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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Interview

Interview: The Awakening of Bas

We talk to Bas about The Messenger, Bobi Wine, Sudan, and the globalized body of Black pain.

The first thing you notice when you begin to listen to The Messenger—the new investigative documentary podcast following the rise of Ugandan singer, businessman and revolutionary political figure Bobi Wine—is Bas' rich, paced, and deeply-affecting storytelling voice.

Whether he is talking about Uganda's political landscape, painting a picture of Bobi Wine's childhood, or drawing parallels between the violence Black bodies face in America and the structural oppression Africans on the continent continue to endure at the hands of corrupt government administrations, there is no doubt that Bas (real name Abbas Hamad) has an intimate understanding of what he's talking about.

We speak via Zoom, myself in Lagos, and him in his home studio in Los Angeles where he spends most of his time writing as he cools off from recording the last episode of The Messenger. It's evident that the subject matter means a great deal to the 33-year-old Sudanese-American rapper, both as a Black man living in America and one with an African heritage he continues to maintain deep ties with. The conversation around Black bodies enduring various levels of violence is too urgent and present to ignore and this is why The Messenger is a timely and necessary cultural work.

Below, we talk with Bas aboutThe Messenger podcast, Black activism, growing up with parents who helped shape his political consciousness and the globalized body of Black pain.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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