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.