Censoring art: The regulations on artistes have taken the bigger part of the industry by surprise. But what are the regulations and how will they change the entertainment industry’s operations going forward? Andrew Kaggwa and Isaac Ssejjombwe explore.
In 2011 Barkhad Abdi, a Somali immigrant and a non-actor had the world in his palms after portraying pirate Abduwale Muse in Paul Greengrass’s Captain Phillips.
For a first time actor, starring alongside Tom Hanks would have been enough, but he had impressed and in a sentence, “I’m the captain now,” he won hearts and later, an Oscar nomination.
Yet the line was an improvisation, he later revealed – that he was meant to say nothing but threw the line in and the cameras continued rolling.
Improvising is one of those few things that always reveal that much as art uses scripts, it lives and breathes like humans, thus, it is bound to change. For instance, a story has been told of how 12 artistes went to studio to record a song endorsing President Yoweri Museveni’s presidential bid in 2016.
However, during the session, their inspiration changed and the song they later released was Tubonga Naawe, slightly different from what they had intended to record.
Yet, the freedom to create, revisit and edit a creation or even improvise may be under threat, thanks to a set of regulations on the art and entertainment industry that have been making waves on social spaces.
The regulations that are showing up under the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) and the Ministry of ICT, for instance, have a clause that asks playwrights, before staging a play, to avail the script to UCC.
If the script is not in English, the regulations note that it must be translated by a certified person whose charges are on the creative. Thereafter, the commission within its powers will decide whether the artiste is eligible to perform his creation.
Such a clause, for instance, means that a first time actor such as Abdi cannot get a chance to impress and his improvisation of “I’m the captain now” will be criminal since it does not appear in the original draft of the script.
But that is just one story of the regulations that UCC claims will take the industry to professional heights.
How it all began
Last year, through the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, regulations that would govern the entertainment industry were floated.
Some of the proposed laws included the ban on toxicants on a day one had to perform and an artiste was not supposed to perform in more than one venue.
At the time, after various meetings with the ministry, the regulations were shelved for further consultations and research.
However, this year, tougher regulations in the mold of the past ones resurfaced, this time, under UCC and the ICT ministry.
Much as a big part of the publicised rules were lifted from the document the Ministry of Gender had to consult on, others such as the Stage Play and Public Entertainment regulations were directly lifted from an older document, the colonial masters 1943 Act of the same name.
Then, most of such regulations were used by colonialists to censor the information masses were meant to receive. This meant that if a Ugandan wanted to stage a production at the only theatre then – the National Theatre, he or she had to measure up to guidelines and standards set by them, in a manner they wanted.
“It is surprising that almost 58 years after Uganda got independence, we are still resurrecting colonial rules to police free speech,” Poet and author Peter Kagayi wondered.
Andrew Benon Kibuuka, the president of the Federation of Performing Artistes in Uganda, says this is not the first time the government has come up with regulations for the industry.
He says in 2009 they wanted to come up with regulations after artistes Bebe Cool, Bobi Wine and Chameleone kept fighting each other, in search of a solution, they tried talking to the three as well as using industry regulations.
“Artistes made a lot of noise about the regulations and government distanced itself from them,” Kibuuka says.
Ten years later in 2019, Bebe Cool, Chameleone and Bobi Wine were not at peace but were not fighting each other, though the regulations were brought back.
Hannington Bugingo, the president of The Uganda Comedians Association, says they engaged the State Minister for Gender and Culture Peace Mutuuzo about these regulations and the meetings seemed fruitful, only to learn that they had shifted to the ICT ministry.
Last Saturday, Kuonyesha Art Fund, using the online space, held a conversation. Aptly themed Artists and the Law, the conversation attracted renowned artistes such as Prof Nuwa Nnyanzi, Bugingo, Edward Wadimba and Jackie Asiimwe, among others.
Many talked about the need for the sector to self-regulate, but also wondered why years after independence, the culture sector still lacks fundamental structures.
Bugingo says as comedy, they have been working at self-regulating, starting with fighting vulgar language on stage.
“As comedians started cleaning house for example, the vulgarity in the industry totally reduced. They would have allowed us organise ourselves because no one knows this sector more than us.”
While moderating, Nnyanzi noted that the reason art and culture are a tricky sector is because no one needs a licence to create.
“It is basically the reason the industry has no structures. It is a free entry and exit but above all, it is a sector that has been ignored and exploited by the government and that is the reason it is the way it is,” he said.
One of the key issues that arose were some of the regulations and their possible outcomes, especially to artistes.
Dr Anthony Kakooza, the dean of Faculty of Law at Uganda Christian University (UCU), gave an example of artistes having to submit their scripts to UCC, saying if the body makes changes to a script or any type of work, that automatically by law makes them a co-author.
“In case of anything in future, someone can claim being a co-author of your work, especially if they made changes and the artiste included those changes,” he says.
But besides handing over a script in progress, other laws for instance ask an artiste to interpret their work into English before presenting it to the body that is supposed to deem them fit for production.
All this is done at a fee that can change at the will of the UCC officer an artiste deals with.
Many artistes, especially female artistes, have criticised this, noting that people in these offices are usually men.
Cinderella Sanyu, alias Cindy, for instance, noted that in a world where an officer has the power to set the price they want to give an artiste a permit, they may end up setting prices so high for female artistes.
“And as you may imagine, at the end of the day they will end up sleeping with them in exchange for a permit.”
Other regulations, for instance film and photography, suggest that there will be areas where commercial photography can happen and others where it is prohibited. This technically means, if one takes a good picture but in a prohibited area and they did not receive a permit before taking it, they may break the law even when the said picture is a selfie.
What does this mean?
The creative industries world over have contributed to the employment of many young people, especially some who would not have found work in traditional places of work.
With Uganda having one of the youngest populations, even without support from the government, the creative sector has created an eco-system that does not only benefit creatives but even those around them.
For instance, a Uganda Bureau of Statistics 2013 survey noted that there are more than 12,460 Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in culture and creative industries.
When an artiste has a concert, they will make money but besides them is an eco-system for whom their success will benefit – this includes the band they play with, people publishing their advertising banners and posters, those selling food and drinks, ticketing and sound as well as production teams.
“With their regulations, the government of course does not notice that they are doing one against themselves,” Peter Kagayi says, noting that the industry is partly a solution to unemployment. He also says the situation may lead to a brain drain as it was in the 1970s when many artistes left the country in fear for their lives.
Others have predicted that the regulations may alter Uganda’s cultural fiber since most artistes may find it cheaper to get on a bus to Rwanda and Kenya to produce a song and upload it online.
“In the long run, Ugandans may start producing music and art without character since it is coming from, for instance, Kenya to Uganda,” says Florence Mubiru, a local music enthusiast.
The switch to ICT
The regulations coming back as part of the ICT ministry has even taken the Gender ministry by surprise.
According to an insider that requests anonymity, the regulations were simply smuggled to the ICT ministry.
Ibrahim Bbosa, the head of public and international relations at UCC, however says the Broadcasting Council merged with UCC in 2013, meaning most of the provisions the Broadcasting Council used to run under the electronic media act were handed over to UCC, which now regulates electronic, telecom, broadcasting, film and data communication.
Concerning who they consulted about these regulations, Bbosa said they engaged some stakeholders.
“We as a regulatory body, depend on stakeholder engagement and we have had these for the last four years on aspects of the law and aspects of the regulations but the challenge was that few people turned up and it is those that we engaged.”
However, most artistes have noted that they have not received an invitation to UCC to discuss the regulations, especially with the fact that part of the four years Bbosa talks about, they were discussing these same regulations with a totally different ministry.
Many also argued that UCC’s mandate is in communication and thus, their only connection to art is through film as content in cinemas or TV.
“Them trying to oversee the process of the creation of art is them overstepping their boundaries,” says Sarah Nsigaye, the founder of the Native Festival.
Nsigaye, also an exhibitor, notes that UCC trying to see scripts of films and theatre works in progress is them taking over the media council’s job. The media council currently does media, film and theatre classification, among other things.
Of course, like everyone, Nsigaye wonders whether UCC has specialists in satire, theatre, music and visual art to regulate the industry.
Playwright John Ssegawa says it is unfortunate the art industry has had to go through the lockdown without any support and yet, as they are trying to recover, laws are being smuggled under the table.
“They want to divide us so that we blame each other. This is politics where certain people are given money while others are sidelined.”
On Wednesday, the Minister of ICT, Judith Nabakooba, suspended the Bill. However, Hannington Bugingo noted that they will not sit and they are still pushing for the court case until the law is fully revised or repealed.