opinionBy Jackson Biko
Nairobi — I recently found myself perched on a high stool in a bar in Kabalagala, Kampala at 1am.
I was with two good friends, catching up over a tipple after years of not seeing each other. Kabalagala needs little introduction, it's famous (or infamous) for its unrelenting nightlife.
At Kabalagala it's the energy that comes with dusk. It's a strip of bars all trying to outdo each with the volume of music, the length of the women's skirts or how low the neckline of their tops can plunge. And they can plunge to astonishing levels.
Kabalagala is the pieces of chicken roasting helplessly on the roadside spits. It's the boda boda guys sitting languidly on their bikes, chatting and looking out for fares.
And it's the guys standing over their jikos, faces sweating in the cool night as they fry Rolex (chapatti/egg sandwich) the best hangover cure, if there ever was any. And so in this milieu, we traded exaggerated war stories.
We were later joined by two ladies who were friends of one of my friends. I knew instantly that they were Ugandans and not Kenyan because you could tell they had spent considerable time (and thought) dressing up to come out.
Never mind that the bar was far from fancy, it was your average run-of-the-mill dive with fleeting lighting and basic furniture. Plus it smelled of a calamari ship.
So you would expect them to throw on jeans, heels, lip-gloss and a weave and come out, instead they went the extra mile and their efforts were rewarded by compliments. And stares.
At some point, the conversation drifted to our uniqueness as East Africans, you know, the whole jaded stereotypical conversation about how Kenyans are so belligerent, how Tanzanians are paranoid about Kenya's economic take-over with the advent of the lethargic East Africa Cooperation and how it's become unsafe to walk to work in Uganda...or even honk.
And one of the ladies - with this monstrous hairstyle that I was afraid would break her neck every time she leaned over for a cigarette lighter across the table - asked me why Kenyan men are not capable of being gentle with women.
I had had a few to drink, but not too much to care to be dragged into another tail-chasing debate about why we are how we are.
So, tongue-in-cheek, I told her casually that we are the way we are because that is the only way we can handle our women (who are known for their abrasiveness, and emotional aggressiveness). You decide to be gentle, I added, and they throw you under a bus.
"Yes," she groaned, "your women are a bit rough, one came to my workplace and almost punched me because she saw, from her boyfriend's call register, that he had called me a few times." We chuckled wearily.
To appreciate the raw a deal we are getting from our women you have to go to Uganda and interact with their women.
Ugandan women take being a woman to another level. Forget that whole beaten path of kneeling down before their men and treating them like royalty.
That's not even as quaint as it sounds, that would appeal to guys who are weighed down by their ego. I'm talking about the little mannerism that makes these women the archetypal females in the region.
The difference between a Ugandan woman and a Kenyan one is like oranges and groundnuts. Ugandan women seem to have mastered the art of making men feel like men, even if they aren't men enough.
They have mastered the delicate art of managing their men's egos, of course with the invaluable hindsight that at the end of the day, they will have their way, not the men. An astute kind of cunning.
Of course most of these mannerisms might be largely rooted in the "Kingdom set-up" which dictated how women were expected to behave towards their men.
Although the power base still sits with women the world over, Ugandan women have made their men think that the power lies with them (men), and it hasn't cost them a thing. How hard can that be? How hard can it be to be gentle with men?
To be more understanding, to be more contained, to act with the dignity and respect that befits a self-respecting woman?
These women seem to largely embody these enviable qualities and I'm not basing this on some measly drink I had with two women, I'm basing it on my three-year-stay there.
However, it's not that Ugandan men are deserving of their women any more than we deserve ours, they (the men) aren't saints. They might be mild-mannered and less dramatic than Kenyan men but so was Dr Hannibal Lecter, the famous psychotic doctor who ate human liver in Thomas Harris novels.
One of my lady friends submits that Kenyan men are enthralled by Ugandan women because they are push-overs, that Kenyan men are so emotionally immature that they are incapable of handling a strong woman when presented with one. Maybe so. But at the end of the hoopla, when it comes right down to it, every man just wants a woman who isn't in his face (or his wallet).
Men just want to know that they are not straddled with a fire-breathing monster of a woman who won't cut him some slack.
The strength of Ugandan women, if you ask me is that they seem to have clearly recognised their role in a relationship and they do their part without keeping scores, without expecting a 12-gun salute.