The government of Uganda has for long been accused of suppressing freedom of creative expression and sidelining the arts sector.
And now, artists and civil society organizations have been called upon to step up and challenge the status quo by petitioning government to address the many challenges affecting the industry.
The call was made last week during a three-day training workshop held at Hotel Triangle in Kampala to enlighten artists, civil societies and government agencies about issues relating to human rights and the creative industry.
The workshop is part of the ongoing Artwatch Africa Project which seeks to monitor, report, protect and defend freedom of creative expression in 15 African countries before the end of this year.
The project incorporates trainings, research and advocacy work for arts and cultural practitioners, and is organized by Arterial Network – a renowned arts and cultural association based in South Africa and with branches across the continent.
Participants at the Uganda workshop were told of government’s obligation to establish a democratic arts environment by respecting freedom of creative expression, providing funds for artists and creating a market for arts and cultural products among other incentives.
“The fight for artistic rights begins with you, but you must first be organized before you can begin to engage government,” Peter Rorvik, Arterial Network’s Secretary General and one of the workshop’s facilitators, told the over 20 participants.
Acknowledging that most artists in Africa are naïve about their rights, Rorvik stressed the need for creative industry players to get well versed with the various local and international legal charters.
The 1995 Ugandan constitution does not ensure the freedom of creative expression but nonetheless does guarantee freedom of expression and the right of association.
The country also ratified a number of regional, continental and international declarations that compel it to respect human rights and creative liberty. Among these include the Universal Declaration Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
Interestingly, however, the government has done little to honour its obligation to the sector despite continued cries from industry practitioners.
Tucked under the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development (MGLSD), the sector receives less than 2% of the annual ministry budget. The current education system also sidelines arts subjects.
But the Artwatch project is promising to go a long way in addressing these issues. Launched mid this year, the project uses a multi-dimensional and human rights-based approach to lobby African governments.
A recent research published by Arterial Network as part of the project shows damning levels of artistic rights violation in several African countries with Uganda, Cameroon, Ethiopia and Senegal being among the worst offenders.
“We are also working to defend artists who are under duress by documenting their stories and presenting them to human rights defenders and other necessary authorities,” the project’s coordinator, Diana Ramarohetra, told this blog.
The workshop was held in collaboration with Mimeta, Hivos, Goethe Institute, Stichting Doen, Manya Film Festival, Bayimba and Arterial Network-Uganda Chapter.
Meanwhile, Arterial Network-Uganda Chapter will at the start of next month hold their annual general elections to select their executive committee. All artists and cultural practitioners are welcome to participate. More information can be found here.