What you need to know:
- My highlight was Richard, a young man I played football with many years ago around the Naguru area, whom I found at the concert. Like many of the kids born in the rough edges of the city, Richard and school parted ways prematurely, throwing him into the deep end.
I have been to the Nyege Nyege festival. Not once, in fact, but twice. There were plenty of tents and stations selling alcoholic beverages, and patrons shuffling between them and the riverbanks as they reverse-engineered biblical miracles by turning wine into water.
A whiff of cannabis sativa wafted in the air, carrying its consumers a few feet off the ground. Music blared from different stages, each drenched, extra bright, in a kaleidoscope of flashlights, spotlights, and strobe lights. In the darker recesses of the concert grounds – away from all of the lights – waists were held tenderly; sweet nothings were whispered. If there were underage children, I did not see them. It was edgy, even racy, but no different from what goes on in a typical Kampala pub every week. This was not Sodom. It was not Gomorrah.
My highlight was Richard, a young man I played football with many years ago around the Naguru area, whom I found at the concert. Like many of the kids born in the rough edges of the city, Richard and school parted ways prematurely, throwing him into the deep end.
The easiest choice is crime. It starts small; a shoplifting here, a pocket picked there. Then it’s on to breaking and entering before they become reckless, come from behind and grab your necklace. Before long they are opening up purses and veins. In fact if you have had a phone snatched around Naguru and have a picture of the culprit there’s a half-chance your columnist can recognise them.
Many of these kids were victims before they became killers. Victims of the radical reforms of the Structural Adjustment Programme, which left many middle-class families marooned between the city they had been violently ejected from, and the villages they had left and no longer belonged to. Victims of the brutal crony capitalism that ejected them from public housing and left them bereft of the income they needed to afford the rent, or food.
Victims of the dislocation that pulled the intravenous fluid line out of the public health infrastructure system and shoved patients into the waiting lines of pricey private clinics. Here those without health insurance – a perk available to only a few corporate employees – inevitably went from being the walking wounded to the dearly departed.
Richard started a pork stall at Kyadondo Rugby Grounds, which he manned in the afternoons after mornings spent vending newspapers. When I met him at Nyege Nyege, he had left his pork stall in the hands of a colleague and had brought his hustle to the concert. On each of the three days of the concert he sold more than he did during some weeks at Kyadondo.
When Members of Parliament proclaim a ban on a concert citing the alleged erosion of morals, they do so from a position of ignorance. Many, if not most, have never been to these concerts and are, at best, acting on inaccurate information.
It is, at best, performative, virtue-signalling. It ignores genuinely grave moral decadence like sex trafficking, and practices that do not necessarily sit in neat moral containers – think alcohol abuse, gender pay disparities, teenage pregnancies, early childhood development, malnutrition etc – but are socially corrosive.
It also imposes needless financial pain on organisers and participants and drives an ever-widening wedge between leaders and the citizens. There are big players, like the organisers, sponsors, hotels and airlines who would have invested money well ahead of time. Then there are the likes of Richard and the hundreds of vendors for whom Nyege Nyege – and similar concerts and gatherings – offer a chance to make an honest living, put food on the table, and send kids back to school.
In a country with one of the youngest populations and one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world, we have a shared burden to tap into the energy, enthusiasm and enterprise of our young people to allow them to thrive socially and economically.
Sport and entertainment will have to be major parts of the mix. MPs would do themselves and the country a huge favour if they stopped being such stuffy killjoys and did not stand in the way of enterprise and innovation. A few could even find life more bearable if they turned up and allowed themselves to be levitated, not by high horses, but by herbal remedies.
If we are not creating good jobs for the masses, we should not stop their legal hustles. MPs can ban Nyege Nyege all they want, but no one can stop reggae.
Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and poor man’s freedom fighter.
[email protected]; @Kalinaki