Ministers, MPs clash over Nyege Nyege festival ban

Revelers enjoy themselves during a recent Nyege Nyege festival.

A section of Ugandans on Tuesday took to social media to vent their anger after Parliament directed the ministries of Tourism and Ethics and Integrity to block the forthcoming Nyege Nyege festival, an annual social event scheduled to take place next week in Jinja District, arguing that it promotes immorality in the country.

The Parliament debate about the carnival was sparked by Tororo Woman MP Sarah Opendi, perceived to be a moralist, who raised concerns about the event on the floor of the August House, telling fellow legislators that it should be banned because it’s a breeding ground for sexual immorality.

Citing the efforts of former Ethics minister, the late father Simon Lokodo who at one time attempted to suspend the carnival, Ms Opendi said it will likely promote homosexuality among many young people if the organisers are not stopped.

She also asked government to come out with a clear position regarding what she described as the growing levels of immorality in the country.

State minister for tourism, Mr  Martin Mugarra’s argument that 'Nyege Nyege' is a hub of tourism, where over 8,000 foreign tourists had already booked tickets to attend the event was defused by his Ethics and Integrity counterpart, Rose Lilly Akello and other legislators who contended that the event was exposing young Ugandans to unhealthy sexual practices.

"I come from Busoga, I have witnessed this Nyege Nyege; it's totally immoral. We can't sacrifice the morals of Ugandans because of tickets that have been sold. If the minister wants let him take it to his district" said Bugabula South MP (Kamuli District), Maurice Kibalya.

"Nyege Nyege is an event that promotes immorality which is not wanted in our country," Ms Akello insisted.

She was reinforced by Speaker of Parliament, Ms Anita Among who echoed: "We are talking about morality of this country; we are talking about our children. You are trying to promote tourism at the expense of our children? We are not going to allow this function to take place."

Lokodo’s stance

On September 4, 2018, the late Fr Lokodo who was then serving as minister for ethics and integrity, attempted to ban the carnival arguing that: “This thing (Nyege Nyege) is not the best at all. I have dug into it and established that it’s not innocent. It’s an instrument being used by our brothers and sisters of Western world to introduce to us a culture, a behaviour and attitude that is foreign and not in our laws, culture and religion.”

Two days after his statement, Fr Lokodo told journalists that he had acceded to pressure and cleared the carnival to go ahead attributing the twist of events to “the devil’s strong hand.”

“The first day I announced that it (Nyege Nyege) won’t happen, but yesterday because of pressure from all sides, my elders and even my own boss, I had to concede defeat. I tried my best to block it, but the devil has a strong hand. I had to backtrack,” the minister said on September 5, 2018 in the northern Gulu District.

About Nyege Nyege

The festival which is slated to run from September 15 to September 18 on the shores of River Nile in Jinja District was first held in the country on October 16, 2015.

According to a statement issued by the organisers, the festival—built on love, resilience and passion for music—will this year have a special emphasis on visual art installations.

There will also be an innovative stage design, a luxurious camping experience, and new tourism activities—such as rafting the Nile rapids all the way to the shores of the festival—to go along with.

The festival also will, for the first time, be staged on the shores of the River Nile, with a breathtaking forest opposite the majestic Itanda Falls.

Derek Debru, the festival co-director, recently told this publication that this year’s lineup will also be a showcase of the most exciting East African acts, along a pan African line up of the highest standard.

“This year, we will also integrate new activities such as rafting, quad bikes, workshops, sunset cruises and most importantly, improve drastically on our camping facilities, because remember, all the biggest festivals in the world [such as Tomorrowland, Coachella and Glastonbury] are all camping festivals,” he said, adding, “So if we want the festival to grow beyond Jinja’s accommodation capacity, we must bring a top-rated, safe and comfortable camping experience to our guests.”