(Copied from Timothy Kalyegira’s Facebook page)
A few days ago, as many of you might know, a long-time friend Doreen Baingana posted a message on her Facebook wall in response to my post on the unexpected election victory by the U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Like many around the world, Baingana was appalled and genuinely shocked by Trump’s win. Nerves were raw for many. This was just hours after the election was called for Trump.
In her moment of irritation, Baingana lashed out at me for seeming to condone Trump’s character and especially his attitude toward women.
What I had been doing for most of the year was simply seeking to explain the incredible rise of Trump in spite of all his blunders and scandals.
I do not support his attitude, as anyone who has known me for even a few years would know.
Doreen in her post stated or suggested that I should not take people like Trump lightly and went onto say she is tired of how the LGBQT (lesbians, gays, bisexuals, queer, transexuals) are treated or regarded in Uganda.
She then mentioned an incident at the Uganda Museum on August 29, 2016 during the 2016 Writivism Literary festival which I attended as the festival’s official photographer.
Doreen and I were chatting during a break in one of the workshops. She is somebody I’ve known almost all my life and, as she said in her Facebook post, is a good friend of my sisters.
She was three classes ahead of me at Lake Victoria School in Entebbe.
I started taking photos of Doreen, as I had been of the other writers and participants in the festival.
Doreen asked where I was taking “all these photos”, and I explained it was for the festival organisers.
Because Doreen is a friend, separate from the festival, I took a few more. I told her that I had recently become quite good at photography and she would love these photos of herself.
In the meantime, we were still conversing.
I explained that since the Baingana family lost their mother several months earlier, I had been planning to visit Doreen again in Entebbe where she lives but for some reason I’d failed to find the time.
Then when I had finished, I showed her the photos. She smiled and said they were nice. She asked how she could get copies.
I asked her to text me her email address and I would send her the photos. She asked if she had my phone number and I said she should, since I had given it to her when we met one afternoon in Entebbe three years earlier.
I asked for her number, she stated it and I called her phone. As it rang, my name came up on her phone’s screen and she went about re-saving it.
So I jokingly said since she thought she had misplaced my number, this time in order not to lose it she should save my name as “Husband”. Just a joke!
She smiled as we continued conversing.
As she looked through the photos, she kept saying they were beautiful and I said “I knew you would love them!”
I then added an off-cuff “Next time I should take nude photos of you!” and we both laughed.
She then saved my number and I went on to other tables in the room and continued to photograph other participants.
I did not think anything further of it.
Because of the notoriety of the gossip media in Kampala these days, many people are terrified of stories of nude photos leaking online.
Whenever people see cameras, that thought goes through their mind.
So I was just teasing Doreen in that context.
She is someone I know to be easygoing and humorous and whom, I take it for granted, knows me, my family and my upbringing enough to know I would never take nude photos of people, let alone of friends.
Anyone who knows the Kampala Express Facebook page that I run, knows it takes extra pains to publish only photos that bring out the best in people.
Anyone who knows the Kampala Express also knows that from the day it started in September 2014, it has been very strict and particular about the language its readers use.
Expletives and other foul language on the page are strictly forbidden and some readers have had to be blocked because they used that kind of coarse language.
So of course there was no question of me even thinking of taking nude photos of Doreen under any circumstances. It was just a joke.
The following day at the museum, I met Doreen once again. This time she was in the company of her elder sister and first-born, Alice Nganwa.
Doreen introduced me to Alice, whom I’d not seen for many years.
I asked the two to pose so I could take photos of them. I hoped to email the photos of Doreen and Alice to my sisters as well, apart from sharing them with Doreen.
The two posed and as I took and looked at the photos, I told them these were quite nice pictures which I liked. The three of us conversed briefly and then I moved on to another round of activity at the Writivism festival.
So you can imagine my surprise a few days ago when a friend send me a message telling me Doreen had written something alleging I had sexually harassed her!
Puzzled, I asked him where that was and he directed me to her Facebook wall.
Knowing Doreen, knowing myself and what I’ve just narrated above, I did not take it seriously.
It would never have crossed my mind to think that Doreen, of all people I know to be humorous, relaxed and sophisticated enough to tell what’s a joke and what’s not, would have taken my joke at the Uganda Museum as anything but a joke.
Anybody who knows the Ugandan sense of humour knows that in offices, classrooms, neighbourhoods and so on, we chat this way all the time with our friends.
It’s not uncommon for an office mate to say “Darling, the meeting is about to start. Please switch on your laptop”, to a colleague who is just a colleague and nothing more than that.
Nobody in the meeting room even thinks of this as a suggestive word or a case of “sexual harassment.”
If one were to tune in to any Ugandan radio station as listeners call in, it’s almost routine to hear a female presenter when a male listener calls in and says “Good evening Mary!”, for Mary the DJ to reply with a casual “Hi sweetheart!” and the listener goes on to request a song or greet his friends.
No Ugandan who lives in the country would think Mary was making a pass at the listener. That’s just the affectionate way we Ugandans chat.
This is the trait that marks Ugandans out, this friendly, easygoing attitude.
That was the tone in my chat with Doreen. Casual, with not a trace of lust or ill-intent.
So I brushed her Facebook post aside as a case of Doreen over-reacting to my Donald Trump posts in the heat-of-the-moment and left it at that.
But after a day or two when Writivism said it would investigate the matter and various people on social media started to point an accusing finger at me, I began to realise that what was the most innocent of jokes could turn into something serious.
I really hope that common sense will prevail and this matter is investigated, understood and resolved.
I would be very disappointed if it turned out that the Doreen whom I know to be witty really believes that I, a kind of kid brother to her and a family friend, would think that way about her.
When Writivism Literary Initiative posted its statement on its Facebook page, many people, most of them women, started lashing out at me, treating me as guilty.
I spend much of Friday trying to give people some background into what had happened. I even posted that I join Doreen Baingana in condemning sexual harassment in all its forms.
I take it that men who behave that way do it all the time as a habit.
So I hope any girl or woman who feels she has ever been harassed by me can step forward. I would be shocked if any were to do so.
Those who know me know that’s just not me.
As this matter gets investigated, I can only say we should begin to think seriously about social media.
It has given us great opportunities to catch up with colleagues, relatives, former classmates, childhood friends, market our products and announce our social events and so on.
But like all things, it can very easily turn into a nightmare if misused.
If Doreen felt I had harassed her, why didn’t she report the matter to Writivism right away? Why didn’t she, as she chatted with me, caution or rebuke me and say “That’s not funny”?
Why did we continue to converse for a few minutes after I had cracked that joke and then we parted amicably as always because I had to go to another table?
And more importantly, how come the following day I was back to conversing with her and taking photos of her sister Alice and her and Doreen was smiling for the photos?
There was no hint from her that she had taken my remark the previous day as anything but a joke.
Why did she have to choose the morning I posted about Donald Trump to bring up an incident that had taken place two and a half months earlier in late August?
And why did she first mention it on Facebook and not to Writivism, the official organisers of the festival, which organisers in their resource materials had urged participants to report any cases of sexual harassment to them immediately?
Why since late August had Doreen not in any way mentioned her displeasure to me in person or via an sms or in a Facebook inbox message?
It is like somebody who is a member of the ruling NRM government deciding to leave the government and join the opposition FDC party.
Then suddenly, the government instructs the Uganda Revenue Authority or the Inspector-General of Government to investigate their tax returns over the last seven years.
Where were they for all the last seven years, if this new investigation is indeed fair and not politically-motivated?
Secondly, while every decent person, man or woman, welcomes the emphasis since the mid-1990s on women’s rights and human rights in general, I think we Africans should be careful not to go the way of the Americans and Europeans who have taken it so far, it is turning into a state of social fascism.
Political-correctness is starting to choke the life out of the western world.
Any single comment, any hint at racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, anything hinting at inappropriate behaviour, and the law comes down hard on you.
Advertisers withdraw their sponsorship of a TV show, sports equipment makers drop the athlete from their roster.
The West is now playing out the Arthur Miller 1950s play “The Crucible”, in which a hysterical hunt down of suspected witches in the town of Salem in Massachusetts in the United States almost tears the community apart.
No wonder millions of Americans — tired of all the political-correctness, tired of being called homophobic, sexists and racists — decided they’d had enough and voted the blunt-talking Trump.
If we now have to be guarded about every word we utter, if we can no longer joke at all with female or male colleagues and friends out of fear of an innocent joke or casual remark being misconstrued and the two end up in court, then dark days are ahead for humanity.
So here I am, helpless to do anything about my situation.
What was a normal day and a normal conversation at the Uganda Museum with a friend of many years, has turned into a public incident.
There were only two eye witnesses to the conversation, Doreen and I.
Everyone else can only guess or infer. It is her word against mine and mine against hers.
How are we to know who is speaking the truth?
It has reminded me of situations where we need God. Nothing else can do but the divine.
Since some of us believe God the all-knowing exists, I will leave it to Him to know what to do about it.