Listen to zontos ... they have a point about inequality in Uganda

Thursday August 13 2020

It took a bunch of self-proclaimed idiots -- zontos -- to raise an important matter that has been hurting the country’s educated and sophisticated people. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGAH | NMG


The last Friday of July was Eid al-Adha and some Ugandan Muslim clerics used the occasion to spit fire at what they see as discriminative sectarianism against them in the allocation of opportunities.

One Sheikh angrily asked for how long Muslims will continue being relegated to assistant or deputy positions.

He argued that while past governments used to justify the marginalisation of Muslims in public service saying that they were not educated enough, today numerous Ugandan Muslims have excelled to the highest levels in academic endeavours.

The complaint of the Muslims was coming at the end of a weeklong bizarre affair of the ‘zonto’. It is hard to explain what zonto means in Uganda to a non-Ugandan ear — it seems to mean different things in different countries. In Uganda, zonto means what it sounds like to us — a mental retard and deranged fellow.

A group of zonto comedians — four of them — had gone on radio and listed a dozen or so most powerful men in the republic, urging the children of Uganda to pray for them because they carry a lot of responsibility.

The zontos were arrested.


They were arrested for fanning tribal sectarianism apparently because all the dozen ‘most powerful’ men they listed as needing prayers come from one corner of the country of over 50 tribes.

At least the Criminal Investigations Directorate spokesman said that is what they would be charged with, saying the Director of Public Prosecutions had already been given their file.

However, when the zontos were to be produced in court after several days in police cells, they were freed without charge.

Before the freeing of the zontos, several new zonto groups had started springing up every day, making more ridiculous video recordings, naming the powerful named men but ascribing diverse other tribes to them from across the country.

Wherever you turned, people were calling for the release of the zontos, who after all were not denying the ‘fact’ that they are idiots. Government at some stage said the zontos would be subjected to mental examination.

Sectarian elephant in the room

As Parliament then closed the week on a high note as 47 new constituencies were passed, to make ours one of the most legislatively represented countries on earth — to have 527 MPs for 45 million people. But the extra constituencies angered some MPs who accused the cabinet of sectarianism, citing a constituency of 600,000 people that is represented by one MP while another area with 300,000 people has five MPs. They accused the state of discriminating against some areas.

Such was the situation, where it took a bunch of self-proclaimed idiots to raise an important matter that has been hurting the country’s educated and sophisticated people.

The anti-sectarianism law under which the zontos were to be charged goes for those who talk about sectarianism, not those who practice it! The zontos thus helped the MPs to find their mouth.

After their release, the zontos resumed their ‘education’ of the children. The first session was describing the health services of the country, in comparison to other East African Community states. Although they state facts, the timing is rather dicey, knowing as everybody does that there is an election around the corner. It wouldn’t be surprising if the state ties the zontos to a political opposition group.

Uganda’s 50-plus nations were put together into one state by colonialists nearly one and a half centuries ago. Six decades after independence, educated Ugandans have failed to work out a way to live peacefully in equity. Their education in Law and other social disciplines has benefited individuals more than the country.

But we can console ourselves that even in the US the blacks are still complaining of being discriminated against, even after one of their own becoming president, his Kenyan parentage notwithstanding. But it shouldn’t be the idiocy of the zontos to help bring these matters to the table.

That is why an MP has been granted leave to draft a motion to tackle this sectarian elephant in the room.