Monday, December 15, 2014


ON AN early Sunday evening young poets have converged at the National Theatre in Kampala and each that takes to the stage recites a poem critical of societal ills, injustices or pouring out their love.

The brave and provocative poets, who recited 29 poems on the night tackled issues related to African leaders that are clinging to power, human rights abuses, love, hate, beauty, ugliness, the influence of foreign cultures on the local heritage, poorly researched facts on Facebook, the power of words in language and environmental degradation, among others, at the Lantern Meet of Poets event.

“…We are not mere walkers to work
Whom the powers that be
Can but simply fold under their arm-pits

I am telling you, no one will stop our march
Because no ear has heard, nor any eye seen
What will happen to this nation tomorrow
For they will say
“That is how it started”
And yet that’s not how it started

We shall be like a storm
For they know not whence we come
But tomorrow, we shall turn this nation on its head,” a poem titled “A Change So Fundamental” by Zak Tiberindwa Zak and performed by Zak Tiberindwa read in part.

The organisers of the August 24th event held under the title “Waltz of Words” said the meeting was an idea where they always knew as Lantern Meet had to generically grow into - where they engage intimately with the audience during the intermissions that follow their bi-annual Poetry shows at the National Theater.

“The objectives of this poetry night lie safely far away from the place where the activity familiarized with those in attendance. The Lantern Meet intends to restore the epoch of literary greatness in Uganda. That is always our objective,” the president of the Lantern Meet, Peter Kagayi said.
“The aim, for the night was to reach out to a new audience, and at the same time giving our writers and performers more visibility as artists. We are a large family of writers and performers and the self-containment (some thought it was ambivalence) wrap around ourselves had fortified our resolve about what exactly we want to achieve, and how,” Kagayi added.

Although Kagayi acknowledges that there are many poetry recital events in Kampala today, he contends that this does not mean this art form is developing. “The presence of more poetry events in Kampala town surely is a sign that the poetry movement is gaining its stead. But I suggest it is not necessarily sign of ‘development’ of the art. There seems to be progress - the signs are many, from the number of poetry events, the culture of poetry performance in secondary schools - the arts festivals in Kampala now have poetry too - to the prolific writing of poetry itself in society,” he argues.

“But to understand the progress, we need to understand ‘what’ and ‘where’ we are progressing from. The poetry culture in Uganda has two polarities - the various cultural poetic expressions which have been part of our social entertainment and war-cries on one hand, and the anglophile extensions of colonial education on the other. …Thus when talking of the poetry progress in Uganda today, it is important to separate the two and know the one we refer to.”

“For the Anglophile writers and their ‘progress’ here is also not necessarily even ‘improvement.’ What has ‘progressed’ is that poetry seems to be taking more of the semblance of the traditional values indigenous poetry embodies than the hitherto prosaic features most of us were taught by uninspired and untalented literature teachers the British colonial education system gave (and still gives) us,” Kagayi adds.

“Poetry in our indigenous languages is now more palatable to some and in fact is now integrating audiences, the performance of it is better appreciated than the written (oral tradition taking it place again) and the book-publications, albeit still valuable, are no longer of that much value as poetry now seeks more trendy forms of publication through social media, stage, television and radio,” Kagayi observes.  

“Is this progress? Yes. Development? No! We as poets today have the unique chance that the Sedar Senghors had: to start a real poetry movement that changes the political stratosphere. But we need a common ideology because that is exactly what first got destroyed by the colonial Divide and Rule Policy,” he adds.

Lantern Meet of Poets was started in April 2006 by four poetry geeks, Ojakol Raymond, Asiimwe Colins, Sophia Alal and Guy Mambo who would gather in Africa Hall, Makerere University in Kampala and talk about poetry.

The Lantern Meet of Poets now sits every two weeks at the National Theater, in a gathering now named ‘The Meet’ to discuss poetry, and other ideas as they arise.

Every two or so months the poets either hold a Grand Recital either at the National Theater or help teenagers in various schools stage their own poetry, during which the appropriate works resonating with the theme chosen, are recited. The group has been holding recitals since 2007.

As to the importance of Lantern Meet celebrating eight years of existence, Kagayi noted: “…It's been eight years of writing, critiquing, performing, and publishing poetry at all fronts. It is also eight years of thriving with zero funding - a deliberate stance in order to stay true to our purpose as writers for a cause greater than ourselves... and internal capacity-building on the foundation of passion before we venture into expansion.”

“…We also task time to remember our struggles with those who thought we were wasting time, doing ‘useless poetry things,’ and also remember how we almost believed their cowardice, and lack of interest on our passions. Lastly, it is a celebration of what we have made of ourselves; the very thing society did not intend us to be – writers,” he adds.


Friday, October 10, 2014


LACK of funds, traditional musical instruments and costumes, a low opinion of an entertainment career by children and parents, and music, dance and drama not being an examinable subject are hindering the popularization of the annual National Primary School’s Music, Dance and Drama Festival in Uganda.

Some pupils are always eager to participate in the national festivals. “We are exposed to the different cultures of Uganda. We also have an opportunity to travel to and tour Kampala, the capital city,” the 15-year-old Grace Nakimera of St. Kizito Bbeta Primary School in Kalangala District said.

“We learn about what our grandparents did which helps us in our everyday life and to live together,” Edward Gombe, a 14-year-old pupil of St Joseph’s Magogo Primary School in Luwero District said.

“We encourage the pupils to develop their songs and drama based on the annual theme. This promotes creativity among our learners and sense of ownership,” said, Abdulbust Sebidde, a teacher at Kibuli Demonstration School in Kampala.

The National Primary School’s Music, Dance and Drama Festival 2014 was organized by the Ministry of Education and Sports at the National Theatre in Kampala from August 12 - 16. With support from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) it was held under the theme “Free Uganda of Malaria and Child Abuse, To Enhance Sustainable Human Development.”

Kalongo Primary School from Agago District emerged as the overall winner after winning three awards out of the nine categories on offer.

Kalongo Primary School won the Original Composition African Style, Western Choral Singing and Sight Singing categories earning 785 marks out of the required 900 marks. The choir returned home with the converted shield, trophies and a set of new traditional music instruments.

Stella Maris Nsumbe Primary School from Mukono District was the first runner-up with 764 marks.

The second runner-up award went to Maria’s Care Primary School based in Kamuli District with 759 marks after winning the Poem and Creative Dance categories.

Stella Maris Nsumbe and Maria’s Care also went home with trophies and sets of new traditional music instruments.

“This year we have seen that the quality of the performance and skill has greatly improved and this was a challenge to the adjudicators to pick the best choir. In fact, most choirs are at the international standard of performance and credit goes to the teachers and school management committees because they devote slot of money and time,” the Assistant Commissioner for Primary Education in the Ministry of Education and Sports, Tony Mukasa-Lusambu observed.

This year’s festival attracted 26 choirs out of 38 that had qualified from across the country. The twelve choirs did not turn up for lack funds.

The Head Teacher of Busajabwankuba Primary School in Mbale District, David Mudhungu observes that some local governments are failing to facilitate school choirs to represent the districts at the regional or national music, dance and drama competitions for lack of funds. “They say they never cater for music, dance and drama activities in their budgets.”

“My appeal to the districts is that they should allocate funds in their local government budgets to carter for this annual event because schools cannot manage alone,” Mukasa-Lusambu said.

The Commissioner for Basic Education in the Ministry of Education and Sports, Dr. Dan Nkaada observed: “Some schools failed to participate in this year’s festival for lack of funds to buy musical instruments. The school management committees cannot afford to purchase the expensive instruments partly because this item is not catered for in the schools capitation grants. The ministry is proposing to locate funds for this item in the Instructional Materials Allocation.”

According to Mudhungu parents do not consider a talent in music, dance and drama as very useful for their children. “They refer to it as waste of time and only think of white collar jobs that they wish their children to take up in future. So they do not encourage their children to take up music, dance and drama.”

“The children themselves have seen role models of the white collar jobs like medical doctors, nurses, engineers and agriculture officers in their community and so they are focused on pursuing such careers in future. So when you talk of music the children will think you are condemning to failing their examinations, after all music, dance and drama is not examined at the primary level,” Mudhungu added.

According to Mudhungu teachers that are not music trainers always punish the pupils that do not attend the daily classes of mathematics, English or science but instead participate in choirs. “So this discourages the children from participating in music, dance and drama.”

“My view is that music, dance and drama should be examined by the national examinations board so that we encourage those that wish to take up a career in the entertainment industry in future early enough,” Sebidde contends.

“We have now managed to have the Creative Arts and Physical Education (CAPEs) subjects on the curriculum and what is remaining is to have them examined by the Uganda National Examinations Board,” Mukasa-Lusambu said

“This national festival,” Sebidde notes, “is an avenue to tap, develop and identify talent. It creates confidence among the learners. It builds friendships among the pupils from different districts. The talented ones may even get scholarships for their secondary school education.”

National music festivals were created as a way to preserve (and even revive) cultural forms in which Ugandans feel pride, Kristen E. Cheney acknowledges in her book “Pillars of the Nation: Child Citizens and Ugandan National Development.”

But the National Primary School Music, Dance and Drama Festival has also become a means for spreading development messages through schools and communities, so that children may become the stewards of national unity and development, Cheney adds.

“Despite their high quality as entertainment, the mission of Uganda’s national primary school music festivals is to engage children in mutual processes of socialization…Speaking with performers, organizers, choir trainers, and Ministry of Education officials, I found that the festival stage offered primary school students a place to participate in the development of a new national culture by interpreting a national development discourse with which…they were fast becoming familiar,” Cheney observed.

“But children also utilized the opportunity of the festival to highlight gaps between nationalist aspirations that co-opted children as symbols of the future and the daily realities they faced as powerless members of society, even within the structure of the festival itself,” she adds.

According to Cheney, the festival design allows children to utilize the stage as a forum for experimenting with their social realities and relating the ideal social structure laid down in the law to the current structures of daily life that prevent them, as children, from attaining full citizenship rights. Though festival activities can be highly structured by adult directors and festival organizers, children tend to negotiate the boundaries laid out for them quite skillfully and productively.

“Providing that space for children may facilitate their socialization into dominant discourses on the character of national identity, but we must not assume that children are simply indoctrinated without critically engaging the ideas imposed upon them. By seeing such events as sites where adults and children, government and populace engage in mutually constitutive imaginings of contemporary Uganda, we may start to understand how children actively shape the ideologies of the societies in which they live,” Cheney writes.

“The festivals become crucial sites where children can affect social change and create alternative discourses, cooperatively interpreting nationalism and citizenship from their own view points as well as fashioning their own places within them, thus transforming the very ideals of national belonging from which their identities derive,” she adds.

According to Cheney, cultural performance can therefore serve as a mechanism for the negotiation and improvisation of national identity by allowing children to locate themselves within and across public space that makes certain claims on children but from which their voices are regularly silenced. When the audience is listening, they are thus invited by child citizens to rethink their own ideas about citizenship, community, and national identity, and to redraw conceptual boundaries that limit children’s capacity for social action.

“Through critical engagement and improvisational play, children can do make important contributions to the process of building a culture of constitutionalism, but adults are still ultimately the gatekeepers of that process. Its effectiveness as an exploratory space for such negotiations will depend on positive and engaged participation by all involved…,” Cheney says.