The state of Uganda’s creative industry an all too common complaint among artists within Uganda is that the creative industry is simply not a “serious” entity to be pursued as a path to a successful and lucrative career. This “lack of seriousness” has resulted in one of the worst policy frameworks for the arts in the developing world. Concerts go unattended, books are not bought (if they can be published at all), grants are not delivered, artistic facilities remain unfinished and draconian regulations are imposed on the content that can be produced.
Radio stations play music from abroad and Cinemas show foreign films. As Mbarara-based singer-songwriter, Kennedy Turyagumanawe says of the current situation, “The day that Ugandan artists start living like politicians is the day you’ll see a shift in public perception and consumption.” This issue is exemplified by the lack of policy and effective implementation of regulations surrounding Uganda`s creative industry.
When examining the music industry, the crux of the issue comes down to copyright. Most casual fans of Ugandan music are familiar with the story of the late Mozey Radio, who alongside his collaborator Weazel had multiple hits between 2008 to 2018 . The duo received steady airplay and were totally highly successful. In 2016, Radio criticised the UPRS, a collective management organisation for Ugandan musicians, stating that the organisation had only paid them royalties totaling Sh200,000.
UPRS has been embroiled in constant legal and legislative turmoils, and had its capacity to collect, track and distribute royalties to Ugandan artists almost got revoked due to a court order in 2018. Its Executive Director James Wasula was side-lined and the whole administration got replaced by an interim committee to take over the role, yet the headlines and legal issues remain. The ones who seem to get lost in the shuffle are the artists. The example of the late Mozey Radio is at the core of the problems that face the creative industries in Uganda; while there might be growth of the sector on paper, the artists or creators themselves don’t see the benefits materialising within their wallets.
At an even more micro level, take the example of the National Environment Management Authority of Uganda (NEMA) together with KCCA enforcing noise pollution regulations against DJs in Uganda; security forces routinely go into clubs, arrest DJs for exceeding “noise restrictions”, even as they spin on the decks, and haul them off to jail. Such enforcements were not communicated effectively to the members of the music industry. Again, the issues surrounding the enforcement of regulations continue when examining the burgeoning film industry in Uganda. Some estimates contend that over 90 per cent of films in Uganda are pirated, with the heavy-handed punishments outlined by legislation being rarely enforced.
On top of this, the head of the Uganda Film Classification Board, Meddie Kaggwa, has made free expression through film and television markedly more difficult. Kaggwa has enacted steep license fees that have reduced the industry’s ability to operate independently, including the hoop-like requirement of filmmakers needing multiple licenses to film in multiple locations. Indeed, Kaggwa’s attempts to enforce his dictates on theatre as well as the film industry have led content creators to further eschew any connection with the government.
The lack of a structured unified body is reflected in other creative industries, which lessens the sector’s ability to engage in any sort of meaningful dialogue with the government. These issues of associational divide were echoed by HIVOS in 2016, which stated that “the current state of associations in East Africa is that they are fragmented, disunited and lack a consistent agenda on how to engage the government and different industries to ensure the standards of the industry consistently improve”. So what does all of this amount to? There is one commonality: the utter lack of possible taxable revenue as a result of obtuse and inadequate policy. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the entertainment industries are growing across the board; revenues are up, as is Internet access and the number of viewers within the Ugandan market. However, Uganda is trailing far behind other nations that have capitalised on the bolstering of income from the creative sector.
Uganda vs other major African markets
The stagnant creative sector in Uganda becomes apparent when examining the state of other African creative sectors. When looking through the lens of the two other leading sub-Saharan African markets (Nigeria and South Africa) the differences and gaps becomes stark. Both South Africa and Nigeria have music industry infrastructure that focuses on the regulations of the industy. This includes promoting local artists while protecting their ability to garner revenue from their work and punishing those who take advantage. Within Nigeria, artists are promoted, DJs play the latest local tracks and help to encourage grassroots growth of new musical artists.
The most glaring example of a creative economy’s potential is the constant streaming of Nollywood movies on Ugandan televisions. How exactly did the Nigerian film industry become so massive in recent decades, dominating the African market and influencing global media beyond the continent? It is a remarkable story of growth, with Nollywood’s early roots tracing back to the colonial era of the early 20th century. The independence of Nigeria from British rule in 1960 resulted in further expansion of the film industry. The key moment came in 1972, when the Indigenization Decree was issued by Yakubu Gowon, the Head of the Federal Military Government. The original intent of the decree was to reduce foreign influence and pour wealth back into the hands of Nigerian citizens.
The international business community publicly complained, threatened to pull out, and in some cases reduced their investment. The Indigenization Decree led to hundreds of theatres having ownership transferred from foreign hands to Nigerian ownership. In the years that followed, widespread graft was discovered in multiple industries (much due to foreigners paying for corporate “fronts” while secretly maintaining control). Gowon was deposed while abroad in 1975 and the film industry continued to grow. New theatre owners started to show more and more local productions, with the result being Nollywood experiencing a further expansion across the next decade as Nigerian citizens were suddenly directly involved in not only the control of the theatres, but also in what Nigerian audiences were more likely to buy a ticket to see, buy a VHS of, and later buy a DVD or stream: local content. Out of the ashes of colonialism, a bloody civil war and a military junta rule, Nollywood grew organically, hand over fist, year after year.
By the mid-1980s, Nigeria was producing massively profitable blockbusters and revenues grew to over US$11 billion (Sh1.1 trillion) by 2013. The industry also employs an eye-popping one million people, estimated to be second only to agriculture in terms of number of employees within Nigeria. In the 21st century, the Government of Nigeria has taken further notice, mostly through the recognition of the massive benefits to the nation that the local film industry provides. Currently the government is working in conjunction with the National Television Authority of Nigeria to expand the industry, offering grants, expanding infrastructure and constructing a production facility. Perhaps most notable was the 2010 signing by former President Goodluck Jonathan of a US$200 million “Creative and Entertainment Industry Intervention Fund” in order to encourage the growth of Nollywood and other creative industries. Put another way, Uganda’s GDP is approximately one-fifth that of Nigeria’s, but there has been no US$40 million fund signed by the government towards the nation’s creative sector.
Transparency International in 2017 ranked Uganda 143 out of 180 in terms of corruption and Nigeria came in at 148. Despite obvious governmental and corruption shortcomings in Nigeria, when it comes to the film industry, one thing has certainly been recognised: that money talks.
South Africa took a different route towards becoming a creative sector powerhouse on an international scale. This is best exemplified when examining the music industry of the country. Once again, the roots of the explosion of South African musical influence can be traced back to a government development programme – the Bantu Radio initiative, which, it must be stated, was put into place in 1960 by the apartheid government in what can best be described as a campaign to further segregate the country. The aim of the programme was to promote tribal music in the hopes that it would reinforce pre-colonial cultural barriers between different communities. It also had the not-so-subtle goal of establishing what black South Africans enjoyed in order to aid the apartheid government in further profiting off of them. The regime believed that the radio stations would play exclusively folk music, but the result was somewhat different.
Bantu Radio began broadcasting more than a dozen different genres of music, among them Afro-jazz, kwela and isicathamiya. These genres exploded in popularity, bringing fame, recognition and influence to many South African music industry figures. The South African Broadcasting Corporation was soon brought in to monitor and regulate the music being produced to ensure that the messages of the music didn’t criticise the apartheid regime or its policies of systemic racism. Further regulatory bodies were established to control the music being played. They did so effectively on the Bantu Radio network, but had also inadvertently “let the cat out of the bag”. There had been a long history of rebellious action through music in South Africa, but now there was an audience of millions who had several genres in mind on what to pursue. Popular artists who were censored on the radio took their messages directly to their audiences. There was an exodus of musicians who left South Africa in order to make music against the apartheid regime without censorship or reprisal. In 1982, the Botswana Festival of Culture and Resistance was held with much of the attendance made up of South African exiled musicians.
At the conference, it was decided that the primary weapon of the struggle against apartheid would be culture. Accidentally, through an attempt to further exploit and divide, the regime had laid the groundwork for both widely popular musical genres with a captive local audience. By 1994, when the last remnants of apartheid were finally thrown aside, the music industry grew massively and continues to be a dominant presence into the 21st century. Anti-apartheid films, rising from South African independent cinema experiencing a boom in the early-80s – the same period when there was a proliferation of video cassette recorders – allowed the viewing of “subversive” productions.
Some of these same anti-apartheid films (banned by the regime), such as 1984’s Place for Weeping, gained international traction and helped to establish South Africa’s film industries as influential outside of the borders of the apartheid regime. What the creative industry has done for other nations A UNESCO convention in 2005 stated that there is still a need for governmental frameworks that focus on “emphasizing the need to incorporate culture as a strategic element in national and international development policies, as well as in international development cooperation”. By this standard, the example of South Korea once again stands out. Just how did South Korea springboard its culture into a massive entertainment and creative sector in such a short period of time? The answer is fairly straightforward: the progress of South Korea’s entertainment sectors centres around heavy governmental support, funding and infrastructural management. The government designed and implemented a multi-stage plan towards increasing the profile, impact and economic viability of its entertainment industries. With the example set, it becomes all the more glaring that the Government of Uganda has turned its back on its own creative indu