July 23, 2016
KAMPALA, UGANDA — When Alice Kyahwaire’s mother got drunk, she often threatened to give away the children who didn’t truly “belong” to the family.
So when the man Kyahwaire had always known to be her father died in 2014, her grandfather went on “Taasa Amakaago,” a local television program that facilitates DNA testing and settles other family disputes. Her father had bequeathed property to his children, Kyahwaire says, and he wanted to confirm that they were all true descendants.
“I learned in January this year that the man I thought was my father is not,” she says, cracking her knuckles. “Since then, I feel homeless. I don’t trust my mother anymore. I feel lost.”
“Taasa Amakaago,” which in Luganda means “Rescue Your Family,” works in collaboration with Little Oak Biotech to provide DNA tests. Interested people can approach the show and ask to take part. Producers film test participants when they receive their results, and the footage is shown on air. Often, people are overcome with emotion when they discover the truth about their families.
Since the program began offering this service in November, about 50 people, including children, have had paternity tests, says Joan Lule, the show’s previous program presenter, who now hosts a similar series on a different network.
But while the show celebrates certain test results, some people who have appeared have suffered from depression, alienation from the people they once thought of as family, loss of trust and loss of inheritance. Experts say people featured on the show should seek professional counseling to learn to cope with DNA test results.
“Taasa Amakaago” is part of a recent trend that has Ugandans seeking DNA tests. The number of private facilities that provide paternity tests has increased in the last five years, pushing down prices of such tests, says Allan Tindikahwa, the laboratory director of Little Oak Biotech.
Little Oak Biotech began providing DNA services six years ago, Tindikahwa says. In the beginning, only one pair seeking testing would come each week. Now, he says, five to eight pairs are seen, via the show, each week. The cost for paternity testing at the lab for two people is 440,000 Ugandan shillings (about $129), but those who participate in the show get a subsidized rate of 380,000 shillings (about $111).
Paternity tests remain expensive and beyond the reach of majority of Ugandans, says Rukia Nakamatte, a communications officer with the Ministry of Health.
“The costs may have reduced over the years, but they are still prohibitive,” she says.
On average, Ugandans earn about 450,000 shillings per month ($134), according to a 2012/2013 report from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics.
The people who seek tests are those who already have doubts about paternity, Tindikahwa says.
At last count, 66 percent of Little Oak Biotech’s paternity tests were negative, Tindikahwa says, but he adds that that data probably doesn’t reflect Uganda’s general population.
Apophia Agiresaasi, GPJ Uganda
Ivan Katende, the laboratory manager of ABII Clinic and Laboratory Services in the Wandegeya neighborhood of Kampala, says that in the last two years the number of pairs seeking DNA testing at his clinic has increased from one to about 10 per month. Each pair pays 700,000 shillings (about $208), he says.
Most paternity tests done there have negative results, he says.
“Since we started conducting DNA tests, only once did we find that the alleged father of the child was the true father,” he says. “All other tests we have done have turned out negative.”
For people who receive negative test results, life can get complicated.
Patience Kobusingye, 28, says she learned of her true father three months ago, when she appeared on “Taasa Amakaago.”
“Ever since I met my father and his wife and children, I have been having many problems,” she says. “My shop was robbed. I suspect my stepmother could be bewitching me.”
Tindikahwa, the Little Oak Biotech laboratory director, says test results for adults especially can bring challenges.
“This is the most serious downturn of a DNA paternity test, especially when conducting a DNA test with a child where close relationships have been established or the child is old enough to understand what is going on,” he says.
Tindikahwa says his clinic ensures that children who are old enough to understand the situation aren’t usually present when results are delivered.
“We counsel them prior to performing the test, and always encourage and refer clients with older children to seek further specialized counseling services,” he says. “We also frequently encourage them to maintain the relationship already established.”
Kyahwaire, the woman who received a negative match with the man she thought was her father, agrees that the parents who have earlier played the role should continue, to avoid upsetting the child.
“The father and family that looked after the child since birth should continue,” she says. “We are still their children, since they raised them; otherwise someone may not easily assimilate with the new family where they may take them.”
Families who have raised such children should give them time to prepare before moving them to the homes of their true fathers, she says.
“The children should be given at least two years before they go to new family,” she says. “They should first visit new family before they go there wholly.”
Kobusingye, the woman who worries her stepmother is bewitching her, says paternity tests aren’t worth it.
“If a child is old, it is not worth knowing who their true father is,” she says. “The woman should take that secret to the grave; otherwise it hurts the child.”
Lule, the television program presenter, says the show offers counseling for parents and children.
“We talk to both alleged and real fathers and the children,” she says. “We follow up these children and take them to their new families and facilitate reconciliation between families.”
Katende of ABII Clinic advises that children should seek the services of a professional counselor to cope with negative results of DNA tests.
“Children who are already adults may be affected,” he says. “They should see a professional counselor to help them. We actually provide free counseling services here.”
Amid all the negative test results, the few positive results bring relief for the people involved.
Denis Kakaire, 22, says he confirmed through the “Taasa Amakaago” program that he is the son of the man he’d always called his father.
“I was always worried,” he says. “There were rumors I used to hear neighbor says that I am tall, and all members of this family are very short ─ that I don’t belong to this family.”
Now, he says, he’s happy.
“I now feel I am a true son of my father,” he says. “These days, he invites me to sit and discuss with him, which he never used to before.”
Apophia Agiresaasi, GPJ, translated some interviews from Luganda.