Tag: Simon Lokodo

Porn or pop? Ugandan singer on trial for saucy music video

Jemimah Kansiime is being charged in a Ugandan court of law for wilfully and unlawfully producing, trafficking, importing, selling and abetting pornography, the first person to be indicted under the new anti-pornography law. (Pic: AFP)

Bouncing and grinding, singer Jemimah Kansiime’s music video was a hit among her Ugandan fans, but not for conservative politicians who say it broke a tough new anti-pornography law.

The 21-year-old singer, who uses the stage name “Panadol wa Basajja” – literally, “medicine for men” – has already spent five weeks in jail after her arrest for a music video that gives a lingering and generous focus on wet and soapy buttocks.

Now she faces up to 10 years in jail, if found guilty in the first full trial under the law – which took effect in February 2014 – that critics such as Human Rights Watch argue so loosely defines pornography it has encouraged public attacks on women wearing skimpy clothing.

Critics say it is part of a growing anti-liberal movement including tough laws against homosexuals in Uganda, where religious-driven conservatism appears to be on the rise and where US evangelical preachers rather than pop stars like Kansiime often receive rock star welcomes.

“I was aware that there are some sections of society that are conservative,” said the singer, smoothing her rainbow coloured hair extensions that always cover one eye.

But one thing she thought she had learnt from her idols – including Rihanna and Nicki Minaj – is that sex sells.

“I was just experimenting to see if I put on a short dress, will the audience like it?” said the singer.

She made the video that has placed her in hot water last year for her song Nkulinze – or “I am waiting for you” – about “a young lover’s intimate fantasies”.

It has proved popular, and the video has been watched over 140 000 times on YouTube. But Kansiime said she never dreamt that writhing in her underwear was breaking the law. She and her then manager Didi Muchwa Mugisha were arrested in November.

Mugisha pleaded guilty and was fined 200 000 Ugandan shillings (75 dollars), but Kansiime pleaded not guilty, and was held for five weeks before raising the cash bail.

“When I was making that video I never intended it for children, I intended it for adults. I did not sell or distribute the song,” said Kansiime, wearing a short, leopard print dress with tiny straps, revealing a push up bra underneath.

“My rights have been trampled upon, my freedom of expression has been trampled upon,” she told AFP in her simple tin-shack home in the capital Kampala.

Shocked minister

Her lawyer, Isaac Semakadde, argues the case is a test for the right of Ugandan performers to “express themselves”.

“That right to erotic entertainment, there has to be a space for it in an open and free society,” he told AFP, saying divisions must be made between clearly criminal offences such as child pornography.

“To ban all forms of pornography, all forms of nudity, is outrageous,” he said.

She was tracked down and arrested after Ethics Minister Simon Lokodo was shocked at the video. Lokodo has recently boasted that he and his “intelligence team” of spies are “on the ground” watching such singers closely.

“That’s why Panadol was arrested,” he said, describing her videos as “very obscene and vulgar”, and warning of more arrests.

The former priest said singers such as Rihanna were “the type of people I’m condemning.”

“She’s a very provocative dancer… there’s nothing at all good there,” he said.

In his continued crackdown on pornography, Lokodo has this year ordered police to arrest men who procure prostitutes and described a popular local television dating show as prostitution. Local media reported that he also confronted Uganda’s youngest MP when she walked into parliament in a short skirt.

Semakadde accuses the ethic ministry of ignoring more pressing issues.

“The decadence in society does not start and stop with prostitution,” he said. “There’s corruption – but they have no answers to that, so they go for the most vulnerable.”

Kansiime is due next in court later this month. But Semakadde said he will request the case is halted while the Constitutional Court deals with a separate petition brought by activists against the law, arguing it is “overbroad and vague”.

Amnesty International has called for the law to be repealed and Semakadde ultimately wants it scrapped, too.

Inspired by her struggle, Kansiime’s next song tackles unemployment.

As she awaits her next court appearance, she insisted that she had the right to film “whatever I want”, but conceded she may need to cater for more conservative tastes if she is to make a living from her music.

“I have to do something that people like, I have not benefitted from that video,” she admitted.

Will Uganda really ban the miniskirt?

Lydia Asano sashays down the red carpet at Kampala’s luxury Serena hotel, wearing an “Afrocouture” black lace gown, partially see-through and with a slit up her left thigh. Onlookers are captivated by the 6ft model. “It’s my favourite piece that I’ve ever modelled,” gushes Asano (21) backstage after the fashion parade. She regularly goes out to Kampala nightspots in this kind of outift. “It could be something little and cute, anything goes,” she says. Fast forward to Saturday night and Lilian Mubende (25) is sipping a cocktail in De Posh Bar in Kabalagala, Kampala’s party area, sporting a purple above-the knee dress. “When I wear my short dresses I feel free,” she says.

But if a bill passed by the Ugandan Parliament in December becomes law, fashion parades such as that at the Serena hotel may be threatened and Ugandan women will have to cover up or face arrest. Passed the day before a more notorious anti-gay bill, the government-backed anti-pornography legislation has a broad definition of “pornography”. According to the 2011 version, retabled in parliament last year, this includes “any cultural practice, radio or television programme, writing, publication, advertisement, broadcast, upload on internet, display, entertainment, music, dance, picture, audio or video recording, show, exhibition or any combination of the preceding that depicts sexual parts of a person such as breasts, thighs, buttocks and genitalia”, among other meanings. The 2011 draft bill reportedly proposes that anyone found guilty of abetting pornography face a 10m shilling (£2,473) fine or a maximum of 10 years in jail, or both.

Simon Lokodo, Uganda’s ethics and integrity minister, insists the bill in its current form will be signed by President Yoweri Museveni, and therefore come into force, very soon. “Maybe he will take some time to sign the anti-homosexuality bill, but for that anti-pornography [bill] we are sure he’s going to sign,” he told the Guardian. “He has not commented on this [publicly] as he has with the anti-homosexuality bill. That means he is comfortable with it.” Lokodo says that the bill targets “irresponsible” women wearing clothes above the knee in public because they are “hurting the moral fibre” of Uganda.

“So today if I met somebody putting on a miniskirt, a miniskirt that explains a lot of what that person has in one’s mind, that person should be arrested,” he said. “What we want to condemn is the provocativeness, that they want to draw somebody to desire them. We are saying that we are blaming and condemning any of these girls who dress so indecently, especially in public areas. We shall not accept it, whether it is fashion or what.”

Last April, when the bill was reintroduced in Parliament, Asano sported a “save the miniskirt” T-shirt and went to many save-the-miniskirt parties. Despite Lokodo warning that people will be “sensitised” by the law so they report others breaking it before police catch them, Asano is not letting down her hemlines yet. “We should be focusing on getting thieves and rapists off the streets instead of bringing in a miniskirt bill,” says Asano. “It violates our rights. If they refuse to let us wear miniskirts, why should the guys be able to wear little shorts?”

Protestors in London at a Slut Walk event in 2011. The Slut Walk initiative serves to protest against the perception that the way a woman dresses can justify rape and sexual violence. (Pic: Flickr / msmornington)
Protestors in London at a Slut Walk event in 2011. The Slut Walk initiative serves to protest against the perception that the way a woman dresses can justify rape and sexual violence. (Pic: Flickr / msmornington)

Mubende thinks that certain politicians are just trying to whip up fear. She is more cautious than Asano, saying: “The minister is serious about it [the bill] but the president’s not. When the president is serious about this we shall stop wearing them.

But Rita Aciro Lakor, the executive director of Uganda Women’s Network (Uwonet), argues the issue is about more than whether women can wear miniskirts. “It’s about going back to controlling women,” she says. “They’ll start with clothes. The next time they’re going to remove the little provisions in the law that promote and protect women’s rights.” She says the more people talk about miniskirts, the more people wear them, and that the law will be hard to implement.

Human rights lawyer Peter Magelah believes the bill, which he stresses is also largely about press freedom, will be used “selectively” and “for political reasons” if it becomes law. “Idi Amin had a miniskirt law in Uganda and a lot was written and said about it, but it wasn’t removed from the statute books until 2002,” he says. “It was in place and no one enforced it. And, of course, the law doesn’t provide for how short a miniskirt should be, so in a court it’s one thing a lawyer would have a field day challenging.”

Amy Fallon for the Guardian

We need to talk about sex in Uganda

I was sexually abused by my aunt as a child. When I tried telling my mother about it, she said that there are some things that people do not speak of, ever. She refused to talk about my experience again.

One day I saw strange blood stains in our toilet and ran to tell her that somebody was horribly hurt. She was embarrassed and told me to shut up. I could not for the life of me imagine why.

Everything fell into place six years later. She called me to her bedroom, locked the door and whispered to me that someday I too would have blood flowing out of my… my … my … you know what! I was horrified that my mother was tackling a topic she had spent her entire life running away from.

My mum always wanted the best for me, but she did not always know what the definition of best entailed. She, like many African women, lived under the heavy yoke of society. She believed every taboo, every norm, and preached it me, her only daughter. To date, she cannot say the word ‘sex’ out loud. I told her I would teach my daughter to call her vagina a vagina and not “susu” or “kuku”, and she retorted that she’d like to put me across her thighs and spank me.

I grew up, finished school and university and fiercely questioned some of her ideas.It helped that I had pursued a degree in law and then chose to to be a journalist. Around this time, I realised that what my aunt did to me was not really my fault. Women’s rights activists I spoke to and admired told me she could still serve jail time for it. I don’t wish for her to go to jail, but I do worry about other children she has contact with. Does she violate them too?

Last year I decided to tell my story while working as a journalist at The Observer, a national paper. It was a difficult decision. I knew it would earn me the wrath of my entire family, who would of course ask: “Why did you choose to tell our private matters to the public?”

I did not have the guts to use my real identity. I told it in third person, changed names and locations and then submitted the piece to my editors who had earlier asked: “Do women actually molest?”

My story caused an uncomfortable stir in the newsroom. People were not comfortable talking about these “issues”. Tempers flared and ideas were rebuffed but I persisted.

My story was a personal, honest account, but I included hard facts: according to various research, women are perpetrators in up to 40% of child molestation cases. I explained that, as is the case with sexual abuse by males, these women are usually trusted adults – teachers, religious leaders, close relatives, nannies who you would trust with your life. And that this betrayal has far-reaching psychological consequences.

Despite this, my colleagues were skeptical. “This story is not credible!” our chief reporter told me. “You have to call the woman who molested you and get her side of the story.”

How was I supposed to call my aunt and ask her: “Is it true you molested me?”

That marked the end of my attempt to tell my story. I simply deleted it and moved on to less daunting assignments. As a reporter interested in sex and sexuality, there was an unimaginable amount of disbelief and misinformation I encountered during my work:  There are no homosexuals, intersex people must have done something to deserve it, a man cannot rape his wife, raped women enjoy it … the rhetoric was and still is endless! It made me think of how many more voices like mine had been silenced – not just by anxious mothers but by political, religious and social institutions more concerned about flimsy moral values than the wellbeing of citizens.


Uganda has been in the spotlight recently for two pieces of draft legislation directly affecting women. One, the Marriage and Divorce Bill, first tabled in 1964, sought to give women and men equal rights in marriage. After 49 years of debate, it was shot down in Parliament last month, not for its lack of substance but rather for its apparent disruption of the moral fabric of society. President Museveni wasted no time attacking women groups and civil society, insisting the Bill was disrespectful to our culture.

(Graphic: Kenny Leung)
(Graphic: Kenny Leung)

Moralist and pastor Martin Ssempa, speaking on radio at the peak of marriage Bill debate, said that women who want the legislation passed are merely “angry feminists seeking revenge on men”. He said that these women are falsely accusing men of raping them and causing them to get fistulas; that marriage will be perfect provided Parliament leaves it to God.

Ideas like his were welcomed by politicians only interested in votes, and opposition to the marriage Bill simply gripped the entire nation.

“That Bill should not be passed,” opined my hairdresser. “They want men to stop marrying us for fear that we shall take their property. In fact a law like this will encourage men to become homosexuals.”

Some people say that the Bill failed because it touches on property – men’s property. But the residents of Mpererwe, a low cost suburb I call home, disagree. Here, the men put their wives in rented mizigo (one-room houses with questionable sanitation). Most of the men ride boda bodas owned by rich bosses, others sell in the nearby market or do casual work in town. The Mpererwe woman would ask: “What property are you talking about?”

While history may have blessed some men with real property, the vast majority of Uganda men are poor, struggling alongside their women.

The real cause of the demise of the marriage Bill is not property – it  is the fact that it dares to question a man’s sexual domain.

Moralists want everything sexy covered up. Encouraged by the fall of the marriage Bill, the anti-pornography Bill was recently resurrected after it was first proposed and abandoned in 2011. This time, miniskirt-wearing feminists would be dealt with once and for all; thrown into jail for wearing dresses above their knees.

Judging from the way the populace rejected the marriage Bill, it is easy to see why Ethics and Integrity Minister Simon Lokodo thinks that his proposed anti-pornography Bill will protect what the marriage Bill sought to disrupt.

Lokodo is a wise man who realises that Uganda is not a good place to simply throw around the sex discourse. President Museveni has declared that he does not hold his wife’s hand or kiss her in public, and that Ugandans should emulate this. The consensus, at least per Lokodo, is that everyone must have sex missionary style with a partner of the opposite sex. Uganda’s leaders know that the only time you should talk about sex in Uganda is when you are telling errant women to cover up their sexiness lest they distract men in their noble quest to save this nation. When it comes to sexual abuse, sex education, girls’ bodily changes, domestic violence, marital rape, contraception and other issues directly affecting the lives of women, the silence is ominous. This needs to change.

Patience Akumu is a features writer at The Observer in Uganda. Her major focus is human rights, particularly LGBTI rights and women’s rights. She is the winner of the 2013 David Astor Journalism Award.