Op-Ed
Cartoon by Gado.

Akon In Uganda, the Laundering of a Dictatorship

Opinion: By lending his voice to the horrid spectacle underway in Uganda, Akon is in fact endorsing the Museveni regime.

Autocrats across the world have often used artists to sanitize their regime's brutality. One method that has been increasingly employed has been the recruitment of high-profile artists—mainly Western music stars—to work as essential spokespersons for a country's tourism ministry. These artists then work alongside government officials—oftentimes propaganda artists in their own right—to sell a whitewashed image of the country, one that is almost always at odds with realities on the ground.

While the introduction of global celebrities into the authoritarian playbook of reputation laundering is a more recent phenomenon, placing a country's tourism industry front-and-center has long been a go-to tactic to soften a dictatorship's harsh image. The former long-ruling dictator of Zimbabwe, for example, Robert Mugabe, was a trailblazer in this regard. In 2012, he convinced the United Nations World Tourism Organization to appoint him as their international envoy, despite his government's categorically abysmal human rights record.

Years later, Rwanda's strongman, Paul Kagame, signed a multi-million-dollar deal with Arsenal, the popular English football club. For the 2019/2020 season, players sported jerseys with "Visit Rwanda" prominently displayed on their chests and sleeves, all while the country's political opposition, media, and human rights community faced continual decimation through arbitrary detentions, disappearances, extrajudicial executions and alleged state-sanctioned murders.

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