One city. Two Ugandan babies. Two tragic episodes. Two different outcomes. One country. Two different worlds. I have been trying to make sense of two related episodes involving children, their caretakers, the authorities, and our collective response to them.
The first is the tragic story of two-year-old Ryan Ssemaganda who wandered off from his caretaker, crawled under a parked car, and was crushed to death when the driver returned and drove off.
The second is, of course, that of the video that appears to show a maid, upset at her one-and- half-year-old charge, flinging her across the floor, kicking her, whacking her tiny bottom with a torch, and then stepping on her back and head.
I had been warned about the graphic nature of the video but nothing could have prepared me for that savagery. The video has gone viral across the world. Sales of webcams are through the roof and the publicity-hungry usual suspects have been lining up for ‘selfies’ with Baby A, who survived the battering, and her parents.
Parents of young children know that what happened to Baby Ryan or to Baby A (I refuse to name her because I think the identity of minors ought to be protected to save them from further emotional harm)ould easily happen to their own.
It is the reaction to either case that fascinates me. Baby Ryan’s mother, a street hawker, had been arrested by city law enforcement agents and was in custody when her baby was killed. Angry relatives marched the body to City Hall and demanded compensation.
They were joined by some publicity-hungry politicians and street types but none, if any, from those of us who tweeted, Instagrammed, Whatsapped or YouTubed Baby A’s video.
Part of it is the power of moving images and the intimacy of seeing violence upclose that the video offered. Also, everyone likes a story with a happy-ending, in this case the subsequent pictures of Baby A, cute as a button, bursting with good health.
However, there is also a class issue here. We did not join Baby Ryan’s demo because his family is from a class removed from us, a class that neither reads newspapers nor owns smartphones. One class “laughs in the fist” at the misery of the downtrodden. The other lives hand-to-mouth.
I suspect that Baby A’s video, were it to be shown to Baby Ryan’s family, would shock and even outrage them, but it would mostly be removed from their reality.
A generation of economic growth matched by growing inequality has created a very small but super-rich elite class, a tiny middle class, and a large, poor majority at the bottom. A lot of our public discussions take place around middle-class issues. For instance, violence by maids is a middle-class issue because the super-rich can afford to stay home and take care of their children, while the poor can’t afford maids and carry their kids with them when they go hawking or begging.
In this narrow prism of mainstream debate, we tend to ignore the major issues such as the long-term transformation of society that concern the top, or the privatisation of the State and public spaces and services that affects the bottom.
I do not know what the long-term impact of this change will be and I am not smart enough to study it. However, until we understand why poor women trying to eke out a living to support their kids are arrested instead of being given meaningful alternatives, we will continue producing angry maids who will bash our kids when we aren’t looking.
It used to take a village to raise a child, now we rely on one villager. In trying to gentrify our cities and societies, it isn’t enough to arrest and force out the unwashed masses we must understand why the villagers are angry and frustrated. Our children’s lives depend on it.
Mr Kalinaki is a Ugandan journalist based in Nairobi. firstname.lastname@example.org andTwitter: @Kalinaki
SOURCE: Daily Monitor