By Mubatsi Asinja Habati
The legend of the national anthem courts controversy even in death
Fifty years ago Prof. George Kakoma composed a song that was adopted as Uganda’s national anthem at independence. Kakoma has not lived to hear his creative piece of music played on October 9, 2012 as Uganda celebrates its independence golden jubilee. He has died 6 months away to the long awaited celebrations.
“Prof Kakoma was a very gentle, loving, friendly, simple and humble man with high sense of humour,” that’s all Maria Kakoma, wife to the late Professor of music, would say to describe him. “He could not be in a place and you do not laugh,” Maria said of the former director of Makerere University’s Music Dance and Drama Department, who died on April 8. Kakoma’s exact date of birth is not clear, but it’s believed that he was born between 1923 and 1925 in Masaka district.
Kakoma was one of Uganda’s unsung heroes who deserved at least one of the now common medals but he didn’t get it from government in his life time. When Kirunda Kivejinja was minister for the Presidency; that was way before the medals craze hit Uganda, journalists asked him whether Prof. Kakoma, Grace Ibingira and the policeman who lowered the union jack to raise the Uganda flag at independence were to get medals; Kivejinja brushed off the hopes of the journalists when he answered; “Kakoma won a composition contest and he was paid”. The policeman now in Kumi district lives a humble life with all his symbolic contribution to Uganda’s independence ignored.
The same would be said of the state in which Prof Kakoma lived. He died with a pending suit against Museveni’s government for royalties on the song that plays at every national function. He went to court seeking some Shs 500 million but court in its wisdom said he deserved Shs 50 million for his creation of the Uganda national anthem. His family scoffed at the Shs 50 million the High Court awarded him in 2008, arguing it could not buy a decent car. They appealed against the decision at the Court of Appeal and are awaiting a ruling. Frustration of the Kakoma family with the government is summed up by his wife Maria Kakoma. “There was a time, especially when he started claiming his dues, and sometimes officers gave it cold water, while other people in the country who did not do very important things were rewarded.”
When Kakoma suffered a stroke in February as the media raged with the condition he was in, tempers flared in parliament as the MPs accused government of playing double standards by compensating individuals like Basabajjabalaba with Shs 142 billion but could not see reason to compensate the then bedridden Kakoma for the national anthem he composed for his country.
“He deserved a handshake from this government for his patriotic contribution. Even a billion of shillings would not be a lot of money for a person like Kakoma who made this country proud through his music. If you can pay Basajjabalaba Shs 142 billion for doing nothing what about this man who did something for this country,” Nandala Mafabi, the leader of opposition in parliament said then. Prof Senteza Kajubi who chaired the 1962 committee that selected Kakoma as winner of national anthem composition competition said he was a noble man who served his country well.
In 1962, that’s 50 years ago, Kakoma’s song won the competition to become the national anthem. Government then gave Kakoma Shs 2000 (approx. US$ 286 at the 1962 exchange rate. This was worth about 1 ton of Coffee which was at 0.25 US cents a pound at the time) in appreciation of winning the competition. The music professor kept hoping for a better reward for his creative works. But he didn’t live to see this. Unlike his contemporaries the state did not give him a house, a car, or even a stipend.
A national anthem is no common song. It identifies the unique values of a given country. Such a song seeks to inspire patriotism in its citizens. Ordinarily a person who composes the national anthem is a music icon and should take pride in it. But that was not true for Prof Kakoma, the composer of Uganda’s melodious national anthem, “Oh Uganda, may God uphold thee”.
Kakoma had been given a house near Kololo Airstrip but it was later repossessed by government and he was kicked out. When he suffered a stroke in 2011, his family appealed to government for financial assistance but it did not come quickly enough. Meanwhile, according to one of Kakoma’s family members, the medical bills kept rising.
Life is but a journey. Kakoma’s journey in life pushed him in the limelight after putting together Uganda’s national anthem. But he has died a disgruntled man after failing to get royalties from his work. Perhaps Prof Kakoma composed an anthem for a nation that forgot him. But this can be corrected by a proper eulogy that will feature prominently in the future.
Timeline of Kakoma’s battle for copyright over the national anthem
1962: Kakoma wins a competition for the composing of Uganda National Anthem
Obote government gives Kakoma Shs 2,000 as a token of appreciation for composing the national song
1964 : Obote government writes to Kakoma asking him to surrender his copyright to them, having realized it was copyright material
Kakoma referred the matter to his lawyers who wrote back to the Government demanding a fee of Shs 5000 before he could sign off his copyright.
The political turmoil that followed left the matter unsettled until Idi Amin’s regime came to power.
January 1975: Kakoma went into self-exile with his family and taught at Kenyatta University until NRM government came to power in 1986.
Upon return from exile Kakoma saw a chance to raise his copyright matter with government.
The Ministry of Justice took up the matter and presented a Cabinet Memo which was turned down on grounds that compensating him would create a bad precedent.
Kakoma took up the matter in the High Court seeking compensation of Shs 500 million.
2008: High Court ruled that Kakoma deserved Shs 50 million
Kakoma was not satisfied with court ruling and appealed.