terrain & terroir


This writing is really about the latest anti-queer legislation in Uganda. Don’t tell those looking for an “African’s view” on the matter. Though, truth be told, since this is being written in fairly standard English, if using improper U.S. spelling, it is automatically disqualified as genuinely African.

You know it’s Genuine African because of the Subtitles.

Softly. Softly.
(we don’t want them to hear us)


I have been reading Stuart Hall.

Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, ed. David Morley and Kuan-Hsing Chen (Routledge, 1996)
He uses “terrain":

The interrelations between feminism, psychoanalysis and cultural studies define a completely and permanently unsettled terrain for me. ("Cultural Studies and its Theoretical Legacies")

The problem of ideology, therefore, concerns the ways in which ideas of different kinds grip the minds of masses, and thereby become a ‘material force’. In this, more politicized, perspective, the theory of ideology helps us to analyse how a particular set of ideas comes to dominate the social thinking of a historical bloc, in Gramsci’s sense; and, thus, helps to unite such a bloc from the inside, and maintain its dominance and leadership over society as a whole. It has especially to do with the concepts and the languages of practical thought which stabilize a particular form of power and domination; or which reconcile and accommodate the mass of the people to their subordinate place in the social formation. It has also to do with the processes by which new forms of consciousness, new conceptions of the world, arise, which move the masses of the people into historical action against the prevailing system. These questions are at stake in a range of social struggles. It is to explain them, in order that we may better comprehend and master the terrain of ideological struggle, that we need not only a theory but a theory adequate to the complexities of what we are trying to explain. ("The Problem of Ideology: Marxism without Guarantees")

It is the general movement in this direction, away from an abstract general theory of ideology, and towards the more concrete analysis of how, in particular historical situations, ideas ‘organize human masses, and create the terrain on which men move, acquire consciousness of their position, struggle, etc.,’ which makes the work of Gramsci . . . a figure of seminal importance in the development of marxist thinking in the domain of the ideological. ("The Problem of Ideology")

That terrain, Gramsci suggested, was above all the terrain of what he called ‘common sense’: a historical, not a natural or universal or spontaneous form of popular thinking, necessarily ‘fragmentary, disjointed and episodic’. ("The Problem with Ideology")

What is ‘scientific’ about the marxist theory of politics is that it seeks to understand the limits to political action given by the terrain on which it operates. This terrain is defined, not by forces we can predict with the certainty of natural science, but by the existing balance of social forces, the specific nature of the concrete conjuncture. ("The Problem with Ideology")

To use a geographical metaphor, to struggle around religion in that country, you need to know the ideological terrain, the lay of the land. ("On Postmodernism and Articulation: An Interview with Stuart Hall")

Hall takes “terrain” from Gramsci—or, at least, most of his writing on “terrain” is engaging Gramsci. In Hall, “terrain” is mobile, a geographic metaphor for something like “condition” or “atmosphere” or “state,” but, I think, more than that.

Terrain, after all, cannot be disembedded from the histories of marronage Hall knew so well: freedom seekers, former slaves, found refuge in “unfriendly” terrain, forming communities where they could not be pursued. In places that could be defended, protected, made sacred. Terrain insists on materiality. To invoke Wambui Mwangi, terrain grounds one where one is, compels one to engage the world while standing on an ethical foundation. Or, as Shailja Patel often writes, “feet planted.”

“Terrain,” lay of the land. As “terrain” moves around in Hall, it gains texture and depth. It can be “unsettled” and unsettling; it can be generated as “the existing balance of social forces”; it always is what is “inhabited,” or, more precisely, what one “moves” in. And, if, at certain times, Hall suggests that “terrain” can be understood completely—“comprehend and master the terrain of ideological struggle”—he also figures terrain as potential, as “emergence.”
A stitching: a “black sense of place,” with Katherine McKittrick

"On Plantations, Prisons, and a Black Sense of Place," Social & Cultural Geography (2011)

Black diasporic histories and geographies are difficult to track and cartographically map. Transatlantic slavery, from the slave ship and beyond, was predicated on various practices of spatialized violence that targeted black bodies and profited from erasing a black sense of place. Geographically, at the centre are the slave plantation and its attendant geographies (the auction block, the big house, the fields and crops, the slave quarters, the transportation ways leading to and from the plantation, and so on).

The conditions of bondage did not foreclose black geographies but rather incited alternative mapping practices during and after transatlantic slavery, many of which were/are produced outside the official tenets of cartography: fugitive and maroon maps, literacy maps, food-nourishment maps, family maps, music maps were assembled alongside ‘real’ maps (those produced by black cartographers and explorers who document landmasses, roads, routes, boundaries, and so forth).

stitching with M. NourbeSe Philip

"Dis Place       The Space Between," Feminist Measures ed. Lynn Keller & Christanne Miller (U Michigan P, 1994)

So the maroons taking their bodies completely outside the reach and ambit of the white European—but only in those places and spaces where the land allowing it. Mountains!—you having to have them: “I will lift mine eyes to the hills from whence cometh my salvation.” Maroonage—the coming together of the exploited physical s/place—“place” and “space”—and the exploited s/place—“place” and “space”—of the body. Maroonage—the coming together. Creating something new—an inner space and place—s/place—of African self sufficiency that the European, emissary of the outer space . . . continually trying to penetrate.

stitching with Stella Nyanzi

"Queer Pride and Protest: A Reading of the Bodies at Uganda's First Gay Beach Pride," Signs (2014)

Wearing army-style camouflage pants, I marched alongside male bod- ies wearing stylish stilettos, bikini bras, flashy facial makeup, and gomesi, or delicate miniskirts. Beside us, female bodies stomped majestically, wearing mustaches, cologne, and kanzu, or boxer shorts, flashing above low-cut pants. The sexy bodies of drag queens gyrated, twirled, and pulsated rhythmically to local beats. Queen Bad Black, in a lacy scarlet bra and green kaffiyeh over boxer shorts, danced barefoot on the dust path. Dancing seductively, Princess Nature Raymond, whose hairy chest was sprayed with thick paint, wore only boxer shorts and knee-high socks in rainbow colors. Sister Kelly Daniels’s breasts were covered only with rainbow squares worn above a rainbow sarong. Donning men’s pants under a black kanzu with a diagonal rainbow ribbon, Pepe, a trans man and long- time activist for LGBTIQ rights in Uganda, operated a camera.

stitching with Sylvia Tamale

"Eroticism, Sensuality, and "Women's Secrets" among the Baganda: A Critical Analysis," Feminist Africa (2005)

Among the erotic paraphernalia associated with Kiganda sexuality are the stringed, colourful waist beads called obutiti. Traditionally, the butiti were made out of tiny, delicate clay beads that would make a tinkling or rattling sound as they knocked against each other with any slight movement. The sight of a woman adorned with rows of butiti around her waist strutting around the bedroom excites her male partner. Similarly when a man twirls the butiti around or rubs them against the woman's body, they function as a stimulant or aphrodisiac. Special herbs are often injected or otherwise soaked into the beads to add to their potency.

Usually, during a private Ssenga session, observers will be taught how to enhance their lovemaking techniques through a guided performance. Two Ssengas may lie on a bed and take the couple or group through a blow-by- blow display of “how it is supposed to be done”. They come prepared with sex gear and gadgets (including dildos). Key among this sexual equipment is the nkumbi (literal translation, hoe), a large, soft, absorbent white cloth used for hygienic purposes during and after sex. The practices and beliefs associated with enkumbi constitute a ritual enterprise that in itself is very important to the Baganda people. Ssengas even teach various “lovemaking noises” (for example, okukona ennyindo – nasal; okusiiya – hiss; okusika omukka – breath/gasp).

We enter the terrain of The Prohibition of the Promotion of Unnatural Sexual Practices Bill, 2014, a s/place-making and s/place-unmaking legislation that refuses the possibility of pleasure, of what Nkiru Nzegwu describes as “osunality.”

“sexual act” means

(1) the penetration of the vagina, mouth, or anus, however slight, of any person, by a sexual organ

(2) the unlawful use of any object or organ by a person on another person’s sexual organ

“sexual organ” means vagina or penis

"unnatural sexual practice" means a sexual act between people of the same sex, or with or between transsexual person[s], a sexual act with an animal, and anal sex, within the meaning of Section 145 of the Penal Code Act

The Penal Code:

145. Unnatural offences.

Any person who—

has carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature;

has carnal knowledge of an animal; or

permits a male person to have carnal knowledge of him or her against the order of nature,

commits an offence and is liable to imprisonment for life.

We are on the terrain of laws governed by “disgust” or, more specifically, “repugnance.”

Drawing on South Africa’s legal histories, Neville Hoad

"The Men of Blanket Boy's Moon: Repugnancy Clauses, Customary Law and Migrant Labour Sex," Jindal Global Law Review (2013)
notes, “Indigenous sexual conduct was left to customary law except in instances where it was found to be repugnant to the gaze of the coloniser. These repugnancy clauses generally managed to ignore heterosexual so-called offenses . . . and in Southern Africa got worked up over what might be termed indigenous homosexual practices . . . and in East Africa over female excision practices. In brief, a repugnancy clause was a blanket proviso that customary law would not be applied if it were to be found contrary to natural justice or public policy.”

Repugnancy generates the “natural” and the “public.” Their possibilities and instantiations. In a different, minor register, colonial officials debate the pace at which “natives” should dress in “western” clothing. Too quickly, and they might “forget” themselves. Too slowly, and colonial acculturation might be seen as failing.

Hoad continues:

 It remains difficult to think through the relations of law, legitimacy and culture in both colonial and post-colonial contexts as ideas of sexuality, as the expression of essence and freedom compete with both ideas of sexuality as social reproduction and lineage consolidation and increasingly with notions of sexuality as a privileged marker of religious virtue; and legal measures seem logically contradictory in imposing the first, ineffectual in defending the second version, and in an era of rising fundamentalisms of all types, law and religion collapse into each other.

What do you have to know about Uganda to write about the newly proposed anti-queer law? How do you have to know about Uganda to write about the newly proposed anti-queer law?

Terroir: the flavor of a place

Stella Nyanzi, "Queering Queer Africa," Reclaiming Afrikan: Queer Perspectives on Sexual and Gender Identities, Curator, Zethu Matebeni (Modjaji Books, 2014)

I am a loud-mouthed full-bodied Black African woman with skin the color of hot millet porridge. I wear brightly coloured three-piece dresses made of kitengi fabric with grotesque yet pretty African artistic patterns. My skirts are full and ankle-length. My blouses curve well across my big bosom. Headpieces sit as crowns atop my kinky dreadlocks that silently speak of resistance and defiance to strictures of feminine propriety.

Why is Red Pepper the title of a Ugandan tabloid?

Terroir: the flavor of a 28-year-old presidency, of Milton Obote’s suits, of Idi Amin’s refrigerator, of a stripped and restored kingdom, of Asian expulsion, of green hill bananas, of Makerere Kenyans, of David Kato’s death, of David Kaiza’s sentences, where bahati does not mean good fortune

And, still, the flavor has not yet started to settle


What do you need to know to write about Uganda?
How do you need to know to write about Uganda?

Two sections:

4. Exhibiting unnatural sexual practices

A person who makes representation through publication, exhibition, cinematography, information technology or by whatever means, of a person engaged in real or fictitious unnatural sexual practices commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment not exceeding seven years.

8. Consent not a defense

The consent of a person, or in the case of a child, the consent of a parent or guardian is not a defense to an offence under this act.

Representation has been a problem through the various iterations of Ugandan anti-queer legislation. The 2009 Anti Homosexuality Bill—known around the world as the “Kill the Gays” Bill—criminalized “Promotion of Homosexuality”:

(1) A person who---

(a) participates in production, procuring, marketing, broadcasting, disseminating, publishing pornographic materials for purposes of promoting homosexuality;

(b) funds or sponsors homosexuality or other related activities;

(c) offers premises and other related fixed or movable assets for purposes of homosexuality or promoting homosexuality;

(d) uses electronic devices which include internet, films, mobile phones for purposes of homosexuality or promoting homosexuality and;

(e) who acts as an accomplice or attempts to promote or in any way abets homosexuality and related practices;

commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of five thousand currency points or imprisonment of a minimum of five years and a maximum of seven years or both fine and imprisonment.

This portion of the legislation remained unchanged in the 2014 Act—but this was added

 (2) Where the offender is a corporate body or a business or an association or a non-governmental organization, on conviction its certificate of registration shall be cancelled and the director, proprietor or promoter shall be liable, on conviction, to imprisonment for seven years.

In this current Bill, the addition of “real or fictitious” shifts the terrain even more—artistic license is gone. This is an attack against any queer imaginations. An attempt to arrest the freedom-seeking work of imaginative labor. And it’s dangerous.

Consent is absent as a term and frame from the 2014 Act. Those interested in how states manage intimacy—and why states manage intimacy—should ask what it means for a state to insist that it has the right to monitor and adjudicate consent.

Uganda’s intimate legislation—including the Domestic Relations Bill (2003), the Domestic Violence Act (2010), the Anti-Pornography Act (2014), the Anti-Homosexuality Act (2014), the Public Management Order Act (2013), and The HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Act (2014)—is Borg-like. Each subsequent iteration learns from the previous one. Each is more intelligent, more focused, more directed toward what Foucault termed a “micro-physics of power.”

Learning from Foucault, I continue to ask What bodies are being produced as Ugandan? What spaces as public spaces? What intimacies as state-sanctioned? What terrains & terroirs?