I think the manner in which we have handled the question of the position of Muslims in Uganda has tended to trivialise the broader question of group marginalisation in the country, let alone diminishing the real magnitude of the plight of Muslims themselves.
I see the whole issue being reduced to going through any of the NAKIBUGA schools (Nakibuga meaning both urban – in Luganda- and also an acronym for Namagunga, Kisubi, Buddo, Gayaza)….and all that to do with whether certain big men like UPC’s George Okello and Yusuf Lule went to Buddo etc. I think the question of marginalisation of Muslims looms much larger than that.
There is still that level of basic dehumanisation of Muslims that obtains in some rural areas: A peasant kid will remark: “nsanze abantu babiri n’omusiramu”: I met two people plus one Muslim. In the village, if you had two neighbours, one a catholic called Zaveriyo, and another one a Muslim called Aramanzani, you would be sent to ask for matchsticks from Zaveriyo’s but for salt from “Owomusiramu”: the Muslim’s home. Never from Aramanzani’s.
Even in basic learning, there were always subliminal messages aimed at denigrating Muslims…there was that English language text book with a character called Mr Mutabingwa, and another character called Abdul the shopkeeper who was always portrayed as the crafty thief selling ash as sugar etc)…kids (adults of tomorrow) went to secondary school indelibly instilled with those prejudices against Muslims…
Uganda has politely emerged with strucutural obstacles to the social mobility of anyone that by accident, ended up being a Muslim. From the start, education in Uganda was the business of missionaries. Muslims had none to build schools for them. This matter even came up in the Legco in 1941 when during the 21st session one member, Mr Margarch passionately urged government to set up non-denominational schools to cater for Muslim pupils.
When government decided to establish a school for Muslims, it was erected somewhere in Masindi, where as the majority of the Muslims were in Buganda. In that very year, 1941, the grant for education was £6,631. Muslim education got a platry £252 and shs 18 of that, i.e., 3.8%. As you know, Muslims were over time condemned to the inglorious vocations of being little butchers and taxi-drivers. The roots of the ADF problem partly lie right there. So, one or two Muslims at Buddo is not good ‘ddagala’ for such deep-seated inequities.
Within Buganda itself, when you look back at the settlements of the religious wars and the beginnings of religion-based political alignments, the Muslims emerged at the bottom of the pile, even in the acquisition of living space. The Portal-IBEACo treaty with Kabaka Mwanga gave the Catholics the vast Buddu county, Sesse was shared out between the Protestans and Catholics, Protestants took the rest of Buganda with the exception of the miniscule Busujju, Gomba and Butambala that were grudgingly offered to the Muslims. Recall that the 1893 agitations by Muslims for Busiro to be added to them resulted into chaos as the Nubians under Selim Bey took sides with the Baganda Muslims. When the dust settled, the Nubians had been removed from Kampala to Kitubulu where they still are, and Baganda Muslims had lost Gomba and Busujju, only to be left with the insignificant Butambala….paka leo!
Many times a christian peasant father would always tell his daughter, “ggwe, ggwe bwoliwasa omusiramu sikuraba kulumbe lwange”: if you ever dare to marry a Muslim, I should not see you at my funeral!
For any body who is interested in more details on that matter, can read Prof. Samwiri Karugire’s ‘A Political History of Uganda’ and Badru and A. Kasozi’s ‘Abaasiga Obusiraamu mu Uganda’.
The point being, to reduce the odds stacked against Muslims merely to the level of which school one goes to aggravate his/her intellectual kwashiorkor is to diagnose a long-standing pneumonia as a transient senyiga/nanyiga.
Lance Corporal (Rtd) Otto Patrick
NRM supporter and UAH member