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Facing prejudice as a childfree British man living in Uganda

By Kevin O’Connor 

Kevin O'ConnorMy wife and I are British. We have been together for 35 years, and have no children. In the UK, this was not a problem, since there are very many happily married childfree couples there. But in Uganda, where we have lived for the last 22 years, it has been a huge problem. As Ugandans have a total lack of understanding as to why we do not have children. I love Uganda, and have no desire to live in the UK. But it is just on this one issue of children (or rather lack of them) that I need access to my own culture to show me that I am not a freak.

In Uganda, I am constantly asked, “How many children do you have?” Or since I have grey hairs, “How many grandchildren do you have?” Generally, I respond pleasantly, given that I understand the socio-economic culture which is shaping Ugandans. But, occasionally, on a long hot day, I reply in Luganda, “Sirina akasolo” (I do not have a penis) for the explanation as to why I have no children.

To understand Ugandans’ obsession with children, let me tell you the story of a couple I know. They had lived together as man and wife for 2 years. But she had not “produced”. So, he gave her a “red card.” And he started his polygamous search for other women to provide him with hugely desired kids.

This is a too common story in Uganda. Leaving aside the automatic assumption that the “fault” for the absence of children lies with the woman and not with male impotency, it captures the basic nature of a Third World country like Uganda, where the average number of births per woman is approaching 7, compared to a First World country, where it is frequently under 2.

The result is that there is much more emphasis on “baby production” in all aspects of Ugandan society – from the number of articles on pregnancy, childbearing and kids in a newspaper, through to the harsh realities for the woman described above (never mind her intellect, personality or job – the only thing that matters is whether she can “produce” or not. The distinction between human beings on the one hand, and dogs, goats and cows, on the other, becomes invisible.)

This woman’s experience has nothing to do with being African and everything to do with Uganda’s level of economic development. The situation was the same in the USA or UK in bygone eras.

When poverty rules, there is nobody (and no pension nor welfare state) to safeguard you in old age. So, you therefore have a lot of children who can look after you when you get old. But as the society (and yourself) grows richer, this need reduces, so you have fewer children, and in a virtuous circle, the result is that the society grows richer, so that future generations have fewer children still.

And the story started above had a wonderful ending. When the man gave the woman a “red card”, he did not realise that she was already pregnant, and not only that, pregnant with his son, whose gender is so over-valued within African culture. After she gave birth, he, being a typical man, wanted her back. But she had seen the truth i.e. that he wanted her not on the basis of love, but on the basis of her production ability, as if she was no more than a cow or a goat. Now, it was her turn to give him a “red card”, and what a wonderful, and wonderfully deserved red card it was too.

In conclusion, polygamous Ugandan men, and even the minority monogamous ones, should keep their penises in their pants, and produce less children than this already over-populated world already has. Above all, that world, needs more proudly childfree Africans, which, as a small by-product, would make my life as a childfree non-African in Africa, a little easier.

Kevin O’Connor’s latest book “Insights into Uganda” is available on Amazon [email protected]

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