Three months ago a letter supposedly authored by a little known member of opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) Catherine Ddembe caused a buzz among Ugandans on social networks. “
The letter detailed a plot to frame senior government officials in subversive activities. The letter also spoke of plans to kill key figures allegedly opposed to what has come to be known as the ‘Muhoozi project’. The project of trying to groom Museveni’s son Brig Muhoozi Kainerugaba for the presidency (We don’t know when- the father hasn’t shown signs of retiring in 2016).
Ugandan journalists and activists working outside Kampala face some of the worst threats and sometimes these threats go unreported. If the stories are reported, they generally don’t receive the same hype as the arrests or mistreatment of those that are Kampala based.
Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) working with security operatives have been at the center of threating freedom of expression of Ugandans upcountry. Every now and then a talk show host is threatened or kicked out of job for opinions that are everyday broadcast on stations held in the capital.
Opposition candidates are finely denied airtime to articulate their side of politics on radio stations outside the city. Most Ugandans upcountry whom the current government largely depend on radio. This makes the job of a radio journalist riskier.
On May 08, a Radio Political Talk show host James Kasirivu of the popular “World Express” program on Mbarara based Endigito Radio station was arrested. Kasirivu was picked up by plain clothed security operatives, first detained at Mbarara Police station in Western Uganda before being transferred to infamous Special Investigations Unit (SIU) in Kireka, Kampala.
Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) says security operatives did not tell Kasirivu what crime he had committed offence, and neither did they allow him to call his relatives or lawyer. Kasirivu was held for one night and was driven back to Mbarara in the night.
Kasirivu told HRNJ-Uganda that one of the officers threatened him with shooting once he asked why he was being held. HRNJ-Uganda in statement said Kasirivu was accused of obtaining about Shs 870 million equivalent to US $ 348,000 from a certain herbalist. When asked the head of SIU Chelimo Beata told HRNJ-Uganda that Kasirivu was implicated in the conning of money from a certain woman of about Ug. Shs 400 million equivalent to $ 160,000.
Sources told HRNJ-Uganda that “Kasirivu has been stopped from mentioning anything to do with Ugandan current affairs –be it politics, economics or social issues in his daily program ‘World Express’ which highlights currents affairs happening around the globe. Kasirivu’s show was previously shut down after receiving numerous warnings from the UCC.
Ugandan security forces have given themselves a right to hold Ugandan citizens incommunicado. Sometimes people are held for months in these units without charge and Kasirivu’s case could have gone unreported.
There are a limited number of critical shows that serve most of rural Uganda. Most radio stations upcountry are still owned by NRM linked businessmen, ministers and government officials. This means the critical debates that urban communities in Uganda are treated to everyday are a rare thing for rural Uganda. Not much is available online about the radio man who’s known as ‘The Great’ whose show is well respected in south western Uganda districts. A facebook page for the show that Kasirivu runs has 116 followers https://www.facebook.com/groups/170672033058793/
For a government that seems to be using all means necessary – including trying to expel MPs from parliament- to shut up divergent views, talk show hosts like Kasirivu are perceived as a threat. Their role in imparting knowledge in the rural populace can’t be welcomed by a government that benefits from such information gap.
These arrests and intimidation are not a new project they have been here for sometime, the only difference is the tougher the road gets for NRM, the rougher their means become.
The police has also been on the tail of activists behind the Black Monday Movement. Six members of the civil society-led campaign that preaches against corruption in public offices were arrested in February for allegedly distributing flyers. The Police asked the campaign to register their publication. The team has moved on the look into audio messages. The Police ruled that the campaign messages were “inciting.”
Like my teacher and journalist Bernard Tabaire wrote in Daily Monitor “Every constitutional lawyer who passed exams thinks the NRM leadership has taken leave of its brain. That is sad. Kind of.”
Tabaire’s may have been referring to efforts to expel MPs from the house, but with such intimidation of people like Kasirivu and Black Monday campaigners the statement fits many actions of our government.
A few weeks ago I spent a night in Addis Ababa –in transit to Accra because of a flight delay. Like on many other trips to the capital that hosts the African Union, you immediately feel that somehow Meles is not dead. Former Prime Minister’s photos still greet you at the airport and on most roads. These photos give you a feeling of visiting an orphaned nation. You will not easily have a clue that Ethiopia has a new leader. Just like the photos of Meles in the streets, his policies are still well implemented by his party EPRDF and journalists like Reeyot Alemu are at still at the receiving end of these undemocratic policies and outright repression that he presided over.
If you have been following Ugandan news in the last few days you couldn’t have missed that photo of President Yoweri Museveni handing over $100,000 to a loose group of youth from Busoga. Twitter and Facebook are still having discussions on this #sackofmoney.
The president was apparently fulfilling a promise he made during the 2011 elections. The president proudly announced his donation sending the crowd of ordinary Ugandans in a village into celebration. Museveni in the past has handed over brown envelopes to sustain his patronage and stay in power.
Many ask, what’s wrong with a sack of money?
Uganda remained at the 110th position out of the 144 countries in the Global Information Technology Report 2013.
The Networked Readiness Index, calculated by the World Economic Forum, and INSEAD, ranks 144 economies based on:
their capacity to exploit the opportunities offered by the digital age. This capacity is determined by the quality of the regulatory, business and innovation environments, the degree of preparedness, the actual usage of ICTs, as well as the societal and economic impacts of ICTs. The assessment is based on a broad range of indicators from Internet access and adult literacy to mobile phone subscriptions and the availability of venture capital. In addition, indicators such as patent applications and e-government services gauge the social and economic impact of digitization.
The Global Information Technology Report also shows that digitization has a measurable effect on economic growth and job creation.
I have just read the anti Pornography Bill that is currently before our parliament. This Bill was brought soon after the MPs stifled debate on the Marriage and Divorce Bill, which millions of Ugandans need urgently in place.
Lokodo’s anti-pornography bill however doesn’t just threaten women; it is attacking press freedom too. The media is portraying the Bill as a ‘mini-skirt’ law but if passed it has far reaching consequences on press freedom, freedom of expression, Internet freedom, right to privacy and culture.
According to the Bill
Pornography means any cultural practice, radio or television programme, writing, publication, advertisement, broadcast, upload on internet, display, entertainment, music, dance, picture, audio, video recording, show, exhibition or any combination of the preceeding that depicts (for now I concentrate on the clause) “Sexual parts of a person such as breasts, thighs, buttocks and genetalia.”
Last week I wrote about my feeling about the manner in which the debate on the Marriage and Divorce Bill was handled. I couldn’t’ write any better than Jacqueline Asiimwe, a lawyer who has been, for more than a decade, at the centre of the struggle for women’s rights in Uganda. Here is her personal note on the bill. We all can’t run or hide from realities and horrors in our homes. We all have similar stories like those of Jackie’s clients and her clients don’t come from outside our country. They are the silenced victims of our unfair laws and cultural practices. I am hearing that some MPs who have something left of their morals are returning the 5 million they were given for sham the consultations on a proposed law which Ugandan taxpayers had already spent over years. These stories are not just stories of poor, rural people, they are stories that we dont have to look far! They are our family’s stories, they are our stories. Hope Jackie’s note makes you realise how urgent this law reform is needed!