The most discussed topic recently has been the excommunication of singer Oda Paccy Uzamberumwana from Intore (chosen ones or noble warriors) by Eduard Bamporiki, the chairperson of the country’s school of culture and civic education (Itorero ry’Igihugu).
In an undated and grammatically challenged statement, Bamporiki informed Rwandans that the songstress was stripped of the title for “behaviour that contradicts the culture of Intore.”
On October 24, Pro-Famme-Twese Hamwe, a women’s umbrella organisation that promotes women empowerment wrote to the Minister of Sports and Culture “denouncing” Paccy’s “words and photos” that “devalue women” and requested the minister to “put in place strategies that deter” the publication of such works.
Paccy’s “offence” was publishing an advert featuring a graffiti of a female behind to announce the launch date of her song Ibyatsi (grass for marijuana). The word Ibyatsi is provocatively emblazoned on the woman’s behind and broken down as IBYA (balls)-tsi.
This rubbed moral puritans the wrong way.
As is the case nowadays, the public joined the debate on social media. Moralists accused her of devaluing “Rwandan culture and values” and hailed Bamporiki for “saving our culture.” Her defenders questioned what constitutes “Rwandan culture” and whether there is a rule book for dos and don’ts that Bamporiki followed in “banning” Paccy.
Others argued that the young singer had done nothing wrong since her song actually fights drug abuse while feminists denounced the “unfair” picking on the female singer and attempting to control women’s bodies. Paccy said her song fights drug use and the illustration used to announce the launch of the song shows the negative impact of drug use.
My aim is not to dish out blame, but to ask what this case tell us about today’s Rwanda, the struggle for gender equality and what it would mean if Bamporiki’s decision was allowed to stand.
First, this case and many others illustrate the increasing influence and power of social media. While elsewhere, particularly in the west, social media is now perceived as a major force used to divide society by spreading hate messages and fake news, in Rwanda there is evidence it’s a positive force used by previously voiceless people to fight injustice and even influence policy.
This partly explains why those who denounced Paccy and supported the ban seem to have retracted their stands with Bamporiki later telling the media that the issue could have been handled better. But if Paccy’s ban had come before the advent of social media, it’s likely she would be ruined socially and economically.
Secondly, the altercation showed that the hard fight for women’s autonomy won’t be advanced by privileged women sitting in air-conditioned offices, earning hefty salaries, but by self-made and fearlessly articulate women born in our ghettos like Paccy.
We also learnt how patriarchy works and is reproduced. Patriarchy, which is the rule of men as fathers and guardians of societal “cultural” is the prevalent system of rule everywhere in the world. This social system, which is never discussed, is reproduced by preserving male behaviour and privilege as “culture” and controlling women’s bodies.
That Pro-Femme Twese Hamwe has never denounced male artists who sometimes sing bare-chested beside half-naked women, but condemned Paccy for her graffiti is a subconscious way of perpetuating the status quo.
Most importantly, the episode illustrates the ever present temptation by some episodes to control and censor on the part of some leaders.
In the larger scheme of things then, if Bamporiki’s decision is allowed to stand, it will make him not only the nation’s chief-moral priest and punisher-in-chief of “immoralists” but perhaps the most powerful man in the land.
In practice, it will mean, for example that since Itorero is attended by many other artistes, Bamporiki will be the one deciding which music or art is appropriate. It will also mean that since some journalists and cartoonists also attend Itorero, he will also decide what’s appropriate for them to report and produce.
It will also mean that since Itorero is also attended by teachers and university lecturers, he will become the custodian of what they can or can’t say. This is dangerous power to have and a vicious form of censorship.
Yet, as history shows, culture and morality thrive not through censorship and policing but through education, socialisation and good upbringing.
Christopher Kayumba, PhD Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, UR, Lead Consultant, MGC Consult International Ltd, email@example.com; @Ckayumba
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