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Music Freedom Report no. 5: Politics and music in Africa • 3 March 2012
Youssou N’Dour. Joe la Conscience. Tiken Jah Fakoly. Fabrice Munfiritsa photographed Anneke Verbraeken.
The sorrows of music
in presidential elections
Several countries in Africa held presidential elections in 2011 or will hold them in
2012. Everywhere is the same sad story of scandals against music and musicians,
reports Télesphore Mba Bizo who observes the developments in the Frenchspeaking part of Africa.
By Télesphore Mba Bizo
Democratic Republic of Congo: Musician kidnapped
Singer Fabrice Munfiritsa nearly died in the presidential election in the Democratic
Republic of Congo. On 7 November 2011 he was found lying in a suburb of Goma, a river
town in the western part of Congo, near Uganda, abandoned in the bush, handcuffed,
blindfolded and helpless.
The singer clearly suffered physical abuse, but it is hard to identify those behind this
attack. The first statements were accusing the ruling party. Some sources hold that
Fabrice Munfiritsa was about to release an album which would sing the praises of
opposition candidates in the presidential and legislative elections, especially Kamerhe
Vidal. Therefore, a finger was pointed out at the government in Kinshasa.
People suspected the powers that be of hating Fabrice Munfiritsa, owing to his
acquaintance with opposition parties’ members. Against all odds, the artist denied
everything in an interview broadcast on Radio 1 Kivu. He said he was surprised of his
closeness with opposition parties and claims to have always been part of the ruling party
as is the case with all his family members.
The ruling party denounced the abuse against Fabrice Munfiritsa. The party acknowledged
the artist’s membership. Moreover, President Joseph Kabila sent two members of his
cabinet to Goma on 10 November 2011, Deputy Prime Minister of Home Affairs and
Security, Adolphe Lumanu, and the Minister of Social Affairs and Humanitarian Action,
Fernand Kambere. News leaked that they came to facilitate the medical evacuation of
Fabrice Munfiritsa to India. City authorities by then had already taken care of emergency
Côte d’Ivoire: Playing on music’s unifying factor
In Côte d’Ivoire, the latest post-electoral violence accounts for 3,000 deaths. Here, football
appears to have whitewashed music in the sense that no musician was appointed in the
Truth and Reconciliation Commission that has to assess the 10-year long bloody war in
the country, but a football star was. Chelsea-striker and world football star Didier Drogba
who hails from Bete land like toppled president Laurent Gbagbo is expected to contribute
to peace and reconciliation thanks to his repute. Even if his busy schedule did less to
prevent officials from appointing him – Commission Chair Charles Konan-Banny admitted
that Drogba shall hardly attend the commission’s working sessions.
Politicians whom the crisis is blamed on are the same people overcrowding the Truth and
Reconciliation Commission. However, it can still catch up. Commission members are
expected to devise unity and integration strategies among Ivorians.
Yet, music may still play a crucial role in the peace-building process. ‘One Single Voice for
Côte d’Ivoire’ is a project that brought together Ivoirian artists with charisma such as Fanny
J, Teeyah, Soum Bill, Tiken Jah Fakoly, Yodé-Siro, Passy, and Monique Seka. Other
musicians across the continent and West Indies joined the peace-singing crew: Papa
Wemba, Lokua Kanza, Jacob Desvarieux, Lynnsha, Nash, Singuila, and Kamnouze.
Reggae leading light Alpha Blondy was assigned by present Head of State Alassane
Dramane Ouattara to organise a campaign with some 20 fellow artists in favour of peace
and reconciliation in the country. The event is unprecedented as Alpha Blondy accepted to
sing together with his former “enemy” Tiken Jah Fakoly, another prominent reggae
virtuoso performer.
Music’s unifying factor is unique in the country as regions in conflict could still enjoy music
from left and right, regardless of the region of authors.
Cameroon: Singers in and out of jail
The presidential election in Côte d’Ivoire had an afterplay in Cameroon where singer Joe
la Conscience took upon him to become the far-away lawyer of Côte d’Ivoire-president
Laurent Gbagbo. The singer is celebrated for activism as Cameroon’s most censored
artist, and hardly for arts quality. He released a song requesting the liberation of former
Ivorian President. However, Cameroon has been consistent with its non-interference policy
about sovereign countries’ internal affairs. Therefore, Cameroon had no position for or
against Laurent Gbabgo or Alassane Dramane Ouattara being sworn in. This led Joe la
Conscience into police cells several times. However, Joe la Conscience did not appear in
court. He was intimidated for the sake of keeping quiet as he had to stop embarrassing
diplomatic ties between the two countries.
Later on, Joe la Conscience turned into a prosecutor. He sued fellow artists Petit-Pays and
Lady Ponce in court. The artists’ rights activist initiated these legal proceedings on ground
that the two accused musicians sing excess pornography. Nakedness in lyrics is moral
corruption and can mislead the youths who represent the future of Cameroon, said Joe la
Conscience. The Cameroon Radio Television, CRTV, state-run and owned sole
audiovisual media was criticised for broadcasting those songs. His opponents kept a low
profile. There has been no follow-up into the matter so far.
Singer Lapiro de Mbanga who served a three year jail term for his song ‘Constitution
Constipée’, is now expecting some compensation from the state. He rose against the
constitution’s amendment that lifted term limitation at presidential position. He is claiming
that detainees are to undergo some reinsertion process so as to prepare them to face new
life after prison. This never happened. In February 2012, a United Nations expert group
insisted that Cameroon should compensate Lapiro because his rights were violated.
Senegal: Abuse against famous singer
In Senegal, the country’s most famous singer, Youssou N’Dour, was out for creating
change. As the presidential elections were coming up, he saw no profile that was capable
of defeating the incumbent president Wade.
The country has been enjoying democracy for decades. President Léopold Sédar Senghor
and President Abdou Diouf both departed peacefully. Credit goes to both for establishing a
legacy of a strong and unprecedented democratic record for Senegal on the African
continent. So far, the history of bloodshed and repeated “coups” that Africa has been sadly
championing over the last five decades following the independence days of the 1960s did
not include Senegal.
But Youssou N’Dour shall not raise the electoral bar as high as Michel Martelli – the singer
who was elected President in Haiti on 21 April 2011. On the contrary, Youssou N’Dour was
denied the opportunity to stand for presidential election in Senegal in a bid to replicate
what happened in the maiden black nation to go independent in the world.
The international community received this as a blow against democracy and freedom after
France, former colonial master, and the United States of America reacted. The general
wish was that the number of candidates be as high as possible for effective representation
of Senegalese diversity of political opinions.
The world music star was under fire for months. Some cabinet members went mad as he
made public his intention to challenge incumbent Wade. Senegalese ministers claimed
that N’Dour’s academic abilities are meaningless: He lacks school and university
knowledge to run state affairs, they said. As a consequence, they could not see him fit for
any position at the helm of the country. Senegalese ruling party ministers strongly held that
Youssou N’Dour should stick to singing and dancing which he excels at.
The abuse against Youssou N’Dour caught many off guard. Human rights organisations
are strong-willed to stop Wade from going for an additional term of office. But no member
of a civil society organisation has ever made a breakthrough in any Senegalese
presidential election, according to Forum Civile, the local country section of Transparency
Now, forces of law and order are cracking down on the young members of the Y’en a
marre’s movement, which also includes a number of rappers. It is a group of young and
dynamic people who are fed up of Wade’s infinity in power and who take to the streets and
demand his unconditional exit. The country feels the pinch of the on-going situation: postelectoral Senegal guarantees less serenity and security.
Exploitation of traditional musicians
The three countries Cameroon, DR Congo and Gabon held presidential elections of
recent, and apart from being endowed with tropical forest, they also share certain patterns
when it comes to election campaigns. The powers that be share the same neglecting and
exploiting attitude towards artists, and they have a preference for using rural, traditional
music in their political campaigns.
Teenagers and young adults prefer R&B music and hip-hop. But they are also known for
hardly casting their votes in an election, so the political leaders instead aim at reaching
citizens of a certain age – those who prefer listening to traditional music.
Politicians depend on songs and dances from villages to warm up supporters. Most
political leaders dance to the tune of traditional music to convince sceptical citizens. It
displays their sense of belonging and respect for tradition. They wish to show that even
though they settled in cities,they never neglected their villages, and as such, they deserve
people’s confidence.
Political rallies end up with actives forces going round dancers. They go around
distributing brown envelopes. There are bank notes inside – of a value between 10 and 20
euro. It represents the salary of 8 to 15 artists who have spent 12 hours jumping and
creaming in honour of those who empty state’s coffers. They are the first to get to the
venue so as to prompt onlookers to attend rallies.
They leave when all senior citizens are gone in as much as political jamborees hardly start
on time. Keeping the grass-roots waiting for hours is a display of influence. In their
speeches they focus on construction of roads, hospitals, schools or markets. The status of
artists, various international legal instruments to ratify and implement, and budgets of
Ministries of Culture are ignored.
At the end, hand-clappers do their work. The exploitation of traditional artists goes
unnoticed. Yet, artists have worked. But their pay voucher does not allow them to satisfy
basic needs at home. A typical, ordinary family headed by an artist counts five people:
man, wife, and three kids. The luckiest takes home some four euro from the assignment at
the rally. The family lives on it for seven days before the next rally holds. Basic needs such
as food, clothes or shelters are a challenge to traditional musicians. Education and health
needs compel them to go back to old habits in the bush like farming and hunting for dayto-day survival.
About the author
Télesphore Mba Bizo is a journalist and translator with the Cameroon Radio Television,
CRTV. Arterial Network assigned him with the task of coordinating Artwatch in Frenchspeaking Africa. The project is out to monitor and promote freedom of creative expression
across the continent. It shall culminate in publishing an African Cultural Barometer. He
also doubles as the Coordinator of the Advocacy and Legal Centre, ALAC, against
corruption of Transparency International in Cameroon, and he is conducting a research on
the lack of integrity in media coverage in Cameroon. He is member of the International
Federation of Film Critics, FIPRESCI, and has been part of Arterial Network’ steering
committee since 2009.
Albert Nyathi, Nelson Chamisa, Paul Madzore, Webster Shamu
Explosive cocktail when music
is mixed with politics
Of all the policies and principles guiding the censorship of music by the Zimbabwe
public broadcaster ZBC, it is the political issue that poses the biggest threat to the
development of musical expression in the country. While musicians are supposed
to mirror society, speak for the voiceless and play a major role in being the people’s
conscience and of reminding politicians of their duty to society, their role has been
diluted as they are forced to sing for their super and most times singing proMugabe hymns.
By Maxwell Sibanda
At the pace in which Zimbabwe’s current Minister of Information Webster Shamu, who
doubles as Zanu PF political commissar, is coordinating efforts by various musical bands
aligned to his party to record and release propaganda music albums and videos, there will
be little space on both radio and television for independent minded musicians when
Zimbabwe holds its next general elections, something which could happen later this year
or in 2013.
Over the past year Shamu has been busy launching several propaganda music albums
and videos as his party geared for a possible election soon. Zanu PF musical acts
including Amos Mahendere, Delani Makhalima and The Born Free have released albums
which are dominating the airwaves.
In most of the video footage contained in their songs, Mugabe is the main character as his
party rallies to portray him as “the dear leader”. Mugabe has been all over the television as
musicians aligned to Zanu PF exploit on his image to spruce their videos footage.
Those musicians who have included Mugabe’s footage in their musical videos are assured
of saturated airplay and they seem to be falling on each other.
In other musical videos, Mugabe’s old speeches are spiced with guitars, and his image is
accompanied by beautiful smiling girls as the leader spews his propaganda. True to
technological form, his speeches are fast forwarded and for once you could think Mugabe
is actually singing. In one video Mugabe’s image is manipulated and is seen indulged in a
game of football together with images of several other Zanu PF politicians.
Self-censorship criterion
During the latest three years, music has been discovered as an effective tool for political
campaigning by President Robert Mugabe and his former ruling party Zanu PF.
Meanwhile, musicians with independent minds are wary of their songs being censored or
banned by the state controlled broadcaster ZBC.
The scenario builds a self-censorship criterion within state radio disc jockeys and
television presenters in that no “dissident” songs can be aired parallel to songs that glorify
Towards the end of 2011, two ‘independent’ commercial radio stations with strong links to
Zanu PF were licensed as authorities tried to wood wink SADC – a network of 15 countries
in the region entitled the Southern African Development Community – and the rest of the
world that it was opening up the broadcasting spectrum ahead of elections. SADC and
international facilitators to the Zimbabwean crisis have put a condition in which no credible
elections would be held without meaningful broadcasting reforms.
“We will never play that music”
A case in point is that opposition political parties, and in particular MDC-T, has released
several political albums that have been denied airplay at the state broadcaster.
MDC-T has since 2008 been releasing several music albums that include legislator Paul
Madzore’s three albums: ‘Chirangano, Tinovarangarira’ and ‘Tora Uta Hwangu’ and
Francis Chikunguru’s ‘Mumwe Mukana’. In 2011, MDC-T released a five track album
entitled ‘Real Change’ that was launched in Gokwe by its president Morgan Tsvangirai.
In an interview, ZBC’s public relations manager Sivukile Simango said he only had seen
one MDC-T album which had been presented to the corporation: “I have not seen all these
albums they claim,” Simango told.
Asked what happened to the single album he received, he replied: “We did not play it and
we will never play it on ZBC, never. I can refer you to Muchechetere (ZBC CEO) so that he
can comment on issues of policy, but as of now I can just tell you that we will never play
that music.”
Music of opposition silenced
Nelson Chamisa, MDC-T organising secretary and government minister, said censorship
was rife at the state broadcaster and they were not even ashamed of it. He said whenever
they had new music releases they handed them over ZBC.
“They never play them and we have got it on good authority that as soon as the albums
are received at ZBC, the chefs there take them and play them in their cars. It is funny
because we are giving them these releases so they play them for the generality of
Zimbabwe. It is a form of censorship that is unacceptable. Since 2008 we have been
producing music but the ZBC does not give our music airplay. We have used other
multimedia communication devices, like the Internet, where the songs can be downloaded
from our party website,” told Chamisa.
Chamisa said his party’s songs were celebrating their successes as they fought to bring
real change to Zimbabweans: “The songs are about our struggle to build a new Zimbabwe.
Our music depicts the future and celebrates the past road which has been very difficult.
We have better music productions whose lyrics were not abusive but ZBC continued to
deny them air play.”
While the MDC-T album was launched almost simultaneously with a pro-Zanu (PF) eighttrack music compilation album by Mbare Chimurenga choir entitled Nyatsoterera, Shona
for ‘listen carefully’, the later has since been receiving saturated aerial play on ZBC to the
extent that everyone is singing it. The MDC-T album has since not received a single play.
Repressive and propaganda context
Musician Albert Nyathi, who is chairman of Zimbabwe Music Rights Association, said the
ZBC should learn to practice a game of fair play. “As a public broadcaster, the ZBC has to
be fair to the musicians, unless the music is insulting or vulgar. As a public broadcaster
they should serve the interest of all musicians.”
Harare-based political analyst Abel Gomo said Zanu PF was desperate and would try
everything in its power to tilt elections in their favour by censoring all opposing voices
through the state broadcaster.
“Apart from frog marching people to their rallies so that they can gulp their propaganda,
Zanu PF will make sure that every time someone turns on his radio or television, Mugabe
will be there,” said Gomo.
MISA-Zimbabwe information officer Nyasha Nyakunu said: “In the midst of the protest
music and its brave purveyors, there are those that have retained comfort in composing
music that deals largely with religion and other social issues that the government is
comfortable with. Most of these artists, both long-standing figures and newer ones on
Zimbabwe’s music scene have been daring enough to put their ‘artistic’ talents at the
disposal of the ruling Zanu PF party, thus violating the significant principle of artistic
independence. While it remains in the interests of freedom of expression for these artists
to compose whatever they wish, it also remains even more important that they understand
the repressive and propaganda context in which they are complicit in participating.”
About the author
Maxwell Sibanda is a freelance arts journalist based in Harare, Zimbabwe. He has been a
member of the executive committee of Freemuse and was an editor and co-founder of the
Harare-based Daily News until it was banned for its critical stance towards President
Robert Mugabe's regime.
About the Music Freedom Reports
This Music Freedom Report is part of a series of articles published on the occasion of the
annual Music Freedom Day 3 March 2012. More information about the reports and about
Music Freedom Day can be found on:
More information
For more information about music and censorship in African countries, see:
Copyright © 2012 Freemuse
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify the text above under the terms of
the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the
Free Software Foundation.
Freemuse generally grants permission for its material to be reproduced or republished
provided Freemuse has been contacted about this and is credited as the source, preferably
with a link to the specific source page.
Contact web editor on e-mail: [email protected]
The views in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Freemuse.
Freemuse is an independent international organisation which advocates freedom of
expression for musicians and composers worldwide. The organisation’s home page,, is the world's largest knowledge base on music censorship. For more
information about Freemuse, its activities and publications, see
FREEMUSE - Freedom of Musical Expression
Nytorv 17, 3rd floor, DK-1450 Copenhagen K, Denmark, tel: +45 3332 1027