The second half of the 20th century was marked by decolonization in Africa. New flags and anthems replaced colonial ones albeit after bloody wars in some cases, new names replaced colonial ones: Gold Coast became Ghana, Upper Volta became Burkina Faso, Northern and Southern Rhodesia became Zambia and Zimbabwe respectively, etc. Presidents and prime ministers replaced governors. The principal idea behind all these changes was to reclaim African pre-colonial glory.
The first half of the 21st century should be devoted to the decolonization of epithets (terms of abuse) or distortions introduced before or during colonial days. These epithets were deliberately coined and have been repeatedly applied since then to the present day in 2010 to keep down Bantu people (as opposed to Bantu-speaking Nilotic people). You still hear some Bahima and Bahororo boasting that any one of them is worth 1000 Bairu, others are telling us with confidence that their women are more beautiful than Bairu women. Ms Kesaasi confirmed this in April 2010! To repeat, these epithets are intentionally used to devalue Bantu people irrespective of their education, work experience and even wealth.
As in medieval Europe Bantu people were made to accept that their low status was the wish of God. Partly because of this feeling some Bantu people do not make enough effort to lift themselves out of the poverty trap. Priests made it worse when they preached that Bantu people should not worry because the afterlife would be better for them than the earthly life.
In medieval Europe women were taught again by priests that they were subservient and must respect their husbands. But time came and they rejected subservience. They rebelled and ultimately freed themselves.
Similarly time has come for Bantu people starting with those in the Great Lakes Region to reject the epithets of Bairu and Bahutu (slaves), born to dig and to serve Bahima and their cousins in perpetuity. These epithets were coined by Bahima in Uganda and Batutsi in Rwanda and Burundi respectively and applied effectively by Europeans to demean Bantu people who settled in the Great Lakes 3000 years ago and were joined by Nilotic Luo speaking Bahima, Batutsi, Bahororo and Banyamulenge from southern Sudan 600 years ago. They also added the physical epithets whereby all short, unintelligent and ugly people were Bairu and Bahutu. Bantu were deliberately reduced from mixed farming (crop growing and livestock herding) and manufacturing, to pure crop cultivation leaving cattle herding to Bahima and their cousins.
To keep Bantu people as underdogs they were denied education and by extension good jobs, good incomes and a high standard of living. Bahutu and Bairu were told time and again that they were intellectually inferior and educating them was a waste. They added that God had given them strong muscles for heavy duty menial work and not intellectual tasks, including leadership. That is why you still find in Uganda Bahima and Bahororo with a single degree or less occupying high and strategic positions in all branches of government and in business while Bantu graduates with masters or even Ph.Ds from outstanding universities in the world are occupying positions far below their potential.
Independence did not address these abuses. European researchers and commentators especially have continued to apply derogatory terms to refer to Bantu people as cultivators, short, dark, thick set, etc. They continue to refer to Bahima and their cousins as aristocratic pastoralists with splendid physical features including white teeth and born to rule even after over 20 years of Bahororo/Bahima led government in Uganda has demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt that leadership is not at all an area in which they have a comparative advantage.
Europeans and multilateral financial institutions have continued to pump money into the Uganda treasury to rescue the government and keep it in power. Ugandans believe that money is usually pumped into Uganda in large amounts just before election time to give the government adequate resources to rig elections. Therefore many Ugandans consider donors as part of their problem. I have heard it. I believe donors have heard it too.
What glory is it that Bantu people must reclaim? Let us review a few illustrative cases – past and present – from southwest Uganda.
We know that in southwest Uganda, the so-called Bairu have more cattle than Bahima and Bahororo and we also know that some Bahima and Bahororo have become cultivators growing bananas, coffee, beans etc. We know that in a level playing field the so-called Bairu perform better in school especially in science subjects. Some Ugandans believe that schools offering Universal Primary Education have been deliberately neglected including government refusal to provide school lunches to deny Bairu children good education in order to keep them functionally illiterate, jobless and poor.
We know that Bachwezi were a Bantu aristocracy (B. A. Ogot 1999) who established Bunyoro-Kitara kingdom and ruled over Bantu and Bahima before Babito arrived. “During the 15th century there arose a ruling clan or dynasty called Chwezi, once thought to be the creation of these herding peoples but now regarded as serving equally both pastoral and farming communities” (R. W. July 1998). We now know that the earthen works at Mansa, Ntusi and Bigo sites were constructed by Bantu who initially combined crop husbandry and livestock herding with some gradually specializing in cattle herding by the time they settled at Bigo. We also now know that in pre-colonial days Banyoro people performed caesarean sections successfully.
Not least we also know that Bantu were not stateless. They had governance systems ranging from kings and palaces (B. A. Ogot 1976) to chiefs and councils of elders whose duty it was to keep law and order, settle disputes when they arose and protect the community against external aggression. They also possessed diplomatic skills to prevent and resolve disputes. As R. W. July (1998) observes, “In time specialties developed [among Bantu peoples] that called for cooperation and protection”.
When Nilotic Luo-speaking Bahima and Batutsi arrived in the Great Lakes Region from southern Sudan 600 years ago, they adopted Bantu languages, Bantu names, Bantu religions and Bantu kings’ titles like Mwami (king) of Rwanda. Bantu people admired Bahima long horn cattle but were not allowed to own them. Therefore Bantu people were more civilized than Bahima and Batutsi long horn cattle herders. The latter had one decisive advantage. Because herders lived precarious nomadic life Bahima and their cousins were good at fighting to secure pasture and water, restock or increase their herds and that is what they still rely on military force to keep Bantu under their hegemony. Once they lose this comparative advantage the game will be over.
Given the above illustrative analysis of the pre-colonial and post-independence achievements, Bantu people have every reason to reclaim their glory. For a start, they must reject all epitaphs such as Bairu, Bahutu, cultivators, ugly and unintelligent people.