By Denis Jjuuko
Winnie Byanyima, the Executive Director of Oxfam and wife to perennial presidential candidate Dr Kizza Besigye is unhappy with women who kneel to greet elders. She opines that when a woman kneels to greet elders she has put herself on a lower level than those particular elders.
Kneeling in Uganda is common among the Baganda (and indeed in many other Bantu nations). And those who kneel while greeting elders usually do it not because they have been forced. Those from outside Buganda like Byanyima usually find it a problem. I see them complaining everytime they see KCCA Executive Director kneeling at Mengo whenever she visits Buganda’s headquarters.
Byanyima’s inequality argument is extremely flawed. She posted a photo of a woman kneeling before her and she complained that this woman should never greet her while kneeling as that makes Byanyima more superior than the woman kneeling. Of course the woman who was kneeling said that was her way of showing respect to her elder.
I don’t know of any culture or system where there is no respect because of equality. When Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, enters the cabinet room or anywhere, people stand up. Barack Obama or anybody going to Japan kowtows when meeting elders there. The Pope removes shoes when he enters a Mosque.
When Winnie Byanyima enters the Oxfam boardroom for her management meetings, most likely she is reserved a special chair and may be her colleagues stand up as well. When she goes to a church in Mbarara where she hails from or Kasangati probably she is beckoned to a front seat. I doubt she sits at the back or remains standing because she is promoting equality.
I want to imagine if the woman who triggered her Tweets on kneeling had greeted her while standing would transform her into an equal to Winnie Byanyima. Aero engineer Byanyima is from a very rich family, married to a high flying politician with a child at Harvard who in his free time smokes expensive Cuban cigars. She spends her time in air conditioned offices and probably flies first class with limos waiting for her in any world capital she fancies a visit. A woman in rural Uganda struggling to feed her child greeting her while standing would never maker her equal to herself. Byanyima should concentrate more on this kind of inequality.
It is this inequality that will empower women not greeting elders while standing or kneeling. Oxfam, which she leads, like most NGOs claims of course to be fighting poverty. The results are usually only visible in glossy annual reports and memos to donors. That doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t something positive they are doing.
After her kneeling tweetstorm, Winnie Byanyima posted another interesting photo at her 20–acre maize garden which she wants to turn into a banana plantation. She was with a man she called Mukiga (a stereotype for labourers or modern day slaves) who is working on her farm. Mukiga had removed the cap while speaking with her. In most cultures, men remove caps while speaking to eders. It is a sign of respect. No woman ever removes their headgear while speaking to elders. Obviously privileged Winnie Byanyima didn’t notice that.
We cannot have our culture standardized in the name of equality. It is our diversity and how we can live with each other. It is a fallacy that we can think we can all be equal. It will never happen in the real world. That is why we will be unhappy when somebody kneels and be perfectly okay when somebody else removes their caps to greet us.
This was written as a request from a friend called Emma who is a fan of #OutToLunch. He comes from Kisoro and and the young Bafumbira don’t greet elders. It is elders who greet the young ones. It is their culture and it would be absurd to enforce young people greeting elders in Kisoro in the name of equality. In Buganda, it is young people that are expected to greet elders. Apparently, if an elder is not fine, a child greeting them wouldn’t have or isn’t expected to have a solution.
In Buganda, we don’t hug or shake hands with our parents-inlaw. This norm started after Ssekabaka Mulondo admired and had a sexual relationship with his mother-inlaw. On reflection, Ssekabaka Mulondo made it a taboo not to get close to your parents-inlaw in order to avoid such a scenario. In Byanyima’s book, this must be inequality.
Winnie Byanyima and others opposed to our cultural diversity should instead concentrate on the real inequality, which is caused by poverty.
*Photo from Winnie Byanyima’s account with Mukiga respectfully holding his cap while talking to boss. And like any boss, Winnie is arms akimbo. The world has never been so equal.