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Uganda festival to go ahead despite ‘moral’ concerns of politicians

‘Nudity and orgies prohibited’ as one of East Africa’s biggest festivals returns

One of East Africa’s biggest music festivals will go ahead in Uganda this weekend despite a last minute political effort to stop it.

This will be the first Nyege Nyege Festival since the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw Uganda experience one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, with schools closed and a nationwide curfew implemented for almost two years.

The festival will run from Thursday to Monday morning in Itanda Falls, roughly 110km northeast of capital city Kampala. About 10,000 people will attend, coming from across the world.

The event caused a political row this month, after Uganda’s speaker of parliament Anita Among tried to cancel it, saying it promotes immorality.

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Prime minister Robinah Nabbanja eventually said the event could go ahead, following a last-minute meeting with ministers and festival organisers. The government issued guidelines so that “the festival does not breach Uganda’s laws and cultural/moral norms,” saying that minors cannot attend and “nudity” and “sex orgies” are prohibited, as well as “vulgar language, songs, expressions and gestures”.

In 2018, there were attempts to cancel Nyege Nyege by the then-minister of ethics, Simon Lokodo, who said it had been “compromised to accommodate the celebration and recruitment of young people into homosexuality”. Mr Lokodo has since died.

Nyege Nyege was set up by two music promoters, Greek-Armenian Arlen Dilsizian and Derek Debru, who is Belgian.

In Luganda, one of the major languages of Uganda, “nyege” translates as “the irresistible urge to dance,” but in Swahili — spoken a lot in the region — it means “horny”.

Performers will include Ugandan artists such as Authentically Plastic, Don Zilla, Catu Diosis and DJ Kampire, along with musicians from across the world.

“Nyege Nyege brings many talents out and promotes many artists and DJs. It also helps Ugandan artists be known,” said northern Ugandan musician Otim Alpha, who is performing this year and has also toured Europe under the Nyege Nyege Tapes label.

Alpha said it is a brilliant event for foreigners, who afterwards can “go on tour and learn many things about Ugandan culture”.

“The festival brings huge tourism benefits to Uganda and provides income to the local communities,” said Juma Chebet, the Ugandan director of Elgon Trek Tours, who has attended three times. “[It] is great for the promotion of African culture.”

“It’s great that the Nyege festival is back again after Covid,” said Adam Sweetman, an Irish business consultant who is going for the fifth time. “There is always incredible energy at the festival, and there is something magical about it being on the banks of the Nile. The music won’t stop for the next four days, and the dancing never stops in Uganda.”

He said excitement ahead of the festival has been noticeable in Kampala with “everyone sharing their strategies, much like we do for Electric Picnic at home”.

“Events like this really are exceptionally rare on this continent so if you want to see some of the brilliant talent Africa has to offer, the Nyege festival is the place to be.”