Comedians, public rise up over arrest of Bizonto

The four members of the Bizonto drama group. Inset, comedians re-enact the ‘Who is who’ skit by the Bizonto drama group in protest over their arrest. PHOTOS/COURTESY

A parody-style skit recently went viral on different social media platforms. The four comedians who acted in it, dressed in church choir gowns, call themselves Bizonto (the deranged).
The comedians say they intended to teach children, now stuck at home because schools are shut down, about the people who occupy strategic positions in the country.

They listed President Museveni, Chief of Defence Forces Gen David Muhoozi, and Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the senior presidential advisor on special operations.

The others they listed are: Bank of Uganda Governor Tumusiime Mutebile, Ministry of Finance Permanent Secretary Keith Muhakanizi, Commissioner General of Prisons Dr Johnson Byabashaija, Minister of Security Gen Elly Tumwine, Internal Security Organisation boss Col Bagyenda Kaka, Chief of Military Intelligence Maj Gen Abel Kandiho, commander of the Special Forces Command Maj Gen James Birungi, and the Electoral Commission chairperson, Mr Simon Byabakama.
When it came to the police force, the comedians pointed out its head, Mr Martins Okoth-Ochola, but were quick to add that Maj Gen Sabiiti Muzeeyi, the deputy Inspector General of Police, is very influential in decision making within the Force.

They then added Gen Muzeeyi’s name to the earlier 11 to make 12 individuals. They urged their fans to teach their children who is who in the country, further urging them to pray for Uganda’s leaders.

The problem
Here is the catch; all the 12 people the comedians pointed out come from western Uganda. They said the individuals determine what happens in the country and they will have a big say on who wins the forthcoming election.

On Thursday, security forces arrested comedian Gerald Kiwewa. On Friday security forces also arrested the four comedians under Bizonto drama group.

The arrest was effected at the premises of Radio Simba in Bukoto, Kampala, where the quartet presents a morning show called Binsangawano.

“Four members of Bizonto are being held on offences of promoting sectarianism,” Mr Charles Twiine, the CID spokesperson, said.

Those arrested are Julius Sserwanja aka Kidomoole, Mbabaali Maliseeri aka Uncle Luyuugumo, Ssaabakaaki Peter aka Omuzinyuuzi and Gold Ki Matono aka Opeto. They were driven to the police CID headquarters for interrogation on Friday and were still in detention by then.

A day before they were arrested, Mr Gerald Kiweewa, a local folk singer, was arrested on the charge of offensive communication.

Arrests on similar grounds have been piling up over the years.
About two years ago, Mr David Mugema, a musician, and his producer, Mr Jonah Muwanguzi, were arrested and charged for composing a song that the authorities said disturbed the peace of President Museveni.

On the basis of the song, dubbed Wumula Mzee (Mzee retire), the duo were charged with two counts of offensive communication under section 25 and 21 of the Computer Misuse Act of 2011.

In February, Stella Nyanzi, then an academic and activist, was released after serving 18 months in prison for alleged offences against President Museveni.

Those insults were a preview of the book winner of the Oxfam Novib/PEN International Award for Freedom of Expression “No Roses from My Mouth,” full of poems she wrote from Prison, which was published immediately after her release.

Mr Robert Ssempala, the coordinator of the Human Rights Network for Journalists, said the arrest of the comedians is political persecution since what the artistes said is the truth.

“We have not got an assurance from the mentioned people that they were offended by the statement of the artistes.
Instead, the people mentioned should be proud of themselves that they work for government,” Mr Ssempala said.

“What is happening shows clearly that we aren’t ready for a ‘scientific’ election because the actions of the State are intended to threaten the media from publishing what would ideally be part of election politics,” he said.

Mr Hannington Bugingo, the president of comedians and performing artistes in Uganda, said the arrest of the artistes is aimed at curtailing freedom of speech.

“What they did is not a crime. The Constitution allows it. They only mirrored what is in the society. We are allowed to speak about politics,” Mr Bugingo said.

The arrest of the comedians sparked an online uproar, with a hashtag #FreeBizonto, trending.

Comedians made skits similar to the one of the Bizonto group and posted them online, attracting massive reactions.