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The madrasah and the talk on terrorism

By YAHYA SSEREMBA

The ongoing closure of Islamic schools in Uganda in the name of fighting terrorism is premised on the idea that Islam, or at least a certain interpretation of it, is the cause of terrorism. This cultural explanation of terrorism, which Mahmood Mamdani calls “culture talk” in his Good Muslim, Bad Muslim, suggests that there is a distinction between “good Muslims” who reject violence and “bad Muslims” who are “clearly responsible for terrorism.”

This kind of talk “assumes that every culture has a tangible essence that defines it, and it then explains politics as a consequence of that essence.” Culture talk imagines that “people’s public behavior, particularly their political behavior, can be read from their habits and customs, whether religious or traditional.” In this case religious extremism or even mere fundamentalism, which some people associate with Salafism, necessarily leads to political terrorism. This is the script from which the Uganda Police is reading in its crackdown on madrasahs.

It is a script that makes no distinction between Islamic fundamentalism and political Islam and between political Islam and political terrorism. In its editorial, the New Vision of 25, March 2015 says, “The Police, however, say that these madrasas have been globally infiltrated by extremists whose aim is to turn children into terrorists by teaching them radical Islamic ideas that make them hate people of other faiths so that when these children grow up, they can be used for terrorism activities.”

This kind of thinking is also shared by sections of the Ugandan media and intellectuals. “The recent raids on Muslim nursery and primary schools or madrasas in Bugiri, Namayingo, Busia and Budaka districts,” says the editorial in the Daily Monitor of 6, March 2015, “are both worrying and reassuring…No Ugandan would want to hear of any terror breeding cells.” But the idea that people become terrorists because of their religious orientation is strongly contested by scholars like Mamdani.  

Mamdani and culture talk

Writing after the 9/11 attacks that were widely explained as a cultural clash, Mamdani dismisses the cultural explanation on grounds that it fails to put terrorism in its historical and political context. To support his argument that terrorism should be understood as a product of “political encounters – historically shaped – rather than as the outcome of stubborn cultural legacies,” Mamdani goes back to the Cold War and discusses how the United States created “terrorist groups” to undermine Soviet influence in several parts of the world.

One such group was the Afghan Mujahideen whose delegation President Reagan hosted and hailed as “the moral equivalents of America’s founding fathers.” After trying and failing to find a Saudi prince to lead the Mujahideen, the United States “settled for the second best”, namely, Osama bin Laden. Mamdani thus explains 9/11 as the “unfinished business of the Cold War”. How can such historicisation help us to understand terrorism in Uganda?

Contextualizing terrorism in Uganda

Such a historical and political analysis is necessary to understand the motivation of groups like al-Shabab, which allegedly attacked Kampala in 2010. We cannot understand al-Shabab’s activities without considering the intervention of Ugandan forces in Somalia. Instead of engaging such an analytical discussion of violence, the Police and a section of half-baked intellectuals are encouraging simplistic culture talk, blaming madrasahs for producing terrorism.

Despite its religious rhetoric, al-Shabab is clearly driven by a political question that developed at a specific historical moment. To think that such an organization emerged out of madrasahs is to exhibit an inexcusable level of vulgarization and distortion. If terrorism is not devoid of history and politics, it follows that its eradication is to be sought in the improvement of political relations, not in cultural crackdown.

The crackdown on madrasahs will achieve nothing because of two reasons. The first is that the clampdown is based on a misleading assumption that violence is cultural and devoid of history and politics. Secondly, the Muslim community has identified this crackdown not as an anti-terror crackdown, but as a campaign to marginalize and persecute them. Such a campaign can only breed resentment and create more problems than it purports to solve. The madrasah that the Muslim has in mind is contrary to the caricature that culture talk is drawing.

The madrasah in Uganda

The madrasah, contrary to popular opinion, is not as old as Islam in Uganda. Madrasah is the Arabic word for school, with connotations of formal and institutional organization. The Arab traders who only incidentally introduced Islam in Buganda in 1844 did not establish schools. For decades Islam was taught simply in mosques or at the homes of individual Bawalimu (teachers). This informal way of disseminating knowledge came to be known as kabalaza, the Luganda word for veranda, because lessons were taken at the veranda.

This informal arrangement continued unrivalled until 1911 when Sheikh Swaibu Ssemakula established the first formal Islamic school, or madrasah.

From kabalaza to madrasah

As a former Lay Minister in the Church of Uganda, Ssemakula had been exposed to some organizational skills that the missionaries had in abundance. Drawing on his experience, Ssemakula established a number of schools in different parts of Buganda and introduced the title of Sheikh, which he conferred upon the graduates of his schools.

Even though such madrasahs multiplied with time, they were still inaccessible to many Muslims for various reasons. Many still went to the kabalaza. The madrasah has coexisted with but not replaced the kabalaza. It is common practice today for parents to hire a Muwalimu to teach their children the Qur’an and related knowledge or send them to the home of such a teacher. The children that the police purports to rescue from the homes of Bawalimu belong to this category.

 

 

Which African renaissance are we talking about?

By MOTSOKO PHEKO

ARTICLE SUMMARY: Which “African Renaissance” is the AU talking about, the one that is just mimicry of the “European Renaissance”? The first renaissance on earth was African.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY: Dr. Motsoko Pheko is a historian, political scientist, lawyer and theologian. He is author of books such as Towards Africa’s Authentic Liberation, African Renaissance Saved Christianity and Rediscovering Africa and Her Spirituality. He is a former Member of the South African Parliament and former Representative of the victims of apartheid and colonialism at the United Nations in New York and at the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.

The meaning of the term “African Renaissance” now running parallel with Pan Africanism in the corridors of the African Union must be clarified. Lest we forget that the “European Renaissance” brought slavery, colonialism and racism to Africa. It dehumanised Africans, plundered the riches of Africa, destroyed African civilisations, and under-developed Africa. Africans have suffered the worst holocaust in human history as a result of the “European Renaissance.”

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The military factor in the downfall of Buganda

By YAHYA SSEREMBA

ARTICLE SUMMARY: The colonial establishment did everything to keep Buganda at the top, giving her the best schools, the best jobs and lucrative cash crops. But the British barred the Baganda (and the Bantu in general) from the military, a profession that was restricted to the illiterate children of the North. It is this military imbalance that changed the balance of power in 1966, sending Buganda to political limbo from which it has never resurrected.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY: Yahya Sseremba is the publisher of The Campus Journal current affairs website.

For their collaboration with the imperialists the people of Buganda occupied a privileged position throughout the colonial era. Their region received the best schools, hospitals and roads. Their sons took the best jobs, including serving as administrators throughout the protectorate. Their peasants pioneered the growing of cash crops, generating an income that elevated their standard of living. There was however one no-go-area for the Baganda and the Bantu people in general, an area that was to turn the lords of yesterday into the underdogs of today. And that was the military.

Read more: The military factor in the downfall of Buganda

Tribute to President Nelson Mandela

By MOTSOKO PHEKO

ARTICLE SUMMARY: Some things I admired about President Mandela were humour, tolerance and perseverance in struggle. My disappointment is that the people with whom he negotiated freedom in South Africa wanted to eat their cake and still have it. In the end the victims of apartheid gave far more to “reconciliation” than the perpetrators of colonialism and apartheid.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY: Dr. Motsoko Pheko is a former Member of the South African Parliament as well as former President of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC). He is a historian, political scientist, lawyer, theologian and author of several books.   

After my imprisonment for my anti-apartheid activities, I spent some years at the United Nations in New York and at the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva as an accredited Representative of the victims of apartheid and colonialism in South Africa.

One of my many duties was to call for the release of all political prisoners in this country and expose the barbarism of apartheid colonialism. Some of these prisoners were Mangaliso Sobukwe, Nelson Mandela, Zephania Mothopeng, Walter Sisulu, Nyati Pokela, Govan Mbeki and Jafta Masemola.

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By VENANSIUS BARYAMUREEBA

ARTICLE SUMMARY: Makerere University problems are institutional; no amount of money can solve them.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY: Professor Venansius Baryamureeba is higher education expert and former Vice Chancellor of Makerere University.

Normally a public institution is defined as an institution that is backed through public funding and controlled by the state and its financial records are public records. In Uganda there are public institutions like Makerere University that are allowed to collect public funds from tuition fees and other fees, commonly known as Appropriation in Aid (AIA), and spend it at source without transferring it to the consolidated fund.

The public sector refers to the part of the economy concerned with providing basic government services.

Read more: How to solve Makerere University’s financial problems