Unforgettable HIV storylines in Uganda’s arts

Saturday December 1 2018

Leilah Kalanzi and Aisha Kyomuhangi were part

Leilah Kalanzi and Aisha Kyomuhangi were part of the cast of the Ndiwulira play. PHOTO BY GABRIEL BUULE. 

By Gabriel Buule

Music dance and drama have always been used to create awareness around topics affecting society. Time and time again they have proven to be very effective. Who can forget the grief and strife in plays such as Gampisi and Ndiwulira? Here are some more storylines that made the nation stop and take notice.

It is not easy and Yellow card
A Ugandan production by Zimbabwean director John Ribber, It is not easy is a televised series that unmasked Stigma against HIV/Aids victims around I987 that showed on Uganda Television UTV.
Jack Kinobe Sserunkuuma, a theatre expert and film producer, says It is Not Easy is one of the best anti stigma film projects in Uganda’s history. The film was produced following President Museveni admission at UN summit that Uganda had been struck by HIV/Aids. This film that featured legendary Charles Mulekwa is presumably the first HIV/AIDS screenplay in Uganda to be televised on then UTV.

In the film, the main character Suuna opens up to his workmates that he has HIV and later he is isolated by fellow workmates who shun everything he touches. At the climax of the series Suuna is helped by doctors and local leaders to convince his workmates that HIV/Aids is preventable and not transmitted through air.
Ribber also did a feature film called Yellow card about the spread of HIV amongst young people which highlighted that HIV had no age. A film showed on UTV, it was a story about a footballer who lost a girlfriend and he was left to look after their baby putting his career on hold.

Whenever, Ndiwulira is mentioned, most Ugandans who were around between the 1980s and 1990s will recall a TV/ theatric that widely publicised the danger of HIV, especially among families and the youth. In the play, legendary Andrew Benon Kibuuka illustrates his persona as a faithful husband only elicited pity when the cheating wife transmitted HIV/Aids that destroyed the entire family.

Mussa nyooo... Mussa nyooo... abakulu gyebali…ateeee bombi, Uncle Saulo olyo ti Yingiza empewo Yingiza empewooo (We can hear you breathing but the elders are back at home ….). This is one of the popular eye catching lines in the play featuring a satirical song to divert their Uncle Saul when children at home try to forge their way out when parents come home finding them getting involved in sexual orgies. The sexual network takes center stage in the play, as Samantha (Aisha Kyomuhangi) spreads the virus as Solomon’s (Matovu Joy) unfaithful girlfriend. It also highlights the issue of revenge sex as Kaawa (Eron Ntuulo) gets infected as she tries to revenge on her cheating husband.

She was convinced by Saul (Ssenkubuge) who had just contracted the disease to find another man. The very sombre play also has some hilarious moments, thanks to the amazing cast that included Leilah Kalanzi.
Ndiwulira was screened in almost all traditional schools and televised on UTV in the 1980s and the 1990’s. In their play Ndiwulira, Bakayimbira Drama Actors put up captivating performances, which clearly highlighted the importance of abstinence from sex before marriage and faithfulness in marriage. In 1992 Bakayimbira Drama Actors took Ndiwulira to Rwakitura and acted before President Yoweri Museveni and his family.


The musical series by legendary Godfrey Kijjambu, Gampisi literally means (Greed of the Hyena). Featuring the Negro Angels, the film blamed the widespread of HIV/AIDS to greed for sex, especially among men. Directed by Godfrey Kijjambu, Gampisi was a collection of stories about what HIV does to the people.
In this play Gampisi was sort of caricature symbolising HIV that entered a society destroying people of all calibre. Such metaphoric references where highly welcomed at a time when people had started embracing theatre for development as introduced by then Makerere don and theatre expert Professor Rose Mboowa.

Hydra (The story of death)
According to Jack Sserunkuuma, Hydra was an HIV awareness play commissioned by the government to be introduced in all schools and played in competitions at national level.
However, Sserunkuuma explains that the play generated a lot of fear given its climax that characterised deaths, thus students branding it a story of death. In the play children hold parents accountable for HIV/Aids with then a heart breaking line that captivated its climax dubbed. “Don’t leave us in the world.”

This feature film has a more current outlook about HIV/Aids. Released in 2016, the story revolves around a young woman with courage and hope irrespective of her overwhelming tragedies. It is her perseverance and steadfast hope that keeps her alive and she eventually becomes a very productive citizen.

In History
Broadcast on NBC in 1985, An Early Frost was the first major film to dramatize the AIDS crisis in America, winning numerous awards and garnering an audience of over 34 million viewers. Telling the story of a young attorney who decides to inform his parents that he is HIV, An Early Frost was credited with pushing HIV into the public consciousness at a time when stigma and prejudice ran high .