Media to fight order on Kampala terror attacks investigations

Media executives yesterday vowed to challenge an order issued by the Nakawa Chief Magistrates Court barring print and broadcast media houses from reporting or publishing any information about the July 11 twin bombings in Kampala.

I don’t know how Ugandans will get the information as the order is still in place. While government argues that the order is to prevent the media from jeopardizing investigations the total blackout of information might leader to gross human rights violations besides the impact on press freedom and freedom of expression.

Uganda police move to gag media over Kampala bombs investigations

Three days ago I wrote about the media in Uganda and the publication of army statements in relation to the Kampala bombings as the gospel truth. Today the government has decide to take an extra step to gag the media coverage of the ongoing investigations relating to the July 11 Kampala bombings where 76 lives were lost.

So far 32 people from Kenya, Pakistan, Somalia and Uganda have been charged  over the attacks.

The police is in the process of securing an order from a court in Kampala that prohibits the media from publishing any information relating to the investigations. If they are granted this order it means the security (police and army) will be in total control of the news regarding the bombings and they will put out whatever they want to the Ugandans with little question.

As much we appreciate the need not to jeopardize investigations such an order curtails freedom of expression and press freedom at a time when Ugandans especially those who lost their loved ones in the bombings need all the information.

Recently the police arrested and charged  journalist Timothy Kalyegira with sedition over a story he published on his online newspaper Uganda Record, regarding the Kampala bombings. This story even though many see it as conspiracy theory, was the only story to have gone against the official military storyline.

So I don’t see this new move as a good sign but as a way to stop Ugandans from following and knowing the story of the July 11 bombings. The media in Uganda must be ready to fight this order it shouldn’t even be allowed to stand for a day. I just seen this on NTV news and details will be coming soon. I will put more links when they become available.

Uganda 7/11 terror attacks: Why is the media buying everything government says.

Yesterday the Ugandan authorities paraded four men all below 40 who ‘testified’ to have taken part in the terrorist attacks on Kampala that killed 76 people on the day of the World Cup final on July 11.

The four men were put before before journalists in Kampala yesterday by military intelligence officials. The Ugandan media has since treated their narrative as the gospel. The Daily Monitor headline emphatically read, How the 7/11 bomb attacks were planned and executed, another read: How we bombed Kampala city. New Vision put it: We are sorry, say 7/11 bombers. I have read the BBC which opted for Uganda arrests ‘masterminds’ of World Cup bombings showing that the media outlet cannot for sure know if they are really the ones.

For those of you who have followed story of how the American media swam along with George Bush’s rhetoric in the aftermath of 9/11, you would find it disturbing that the media will just report things without a question or without giving enough hints to the readers that these are words of the military and that there’s a chance that reality could be different.

When a friend came from that press briefing I asked him how did these guys look like? He said they were calm, they didn’t look intimidated at all. But that alone is the story. I don’t expect the media to know the whole story of these suspects and neither do I claim to know it. But what I expect is the media treating words of authorities behind ‘the war on terror’  more carefully. The whole story is pointing to Somalia where al Shabaab bases have existed for years and the group claimed responsibility for the attacks. Now the men claim they were actually trained by al shabab. There’s something lacking in the account regarding dates, who are their bosses that kept coming up in the narrative. And there’s that ease with which they told their involvement like they were just picked on a few days before the attacks that make me hard to believe. Also we heard that UPDF spokesperson Lt. Col Felix Kulaigye was also a target and some minister.

Due to lack of funds and interest on some part, the Ugandan media  has majorly covered Uganda’s involvement in Somalia from  Kampala and I have been part of this. Save for a few times when New Vision flies in a reporter to Mogadishu who comes back to tell us the rosy side of the mission and how our troops are really helping.

Not even when we know that these militants have heavy presence in Kenya have we followed the story up from outside Uganda. We have stayed in Kampala covering statements from the military and making those calls to spokesperson Bahoku Barigye every other day after a report of killings. The military is in charge of this story and  the media should be able to portray it like it is. In the end all that Ugandans have especially for those who lost dear ones in the blast are statements from the military.

So when I see screaming headlines about the suicide bombers I am afraid we might be just like the American media which was caught up in the moment and gave Bush a leeway to spread terror with little questioning. It is such complacency that allowed many human rights violations against supposed terrorists from all over the world by American authorities.

In 2008, I met Sami al Hajj, a Sudanese journalist who worked, still works for Al Jazeera  who was held for 6 years at Guantanamo for being a ‘terrorist.’ The only thing the man had done is have interviews with the Taliban leaders in Pakistan/Afghanistan shortly before the Americans launched the war . His story and stories of so many that he saw in prison break your heart and you realise that in our pursuit of justice, we can easily create more chaos. He told me of innocent Ugandans he stayed with at Guantanamo held without trial for years. It’s from this background that as a journalist I approach the parading of these suspects with skepticism.

When I first put this concern on my facebook wall a friend reminded me of an incident in March this year when Kasubi tombs burned or were burnt (nothing has been out of the investigations). A man came out and claimed to have been behind the burning and we now have forgotten and we don’t even ask what happened. Kasubi tombs seems to be an issue over taken by events in the country.

The testimonies of these men they paraded must be reported but also questioned. One of the suspects said:

I ask fellow Ugandans to forgive me for the tragedy and the deaths. In brief, I planned the attacks, haboured suicide bombers and kept the gadgets that were used.

I have read from  facebook accounts of many Ugandans burning with outrage toward  statements from the suspects, some of them calling for the guys to be put on a firing squad before we even know the whole story. Such statements draw a lot emotions and we shouldn’t just move  along with emotions only but try to reason.  As journalists the hard job is here. How do you tell if authorities are parading people who are indeed behind the attacks or it’s another ploy  to show  us they are working on our (country’s) safety. Remember the role of propaganda in such situations thrives on emotions and it becomes easy to fall for it.

I am afraid we Ugandans  we forget too fast and these men Edris Nsubuga and Haruna Hassan Luyima, Issa Luyima and Mohamood Mugisha , if those are their real names, might not be known a few months down the road.  We must be able to dig deeper, track down relatives if they can still freely talk to the media. The media must do more than report military sourced statements.

People that Inspire;Leymah Gbowee

Leymah Gbowee is the founder and the Executive Director of Women Peace and Security Network Africa (Wispen-Africa). She had a great role in the Liberian Peace Process and the Women’s Leadership Board of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University awarded her the 2007 Blue Ribbon Award. Gbowee’s movement during the Liberia civil war is captured in the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell. The documentary shows how the women of Liberia managed to influence talks and events that ended the reign of Charles Taylor. It shows the power of women and particularly the potential of African women in pushing to peace. I met Leymah in Johannesburg at the Man Up campaign summit. What really amazed me was her threat to undress in front of those rebel leaders that were stalling the peace efforts in Accra Ghana. She did this as these rebel leaders together with Charles Taylor were commanding thousands of child soldiers who caused mayhem in Liberia.

I spoke to Leymah about a recent article by Foreign Policy which put Liberia among 60 failed states in the world. To me this was naïve knowing the progress the country has seen under President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Leymah tells me Liberia has the toughest laws on violence against women and there’s a special court to tackle sexual offenses.

Stories that break my heart

It’s at dusk, a young woman is returning home outside the countryside town of Soroti. Crackling of military uniform and sound of army boots and gun butts by approaching patrol soldiers are heard.  “Wewe nani?”(Who are you?) a thundering order comes through the darkness.

There is a sudden halt. The 28-year-old Grace Nakasi, a victim of an insurgency in eastern Uganda, is pulled off the road to the bush and gang-raped by the men in uniform.

“I was living in Soroti town. One evening I was walking to the Senior Quarters where I lived. I met nine soldiers on patrol at about 7:00 pm. They all raped me and abandoned me by the roadside,” Nakasi begins her story.

She was rescued by another group of soldiers and taken to hospital. The area was on high security alert because of the ongoing  insurgency in the area at the time. Her assailants were never identified and

Grace Nakasi spoke to me at the African Union summit. Rosebell Kagumire photo

arrested to answer for their crimes. She has never gotten justice.

This was 1987, a year after President Yoweri Museveni had captured the reigns of state power and announced “a fundamental change, not mere change of guard.” The heinous incident marked the dawn of repeated sexual violence against Nakasi and many other women in conflict areas

One night a year later, Nakasi received information that her parents had been killed by rebels. There was still a heavy presence of soldiers in the town, but the death of her parents could not allow her stay in her house.

“I couldn’t just sit back even though I knew the area was insecure. I decided to go to the bus park to take a bus to visit my home,” Nakasi narrates with suppressed sadness. It was on the way to the bus park that Nakasi became a victim of the second rape. Read more

President Museveni’s letter on AU and al Shabaab

Two days ago President Museveni  wrote in Daily Nation in Kenya about the Somalia mission.  The article was to defend his intervention in Somalia which he has been up to since July 11 when al Shabaab successfully used suicide bombers in Kampala taking 85 innocent lives. In Museveni’s analysis of Somalia he was very selective in the parts of history that he highlighted.  He chose those that would mirror well on the current interventions. He refuses to acknowledge the misguided invasion of Ethiopia backed by United States in 2006.  He continued to blame the lawlessness in Somalia on what he calls “cowardly Middle-Eastern terrorism.” I have a problem with this first of all; the problems of Somalia did not begin with the involvement of Middle East. And to refer to involvement of a few foreign fighters to Middle-East terrorism, it is not only a misrepresentation of Middle East but also just only explains symptoms of the Somalia problem.

And he does explain to me why the AU forces have failed to command respect from the warring factions of the Somalia war.  He did not show in any ways they plan to get his respect. To get groups like al Shabaab and Hizbulah to a discussion because the past few weeks after the bombing all we have heard is the wish to go for an all out bombardment of islamists positions which the UN has objected. How will we win against these groups under the current mandate? An increment in troops is nothing if above the troops the AU doesn’t seek other alternatives to include those warlords in the peace/political process.  The President doesn’t anywhere mention the failure of the west in Somalia because I understand we can’t cut off hands that feed us so we will blame the Middle East for Somalia. This misguided view that democracy will just yield just like that after two decades of no government.

He says “Africans believe in a philosophy of live and let live. They never try to impose anything on anybody” but in most African nations many people live under conditions forced upon them. And had it been up to Ugandans our troops would not be in Mogadishu. Had he not imposed his choice on going to Somalia on us we wouldn’t be talking of al Shabaab vowing to blow up anything Ugandan related.  But he’s kind of right on one thing “the Somali people are the ones with the key for the solution to this problem. We can only play a supportive role.” And if the different warring clans that have made it easy for the extremist elements in Somalia to get around easily are still not united we can’t do much. Three years after Uganda arrived in Mogadishu there’s not much that has gone on in terms of political process. Key African states have kept away not even at the recent summit held in Kampala the recipient of recent terror attacks, brought key states to make up a formidable force.  Uganda will remain in Mogadishu under the same peacekeeping mandate and will wait on those African nations who will dare send their sons and daughters to Mogadishu. Bernard Tabaire asked interesting questions in his piece. He says President Museveni should provide us a timeline for the UPDF withdrawal.