Music Replaces Ideology in African Politics, As Governments Embrace Melodies over Messages

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Music will one day replace the mentality of giving salt and sugar to voters. All voters need will be good hits, and they dance themselves lame and go home empty-handed. As we move day by day, African governments are shifting away from coercion to consent, putting less focus on instruments of brutality to peaceful conflict resolution with citizens.

They have moved away from solely relying on the West for loans to now borrowing from the East. They have shifted from pouring billions of shillings into campaigns to other methods like music, including abandoning ideology and empty promises for music in their quest to lead their people. Music has been used to attract thousands of masses to the politician’s cause; even sitting heads of state have followed suit.

In Uganda, when Ghetto strongman Bobi Wine secured a parliamentary seat in 2017, he resisted handing over power as the Ghetto president to his deputy Mark Bugembe, known colloquially as Butcher Man. This created a feud between them, and Mr. Museveni was watching carefully. Many political spectators also had many reservations about such unwillingness to hand over informal leadership—what if it was real power, they lamented. In the 1980s, when the Congolese maestro Franco Luambo sang for President Mobutu Seseko during the 1984 General elections, Mobutu got 99% in the elections. Candidat Mobutu Na biso, or “Mobutu, the best candidate for Zaire,” was a very moving political hit for the Congolese strongman, and it did political wonders. Thus, if used correctly, music is very magnetic and can attract millions of citizens to one’s cause.

President Museveni, in his formative days of the National Resistance Movement, was praised as a man who relied on ideology in governing his people. While Professor Tandon had a different view, just like Professor Nabudere, Tandon blamed him for liquidating opposition the way President Obote had done. Geoffrey Okoth and Professor Mahmood Mamdani, in their texts under UFAHAMU, “The Rise and Fall of Philosopher Kings in East Africa,” heap a lot of praises on Mr. Museveni as the best intellectual on the continent. Many pieces to his name, such as Fanon’s theory of violence and its verification in liberated Mozambique and sewing the master seed, validate his status as a serious scholar engaged in political activism and state governance.

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However, of late, the president appears to have abandoned this narrative for music, especially that many of his opponents like Bobi Wine were using music to deplete his base. To counter the influence of other political competitors who were using music to grab the attention of his voters, President Museveni went on a rampage, releasing hit after hit, beginning with “Another Rap,” then “Mpekoni as Wild Animals Have Come,” and the latest being “Paka Rubale Alerting Kwezi,” which was composed towards the 2021 elections.

The “Mpenkoni” or “Nkoni” may have been a metaphor for a gun or some other metal, using it to fend off political opponents determined to grab his throne using various means. While Museveni and Wine were busy composing and dropping hits, Col. Kiiza Besigye restrained himself to dancing, raising his head a notch higher as he enjoyed music from his fans. Many were singing opposition-leaning songs for him, like “Dokitari” by the late Kisakye and “Fungua Barbara Besigye Amengia” or “Besigye Has Arrived, Clear the Bus Off the Road.”

Whereas music is good in promoting one’s political message and gaining access to a relatively large audience, many have had problems crafting political messages in a musical way. In Zaire, singer Franco Luambo, who was on record as a very close buddy of President Mobutu, composed a song, “Luvambo Ndoki,” alleging that there was a witch who had just arrived in the village, eating villagers or engaged in acts of cannibalism. President Mobutu ordered for his locking up. Experts on music say that if used correctly, music is the best tool for mobilizing masses to one’s cause. Remember the famous “Tubonga Nawe” by Chameleon and others; it worked massively for NRM.

Music’s intrusion into politics and revolutionary struggles is not a new phenomenon. The military, church, governments, and even the bereaved, including slaves transported across the Atlantic Ocean, used music variously. Governments use national anthems to warm the audience with music.

Many use music to get to their opponents by composing hits that denigrate or malign others. While many compose and sing genuinely from their hearts, catapulting societal problems to the attention of the public through music. Fela Kuti sang massive resistance songs and ended up creating his own republic.

Sometimes, music may create a false sense of status. In Fela Kuti’s republic, he had created a government within a government, and his namesake General Olusegun Obasanjo had no option but to pick him up and lock him up as well. In Uganda, our own Ghetto president had a state within a state, with military attires, ranks, and his crew would always refer to him as His Excellency, the Ghetto president. There was thus reasonable paraphernalia for statehood at the Ghetto headquarters, with a cabinet and state-appointed ministers, ambassadors appointed but perhaps not deployed. This gave him the motivation to join real politics to fulfill this utopian mindset.

Bobi Wine used music to mobilize city voters. As a young politician with a questionable purse, music was his tool of mobilization. Hits on infamous City Hall executive were released and enjoyed massive airplay, like “Tugambile Ku Jenipher,” in reference to Jennifer Musisi, then the executive head at City Hall, who was using all means to clean the city and rid it of vendors who were a problem in her opinion. Other hits were “Elections or Votes Should Not Divide Us,” and cajoling the police to desist from violence, reminding them that he was fighting for them. Without much consultation, he also increased their salary from where it was to 1,000,000/= per month. President Museveni openly countered this, personally and through his selected agents like Kusasira and Gangamel Boss Babe Cool, and others.

Many musicians were quickly drafted and assigned state/party responsibilities, placing them a notch higher than the Ghetto team. Many people familiar with happening places in the city say Kampala was booming with music and money. Many deserted the Ghetto cause; the likes of Mark Bugembe and Full Figure were now respected dignitaries, secured by either police or military escorts, ready to mobilize support for the party, courting their comrades in downtrodden areas to embrace NRM.

This is how NRM was able to mobilize, relying on music. President Museveni released considerable hits mainly appealing to the youths to embrace the cause, and it indeed somehow paid off. To stamp his feet on the political scene further, he needs to continue that line of music; it is worth taking since many have lost the taste for ideology to music. Those who listen to your music will always identify with you in either direction.

Through Silent Majority, Babe Cool too pulled crowds, though surprisingly Chameleon’s music was no match for Kampala’s strongman Erias Lukwago. Sometimes music needs to be “mixed” with area coins. Politicians now use music to push their political cause instead of ideology, though ideology also is not bad at all. But now, there is a noticeable shrinkage in the caliber of our intellectuals, even among hitherto tested intellectuals. The possibility of a complete loss of such a trait is higher as they have now eschewed writing and public lectures, among other things, to other things like music. Current graduates are no match for graduates of the 1960s and 70s.

Many youths are no match for these oracles of the 1970s and 60s. Surprisingly, Facebook is distorting and destroying this trend further; many use Facebook to post funny and maligning comments about politicians, unaware that their actions border on criminality. Thus, it was very befitting placing Mr. Museveni on the same footing with writers like Walter Rodney, author of “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa,” and other political revolutionaries like Col. Gaddafi, Mao Tsetung, Stalin, Rawlings, and Sankara, among others. But if your compatriots lose taste for ideology, you change the menu or change the tune as well, and I think that is why Mr. Museveni went musical to also protect his base that was under capture.

Steven Masiga is a researcher and writer from Mbale, Tel 0706655811.

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