Say No To Blood Money: Why Viacom Must Relocate MTV Africa Music Awards From Uganda

CEO Bakish

VIACOM CEO Bob Bakish. Editorial states why he must do the right thing. Photo: Twitter 

ViacomCBS must cancel its plans for the MTV Africa Music Awards to be hosted by DJ Khaled on Feb. 20 in Uganda which is currently in a violent political crisis instigated by the country’s dictator of 35 years, Gen. Yoweri Museveni, and relocate the event to another African country. 

The United States Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Tibor Nagy has already repudiated the country’s violence-marred Jan. 14 elections as “fundamentally flawed.” Leading editorial boards have denounced the rigged elections and called for a review of the U.S.’s annual $1 billion support to Gen. Museveni’s regime. 

This problem shouldn’t be dismissed by ViacomCBS as “merely” an African problem. Black Lives Must Matter everywhere. 

Official figures confirm that 54 opposition candidates’ supporters were killed—other reports say way more than 100— by security forces on orders of Gen. Museveni who hoped to suppress voter turnout. Gen. Museveni cut off the internet in the country two days before the vote. He also blocked domestic and international observers from monitoring the elections. The U.S. embassy in Uganda had 75% of its accreditation requests denied so Washington pulled out as monitors. 

Then on Jan. 16, Gen. Museveni’s own hand-picked Electoral Commission declared that he was the “winner” of the vote, awarding him 59% to 35% to the leading opposition candidate, Member of Parliament Robert Kyagulanyi, a.k.a. Bobi Wine

The Electoral Commission did not provide a vote breakdown with actual figures from the 34,714 polling centers around the country as mandated by the constitution. It could not, since the internet total blackout meant the data could not be transmitted to tallying centers. The “winning” percentage awarded to Gen. Museveni was manufactured from thin air. On the other hand, when internet was partially restored, several days after the election was officially awarded to Gen. Museveni, a privately-created voting App called Uvote, show that Bobi Wine is actually leading 72% to Museveni’s 25%

Bobi Wine has rejected the “results” announced by the Electoral Commission and called on the international community to support a forensic investigation. As soon as he cast his own vote, Bobi Wine’s home was surrounded by about 500 soldiers and he and his wife Barbie and an 18-month old niece were placed under house arrest. No one was allowed to leave or enter the premise, not even to buy food. The U.S. ambassador to Uganda, Natalie E. Brown, was also blocked from visiting Bobi Wine by Museveni’s military. Meanwhile, attacks on opposition candidates’ supporters continues in Uganda, and many are still being hunted down and killed. 

This is what Senator Chris Coons has said, in part, in a statement denouncing the state-sanctioned election violence in Uganda: “As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Appropriations Committees, I condemn the violent and oppressive tactics employed by Ugandan authorities in the lead up to the January 14 general elections.  These acts of intimidation have, for months, eroded and undermined the credibility of Uganda’s electoral process, and I urge the government to reverse course. This presidential campaign has been marked by the worst political violence in Uganda in decades. Ugandan authorities have demonstrated blatant disregard for human rights and constitutional freedoms through frequent attacks on political leaders, activists, journalists, and ordinary citizens. For months, using COVID-19 restrictions as a pretext, security forces have repeatedly detained activists on spurious charges and used deadly force against protesters, with at least 60 Ugandans killed in election-related violence, hundreds injured, and more than 800 arrested so far in the run-up to the vote.  Leading opposition candidate Bobi Wine was recently detained for the third time in two months, along with many other prominent activists including Patrick Amuriat and Nicholas Opiyo.”

Coons also said, “International donors, including the United States, should reassess security assistance and other financial support to Uganda. Any review should take into account events on or around the election that have undermined democracy and violated human rights and the rule of law.” 

Similarly, Senator Bob Menendez has condemned the violence in Uganda and he’s introduced a Senate resolution calling for Magnitsky sanctions on political and military actors involved in the bloodshed, in addition to a review of U.S. assistance to the Museveni regime. 

There’s now an ongoing digital campaign under the hashtags #VisitUganda and #MTVMAMA where Ugandans are posting images of violent incidents and of people either killed or wounded by regime security forces and urging @djkhaled @ViacomCBS @MTV and @MTVAfrica not to host the event in Uganda. A petition campaign calling on the Biden administration not to recognize Gen. Museveni’s fraudulent election and to cut off military support is also growing, as is one calling for the MTV Africa Awards to be canceled

Is there something that ViacomCBS CEO Bob M. Bakish knows about Uganda and the ongoing violence there that Ugandans, American officials, elected representatives, and the ambassador don’t know? 

Why would ViacomCBS want to lend its name and reputation to validate a murderous dictators whose conduct has been denounced by the international community including the U.S. administration and elected representatives in Congress? This would amount to blood money music—rewarding a dictator who ordered the killings of Ugandans during and after the elections. 

Bobi Wine is one of Uganda’s leading musical artist. He promoted a voter registration drive and got millions of young Ugandans to sign up to vote and they did, even as many were killed by security forces loyal to the dictator. More than 80% of Uganda’s population is under the age of 35 and want change. 

Now, even as the world joins in condemning Gen. Museveni’s violence and attempt to steal an election, ViacomCBS seems poised to validate the dictatorship. 

ViacomCBS must do the right thing and cancel the MTV Africa Music Awards in Uganda or relocate the event to another African country. Neighboring Kenya is a suggested candidate. 

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