Unimagined Community: Sex, Networks, and AIDS in Uganda and South Africa

By Robert J. Thornton | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
AIDS in Uganda
Years of Chaos and Recovery

I think AIDS is now part of us.

Namara Dinah, clinic sister
and midwife, July 2003


FROM RUMOR TO DISEASE TO EPIDEMIC

Uganda is often associated in people’s minds around the globe with Amin and AIDS. This is unfortunate, but the suffering that Uganda has gone through in the decades of the 1970s and 1980s seems to have given it the resolve and strength to defeat both the tyrant and the disease, and to arrive at the beginning of the twenty-first century as one of Africa’s success stories. But in July 2003, as Amin1 lay dying in exile in Saudi Arabia and debate went on about whether to allow him (dead or alive) back into the country, either to die or to be buried, fears were expressed that HIV/AIDS might come back, too, if vigilance was not exercised. During the height of Uganda’s social chaos, when Amin was being driven from power by the Tanzanian army in 1979, AIDS had broken out into the general population from some isolated population(s) where it had clearly been endemic for some time. Some Ugandans had begun to recognize it and had given it the name “slim,” or siliimu. Later they recognized that it was “now part of us.” This recognition and the willingness to take ownership allowed the struggle against AIDS to be built into the nation-building process itself. Because Ugandans already had a “native category” (siliimu) for AIDS at the beginning of the 1980s, when the virus was finally identified in 1984 it could not be represented as a conspiracy or plot against Africans by the West (as it was in South Africa), and the virus was tackled quickly

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