Feb 9, 2021

NEW YORK (February 8, 2021) – The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) welcomes the indefinite postponement of the MTV Africa Music Awards (MAMAs) 2021 in Uganda, following a campaign of protests due to systemic human rights violations in the country. The event was originally scheduled to be hosted in Kampala, Uganda’s capital on February 20.

HRF urges MTV Africa and the event’s host, DJ Khaled, to reconsider any current or future partnerships with Uganda’s undemocratic regime and, therefore, move the awards ceremony to a country which does not jail artists for exercising their freedom of expression or respond to peaceful protest with beatings, torture, and live bullets.

“Canceling the MAMAs in Kampala will prevent Museveni’s regime from whitewashing its crimes with the support of global tastemakers,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “In refusing this partnership, MTV Africa and DJ Khaled have the opportunity to make a hugely influential condemnation of Museveni’s regime, and to greatly enhance the cause of freedom in Uganda.”

In November 2020, MTV Africa, a subsidiary of ViacomCBS, announced a partnership with Uganda’s Ministry of Tourism to host the MAMAs in Kampala while promoting Uganda as a tourist destination. Soon after, MTV Africa invited DJ Khaled to host the awards, while declaring its commitment “to amplifying social change through music and culture.”

HRF sent letters to Bruce Gillmer, president of Music, Music Talent, Programming & Events for ViacomCBS Media Networks, and to songwriter and producer DJ Khaled, urging them not to partner with the murderous regime of Ugandan dictator Yoweri Museveni, which orchestrated a brutal campaign of repression ahead of the country’s unfree and unfair elections in January. The repression particularly targeted Uganda’s biggest pop star and dissident politician, Bobi Wine, who was running for president.

In the letters, HRF explains that Yoweri Museveni’s regime is using the MAMAs to whitewash its repression, bolster its reputation, and regain credibility, both domestically and abroad. Yoweri Museveni has been Uganda’s dictator since seizing power through guerilla warfare in January 1986. In January 2020, Uganda’s subservient Electoral Commission declared Museveni the winner of presidential elections in which he was seeking a sixth term.

During the recent presidential campaign, Museveni’s regime cracked down on the leading opposition candidate Bobi Wine. Wine, his campaign team, and supporters suffered multiple forms of intimidation, including restrictions of movement, repeated arrests, beatings, deadly shootings, and excessive force at the hands of security forces, which routinely used live bullets and stun grenades.

HRF believes that the Ugandan government counts on using and manipulating the MAMAs to distract from the demands of its youth, and to bolster its reputation. ViacomCBS and DJ Khaled’s influence in Uganda gives them the opportunity to make a hugely influential condemnation of Museveni’s regime, and to greatly enhance the cause of freedom in Uganda. HRF urges ViacomCBS and DJ Khaled to call for the release of all arbitrarily detained citizens, an end to police brutality and regime violence, intimidation, and censorship, and new free and fair elections in Uganda.

“Simply put, if you move forward with this event sponsored by Museveni’s 35-year-old dictatorship, you will be in league with a regime that has a well-documented record of brutalizing, jailing, and murdering its citizens, particularly political opponents and peaceful protestors,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen.

Read the letters here and here.


The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies. For interview requests of further comment, please email [email protected]