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The Nature of Storytelling #UgBlogWeek

By Ojara Andrew Charles

Storytelling has always been by people about people.

It started as one on ones; the direct result of the human ability for interaction, possession of shared versus divided lives, experiences and aspirations against the fact that we can be both inspired and intrigued by the elements of stories. Stores are to be shared. They are the building of socializing.

The variations of storytelling


From time immemorial songs were a story carrier. To many they were personal diaries, to some they were a storyboard carrying verses with real lessons for others, songs were and are even prophetic. We used them when going to war. to keep spirits up by prophetically envisioning the victory after the war if the victory came anyway. We used them to mourn our loss otherwise.


Today, songs carry history still mainly because they are used for advocacy. Think about Bobi Wine’s Tugambire Ku Jennifer played 10years from now. It will be a very good basis for remembering the Kampala City Council Authority as it was a couple of years ago- as it still is with incidents like that lady drowning in the Nakivubo tunnel.

The storytellers’ fire places

If you are from the North of Uganda then you know the meaning of the phrase mac Wang’ oo. It’s really a reference to the fireside setup by every family in the evenings in the centre of the courtyard. Everyone in the family finished their days seated around that fire. There to-date people in our villages talk about their days, solve their problems and tell stories.


As electricity and Television get nearer to every corner of the country, that aspect of Acoli culture is facing a real threat; traditional media like Television and radio. And while we’re talking about the Acoli, let’s not skip the fact that Acoli history is uniquely recorded and told by the traditional dances of my tribe!

Television and Radio

Television and radio became our new gathering points after a long work day. First we could control them,  then we gave in and now watch those screens any time we can. We sit there to witness stories or watch those that have been crafted and sometimes crafted from a far away land like those tele novellas.

I mean who can walk away from something as intriguing as the second chance?  So we gather round the radio and tele and away from each other. It would seem that one of the roles of media today is to take us away from each other and gather us to itself. We would rather listen to radio than talk to each other. Well, radio is consistently more interesting so why not ignore each other and choose it?

Online Social Media

Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram etc is where it’s now happening. We go to these places to tell our versions of our stories more often than not in real-time. If you doubt it remember that facebook memories upadate you got not long ago which Facebook auto generates for you or look back to scrolling through the twitter timeline to get an old tweet that is extremely relevant to the trending memes. Our stories are taking on a new characteristic with social media.


They  are being told by our personal brands. That means that we don’t sit down and  put it all down at once in an organised form but we tell our hearts and frustrations out a post every other moment, a day  at  a time on timelines and anyone who wants to know about us can go read a first hand account by scrolling back through time. Our hearts are bared and mostly honestly. Some of us have barred more than hearts, we’ve laid out some skin too!

Books for us bookies

I love a good read. It’s my favourite kind of story unveiling. Books give you the story and describe feelings and story elements  in so much detail that you can feel it. I once read a book called the Double tap  by Stephen Leathers where the author describes dying until one’s breath is gone. He dares to envision every moment of that often in a snap occurrence without being vulgar at life in his attempts.

Man Reading Book and Sitting on Bookshelf in Library --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis
Man Reading Book and Sitting on Bookshelf in Library — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Writers like Okot p’Bitek, Arthur Gakwandi, Chinua Achebe and Ngugi Wa th’iong’o captured our stories at independence so well  that reading them, you find they are prophetic is a sense about where African democracy has ended up. They told us who we were, who we are, what we were pretend-trying to metamorphose into and where we’d end up at. Like Chinua Achebe says about choices in I’ll marry when I want though, we can’t marry when we want. There’s more to our individual and communal stories and how they turn out than independent plot development. We contribute only a little then what we call life writes the rest or not.

Books will always be the place to go for a detailed opinion or ‘the more completely told’ story- if the writer is a good one.

Along came technology and the hardware evolution.

In the information age, you have options. You  can listen to anything and not read it. Hell, you can watch it. Whichever way you love your stories, you can get them and what’s more is you can get through the story faster. I guess that’s a relief to those who hate having to go through a volume of 1000pages.


Allof that is possible because we can now develop hardware that can support software solutions that transform how we do life. We have options and style of consumption or human limitation like I can’t read none-illustrated books or huge volumes is not an issue any more.

The entry of big budget companies  into the storytelling space

Organisations are living beings created by men. True or false?

Humour me with the assumption that they are living. That’d mean that the goals they live for can cause them to be very passionately emotional and all emotional beings are greedy and selfish to a point. They clamour for control and eliminate any ambiguity from their point of view. They push for their agenda over any other. The key agenda of organisations is Profit and the key driver of profit is control of production resources. That basically means that whoever controls those developing stories for sell  makes the most money and the stories that sell the easiest as well as most get platforms. Storytelling in many contexts has become more about money than just about people. Stories are a product, artists, actors and writers are the production team and corporations are the quality controllers. Stories are consequently becoming more and more politically correct, sexually pervaded with powerful presentation because of the infusion of technology with the skills of great story tellers all working to keep delivering to an audience that has experienced it all.

It’s therefore no wonder that Spotify is attempting to bring Warner Music and Sony Music together under its wing adding to the already signed labels like Vivendi’s universal music group. Let’s not get into international media especially the big news channels like Reuters, CNN, CCTV, Al-Jazeera and how they are telling preferred versions of the world’s story. I wonder who’s telling our AFRICAN story. I hope that one day we’ll be able to tell the world that we are not backward, or nearly as needy as they think. I hope we can show them how happy we are in AFRICA.

It’s therefore no wonder that storytelling is so pure and un-violated in largely unstructured Africa. We tell what stories we want and because we find our own markets, we sell them. We just can’t sell them far and wide because we don’t have big budgets and influence and control.

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