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Monday 20 October  
Uganda's National Theatre empties out after police break up TUK production
Arne Doornebal's picture
Kampala, Uganda
Kampala, Uganda

Ugandan police storm premiere of gay theatre production

Published on : 8 November 2012 - 1:40am | By Arne Doornebal (Photo: Arne Doornebal)
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Homosexuality in Uganda

Since Ugandan gay rights activists first came out in 2007, the struggle between them and the state – supported by an overwhelmingly evangelical population – has become violent at times. A 2009 law proposal to issue the death penalty for repeated acts of homosexuality is still pending in parliament and the 2011 murder of a prominent gay activist remains the subject of speculation. This past September, British national David Cecil was arrested for directing a local play that treats the subject of homosexuality. That production, entitled ‘The River & the Mountain’, was banned and Cecil was released, though may still face two years in jail.


Armed police officers stormed Kampala’s National Theatre late Wednesday, bringing a premature end to what was meant to be a premiere performance by the Talented Ugandan Kuchus, TUK for short. ‘Kuchu’ is a traditionally derogatory word for ‘homosexual’, which has recently become a proudly self-epithet in the local gay community.

The evening began on a high note. Troupe members and visitors gladly posed for pictures in front of the TUK logo, as human rights activists, artists and foreign diplomats entered the theatre via red carpet. All seats in the house were full.

While previous events construed by some Ugandan officials as ‘promoting’ homosexuality have been broken up by police in this country – where homosexual acts are criminalized – the production organizers felt confident nothing of the sort would happen. The premiere was not advertised. Only select people received an invitation.

Save for a two-hour delayed start because the National Theatre was double-booked, TUK’s play and CD launch went smoothly. Then, a few non-activist artists took the stage. That was followed by the screening of a professionally made film starring all the TUK members.

Supported by loud music, over a dozen young people performed choreographies of a quality rarely seen in Uganda. One storyline featured a man who dresses differently from the others and is consequently chased by the group, left in isolation and then chained. It was sensational at times, showing men dressed in women’s clothes, and vice versa.

Despite all the suggestiveness, though, the word ‘homosexuality’ was never mentioned.


Ugandan police shut down the TUK premiere on Wednesday at the National Theatre
Ugandan police shut down the TUK premiere on Wednesday at the National Theatre
But then, when a break was announced, the audience became widely enthusiastic.

“Police has entered the control room and is forcing us to stop,” a voice said suddenly via the public address system.

Within minutes, terrified spectators fled the theatre. Only a small group of TUK members were left remaining inside the auditorium. Three heavily armed police officers and a tall gentleman, who insisted he was a civilian though acted as though he were in charge of the policemen, forced everybody out. They locked the doors of the national theatre behind them.

Hopes fade
Outside, in downtown Kampala, there was anger among the activists.

Related content

“Isn’t this everyone’s theatre?” demanded a young man calling himself Mohammed.

Earlier in the evening, the mood had been extremely optimistic. Leading Ugandan activist Frank Mugisha spoke to the crowd, saying that President Obama’s electoral victory in America was a major boost for the gay community worldwide. 

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