Uganda neglects the creative industry

Sunday October 7 2012

A member of Ndere Troupe dances Kinyege while an artist (right) puts final touches to his piece.

A member of Ndere Troupe dances Kinyege while an artist (right) puts final touches to his piece. Photo by Faiswal Kasirye 

By Bamuturaki Musinguzi

Despite having formulated the Uganda National Culture Policy (2006), the stakeholders are demanding for more support from government including the amendment of the policy.

Civil society in Uganda recognises that culture informs all aspects of national development. Culture influences different aspects of people’s perception and aspirations of life. Prosperity-for-All can therefore not be achieved without a focus on cultural development and cannot be solely defined by its economic dimension. Prosperity must be understood as a multifaceted achievement whose cultural dimension is cross-cutting.

“…There is no approved plan to implement the National Culture Policy and resources are grossly inadequate. This results in a negative attitude towards the arts and other cultural aspects, with an influx of foreign materials (such as in the media). Mechanisms to promote positive cultural values are not in place. Marginalisation also results in limited or decaying infrastructure, almost absent outside Kampala,” civil society observes in a 2010 document titled “Culture and Our National Prosperity.”

“For the past three years, the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda (CCFU) along with other mind-like civil society organisations have been lobbying government to mainstream culture in all development initiatives and specifically to earmark at least 1 per cent of the national budget to cultural development programmes. However, three years down the road the situation has not changed. The cultural sector is still marginalised. Thus, cultural affairs only attracted miserable 0.03 per cent of the national budget in the Financial Year 2011/12,” Emily Drani, the CCFU executive director says.

Political will lacking
“This is an indication that; despite increased appreciation of culture and its incorporation into the National Development Plan, commitment to investing national resources and political will to promote and preserve culture is limited,” Drani adds.

“The greatest challenge is that culture does not rank highly on the national agenda. The irony is, how do you provide for defence and security before the totality of a nation. Culture is supposed to rank number one and other issues follow. That is where our departure of life should be,” the Executive Director of the Uganda National Cultural Centre (UNCC), Joseph Walugembe contends, adding: “The neglect of the cultural sector is historical that has been inherited by all governments in Uganda.”

“Another issue is perception. How do the technocrats convince culture? Do they have clarity of culture and creative industry? What do we benefit from culture? When you mention culture the quickest negative perception is that of music, dance and drama which is equated to satanic events. Whereas culture is the totality of ourselves, the way we organise ourselves and our identity,” Walugembe notes.

Nuwa Wamala-Nnyanzi, a visual arts practitioner and consultant says that most government policies if not all are not informed or influenced by indigenous knowledge, in most cases by design while in other cases by default. “Most Ugandan technocrats who also form the bulk of policy designers and implementers are beholden unto Euro centrism and tend to shy away or despise anything indigenous. They are always eager and willing to impress the so called development partners who are also sources of significant funds for government projects,” he argues.

On her part the Ugandan Official National Goodwill Tourism Ambassador, Suzan Kerunen says: “I believe it’s owing to the fact that the creative industry as a whole in Uganda is fragmented and not yet developed to attract national attention. The arts and culture, better still the creative industry, works hand in hand with a number of synergy complimentary elements like the media, technology, external players like the neigbouring countries and of course the political scene not for rallies and dividing artistes by politicians. They should recognise the arts as a rich addition to the country’s identity.”

“I think we artistes need to be organised because we talk too much and complain too much as well. I also think there are too many associations some of which are seasonal. It is not bad to have many groups but then nearly each artiste owns an association. Because we have many associations it becomes difficult to identify who will champion our cause.” Julius Lugaaya, cultural specialist based in Kampala admits.

The director of Uganda German Cultural Society, Carolin Christgau, concurs that arts and culture play an important role in society. “They are supporting the physical and mental development of citizens and open people’s minds and horizons. The creative industry and culture sensitise people to be aware of what is happening around them and give impulses on life perspectives. Arts and culture enhance the quality of life, through a creative perspective on life. Culture is the connecting part in society which makes us understand each other and working on common development of a society.”

According to the Uganda Performing Rights Society (UPRS), today, copyrights are at the heart of modernity and in particular of a wide range of economic activities which are generally identified as “Cultural Industries.” Since 1986 the cultural industries have registered steady growth in Uganda – which is probably faster than the whole economy. A few indirect indicators show the recent development of various sectors, sub-sectors and segments that are directly and indirectly related to the copyright industry.

It is estimated that between 2004 and 2008 Uganda’s exports of cultural goods and services were valued at $20 million (about Shs50b). In terms of employment, copyright industries employ about 100,000 people countrywide, with 10 - 12 people employed in every 1,000 in the central region and 0 – 1 in 1,000 in the northern region, according to a mapping survey commissioned by Uganda National Commission (UNATCOM) for UNESCO in 2009.

Kerunen also argues that: “Culture needs to have a visible presence in legislature coupled with government funding and backing, and a strong copy right law. The media in Uganda should to support of the local arts and culture by regulating western content.”

The State Minister for Gender and Culture, Ms Lukia Isanga Nakadama, says government supports the cultural sector in various ways. “We can’t support each and every event. But we try to support our artists in terms of technical assistance and we have a cultural policy to guide us in this regard. We are also engaged in cultural exchanges with several countries,” Nakadama said.

“We cannot say that government hasn’t invested in the sector. It has. Because the moment you have a ministry that is an investment. The question is how much? So that more can be achieved. In order to gain visibility the artistes should do their part and then go ahead and demand for reciprocal treatment from government,” Walugembe observes.

The Executive Director of the International Council of African Museums (Africom), Dr Rudo Sithole says African governments support the cultural sector but usually not to the required levels and the level of support also varies from one country to another.

“The African governments, often times, have bigger issues to deal with such as health, transport and food, and in some cases, conflicts and as a result culture and museums are usually among the lowest government priorities. They need, however, to realise that culture and development are closely linked and that it is necessary to harness the good aspects of our cultures for the development of the continent,” Sithole argues.