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Kampala, Uganda – 27 November 2019…

As part of its objectives to establish Uganda as a premier tourist destination, the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) has officially launched the 5th annual Pearl of Africa Tourism Expo (POATE 2020). POATE 2020 will integrate a business to business (B2B) and business to consumer (B2C) trade event format under the theme “Inspiring high value engagement to promote intra-Africa travel for leisure, business and adventure”, aimed at raising Uganda’s profile as a preferred destination in the region and internationally.

Hon. Godfrey Kiwanda Ssubi, State Minister for Tourism Wildlife and Antiquities, while launching the event, noted the board’s focus on Intra-Africa travel. “Tourism has long been advocated as an alternative strategy for economic development and social reconstruction. The focus on Intra-Africa travel during this expo and beyond is aimed to increase the number of African arrivals to Uganda. With the revival of the Uganda Airlines, regional connectivity is easier and this among others will allow for intra- Africa travel to thrive.” He said.

UTB Board Chairman, Hon. Daudi Migereko noted that POATE was a strategic avenue to market and promote the country to a group of select hosted buyers in a broader goal to increase tourist arrivals to Uganda as per the UTB strategic plan. “Trade expos have been to drive high value engagement and the focus on Africa is timely for Uganda given the recent interest of travellers on the continent.

Also speaking at the event, UTB CEO, Lilly Ajarova, stated that POATE is one of the key strategies for the promotion of Uganda’s tourism in the region and across the world. The expo facilitates key linkages through hosted buyers between tourists and our domestic tour operators. Furthermore, it allows Uganda to showcase directly to various groups of hosted buyers who play a key role in the increment of visitor arrivals.

“On a weeklong FAM trip, we shall host and showcase to hosted buyers to some of Uganda’s unique experiences and gems and ensure a rich and memorable experience so they get a hands-on sense of Uganda as a tourist destination. Hosted buyers will include tour agents, travel media, hoteliers; among others and over 70 hosted buyers are expected from Uganda’s key source markets such as Africa, North America, Canada, UK, Germany, Switzerland, among others,” Ajarova noted.

The first two days of the event will constitute seminars and workshops, B2B meetings and conferences while the last day will be open to the public for B2C engagements between the public and attending exhibitors and hosted buyers.

Commenting on the same, Pearl Horeau, the President of the Uganda Tourism Association said that the expo will present an exciting opportunity for tourism private sector to network and develop their tourism and travel business directly.

“As private sector, we are positive about the potential business that POATE will bring to Uganda. The focus on the African market is a step in the right direction as the continent provides a number of opportunities for intra-travel trade evidenced by the number of African tourist coming to Uganda and other countries.” Horeau said.

The Pearl of Africa Tourism Expo is a tourism and travel trade exhibition which brings together regional and international tour operators, travel agents, destination agencies and various players in the tourism trade to network and facilitate tourism business. The three day expo will run from 4-6 February 2020 and will be held at the Speke Resort in Munyonyo.

Uganda tourist arrivals at a glance 2019

In terms of arrivals, Uganda’s international tourism performance in 2018 was above the rate of continental and global tourism growth. Tourists from international air accounted for approximately 31% of the total international tourist arrivals to Uganda in 2018, growing by 10.2% compared to the previous year. Growth was recorded from Europe (+13.8%), the Americas (+9.2%), Asia (+10.2%) and the Middle East (+9.7%) in 2018. African land markets (regional and neighboring countries) that entered Uganda by road make up 69% of Uganda’s international arrivals, and grew by 6.1% in 2018.

The biggest number of tourist arrivals to Uganda in 2018 was from Africa. The top ten sources of tourist arrivals into Uganda made up about 82 per cent of the total arrivals. Kenya and Rwanda combined to provide 55 percent of all tourist arrivals in 2018. The other top ten markets were Tanzania (7%), United States of America (4%), Dem. Republic of Congo (3%), Burundi (3%), South Sudan (3%), India (3%), United Kingdom (2%), and South Africa (2%).Uganda witnessed a 7.4% increase in international tourist arrivals in 2018, growing from 1,402,409 in 2017 to 1,506,669 in 2018. Direct revenue from international tourism rose to US$1.6 billion in 2018, compared to US$1.453 billion in 2017.

The 15th AKWAABA African Travel Market kicked off to a bright start on Sunday Sept 22, 2019 as hundreds of people turned out at the Convention Centre of Eko Hotels & Suites, Victoria Island to witness the expo.

The venue was packed as the various exhibition stands received a throng of Nigerians and other nationals, among whom many took the chance to sample the 21 different Jollof Rice by paying a token of N1,000.

It was Uganda Day and they made the most of it, shining brightly as they took the time to educate the crowd about the beauty and tourism attractions of the country affectionately referred to as the “Pearl of Africa,” with emphasis on the “Ugandan Martyrs.” The Ugandan delegation was led by the State Minister of Tourism, Hon Kiwanda Godfrey Ssuubi with the Ugandan Ambassador to Nigeria also in attendance.

The Uganda delegation crowned their presentation by giving out gifts to a host of selected deserving individuals.

Already present and exhibiting at this year’s event are: Dubai Tourism, Ghana, The Gambia, Asky & Ethiopian Airlines, Africa World Airlines (AWA), Caribbean Tourism Organisation, National Council for Arts & Culture, Lagos State, Arik Air and many more. The expo continues on Monday with Dubai Tourism hosting its “A Glimpse of Dubai” in the morning. Other activities for the day include Gambia Day, African Diaspora Tourism Conference, and Rum Time with the Caribbean. Exhibitions also continues through the day.

…more updates and images of AKWAABA 2019 coming…

All indications portend that the 15th AKWAABA African Travel Market is set to become the biggest and best edition of the travel and tourism trade show as more countries have confirmed their participation. Perhaps in line with the Year of Return theme by design or coincidence, Uganda is set for a return since her last appearance in 2016, as the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) leads a team of Ugandan tour operators to showcase the country’s major tourists’ attractions.

Tagged the Pearl of Africa, Uganda is a landlocked country in East Africa whose diverse landscape straddles the equator, with Lake Victoria, the second largest lake in the world, forming part of its southern border. It is from this same lake that the Nile, the world’s longest river, starts its (4,258 miles) journey at Jinja – the adrenaline capital of East Africa, 80km east Kampala.

Fantastic wildlife and some of the friendliest people in Africa make Uganda unbeatable.

According to a statement from the UTB, “Very many wonderful things have been said about Uganda by various authors and travellers who have had the chance to visit. Some talk about the charming weather, natural resources, rich culture, and history; while others talk about the lovely people whose hospitality is unmatched. Most quickly note the numerous beautiful birds, and other rare wildlife species that are only found in Uganda. All that is true but there is more!”

“Uganda is the land of martyrs in Africa. This religious story is summarized in the Uganda Martyrs Trail. The Trail is an extraordinary journey of faith that literally gets one in the footsteps of the first Christian missionaries and converts as they walked through Uganda preaching, teaching, healing and transforming lives, finally to the places of their martyrdom.”

The abundant wildlife in Uganda includes the ‘BIG 5’ – lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo. It is home to 1,072 bird species among which are some of the world’s rarest. The Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site renowned for the silverbacks offers a mountain gorilla tracking life changing experience.

Reputed for its serenity, the Ssese Island on Lake Victoria, one of Uganda’s greatest and uncrowned beaches with beautiful white sands creates a perfect never-ending honeymoon experience. Finally, the capital city, Kampala is the city that never sleeps and has been dubbed the “Entertainment Capital of East Africa.”

“Uganda Day” is scheduled for Day 1, September 22, 2019 at 2:00pm. AKWAABA African Travel Market will run from September 22 to 24, 2019 at the Convention Centre of the prestigious Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos.

The 15th AKWAABA African Travel Market is less than 5 days (about 108 hours) away, and all hands are on deck to ensure a smooth running of the international travel and tourism expo which is the first and biggest in the West African region. A host of interesting events have been included in this year’s trade show to make it the best ever.

Among these is the 1st African Diaspora Tourism Conference. Other events lined up include: the 3rd edition of the African Food Fair tagged Jollof Rice War, African Youth Tourism Conference, African Travel 100 Global Tourism Personalities Award, etc.

The 15th AKWAABA African Travel Market will take place at the prestigious Eko Hotels & Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos from 22nd to 24th of September 2019.

AKWAABA African Travel Market, where Africa meets the world!

See below for the full programme of events.

PROGRAMME FOR 15TH AKWAABA TRAVEL MARKET

DAY 1: Sunday 22nd September 2019

  • Exhibition @ Eko Hotel – AKWAABA: 2:00pm – 5:00pm
  • Opening ceremony (cutting of tape & media visit to exhibition stands): 2:00pm – 3:00pm
  • Ghana Day – Presentation and Food: 3:00pm – 4:00pm
  • Africa Food Fair: #JollofRiceWar (Nigeria vs Ghana vs The Gambia) 4:00pm – 5:00pm
  • Nigeria Day (ECHOES OF Calabar Food Display): 5:00pm – 6:00pm
  • Uganda Day: 6:00pm –7:00pm
  • Dance, Dance, Dance

DAY 2: Monday 23rd September 2019

  • Exhibition @ Eko Hotel –AKWAABA: 9:00am – 6:00pm
  • Breakfast with DUBAI: 9:30am – 11:30am
  • The Gambia Day:  11:30am – 1:30pm
  • African Diaspora Tourism Conference: Spotlighting the Year of Return:  3:00pm – 6:30pm
  • Entertainment/Networking & Dinner:  5:10pm – 5:30pm
  • Africa Travel 100 Global Tourism Personalities Awards (Remaining Presentations): 6:00pm – 6:20pm
  • Rum Time with the Caribbean (Entertainment/Pictures, etc.):  6:20pm – 6:30pm

DAY 3: Tuesday 24th September 2019

  • Exhibition @ Eko Hotel – AKWAABA: 9:00am – 6:00pm
  • B2B Speed networking: 9:30am – 11:30am
  • Africa Youth Tourism Session (Paper & panel discussions): Is Tourism a sustainable business for the youth?:  11:30am – 1:30pm
  • Aviation day (paper & panel discussion): Impact of Airport Development & Airlines on Tourism Growth2:00pm – 4:00pm
  • Lagos Day: 4:00pm – 6:00pm
  • Ethiopia Day: 6:00pm – 7:30pm
  • Raffles, Awards and Closing

Founder of the Ndere Cultural Centre based in Kampala, Uganda Stephen Rwangyezi has emerged as one of the winners of the African Travel 100 Global Personalities Awards scheduled to take place on September 23rd at the 15th AKWAABA African Travel Market.

We need to be true to these arts, to learn them correctly – not just superficially… But to be honest to these arts, to be authentic, (and) also to bear in mind that Africa is not frozen in a historical museum!

Stephen Rwangyezi

Stephen Rwangyezi who starred alongside Forest Whitaker and James McAvoy in the Idi Amin movie, Last King of Scotland is a strong advocate of African art and culture. He started the Ndere Troupe in 1984 and over time, it has given birth to the Ndere Foundation and the Ndere Cultural Centre which is now regarded as Africa’s dancing encyclopaedia.

We at More Cream Than Coffee say a hearty congratulation to Stephen Rwangyezi!

Leading travel writer and publisher of ATC News, Prof. Wolfgang Thome, has emerged as one the winners of the African Travel 100 Global Personalities Awards scheduled to take place on September 23rd at the 15th AKWAABA African Travel Market.

Prof. Thome, a German national arrived in Kenya in the mid 1970s and has lived on the African continent since, spending over four decades. In Kenya, he was active in tour operations, hotel operations and air operations, and after 17 years he moved to Uganda in 1992. Settling in, the Pearl of Africa, he went into academics and consultancy.

He became active in trade politics helping to rebuild the association framework in the tourism industry which had all collapsed after the liberation war. He helped to reactivate the hotel association, form the tour operators association, travel agents association and the umbrella body Uganda Tourism Association, which he served as president for almost eight years.

I always felt as a welcome guest in Kenya, in Uganda I’ve become part of the furniture. …when I came to Uganda I literally became Ugandan – not maybe by passport, but certainly by the feeling in my heart that I belong here.

– Prof. Wolfgang Thome

Prof. Thome is happily married. His wife is Ugandan and they met in Kenya while she was in exile. The genial and witty professor has lived in Uganda for over 25 years and was granted life residency some time ago. We, at More Cream Than Coffee® congratulate Prof. Wolfgang Thome.

Stephen Rwangyezi is an arts, heritage and culture champion. He founded the Ndere Troupe in 1984 and over the years, the troupe has metamorphosed into the Ndere Cultural Centre, a must visit place whenever you are in Kampala, Uganda, particularly if you love wholesome cultural entertainment. Here, we bring you the concluding part of our chat with Mr. Rwangyezi…

*****

I think we need to emphasize what does not exist elsewhere. The piano, the guitar, they do exist where they were made and probably those people play them a million times better. The reason why a tourist comes to Uganda is because he wants to see what he could not see in his home in America, in Zürich, in Iceland. So, we need to do more research because the cultural arts are only in the heads and memories of the old men and old women who are fast dying off. We need to do proper research. We need to be true to these arts, to learn them correctly – not just superficially putting them there for tourist impression. But to be honest to these arts to be authentic, but also to bear in mind that Africa is not frozen in a historical museum!

Africa is growing and therefore to allow the young and creative minds of the contemporary times to develop new arts, but develop upright. Let them know the rhythm patterns, the melodic structures, the scales that the different peoples of Uganda use. And from there, once they have learnt it correctly, apply their own creativity and develop new arts but which have the DNA of Uganda’s culture. At the moment, if you hear the music and dance of the young men, if you don’t know the language they’re singing or rapping, you wouldn’t tell if that music is from Australia, or somewhere in Brooklyn in America, or in any other country – because the beat, the rhythms, the melodic structures are not based on the indigenous arts. So my wish would be: Get the correct research. Do the correct teaching, so that those who develop will use that vocabulary, that alphabet, that vernacular and create new arts.

PEARL OF AFRICA TOURISM EXPO (POATE)

First of all, the fact that this expo came here is in itself a success, because Uganda has been through hell. There was a time when no one dared come to Uganda. Up to now, if you go to some places, they will ask you about Idi Amin. They think Idi Amin is still here. When I was asked to act in the Idi Amin film, The Last King of Scotland, the people that we’re acting with – Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, etc., – when they were coming, they were really scared. They thought Idi Amin was still here – and they were also scared thinking that we as Ugandans would not be able to enact that story because they thought it has impacted on us so badly and they didn’t want to disturb our raw wounds. So the fact that this expo was held here is a plus. It’s an indication that Uganda has moved on from the unfortunate history, and we are actually making good use of that history.

Secondly, like again, in one of the scenes I liked in that movie, The Last King of Scotland, was at the very beginning when Doctor Garrigan, a new graduate from medical school turns the globe and then points a finger and says “Wherever I touch is where I’ll go.” The first time, he touches Canada and says, “Canada? Hmm… No.” And then spins again and – Uganda. “Uganda? I’ll go.” That pointer of Dr. Garrigan to Uganda is like beaming a light on Uganda. Now, this particular expo is another beaming of light on Uganda. So I think those two are a sign of success. But rather than praising ourselves about the success, I think we should be looking at what should be the lesson from this. The world has trusted us. People have come from all over the world, held the expo here and have gone back to talk about Uganda, to market Uganda.

The challenge for us is when these people go and market, the participants of the expo go and market Uganda, and say “This is a beautiful destination” when guests come, what are they going to find in Uganda that they cannot find elsewhere? Why should people come here? That’s where the cultural aspect of our lives becomes very crucial – because you can see a mountain in Switzerland. You can see gorillas in Congo, or you can take a gorilla in a zoo in the United States. Why should someone come to Uganda, to see the gorilla in Uganda? It should be the life of the people and that’s where for me, I feel humbled that this expo came here to Ndere Centre to watch the performance, and that we are the leading body that promotes this Ugandan identity of culture. The challenge therefore is to make it better, to stay true to it, to make sure that the visitors that are going to come to Uganda – I’m pretty sure that with the success of this expo, numbers will grow up – and I’ll love that when they come they find even better facilities, better explanation, more unique Ugandan characteristics that they will not be able to find elsewhere. So for me, the expo was a beamer on Uganda. We have to ensure that we don’t disappoint those who participated and those who will promote Uganda.

Settling down for an evening of good food and wholesome entertainment…

RECOMMENDATIONS

Uganda Tourism Board is an arm of government. Government is the super-structure that is entrusted with the custody of everything Ugandan. My request to them is what makes us Ugandan? What are those things that make us Uniquely Ugandan? Let’s put our resources, our efforts, to the development of those aspects of Uganda that make us uniquely Ugandan. As far as I’m concerned, it’s those cultural inheritance that we did not inherit from our parents, but borrowed from our children. Our children have a right – and the children of our children have a right – to find what Uganda was endowed with. Let’s first forget about tourism. Let’s look inward – that the children of my children have a right to find what my ancestor left – and find it in better condition. Because, if you borrow money from a person, you have two duties: one, return it; but also put interest. So, if we take the concept that we borrowed this from our children, then we have a duty to preserve it and an obligation to make it better – that’s the interest. So government must invest in the preservation of our cultural heritage. It’s not right to leave it to private entrepreneurs like us, because at the moment I am committed to it, but other people will be committed to profits, and if prostituting the culture is what will pay, they will prostitute it. So, it’s the duty of government to invest in the preservation and development of our culture. So that those of us who are practising it can be cushioned by government investment, and therefore be able to continue doing the authentic things and not prostituting it, because we are looking for what sells quickly in order to earn money that we should survive on. There must be investment in the preservation. There must be embedment of cultural values in the education systems.

Stephen Rwangyezi is the founder of Ndere Cultural Centre which he started in 1984 as Ndere Troupe. Over the years, Ndere has grown to become an important feature of the Uganda arts, heritage and cultural experience. Here, we bring you the second part of our chat with Mr. Rwangyezi…

*****

In terms of the future, I mean for the last thirty-four years, Ndere has been surviving on me. That’s not really sustainable. So, I’m looking at the possibility of turning this cultural centre into a teaching institute, a research and teaching institute of indigenous civilisations and creative industries. So that if we get in the mainstream of teaching and research: one, the students that should be coming here will then be the artists that will be presenting the art. The teachers that will be teaching will be the directors. So, my roles will go to the teachers and researchers. The roles of the troupe will go to the students, and probably we shall be able to get both local and international students who should be paying a fee and probably attract some funding from different bodies. So that when I eventually get out for – whether I want or not, I’m not growing any younger and I’ll not live forever – the system now goes into the academic field, and the research that we have done, and the research that will be done can be formalised into both written and digital books.

For me, the performing arts of Africa are the great books of this continent, but they have not been captured. They have not been recorded. They have not been formalised. And the teaching that I went through where I learnt the dancing and the singing around the fireplace in the evenings is no longer there. Children are going to kindergarten when they are three and that’s the last time they are with their parents. Their parents are busy chasing money all over the place. So the only way we can get this knowledge transmitted to posterity is if we actually teach in a structured and formal way. Unfortunately, the Ugandan school curriculum like many other curriculum in Africa are not embedding this cultural knowledge in what the children are learning at school. They are struggling with mathematics and science and geography of the Rhineland and North America, and Iceland; and this knowledge is not being taught. So I’m looking at this place being a place that people can come and learn it, and this place being a reference point for all the people that may want, that may be looking for this treasure before it actually finally disappears.

UGANDAN ARTS & CULTURE

Uganda’s position, geographical location at the equator, on top of the African plateau made it the attractive point for all the peoples of Africa. I do divide the peoples of Africa into three: one, are the original Africans – some people call them pygmies, others call them bushmen. I don’t know who is not a bushman in Africa, because we all a lot of bush around our homes. But those living in the tropical rainforest, living with nature – now because they have this difficult forest conditions, they do not keep bulky musical instruments, because they are always moving. You can’t start carrying heavy things, heavy drums, heavy xylophones and things. They have developed their arts to use their own bodies – they clap, they play and they yodel and they produce the music using their own bodies.

The other categories of Africans are the agriculturists – the first people that from the forests settled and cultivated crops. When you grow crops, you have to stay in that place for a long time waiting for them to mature. And so, to be able to stay there, you build a house and when you do the first harvest the soil is still good; so you plant again. So you live in the same place for a long time. These were the first people, besides growing crops, that built permanent houses. Now, when they built houses – and because their music is very physical, they had storage for bulky and delicate musical instruments – musical instruments that can get spoilt by rain. For example, drums which have membrane – you need good shelter – musical instruments that don’t have to be moved up and down because they are very heavy. And then, because the work is very physical the music is very deeply rhythmic to provoke the body to dance – which is the way to do exercises. Instead of going to the gym and lifting weights, they dance and build their physique.

The third category of Africans are the cattle-keepers who are always moving around with their cows, and once you sent the cows out grazing, you don’t have to do anything really. The cows do the eating and so you sit and talk. Their music therefore is light and delicate with a lot of coherent lyrics. Now, Uganda has the tropical rainforest for the forest dwellers; has good soil and good climate and reliable rain for agriculturists; has good pastures and fresh water for the cattle-keepers – all these people converged here. Therefore they brought all these different cultural arts and when they inter-married they produced even other hybrid cultures. So you have the richest array of culture of arts and that has influenced the modern music and the modern dancing. The cultural life is vibrant and it goes beyond music and dance into the different varieties of food, to the different languages, to different dressing – everything. And therefore, for any tourist who comes to Uganda, they really have come to the whole of Africa because all the African cultures are represented in Uganda. The reason we say that if you come to Ndere Cultural Centre you get the ultimate experience and we call Ndere Centre the home of cultures is we capture all these different genres and different cultural expressions and Ndere Troupe does presenting

So, it’s to me the window through which a visitor can understand the Ugandan animals, the Ugandan rivers and the Ugandan mountains because the people who live around these natural endowments have got a culture that has been influenced by the physical features, by the wildlife, by the flora and fauna. For example, if you look at the dances of the mountainous areas – for example the people of Kasese, Mount Rwenzori, have got a dance that uses the torso. But the history of it is that they carried weight on the back and as they climb the mountain, they keep shifting the torso and the way they walk is not by alternately taking the feet one after another – because if you are going up the mountain and you lift this foot, if this one slides you’ll fall. So they walk in a way that this foot stays, this one also stays, and you keep shifting each one – but the weight is on your back, you keep shifting. So the dance developed from the way they climb the mountain. If you go to Kabale in the southwest of Uganda where you have the mountain gorillas – so beautifully mountainous – the dancing is really strong and physical. But that’s because these fellows have to climb the mountains – you need the energy. So to understand the mountains, to understand the rivers, to understand the animals, you go through the window of the cultures. So the cultural life is the gateway into understanding the life in Uganda.

…to be continued…

Stephen Rwangyezi is the founder of Ndere Troupe which has metamorphosed into the Ndere Cultural Centre, today referred to as an African Dance Encyclopedia. I had the honour of witnessing a performance when I visited the Uganda in 2017 as part of a hosted media group for the Pearl of Africa Tourism Expo (POATE 2017). Later on, I had the pleasure of chatting with Mr. Rwangyezi about several things…

*****

My names are Rwangyezi Stephen and I’m the one who started the Ndere Troupe that has resulted into the Ndere Cultural Centre, Ndere Foundation, the Ndere Uganda Theatre Development Association. I started the Ndere Troupe in 1984. I am Ugandan and now marking my sixty-second year; married with beautiful children and I’ve spent all my life in the cultural revitalisation, cultural revival and rebuilding the pride and confidence of the Ugandan, of the African person to know that we are a great people. We have wonderful arts. We have wonderful culture that is not inferior to any other, and it is not satanic or devilish, but as holy as any other culture in the world.

INSPIRATION

Ndere Troupe which I started in 1984 is inspired by the history of Uganda, and indeed the history of Africa, because when I was born in the mid ‘50s Uganda had been experiencing a cultural erosion because of the colonial impact. When the Europeans took over the administration of Uganda, I think as a means of making sure that they could be able to get what they want – they could be able to get the Ugandans to serve them – they used three weapons to change the thinking of the Ugandans.

One was religion. The Christian religion preached that everything Ugandan was evil, backward; and if you wanted to go to heaven, you’ll have to sing the Alleluia chorus and play a piano or a violin. But if you danced African dance, if you spoke African language, if you ate African food, drank alcohol, if you married the African way, if you build a house the African way, you were sure to have booked your one-way ticket to hell.

The schools which were the second weapon did – and you know the schools were actually established by churches… You were not admitted in school unless you had been baptised in church, and if you went to school you had to follow strictly everything that was western, and you had to hate everything that was African. The churches preached being born-again – the old person had to die and the new one had to be born. And the old one was the African; the new one had to be the European.

To be in church, or rather in school you had to be baptised. So, you’d be born in a home, you’d be given a name – for example I was given Rwangyezi. Then six months later, you’d be taken to church and be baptised and I was called Stephen. Now, when you entered school they’d ask you “What was your Christian name?” And you’d say “Stephen” And they’ll say “What is your Kafir name?” Meaning the non-believer’s name and I’d say “Rwangyezi.”

So, the school was the second weapon, and the third one was the law. The government enacted laws that made sure that African culture was banned. For example, there was the anti-witchcraft law banned everything that was seen to be used by witches. Every African traditional medicine man was seen as a witch. And since in the traditional worship they use the music and dance and drums, all these were banned as tools of the witch. If you were found dancing during the day, you’d be arrested. That was under another law of idle and disorderliness. If you were found dancing during the day, you’d be arrested because you are being seen to be idle. That meant that the only time you could dance was at night, and yet there was no electricity. There was no light; therefore no one was looking at you.

So I grew up in this dichotomy where on the one side my family was very talented in music and dance, but in the Ugandan type of music; and on the other side if you wanted to be civilised, if you wanted to go to heaven you are not allowed to do these cultural acts. For me, when I eventually became a teacher I felt so bad that we were teaching children to hate themselves and teaching them to learn to love who they were not. Therefore I decided to start the Ndere troupe. One, to make these arts that had been relegated to the devil and to the darkness – make them beautiful and bring them to the light and have people be proud of them. Once you are proud of your culture, then you’ll gain the confidence and you can be able to get into the marketplace and negotiate as an equal to whoever you meet.

So, the motivation is: the revitalisation of cultural confidence and making our arts compete the other arts from the rest of the world. For, there is nothing biologically, philosophically or religiously wrong with being an African. If anything, by not having this cultural colour contributed to the international rainbow, the world was becoming poorer because we’re risking being uniformised and ending up with a monotony of one particular culture. So that’s the motivating factor.

SUSTAINING THE CENTRE

Sustenance, I think is a matter of conviction. If you are as I am convinced that what you’re doing is of paramount importance you would do everything possible to make sure that it survives. First of all, I am convinced that this art, this culture – whether government support it or not – is important. It’s important for Uganda. It’s important for Africa. It’s important for the world. So I dedicated my life to it. It’s extremely difficult. It’s extremely expensive but I’m not going to be doing anything else with my life. It’s only to be in committing all the resources, all my intellectual capacity to the sustenance of this. So I look for money. I look for means left and right.

The second thing that I do is that all the artists that you see in this group are people that would otherwise never have had an opportunity to fulfil their passion or ambition, because they come from rather difficult backgrounds. Some don’t have parents. Others are from very poor families. So taking them to school, looking after their health, their food, their accommodation is another daunting task besides looking after the cultural centre which has many buildings, which has nine acres of land to tame and look after. And besides this, the research, the training, the documentation – all these are extremely expensive, but somehow we keep managing.

So from the performances that we do… in my other life, I am an agriculturist; therefore I do research – paid research. I use the performing arts and develop theatre, and I use that for agricultural extension and dissemination of information in the rural areas – and some of those projects are paid (for) by organisations that are interested in breaking down the complicated botanical terms to understandable language for the rural peasant farmer to understand that coriander tree is a nitrogen fixing plant that will improve the soil holding capacity of a piece of land where you don’t have chemical fertilizers, for example. So this approach helps to attract funders that fund me for that work, and there I raise money to sustain the centre and the troupe.  

…to be continued…

If you followed the series “My Uganda Memoirs” you’ll probably have read where I mentioned doing the bungee jump on Saint Valentine’s Day while I was in Jinja in the country known as the Pearl of Africa. Jinja is regarded as the Adrenaline Capital of East Africa because of the several activities one can engage in in the town; from quad biking to whitewater rafting, cruises on the Nile, horseback riding, or even swimming with crocodiles! Okay, that’s a joke – no swimming with the crocodiles, please.

Jinja is also the place where the longest river in the world, River Nile originates from; so it is often called the Source of the Nile. For more about my Jinja experience please see: My Uganda Memoirs IX and XI, so you can get some background info.

With the quad biking action done, the bus returned to the Jinja Nile Resort with everyone, while those who signed up for the bungee jump made our way to the venue, which was around the back entrance of the resort. A few people had already gone ahead and started the bungee while we were busy on the quad bikes, but there was still a couple of people waiting to take the leap of faith when we got there.

Would you dare?

The first thing to do was to sign the indemnity form, followed by the weighing in, after which you proceed to the platform. You have enough time to change your mind as you walk up and start the climb up the steps to the platform.

All set…

At the weighing in, they ink your weight on your wrist, so once you get up the platform you show your wrist. This helps the guys there determine the necessary things to ensure your safety. They proceed to strap you into the harness. You sit down while they bind your feet together. The guys try to make you feel at ease. Once everything is set, you hop to the edge of the platform and raise your hands up and wait for the guys to give you the go ahead. Once they give the go ahead, you jump. Pretty simple, right?

Here we go…

You can have a million and one thing running through your mind at this time. I’ve heard tales of people who stood on that edge and refused to bulge after the go ahead. For whatever reason, they froze and had to be coaxed into taking the jump. Sometimes, I guess fear comes to people when they look down, so they tell people not to look down, or to close their eyes.

I wasn’t bothered and I looked down. No matter how much you try to steel yourself though, your heart starts racing as the rush builds up! I’m not sure I can describe what happens when you jump. You’re free falling until suddenly the rope jerks and you are upside down. You start a pendulum swing with spins which slows down after a while. For me, the rope didn’t jerk until I touched the Nile. The guy gearing me up had asked if I wanted to touch the water, and I said, “Yes.”

As the swing slows down to the barest minimum, a rescue team comes to get you. They are in a boat and they call out to you, asking you to open your eyes – usually most people have their eyes shut when they jump. Once you spot them, they stretch a paddle to you and you grab a hold of it and they easily bring you into the raft and unharness you.

That’s it?

So that’s it. I think I need to do this again. I’m really looking forward to an in tandem jump with a sweet young lady. I guess I should go in search of her…