Music festival

Ugandan government prefers money over morality

The Nyege Nyege music and arts festival in Uganda is a thorn in the side of moralists, but essential for tourism. The government assured it is a safe place despite recent terror attacks in the country.

Uganda’s pro-evangelical leadership has maintained a hardliner moralist stance against cultures and behaviours considered immoral and contrary to religious principles. So, the county has enacted several laws to restrict among other things, relations between members of the same sex.

The annual “Nyege Nyege” festival is one such event which has been attacked by moralists, including most recently, the speaker of Uganda’s parliament, who once ordered for it to be cancelled. In 2023 however, many are shocked to see the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni come out to defend and promote the event which moralists characterised as an event that promotes homosexuality, immorality and other “evil” practices. 

The festival draws thousands of local and international tourists who attend the 5-day event to celebrate music, food and culture. In recent years, it has grown to become one of Uganda’s headline tourist attractions of the year. As the Ugandan economy emerges from the impacts of Covid-19 on tourism, the government has chosen to fully support the event to boost tourism in the country.

The 2023 Nyege Nyege festival comes at a time when Uganda is on high alert for terrorism from several groups including the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels who operate out of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The rebel group has carried out several attacks in Uganda in 2023 including recently burning school children in a dormitory.

“The security forces are guarding the public functions like the Nyege Nyege,” Museveni said in an official letter to the nation. His assurances followed official communication from both the UK and US governments, warning their citizens to keep away from the festival in 2023 as it was prone to terrorist attacks. The Ugandan government, wary of losing millions in revenue, guaranteed the security for tourists. 

Revellers attending the Nyege Nyege festival seem less worried about the concerns for security. Many are excited about the several attractions at the festival which takes place in Jinja, a city along the banks of the river Nile.

Bate Paul, a local businessman in Kampala attending the festival, said: “We just want to have fun and party. We work so hard throughout the year and deserve to spend time relaxing, enjoying good food, drinks and company.” 

Sheillah Abaho is a Uganda writer based in Kampala.

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