Ugandan pop singer Panadol wa Basajja (real name Jemimah Kansiime) faces up to 10 years in jail for her sexy new music video, which conservative politicians feel contravenes a tough new anti-pornography law.
Panadol wa Basajja, 21, whose stage name literally means “medicine for men”, released the steamy video for ‘Ensolo Yange’ in September 2014. The video features the singer dancing seductively in the shower, complete with close-ups of her soapy body. The video was a hit with her fans and has garnered over 350 000 views on Youtube to date.
Despite its popularity, Kansiime was arrested in November as part of Ugandan Ethics Minister Simon Lokodo’s moral crackdown. Her manager, Didi Muchwa Mugisha, who produced the video, was also detained. He pleaded guilty and was fined 200 000 Ugandan shillings (US$75), but Kansiime pleaded not guilty and was held for five weeks before posting bail.
Now she is facing up to 10 years in jail and is due back in court soon. The singer is the first person to be tried under the Anti-Pornography Act. The act was signed into law on 24 February 2014 by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, along with another controversial law, the Anti-Homosexuality Act that punishes same-sex conduct with life in prison, which drew international condemnation. The Anti-Pornography Act, on the other hand, is the government’s attempt to ban porn or “any representation of the sexual parts of a person for primarily sexual excitement”.
Critics see it is part of a growing anti-liberal movement in Uganda, where religious-driven conservatism appears to be on the rise. Human Rights Watch has argued that the law defines pornography so loosely that it has encouraged public attacks on women wearing skimpy clothing.
Producer Didi, who walked away scot-free after pleading guilty, is no stranger to sex-fuelled videos, including for his own tracks ‘Injection Time’ and ‘So Tight’ and the songs of other Ugandan artists, such as Nambi Brenda and Sizzaman.
Other African stars have also faced criticism from conservative commentators recently for their sexy music videos, most notably Kenyan band Sauti Sol’s ‘Nishike’ and Nigerian star Tiwa Savage’s ‘Wanted’.
“My rights have been trampled upon”
In an interview with AFP, the Ugandan singer said she was drawing inspiration from her idols – including Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, two of the most successful female artists in the world at the moment, who are frequently caught in various states of undress, particularly in their music videos – that sex sells. “I was aware that there are some sections of society that are conservative,” said Kansiime. “I was just experimenting to see if I put on a short, will the audience like it? 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.”
Kansiime said she never dreamt that dancing in her underwear was breaking the law. “My rights have been trampled upon, my freedom of expression has been trampled upon,” she told AFP in Kampala.
Her lawyer, Isaac Semakadde, argues the case is a test for the right of Ugandan artists 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.
Ethics Minister Simon Lokodo recently boasted that he and his “intelligence team” are “on the ground” watching such singers closely. “That’s why Panadol was arrested,” he reportedly 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.”
In his continued crackdown on pornography, Lokodo this year ordered police to arrest men who procure prostitutes and described a popular local TV 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 ethics 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. 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”. Semakadde ultimately wants it scrapped. Amnesty International has also called for the law to be repealed.