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September 5, 2018 | Uganda

Uganda reinstates festival cancelled over sex, gays and the devil

Grace Matsiko
Uganda is notorious for its intolerance of homosexuality -- which is criminalised in the country -- and strict Christian views on sexuality in general.  By ISAAC KASAMANI (AFP/File)
Uganda is notorious for its intolerance of homosexuality -- which is criminalised in the country -- and strict Christian views on sexuality in general. By ISAAC KASAMANI (AFP/File)

A Ugandan music festival was reinstated Wednesday following a public outcry after the country's ethics minister banned it as an orgy of homosexuality, nudity and drugs akin to "devil worship".

Ethics and integrity minister Simon Lokodo, a fervent Christian and prominent homophobe, declared the cancellation of the popular Nyege Nyege music festival on Tuesday.

The annual four-day party on the banks of the Nile in the southern town of Jinja brings together artists from across Africa to entertain around 10,000 revellers and has been held for the last three years.

However, Lokodo slammed the event as being used for "the celebration and recruitment of young people into homosexuality".

"There will be nudity and sexuality done at any time of the hour. There will be open sex," Lokodo said via a government Twitter account.

"The very name of the festival is provocative. It means 'sex, sex' or urge for sex," he added.

Nyege Nyege means an irresistible urge to dance in the local Luganda language, but it can have a sexual connotation in other languages in the region.

"Let foreigners not come to Uganda for sex. We shall save the image of this country," said Lokodo, who said the festival was "close to devil worshipping".

The decision shocked organisers just days before the event which is to start Thursday and last until Sunday, with Ugandans decrying the move on social media.

"Beatings, killing, kidnaps, unnecessary endless taxing, etc. Somehow that is all acceptable and (the festival) isn't?" wrote one Twitter user.

However, after a government meeting on Wednesday, interior minister Jeje Odongo overruled his colleague and ordered the party back on.

"We are meeting all stakeholders but we have agreed that the festival will go on as planned," he told AFP.

"The organisers have to meet certain conditions and the details will be availed later."

'Relief to many'

Lokodo later issued a subdued statement saying: "The compliance and successful conduct of this event free of the threats and mischief while promoting our values is what we all desire."

The return of the festival was welcomed by many involved.

South African artist Sho Madjozi, already in the country for the event, told AFP the cancellation had been "heartbreaking" but it was "good to hear it is on".

"Hotels and local tourism were going to be affected by the cancellation. It is a relief to many that the festival is on," said Jinja's mayor Majid Mutambuze.

The festival drama comes after the arrest of popular singer-turned-MP Bobi Wine who has detailed his alleged torture at the hands of police. He and 33 others have been charged with treason for allegedly stoning President Yoweri Museveni's car.

Ugandans have also been battling a new tax on the use of social media.

Police have brutally suppressed protests over both issues.

Uganda is notorious for its intolerance of homosexuality -- which is criminalised in the country -- and strict Christian views on sexuality in general.

In 2013 Ugandan lawmakers passed a bill that called for life in prison for people caught having gay sex, although a court later struck down the law.

The following year in a BBC interview conducted by British comedian and gay rights activist Stephen Fry, ethics minister Lokodo said heterosexual rape was more "natural" than homosexual sex and threatened to arrest Fry.

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