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Court dismisses ‘Another Rap’ case against Museveni

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The High Court has dismissed a suit against President Yoweri Museveni by local artiste Richard Kawesa in which he sought compensation over a song the former used in the 2011 presidential campaigns.

In his ruling dated June 25, High Court judge Richard Wejuli Wabwire noted that the Constitutional provision that grants a sitting president immunity ousted court’s jurisdiction to handle the matter.

“Article 98 takes away the jurisdiction of this court over the person of the sitting president and, secondly, it bestows upon that person absolute and unqualified immunity while he is in office,” Wejuli noted.

Another Rap was a hip hop song that struck a chord with Ugandans, especially the youth, during the 2011 campaigns. Its appeal survived the campaigns, with telecom companies making a killing out of it as a ringtone for many of their clients.

But soon after the elections, Museveni registered the song’s copyright with Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB). Copyright is a form of intellectual property that grants the creator of an original creative work an exclusive legal right to determine whether and under what conditions this original work may be copied and used by others.

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However, soon afterward, Kawesa claimed royalties from Museveni for allegedly using his musical works that gave birth to the song’s lyrics which the President used to promote his candidature.

But it seems Kawesa’s push for compensation hit a wall, forcing him to file a suit in the commercial division of the High Court three months ago.

In the suit, Kawesa sought the court to declare him the author, producer, and owner of the song, adding that Museveni’s use and registration of the copyright without his knowledge, consent, and compensation is an infringement on his intellectual property rights.

Kawesa also sought injunctive orders restraining Museveni from using and deriving any benefits from the song.

Museveni’s lawyer, Edwin Karugire, filed an application in which he challenged the court’s jurisdiction to handle the matter in light of Article 98 (4) of the Constitution, which bestows upon sitting president immunity from civil and criminal matters.

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Kawesa’s lawyer, Fred Muwema, perhaps cognizant of the provisions of Article 98(4) of the Constitution promptly filed a petition in the Constitutional Court, in which he sought to determine whether the impugned provision ousted the jurisdiction of the court to handle his client’s case.

He had sought to have the Commercial Division of the High Court to stay proceedings until the Constitutional Court pronounced itself on the matter.

However, in his ruling, Justice Wejuli rejected Muwema’s plea, reasoning that a prima facie case had not been made out by the respondent.

To stay proceedings in the circumstances Muwema had sought to do, Wejuli noted: “could easily lead to abuse of the process by litigants, lend it to forum shopping or simply frustrate proceedings”.

Citing the earlier decision by the Supreme Court in Theodore Ssekikubo v Attorney General, Wejuli was categorical that the immunity bestowed upon a sitting president by Uganda’s Constitution is immutable and cannot be waived under any circumstance. Kawesa can wait until Museveni is out of power, to seek justice.