I have been conducting interviews with young people participating in the Hip Hop Therapy Project on their views about American Hip Hop music and culture (a report on that to come shortly!). During one of these interviews, a young man named Ojok Thomas told me he was a rapper so I asked him to rap for me.
He rapped a song he wrote about “returning to the Grand Land”. I wanted to share it with you because it is a wonderful illustration of how Hip Hop is used throughout the world (including Gulu!) to express social concerns and frustrations.
One of the great tragedies of the 23-year old conflict in northern Uganda has been the massive displacement of 1.8 million people into “internally displaced persons” or IDP camps. Only a few years ago, up to 90% of the population of northern Uganda lived in IDP camps. Some people moved into the camps out of fear of being attacked by the rebels but many were forced into the camps in 1996 by the Ugandan government under the “Protected Villages Policy”. The conditions in the camps were so horrific that, at their peak, 1,000 people per week were dying due to malnutrition, disease, and poor sanitation.
One of signs that the conflict in northern Uganda is ending is that people are now leaving the camps and returning to their ancestral homes. According to a recent UN report, almost 80% of those living in the camps have now returned home. The issue of returning home or “resettlement”, however, remains sensitive because some people are still afraid that the rebels will return. Some young people have spent most of their lives in town or in the camps and are hesitant to leave. Also, there are often fewer resources and services in the areas people are returning to than there are in and around the camps.
Despite the challenges of resettlement, all agree that life in the camps is not healthy or desirable and an effort is being made by the Ugandan government and international organizations to support people in the return process.
In his song “The Grand Land”, Ojok Thomas raps about some of the issues surrounding camp life and resettlement through such lyrics as “we are tired of staying in the camps like animals”, “some people say they’re born in the cities, they don’t want to go back to the grand land” “don’t try to be a hustler in the streets cause you’re gonna die in the streets, we have to go!” “We have to go back to the grand land.”