Yumbe, Uganda, 13 February 2020 (F2A)- One of the ways in which the Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC) and Muslim Centre for Justice and Law (MCJL) promote interfaith relations and peaceful coexistence between Muslim and Christian youths in Yumbe district is through music, dance and drama. Between July 2018 and October 2019, the two partners held a series of music, dance and drama activities in Yumbe Town Council and Kululu sub-counties.
Majid is a youth from Yumbe Town Council who led one of the dance troupes. Majid and his friends started the troupe to help them earn a living through performing during cultural festivals in Yumbe. Like other communities in Africa, the Aringa people of Yumbe district had cultural festivals which marked various aspects of life in different seasons of the year. Over the years, some of these festivals have stopped and others have been changed by the altered socio-cultural and politico-economic aspects of modern Uganda. But the Aringa people have retained some elements of the harvest festival, especially partying and traditional dances and music. So, Majid and his friends started their troupe to earn an income through performing during harvest celebrations. But their troupe was still rudimentary and they lacked the necessary costumes and musical instruments.
In 2018, the UJCC recognised the potential of Majid and his troupe as partners who could be used to disseminate messages of peaceful coexistence and interfaith cooperation through music, dance and drama. The UJCC team equipped Majid and his friends from both Muslim and Christian faiths with information and skills in inter-cultural communication, interfaith relations and peaceful coexistence. “We used to perform for people but it was not fruitful until the UJCC supported us,” says Majid. “One day I had gone to the town council offices and heard about the UJCC engagement. As a youth leader, I mobilised my fellow youths and we came for the engagement. The UJCC explained to us the role of music, dance and drama in the promotion of interfaith relations and peaceful co-existence.”
From then onwards, the troupe was one of the performers during UJCC’s music, dance and drama activities in Yumbe Township and Kululu sub-counties. The UJCC, MCJL, faith and cultural leaders from Yumbe district used these events to explain interfaith cooperation and peaceful co-existence in the two sub-counties.
The troupe’s performances became popular in Yumbe and Kululu and community members started inviting them to perform at different events, including weddings and family initiation ceremonies. These performances earned the troupe some income which they used to purchase costumes and musical instruments. Thereafter, the Ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development (MGLSD) had a public event in in Yumbe district. Because of its performances, Majid’s troupe was contracted as one of the performers and they were paid UGX 800,000.
As part of his commitment to the UJCC and MCJL’s goal, Majid displays messages of peaceful coexistence and interfaith cooperation on his motorbike. One day, these messages saved him from severe punishment by the government. “My motorcycle had been impounded by Uganda Revenue Authority (URA). When the police officer saw the sticker for ‘peace in me, in my home, in my community and in my country’, he asked why I had it there. I explained the UJCC program. He smiled and told me that I am a responsible citizen and reduced the fine from UGX 1 000 000 to UGX 300 000.”
Subsequently, Majid increased his involvement in the interfaith work and he is now a peace champion in Yumbe. He and his troupe have continued with their performances and they engage all members of the community on the importance of tolerance, interfaith cooperation and peaceful coexistence. They draw the messages of religious tolerance from both Christian and Muslim holy books. Before, during and after music and drama performance, Majid and listeners discuss different issues which affect the youth as a group regardless of their faith or religious denomination.
The Faith to Action Network has been supporting UJCC and MCJL through a small grant and continuous technical assistance, which covers program management, financial management, monitoring & evaluation, and assessment of outcomes and impact. The F2A Network has also been supporting both partners on documentation of lessons learned and best practices and generation of additional research themes from the impacts. The F2A is funded by the European Union (EU) and administered to the partners under a project known as Communities Richer in Diversity (CRID). Other F2A partners in the EU funded project are Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA), the African Council of Religious Leaders (ACRL) and the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC).