Friday, June 28, 2013

Beware Ugandan cultural expressions are being ‘stolen’, repackaged and sold to you

It was October 2010. President Yoweri Museveni was locked in a bitter presidential election contest with Dr Kizza Besigye. A decisive blow, an event, an endorsement was needed by either camps to turn the tide. Then came the idea of turning a ,then recent, video skit in which President Museveni ‘rapping’ a traditional Ankole song ‘mpa enkoni’ into a modern hip hop rap track complete with electronic beats and baptized ‘another rap’. It was an instant success. ‘ Do you want another rap’ became viral on you tube. Hundreds wanted to watch a head of state who could rap like Eminem. More importantly for the producers of ‘another rap’, who included respected Producer Richard Kaweesa, ‘You want another rap?’ got traction among the critical Ugandan youth voters who formed the demographic bulk of registered voters. Beyond the electoral contest, ‘another rap’ became a pop culture hit in Uganda, and beyond.The President was advised to copy right the song. Not so fast, said Mwambustya Ndebesa and Dr Deo Katono. The historians maintained that ‘another rap’ could not be copy righted arguing that it was a traditional cultural expression of the banyankole people and could not therefore be claimed as private property by an individual. ‘’ I sang Mpa enkoni before I went to school. It was sang by my father, and grand father before him. It has been here for many generations. President Museveni must have first sang this song before he was probably four. He did not make any intellectual in put into it’ Mwambustya Ndebesa, a political historian at Makerere University, told a meeting of intellectual property rights experts at Africana Hotel on 28th June 2013. The dispute regarding whether ‘Another rap’’ merited copy right protection went as far as the Ugandan courts which held that ‘Another rap’ was a ‘derivative’ work’ –an adaptation taken from existing work. And that is the crux of the debate. What constitutes Ugandan folklore and who owns it? And when does an adaptation from it qualify as copy right?. The Africana hotel workshop which attracted Ugandan intellectual property rights legal experts and performing artists interest groups was organized by Anthony Matovu, a PhD student, with funding from the University of Illinois in the US. Mwambutsya blamed the current debate on turning collectively-held cultural rights into privately-held commodities on ‘marketization’ where ‘’ the rich appropriate the cultural resource of the poor’’. He argued that privatization and individual economic rights are western concepts which is why in Africa, cultural expressions were communally held but the advent of western neo-liberal ideology is endangering African cultural expressions. One of the participants observed that African people are an oral people and as such did not document their cultural expressions as well as western societies, which is why they remained largely in orature form. From 1980’s with Philly Lutaaya’s ‘Tulo tulo kwata omwana’ to the contemporary Nawulira by Navio, Ugandan artists have taken Ugandan cultural expressions and converted them into popular culture saleable commodities. But just how much is their individual in-put and what remains cultural property? According to Jeroline Akubu, Principal Legal Officer at Uganda Law reform Commission, Ugandan folkore or ‘cultural expressions’ are not currently protected by existing intellectual property laws which opens them up to several private copy right claims by individuals claiming that they have added value to the folklore existent in Uganda’s over 60 ethnic groups. Ghana has done better than Uganda on cultural assets by imposing a domestic tax on folklore by visiting foreigners. ‘’ We can make our cultural expressions a brand because we live in a world of markets and brands. There has been a favourable shift in attitude by Ugandans towards folklore which, in the past was seen as inferior’’ said Roger Mugisha, the renown radio personality, who attended the workshop. He reported that some enterprising Chinese are studying the traditional ‘endingidi’ with a view of teasing out a commercial prototype that they can re-package and sell- no doubt to a super market near you. Ndere Troupe’s Steven Rwangyezi said he was uneasy about reported efforts to seek a private patent for Ugandan bark cloth. A representative of the Ministry of Trade, at the workshop, reported that studies are yet to be done to quantify the contribution of Uganda’s cultural assets and industry to GDP. ‘’ We often complain that we have high youth unemployment rates but converting our cultural assets and industry into the market economy can help reduce unemployment. One Ugawood film script can create 100 jobs through actors, script writers, directors etc and a Ugandan CD can create 50 jobs through studio staff, graphic designers and vendors’ said Dick Matovu, General Secretary of Uganda Musician Union. ‘’ Nigeria is the second highest oil producer in Africa but nollywood is the second national revenue source. Cultural industries are overtaking traditional industries in some countries’’ he added. Charles Batambuze, an intellectual property rights expert, reported that government has set up a national creative economy committee under the Office of the Prime Minister and efforts are being made to document and quantify the importance of this industry to Uganda. Expressions of folklore are collective cultural assets and ordinary Ugandans should not be deprived of them. Globalization poses a clear and present danger of commoditization of African cultural expressions in a manner of exclusion. Ugandans as a people should document all the cultural expressions in their diversity and recognize them and protect them by law as Ghana has done. From that baseline, determining works that merit copy right protection, and those that Uganda can package and sell to the world, will be made a lot easier.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Relief in Uganda as LDCs granted TRIPS deadline extension

After intensely heated and acrimonious negotiations, The World Trade Organization (WTO) on 11th June 2013, agreed an eight-year deadline extension on enforcement of trade marks, patents and copy rights which are largely held by western companies and individuals, collectively known as intellectual property rights (IPRs) in the world’s poorest countries. Under a 1995 WTO treaty known as the Trade Related aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), a 2013 ‘transition’ deadline was set for enforcement of intellectual property rights ranging from educational books, pharmaceutical products to high-yield agricultural seeds. Intellectual property law protects the rights of innovators and inventors from copyright infringement. Most patents and copyrights are held by western companies and individuals, including in poor countries where the overwhelming majority of patents and applications are held and filed by foreign entities. The 2013 deadline meant that trademarks, patents and copy rights were to be enforced in poor countries and any breach would be punishable by law especially in countries like Uganda which have recently reformed their laws to recognize intellectual property rights. The latest WTO deadline extension goes as far as July 2021 and provides for a further deadline extension application. In November 2012, Haiti, on behalf of poor countries designated as ‘Least Developed Countries’ (LDCs), formally sought an unlimited extension whereby intellectual property rights enforcement would be suspended for as long as a country was designated as an LDC. The negotiations were long drawn-out and took several months. The Ugandan NGO, Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD), in a joint-statement with Health GAP , applauded the extension as ‘a partial victory’. They argued that the WTO decision will enable ‘’access to more affordable medicines and medical technologies, educational resources, agricultural inputs, and green and climate control technologies.’’ adding that ‘’ The US and Europe had pushed these countries to implement the standards of patent protection, copyrights, trademarks, and other forms of intellectual property in the next few years that today’s rich countries refused to implement while they were focused on development’’. The WTO in informal negotiations was willing to grant a TRIPS deadline extension of 5-7.5 years which LDCs opposed as too short a period with in which to build a viable technological base. "This is unacceptable as the TRIPS Agreement states that upon a duly motivated request, the TRIPS council shall grant an extension. LDCs, to which Uganda is categorized, are justified in seeking an unlimited extension for so long as they are so classified because the suggested 5-7years will not give us adequate time to overcome capacity constraints to develop a viable and competitive technological base," says Moses Mulumba, a director at the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD). The deadline for enforcement of the even more critical pharmaceutical patents is not until 2016 . It is understood that LDCs are planning a similar negotiations, in this regard, starting next year. ‘’In addition, LDCs and their allies will have to begin early to win an even better extension of the pharmaceutical product transition period which will expire in 2016. Here, too, the LDCs should insist on an unconditional extension (like the one they won in 2002) and it should last as long as a WTO member is an LDC. The fight against HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, and the simultaneous fights against neglected tropical diseases and non-communicable diseases, depend on affordable access to generic medicines of assured quality’’ said Prof Brook Baker of Health GAP. “As a region with overwhelming capacity constraints in local pharmaceutical production and 80% of the population depending on generic drugs, this offer to extend the transition time illuminates how much more effort civil society needs to put in asking for an indefinite extension of pharmaceutical product patents come 2016. It is very evident that civil society in the third world has a voice in the global agenda on trade in intellectual property rights,” said Moses Mulumba, Executive Director of CEHURD. “We are glad to see that our governments stood up to pressure, and fought for the right to pro-development policies,” added Kwagala, Policy Advocacy manager for CEHURD. “An extension of 8 years with a possibility of a further extension come 2021 is important. This will position our region to benefit from flexible intellectual property policies to be able to build a viable technology base. It is also opportune timing to focus on building the capacity of our local industries.” She said.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The economic cost of HIV/AIDS in Uganda

There is hardly a Ugandan who has not been touched by AIDS. It may have been a parent, a brother, a cousin, a friend, an old boy, a neighbour or the main bread winner in a family. We have all had our share of the grief and pain that AIDS visits upon us. The emotional strain and social face of HIV and AIDS is visible and tangible. Seeing your loved one painfully and helplessly waste away before your very eyes, feeling the pain and anguish of looking after the ill and subsequently attending that funeral with the mixed emotions of loss and a guilty relief-it is all over. For the patient and for you; the long suffering caregiver. AIDS is no longer only a human loss but a substantially economic one, which poses a serious threat to economic growth, development prospects and poverty alleviation in Uganda. In Uganda,the HIV prevalence rate has risen from 6.4% in 2005 to 7.3% in 2012, with even higher rates shown in some longitudinal studies in Masaka and Rakai, the direct and indirect economic costs of the epidemic are set to become greatly compounded. According to UNDP, Uganda has 130,000 new HIV infections every year. This equates to around 10,000 people being newly infected with HIV every month, which is a worrying trend. Surprisingly, there have not been many recent empirical studies on the economic impact of the epidemic in Uganda as compared to say, South Africa, where several studies and models have been developed. The reasons for this differ not least of which is that macro-economic models for estimating the economic toll of the epidemic vary, and there has been debate on their accuracy of findings (how do you isolate HIV from other factors?) but the economic impact of HIV is undeniable. A Ministry of Finance and Uganda AIDS Commission study (Assessing the Macro Economic impact of HIV/AIDS in Uganda) funded by UNDP shows that Uganda’s economic growth rate will slow by 1.2% due to the impact of HIV on Uganda’s labour force and the costs households incur in treating their infected members. The report, released in November 2008, estimates that by 2025 Uganda’s economy will be reduced by up to 39% on account of the epidemic. The same study shows that HIV and AIDS raise the overall poverty rate in Uganda by 1.4% every year. Times this by ten years and the cumulative effect becomes mind boggling. ‘’When a poor family is affected by HIV/AIDS, it increases poverty by 2% on individual homes across the country,” says Dr Keith Jeffries who led the study. Other studies now show that the HIV pandemic has resulted in socio economic reversals that cut off 4% on national economic growth rates in Sub Saharan African countries. The World Bank shows that in Uganda the economic impact of HIV-related deaths is stronger than other types of deaths such as malaria since households spend their savings on prolonged treatment and funerals. From an individual perspective, the economic toll is evident. The costs of prolonged hospitalizations, buying drugs, depleting personal savings for treatment costs, loss of productive hours while caring for the sick and those notoriously expensive Ugandan funerals push individuals and households down the poverty ladder. In Botswana, according to a 2006 UNAIDS study it was estimated that, on average, every income earner was likely to acquire one additional dependent over the next five years due to the AIDS epidemic. “We will see a ripple effect from the individual to firstly, households; secondly, businesses and communities, and lastly the welfare system,” said George Gavin, research fellow at the Health Economics and AIDS Research Division of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. A 2002 study estimates that households suffer a decline in income of between 48 percent and 78 percent when a member of their household is lost to HIV, excluding the costs of funerals. Household expenditure on funerals can be as much as seven times their total monthly household incomes as reported by some families in some studies in South Africa. The loss of young adults due to prolonged illness and of course death in the most productive age group of 25-54 reduces the country’s labour supply and productivity. In the Uganda Railways Corporation, the loss in productivity per employee on account of AIDS is $300 according to a recent study. Ugandan businesses’ competitiveness and profitability has been impacted by HIV due to employee absenteeism on account of illness, expenditures on employee medical care, staff funeral expenses and attendance and training costs to replace departed workers. In Ethiopia, a World Bank Study on 25 rural households found the average cost of treatment, funeral and mourning expenses totaled several times the average household incomes. In a Henry Kaiser Foundation study conducted in South Africa in 2002, poor households with members living with HIV and AIDS were reducing spending on necessities. Households were likely to cut spending on clothing by 21% and on electricity by 16%. Even expenditure on food was reduced among 6% of the households affected by HIV with nearly a half of all households reporting not having enough to eat at some point. Neither is agriculture spared by HIV. A study by the Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union revealed that the AIDS-related death of a breadwinner led to a reduction in Maize production in the small holder farming sector by as much as 61%. HIV and AIDS has diminished the available agricultural production workforce in Southern African by between 14-20%, compromising food security at household and national levels. Ironically, those on antiretroviral therapy need lots of food due to the toxic nature of antiretroviral drugs. The education sector does not remain unscathed. A reduction in enrolment is one of the effects of the epidemic as pupils stay at home to look after sick parents and pupils drop out due to sick parents’ inability to raise fees. There has also been a reported direct loss of teachers to the epidemic. In Swaziland, a 2002 UNAIDS report shows that school enrolment dropped by 25-30% on account of AIDS 2000. Although antiretroviral therapy (ART) has been shown to reduce the economic impact of HIV, prevention remains the greatest hope of responding to the pandemic as treatment efforts are hopelessly outpaced by the increasing prevalence rates. A 2011 UNAIDS report estimates that for every patient put on antiretroviral therapy, two are newly infected in their place. Source: Key Correspondents » Login to post comments Pri