By Jackie Zawedde Muyomba
March 21 marked the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. This day was established six years after an event, known as the Sharpeville tragedy or Sharpeville massacre, which captured worldwide attention. This event involved police opening fire and killing 69 people at a peaceful demonstration against the apartheid "pass laws" in Sharpeville, South Africa, March 21, 1960.
Racism in any form is not to be tolerated yet it is still a big injustice in Uganda. A good example is the Asian community in Uganda which continues to face racial profiling and discrimination as a result of skin colour or having a ‘foreign sounding name' and continue to be marginalised in many spheres of society. Many employers have given replies to CVs with black names more than those which sound "Indian". And yet for decades, the Asian and African communities have lived together in Uganda and shared a common heritage of colonialism, fighting for freedom and the burden of discrimination.
However, the reverse is also true. Asians have for long failed to amicably exist with Africans. For example, though generalisations are to be avoided, there are many Asians who will always cross the road when a black person is walking towards them as a result of the stereotypical beliefs about black crime which they have been exposed to. In other cases, it is evident through Asian shopkeepers having a harsh attitude towards their black employees. Simultaneously, there are some people from the black community who detest the thought of working with colleagues from the Indian community claiming that they cannot be trusted. There's even a saying that if you have a snake and an Indian in front of you, kill the Indian!
Chapter 21 of The Constitution of the Republic of Uganda decries discrimination: "A person shall not be discriminated against on the ground of sex, race, colour, ethnic origin, tribe, birth, creed or religion, or social or economic standing, political opinion or disability.
However, it seems as if the process to address discrimination could be threatened because attitudes contrary to the spirit of cooperation and tolerance have surfaced. We cannot take new steps if even the international community is not mature enough to take concrete steps to address the problem and all the issues that surround it in an open and cooperative manner. It is common in British society today to see tensions between minority groups, often expressed through the establishing of social superiority over one another by embracing and reinforcing stereotypes. Whether it is differences in colour, culture or socio-economic status which has led to this is debatable.
The subject of integration or maybe lack of it is a sensitive one in Uganda, particularly in regards to the relationship between Ugandans and Ugandan Asians. Kampala is home to people from all over the world, however, it is more a salad bowl of people almost tossed together than a melting pot of nationalities. Many Asians in Uganda see themselves as Ugandans, they feel a kinship towards the country and its people particularly as it is so closely linked to their own history and the migration of their forefathers. However, it is often these indigenous Asians of Uganda, those who have roots in the country and classify themselves as Ugandans that some point a finger at for segregating themselves.
It is startling to note how little even the younger generation of Asians in Uganda are seen to be socialising with their Ugandan counterparts at popular hangouts. At high end restaurants and hotels the who's who of both communities can be seen dining together and one wonders, if it is only business and politics that is the binding factor.
The lack of mixed Indian- Ugandan couples walking the streets of Kampala explains how rare romantic relations between the two groups are. One Asian girl was honest enough to say that if she was to date a Ugandan it would have to be hidden and the relationship would have no long term prospects, "My family have been in Uganda for generations, however marrying an African Ugandan is not an option for any of us."
Some argue that it is a trait of the Indian community to generally ‘stick to their own' however, in a fast evolving world it is impossible to believe that the younger generations subscribe to this way of thinking. A young man from Western Uganda also spoke of his parents shock when he suggested dating an Indian girl, their concerns centred on the prejudice the couple would face from both communities and though they did not explicitly forbid him from getting involved they warned him off.
The Government needs to work actively towards improving relations between India and Uganda. This can be done by putting laws against racism in place. People should be scared of the legal repercussions of racist remarks and bullying. Also, the media needs to have more programmes that focus on black Africa so that we don't seem so alien when we get here.
The writer is the public relations officer of the Equal Opportunities Commission