NEW YORK & WASHINGTON, DC: (April 13, 2021) — Yesterday, the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) and Vanguard Africa sent a joint letter to multi-platinum selling artist, producer, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Akon, requesting that he clarify his business relationship with the dictatorship of Uganda.
The groups asked the two-time Grammy Award-nominated artist to ensure that his business endeavors are not used as an endorsement of Yoweri Museveni’s brutal regime. Last week, Akon announced a business partnership with the Ugandan government, which reportedly includes a plan to invest in tourism, entertainment, as well as a futuristic, cryptocurrency-based city in Uganda.
“In the devastating history of despots in Africa, Yoweri Museveni infamously stands out as one of the continent’s longest-serving dictators. He has ruled Uganda with an iron fist since January 1986, since Akon was only 12 years old,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “Akon must not allow Museveni to exploit his fame and status to cover up his crimes. Instead, Akon should put himself on the right side of history by using his platform to amplify the voices of Ugandans longing for democracy and freedom.”
The letter to Akon comes in the wake of his recent visit to Uganda (alongside his wife and business partner Rozina Negusei) at the invitation of the dictator. During the visit, Akon met with Museveni, who appointed him Uganda’s special envoy for tourism and culture, and promised to find Akon some land to set up his planned investments.
In recent months, Museveni’s security forces have killed dozens of peaceful demonstrators, abducted hundreds of opposition supporters, and brutalized, beaten, jailed, and tortured numerous Ugandans, including popular musician Bobi Wine. Wine is also the country’s main opposition leader and ran as the leading opposition candidate in Uganda’s January 2021 presidential election.
In the letter, the organizations noted that Museveni has exploited the meeting with the global star for official propaganda, as his regime seeks to capitalize on Akon’s global prestige to whitewash its image and distract from its most recent wave of repression, following a sham election in January 2021. Lastly, the organizations urged Akon to use his voice and platform to support Ugandan artists imprisoned or persecuted for speaking out against the dictatorship.
“International stars like Akon — a celebrity who has professed support for social justice and human rights — cannot feign ignorance of the horrific situation unfolding in Uganda,” said Vanguard Africa executive director Jeffrey Smith. “The fact that Akon has been smiling for the cameras with General Museveni, while fellow artists in Uganda like Sir Dan Magic and Nubian Li are behind bars, and have committed no crime, is farcical and at total odds with Akon’s public image. The dissonance is truly astounding.”
As mentioned previously, one of Akon’s reported investment projects in Uganda is a “futuristic,” cryptocurrency-based city in the country. So far, it seems the regime has secured a one square mile lot for Akon to build on.
“Akon is taking advantage of the public perception of cryptocurrencies as decentralized and bringing freedom to their users,” said HRF chief strategy officer Alex Gladstein. “While this is true of Bitcoin, it certainly won’t be true of ‘Akoin,’ which will be completely centralized and manipulated at the discretion of Akon or the Ugandan regime. This is nothing but a cheap publicity stunt to hide behind the language of decentralization. A better name for Akon’s new money would be dictator-coin.”
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies. Vanguard Africa is a nonprofit organization that supports ethical leadership and homegrown democratic initiatives in Africa.