Uganda: Artists should not have to seek government approval to make their art

Draconian legislation currently being prepared by the Ugandan government will curtail freedom of expression

05 Feb 2019

More than 130 musicians, writers and artists, together with many British and Ugandan members of parliament, have signed a petition calling on Uganda to drop plans for regulations that include vetting songs, videos and film scripts prior to their release.  Musicians, producers, promoters, filmmakers and all other artists would also have to register with the government and obtain a licence that can be revoked for a range of violations.

Index on Censorship is deeply concerned by these proposals, which are likely to be used to stifle criticism of the government.

“Around the world from Cuba to Indonesia and Uganda, artists are being pressured by governments seeking to control their art and their message. These misplaced efforts are an intolerable intrusion into artistic freedom and must not be enacted,” Jodie Ginsberg, CEO of Index said.

Signatories to the letter include U2’s Bono and Adam Clayton, author Wole Soyinka, and Razorlight’s Johnny Borrell.

Full text of the letter follows:

Uganda’s government is proposing regulations that include vetting new songs, videos and film scripts, prior to their release.  Musicians, producers, promoters, filmmakers and all other artists will also have to register with the government and obtain a licence that can be revoked for a range of violations.

We, the undersigned, are deeply concerned by these proposals, which are likely to be used to stifle criticism of the government.

We, the undersigned, vehemently oppose the draconian legislation currently being prepared by the Ugandan government that will curtail the freedom of expression in the creative arts of all musicians, producers and filmmakers in the country.

The planned legislation includes:

  • All Ugandan artists and filmmakers required to register and obtain a licence, revokable for any perceived infraction.
  • Artists required to submit lyrics for songs and scripts for film and stage performances to authorities to be vetted.
  • Content deemed to contain offensive language, to be lewd or to copy someone else’s work will be censured.
  • Musicians will also have to seek government permission to perform outside Uganda.

Contained in a 14 page draft Bill that bypasses Parliament and will come before Cabinet alone in March to be passed into law, any artist, producer or promoter who is considered to be in breach of its guidelines shall have his/her certificate revoked.

This proposed legislation is in direct contravention of Clause 29 1a b of the Ugandan

Constitution which states:

  1.   Protection of freedom of conscience, expression, movement, religion,

assembly and association.

(1)    Every person shall have the right to—

(a)    Freedom of speech and expression which shall include freedom of the media;

(b)    Freedom of thought, conscience and belief which shall include academic

freedom in institutions of learning;

Furthermore, in accordance with Clause 40 (2)

(2)       Every person in Uganda has the right to practise his or her profession and to

carry on any lawful occupation, trade or business.

As a Member State of the African Union, the Republic of Uganda has ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Article 9 of the Charter provides:

  1. Every individual shall have the right to receive information.
  2. Every individual shall have the right to express and disseminate his opinions within the law.

We therefore call upon the Ugandan government to end this grievous and blatant

violation of the constitutional rights of Ugandan artists and producers, and to honour

its international obligations as laid down in the various international human rights

conventions to which Uganda is a signatory and for Uganda to uphold freedom of speech.


  • Although freedom of expression is protected under the Uganda constitution, it is coming under increasing threat in the country.
  • In 2018, authorities arrested popular musician and opposition member of parliament, Robert Kyagulanyi, better known as Bobi Wine. He was badly beaten in military custody. Musicians, writers and social activists including Chris Martin, Angelique Kidjo, U2’s The Edge, Damon Albarn and Wole Soyinka, signed a petition calling for his release, which ultimately succeeded.
  • Since July 1, Ugandans have had to pay a tax of 200 shillings, about 5 US cents, for every day they use services including Facebook, Twitter, Skype and WhatsApp.
  • The government said it wanted to regulate online gossip, or idle talk but critics fear this meant it wanted to censor opponents.
  • During the presidential election in 2016, officials blocked access to Facebook and Twitter
  • On Thursday January 31 a statement was made by Jeremy Hunt MP, the UK’s Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs: “”We are aware of the proposed regulations to the Ugandan music and entertainment industry that are currently being consulted on and are yet to be approved by the Cabinet. The UK’s position is that such regulations must not be used as a means of censorship. The UK supports freedom of expression as a fundamental human right and, alongside freedom of the media, maintains that it is an essential quality of any functioning democracy. We continue to raise any concerns around civic and political issues directly with the Ugandan government.”

ABTEX – Producer, Uganda

ADAM CLAYTON – Musician, U2

ALEX SOBEL – Member of Parliament, United Kingdom

AMY TAN – Novelist, Screenwriter

ANDY HEINTZ – Freelance journalist and author, USA

ANISH KAPOOR – Artist, United Kingdom

ANN ADEKE – Member of Parliament, Uganda


ASUMAN BASALIRWA – Member of Parliament, Uganda


BELINDA ATIM – Uganda Sustainable Development Initiative

BILL SHIPSEY – Founder, Art for Amnesty

BONO – Musician, U2

BRIAN ENO – Artist, Musician and Producer

BRUCE ANDERSON – Journalist Editor/Publisher

CLAUDIO CAMBON – Artist/Translator, France

CRISPIN BLUNT  – Member of Parliament and former Chair of Foreign Affairs Select Committee, United Kingdom

DAN MAGIC – Producer, Uganda

DANIEL HANDLER – Writer, Musician aka Lemony Snicket

DAVID FLOWER – Director, Sasa Music

DAVID HARE – Playwright

DAVID SANCHEZ – Saxophonist and Grammy Winner

DEBORAH BRUGUERA – Activist, Italy

DELE SOSIMI – Musician – The Afrobeat Orchestra


DR VINCENT MAGOMBE – Journalist and Broadcaster

DR PAUL WILLIAMS – Member of Parliament, United Kingdom

EDDIE HATITYE – Director, Music In Africa

EDDY KENZO – Artist, Uganda

EDWARD SIMON – Musician and Composer, Venezuela

EFE OMOROGBE – Director Hypertek, Nigeria

ERIAS LUKWAGO – Lord Mayor of Kampala Uganda



FEMI ANIKULAPO KUTI – Musician, Nigeria

FEMI FALANA – Human Rights Lawyer, Nigeria

FRANCIS ZAAKE – Member of Parliament, Uganda

FRANK RYNNE – Senior Lecturer British Studies, UCP, France

GARY LUCAS – Musician

GERALD KARUHANGA – Member of Parliament, Uganda

GINNY SUSS – Manager, Producer

HELEN EPSTEIN – Professor of Journalism Bard College

HENRY LOUIS GATES – Director of the Hutchins Center at Harvard University


IAIN NEWTON – Marketing Consultant

INNOCENT (2BABA) IDIBIA – Artist, Nigeria

IRENE NAMATOVU – Artist, Uganda

IRENE NTALE – Artist, Uganda

JANE CORNWELL – Journalist

JEFFREY KOENIG – Partner, Serling Rooks Hunter McKoy Worob & Averill LLP

JESSE RIBOT – American University School of International Service

JIM GOLDBERG – Photographer, Professor Emeritus at California College of the Arts

JODIE GINSBERG – CEO, Index on Censorship

JOEL SSENYONYI – Journalist, Uganda

JON FAWCETT – Cultural Events Producer

JON SACK – Artist

JOHN AJAH – CEO, Spinlet

JOHN CARRUTHERS – Music Executive

JOHN GROGAN – Member of Parliament, United Kingdom


JONATHAN MOSCONE – Theater Director

JONATHAN PATTINSON – Co-Founder Reluctantly Brave

JOHNNY BORRELL – Singer, Razorlight

JOJO MEYER – Musician

KADIALY KOUYATE – Musician, Senegal

KALUNDI SERUMAGA – Former Director – Uganda National Cultural Centre/National Theatre

KASIANO WADRI – Member of Parliament, Uganda


KEMIYONDO COUTINHO – Filmmaker, Uganda

KENNETH OLUMUYIWA THARP CBE – Director The Africa Centre

KING SAHA – Artist, Uganda


LAUREN ROTH DE WOLF – Music Manager Orchestra of Syrian Musicians

LEMI GHARIOKWU – Visual Artist, Nigeria

LEO ABRAHAMS – Producer, Musician, Composer

LES CLAYPOOL – Musician, Primus

LINDA HANN – MD Linda Hann Consulting Group

LUCIE MASSEY – Creative Producer

LUCY DURAN – Professor of Music at SOAS University of London

LYNDALL STEIN – Activist/Campaigner, United Kingdom

MARC RIBOT – Musician


MAREK FUCHS – MD Sauti Sol Entertainment, Kenya


MARK LEVINE – Professor of History UC Irvine – Grammy winning artist

MARY GLINDON – Member of Parliament, United Kingdom

MATT PENMAN – Musician, New Zealand

MARTIN GOLDSCHMIDT – Chairman, Cooking Vinyl Group

MEDARD SSEGONA – Member of Parliament, Uganda


MICHAEL LEUFFEN – NTS Host, Carhartt WIP Music Rep

MICHAEL UWEDEMEDIMO – Director, CMAP and Research Fellow King’s College London

MILTON ALLIMADI – Publisher, The Black Star News

MORGAN MARGOLIS – President, Knitting Factory Entertainment, USA

MOUSTAPHA DIOP – Musician, Senegal MusikBi CEO

MR EAZI – Musician, Producer, Nigeria

MUWANGA KIVUMBI – Member of Parliament, Uganda

NAOMI WEBB – Executive Director, Good Chance Theatre, United Kingdom

NICK GOLD – Owner, World Circuit Records

NUBIAN LI – Artist, Uganda



OMOYELE SOWORE – Founder Sahara Reporters and Nigerian Presidential Candidate

PATRICK GRADY – Member of Parliament, United Kingdom

PAUL MAHEKE – Artist, United Kingdom

PAUL MWIRU – Member of Parliament, Uganda


RACHEL SPENCE – Arts Writer and Poet, United Kingdom

RASHEED ARAEEN – Artist, United Kingdom

RAYMOND MUJUNI – Journalist, Uganda

RHETT MILLER – Musician, Writer

RILIWAN SALAM – Artist Manager

ROBERT MAILER ANDERSON  – Writer and Producer

ROBIN DENSELOW – Journalist, United Kingdom

ROBIN EUBANKS – Trombonist, Composer, Educator


RUTH DANIEL – CEO, In Place of War


SANDOW BIRK – Visual Artist, USA

SANDRA IZSADORE – Author, Artist, Activist, USA

SEAN JONES – Musician, Composer, Bandleader, Educator

SEBASTIAN ROCHFORD – Musician, Pola Bear

SEUN ANIKULAPO KUTI – Musician, Composer

SHAHIDUL ALAM – Photojournalist and Activist, Bangladesh

SIDNEY SULE – B.A.H.D Guys Entertainment Management, Nigeria

SIMON WOLF – Senior Associate, Amsterdam & Partners LLP

SRIRAK PLIPAT – Executive Director, Freemuse

STEPHEN BUDD – OneFest / Stephen Budd Music Ltd

SOFIA KARIM – Architect and Artist

STEPHEN HENDEL – Kalakuta Sunrise LLC

STEVE JONES – Musician and Producer


TANIA BRUGUERA – Artist and Activist, Cuba

TOM CAIRNES – Co-Founder Freetown Music Festival

WOLE SOYINKA – Nobel Laureate, Nigeria

YENI ANIKULAPO KUTI – Co-Executor of the Fela Anikulapo Kuti Estate

ZENA WHITE – MD, Knitting Factory and Partisan Records

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One response to “Uganda: Artists should not have to seek government approval to make their art”

  1. Katrin Schanz says:

    Art in every way should be free and should NEVER be politically persecuted and censored!!!!