A Voice of Uganda
Updated: Oct 20, 2022
Who doesn’t like music? We all have some kind of appreciation for it, whether that be a favorite artist; that album that you could listen to forever; that song that gets you so amped up before a sports game; those playlists that we cultivate to precisely fit each different mood. Music is wonderful and adds so much to our lives, but have you ever considered using music to achieve a goal, send a message, and enact change? Maybe you have, or perhaps you haven’t, but I am going to share with you a story that many have not heard; something that occurred on March 1st, 2010.
Bududa is a district around Mount Elgon on the Uganda-Kenya border, best known for its Arabica coffee plantations. At the beginning of March, back in 2010, the Bududa district was plagued by heavy rainfall. This weather, combined with the absence of drainage systems and the terrain’s steep slopes, resulted in the 2010 Nametsi landslide on March 1st.
In this horrific event, 100 people were killed, 300 went missing, and 1,000 were left homeless. These displaced survivors were forced to relocate to the Panyadoli Camp in Southwest Uganda. At this resettlement camp, people were surviving but lacked many basic needs. The only source of water in the camp was a single borehole for the use of over 300 people. The resettled people could no longer sell coffee or rebuild the businesses they previously ran in Bududa. Further, an overarching barrier that the landslide survivors faced was language; most could only speak Lugisu. This challenge made it extremely difficult for the Bagisu people to interact with the community. Obtaining healthcare, education, and markets seemed impossible for these people, causing the displacement and destruction of their homes in Bududa to be even more crippling.
When the people of Bududa tried to use their words to voice their complaints on property disagreements, social amenities, and theft, the authorities regarded them as ungrateful for everything the camp had provided them. So the Bududa survivors turned to music. The Bududa Women Association wrote and performed songs addressing the issues they were facing. “Obu Bulamu Bweesi Khuli Nabwo,” translating to “This Is The Life We Have,” was one of the songs these women wrote. The lyrics talked about the lack of shelter they received from the harsh rain, the corruption within the camp, the lack of clean drinking water, and the constant theft that plagued their lives at the camp.
I drew something quite fascinating from my research on the Nametsi Landslide. Music is used to send a message, especially in countries that aren’t as fortunate as Canada to have such extensive support for struggling people. The overall goal of the songs by the Bududa people was to bring attention to important issues these men, women, and children faced every day. None of these people asked to be moved from Bududa; the terrible landslide forced them out of their homes and displaced them somewhere wholly foreign. The messages woven within the music are something that people need to pay attention to. When people can’t communicate through words, they use alternative means to harness change.
In researching, I also came across the Ugandan politician and former musician Bobi Wine. A significant part of his mission as the National Unity Party president is to bring freedom to the Ugandan people. His political and musical fame has given him a large platform to create change. “You know, all through my musical career, I’ve been singing about the challenges that people go through,” Bobi Wine told the BBC. He uses music to enact positive change in Uganda, just as the Bududa Women use their songs to voice their concerns.
You may be wondering why I am talking about this. It may seem like a random event or something of the past. I bring up this event to display how music in Uganda is often used as the voice of the people. This story demonstrates the global power of music and how it can change lives.
Living in Canada, it is easy to look at music through a narrow lens. We listen to Apple Music or Spotify on our AirPods to pass the time. We hook up playlists to Bluetooth speakers at parties or in the car on the drive up to Whistler. Music to most of us is a fun addition to our daily lives, whether studying, working out, dancing, or an escape from boredom. However, shifting our perspective away from our Western view towards others worldwide shows us that the impact of music is much more significant than previously perceived.