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Uganda is one big sexual network

Close to three decades ago, a mysterious disease started harvesting fishermen from the shores of L.Victoria, precisely in Kasensero in Rakai District. It started by ripping off their flesh and the remaining disgraceful bony structure, attributed to witchcraft from across the border, earned it a name ‘slim’.

The outcry that followed attracted researchers, doctors and the communities who subsequently undressssed this virus, exposing how its evil works could be curtailed. Condoms became too available to us that even in toilets of primary schools you could get one; if you failed, a condom ATM in the nearby bar wouldn’t disappoint you.

Slowly HIV became part of the disease cocktail affecting us to the extent of being blanketed in the same category as common flu and malaria.  As we finished medical school, most of us were strategizing for HIV related workplaces because of the good remuneration and work conditions.

Out of the blue, as we got comfortable and complacent with the status quo, it has emerged a certain presumably safe group is slowly killing all the progress so far. The marrieds, those in stable relationships and all the guys and girls your mum didn’t warn you against actually are the new members of the high risk group.

Now my friend, Jack who has been avoiding his auntie’s plea to get married has more reasons to roll alone in his miniature bed, coming home in the morning or sleeping on the counter at Just Kicking.  But man, before you celebrate young senior bachelorhood, those freelance girls that you ‘admit’ every weekend may put you in the network with the married people.

Did you ever imagine how all of us could be interconnected by one massive sexual network? Do you realize that this network doesn’t loose any strand that even the dead are still intertwining the living? Do you see it extending beyond the confines of our boundaries to neighbouring states and overseas? Think about a possibility that your sibling, preacher, Member of Parliament, neighbor and stranger on the street have had sex with you indirectly, some up to the tenth order.

Four of my friends in one of their typical ‘conquest’ chats discovered they had all slept with one girl. While all of them are in stable relationships, this “side dish” is known to hang around a popular MP and has been spotted occasionally with a Kikuubo trader. The legislator and tycoon are sworn womanizers yet my friends too date vacists, workmates and campusers.

It’s serious; you may not realize that even the crème de la crème of the political, religious and business worlds are connected to beggers, shamba boys and taxi conductors via this network. Close your eyes make a mental picture sharing a partner with that person you despise so much, dirty teeth, and thickly dirty clothes making a fool of himself in a native language.

Isn’t that bad enough to discourage you from that ‘take away’ partner?
“Only if you are a snob” was the answer I got when I proposed this to one of my ‘skirt chaser’ friends!

My father’s philosophy is that humans are on a spectrum between animals and angels with the ability to consciously choose where to lie along this stretch. I find this grossly true as I watch people behaving more animal than angel and vice versa.  A pastor in the recent past cried foul after finding a Chapatti maker enjoying steamy romps with his wife, money bags Samona and Kadongo Kamu artiste Walukaaga are endlessly feuding over a bartender while popular speculation attributes Uganda’s current political wars to the powers of a single woman. 

“Give a man more money and you increase the number of erections” said one of my professors.The deadly triad of wealth, wine and women complicates the issues that mix them together, HIV being one of these. Stories of passion related acid attacks, suicides, homicides and death threats rock our dailies, many involving unexpected individuals.

Couples cheat for a million reasons, from feeling like it, paying back in kind, jobs, lust, revenge, the list is endless. While I respect the ‘one love’ campaign, I think they are oversimplifying the issues involved in leaving the sexual network.

It has a mass appeal but lacks individual touch and in my view, this campaign would be more successful if it gave the people reasons to dump their side dishes. For instance, if it portrayed a couple in old age, happy with their grown up children who are married, working and having children too, would be a more realistic reason to want to live thus avoid HIV.

“University girls fear pregnancy more than HIV”, lamented a social researcher recently. Humans are visual beings and reward is the best motivator, real or imaginary. Look at the success of promotions like ‘Chamuka Keys’,’Paka last’ and many others which provide a reward to change a behaviour. Now that we know it’s not only about words that people change their manners overnight, why are we relegating the role of condoms?

Research in the past attributed our country’s success in reducing prevalence and incidence of HIV to condom use and behaviour change. Up to now, buying condoms leaves a shy smile on a pharmacist’s face and its worse when you are wearing a ring.

The condom dispensers in most public places are dysfunctional and many churches have led a smear campaign against these protectors. What then would you expect? More sexually transmitted infections, more unplanned pregnancies, a busting population growth thus more sick adults and children!

Morality and behaviour change campaigns, to create impact, should incorporate short and long term realistic interventions with tangible benefit not just words. Condom use should be encouraged for persons dealing with more than one individual and government should work on making them available all the time, everywhere. ABC strategy only works as a complimentary system not just strengthening one part and demeaning the others.

jbniwagaba@yahoo.com

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