The fallout since Uganda’s presidential election on Jan. 14 has been as brutal as the campaigns leading up to it, with neither side of the political divide showing signs of giving up anytime soon.
The MTV Africa Music Awards (MAMA), a typically apolitical event due to take place in Kampala on Feb. 20, are the latest causalities of the political contestation that saw president Yoweri Museveni declared winner of the controversial election last month.
The Feb. 4 announcement by organizers that the awards would be postponed followed a sustained international campaign urging individual artists to boycott the event. “We will keep fans updated as we have more news,” a statement posted by MTV Base Africa on Twitter reads.
The online petitions circulating on social media had called for the awards show to be canceled, citing the post-election confinement of former presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, a.k.a Bobi Wine. After voting on Jan. 14, Mr. Wine was initially blocked from meeting with any officials or journalists, until an Ugandan High Court judge ordered the military to end a siege at his home. He has since held several meetings with diplomats, including ambassadors from the EU, the UK, and US.
As an artist, Mr. Wine has been barred from performing by authorities for the last two years.
Museveni was elected to his sixth five-year term as president since 1996. The president first rose to power in 1986, before more than 70% of Ugandans were born. Uganda’s opposition parties have called the win fraudulent, and have filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the results. Incidents of election-related violence continue in pockets of the country with reports of abductions, arrests, enforced disappearances, and killings.
As a result, the Ugandan government is under increased international pressure to ensure the civil liberties of the population are respected. Close to a month after the election was marred by a country-wide internet shutdown, a ban on access to social media, as well as digital distribution platforms such as Google’s Play Store, remains in place. Somewhat ironically, pro-regime supporters took to Twitter and Facebook, likely using a VPN, to urge the MAMA organizers not to cancel the event.
Museveni has also targeted international donors since the election. Last week, he suspended a £100 million European donor fund, the Democratic Governance Facility. Since 2011, the fund has supported both officials and NGOs in Uganda working to promote human rights, deepen democracy, and improve accountability. Museveni charged the fund with being “used to finance activities and organizations designed to subvert Government under the guise of improving governance.”
The Ugandan Financial Intelligence Authority also recently suspended the bank accounts of four NGOs, while prominent human rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo was arrested and charged with money laundering based on the funds received by the NGO he leads.
First staged in 2008, the MTV Africa Music Awards has shone a light on the continent’s diverse talent and creativity, by recognizing and rewarding musicians and artistic pioneers. The hotly anticipated event was last held in 2016. While Covid-19 had forced the awards to be broadcast online this year, promotional videos and event’s leadup were expected to provide a boost to Uganda’s tourism industry, which has been crippled by lockdowns and the election’s aftermath.