On a global scale, artists endorsing candidates running for political office is not a new thing. For Uganda however, the move by leading artists to support the incumbent President Museveni in the upcoming 2016 elections has irked both fans and fellow artists, who feel they have been betrayed.
The artists - Juliana Kanyomozi, Radio and Weasel, King Saha, Judith Babirye, Pastor Wilson Bugembe, Iryn Namubiru, Bebe Cool and Jose Chameleone - teamed up to create ‘Tubonga Naawe’ (loosely translated as 'we are with you'). It is arguably the first Ugandan song to feature the best of various genres: King Saha is one of the most popular rising stars, while Babirye and Bugembe command the biggest following among gospel fans. Chameleone is the king of Afrobeat, Bebe has cemented his position at the top of the reggae genre, while Radio and Weasel also dominate their own unique genre.
The group of artists joined the president at the Speke Commonwealth Resort in Munyonyo, Uganda in mid-October 2015 to unveil the song. President Museveni in return has pledged UGX400million (US$112 204) to help the local entertainment industry.
It soon got the whole nation talking, with many critics slamming what they perceive as betrayal by the artists, who they feel have sold their souls. Several bloggers have deemed the song an average effort, while musicians themselves have also criticised the project. Veteran singer Moses Matovu of Afrigo band was not amused by the events that transpired at the launch event at the resort. He referred to it as a waste of a golden opportunity for artists to present the issues of copyright and capacity building, which have major implications for the future of the industry, rather than simply taking handouts that will soon be forgotten. Meanwhile, Afro-soul singer Maurice Kirya has criticised the current copyright law and its lack of enforcement. He wondered whether the Museveni realized that the reason why he’s giving artists financial assistance is because the artists have been denied the benefits owed to them by the copyright law, which would have increased their income through royalties.
In response to the public criticism, the artists who took part in the song have come out to defend their actions. Jose Chameleone, for instance, asked the public to criticize consciously. In a long post on his Facebook page. the artist said: "Let’s oust ignorance and learn to criticize positively. You want us to sing at your graduations, birthdays, weddings, etc. and defy the fact that President Museveni is entitled to the same? Wake up people. We are respectful to Elders and are entitled to dine with a Father."
This is not the first time that Ugandan artists have come out to take sides in the political realm. Bebe Cool has been synonymous with the National Resistance Movement campaign trails since 2006. In 2011, he shocked many by supporting Museveni over his father, Jaberi Bidandi Ssali.
Beyond Uganda, other countries have witnessed artists supporting candidates of their choice. Tanzania, which went to the polls recently on 25 October 2015, witnessed well-known artists releasing songs to show their support for various candidates. In Nigeria in 2011, a host of Nigerian celebrities initially stood by Goodluck Jonathan, but in an odd twist of events, when he disappointed them they switched allegiance to General Muhammadu Buhari, who returned to power in 2015. In the USA in 2008, P. Diddy, Kanye West, Mary J Blige, Alicia Keys, Will.I.Am, John Legend and power couple Beyonce and Jay-Z publicly supported Barack Obama's Yes We Can movement that made him the first African-American president of the USA.