Uganda: Candidates’ Plans to Salvage Sports, Arts Begs Big Funding

From children playing fibre-ball on rough village garden patches to rookie groups experimenting with musical instruments and dance or teenagers miming at urban hang-out karaoke, Uganda teems with talent.

The lucky ones have broken through and barrelled upwards to fame and wealth in sports, art and culture fraternities, despite handicaps of inadequate sporting and recreational facilities as well as financing.

The local entertainment industry in many ways was booming before Covid-19 struck in March, prompting the government to impose lockdown and, among others, shut schools, discotheques and theatres.

Whereas institutions of learning have partially reopened, clubs and other entertainment activities including music concerts are banned for the ninth month, leaving a largely uninsured sector reeling and livelihoods in peril.

Yet, elsewhere, the global entertainment and media market is projected to gross $2 trillion, this year, with about $74 billion projected from sports (as of October 23, 2020) alone.

There are no ready figures for how much revenues Uganda’s entertainment and sporting industries were estimated to generate this year before the pandemic crippled most businesses.

However, amid the troubles, the entertainment ministry birthed to the nation pop-star Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, as a National Unity Platform (NUP) candidate in a crowded presidential race, thrusting celebrities to the apex of political competition and participation across aisles.

It is, therefore, unsurprising that Bobi – who holds a diploma in music, dance and drama from Makerere University – in his manifesto prioritises mainstreaming sports, music, dance and drama into education curriculum. He pledges to fast-track skilling of professional tutors and incentivise faith-based organisations to make their recreational facilities available for talent development.

And like Forum for Democratic Change party’s Patrick Oboi Amuriat, the NUP flag bearer promises to work with traditional institutions to promote culture and ensure career management for professional entertainers and sports personalities.

It is a promise likely to resonate with the fraternities since many Ugandan sports and music stars have, after roller-coaster career, crumbled to waste and pennilessness.

Our analysis of the candidates’ governance agenda shows that five of the seven flag bearers who have released their manifesto have varying levels of commitment to sports, art and culture.

They are Independent Joseph Kabuleta, himself a former high-flying Sports journalist, ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) flag bearer Yoweri Museveni, Mr Kyagulanyi, Mr Amuriat and Ms Nancy Kalembe, the only woman in the presidential contest.

Democrat Party’s Norbert Mao only has a line reference, briefly recalling the party’s historical championing of culture and heritage, while Lt Gen Henry Tumukunde mentions the defence of culture only as a sub-component of foreign policy agenda.

This suggests the sectors are unlikely to be priority and receive adequate attention and resourcing, if either of the two men was elected.

Sport enthusiast Kabuleta’s rich offerings in his manifesto suggests his acute awareness about problems afflicting the industry.

For every sports achievement, there is a challenge. In the 2016 to 2021 manifesto, the NRM government vowed to facilitate athletes’ exposure to international events to enable them excel and break international records.

World long distance champion Joshua Cheptegei is the best example, having broken three world records this year alone. His path to celebrity has been mined with distress and personal struggles.

As he travels to western Uganda today to headline a tailored climbing of Mount Rwenzori to revive interest in the country’s tourism sector battered by Covid-19 disruptions, Uganda Tourism Board and United Nations Development Programme that invited him and others will delight in Cheptegei’s appearance.

In short, beyond cash in the pocket and fame, celebrities inspire and influence across sectors as Cheptegei’s engagement in tourism promotion shows. To critics, among them candidates Kabuleta and Mr Amuriat, there is a world of between Mr Museveni’s words and actions about sports whose senior minister is First Lady Janet.

In his manifesto, the FDC flag bearer slams President Museveni for “opportunistically” stealing the thunder from successful athletes and other celebrities by hosting them for banquets at State House yet most of the individuals scale the heights either without government support or with little help.

Uganda’s national teams and athletes have over the years resorted to begging for facilitation ahead of international tournaments. For example, the national netball team lacked almost everything and wandered from one training facility to another ahead of the 2019 World Cup in England. The government opened its purse for the stressed netballers just days to their departure.

However, not all has been or is gloom and doom for sports or culture under NRM. With the Teryet High Altitude Training Centre in the eastern Kapchorwa District 86 per cent complete, according to NRM manifesto, the party flag bearer Museveni can rightly claim that his government is hard at work to ensure sports personalities have modern facilities to develop their talents.

Teryet High Altitude Training Centre will be carpeted with artificial turf, have hostel for residential training, six-lane track, place for jogging and a vast car park.

Mr Museveni wants to construct a number of such new facilities, if given a fresh mandate, alongside establishing professional sports clubs.

While these promises look attractive, the decay of existing infrastructure such as The Mandela National Stadium and the MTN Arena-Lugogo, the only resort for indoor sports, are thirsting for repair including a fresh coat of paint. Worse, the budget for sports has been unstable.

“The little progress in our industry is entirely our effort; government just collects taxes and impose frustrating and marginalising laws,” says Nuwa Wamala Nnyanzi, a visual artist and consultant.

He adds that formalising an arts outlet with the licensing authorities is much more expensive than starting the business itself.

According to the Uganda Registration Services Bureau, an artist pays more than Shs300,000 to secure patent rights to one creation. “Now where’s the protection when the same law makes it expensive for me to patent my works?” Mr Nnyanzi said, adding, “It is government’s duty to facilitate our growth because we pay taxes. It is not a favour, it is our entitlement.”

To Mr Kabuleta, inadequate funding is proof that Mr Museveni’s government treats sports and arts as merely recreational and leisure activities despite their huge potential to generate income for participants and the nation.

This view is shared by NUP and FDC, with the latter categorising sports and the creative arts as “primary drivers of wealth and health”, helping to create celebrities and wealthy people.

In the 2016 manifesto, the NRM government boasted about allowing artists to operate undeterred. But once Mr Kyagulanyi threw his hat in the political ring, first running for Member of Parliament and trouncing the NRM candidate in the 2018 manifesto, the government began smelling mischief in his music career and responded by applying brakes on his concerts.

Reason? Police cited unspecified ‘security’ concerns. The punishment began tougher once Mr Kyagulanyi announced his interest to run against Mr Museveni, now in power for 34 years.

The musician-turned politician suddenly found his songs blacked out from the airwaves, highlighting the tribulations in the entertainment industry.

In a continuing pattern of the official squeeze, the Uganda Communication Commission (UCC), which is the communications sector regulator, passed a policy in July requiring all artists to, among others, seek a permit before staging any form of public entertainment. The rules assigned UCC wide discretion to approve or censor the content. The artists petitioned Parliament on the “harsh” regulations, which Mr Nnyanzi says is a killer of creativity for individuals and a reverse traction for the industry.

The plans

Mr Kabuleta thus proposes the amalgamation of sports and arts into one ministry–as it is in Kenya and Tanzania–under a conversant and competent team to create an upturn in revenue gains for the economy in five years and make Uganda a continental entertainment hub.

Currently, sports is under the Ministry of Education and Sports docket while culture and arts fall under the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development.

In addition, Mr Kabuleta, just like the FDC and NUP flag bearers, pledges to nurture talent across the country and incorporate sports and arts into the school curriculum from elementary level, with his distinction being the offer of scholarships for excelling talents. This, he says, would enable children to grow their talents and their academics; prepare them for a better retirement and create a career rather than begging for government pay-outs.

Over the next five years, the NRM promises to focus on improving Uganda’s world ranking in niche sports such as football from 79th to 70th; netball from 6th to 4th; and athletics from 9th to 4th.

Candidate Museveni also vows to protect the existing recreational and sports facilities and construct more at all levels in line with the niche sports.

This echoes the Third National Development Plan 2020 to 2025, which also aims to establish regional sports-focused schools or sports academies to support early talent identification and development. It shows the ruling party’s manifesto is in some ways aligned to the medium-term plan prepared by the Mr Museveni government, with support from donors. FDC manifesto emphasises the party’s 2016 pledge of creating a sports sector run on integrity, transparency and accountability.

Mr Amuriat, the party flag bearer, promises tax incentives to the private sector to encourage investment in sports and arts.

Mr Nnyanzi says to develop the creative arts industry, the government only needs to acknowledge the sector’s contribution to national development, facilitate research and development of arts through an endowment fund and establish a Ministry of Culture and Community Development to run and streamline the creative industry. “The rest will follow,” he said.

Mr Kalembe plans a similar approach to sports and creative arts and vows to support young Ugandans to express themselves through art and explore the lucrative international market.

Besides seeking to integrate academically-skilled students to participate in sports as well, the only female presidential contender proposes to pay television subscription to enable Ugandans watch their star sports personalities performing international meets.

Her proposal is, however, scant on actual plans.

For Mr Fred Mwesigye, another Independent candidate, developing playgrounds and promoting competitive sports nationwide through incentives and rewards will be a priority to spur investment in the sector. But he is silent about arts and culture.

Meanwhile, Mr John Katumba, another candidate for the State House Job, told NTV last Saturday that he plans to establish a sports stadium in each district. But if a 20,000-seater stadium such as that of Viper Football Club costs roughly Shs8 billion, it means the youthful Katumba’s government will spend almost Shs1.2 trillion on stadia construction in Uganda’s 146 districts during his first term of five years–an amount that would outstrip NRM’s total expenditure on sports in 34 years.

Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu’s Alliance for National Transformation is yet to launch a manifesto, but among the key areas he outlined following his nomination last month were “encouraging music, sports, and creative arts”. It is not clear how he will achieve this.

The misses

Whereas a number of the candidates have lofty ideas about revamping sports, arts and culture, they miss on some important aspects too. The Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act, which was enacted in 2006 to protect the artistes’ creations and allowing creatives profit from their works, requires to be reviewed and implemented. Sector players welcome the proposal because they say criminalising the pirating of only local content exposes the local consumer to the cheaper alternative that is foreign pirated art, further endangering the local artists.

However, no candidate addressed the issue of empowering the Uganda National Culture Centre, the statutory body mandated to preserve, promote and popularise Uganda’s cultural heritage and safeguard the quality and standard of the arts in the country.

Candidates are also not emphatic on creating an inclusive sports and arts environment for Persons with Disabilities.

Until and unless the flag bearers, and more specifically the winner of next year’s elections, focus on the industry holistically, raw talent such as the children playing fibre-ball in rural neighbours will atrophy to disadvantage the country.

East Africa’s efforts

In 2018 to 2019 Financial Year, the allocation to sports increased to Shs17 billion out of Shs10 billion bankrolled Fufa, the football federation. The other 50 sports federations share the Shs7 billion balance. This triggered a cold war led by Moses Muhangi, the head of boxing federation, against Fufa boss Moses Magogo.

Last year the Budget rose to Shs26 billion but this financial year, due to Covid-19, it was slashed from the projected Shs33.2 billion to Shs17.6 billion – equivalent to the disbursements a couple of years ago.

Shs17.6b is roughly $4.8m, which Kabuleta puts in perspective to our neighbours’ sports and arts budgets. Kenya’s increased from Kshs5.3 billion to Kshs14.5 billion ($128.6m).

Kenya is a bigger economy than Uganda and can afford to dig more deeply into its pocket to stash more cash for sports. The Kenya Rugby Federation alone got Kshs500 million (US$ 4.5m), nearly equal to Uganda’s entire sports budget.

Though largely underfunded, in rugby, Uganda ranks 40th in the world, while Kenya is 32nd. In world football rankings, Uganda is 79th while Kenya is a distant 104th which on the one hand suggests that piling up cash for sports alone is not a panacea and on the hand that Uganda’s ranking could dramatically improve with increased investment in the sector.

Sign up for free AllAfrica Newsletters

Get the latest in African news delivered straight to your inbox