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Uganda: society of madness and trauma

News is flashed upon us, or we flash upon it sounding alarm bells of a steadily rising statistic of people presumed to soon go mad and those already mad.

Such statistics are common in print media. The story is usually on the front page and is fodder for all sorts of satire and humour. In the twentieth century those who made light of this issue would themselves perhaps be considered mad. How can one make light of such moments? It would perhaps indicate that the statistic may be underreporting the crisis of the mind today.

The causes of these mental afflictions in popular discourse are mainly situated within the moral axis ranging from drug and substance abuse to other activities generally considered amoral by those in the public spaces.

The discussions on what is usually known as mental health exclusively focus on the individual’s moral lapse or the failure of parenting. Key persons for these discussions range from psychiatrists, psychologists, teachers, and religious leaders. It is argued that the last group must return those who have gone astray onto the right moral footing and firmly hold the feeble onto this righteous journey.

It’s my contention that this baloney is incapable of examining our current crisis. I contend that this madness is produced under a social, political, historical, economic global capitalist order. What do I mean here? To argue that the rising cases of madness are a product of moral crisis is to fall into the neoliberal ideology that valorizes individuality and misses structural issues.

If these cases are mostly among young people i.e. ranging from adolescents, prepubescent adults, and young adults 16-38 years. We might do better by historizing this group.

At the extreme, we have 38-year-olds. Most of these were conceived during the NRA Bush war by parents who had perhaps been born during the Idi Amin era. Both these generations lived through the HIV scourge. In both these historic moments, the institution of the family was for many partly decimated.

Some of these then-young people headed families at a very young age after losing parents either to the war or to the virus. This situation created a sense of trauma for these generations whose parents and grandparents were also recovering from colonial anxiety and trauma.

The process of colonization is very brutal and inhumane and some of its tremors are still vivid today. These 80’s have also come to be known as the lost decades in terms of economic performance.  

It’s against this backdrop that the Bretton Woods imposed what has come to be known as Structural Adjustment Policies, a basket of policies that aimed to rethink the role of the state anew.  These have in many scholarly analyses come to be held responsible for the continent’s persistent poverty woos.

The economic crises of the 80’s and the policies that followed had implications for the family. The dependency burden on the father was increased significantly forcing parents to go make ends meet. Parents left children unattended to. If Freud’s Psychoanalysis gave us any lesson.

It was that childhood matters and goes on to shape the relations of the person even in adulthood. Children raised by absentee mothers have tended to have narcissistic personality disorders. Forced by the desire to make ends meet families did have to constantly migrate internally from village to village, city to city, and district to district.

If this was not enough parents were never available for their children and so brought in nannies from time to time. The nanny like the parent sought greener pastures constantly and the nanny job was only a gig.  

Children are prone to easily making relationships with their caregivers. If these caregivers are morphed routinely and they are migrating every now and then it makes them incapable of making serious bonds. They develop. What is known as reactive attachment disorder, and these are the friends and partners that people have today.

Poverty has been associated with domestic violence. Under structural adjustment-induced poverty, families broke down and consequently separated. Children were witnesses and bear the scars of this trauma. Because of poverty, ethics and morals were compromised and new heroes were sought.

Those who were materially successful through all sorts of means became the new heroes. Society devalued relations of kinship, social life, and affinity as everything was now modelled against the logic of the market examples include nouns in relationships of affinity i.e. people commonly refer to each other as boss, CEO, or manager all of which are corporate terms.   

Children left to their own devices could not find meaningful forms of validation and emotional support from these busy parents and hence had to seek validation, affirmation, and affinity from the algorithm. Social media only found fertile ground for any anxious and needy generation that it aptly exploited.

Imagine for example the erasure of vulnerability in most of our most intimate relationships today. To have sex without attachment. What does this mean for example? Doesn’t the negation of attachment foreground the desire for attachment that is disavowed?

Wouldn’t this be a clear example of reactive attachment disorder? Or ever wondered why the poorest in our societies tend to drive recklessly without regard for life? What is the value of life to those who have no reason to live?

Drugs and substance abuse are only a symptom of a greater malady. To deal with these traumas that manifest in this historic conjecture we need to return psychoanalysis to its place for it is the only method that can completely problematize the mess that is our lives today.


The author is a social and political commentator


+4 #1 Lysol 2024-04-15 20:05
The role of writers in the oppressed society like Uganda, should be to elevate the marginalized voices, but instead many of them resort to writing satires and humors to provide entertainment to those traumatized and "crazy" Ugandans, Is this by design, by the state, to deflect attention from its own shortcoming?

Not to mention that most of those writers are the regime's apologies.

The current generations are simply lost and confused. They simply feel helpless and hopeless under this current regime. Their future is bleak for many of them.
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-3 #2 f kisule 2024-04-16 16:08
There was some bit of truth in this article but having lived abroad and worked with so many people at all level,

I discovered that mental health existing in the western word is actually far worse than it is in UG or Africa and has just been put to light recently though its been there for a very long time

And this is regardless of the fact that western nations and mainly structured on family values and morals.
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0 #3 Lysol 2024-04-16 18:40
f kisule!

Those with mental health issues are well documented and well managed in the Western world unlike in Uganda or many parts of Africa.

That is why the numbers tend to be higher. The root causes are also different in the Western world, which are mostly due to drugs and alcoholism, because of the socioeconomic status.
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