I felt my heart sink as soon as I read the story that was circulating on social media from the Minister of State for Ethics & Integrity, Rev Father Simon Lokodo that read “I have received credible information from religious leaders, opinion leaders and local authorities that the purpose of this festival, in the last two years, has been compromised to accommodate the celebration and recruitment of young people into homosexuality, and the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans communities movement),” This left me in complete shock. I rubbished the letter, with the accusation from my own experience unfounded – because I had attended this vibrant festival twice before and all I saw was consenting adults partying and enjoying themselves to the fullest. I didn’t witness any form of sexual recruitment or coercion, which made me doubt the source of this ‘’credible information’’.
‘’Early bird tickets are going for UGX 50,000, Lorna!’’ one of my friends rung me at the end of May to share the good news. ‘’Are you serious?’’ I asked with a note of excitement in my voice. ‘’Yes, Talent Africa has advertized the promotion on their social media pages, check them out if you don’t believe me,’’ he said as his phone suddenly went off. He must have run out of credit as he is not the type that hangs up on people for no particular reason. Within a few minutes, I had transferred UGX 50,000 to the Talent Africa mobile money number. I was excited at how cheap I had bought the ticket, as they normally go for anything between UGX 150,000-UGX 200,000 for the 4 days of festivities.
Thoughts of a fantastic blend of musical genres playing from various stages, crowds of euphoric revelers from all over Africa and parts of Europe, the aroma of roasting meat assortments in the air and a variety of alcoholic beverages neatly arranged in the various bars occupied my mind. I failed to understand why Father Lukodo could possibly cancel this exciting event and chose to be hopeful that it would take place.
Two days after the ban was mentioned I was relieved to learn it had been uplifted; the amount of protests and public outcry on social media from Ugandans, coupled with the intervention of various stakeholders and government officials exerted enough pressure to ensure this event went as planned. Various artists that were meant to perform at the festival had already flown into the country, thousands of revelers had already purchased their tickets and accommodation facilities in Jinja had been fully booked. It clearly made no sense to cancel the festival after so much time and money had been invested by various players.
The Queues at the Nile discovery resort, the Nyege Nyege festival location were quite long by the time I got there that Thursday evening. It felt good to finally stretch my legs after they were cramped up in a bus for 4 long hours from Kampala to Jinja. As soon as I had presented my ticket and gone through the swift security checks, I pitched my tent at the camping area, had a nice cold shower at the erected shelters , dressed up and headed out for a tour of the 5 different stages. The music blaring into the air fascinated me, the sound system blew me away, and the lighting was perfect. The growing crowd was comprised of enthusiastic revelers from all over Africa and some parts of Europe; the bars were filled with a wide variety of cocktails and other drinks; whilst the restaurants and food stands served a variety of delicious meals. It was such a lovely scene that brought so much joy to everyone at the festival.
As I was packing up my sleeping bag and tent that Sunday afternoon, after four days of partying, I felt content. It had been a successful 4 day festival that had enabled me to dance without a care in the world, meet new friends, share a drink with strangers. I had devoured delicious meals, laughed heartily, watched amazing stage performances, I was happy. I was also happy to know that the young vibrant men and women that were selling beautiful art and craft pieces had made a good amount of money at the festival. The drink and food vendors were going home with smiles on their faces, because their businesses had registered great profits, the hotels, lodges and various accommodation facilities in Jinja had reaped big rewards from the services they had offered to the revelers. The local markets, motor cyclists (boda-bodas), boat owners along the river Nile had all acquired an income from the goods and services they provided to the revelers at the Nyege Nyege festival.
Nyege Nyege festival in a few years time will no doubt be one of the biggest musical festivals in Africa attracting festival lovers from all over the continent and other parts of the world to the small town of Jinja boosting its economy with a good amount of revenue brought in by the visitors.