On Friday July 24th, the Ugandan Police arrested four comedians from the Bizonto Comedy Group on Radio Simba, where they work.
The arrests came after comedians posted a comedy on YouTube on July 15, lampooning ethnic and regional appointments in Uganda, and went viral on social media with more than 20,000 views. In the video, they criticized the irregularity of government appointments to higher security, electoral and financial governance positions in the East African nation.
Comedians' irony about racially motivated and irregular appointments to government positions caused quite a stir in some government circles when they observed that key security and financial positions are held by Ugandans from the western region where President Yoweri Museveni is from.
In a statement, the Police accused the comedians of sectarianism and “causing unnecessary hatred and apprehension”, also described the video as an “attack on the Government” and the comedians as “misguided characters” capable of “serious threats to security and the stability of the country ”.
At the end of July, the four comedians, Julius Sserwanja alias “Kidomoole”, Mbabaali Maliseeri alias “Uncle Luyuugumo”, Ssaabakaaki Peter alias “Omuzinyuuzi” and Gold Ki Matono alias “Opeto”, were detained in the Criminal Investigation Department of the Police from Uganda, without charge and waiting to appear in court the week of July 27. They expect their charges to be read to them and the decision on their fates, in terms of bail or prison time.
Uganda's NTV broadcaster reported on the case, with testimonies from Radio Simba employees who witnessed the arrests:
Much noise for a comedy?
In the performance, the comedians began by criticizing Jane Ruth Aceng, the country's health minister, who was seen in a video speaking without masks during a political rally on July 11, in Lira, a district in northern Uganda. Aceng plans to run for a seat in Parliament for that district. President Yoweri Museveni made the use of a face mask mandatory for the coronavirus and banned any type of assemblies, including political and religious ones, and schools to mitigate the spread.
The comedians satirically stated that they would take the time to teach children about their country's leaders and encourage them to pray as the country nears the general elections scheduled for February 2021.
In a very specific way, important security positions stood out: chief of the Defense Forces, General Muhoozi David; Presidential Advisor on Defense, General Muhoozi Kainerugaba, Chief of Security Services, General Elly Tumwine, Chief of Prisons, Dr. Johnson Byabashajia; and the Deputy Inspector General of Police, Sabiiti Muzeyi. They kept talking about finance charges such as the Governor of the Bank of Uganda, Mutebile Emmanuel, and the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Finance, Muhakanizi Keith. Finally, they also spoke about the president of the Electoral Commission, Byabakama Simon.
The four comedians asked the Ugandans to teach their children about these people. They also encouraged citizens to pray for these leaders, as they have a great task ahead of them to organize free and fair elections. The comedy group Bizonto joked that these key government officials may have the daunting task of advising President Museveni to step down from power should he lose in the next election.
Their arrests came at a time when the government also passed regulations to control the creative arts industry. It is clear that these regulations have been perceived as a sanction, causing a vibrant creative industry to languish. This industry was the beginning of Uganda's biggest opposition leader, Kyagulanyi Robert Sentamu, known by his stage name, Bobi Wine.
Bobi Wine Ultimate has been denied the right to perform on stage for two years, since he won a seat in Parliament. Wine is one of the biggest opponents of President Museveni, who has ruled Uganda for 35 years.
“Practice tribalism” and stop the critics
Ugandans have commented online on the arrest of the comedians.
Bobi Wine described him as hypocritical:
– BOBI WINE (@HEBobiwine) July 24, 2020
In Uganda, those who practice tribalism arrest those who talk about tribalism, accuse them of promoting tribalism. Hypocrites! Free Bizonto and the arts.
Other comedians recorded a parody in which they place the different leaders highlighted by Bizonto in various regions of the country to send the simple message that the Bizonto comedians never lied in their comedy.
On Twitter, Segawa posted photos showing whom Bizonto mentioned to indicate there were no lies or wrongdoing.
– National Unity Platform (@IAmSegawa) July 24, 2020
TRIBALISM: This is a rare photo of the statement of charges against Bizonto. Free Bizonto.
Also on Twitter, Solomon Ayebare believes that leaders should let people talk about the regional imbalance in senior government positions:
Problem is; my fellow westerners are scared of talking about regional imbalance yet they’re also suffering.
My friends, the people holding & controlling this country are less than 20. Just speak ba dear.#FreeBizonto
– Solomon Ayebare (@ AyebareSolomon1) July 24, 2020
The problem is that my Western colleagues are afraid to talk about regional inequality, but they are also suffering.
My friends, the people who control the country are less than 20. You just have to talk! Free Bizonto.
Buffalo Soldier recalls how he was tortured by his tribe:
“I was tortured by high-ranking security officers from W Uganda on account of my tribe; nothing was done to my torturers. It can't be that when I speak against or expose tribalism, I'm in the wrong. If you don't want us to speak against tribalism, don't practice it. “#FreeBizonto pic.twitter.com/XQrLeZ6Ww5
– Buffalo Soldier🐃 (@BuffaloSoldierA) July 24, 2020
I was tortured by high ranking security officials from my tribe; nothing was done against them. It cannot be that when I speak against or expose tribalism, I am wrong. If you don't want us to speak out against tribalism, don't practice it.
Media personality Douglas Lwanga tweeted:
– Douglas Lwanga (@DouglasLwangaUg) July 24, 2020
Last thing before saying good night. In the name of the art industry, please release Bizonto.
In Uganda, it is quite common to beat or arrest journalists, ban radio or television programs, shut down the media and try to silence anyone who speaks out about the current government's irregularities.