Author: Oscar Ranzo
(Originally published in 2013)
Recently, I was at the Sports day of one of the greater primary schools in Kampala. As usual, I was there to promote The Oasis Book Project and its works. However, I soon realized that it was a bad day for business as the sports day was for the lower section (P1-P3) who were not yet ready to read our books because they are suitable for children aged 10 and above*. Nevertheless, I stayed to watch, and if there was anything that quite caught my attention, it was the unfortunate fact that most, if not all, Ugandan children of today were being brought up with little if any serious parental guidance.
As is the case at all Ugandan events, there were the rudimentary tents set beside the pitch, on one side, one for the parents, and on the other, one for the children. Plus, there was the mandatory sound system, playing not nursery rhymes, not kids’ music, but dancehall tunes, complete with their sexplicit lyrics, at deafening decibels, for the kids to compete to, while the parents smiled, and proudly cheered them on.
One of the activities was called Chair Dance, and in this activity, teachers put a set of plastic chairs in the centre of the pitch, facing the parents of course, and then children from each house would climb up the chairs, and then show off their best dance moves without tripping the chair. It is not the frivolity of the activity or the danger associated with it that shocked me. It was the song that the DJ played for these kids to dance to: Sumbusa by Eddie Kenzo.
For those of you who have never been to Uganda, Sumbusa is a Luganda word for Samosa, and, because of its shape, it is also a euphemism for the pudendum, and every adult in Uganda well knows that ‘Eating Sumbusa’ is a euphemism for coitus, which is precisely what this song is all about. But here were these parents, gleefully cheering, some even singing along, as their children of less than 10 years danced off to this song. No one seemed to care about the explicit sexual message the children were dancing to: not the teachers, not the parents, and of course not the children. And I thought to myself, if the people directly responsible for guiding these children are not doing so, who would do it?
You guessed right, no one. So as a result, Ugandan children have been left to consume content way above their age, be it on TV, radio, or in the newspapers. Take the example of TV. Most Ugandan children watch TV for most of their entertainment; yet, save for two hours every Saturday on some stations, all TV stations broadcast programs entirely meant for the adult audience, to the end that we have pre-teens watching raunchy music videos by musicians who candidly promote drug consumption, dramatic news that are rife with belligerent politicians and corrupt leaders and striking adults and cases of arson and murder and witchcraft. Add to that the racy Latino Telenovelas, controversial presenters, and the poorly acted local soaps, relying on make-out sessions to make up for the bad acting and whack plotting, and you have a combo that can best distort instead of develop the mind of a child.
The situation is worse on radio, where besides the very sexual music, programming is rife with political talk shows, sex aunts, witch doctors, and pastors and imams promoting their faiths. No wonder we have a generation of kids singing sumbusa, emmesse, ssunda, Angela, to name a few of the songs that have been really liked by children over the years, at the time when they should be singing Jack and Jill or baa baa black sheep or Humpty Dumpty.
And when it comes to print media, apart from Young Talk, and two weekly kids’ magazines that appear in some local newspapers, children are exposed to lots of nudity, and all the debauchery by their elders that appears in the media on a daily basis. As a result, we have kids who want to dress not as cherubs with aspirations of becoming Cinderella or Snow White, but as imps with aspirations of becoming thugs and sluts, when they grow up.
However, you can’t blame the children because they probably don’t know about Cinderella or Snow white because they have never read about them and their parents have never bought them, let alone read them these or any other story books. You have to blame the parents, who have neglected their duty to censor what their children read, watch and listen to. What these parents don’t know is the fact that all this affects what their children will become when they grow up.
Especially what they read: it’s an undeniable fact that story books provide the best role models for children, aside from opening their minds, and developing their critical thinking abilities; and, it is upon the aforementioned grounds that any parent who wants his or her child to reach their fullest potential should make it a must to buy them at least one good book (think the Oasis Book Series in Uganda) whenever they can afford to.
* Currently, we have books that can be read and enjoyed by children of Nursery age and above.