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Please Talk to Jennifer: Kampala's Clean Up or Clear Out?

A song by 'Ghetto President' Bobi Wine criticising the Kampala authorities has been banned.
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Owino market in Kampala. Photograph by Rory Mizen.

Kampala, Uganda:

On Tuesday, as many reflected and tried to pass judgment on half a century of Ugandan national independence, the thoughts of many Kampala residents were more immediate and closer to home.

Over the past year or so, many in Uganda’s capital city have had their businesses demolished and livelihoods threatened through the Kampala Capital City Authority’s (KCCA) attempts to ‘clean up’ and develop the city. There has been much popular discontent with what vendors see as harsh measures and some protests against the closure of businesses. Recently, a song criticising the ruthlessness of the KCCA gained popularity – but it was subsequently banned (possibly temporarily) for allegedly defaming KCCA Executive Director Jennifer Musisi.

Please talk to Jennifer

Tugambire ku Jennifer’ (‘Please talk to Jennifer on our behalf’) by Bobi Wine, a famous Ugandan musician and self-proclaimed ‘Ghetto President’, was banned by the Uganda Communications Commission at the start of September. UCC Executive Director Godfrey Mutabaazi said that complaints about the song necessitated an investigation although he did not specify a timetable for its completion. “Several people complained to the commission that the song was abusive, so we can’t allow the airwaves to be used to insult others. The song was not banned, but we have instructed airwaves not to play the song until our investigations are complete” he said.

Talking to Think Africa Press, however, Bobi Wine denied the song targeted or abused Musisi. Rather, he insisted, the intention was to express the mindset of poor city dwellers, adding that it would be good if the KCCA executive director listened to people’s views before acting.

The song, uploaded over a month ago on YouTube, has more than 23,000 views and highlights the popular discontent with Musisi’s reforms. The song narrates a story of KCCA law enforcement officers seizing a woman’s possessions. When one officer asks how he can help, she replies that he can talk to Jennifer on the people’s behalf, and ask her to reduce her harshness as the city cannot develop without its people. The song also claims murders and robberies have risen in Kampala due to the eviction of vendors.

Clean up or clear out?

Musisi was appointed by President Yoweri Museveni in April 2011. Her executive director position was created by the Kampala Capital City Act of 2010 which also limited the power of the elected Mayor of Kampala.

Since then, Musisi has engaged in a controversial redevelopment of the city. This has mostly consisted of redeveloping markets but has also included outlawing concerts that go past 10pm.

In an interview after being in office for a year, Musisi said she aimed to create “a liveable, sustainable, healthy and really nice city”. She said her work had already managed to restart basic services to the city, continuing, “We have started greening the city, worked on decongestion through the removal of street vendors and general visual de-cluttering of the city.”

Part of these reforms has been the demolition and removal of market places, putting many out of business, at short notice and with some complaining that they had too little time to collect their goods and relocate. Many small business-owners in Kampala are fearful they may be affected and claim KCCA authorities patrol the city every day, confiscating items and closing down businesses they suspect are operating without having gone through all the official procedures; some explain, however, that not everyone who wishes to start a small business has enough money to rent a place.

Although she later retracted her statement, Minister for Trade and Industry Amelia Kyambadde described Musisi’s demolitions as “acts of terrorism”. Kyambadde also condemned the demolition of Centenary Park, saying Musisi mistreated the residents of Kampala, and criticised the arrest of protestors including Centenary Park developer Sarah Kizito.

Milton, a boutique owner in the Pioneer Shopping Centre told Think Africa Press: “People in Kampala are not against the developments in the city but against the act in the way demolition is being conducted. The people are being thrown out of the city but they are not being shown where to go. How can you just wake up in the morning without giving people enough time to relocate and you start demolishing their businesses?”

Bobi Wine’s banned song reflects the views of many Kampala residents and was not the first to take on Musisi. Ugandan artist King Michael, for example, previously released a song simply entitled ‘Musisi’ which accused the executive director of harsh treatment and criticised her ban on concerts.

The verdict of the Uganda Communications Commission remains forthcoming and attempts to contact Musisi for her opinion were refused.

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