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Court quashes Shs 50m reward to national anthem composer

RIP: George William Kakoma

RIP: George William Kakoma

The Court of Appeal has quashed a decision to award Shs 50 million to the late Prof George Wilberforce Kakoma as loyalties for composing the Uganda national anthem.  

The award had been given to Kakoma in 2010 by High court judge Yorokamu Bamwiine, as his final settlement for the anthem; Oh Uganda, the Land of Beauty, which was selected as a winning composition by a committee which was seeking for a short, original, solemn and praising" anthem, as the nation obtained independence from Great Britain in 1962.  

The decision was based on a suit filed by Prof Kakoma who was seeking damages for the alleged violation of his copyright and sought a compensation of Shs 1 billion. In his suit, Kakoma claimed that the state owed him royalties each time the national anthem is recited and also sought an injunction to restrain the state from using his song.

During the initial hearing, Kakoma's lawyers argued that the composer received just Shs 2,000 from the government as an initial "token of appreciation" in 1963. Although the court disallowed Prof Kakoma's plea to be declared the lawful owner of the national anthem, justice Bamwiine granted him a payment of Shs 50 million which would attract an annual interest of 25 per cent until the government settled the payment.  

But Kakoma rejected the award saying that it was too little to cover the damages incurred for violation of his copyright for more than 40 years. He then went to the court of appeal seeking a compensation of about Shs 800 million instead. He died in 2012 before the case was disposed off.  

However, his widow Mary Teresa Kakoma continued pushing the case. The state through the then director for civil litigation Christine Kahwa and Charity Nabasa the state prosecutor opposed the appeal arguing that Kakoma had been paid for his work. The state lawyers, however, supported the 50 million award since it had been given due to the judge’s discretion.  

A panel of three justices Hellen Obura, Elizabeth Musoke and Fredrick Egonda-Ntende quashed the compensation award on grounds that it had no legal basis. The judges also ruled that Kakoma vested the copyright of the national anthem with the government and that the copyright enjoyed legal protection for 50 years which expired in 2012.  

But the judges added that by this expiration, the composition no longer enjoys copyright protection and can now be freely used in the public domain. The verdict was presented by Court of Appeal registrar Agnes Nkonge.

Kakoma's composition of the anthem is one of the three recognized national symbols. Its lyrics commit the future of the new nation in the hands of God, rallying citizens to stand for unity, freedom, liberty and togetherness. It talks about Uganda's love and living in peace and friendship with her neighbours.

It also praises Uganda's beauty, ability to feed her own from the fertile soils and the abundant sun, concluding with "The Pearl of Africa's Crown", a line first attributed by former British prime minister Winston Churchill who visited the then British territory in the early 20th century.
© 2016 Observer Media Ltd