By Ian Ortega.
I had tried to avoid talking about Stella Nyanzi versus the First Lady hoping that somebody would be able to read my mind and make a better analysis. Instead all that I have read is totally in sync with the usual Ugandan analysis. It is just some usual rhetoric, some just emotional pandering to side with either party. None however has tried to give deeper understanding to the whole situation.
Using the cause and effect analogy. Most people have tended to see Stella Nyanzi as a cause. But that’s where they all get it wrong. Nyanzi is an effect. She represents a certain new wave. A wave that we have fed over the years.
It all started when the powers that be closed up their ears to anything that was not ‘good’ to them. They kept the critics far away and they kept the praise singers even closer.
They say, if you want honest unpaid for criticism always listen to your enemy. Our friends will always find it hard to tell the truth. They will sugar coat it or avoid it altogether. Show a friend your piece of writing or your new song and they will simply shower it with complements. Rarely can you expect honest reviews from a friend.
Slowly by slowly the First Family fell victim to this. Whenever the President asked for feedback from wanaichi, the spies told him all was okay. He believed this lie until it finally became truth.
Those who talked, he was told they wanted some bread. So they could buy them off. After all, a mouth that is eating can’t talk.
As the palace built these high walls, it was blocked from the realities on the ground. Its eyes got veiled. That marked the death of dialogue.
And this death went all over and affected every facet of our society. In the churches, we created the Catholic Church vs Musaala. The musicians built fan bases where they could produce any trash and it would be hailed. Parents expected no criticism from their children.
At all stages, the country stopped listening to the alternative. The battles lines got drawn. The opposition wanted to hear nothing positive about the ruling government. Ruling government said nothing positive about the opposition. You were either with us or with them.
I have always had a problem with binary societies, the kind of socieities with no middle. The kind of societies where it is either black or white but no greys. Such societies fuel something called extremism.
I have previously written that we are in the Age of attention. We went through the stone age, the iron age, the industrial age, the computer age and the age of information.
All of a sudden there was too much information in the world. The next age automatically became the age of attention. Because to give attention to one thing requires foregoing another. The opportunity cost of enjoying Facebook posts is the awesome tweets I miss out on.
So right now what we have is an abundance of information and a scarcity of attention. I can’t read two posts at the same time. Everytime I scroll through my newsfeed, I am making a choice between posts. Thus the only way to get my attention is how extreme something is.
Thus we are seeing the existence of two ages. We are living both in the age of attention and in the age of extremism.
When you see Kaweesi showered with over 30 bullets, you must try to think of the bigger picture.
The only way to get attention is to get extreme. Social media has fueled that even more. It is not enough to have an opinion on Facebook or Twitter, that opinion must be articulated in an extreme way.
That’s why you can’t find an opposition member saying there’s something this government has achieved. In the same way, you won’t find an NRM person siding with the opposition.
First of all, when you choose to go extreme, you get infected with cognitive dissonance. That’s why people will rarely change their beliefs beyond a certain age. A man who has believed in God since he was born will try so hard to hold onto this belief even when evidence suggests otherwise. A president that was once loved will find it so hard to believe that he is no ridiculed. Our brains suffer from cognitive dissonance. It is the reason we stick to wrong ideas even after knowing they are wrong. And because of this, we do everything possible to avoid hearing the alternative views. Then it becomes a cycle of fueling even more extremism.
Thus as a country, we face a deeper evolutionary psychological struggle as the global world. Extremism is the new normal simply because our attention is scarce. Agataliko nfuufu is popular because it is extreme. Bukedde is popular because it is extreme.
The age of attention doesn’t reward one for staying on the sidelines. You must go all the way. Why struggle to face your enemy if you can eliminate him with rounds of bullets? At least in the latter, you quickly get their attention. And if you can’t get it, you eliminate it.
Donald Trump is not president by mistake. He understands the age. It is the age of radicalism. You must be radical for whatever you believe in. Don’t just go the extra mile, go the extreme mile.
The age of attention does not reward neutrals. Because attention is scarce, we have to keep buying it with extreme views, ideas and thoughts. The popular people on our platforms today are the extremists of either side. That’s how to win attention.
The problem with advancing views in this way is that you make your enemies even more hardened. That’s why children of very strict parents always turned out to be the most stubborn. Us whose parents didn’t even bother to cane us, we upheld all the school rules. Us whose parents allowed to taste wine at home found no need to smuggle alcohol into school.
So here’s what you should take away.
1. Stella Nyanzi is an effect not a cause. You must understand her as a wave not as a person.
2. The country forgot to dialogue. No one wanted to talk to their enemy. Now we are stuck in a rabbit hole.
3. We are in the age of attention. This has fueled extremism as we all fight for the scarce attention. Extremism and bigotry is the new normal.
4. Always keep your enemies close. Only them can tell you the truth that your friends can’t.
5. In the age of extremism, we can expect to see more Kaweesi cases not less.
6. The winds of change are blowing. Read my analysis on my blog. I found out a pattern that happens just before governments fall in Uganda.