Intellectual property rights; are we ready for this war in Kigali?

Before we saw a computer in Africa, (I am very aware that many communities in Africa have not yet seen or known about the magic of computers. And On a personal level, as a graduate of a major African journalism school in the mid 2000s, and working as a business reporter for a first street national daily, the wonder that is google.com was revealed to me by  my good friend Mansur Kakimba a year after my first journalism job.

Before we saw a computer in Africa, (I am very aware that many communities in Africa have not yet seen or known about the magic of computers. And On a personal level, as a graduate of a major African journalism school in the mid 2000s, and working as a business reporter for a first street national daily, the wonder that is google.com was revealed to me by  my good friend Mansur Kakimba a year after my first journalism job.

I was so excited and delighted about the discovery that I wrote an op-ed and appropriately titled it: “God bless google for our careers.” As usual I was a late comer on the ICT wagon.)

Back to the hammock.

The computer heralded in Africa easier access to recreational activities by ordinary folks as was never seen before, even though late in these things as normally is the case with most trends in Africa, the computer was both a blessing and a curse in equal measure.

For Africans that have never seen and or still don’t know how to use a computer, either as a result of high costs, lack of connection to electricity, knowledge, relevance and awareness the thing was received and dismissed as a symbol of the elite and all the trademarks that the elite in Africa carry around.

But the emergence of Ki’Nigeria, (I will not explain what this is as I assume that ya’ll know what it is, had such a phenomenal appeal that most people sighed pleasantly for the blessing of computers and the entrepreneurship of pirating it brought.)

The computer made it possible for many Africans to become entrepreneurs and aficionados on matters of sport, love, and leisure as it brought movies, music and secretarial services to even the most rural of AFrican communities.

I was one of such investors in my hometown of Kansanga a suburb of one East Africa’s greatest cities.

Situated close to Ggabba landing site me and my best friend Fred Mugisha aka Junior decided once after a hard labour working day at HotLoaf bakery to open a music and movie rental business on Ggaba landing site on the shores of Lake Victoria.

In 2006 we opened up Low Life Records, the business operated in a roadside single room which also served as a men’s hair saloon.

WE only needed a computer affixed with a DVD and CD burner, a video cassette player that also served as an amplifier as well as two loud speakers that we placed at the entrance of the saloon.

Having grown up in the neighbourhood, I was in charge of acquiring music files from my friends, purchasing the computer and marketing the business for new clients. This was an easy task as ours was the first CD burning and movie rental store on one of the busiest landing and fishing villages on the mighty Lake Victoria.

Junior on the other hand was the know how   of the machines and the technical work involved in our pirating venture. Soon the business was booming.

As a testimony to the increasing fortunes we changed the name from Low Life Records to Two Eyes Productions. Among our new services was video coverage for emerging musical talents as well as weddings in the vicinity.

Our business was one of the signs which signified the end of the deity that the DJ. Most people in the area stopped going to discos, the mantra and pedestal of the DJ was demystified.

His trade was made irrelevant by businesses such as ours. People made selections of their favourite songs and brought their playlists to us and we would burn this into a cassette tape recorder or CD and charge a reasonable fee for our music an service.

It was good days. The computer was then just beginning to break into the African mindset. What Two Eyes Productions was doing was illegal but since it was bringing food on the table and no one had made any noises we continued our music and movie business.

To explain to you the enigma of computers I will tell you a story from my good friend Charles Onyango Obbo. Onyango says that in the days when the computer was just starting its voyage in East Africa he was one of a select few that had an email address as well as a computer connected to the internet.

Because of such rarities he was a major connection between his various friends and their relatives that were living in Europe and North America.

He says that in the days before internet cafes became common he practiced a virtual internet dictatorship where his colleagues would use his computer to write their relatives in developed countries.

In the process Onyango says he was privy to the most personal and bizarre of secrets and hoo haa of his ‘subjects’ who (through him and his email address were communicating to their long lost relatives and lovers in the west.)

On the other hand, Two Eyes and many other music dubbing businesses were not the only culprits in breaking intellectual property rights and laws.

The musicians whose music we were illegally dubbing were also copying and defrauding other peoples’ music and instrumental creations and voicing over their banal lyrics to sell their own brands. It was an industry of unoriginality dubbing, piracy and illegal copying.

As with most things showbiz, Dar Salaam was the very first, not only did they expand EAC music and dance through this business, (since most musicians sang in Swahili, they would reproduce works of other people and simply change lyrics from other languages into Swahili.

The audience would not tell whether what they heard in Swahili was the original or in case later a version of the same thing turned up in a different language was the pirated one. And since since this was the time of Bongo flava, the local was always the authentic.

The Wa’Bongo also led in the CD dubbing business which would be worked out in ‘secretarial services’ centres , through this, they further led the EAC version of manufactured pop groups and led the move to East Africa’s reincarnation of South Africa’s Kwaito dance as well as the authentic African style hip hop known as Bongo flava.

The moral of this story is that I was shocked last week when I read that Kigali Police authorities had arrested several young men for pirating music records.

I was sympathetic that the poor fellows, upon questioning said they did not hitherto know that they had been breaking the law.

Their arrest spells good for the fortunes of local musicians and artists but it should also be a moral to the artists that we as the audience will now expect them to produce more authentic work.

Because when I listen to KGB’s “Arasharamye’ I can easily notice that it is a copy of R. Kelly’s “Burning Up,” and therefore I should not be arrested for pirating such a product.

And it is not only KGB, the current international music industry with the exception of Kenya’s Mejja is full of banal and crass works.

donuwagiwabo@gmail.com

ADVERTISEMENT