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  • Dominance, Silence, and Homoerotic Pleasures in Nakisanze Segawa's The Triangle
  • Edgar Fred Nabutanyi (bio)

Scholars analyzing patriarchal sexual violence in African fiction have long argued that women writers use innovative narrative forms to show how marginalized subjects surmount the silence imposed on them in order to speak about their oppression (Graham 2003; Samuelson 2003). In recent years, writers such as Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, Nakisanze Segawa, Monica Arac de Nyeko, Beatrice Lamwaka, and Anthea Paleo have used such innovative narrative practices to distil important insights about cultures of silence on homosexuality in Uganda. In doing so, they borrow from an extensive tradition in which writers use distinctive storylines to allow their protagonists to speak about taboo topics. This short article explores how such textual manipulations of silence, voice, and interiority allow women and other marginalised subjects to discursively enter into and comment on public discourses in recent Ugandan historical novels.

As an academic at a Ugandan university, I write out of a context in which debates over homosexuality have had a lightning-rod effect in public life. Recent fiction in which non-normative sexualities are presented as an inevitable part of historical Ugandan societies offer [End Page 667] important pedagogical tools to broaden debates on sexual minorities in the literature classroom. This is particularly the case with Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (Kintu, 2017) and Nakisanze Segawa (The Triangle, 2016) who embed non-normative sexual practices and samesex desire within their historical novels of the pre-colonial Buganda kingdom in a manner that makes them perceptible while also subordinating them to the force of historical developments. This is a very limited reading in which I focus on same-sex desire in Nakisanze Segawa's The Triangle in the first half of the novel. Nevertheless, it elucidates how African writers are responding to the contemporary culture wars over the public emergence of non-normative sexualities with innovative narrative strategies. Because some of such narratives approach same-sex sexuality covertly within a wide tapestry of sexual practices, they can be easily adopted into university curricula in locations where public debates on homosexuality have been particularly rancorous.

My reading is indebted to the work of Sylvia Tamale, who has argued that public discourse on homosexuality is heavily characterized by various forms of silence and historical disarticulation that need to be unveiled and scrutinized (2007). In her historical novel, The Triangle, Segawa modulates silence and voice to unveil and scrutinize the historical figure of the nineteenth-century Buganda King Kabaka Mwanga II of Buganda. While his reign was brief, he is now known for the fact that he had about twenty-three court pages executed who, according to British and Catholic church sources, allegedly refused his sexual advances (see Hoad {2007} and Rao {2013}).1 Namugongo, the execution spot, has for long become a site of pilgrimage and reverence for Ugandan Christians, but the advent of LGBTQ activism and the Ugandan government's oppressive measures have made Kabaka Mwanga into a contested cultural and political icon. Debates on Mwanga are structured by what Rahul Rao describes as a Ugandan denialism of same-sex sexuality even when homosexuals exist in the country (2013). Although contemporary discourses on homosexuality in Uganda demonize Mwanga by casting him as a pedophile, it is important to note that he was no more than a "child" himself having become king at seventeen years of age.

The Triangle is a pioneering novel for its reconstruction of Kabaka Mwanga's sexuality. The narrative form succeeds in recontextualizing contemporary debates on Mwanga and fostering an inquisitive sensitivity toward the historical past because it pushes readers to question the competing historical accounts of Mwanga's sexuality. [End Page 668] Segawa revisits Mwanga's sexuality through the experience of one of Mwanga's wives and two court pages. In doing so, she follows previous authors who wrote about women who are silenced and excluded from the public sphere: she juxtaposes registers of silence, omission, and voice to render the respective oppressive forces legible as textual operations. Many African authors have used such operations. Even Chinua Achebe, who critics have argued did not consider women's voices in his early fiction, has been shown to employ interchanges of...


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