Northern Uganda: Ugandan Artists Continue to Speak Out
Various Ugandan Artists.

Northern Uganda: Ugandan Artists Continue to Speak Out

"Gulu will shine again!"          Steven Ongwang

By Jane Musoke-Nteyafas
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First published: May 8, 2006

For over 18 years, the war in Northern Uganda heavily affected the country's children from that area. Little girls were kidnapped, raped and forced into sexual slavery and servitude to rebel soldiers. Boys as young as six years old were kidnapped to fight as child soldiers with inhumane mandates to attack and kill members of their own families or be killed themselves. Over 20,000 children were kidnapped by the rebel "Lord's Resistance Army" since 1986, and more than 1.5 million Ugandans found themselves homeless, in displacement camps where disease was widespread. Tens of thousands of children 'the night commuters' fled their villages each night to the relative safety of larger towns.

Many people were not aware of what was happening in Northern Uganda until it was profiled on The Oprah Show. But there were many sectors of the Ugandan community who were working hard to unveil the horrors there and make people aware of the Gulu holocaust including the artists. Like any other society, the artists are the ones who through their writing, songs, poems and plays speak out against the wrongs of their societies. They are the ones who use their God-given talents to spread awareness of any social or political ills which may be plaguing the country. Uganda is no different. While a lot of sectors were silent about the atrocities happening in the Northern part of the country, the artist's community was certainly not quiet.

Ugandan Musicians Sing For End of War

Several musicians sang songs about ending the war in Northern Uganda. Last year Ugandan musicians Angella Katatumba and Butchaman collaborated to sing the song Peace. In this song which is in Luganda, English and Swahili - they both say that they want peace in their country, Uganda. Angella, who introduces the song by saying she is praying for peace, sings about being tired of the war, hate and rape.

Angella Katatumba
Angella Katatumba Click Here to Listen to Peace
featuring Butchaman

In 2004, Samite from Uganda posted a message on his official web site, to inform all his fans about a new organization he had launched. It is a non-profit organization titled Musicians for World Harmony. The principal purpose of this organization is to raise money to lend a hand to homeless and starving African children with special focus on child soldiers and children in camps like the ones in Gulu, northern Uganda.

In April 2004 fêted Ugandan musician Jose Chameleone teamed up with Richard Kaweesa, another renowned Ugandan musician, in a peace restoration project called Hope for the Hoping - 3 Hours Away to raise awareness of war-torn Gulu, Uganda. They visited the internally displaced people (IDP) of Gulu and collaborated to produce a special song in the Luo language. Later that year, in August 2004, Chameleon held a concert dubbed X-Mas in August for the people of Gulu, again in Gulu which was attended by government and parliament officials as well as people from the private sector.

Jose Chameleone with Richard Kaweesa: Hope for the Hoping - 3 Hours Away
Jose Chameleone with Richard Kaweesa: Hope for the Hoping - 3 Hours Away

Another Ugandan musician, Steven Ogwang wrote a song of hope, encouragement and healing for the young night commuters called Gulu will shine again. It was heard on the streets of Gulu and on the radio.

Many times of darkness, many times of sorrow,  
but joy will come in the morning. 
The light outshining the darkness. 
God's mercies are new every morning  
and Gulu will shine again!  
Do not fear for I am with you! 
(lyrics by Steven Ongwang)

Even the Ugandan hip-hop community got involved. In 2005, a group of Ugandan musicians called the Hip-hop All-Stars came up with the song Mother Africa which refers to African issues like ending wars in places like Gulu. Mother Africa a beautiful catchy song which incorporates hip-hop and R&B as well as the English, French, Swahili and Luganda languages - is the biggest collaboration of Ugandan MCs. The Hip-hop All-Stars, fourteen artists in total, including Emma Katya (Zairean-born), Henry Kiwuuwa, Lady Ryke, Young Nick, Saint CA and Lyrical G were the winners of the 2005 Hip Hop Single Award at the Pearl of Africa Music Awards, the Ugandan music-recording industry's first and only award ceremony. One of the female Mc's Saint CA raps about how she is tired of the war and bloodshed which is happening in the Northern part of Uganda.

Watch Mother Africa
Lyrical G aka Geoffrey Kintu

Lyrical G aka Geoffrey Kintu featured on "Mother Africa"
Hip Hop Canvas

Ugandan Filmmakers Document Gulu War

Although he is known for his acting and photography, Ugandan-American Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine added the job of filmmaker/documentary maker to his resume in 2004 with an award-winning documentary called Beware of Time which exposes the lives of HIV positive Ugandans, and the crimes of a brutal war ravaging northern Uganda. The film received its first broadcast in Uganda and was consequently screened at the Pan American Film Festival in Los Angeles and the Fountainhead Film Festival in Berlin. The actor/photographer/filmmaker has appeared in ER, Law and Order, Six Feet Under and Six Degrees of Separation.

Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine
Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine. []

Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine
Click here for large version.

Gang Obong Obur: Our Homes Have Become Ghost Villages, a haunting documentary film cataloguing the plight of the people of northern Uganda caught between the armies of the Lord's Resistance Army rebels and those of the Uganda People's Defense Forces, won the inaugural Golden Impala Award at the Amakula Kampala International Film Festival in 2005. It was a 10-day international film festival which saw the director of the film Gang Obong Obur, Robbie Wodomal, a Ugandan taking home the prize. It is a story told from the point of view of the night commuters of Gulu who killed people and live to tell their own experience

Ugandan Writers Chronicle Gulu Stories

Ugandan writers also used their pens to express their angst about the situation in Gulu. They used their trade to stand up and speak out against the atrocities happening in Gulu through their writings. Perhaps one of the most poignant stories about Gulu was Monica Arac de Nyeko's Strange Fruit. Arac de Nyeko's herself hails from Gulu, also the home of one of Uganda's most famous writers Okot p'Bitek. She was short-listed for the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2004 for her short story Strange Fruit and won first prize in the Women's World Voices in War Zones for her personal essay In the Stars. As well she had another short story about Gulu, Children of the Red Fields (novella extract) published in An Anthology of War Stories from Northern Uganda 2004.

Monica Arac de Nyeko
Monica Arac de Nyeko. [Photo by George Hallett]
Bio and Photos of Monica Arac de Nyeko
Monica Arac de Nyeko (Uganda)

Jackee Budesta Batanda was another writer who covered Gulu with a short story, Remember Atita,, 2004. She was trying to capture the emotional pain and physical suffering of the people of Gulu. She also authored another short story on Gulu, Dance with Me, which was reprinted in An Anthology of War Stories from Northern Uganda 2004.

Ugandan writer, Christine Oryema-Lalobo also wrote the book, No Hearts at Home, which points out the cancerous effects of war. It is one of her major literary works. In a harsh, unadulterated, accusatory, provocative voice, she portrays the suffering and persecution of children during war times and puts an entire country on trial.

Another young writer Amaguru Jackline Olanya started a writing series called Gulu Series.

Amaguru Jackline Olanya and Opiyo Oloya
Amaguru Jackline Olanya and Opiyo Oloya.
Amaguru Jackline Olanya on Crossing Borders
Opiyo Oloya's Immigration Story
Opiyo Oloya's Profile

New Vision journalist Opiyo Oloya who writes from Toronto, Canada brought the efforts of the GuluWalk project to the forefront of the Ugandan and International community in his timely articles, covering its progress as well as the plight of northern Uganda devotedly.

Michael's Eyes

Michael's Eyes: The War against the Ugandan Child
Michael's Eyes: The War against the Ugandan Child. []

However, the most recent piece of literature which covers Northern Uganda would be the newly published book, Michael's Eyes which is currently available for sale.

It is an Anthology about the children of Northern Uganda, their experiences of kidnappings, murder, rape, sexual slavery, escape and healing. It is a combination of facts and fiction in its honest portrayal of adult brutality and crime against children for political reasons. The child's viewpoint is preserved throughout the narratives which include interviews, short stories, poetry, and pictures. The bulk of the contributors are Ugandan writers and community activists who are in some way, shape or form linked with the war zone in Northern Uganda. Among the writers are Susan Nalugwa Kiguli, Monica Arac de Nyeko, Christine Oryema-Lalobo, Glaydah Namukasa, Ebenezer T. Bifubyeka, Aheirwe Ronald, Jackee Budesta Batanda, Beatrice Lamwaka, Sophie Bamwoyeraki and Danson Kahyana.

According to the site where it was published, the book is intended to raise the global awareness of the situation in Northern Uganda. It can be used as a human rights documentation of the abuse of the child in war in general; as a text book for secondary schools, colleges, and universities both in Uganda and elsewhere; and as a source book for students of children's literatures and children's rights.

By Jane Musoke-Nteyafas
more from author >>
First published: May 8, 2006
Jane Musoke-Nteyafas, poet/author/artist and playwright, was born in Moscow, Russia and currently resides in Toronto, Canada. She is the daughter of retired diplomats. By the time she was 19, she spoke French, English, Spanish, Danish, Luganda, some Russian and had lived in Russia, Uganda, France, Denmark, Cuba and Canada.

Jane won the Miss Africanada beauty pageant 2000 in Toronto where she was also named one of the new voices of Africa after reciting one of her poems. In 2004, she was published in T-Dot Griots-An Anthology of Toronto's Black storytellers and in February 2005, her art piece Namyenya was featured as the poster piece for the Human Rights through Art-Black History Month Exhibit.

She is the recipient of numerous awards for her poetry, art and playwriting and is becoming a household name in Toronto circles. Please visit her website at