Last Sunday's column considered two causes of the extensive telling of lies in Uganda. The first was widespread corruption, since a corrupt act generally requires a lie being told. The second was Christianity, in the sense that the coming of monogamous Christianity to Uganda caused truthful polygamy to be replaced by untruthful polygamy.
Today, Roving Eye considers a third cause of falsehood amongst Ugandans – not confronting issues. An example is when someone comes and stays in your house. You expected them to stay one or two nights, but 10 days later they are still there! A typical muzungu response is to bluntly confront the issue head on i.e. "You have overstayed your welcome. It is time for you to move on and find accommodation elsewhere."
But as Michael, a businessman in Kampala, told me, "A typical Ugandan response to such an unwelcome guest is for the host to say, "You must leave now as I've got to go on an up-country trip" (i.e. lie), rather than confront the issue.
Another example is drawn from a one-day book signing event for my book, Ugandan Society Observed, at Entebbe International Airport. We sold almost 20 books, but there were also at least 25 Ugandans (some passengers, some airport staff) who told me they would come back a bit later in the day and buy the book for me to sign.
Well, they did not come back, and quite honestly I don't think they had any intention of coming back i.e. they lied. I would have much preferred them to have said, "Kevin, I don't have the money to spare so I can't buy your book." Or even, "O'Connor, you've got a big nose, and an even bigger head, I would not buy your wretched book even if it was the last book remaining on earth."
But rather than confronting the issue, 20+ people lied to me – ok it was a small lie, but is it not the experience of life such that once someone is capable of telling small lies, it is much easier for them to tell big lies?
On a previous occasion, when I discussed this type of behaviour with Michael, he told me, "That's the nature of Ugandans. There are few of us who confront issues. It's our culture. But there is variation between tribes. Some tribes are more straightforward, direct and aggressive than others."
But for Samuel, a senior journalist, it is not a matter of tribe. He observed: "It really comes down to individuals. I know Ugandans who are very open about such issues and will tell you what they think and not what they think you want to hear. And I also know Ugandans who are not like this. This is just as it is in other countries. But the Ugandan education system does not encourage critical thinking, and our cultures generally do not encourage questioning of things and authority."
There are many truthful Ugandans, and it is also the case that lies are told in every country in the world. But I will leave the rather depressing concluding point of my two articles to Michael:
"In Uganda, we know many people are liars. We expect it.
There is a greater tendency of lying in our culture than in other cultures."
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