Every once in a while the media approaches me to give a comment on the goings on of the day. After I give my comment, the following conversation ensues:
Reporter: “Madam, what is your title?”
Me: “I’m a housewife from Bwaise.”
Reporter: (smiling in bemusement) “Is there anything else?”
Me: “Not really. I don’t have another title. Do you people not think that a housewife from Bwaise can have anything intelligent to say about the issues of the day?”
Reporter: “It’s not that. It’s just that…… Ok, can we say you are a lawyer?”
Me: “If you so wish…”
I am not a housewife and I am not from Bwaise. But I use the two together as a way to say that we cannot only just hear opinion from people with high sounding titles. We cannot only hear opinions from people who stay in the high end suburbs of Kampala. We cannot only hear opinions from (mostly) men. We must learn to hear and seek out the opinion of the most unlikely among us because they too are Ugandan, they too have options and feelings about what is going on in their country and we must find a way to amplify their voices in the discourse of our country.
And maybe the discourse in our country is stale because we go to the same people all the time to get a sound bite. We need to hear new voices, see new faces, appreciate different realities, see our country not only through the eyes of the rich, the famous, the well connected, the educated. We cannot relegate the struggling and the suffering to a side bar, or to posters depicting poverty. They cannot be used just for their amusement value or for raising money for ‘development’. We cannot care about them only when we need to pity them. They deserve as much airtime as we give to the usual suspects. And I am sure they would bring a fresh, new perspective to the issues of the day.
We have to overcome our bias for and the assumptions that we make that it’s only certain people that have something to say. Those certain people are usually male, older, educated, affluent and with some level of name recognition. We must learn to democratize the space for public opinion. We must make it more inclusive and diverse. We must be attuned to different perspectives on different aspects of our country. We must democratize the conversation about our country.