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Before the holidays, Music for Peace (MfP) met with community members in Labora and Lukodi, northern Uganda, to explore their views on the relationship between music and peacebuilding.

The discussions, which took the form of focus groups and individual interviews, were conducted as part of MfP’s ongoing study in the Acholi sub-region, titled “Music and Transformation: Emergent Themes and Perceptions in Northern Uganda.” We asked questions pertaining to a variety of related areas, including:

  • What is the role of music in Acholi culture?
  • What role did Acholi music play during the war and in bringing peace to northern Uganda?
  • How does the community view Acholi music and musicians?
  • What should Acholi musicians do more of in the future?

The findings from the communities were telling. For instance, in a separate questionnaire administered individually to 46 men and women, 27 (58%) responded “Always” to the statement “Acholi music teaches people how to live peacefully with others.” Whereas, 35 (76%) responded “Always” to the statement “The messages in Acholi music are relevant to people’s lives.

In the focus group discussions, both men and women emphasized the educative role of Acholi music and the leadership role of Acholi musicians, crediting key peace-related songs with changing the thinking and actions of their listeners on issues such as stigma of ex-combatants and gender relations, and even convincing the Ugandan government to “care about the people of northern Uganda again.” Following similar logic, they encouraged local musicians to sing songs on land conflicts or corruption, or songs which praise and encourage the efforts of teachers and parents, because then issues surrounding those themes could begin to be resolved. In short, they reported that the people of Acholi listen to the advice given by the musicians in their songs, and if the musicians pass positive messages, there will be change.

In our preliminary analysis from these discussions and their accompanying surveys, Acholi music has influenced change, to some extent, at all levels in the northern Ugandan conflict system. By changing the attitudes and actions of individuals and encouraging the restoration of broken relationships, they have influenced personal and relational transformation. By advocating for Uganda’s blanket amnesty law and pleading for the rebels to come home, they have influenced the amnesty law’s enforcement and encouraged the defection and reintegration of thousands of combatants. By preserving some cultural practices and advocating for the abolishment of others, they have influenced the transformation of cultures and traditions, especially pertaining to the universal human rights and responsibilities of men, women, children and others.

In the coming months, we will be preparing a report that explores these findings in greater depth. We expect it to be released in late May or early June. Stay tuned.

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