Letters from TZ

Houses of comedy and error

These are entertaining times we live in. We’re making a seamless transition from the dramatic displays on reality television to a strange new breed of drama in real time. This unsolicited entertainment seems to have found a comfortable home within the august walls of East Africa’s various houses of Parliament.

An honourable member recently caused a kerfuffle in Dodoma when he dropped an ‘F’ bomb in the House, prompting the nation to recoil in horror. We couldn’t believe our ears because never before has a politician’s language matched his conduct. Not in polite society at least.

But some would argue that fowl language within the hallowed halls of a national institution pales in comparison, when you consider the new crop of MPs across the way, who are demanding increased wages even before put in a day’s work. Half a million Kenya shillings is a pittance really, when you consider that their predecessors took home close to a full million. How do the impoverished masses expect them to dole out charitable donations for school fees, funerals and what have you on just 500 000 shillings a month? I mean, really. How insensitive. Never mind that they haven’t clocked even one day in the ‘office’. Or that these are the ‘leaders’ Kenyans are trusting to legislate, vet and check the other arms of government. Never mind that, because less money means more problems, and the country has enough of those without its leaders getting in on the action.

And as this fresh crop of progressive leaders scramble for a bigger piece of the clichéd ‘national cake’ their colleagues in Uganda are hard at work, proposing all manner of contentious legislation. It wasn’t so long ago that the ‘Internets’ were abuzz with the ‘Kill the Gays’ Bill that so far as managed to sidestep enactment. The Anti Homosexuality Bill has been on and off the floor of the Ugandan Parliament for months, but has yet to be passed into law.

So, there is certainly a controversy vacuum there: Enter the Anti Pornography Bill, which seeks to stop women from wearing mini skirts. According to Ethics and Integrity Minister, Simon Lokodo, the Bill, if passed into law, will restrict a range of practices including wearing certain items of clothing. “Any attire which exposes intimate parts of the human body, especially areas that are of erotic function, are outlawed. Anything above the knee is outlawed. If a woman wears a miniskirt, we will arrest her,” he has clarified. Well. I could launch into a monologue on women’s rights and all the rest of it, but to do so would be to assume that the honourable member is either unaware that a woman has a right to dress as she pleases, or that he has made a conscious decision to ignore it. And that cannot be the case, surely.

It cannot be that the good gentleman refuses to acknowledge that some men will rape a woman whether or not her “intimate parts” are exposed. Or indeed that a woman’s body in its entirety is of “erotic function”. Surely, the honourable member understands that a woman’s biggest sexual organ is her brain, in which case he should consider forcing women to cover their heads and not their legs.

But then again, perhaps the Ugandan lawmakers have a point. A quick walk on the streets of Kampala will reveal that the city is blessed with its fair share of sexy women who are wont to flaunt their hefty African curves. Then again, you would probably find the same to be true in Dar es Salaam or Nairobi, especially under the cover of night. But that is neither here nor there. What we should be debating is Parliament’s role as the fashion police. Or worse still, as a watchdog that chastens women for causing men to fall over and land on their intimate parts.

In statements supporting the proposed legislation, Lotodo blames women for their own rapes. “An onlooker is moved to attack [a woman wearing provocative clothing]”, he said, “He is a criminal but he was also provoked and enticed.”

Ridiculous as that sounds, it could very well be that a man found himself provoked and enticed by the mere sight of a woman’s body. But then, so what? Provocation will never be to rape, what self-defense is to murder, especially when that provocation comes through no fault of the woman herself. If women could provoke men to action, particularly the ones who purport to be legislators, the world would be a better place.

So, sad as it may be, we might be better off watching these dramas unfold in our various Houses of Parliament, than taking our lawmakers seriously.