More than a question of curves: The recent furore over the issue of promoting the body shapes of Ugandan women as a tourist attraction opens up a can of worms over how far is too far in chasing the tourist dollar.

Author:Serumaga, Kalundi

An entirely predictable row has followed the Ugandan Minister of Tourism, Godfrey Kiwanda's proposal to promote Ugandan women of a certain body type as a tourist attraction. He officially launched the 'Miss Curvy Uganda' pageant as part of the 'Tulambule' ('Let's tour') campaign to attract foreign visitors.

Every usual position has been taken on this by critics and commentators, from the expected advocates of women's rights to the clergy (Muslim and Christian alike), and every point in between.

Many drew comparisons with the gruesome 1800s tale of Sarah Baartman, the KhoiKhoi woman who was abducted from Africa, and made into a live exhibit (and then later died) in a 'human zoo' display in Europe, where visitors would examine her bodily curves.

This is not to say that Ugandan women endowed with curves are particularly camera-shy. Voluptuousness is actually one of the aesthetic values in many an African society, as every reader of this magazine surely knows by now. The vast majority of well-endowed ladies are quite satisfied, to say the least, with the contours. This is not just a Ugandan or African phenomenon.

Beauty pageants celebrating body types not normally sanctified by the Western fashion industry are regularly held in various parts of the world.

So the essential problem here seems to be one of agency: who gets to decide who or what is to be 'looked at', and who shall benefit from the 'looking' after it is done, and in what way?

It actually raises a wider question of how those governing in many parts of Africa view the bounty within their particular borders. There is an element of 'plunder opportunism' in some cases. Take the standard wildlife and nature tourism as an example.

In a documentary film project I was involved in nearly a decade ago, we filmed many indigenous residents near the summit of Mt Elgon in eastern Uganda. Their complaints about mistreatment by officers of the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) were numerous. The crux of their accusations was that the UWA's zeal in driving 'encroachers' out of the forest was in fact a cover for them to let in and protect a racket involving illegal lumber.

Then there is appropriation. This is the same ministry that adopted a certain ubiquitous type of street food here, known as 'Rolex', as an item to be promoted for tourism. The difference, as one commentator pointed out, is that--unlike the famous street food markets of south-eastern Asian cities--virtually nothing about it, except...

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