24 April 2019

Uganda: President Should Not Pick Music for Ugandans

At the end of a recent State House meeting in Entebbe with President Yoweri Museveni, the attention of members of the Uganda Music Promoters and Venue Owners Network was drawn to a list of conditions, which they had to fulfill if they wanted to continue pursuing their music careers and business.

One-by-one the conditions were read: First, the president would not tolerate political music shows. Further, hosts of musicians who sing politics may have their concerts cancelled by police and would not be compensated. The president described music laced with politics as harmful.

The association members who were led to the president by the national coordinator for Operation Wealth Creation, General Salim Saleh, were later given Shs 2 billion in compensation for the cancelled Bobi Wine's shows at Busabala last year.

It appears the president has reserved to himself the duty to determine what musicians must sing about. Music is a form of expression, and the right to freedom of expression is enshrined in the Constitution of Uganda. The same constitution guarantees the people's right to practice their profession and carry on any lawful occupation of economic interest.

If the president is going to determine which music is played, then he is acting contrary to the constitution. The country cannot determine its artistic choices based on the tastes of the president.

This kind of censorship is reminiscent of the former Soviet Union emperor and dictator Josef Stalin. Stalin revamped the music, art and history of the country. He decided what plays would be staged in theatres.

He determined the art displayed in museums. Most of the statues were about his 'heroic' stunts. The history books were rewritten all to favour his reign. On several occasions, singer Bobi Wine, who is Kyadondo East MP, has been blocked by police from performing at Busabala and other places. And the police have conjured up all manner of excuses.

It now appears, they have been frustrating Bobi Wine in order not to offend the president. The president, as the fountain of honour, ought to live an exemplary life. He ought to tolerate those who criticize him through music. In fact, he should be happy that people are talking and singing freely about his weaknesses.

It is also absurd that the association members, some of who are very senior in the industry, nodded their approval to the president's decree. Perhaps, the desire for money blinded them to this unfair bargain.

They should not be pressured to agree to things that would later garrote their talents and stifle their free thinking. A democratic society such as Uganda cannot be limited to the musical tastes of one man.


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