Some time back, Ugandans were jolted into our realities by the story of Alupot, the woman who was forced by her husband to breast feed dogs. This story rocked the core of humanity. Whilst many expressed their total disbelief that this could happen in Uganda, arguably, in reality, Alupot is not one of a kind and is actually an example of many who find themselves unhinged by the breakdown of positive African traditions and systems. Why did Alupot breast feed the dogs? Why did she not walk away? Where was everyone else in the homestead, her mother-in-law, her sisters-in-law, her brothers-in-law, other clan members and residents of the village when she breast fed the dogs?
As an Atesot from Pallisa, I authoritatively tell you that in my grandfather’s days, God rest his soul, this could never have happened. In his days, there was no such thing as bride price, there was only dowry. Dowry is a gift or offering. In the Iteso culture, the gifting or offering of dowry is part of the marriage ceremonies that are a sign of respect and commitment; and a demonstration of love, in the same way as the western religious wedding ceremonies, rings and wedding cakes are. In Teso, dowry is the basis for a woman to join the clan of her husband with her head held high, with recognition and protection from her husband and his clan. Ideally, there are a lot of positive aspects of dowry in the Teso culture, which if promoted would ensure no more women are treated like Alupot. When and how did dowry turn into bride price?
The call from the elite women activists for the Government of Uganda (GOU) to outlaw dowry is irresponsible and is symptomatic of the mental attitude of elite Ugandans which is a major cause of poverty. The elitist attitude towards African cultures which denigrates our practices and elevates those of western cultures will not help the Alupot’s of this world. Really, what is the difference between dowry of two cows and obscenely expensive white weddings that cost millions of shillings? For the majority of Ugandans, the rural folk, the traditional marriage ceremonies and gifting of dowry are the more practical and accessible ways for them to legitimise and pronounce their unions. Why is it that the African marriage practices are the ones blamed as a source of domestic violence and the western marriage practices are not? Besides, there are many existing laws which Alupot’s husband violated. Why did these laws not stop him?
The tragedy of Alupot is an indictment of the failures of our entire society, the GOU and civil society organisations (CSOs), particularly the women and human rights activists. After many years and billions of shillings that have been ploughed into development programmes such as capacity building programmes for women; and the implementation of such policies as the affirmative action policy, we end up with the Alupots? Perhaps, it is now time to question the content of our development programmes? What is our definition of development? Are the government and CSOs programmes working towards the right kind of development?
Alupot’s experience highlights dehumanisation arising from the scope of issues related to gender relations. However, this is not the only source from which dehumanisation arises. Many in Uganda are dehumanised daily and like Alupot are willing accomplices of their own oppression. Look at any number of dichotomies, boss – employee, rich – poor, donor – recipient and you will undoubtedly find acts of dehumanisation. Is it not time to look beyond single acts of dehumanisation and investigate the structures, mindsets, which perpetuate such acts?