It is a common scene at funerals, that while everyone else is wailing, there is this person who was so close to the deceased, but is simply looking on blankly or laughing in some sort of wizardly performance.
Quite often no one will ask why the person is laughing. It is easy to tell that he/she is overwhelmed and at loss of appropriate expression.
Sometimes the pain is too much that all one can do is laugh around it – especially when you feel you cannot do anything about it. It is simply a coping mechanism; one of our natural ways of avoiding depression. Imagine if we were to react with anger at all the bewildering things in this country, Uganda would have looked like a mass funeral. Somehow, we are able to keep our sanity by therapeutically laughing where we should be kicking chairs.
When you hear that your new prime minister, who came in spitting fire at corruption, has already filled her office with relatives; just after hearing your ex-rebel president telling you without blinking that elections are the best way of changing government, what do you do? Do you argue? Do you shout yourself hoarse in a space with no ears?
Laugh out so loud, so that the devil also comes out to ask: ‘what the hell is going on?’ Don’t respond, continue laughing. At a certain level of indifference and sadism, your tears are nothing but entertainment to your tormentor. It is double gain for them to disservice you and watch you cry. In the cynical chambers of their hearts, the only echo is: ‘more popcorn, please’.
As a country, when we realised that we could not afford to pay the hefty price for being ‘liberated’, we settled for what we could collectively afford. We self-medicate by laughter; which Flavia Medrut tells us is the cheapest form of therapy. The nation survives on humour, both about the unbelievable extremes of political shamelessness and from our desperate attempts at playing with our pains.
That is why, an election is blatantly stolen, and we laugh out loud at our victimhood. We ask those who are rigged out: ‘Did you expect to be announced winner? Did you expect a free and fair election?’ We laugh at whoever stupidly expects our affairs to be decent. We may cry, but for a short while, if our child is one of the many that are shot by ‘stray bullets’ or kidnapped as part of the spoils of an electoral war – the best means of changing government.
Soon we realise that at certain moments, tears are a waste. Clean them dry and hunt for the dirty humour in the mess. Laugh about how you wailed as they flogged you hard. Laugh about the soldiers seen in a video ticking and stuffing ballot boxes. That was damn funny! Laugh about the big open mouth of a journalist whose head had been hit bloody wet on the campaign trail. Laugh about FDC’s Patrick Oboi Amuriat arriving for nomination without shoes.
Turn to the red camp and ask them: Where is the crown (engule) you promised us? Laugh out at their grim faces when asked what happened to their slogan: ‘we are removing a dictator’. Call out Dr Kizza Besigye and scold him for failing four times to win in crazy military elections.
The victims’ well of humour can never run dry. They have all the misfortune to repackage into streams of consolation. What would you choose, between jumping over a cliff and laughing about the sickness of your country? Give me laughter any day; I have all the nights to weep under my sheets.
When the otherwise sickening tribal imbalances hit our faces and they tell us they see nothing wrong, what do we do? When a video listing the big names in Masaka’s security team comes to your phone, what do you do? What do you do, when you realise that your country is first of all run by a husband, wife, brother, and son?
What can you do about it, stupid citizen? If you have no power, how can you be right? Wait for your turn to define your own country. For now, if you can’t laugh about what’s going on, shut up and be ruled. It is sectarian to point a finger at sectarianism.
Let the Bizonto comedy team manufacture humour about it. If we can’t change it, we won’t fail to laugh about it too. And, of certain things, we can only speak in tongues. Yet still, they may issue search warrants for the tongues. They beat you, and admonish you for crying.
What do you do, when a police officer your father’s age looks straight in the camera and tells a child’s lie? And he comes back with another the next day, and another, and others. Do you get mad? Do you blame him? Can he still be seduced by truth, even if it came in naked and dancing? Why don’t you then just laugh and move on so that a sober future can find you alive and sane?
What do you do, when you learn that even funds meant to benefit the most vulnerable people during a pandemic are stolen by the least vulnerable? Do you cry? Do you castigate? Do you assume that there is space left in their consciences to be moved by your cries? You are only hurting yourself. Laugh for the sake of life.
But we should still hear J. K. Rowling advising us that, “numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it”.
That’s why we sometimes only mourn several months after the funeral, when we finally can’t suffocate it any longer. Let all the laughter on Uganda’s social media and comedy supplies not be mistaken for peace and happiness. If anything, this humour should worry us.
The author is a teacher of philosophy.