Uganda has a new TV news program, featuring rappers presenting current events in verse. One is a 13-year-old girl. The program hopes to reach out to the young, and to push the boundaries of social commentary.
“Uganda has the youngest population in the world. Seven out of 10 people are less than 30-years-old. Eight out of 10 are unemployed. Even with a degree or diploma, finding work is still a drama, " raps Zoe Kabuye a.k.a. MC Loy.
She knows the problems of Ugandan youth because she's a teenager who just started secondary school. But MC Loy is also a rising TV star, one of three journalists on a new program in which the news is presented through rap.
“It shows what takes place in the country, and we talk about it. Mostly the youth don’t like to watch news, but a couple of them like rap. So the form of what we do, it will attract them to listen to the news and to know what’s taking place in their country," she explains.
Presenter Daniel Kisekka, a.k.a. Survivor, has been in the music industry for decades. But journalism, he says, is different from anything he has done before.
“It involves a lot of research. You have to dig deep so that you don’t give wrong information, and you have to be critical of both sides. You have to be objective, so that you represent everybody in fairness," says Survivor, adding that they do not want to be too objective.
“That is kind of our extra bonus. You can play around a bit," he explained.
“Another idea can be to start up a new religion. Every other day a pastor makes a million. One Nigerian pastor is particularly blessed. He has a Rolls Royce and a private jet. He prays on the weak and knows how to speak. Hands you a check as you turn the other cheek," Survivor raps during the news show.
The rappers cover everything from entertainment news to politics, often with sharp barbs of social commentary thrown in among the rhymes. Producer Arnold Aganze says their medium, music, lets them say things other journalists might not.
“Sometimes I even think journalists have kind of borders, but us, we are just artists who are singing, so we can sing whatever we want. We don’t hide talking about any topic. We can just sing," he says.
Recent episodes have poked fun at Uganda’s anti-pornography act, widely believed to have banned miniskirts. And as for the country’s harsh new anti-homosexuality law, the rappers noted that some were comparing it to anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany. In Uganda, says Aganze, that is pushing the envelope.
But even rappers can only go so far. Human rights groups report that media freedom in Uganda is eroding, and last year two national newspapers were shut down by the government for over a week.
Survivor says he and the other rappers know that there are limits to what they can write.
“This is now journalism and there’s a thin line between what you can say and what you can’t say, so we have to be careful. I’ve met journalists that give you that kind of caution, that hey, what you’re doing is nice, but you have to be careful otherwise they will shut you down before you continue. There’s a threat, but we will try our best," he says.
What they say is important because the youth are listening, says Survivor, especially to the teenaged MC Loy. They might not read newspapers or watch the normal newscasts, he says, but they do need to know what is happening in Uganda.
“Because it’s their country. It is their destiny. They are going to inherit a lot of baggage. We are no longer in a world where your village is your world. They have to know what’s going on out there," notes Survivor.
Rap can entertain but it can also empower, he adds. If you want to reach young people, Survivor adds, you have to speak to them in their own language.