Dear Ambassador Deborah Malac,
Greetings from Raleigh, North Carolina. I am writing to you through this space in The Observer newspaper because the matter at hand is of public interest.
A small note about me. My name is Moses Khisa. I am a Ugandan. I teach political science and Africana studies at North Carolina State University where I am employed as a fulltime, tenure-track assistant professor. Before arriving here last fall, I served for one year as a lecturer at Northwestern University where I spent six years studying for a PhD in political science.
I am writing to you on the backdrop of a polluted atmosphere in the wake of incendiary and deeply disturbing coarse remarks attributed to President Donald J Trump. But before I get to this subject and the crux of the message I wish to convey, let me preface a small personal note.
I went to Northwestern University in pursuit of scholarly achievement and in a bid to join the global scientific community.
Earlier, I had left Calcutta, India where I was registered as a PhD student. The United States has been at the top of global scholarship and it was a great opportunity for me to benefit from the enormous intellectual and material resources of Northwestern University, including its world number-one-ranked library of Africana studies.
Upon completing my PhD, I had to think carefully about where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do. I could have sought a faculty appointment at a South Korean university or a research position at a British institute.
In the end, I made a very crucial career decision: I accepted my current position at North Carolina State University and turned down an appointment that would have taken me back to my alma mater, Makerere University, Kampala.
I owe a special intellectual debt to Makerere University where I first learnt political science and gained the foundation for my subsequent scholarly achievements.
Last Thursday, the president of the United States stunned some citizens of this great nation and many around the world. The reprehensible remarks attributed to him have been all-over the media, it is unnecessary to rehash them here.
There have been denials that he said what he was reported to have said. But two senators, a Democrat and a Republican, have confirmed that the remarks as reported in the media are essentially accurate.
But from the ceaseless reactions flying around, one confronts a sobering realization: many Americans actually agree with Mr Trump’s views. Apparently, he speaks the mind of his supporters. Tune in to cable television; the rationalizations and outright justifications by surrogates and supporters are bewildering. Or check online platforms and you get astonished.
I should also add, Madam Ambassador, that many across Africa, including in Uganda, too, cheerfully agree with your president – he is right to ridicule African countries because they deserve it.
I am writing this sad letter on Martin Luther King, Jr. day (January 15). This is instructive. As you know all too well, the US is yet to come to grips with its ugly and painful history of racial segregation, institutionalized racism, and the despicable humiliation of black and brown people.
It appears that the embers of this history are being fanned afresh in large part from the highest office in the land. By the time you read this letter on Wednesday January 17, I will be going to class to teach.
My students are more than 70 per cent American; so, when I next step in class, I will have to face up to one troubling question: how do I go about teaching students in a country whose president believes Norwegians are welcome but a Ugandan like me is not?
Put another way, how do I reconcile two facts that the US president seems to imply cannot be reconciled: a Ugandan immigrant providing a service at an American university?
Uganda is a poor country; that is a fact. The vast majority of Ugandans live in appalling conditions, no doubt. We have a government that is poorly run, a president keen on clinging onto power than being rugged in bringing about socioeconomic transformation. The USA is happy with him because he ably serves its geopolitical security interests.
But the bottom line is: Ugandans and all Africans, both on the continent and in the diaspora, are human beings. Their socioeconomic conditions cannot be the basis for judging their humanity and worth. Our endemic and intractable problems should not be used to pass big-brush judgment and to debase us.
Often, one encounters Western prejudices that cast African societies as hell and the Western world as some sort of heaven, complete with paternalistic refrains about Western aid that is saving Africa because Africans are incapable of saving themselves.
Madam Ambassador, let me end this letter by underlining this: the rich and prosperous do not hold the right to denigrate the poor and less fortunate. All human beings have the right to dignity despite their material conditions and social status.
If it is the fate of Africa to remain impoverished and misruled, so be it. But the US president, and the Americans who support him, have no right to call us names and deny us our humanity.
The author is an assistant professor of political science at North Carolina State University.