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

6 February 2019


Freemuse joins Index on Censorship, PEN America and more than 120 musicians, writers, artists and British and Ugandan members of parliament who have signed a petition calling on the Ugandan government to abandon its plan to introduce new regulations restricting artistic freedom of expression.

Signatories to the letter below include U2’s Bono and Adam Clayton, Brian Eno, Razorlight’s Johnny Borrell and authors Wole Soyinka and Margaret Atwood.

In addition, Nigerian musician Femi Anikulapo Kuti writes:

“I was greatly concerned to learn of the Ugandan government’s proposed plans to oblige every musician, artist and filmmaker to register and to submit the lyrics of their songs and the scripts of their films for governmental approval. Also to oblige all artists to seek permission before performing or touring outside of the country. This proposed legislation will eliminate any form of criticism or alternative opinion which, in fact, is healthy for any democratic government to flourish. I appeal to President Museveni to reconsider the imposition of this disastrous plan. Artistic freedom of expression is the bedrock of a healthy society and, contrary to the proposed legislation, should be nurtured and encouraged.”

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:

29. 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
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
DAMON ALBARN – Musician, Blur, Gorillaz
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
EDDIE 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 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
SEUN ANIKULAPO KUTI – Musician, Composer
SHAHIDUL ALAM – Photojournalist and Activist, Bangladesh
SIMON WOLF – Senior Associate, Amsterdam & Partners LLP
SRIRAK PLIPAT – Executive Director, Freemuse
STEPHEN BUDD – Africa Express
SEBASTIAN ROCHFORD – Musician, Pola Bear
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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