My Mom Tricked Me into Going to a Ugandan Boarding School
Uganda’s boarding schools have a slightly dodgy reputation, in that they’re basically Victorian borstals in the sun and quite regularly host dormitory fires, killing tens of students at a time. So you can understand why the threat of being sent to one might put the fear of God into any tearaway British teenager, especially if the threat were sprung on you out of nowhere and you were given absolutely no say in the matter.
In 2011, Rachael Nakaye boarded a plane to Uganda with her mother and younger sister, under the impression that she was going on a three-week vacation. Turns out she wasn’t. Instead, she was sent to a boarding school where she had her head shaved, was sexually propositioned by one of her teachers, cowered in classrooms while the school rioted on two separate occasions, and had guns pointed at her by Ugandan police. She was stuck out there for about a year, but she’s back now so I had a chat with her about her experience.
VICE: Hey Rachael. What were you like before you were sent to Uganda? A terror?
Rachael Nakaye: No, I was good but stubborn—just a typical teen, really. I failed my exams because I was focusing on my athletics. I trained so hard that year and was ready to enter nationals and possibly European trials. I also started taking modeling seriously and was looking for a new agency.
Why did you fly out to Uganda in the first place if you had so much going on in London?
My mom told me I was going to be a bridesmaid to one of my favorite aunties, who used to live in London. There was a wedding, but I never got to go. Instead, my mom told us that she didn’t book a return ticket and that we were starting boarding school in five days. I was so angry because I’d already heard about the multiple fires at Ugandan boarding schools that had killed students. Oh, and the caning. My little sister was hysterical.
Did you like Uganda before you found out you were being effectively trapped there?
I love Uganda, but only for a holiday. I think being gay shouldn’t be illegal and woman should have the right to an abortion, especially when poverty and HIV rates are so high. It’s not fair. In 2008, I saw a woman stripped and beaten after trying to pay with fake money at a restaurant. Also, they banned hotpants and showing too much cleavage and used to beat you up if you did either, which I could never get used to.
I Spoke to the Author of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill
David Bahati’s anti-homosexuality bill, which, depending on who you ask, may or may not included language that would sentence gay people to death and a bunch of other stuff that sets society back by about 200 years, is due to be tabled in Uganda’s Parliament any day now. This, obviously, is terrible news for gay people in Uganda and human rights in general.
Clare Byarugaba, co-coordinator of the Civil Society Coalition for Human Rights and Constituional Law (CSHRCL), is mentally exhausted with the “mind-fuck” of checking parliament’s order papers every day, and pessimistic. “Hope for gay rights in Uganda is like expecting corruption in Uganda to end. It will never end. The population is behind the bill and MPs go with the majority.”
I recently met up with Morgan, Bad Black, and Joseph, friends I made in August while covering the country’s first Gay Pride, and they’re terrified about the consequences of the bill passing. They have already been chased out of the one-room house they all shared in the Bwaise slum because the police believe that they’re “recruiting” young people into homosexuality. The issue of “recruitment” is one of the Ugandan government’s principal concerns, with David Bahati telling Clare that he believes homosexuality is an addiction and that people, particularly children, are lured into it.
It took David two weeks to get back to me, but the day before I left Uganda, he granted me an interview.
VICE: Hi David. Can you run me through this bill?
David Bahati: The bill basically has four components. The first component is to outlaw homosexuality. The second component is about the emerging issues within homosexuality we’ve seen over time, including the promotion of it. The bill also concentrates on the inducement of children. There’s no law that stops same-sex marriage, so we want to outlaw and prohibit it and see rehabilitation and counselling for the victims of this grave, evil practice.
Has the death penalty been taken out?
Yes. [NB: according to Clare Byarugaba / CSCHRCL the bill that will be tabled still has the death penalty in.]
What evidence has been taken to the Legal Affairs Committee that people are recruiting children into homosexuality?
The committee has considered the bill and passed it and got all the necessary information it needed to make a decision. We have abundant evidence of what is happening in our community—parents and children have come to us. We’re in the business of defending the family between man and woman, as the holy scripture and Qur’an dictates.
What research is the bill based on?
We have enough information about how our society works. Family is between man and woman. Anything beyond that should be outlawed. Most of the research we have is just from life. My mom was with my dad. I know the Bible and the Qur’an are against homosexuality. When an anal organ is used for things it’s not supposed to be used for, it’s hazardous. I don’t need to be taught anything beyond that.
Ugandans are the hardest drinking Africans, both in terms of per capita consumption and the hooch they choose to chug. Waregi, or “war gin,” is what they call the local moonshine, and it makes the harshest Appalachian rotgut taste like Bailey’s.
Watch: War Gin
Pictured: A waregi brewery
TWO AMERICANS WHO ATTENDED THE KONY 2012 SCREENING IN GULU TELL IT LIKE IT WAS
At this point it’s old news that much-maligned philanthropy organization Invisible Children facilitated a screening of their notorious film KONY 2012 in northern Uganda last month, specifically in the rural town of Gulu. Showing a film made for Western teenagers about the atrocities of Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army to the people who experienced those atrocities firsthand seems like a terrible idea, and sure enough, the thousands of Acholi in attendance hated it. According to some reports, by the time screening ended the audience was throwing stones and curses at the local IC leaders who had set up the event. Soon the cops were firing teargas and bullets into the crowd, and the riot left many injured and one dead.
The audience’s reaction should have been expected, which underscores just how clueless IC was in the first place. You’re asking a community to gather together to watch a movie in which the explanation of its past, in all its complexity and horror, is equated to the understanding of a white American filmmaker’s three-year-old son? Come on now, guys.
Unable to find much in the way of personal reactions from those who attended, I recently learned that a couple of my friends—American students doing research in the area who we’ll just refer to as Erika and Abby—made the trek to Gulu for the screening.
Their perspective is that of a pair of Americans, of course, and they didn’t witness the violence that was reported, but given the White House’s apparent embrace of IC,, I think it’s worthwhile to point out that some Americans on the ground in the region cringe at the kind of ham-fisted good-versus-evil narrative IC is determined to tell.
VICE: What was it like outside the screening, when you arrived?
Erika: It was held in a small soccer stadium in Gulu. To get in, we had to weave through a massive crowd standing in anticipation of the event. I read a few articles about how many attended—some said 6,000, others said 10,000. Either way, it was an incredible turnout of people waiting to see what the rest of the world thought of them.
Some have taken issue with how it was promoted.
Erika: The “event” was advertised on the local radio as not just a film screening, but rather a “production” with musicians, whiteface comedy, and a supposed “movie.” There was no accurate depiction of what the film really was—no mention that it was about them.
But you knew what it was about, right? Had you seen KONY 2012 before?
Abby: Despite my isolated location in Africa, I did have internet access and saw the video during the initial wave facilitated by Facebook. My first reaction was less than positive, but watching that same video in the context of Gulu, surrounded by thousands of people who had lived through this, painted a very different image for me.
I watched as the words of Jason Russell and his son were translated, as if they had any constructive or enlightening commentary to add, while the comments of the white politicians remained in English. I felt the colonialist undertones were exponentially more jarring at that moment, as if a white college student who has the power to post some bumper stickers and write to my white congressman, can fix their problems. I felt presumptuous and, more than anything, embarrassed.
Erika: I was shocked to see the disconnect between the way Gulu was depicted in the film and the reality of modern-day Gulu, years after the war. Other than the film being only partially translated, it was also cut short. The differences between what I saw on YouTube and what I saw in Gulu pose important and difficult questions for IC’s execution of advocacy and its role as an NGO in the community.
Following the resounding success of its YouTube launch, the KONY 2012 video and movement saw a barrage of criticism from the darker corners of the internet. As someone who has worked in propaganda for a long time, I’m concerned that people all over the world are sending money to an organization that is fundamentally different to what they imagine it is. And even as interest wanes across the web, there are still lots of unanswered questions. Like the ones I came up with to ask Invisible Children representatives after Kenny Laubbacher, head of “artist relations” for IC, invited VICE to interview members of IC at the organization’s offices in San Diego immediately following our original KONY post. Kenny claimed that our post was “pretty massively misinformed and quotes a lot of bogus sources.”
Naturally, we wanted to set the record straight, but since then we have been punted to their PR people, had our meeting pushed back a week, and given the runaround when asked if someone at IC would be willing to participate in a quick interview over the phone. A last ditch attempt to get some answers dissipated today – Jedidiah Jenkins, the ‘Director of Ideology’ (or in the words of IC, “essentially the brand manager”) contacted us by email saying he was willing to give ten minutes while he and CEO Ben Keesey waited to get on a plane to a film festival. But in the time it took to receive the email and get the line set up, it was too late – they had boarded. ‘JJ’ was totally bummed. Hopefully he’ll have a chance to answer questions at a later date, but for now we’ve been forced to run this piece, which now amounts to what will hopefully be our final overview onKONY 2012 and IC, without quotes from the film’s creators.
Like lots of people, my biggest problem with KONY 2012 is that their now synonymous film makes no mention of IC cofounder Jason Russell’s Christian beliefs. This is especially troubling given that he’s not just a regular church-goer but an active evangelist. All signs point to this being an intentional omission that could even be interpreted as being part of a larger overarching media strategy.
“The trick is to not go into the world and say ‘I’m going to baptize you, I have an agenda to win you over’,”Russell said to a group of Christian students last November. “Your agenda is to look into their eyes, as Jesus did, and say ‘’who are you, and will you be my friend?’ Like he did to the prostitutes, the tax collectors and the fishermen.”
IC’s financial statements show substantial donations from the National Christian Foundation—an anti-gay, anti-abortion grant-making fund that helped Ugandan politicians put together legislation making homosexuality subject to the death penalty. Invisible Children’s supporters include other right-wing, anti-gay heavyweights like the Caster Family, who funded the campaign for Proposition 8 in California.
The following is a quick rundown of how KONY 2012 plays around with facts and figures to support its agenda:
Russell claims that Joseph Kony is the world’s worst warlord. The list compiled by the International Criminal Court lists the indicted in order of the dates of indictment for their alleged atrocities, not “badness.” In defining “badness,” many experts regard genocide as more serious than crimes against humanity and war crimes. If you take this view, the “worst” person on the ICC’s list is Omar Al-Bashir, president of Sudan. If you don’t take that view and think that genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes are equally bad, the “baddest” person on the list is Ali Kushayb, with Ahmed Haroun a close second. Both are indicted on the basis of their actions in Darfur. Ahmed Haroun is the Governor of South Kordofan State in Sudan, and therefore not all that difficult to find. Omar Al Bashir travels internationally, with impunity.
The ICC list is not a list of all the bad people in the world, just those who have been subject to investigations of “situations.” Only “situations” in Uganda, Darfur, Kenya, DR Congo, Libya, Cote D’Ivoire, and Central African Republic have been investigated by the ICC. Atrocities committed elsewhere in the world don’t count. The men on the ICC list are not the worst people in the world, they are the worst people in some parts of the seven places listed.
SHOULD I DONATE MONEY TO KONY 2012 OR NOT?
So you probably woke up this morning to discover that something called Kony 2012 had taken over the internet. In case you haven’t worked it out yet, Kony 2012 is a film produced by the charity Invisible Children, raising awareness about the child soldiers of Uganda.
And that’s good, right? Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army abduct children and convert them into murderers. They’ve been doing it for years and it’s good that someone’s trying to raise Kony’s profile so that American politicians might be forced into doing something about this endless tragedy, right?
Well, it’s more complex than that.
Read the full article here