Uganda’s open debate on sexuality too loud to ignore

Raymond Mujuni

What you need to know:

  • This week marks 20 years since Gaetano Kaggwa represented Uganda at Big Brother.

The open debate on sexuality – and choice of partners in Kampala is too loud to ignore. From banning rainbows down to early divorce, it is not hard to see that a culture war is being fought at every corner of the city turf. 

Some of it is justified resistance against an old, non-functional social culture that has produced broken families, abused children and a largely mentally challenged generation that needs therapy, the other part is a lording of cultural imperialism where some people feel their culture must supersede and be reflected in the lives of their kin and others. 

On both charges, history is an important place to look for answers. Freedom, the kind that people crave for to choose who they marry, sleep with, talk to or associate with has always won against tradition. Societies way older than the Ugandan one have sought to crash early resistance and failed miserably – so place your bets right. 

But let’s revisit some of our own history. 

This week marks 20 years since Gaetano Kaggwa represented Uganda at Big Brother. Gaetano, a political science graduate, was truly the first of many phenomena. In the full face of cameras from all over Africa, he ventured into a love-making session with Abby on continental TV. Big Brother as a show was a hit in Uganda and his love making only made it staple. His rise to fame and prominence revealed an interesting crack in the way that Uganda packaged itself. 

Many had thought that the country was a conservative Christian majority with ethical monogamy at its heart. The sleaze and slur, many thought, wasn’t for Ugandans. But here was Gaetano, an educated graduate, top of the pyramid in the country at that time engaging in open sexual intercourse on the continental TV. 

The country was then split on its twos; the conservative supposed majority who condemned him and the liberal minority who cheered him on. Gaetano received a hero’s welcome, he was etched to Ugandan society in stone. His name was sung in songs. By Bebe Cool no less. 

Enter Swangz Avenue. 

Six years after Gaetano, Swangz Avenue broke the conservative back of Uganda’s music. The scene then had been set then for only Jose Chameleone, Bebe Cool, Bobi Wine and Ragga Dee. Without them, concerts didn’t start – infact, concerts didn’t get attended. The four had risen to fame singing about largely conservative topics; marriage, hard work and religion. 

Swangz, in a dare of great feats released the collaborative work ‘Mister DJ’ without any of them on the record. The even bigger point of note was that the song wasn’t in the series of staple topics; it was about bars and the creative expression they offered young Ugandans then. The song was a hit. It touched a nerve on the social scene. It sent a message, however subtle, that a new way of life was possible in Uganda. The young artists on ‘Mister DJ’ were hungry for success but in their songs they also represented a new liberal majority that was taking shape. 

Post 2009 was a game changer for the traditional artists. To survive they had to adapt and adapt quick. And gladly, most of them read the room. 

I’m laboring this point all this much to say, there are parts of Ugandan society whose levers have shifted irreversibly. It doesn’t matter how well you keep your lunch down at how they live their lives, the young people are determined to live them anyway. 

In the next week, we shall use this column to talk about the shift and liberal expression in the sex lives of young Ugandans and how that isn’t immoral but rather a different way to live life and how those who abhor that lifestyle must behave in a fast changing free society.   


You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.