy. They are also aware that you’re aware of it. They despise you for it. In the same way that you often despise the right-of-way VIPs with their road-closing, show-stopping attitudes while we all queue to retire home after a long day. In this situation, you quickly become the dreadful VIP. You have right-of-way, you’re a VIP, you’re not at fault. It just stings still, for the ordinary road user.
This here is an unspoken brewing tension. The difference between you and the VIP is that you have fewer resources at hand. You know, no extra guards, no lead car. Just you – and your social class privilege. And the moment there’s as much as even an anticipated power move from you – the moment that you do just about anything that could be literally what you’re supposed to do like: tell your Uber to drive ahead while the guard is still standing there trying to exert some power too, the guard is ready also – to pull a power move. Sometimes it’s the no-car-will-get-through-here. But other times, other gory times, it’s the cocking of a gun and releasing of the safety, resulting into gun shot wounds – even worse. And no. This cannot be limited to the victim’s ethnicity because we don’t wear that on our foreheads for strangers to identify. It’s a psychological defense mechanism. A way of coping with one finding themselves on the unfortunate side of the class divide. And if you ever wonder why in a taxi, you’ll be typing away on your phone, minding your business and the conductor will still go like, “gwe owa WhatsApp!…*insert a rude remark*, it is for the same reason.
Should you be looking for a definite solution here, you have come to the wrong blog. As I too have not a damn clue what could take all of this apprehension away. What I can say is that perhaps, you and I, equipped with this knowledge, can decide to approach those situations with a whole lot more deliberate empathy. And that can be, is going to be hard. Because as I will tell you, I still have unkind words for the guard in my friend’s neighborhood. I feel burdened by his unnecessary behavior towards my friend and I. He too, must have been burdened by his attitude – perhaps our own too, which he might have wrongly interpreted. But as I am learning, perhaps the price of possessing any privilege, is to be the bigger person.