Uganda gained its independence in 1962, following 68 years of British colonisation. During this time, the voices of native and indigenous communities were systematically restricted. Unfortunately, colonial ‘top-down’ approaches continue to impact local communities in Uganda. The state, had adopted these colonial approaches to suppress and limit civic spaces by limiting funds and resources to grassroots communities; banning civic spaces; and arresting citizens establishing networks that promote civic spaces.

This approach has mainly promoted the interests of the state’s ruling political party and popular extremist religions within the country, resulting in increased violence and insecurity within Uganda, especially at the village level.

To address this, Might Foundation organizes village-to-national accountability dialogues. In these dialogues, girls hold their village and national leaders to account through Music, Drama and Dance (MDD) on matters of Gender Based Violence (GBV), while village leaders use the platforms to respond and raise awareness of existing national and village policies established to address GBV.

The Power of Music, Dance, and Drama (MDD)

In Masajja B Cell village in the Wakiso district of Uganda, for example, five girls representing Kids for Africa sports academy performed a skit about online violence against girls in the village. The girls performed as Dorothy’s mother, Dorothy, Aunt Pauline, Peter (Dorothy’s boyfriend), and Susan (Dorothy’s girlfriend). They raised awareness about domestic violence, intimate partner violence and poverty as the root causes of online violence against girls and child marriages within the village.

Through this performance, the girls shared an act with the community that connected the violence that Dorothy suffered at the hands of her mother and aunt with online violence she would then experience from her boyfriend Peter. Her mother and aunt’s attacks lead her to request a smart phone from her boyfriend, Peter. As a result, Peter then used this opportunity to make demands on Dorothy, and further subjected her to intimate partner violence given his new power and control over her. Dorothy responds “… mother beats me … and you too …”. Sadly, the play ends with Dorothy deciding to start a marriage with Peter since he’s the owner of her smart phone and her defender from her mother’s and aunt Pauline’s violent attacks.

Additionally, at the Might Foundation, we also use these accountability dialogues to engage national leaders and village residents in developing village sensitive, bottom-up national policies. These policies are designed to increase and promote local government responsibilities and strengthen unity and networks at the village level. This contributes not only to the decolonisation of governance, accountability, and peacebuilding processes within Uganda, but also legally strengthens civic spaces at the village and national level. For example, after the girls’ performance during the village accountability dialogue, all government village leaders put the responsibility of protecting the girl child against online violence onto their parents. As quoted here by one of the leaders:

“... stopping online violence, as leaders we look at parents. If parents have not played their part then it becomes hard.”

However, local defense secretary of Masajja, Mr. Mutebi Hussien Kijjambu, used the dialogue to point out that:

“… laws like the computer misuse act have no impact at the village level … yet online violence affects all of us… Government needs to do more …”

Our dialogues promote civic spaces in a restrictive country like Uganda. Music, dance and drama have been historically used by indigenous Ugandan cultures to educate, raise awareness on various community issues, and address conflicts and violence. They are particularly beneficial for the protection of local communities against political retaliation, as they provide girls and residents with a safe space to peacefully hold their leaders to account. This was evidenced in our follow-up survey and support meeting with the girls, who gave no reports of retaliation following dialogue performances. Village leaders also gave feedback in support of these dialogues, including Mr. Mpuuga Khasim, a Local Council leader, who said:

“… we should also organize an event like this for men, because they are the root cause of all of this [online violence] ...”

Our approach was inspired by my indigenous culture, Buganda, which has always used a bottom-up approach to address democratic challenges within the kingdom. Buganda kingdom has historically used an approach that starts from the family, which identifies and reports a community issue, through its head, to the leader of related families, i.e chief, who finally reports the issue to the clan head. The clan head then takes the matter in question to the lukiiko or parliament, an institution that is headed by the Katikkiro or prime minister, a member of the lukiiko that runs the kingdom with the guidance of the Kabaka or King. This approach helped the kingdom develop policies and programs that involved the participation of residents at all levels. The colonists did not deem this as a democratic process, since it was not white-led and lacked a ballot. Instead, they introduced a top-down approach to policymaking and governance.

This colonial, top-down approach to governance on the African continent continues to suppress civic spaces of minority groups to restrict civic rights and freedoms of indigenous communities. We established our village accountability dialogues as an alternative and inclusive civic space, where indigenous accountability tools like MDD can may raise the voices of minorities, particularly girls within Masajja B cell village, in matters of governance and accountability.

We call on all minority groups around the world, including those in western cultures, to adopt more bottom-up approaches, so that they may establish peaceful and inclusive civic spaces within their restrictive environments or countries, and have a platform where they may raise their voices on matters of good governance, accountability, and decolonisation.

Read more about this work:

  1. Twegatte youth health project report.
  2. What is the current situation of music in primary schools in Buganda?
  3. Kingship in Uganda: The Role of the Buganda Kingdom in Ugandan Politics. (Pages 2-3)
  4. Selection of the Twegatte youth health project as a top 30 innovation