Esther Ruth Mbabazi

6x6 Africa Talent: Esther Ruth Mbabazi, Uganda

As a young, self-taught documentary photographer, Esther Ruth Mbabazi uses storytelling and photojournalism to address critical issues in her society. (...) She has a fine sensibility for the changes happening in her country and beyond.” - Tina Ahrens, Germany, director of Photography, Philosophie magazine, and 6x6 nominator.

Esther Ruth Mbabazi is a Ugandan photographer whose work focuses on the social, physical, and emotional aspects of daily life, especially in rural areas and amongst minority groups, with an interest in public health. Recognized for her nuanced approach to social issues, Mbabazi’s work draws on her own experiences to reflect more varied and underrepresented stories from the African continent and beyond. She is a VII Photo Agency Mentee. Her work has been published in international publications and she frequently collaborates with organizations such as Comic Relief, Farm Africa, and Let There Be Light International, among others.

A Mysterious Fate: Nodding Syndrome in Northern Uganda

Thousands of children are affected by nodding syndrome in the remote areas of Northern Uganda. First discovered in Tanzania in the 1960s, the disease causes stunted growth, body deformities – even blindness and death. Researchers have linked the disease to the onchocerciasis virus that is prevalent along River Aswa in different districts of Northern Uganda. However, no one is sure how they got infected, or how to cure them.

These children suffer in the shadows, their plight is largely ignored. The one center that has provided most of the support for the incurable condition shut down in 2017 due to a lack of funds. This story brings to light this unfathomable condition and the children affected by it. Through a series of collages bringing together portraits, landscapes, and drawings, the photographer invites us to connect and empathize with their experience.

Aciro Grace (18) got diagnosed with the symptoms of nodding syndrome in 2005 while living in the camp for Internally Displaced People from Kony’s Lord’s Resistance war. When Hope for Humans, a rehabilitation center for children with nodding syndrome, opened, Grace was among the first children admitted to in-ward care as her condition was terrible. She has since improved, but now the center has closed, the children’s health has significantly deteriorated. Omoro District, Uganda, March 2019.
Aker Ivan (10) was diagnosed with nodding syndrome when he was 8 months old. The doctors first thought he was suffering from severe malaria until they ruled out symptoms of the disease. Due to his condition, Ivan has never been to school and lives at home. His father and elder siblings always watch him over. Omoro District, Uganda, March 2019.
Anyeko Vicky (16) has been suffering from nodding syndrome for 11 years. Her situation is very delicate, as she gets very violent seizures If she misses a single dose of the anticonvulsants. She could not finish her drawing as she got seizures when she tried to draw. Omoro District, Uganda, March 2019.
Larubi Gladys (16) has been suffering from nodding syndrome since 2012. She stopped going to school when the seizures became too intense and frequent. Apart from the anticonvulsants, the children are given every month, there is no form of treatment available for the disease and they continue to suffer in the dark. Pader District, Uganda, March 2019.

This Time We Are Young

This Time We Are Young is an on-going documentation of the changing demographics on the world’s youngest continent, with 60 percent of the African population being under 25. The story reflects on what it means to be young in Africa, following the lives of both the youth who live on the continent and those who migrated to other parts of the world. The project is divided into different chapters, each of them documenting a different theme affecting African youth so far in countries like Uganda, South Sudan, South Africa, Germany, Belgium.

Every other person I know is young. I am young. Yet in many ways, the continent remains stubbornly inhospitable to our rising generation. This project is a way of both collaborating with my peers and exploring my own reality of growing up in Africa – our hopes, our challenges, our future. After all, we will be the ones to define the next chapter of this continent’s story,” says Mbabazi.
Onduparaka Football club fans sit on a fence to get a better view of the match during the Uganda Premier League tournament in Arua, northern Uganda, on 10 March 2018. Uganda has one of the world's youngest populations, with 78 percent of Ugandans under the age of 30. With just under eight million youth aged 15-30, Uganda has one of the highest youth unemployment rates in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Students from the VIP Academy for Aviation & Technology march on their graduation day in Juba, South Sudan, in August 2018. The students graduated in courses like air ticketing, flight reservations, flight check-in, and graphic design, among others. 

Ramses aka Wess Joker (21) is an upcoming hip hop artist in Juba, South Sudan. A student in the Geology and Mining department at Juba University, Ramses hopes to be a star through rapping. He hopes that the youth of South Sudan get to collaborate in rebuilding their country. August 2018.

Pelo Boipelo (18) and her partner Buhle Bontle (19) enjoy quality time in Johannesburg, South Africa, in October 2019. Pelo identifies as pansexual and Buhle as queer. "We do not get problems in public because most times people think Buhle is a boy," Pelo notes. 

See 'This Time We Are Young' by Esther Ruth Mbabazi on Witness.

Discover work by the 6x6 Africa talents, and find out about 6x6’s nomination and selection process.