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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Do Ugandans appreciate their values and cultures?


Thursday May 21 was the climax of a week of activities celebrating World Culture Day. Children showed their understanding of culture through artistic creations and dramatic performances, there was a public debate, a poetry discussion, a fashion show and a film night all from which critics could make a lot of noise on whether Uganda understands and values her culture.

World Culture Day, first established by Unesco during the World Decade for Cultural Development of 1988-1997, puts the spotlight on the importance of culture and cultural diversity in development and provides an opportunity for people to learn to coexist harmoniously.

The national celebrations were organised by the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development together with the Uganda Theatre Network under the theme, “Culture: It’s Role in Growth, Employment and Prosperity for All.”
Culture, according to the Uganda National Culture Policy (2006) is: “The sum total of ways in which a society preserves, identifies, organises, sustains and expresses itself.”

The dictionary defines it, generally, as the shared beliefs and values of a group; their rules of behaviour, language, rituals, arts, technology, styles of dress, religion, and political and economic systems.

Last Tuesday, as part of World Culture Day celebrations, the now locally popular Lantern Meet of Poets engaged the audience in a discussion. Citing and reciting the poetry of Okot p’Bitek, they agreed that poetry is more than a beautiful expression of an impression and has power to change society and preserve the traditions.

The Wednesday fashion show at the National Theatre –also as part of the celebration –had creative designers showcasing old school to modern couture.
But has Ugandan culture created wealth and improved the well being of many as the national theme of the World Culture Day seemed to suggest? You could say the cultural industry has generally brought prosperity in certain circles. The performing arts industry is vibrant but the performances largely rely on comic relief and sexual innuendo which unfortunately sell, and many are earning their living that way.

There is also the artists’ Savings and Credit Cooperative Organisation (Sacco) that promotes professionalism and a saving culture among the artists.
The arts and crafts business is alive with monthly exhibitions at the national art gallery and at Makerere University art gallery attracting more people. The crafts people at the National Theatre, the National Museum and the National Art Gallery also make brisk sales especially among foreigners.

“Performing arts are an important ingredient of culture,” says the Director of The Planets cultural group, Kiyimba Musisi. “Most of our traditional dances do not only bring people together but are also a tool of communication. Mbaga dance is for example a circumcision dance in which one becomes a man, while the Amaggunju dance from the Butiko (Mushrooms) clan depicts the strength of a king and his vision for his people.”

Such performances and traditions, say at Ndere Centre, carry with them a strong cultural legacy but are not popular with the avant-garde generation of today that get their fair share of foreign cultures and style from blogs and through social networking sites like Facebook.

This seeming obsession with foreignism has altered the nature of our culture and cultural exchange (in good and bad ways) where music and literature – easily accessible on You-Tube and online libraries –has shortchanged the local arts.

Maybe the development of the East African anthem and the proposed establishment of a regional culture and sports commission will bring the much needed cultural renaissance. Otherwise continued marginalisation of culture in development policies will leave this country wandering like William Wordsworth’s lonely cloud in the world of arts.

--Daily Monitor, May 25, 2009