Ugandan journalists freed in South Sudan

Today at about 1200hrs EAT, South Sudan authorities freed two Ugandan journalists who have been in detention since Saturday. The Justin Dralaze and Hillary Ayesiga who were filming in Juba, the capital of South Sudan without clearance were held by South Sudan security for four days.

The Ugandan Embassy and Uganda Ministry of Foreign Affairs intervened in the case for the last five days but it was a lot of work on part of two South Sudanese Human Rights lawyers that finally brought security in South Sudan to release the journalists without charge.

The two are expected to arrive in the country this evening. The two were held together with a Ugandan Juba based driver Muhammed Bukenya.

Here’s a poster from a social media campaign that Ugandan journalists used to call on President Kiir to intervene.

South-Sudan-Free-Justin-and-hillary- (2)

Read more from previous post.

President Salva Kiir free Ugandan journalists

Hillary while covering floods in Kasese, Western Uganda a few months ago.
Hillary while covering floods in Kasese, Western Uganda a few months ago.

This is Hillary Ayesiga a Ugandan journalist. I met Hillary in 2007 when we started working for Nation TV Uganda (NTV), a part of the Aga Khan’s Nation Media Group. It was the new station in Uganda, fairly professional- more than most TV stations to the best of my judgement.

Hillary was a colleague for close to two years when i worked at NTV and he is a friend. He’s a hard working journalist. He never shies away from stories.

On Saturday, Hillary was arrested in Juba, South Sudan together with Justin Dralaze, a video journalist that has worked with Reuters for long time until recently. The two had gone to South Sudan to do stories for Feature Story News (FSN), a US-based company.

Justin (with a cap) on assignment with a Photojournalist
Justin (with a cap) on assignment with a Photojournalist

I have known Justin too for more than 7 years,we have survived riots and demonstrations in the land of Museveni where teargas is administered more regularly and with more zeal than immunisation against killer diseases.

Continue reading “President Salva Kiir free Ugandan journalists”

Mr.President, we have a letter situation…and then Obama

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).

Continue reading “Mr.President, we have a letter situation…and then Obama”

Crackdown on freedom of expression: Ugandan Radio Talk show host detained, intimidated and freed

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

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.

Press Freedom Day: Ethiopia’s jailed journalist and Uganda’s restrictive laws

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.

Reeyot's photo at the award ceremony for 2013 World Press Freedom Prize in San Jose Costa Rica.
Reeyot’s photo at the award ceremony for 2013 World Press Freedom Prize in San Jose Costa Rica.

Continue reading “Press Freedom Day: Ethiopia’s jailed journalist and Uganda’s restrictive laws”

Government tightens the noose on press freedom as elections in Uganda get close

Last week it was the Daily Monitor editors who were summoned by police on charges of forgery and uttering a false document over the publication of President Museveni letter on politics in Bunyoro in July which has been widely seen as tribal.

One of the editors Daniel Kalinaki said: “Our journalists acted in the public interest and reported the best obtainable version of the truth. These charges, which are completely false, are only meant to divert attention away from the controversial contents of the letter.

But apparently it seems the government is not only looking at the Bunyoro issue but rather stories that will have real implication on the elections as Museveni who has been in power since 1986 seeks to extend rule in Uganda come 2011.

Yesterday the police summoned The Independent editors over a cartoon that they claim to be “seditious publication” under the Provisions of Section 27A of the Police Act.

Here is the Cartoon.


Do horrifying images of dead bodies in Ugandan media serve any purpose?

This month, Makerere University Department of Mass Communication celebrated their 20th anniversary. One of the events was a media symposium which I attended and found interesting. The theme of the symposium was professionalizing the media in Uganda. I didn’t write anything about it but after spending a week in my village I feel obliged to write something.

At this event the main speakers included Barbra Kaija, the deputy Editor in-Chief of The New Vision. One issue raised by some of those who attended remained unanswered. There was a concern as to why the media in Uganda was consistently insensitive in publication of images of the dead. The person specifically pointed out Bukedde, a Luganda sister paper to the New Vision.

I must say I have always wondered why great editors would forego the tenets of journalism to publish abhorrent images of the dead, be it those involved in an accident or those in homicides.

I appreciate that the media has a duty to inform or even bring horrible acts to the attention of both the public and policy makers but I also expect the media to respect the dead and their relatives. I write this because as a journalist I believe in being sensitive but also as a Ugandan who has come to know some people who have lost relatives and the horrible images are published. It might be years after the local daily published these images but they remain vivid in the relatives’ minds.

Back at the symposium, Kaija unsuccessfully tried to defend the Bukedde policy of publishing dead bodies, saying that the paper was meant for a Baganda audience and that in the Buganda culture it was okay to view dead bodies. This reason was shredded by the Baganda and those well versed with culture at the event.  Kaija opted for the easy way out by telling the gathering she was only responsible for The New Vision and that she was not the right person to seek answers from.

After that the discussion stopped but this week I found the same discussion in my village in Bushenyi. Just like any other village across the country, in my village over 20 people share the day’s paper. I arrived late in the evening carrying Daily Monitor and New Vision, papers that most people rarely read because of the cost and access issues.

I found some three old men whom I have known since I was little to be keen on current affairs and for years their main source has been Orumuri, a Runyankole sister paper to the New Vision. The men wanted to peruse through the English dailies I brought. Then the discussion started on what was in the Orumuri of the day. The first page was full of some dead person and these men were not amused by the continued publication of such pictures in their favourite paper. They know me to be a journalist so they asked why their paper had changed to this and I told them I shared their concern but had no idea why this was being done. Just like Bukedde, Orumuri has been transformed and it now carries pictures of children hacked to death in disturbing close ups that you don’t want to give the picture a second look. When I reached home my aunt raised the same concern about the pictures in Orumuri.

While appreciate that the media should continue to cover these murders in the country, I think news managers must be more responsible and sensitive to readers especially relatives of those in the pictures they choose to use. The media should stop being another pain to those who have lost their relatives in such gruesome ways. I don’t understand what exceptional role these pictures play in bringing the story to the attention of the readers. The headlines are screamers themselves. The government has been keen on the media only if it is critical of their policies. It seems there’s not much being done to see that the press doesn’t treat the public like the dustbin, whether it is internally or by bodies responsible. What makes people’s concerns even more worth considering is the fact that our government has shares in the Vision Group. I know the editors at these papers know better than presenting these horrible pictures in the way they do but I can’t comprehend why they continue doing so.