I was at The Independent newspaper in 2008 when we did a story about massage parlours in Kampala.
This story was part of series vaguely coded “difficult professions,” in which despite their hectic nature of work, remuneration was terribly miniscule. Among other professions lined up for profiling included factory workers, traffic police, and strangely, medical doctors.
At one massage parlour, a female worker informed our reporters that their parlour painstakingly doubled as a brothel. Uninitiated, our reporters thought these distressing hideouts hosted no clients in the early morning hours.
But the masseuse noted with emphasis, that Indian clients were more regular in the very morning hours coming specifically for a quick erotic fix. She added that they were terrible lovemakers: rough, dirty, disrespectful and too machismo.
Surely, many men – of all colour and creed – visit these parlours for both massage and sex. But emphasising the Indian-ness of her clients, the good masseuse sought to underscore a demographic imbalance of a certain type of clients – who seem to have specific prompters.
Years later, an Indian friend of mine who owned a forex bureau in town explained this condition to me that massage parlours offered the most secretive space for Indians for sexual indulgence with Kampala’s adorably feminine damsels. Prostitutes were an option, but heavily stigmatised.
Our conversation with this Indian friend – who employed many dark-skinned handsome women – started by a lament about how his family would kill him if he became intimate with any of them. He noted that many Indian men in Uganda have trouble fulfilling their sexual urges.
This is not because there aren’t enough women for a night out, but because their families are so concerned about “mixing bloods” – even in the age of condoms. At this rate, intimate relationships are simply a no-go affair.
For marriage, many have to send money to India or personally travel back to find a wife. Novelist Ulysses Chuka Kibuuka has written about an Indian girl who was murdered by her family after “embarrassing them” by falling in love with a native Ugandan. [Chuka confirmed to me that he was the native dude in this affair].
I recalled these massage parlour and Indian racist sex stories while reading an interview in which educationist Fagil Mandy painfully notes to have seen his Indian father only in photographs. The postman [no pun, intended – Mandy’s father was a postman] after a night of ecstasy with a Mutooro belle in Fort Portal, never cared a cent about the products of his labours.
Fagil Mandy was born. His father, was culturally – not religiously – embarrassed to be known as having a child with a black woman, never cared after “excreting” his semen. Not too long ago, evangelist Martin Ssempa revealed that his mother had to brave pressure from the family of her Indian sex-partner who insisted that she aborts the child.
This child is the loquacious Pastor Ssempa. He narrated that his “mother endured shame of rejection by the Indian family” he “was called many shameful names when I was a kid.”
In sum, our Indian compatriots make love to Ugandan women, just the way one eases his existence breaking wind in a market square. After years of being in Uganda, we still talk about Ugandans of Indian ethnic as the other.
Surely, this has more to do with Indians themselves than native Ugandans: by own design, they love to belong here – and do enjoy sexual encounters with the natives – but do not feel they really belong.
In truth, Indians are not the othered here, they are the ones othering natives. Not too long, Uganda’s national newspaper, New Vision with funds from the Indian community, had a newspaper within its newspaper [not an ordinary pull-out] specific for Indians.
The racist and parochial nature of Indi-Vision was that it emphasised the Indianness of Uganda’s Indians. It was pitched as “a platform for the Indian community to discuss and showcase their uniqueness [sic] within the context of Uganda.”
Indeed, with a few exceptions, Uganda-Indians continue to shop at Indian-only shops; attend Indian-only schools, Indian-only nightclubs, fraternise in Indian-only circles. They even have Indian-only boda boda riders!
No wonder, in 2014, the niggling and irksome Indian academic at Makerere University, Mahmood Mamdani, told a gathering discussing Indian integration in Ugandan that marriage was not important for national integration.
Before I am accused of indulging in ethnic talk, let me note that there are many Ugandan-Indians who do not fit into the description above: former Observer editor, Firoz Khan is one example, and a lady friend of mine was rightfully and respectfully married to an Indian.
There are certainly some more [not many] unknown to me. But the persistence of “Abayindi” as a loathsome and sort of alien category of people in Uganda is recipe for disaster. I will return with Part II on lessons from the Mabira protests of 2007.
The author is a PhD fellow at Makerere Institute of Social Research.