Picture: MARIANNE SCHWANKHART/THE TIMES
Picture: MARIANNE SCHWANKHART/THE TIMES

After a decidedly rough week, MTN was granted a small reprieve on Wednesday when legislators in Uganda reversed an earlier decision to ban a popular MTN-branded music festival in the country for homophobic reasons.

It is a small win for the mobile operator, which has been slapped with demands worth $10.1bn – more than its entire market capitalisation – by two Nigerian authorities over the past week.

On Tuesday, Uganda’s minister of state for ethics and integrity, Simon Lokodo, called for the annual MTN Nyege Nyege festival to be cancelled, just days before it was to take place.

Lokodo, a reverend, said in a letter to the state he had received "credible information" that the festival would "accommodate the celebration and recruitment of young people into homosexuality…".

While the country’s anti-homosexuality law had been challenged in the courts, Lokodo said the practice of "deviant sexual behaviours" had "never been condoned" in Uganda, and the state needed to protect its citizens from such "vices".

But interior minister Jeje Odongo vetoed that decision on Wednesday and said the festival could run as planned from Thursday to Sunday – albeit with conditions.

The police force said in a statement the organisers had agreed to prohibit drugs, homosexuality, "open sex" and any other "immoral acts", among other conditions.

An MTN Uganda representative told Business Day the event would "proceed as planned under close watch of the ministry officials".

"After mushrooming out of the creative field of East Africa in 2015 without a single sponsor, Nyege Nyege became MTN Nyege Nyege for its fourth edition…. With five stages and over 300 artists, it is now the biggest four-day festival in the region, attracting over 10,000 people from Uganda and beyond," the person said.

hedleyn@businesslive.co.za

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