Artist Richard Kaweesa exposes telecom company: Why would Africell fight to take song rights that they don’t own?

richard kaweesa

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[/blockquote]Artist Richard Kaweesa continues to battle with telecom company Africell Uganda over intellectual property. Last week on Monday 4th Jan 2016, he went to Africell headquarters with the intention to arrest (stop) injustice. He was ready to spend sleepless nights on the Africell steps if that is what it took. The “Ani akuba babie wange”  singer promised to give you the reason why and today he has spilled it all on his Facebook page.

He has further called upon your comments and advise because he values and needs it. He writes:


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In the early 2000s I was in a studio session at Dream studio Kamwokya located East of Kampala when I heard a young girl sobbing right outside the recording booth. As I was contemplating asking Chido the guitarist to stop playing for fear that the sobbing had filtered through into the sensitive studio microphones, all of a sudden I heard the studio proprietor’s wife Mama Becca emotionally ask, “Ani akuba babie wange”. Right there and then I stopped Chido and cued Tony Hauls the sound engineer to open a new session page.
The result of that new session was the birth of the “Ani akuba babie wange” song. The inspiration was too intense that I remember composing the lyrics together with the melody spontaneously in one recording/take.
I wrote this song to induce a lullaby mood to the listener regardless of gender or race. A listener needing soul-deep consolation and/or care-refreshment!! To this effect the song is simple, rhetoric and repetitive in nature.

Ani akuba babie wange: {Who is it that gives my child a hard time?}
“Yemamawe”: {Is a chant that resonates with the role mothers play in instilling values.}

Verse: I
Wesilikile gyangu, ndi genda nawe mwana wange, nkwagala nyo: {Hush, Hush my baby, come here; I will take you with me. I love you.}

Verse: II
Lala lala, lala mwana wange, gyangu sikyagenze, lala lala shhhhhh!: {Sleep, sleep, my dear child, come to me for I am here to stay. Close your eyes, hushhhh my child shhh for I am not going anywhere without you!!}

This is the song:

Orange Uganda business opportunity arrives

Then in early January 2009 while on a family/business trip to Kigali Rwanda, I get a phone call from a gentleman who now is the managing director of UBC TV Winston Agaba. Winston worked for Star Leo a marketing agency that was hired to launch Orange in Uganda. The call was to request me to license the new Orange Telecom to use “Ani akuba babie wange” as their signature tune. As matter of fact, the French-based firm was very sensitive about the kind of music and lifestyle of the author they needed.

“We need the lyrics translated in English so that the client can understand what the song is about. They have very strict guidelines regarding use of music, and it is important to them that the song is of acceptable, positive lifestyle content” part of the Monday 19th January 2009 email from the agency reads.

Almost seven years ago on 2nd February 2009, I signed a 5-year license agreement with Orange Uganda Limited represented by its CEO as per some of the terms below;

1.1. Orange intends to purchase the license to the said piece of music titled “Ani akuba babie wange” for particular use on TVCs, radio commercials, IVRs and other internal and external use, as the case may be but limited to Uganda hereinafter referred to as “the Territory”.

1.2. License purchase period covered is five years.

1.3. Kawesa agrees to pass over the rights of use, without any conditions otherthan the conditions stipulated in the agreement, onto Orange, for a period of five years.

1.4. Kawesa agrees to make and allow for 2 (two) modifications to the track, in order to make it ready for use, the cost of the aforementioned modification as well as a rejection fee of UGX 750,000 (seven hundred and fifty thousand shillings) for every time a modification is made above the aforementioned 2 free modifications will be passed onto Orange, as per the Consideration Schedule hereafter.

Orange leaves Uganda and Africell takes over

The license expired almost two years ago on 2nd February 2014 and almost three months before Orange Uganda sold their shares to Africell in 2014. What this literally means is that Orange Uganda had illegally used the song for one year and three months (Feb 2014 – May 2015) before it sold out to the Africell Group.

By May 2015, Africell was still using “Ani akuba babie wange” as their IVR signature tune in violation of my copyright. Furthermore Orange had agreed not to pass on the license to a third party as per clause 1.5 of the agreement which states;
1.5. Orange agrees to only use the said piece of music for their own use in Uganda alone, and will not in the said period of time pass onto, sell or give the said rights to any third party.

The agreement was so tight that it even barred me from licensing the song to another telecom not only during the term but also 10 years after the 5-year term expires as per clauses 1.7 below;

1.7. Kawesa also agrees not to sell the rights to any other telecommunication company in the agreed territory for a period of not less than 10 years upon the expiry of the said rights.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the reasons why Orange Uganda choose Kawesa as the preferred artiste was partly because of Kawesa’s controversial-free lifestyle and they were quick to insist that Kawesa maintains that profile as per clauses 2.1 below:

2.1. Should there be any major negative publicity caused in any way by Kawesa, Orange reserves the right to terminate this Agreement without notice.

Where is the injustice?

On 2nd May 2015 I wrote to Africell Uganda bringing their attention to the copyright infringement and my demand for compensation. On 12th May 2015, Mr. Omar Khodr, Africell’s CFO replied. {as per his letter attached}.

In the Africell-reply letter it is clear that much as Africell erroneously claims ownership of the derived works or modifications, it still left an open door for “a meeting with the company” or to be precise with “the undersigned.”
Since May last year, we have been, rather unsuccessfully, seeking to meet “the undersigned” or any senior official of Africell. My South African based publishers, Sheer Africa, were so frustrated that they opted to send a final position with intent to sue. {refer to the letter attached dated 21st December 2015.}

This is when I put my foot down. Why? It is true, we have a strong case and all the evidence to go with it but so do other artistes whose copyright is repeatedly abused across Africa. Unlike the majority of artistes in Africa, I am privileged to have Sheer Publishing Africa as a financial and legal muscle to sue on my behalf.

My issue is that not every artiste is signed to a muscled-up publisher like I am privileged to be and so broadly speaking I, like all poor artistes in Uganda and across Africa, cannot afford to independently sue ‘big people’. I therefore see the Africell infringement on my copyright as an injustice committed against the entire poverty-stricken pan-African creative community and not just Kawesa alone.

That aside and besides the monetary burden involved in suing, an artiste is ever afraid to sue corporations who abuse his or her copyright for fear that he or she will be ‘marked’ by other corporations which jeopardizes the artiste’s future chances of sponsorship, broadcasting and endorsement deals.

The compound effect of such legitimate fear is that, as artistes, we die poor but famous and others exploit our works and fame to enrich themselves at our expense. Music is intellectual property and the property in music is its copyright that is equally protected by law just like any other physical property such as land or buildings.

So when a commercial entity like Africell encroaches on my copyright, it is akin to your tenants insisting that they own your property simply because they have stayed in your rentals for a long time without paying their mandated rental fees.

So when I got a copy of the intent-to-sue letter, I asked Sheer to give me one more chance to seek an impromptu meeting with Mr. Mohammad Gaddhar the CEO of Africell Uganda. I wanted to appeal to his sense of natural justice in regards to this matter and try to come to an amicable solution. And this is how I ended up at Africell’s headquarters on Monday 4th January 2016 prepared to sleep at the steps of their affluent building until I see the CEO.
When I explained my cause the gentleman at the Africell reception, and Fiona their legal officer, I was requested to come back the week starting Monday 11th January 2016 when the top three senior officials, including the CEO, are expected to return from their Christmas/new year holidays.

To conclude

As I plan to arrest this Africell injustice by appealing to lovers of our works (fans) to demand for justice on behalf of the creative economy, I feel the need to use this case to demonstrate and encourage all those people out there who have faced or continue to face injustice of any kind to “Stand up for their rights” as this year’s UNESCO Intellectual Property Day theme invokes.

It is said that when a society is helpless in fighting injustice, it learns to tolerate it. Tolerating injustice leads to promoting injustice. Promoting injustice leads to hopelessness. A hopeless society is a doomed society simply because in the long run everyone loses as the victims resort to using unethical means and sometimes violence in order to address social imbalances.

As I earlier pointed out, suing is a very expensive undertaking especially in a country like Uganda where impunity and corruption reigns. Poor people cannot afford to sue and so they will have to depend on their collective force-of-will in order for them to arrest injustice. When injustices are arrested in time, social order is redeemed and civility returns to humanity.

If you can find it in your heart to ask “ani akuba Wesa wange” then join me and let us ‪#‎arrestinjustice‬ one case at a time.

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