The film industry in Uganda has experienced significant growth due to digital technologies, the consolidation of local television, and a shift in public support. However, the lack of effective regulation, resulting from scattered regulatory responsibilities among state agencies, has posed several challenges. Filmmakers face issues such as underpayment, difficulty in securing filming locations, and high production costs due to multiple taxes. While the industry directly employs around 5,000 people and indirectly employs 10,000, the informal nature of the sector suggests the numbers could be higher.
The existing cultural policy prioritises traditional art forms over the creative economy. Although the current National Development Plan acknowledges the sector’s potential, government support remains limited. In 2020, the Ugandan government collaborated with the European Union and UNESCO to initiate a project supporting the film sector. This endeavour includes measures like tax incentives, promotion of professional associations, local content development, and increased professionalisation.
We interviewed Ugandan actress Jackline Nalumansi, who shared her insights on the challenges faced by creatives in Uganda regarding freedom of speech and artistic creation. These challenges encompass issues such as inadequate payment, rampant piracy, and a dependence on government assistance. Unfortunately, these difficulties have led to divisions within the creative community, as the government employs divisive tactics. Nalumansi emphasises the importance of policies such as local content quotas and copyright laws in promoting artistic freedom by enabling the effective commercialization of creative works. Additionally, she highlights the critical role of international collaborations and partnerships in fostering art-based activism, amplifying the voices of marginalised individuals, and raising awareness about the significance of artistic freedom and human rights.
PANAF is the only existing network that has emerged to try and support creatives in relation to artistic rights.
What are the main challenges and obstacles faced by artists in Uganda regarding their freedom of expression and artistic creativity?
From an actress’s perspective, we aren’t being paid. And before you wonder why, it becomes apparent that even those in charge of compensating us aren’t generating any profits, let alone recovering their investments. There is something fundamentally wrong with our country. Piracy has reached an industrial scale, making it exceedingly difficult for local artists to reap the benefits of their own creations. Consequently, we have become reliant on government assistance. This situation is far from ideal; it lacks sustainability and serves as a means for politics to marginalise us as artists. An artist without an income is no different from a beggar. In such circumstances, what can a person in this position possibly do or say?
How unified would you say the artists’ community is in Uganda?
We are a fragmented group. The government has effectively employed division tactics to marginalise our collective voices. They fear individuals like Bobi Wine who possess the power of art, and thus they manipulate their resources to keep us divided.
They allocate funds to one group, which causes resentment among those who are excluded. Then, in the next instance, they distribute resources to another group. Despite these state-sponsored handouts, artists can still find ways to unite.
Meanwhile, as filmmakers, we are forging our own path. Our organisation, Pearlwood, which is the umbrella organisation for filmmakers, is gaining momentum because we have shifted our focus away from relying on the government and instead concentrate on devising strategic methods for survival. Every day, our numbers continue to grow despite the absence of any government support.
If only organisations like Pearlwood could operate independently and secure a favourable working environment, achieving unity would become much easier.
What steps do you believe artists can take to bridge the divide between themselves and the government in Uganda?
As artists, it is crucial for us to rediscover our identities, reaffirm our values, and pursue them wholeheartedly. This will not only strengthen our bond with one another but also serve as a means of resilience. However, it seems that government interference is currently detrimental to our cause. Certainly, we cannot disregard the importance of government involvement, as they create and enforce laws that impact our lives. Nonetheless, a fragmented artist community will never garner the respect it deserves from the government.
Unity among artists is imperative.
What specific policies do you believe should be implemented to enhance artistic freedom in Uganda?
Policies that support artists in marketing their products, such as local content quotas and copyright laws, play a crucial role. The essence of true artistic freedom lies in the ability of artists to effectively commercialise their creativity.
So far, what strategies or approaches have been effective in advocating for the rights of artists and/or defending artistic freedom in Uganda?
PANAF is the only existing network that has emerged to try and support creatives in relation to artistic rights. For instance, last year one of our fellow artists was unjustly arrested on baseless and absurd charges, we witnessed a remarkable occurrence: Panaf and lawyers stepped up to defend him, which was unprecedented. This was a positive development, and I hope it continues in the future.
How do you raise awareness among the broader public in Uganda about the significance of artistic freedom and its connection to human rights?
TVs and radios have deprived us of the opportunity to discuss the issues that impact us as artists. We have been rendered voiceless. An artist who is economically constrained has little influence or decision-making power. True artistic freedom can only be achieved when artists are economically liberated. Who would disregard an artist with financial resources?
How do you view the power of art in raising awareness and driving change?
Everything we are today is a direct result of the art that has inspired us throughout our lives, shaping our perspectives and experiences. If only art could articulate its profound influence, future generations would truly comprehend its transformative power.
How do you view the role of international collaborations, solidarity and partnerships in promoting art-based activism in Uganda?
The governments, which are often the biggest oppressors, are apprehensive about the power that lies in numbers. International collaborations serve as a catalyst for local coordination and play a pivotal role in amplifying the voices of the marginalised and voiceless.
How can the creative arts industry in Uganda be further improved to promote artistic rights comprehensively?
Establishing platforms and spaces where artists can freely express themselves and discuss the issues that affect them is crucial. Unfortunately, TVs and radios have largely ignored artists, fearing the financial implications of accommodating an empowered artist sector.
These major corporations form a syndicate that actively works to marginalise the artistic voice. However, with the rise of the internet, there is still hope for artists to carve out online spaces that can gradually evolve into significant platforms for addressing pertinent issues.