The most discussed topic last week was the ex-communication 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 is stripped of the title of “Intore” for “behavior that contradicts the culture of Intore”.
And on October 24, 2018, Pro-Famme-Twese Hamwe, a women’s umbrella organisation that promotes women empowerment wrote to the Minister of sports and culture “denouncing in the strongest terms possible” 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 female buttocks graffiti announcing the date when her song titled “Ibyatsi” (grass for marijuana) would be launched.
On the advert, the word “ibyatsi” is provocatively emblazoned on the battocks and broken down as IBYA (balls!)-tsi.
This rubbed moral puritans the wrong way.
As is the case with these things now days, the public joined the debate using social media.
Moralizers accused her of devaluing the “Rwandan culture and values” and hailed Bamporiki for “saving our culture”.
Her defenders wondered what constitutes “Rwandan culture” and whether there is a rulebook 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.
On her part, Paccy, a self-made girl who doesn’t eat from the goodness of officials, intelligently explained that her song advises against drug use and that the “bum” teaser used to announce the launch of the song illustrates the negative impact of using drugs.
My aim here isn’t to apportion 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 in recent times 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 souls to fight injustice and even influence policy.
That partly explains why those who denounced and “banned” seem to have retracted with Bamporiki later telling the media that the issue could have been handled better.
But if Paccy’s “ban” had come prior to the advent of social media, it’s probable she would be ruined socially and economically; for once a public official denounces this or that person, that would be it; no one would want to associate with you; not anymore!
Secondly, the altercation showed that the hard fight for women’s autonomy won’t be advanced by privileged women sitting in air-conditioned offices and earning hefty salaries but by self-made and fearlessly articulate women born in our ghettos like Paccy.
Relatedly, we also learnt how the 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 behavior and privilege as “culture” and controlling women’s bodies.
That Pro-Femme Twese Hamwe has never denounced male artists that sometimes sing bare-chested beside half-naked females condemned Paccy for her female “bum” graffiti is a subconscious way of perpetuating the status quo.
Most importantly, the episode illustrate the ever present temptation 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 one of the most powerful men in the land.
In practice, it will mean, for example that since Itorero is attended by many other artists, Bamporiki will become the decider of what’s appropriate for them to produce as music or art and what they cannot.
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 as cartoons.
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, socialization and good upbringing.
The article was first published in The East African