Views from Fiona: What Can Bring Ugandans Back to the Theatres?
Young Ugandan girls dressed in traditional garb show off their calypso dance prowess at a traditional ceremony.

Views from Fiona: What Can Bring Ugandans Back to the Theatres?


Cultural arts in Uganda.

By Fiona Abaasa
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First published: June 4, 2007


A country without culture is like a tree without roots. Cultural arts in Uganda are fizzling out and one wonders if it's the same with the cultural norms of her people. A visit at the Uganda National Theatre tells plenty of tales.


Sitting in the middle of prime Kampala, the National Theatre with is its forlorn looks, brings questions to mind about our education system. Construction of the theatre was completed in December 1959 and it is probable that no major refurbishment has ever been done to it since then. This theatre used to be known for cultural festivals, musicals, film, plays and galas but sadly, it is lately known for hosting private wedding meetings. The interior of the hall is musky, with rickety seats and a run-down ventilation system. The refurbishment that had started in the western wing stalled and is now an eye sore. To any visitor, it is not difficult to conclude that our pride in our cultural arts is non-existent. All theatres in Uganda, whether public or private, are in a neglected state (with the exception of the recently refurbished Theatre LaBonita, which am reliably informed is run by the Asian community). 

The question is; what can bring Ugandans back to the theatres? Sadly, these days most people prefer to attend festivals like Ekiggunda ky'omwaka, WBS Eggabudde , Ekitoobero and festivals of that nature or head for the beaches in Entebbe or concerts in Kampala. If you attempted to stage a cultural show in Uganda now, it would most likely flop. Holidays in the past meant a family sharing a relaxed show but these days the youth prefer rocking shows to mind numbing plays or festivals. Gradually, the young generation is losing their cultural identity.

If you went around Uganda asking how many youths are inspired by the likes of Alex Mukulu, Samite, Percussion Discussion Africa or even Afrigo Band, you will be surprised by the number that will tell you they are inspired by Snoop Dog, Eminem and Jay Z rapping hate and all. Clearly, our culture is losing ground to urban music, dance hall, pop and the blues. Recently the Amakula Film Festival managed to garner more numbers (maybe because of their blend of 'old school' and young generation interests). Honestly speaking, it's the way to go if we don't want our culture totally wiped away.

In Africa, we have a rich and diverse culture. In Uganda our cultural norms are colorful but they a threatened if the young generation does not carry the mantle from the old folks. Groups like Ndere Troupe, Ingezi to mention but a few delight wedding reception goers by performing at such functions. The question is, have they taken their shows to schools, and other institutions of learning? Have the schools brought such shows to their campuses?

In both scenarios the answer would be NO. The young generation need to be nurtured and interested in these cultural functions. Instead of bring a disco for the end of term entertainment in schools, why not have Bakayimbira Dramactors or Kigezi Kinimba? These groups certainly teach more than the vices the youth pick from discos! Perhaps our education system is to blame too. If cultural education had been ingrained in our children's minds, we would have more young adults who love going to theatres, musical operas, plays and films than watch TV, movies, and soap fanatics.

Appreciating art, drama and music is something we lack in Uganda. No wonder our theatres are dilapidated. At Makerere University, MDD [Music, Dance, and Drama] or a bachelor's degree in one of them is talked about derisively by students doing other 'heavy' courses like Law, Medicine and others. They look at their compatriots who do arts subjects. Some courses have been given derogative names; MDD = Musiru Ddala Ddala (Luganda for very stupid person!!). They forget that you can become a re-known surgeon or lawyer but without roots (culture) you are unhinged. Cultural arts in their entirety are educative, informative, witty, sharp and full of humor and we need to start appreciating that little fact. 

Our Education system managers need to go back to the drawing board and devise means of bringing our culture back to our people and certainly back to the theatres. Schools must run cultural programmes and that way children will learn from each other about different cultures. If need be, the first three years of secondary school education should have literature as a compulsory subject.

Parents too have a role to play. They should have family days out to watch plays by budding acting groups just like they visit Cineplex to watch the latest James Bond film. If these young people are taught earlier on to appreciate art, then we shall have them on the right course and it's every parent's duty to heed this advice. 

The ministry in charge of culture and gender issues has to work hand in hand with the education ministry. Refurbish the theatres and halls. The National Theatre in particular is a national treasure and should take first precedence and needs urgent painting and work on it. You cannot blame the theatre for being afraid of run down structures.

By Fiona Abaasa
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First published: June 4, 2007
Fiona Abaasa is a visitor of UGPulse.com.

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