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2009: Another bad year for journalists

By The Independent Team 

The news reporters made news themselves this year, with many journalists and editors feeling real heat.

Three Monitor journalists including managing editor, Daniel Kalinaki and senior reporters, Angelo Izama and Grace Matsiko, were interrogated by the CID over an article published in Sunday Monitor titled, Reclusive Kony: UPDF’s tactics under spotlight. The government claimed the information was prejudicial to national security.

In February this year, two Red Pepper editors, Richard Tusiime and Francis Mutazindwa were charged with defaming Libyan President, Col. Muamar Gaddafi, after they published stories alleging love affair between Gaddafi and Toro Kingdom’s Queen Mother, Best Kemigisa. The journalists were charged under Section 53 of the Penal Code Act, relating to the offence of publishing defamatory statements against foreign dignitaries, princes and rulers.

The Uganda Media Development Foundation (UMDF) thereafter issued a statement protesting against the charges and castigated the judiciary’s continuous failure to appreciate the role and importance of press freedom and freedom of expression in an evolving democracy like Uganda’s.

Moses Akena, a Daily Monitor correspondent was in August charged with defamation over an article in which he quoted Gulu Deputy Speaker, Patrick Lumumba, as having alleged that Milton Odong (Gulu Deputy RDC) had abused the distribution of IDP iron sheets in Gulu, an allegation that Grade II Magistrate Michael Okonye argued was defamatory. He was later released on cash bail of Shs 100,000.

In August this year, Daily Monitor managing editor, Daniel Kalinaki and Sunday Monitor editor, Henry Ochieng were arraigned in court on charges of forgery and uttering a false document. The newspaper published an edited version of a leaked presidential memo, although Daily Monitor acknowledged some errors and published a correction.

On August 28, The Independent editors, Andrew Mwenda (managing editor), Charles Bichachi (editor) and Joseph Were (associate editor), were summoned to appear before the Media Crimes Department of the CID and grilled over a cartoon published on August 21 this year, showing President Museveni approving a list of things his party is doing ahead of the 2011 general election. One of items on his list was the introduction of ghost voters on the voters’ register after reappointing disputed members of the Electoral Commission. This is the first time in Uganda’s media history that journalists were summoned over a cartoon.

The riots that engulfed Kampala when the government blocked the Katikiro of Buganda from visiting Kayunga ahead of the Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi culminated into perhaps, the biggest media crackdown of recent times. On September 10, Mengo kingdom’s Central Broadcasting Service was switched off the air. Three more stations including; Akaboozi Ku Biri, Suubi FM and Radio Saptienta, were also shut down in a massive clampdown over their alleged critical coverage of the bloody riots. The stations were accused of allegedly inciting ‘criminal mobs engaged in acts of theft, violence against persons, and destruction of property’, according to a government mandarin.

Thirty one members of International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX), in September petitioned President Museveni to lift the ban on the four radio stations, while castigating the high handed nature of his regime on the media and freedom of expression in Uganda. They noted that Uganda is among countries where ‘media freedom is in peril, with over 18 journalists either in jail or charged with various offences relating to their work’. CBS has since not been reopened, as the government and Mengo officials try to work out modalities for its reopening. Suubi FM has also not been opened.

On 11 September, the anvil against the fourth estate also fell on renowned talkshow host and political commentator Robert Kalundi Serumaga, who was abducted outside WBS television shortly after partaking of Kibazo on Friday, a television talk show hosted by Peter Kibazo. Serumaga, for allegedly criticising President Yoweri Museveni’s leadership, was subjected to inhuman treatment and tortured by security agents. Although, he was later granted cash bail of Shs 500,000 cash with journalists Godfrey Ssebagala Wokulira and Richard Mugisha standing as his sureties, he was barred from hosting Spectrum talk show on Radio one.

Many other journalists, including Peter Kibazo (Radio Simba and WBS TV), Peter Ndawula and Charles Ssenkubuge (Radio Simba), Charles Odongtho (Uganda Radio Network and a host on government owned Vision Voice), Aloysius Matovu, Irene Kisekka and Ben Mutebi (Radio Sapientia), Moses Kasibante (CBS) and Basajjamivule Nsolonkambwe (Kaboozi Ku Bbiri), were suspended from their stations, while others barred from practising journalism.

Mark Walungama, Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) television manager was fired for purportedly allowing pictures of the city riots, where armed security personnel were shown clobbering rioters in the city, shown on UBC TV. The government also went ahead to ban several talk shows and live radio call-in programmes known as Ebimeeza, claiming they were fanning sectarianism and hatred.

Over the same period, the government consolidated its ownership of media space ahead of the 2011 general election. With UBC TV and radio, and a host of FM stations, the government-run New Vision Group acquired Radio West, Etop radio, Bukedde FM and Bukedde television, despite having five newspapers under its wings.

Many people see this as an attempt to weaken the fourth estate in the lead up to the 2011 general elections.

Northern Bypass opens finally

The 21km road that loops from Namboole on Jinja Road to Busega on Masaka Road was opened to traffic more than four years late. At least 3.5kms of the road is dual carriage and 17.5kms is single.

Daniel Kitakule Alinange, the corporate communications manager of Uganda National Roads Authority, says the road has achieved its purpose of easing traffic congestion on the Kampala highways and to divert trucks from using the main roads into the city.

People living in the city suburbs of Ntinda, Kisaasi, Bweyogerere, and Kireka agree. ‘I do not have to worry about the traffic even if my parents delay to pick me up from school. I can be home in 30 minutes using the bypass which was not the case before. Gone are the days where I would have to sit in the car for over two hours because of traffic jam,’ says Amina, a pupil of City Parents’ School. She lives in Bweyogerere, a city suburb.

Alinange says statistics on usage of the road are not yet available because it is not yet ‘officially’ complete.

Ghosts roam govt departments

Uganda is no stranger to ‘ghost’ workers and firms. The ghost phenomenon has, however, been widespread in 2009. Many ghosts (phantom people or facilities) have been unearthed in almost all spheres of life and government departments. There are ghost soldiers fighting ghost battles, ghost workers doing ghost work, ghost teachers teaching ghost pupils in ghost schools, ghost civil servants and pensioners, ghost health centres filled with ghost health workers but supplied with drugs and real hospitals have no drugs. In fact, there are allegations of ghost voters and the political opposition is saying there are about 5,000 ghost polling stations. The police force that is supposed to apprehend those creating ghosts is also infested with ghost police officers!

That up to 1 million ghost voters discovered on the national voters register, according to a survey by the NRM party is the big ghost story on 2011.

A commentator sarcastically said Uganda is country of ghosts and blamed the failure to end the 20 year LRA war on a battalion of ghost soldiers, the UPE failures on ghost teachers and greedy administrators. This clear lack of patriotism is driven by high corruption levels tormenting the country.

This year revealed a telling of how some workers at the National Medical Stores have been supplying drugs to some ghost health centres. It is through this that you will find no drugs in government health facilities but in private clinics  some of which are owned by doctors on government payroll who steal drugs by ‘creating ghost health centres’, collude with NMS officials to have clinics supplied with free drugs which later they sell to ailing Ugandans. This level of insensitivity is growing. The ghost phenomenon is done by selfish individuals to ‘˜eat’ public funds.

Bush war hero’s inglorious death

Maj. Gen. James Kazini died allegedly at the hands of his mistress named Lydia Draru, 28. But analysts have claimed there was more than Draru to clobber a military general of Kazini’s calibre. Conspiracy theories have since emerged. One of Kazini’s widows Phoebe was quoted in the local press as saying her husband could not have been killed single-handedly by Draru. She said Draru could be covering up the real killers.

On the fateful day, November 10, Kazini was supposed to travel to South Sudan  but just as he was  about to leave for the airport the former army commander received a phone call and immediately left his house. Less than an hour later his family was told the tragic news of his death.

Kazini was undergoing a court martial trial for reportedly disobeying orders of his commander in chief against massive movement of troops as well as creating ghost soldiers on the army payroll causing a loss of Shs 62 million.

The police who are in charge of investigating the circumstances of Kazini’s murder have widened their area of investigation to include South Sudan where the late general was scheduled to travel on the day of his demise. Unanswered questions remain about the manner Draru, the confessed killer of the general, was handled and accorded the privilege to change clothes and even do her hair while Kazini’s body lay at the scene of the crime.

Our roads still not safe

Midyear statistics from Uganda Police indicated that a total of 5,748 accidents occurred with and the number of the dead at 220. That trend continued for the rest of the year.

The accidents claimed many prominent people including the Vice President Gilbert Bukenya’s son, UPDF Cadet Bryan Bukenya, who died at Bbira long Kampala Mityana Road. The car he was travelling in from Kabamba Military School rolled several times sustaining head injuries in the process. He died a few hours later at Mulago Hospital. The mystery around his death still hovers in the political circles, with some claims that the accident may not have been an accident after all.

The Leader of Opposition, Prof. Ogenga Latigo was also involved in a fatal accident that killed two other people he was travelling with on October 10 at Bweyale along Kampala-Gulu High Way. Latigo’s vehicle had a head-on collision with a bus heading to Kampala. Presidential advisor on Religious Affairs Fr. Albert Byaruhanga died when his car knocked two pedestrians at Kyanda on Mubende-Mityana road leaving one dead, and rolled over.

Another prominent accident victim was Budiope County MP Henry  Balikoowa  who died in Mabira Forest along the Jinja- Kampala highway after his car had a head-on collision with a truck carrying sugarcane to Mehta’s Sugar Corporation at Lugazi. Many of this year’s accidents have been blamed on reckless driving, failure of the Ministry of Works to fix roads.

The Metropolitan Kampala Traffic Police boss James Wakooli says as the year ends, people become excited, buy and drive their dream vehicles, many of them inexperienced, thereby increasing incidences of accidents.

Land Bill passed amidst Buganda protests

The controversial Land Amendment Act Bill 2007, which had stayed on the shelves of Parliament for close to two years, was eventually passed this year. It was the summit of a five- day vigorous and emotional debate with Parliament sitting from morning till late in the evening.

The bill put MPs especially of the ruling NRM from Buganda region between a rock and a hard place as they tottered between  supporting the party line which was un popular and the Buganda kingdom’s stance which the president had threatened to campaign against anyone who did not support the bill.  NRM took the day’s vote by 112 against 55 for the opposition and only three abstentions.

Appearing before an impromptu press conference that day, Buganda’s premier J.B Walusimbi said, ‘Even when it is passed, it will remain an idle piece of legislation. We shall continue our sensitisation to the public about its negative content.’

The law seeks to empower tenants against evictions unless authorized by court after a lengthy period of litigation. It also empowers the minister to fix land rent in case the districts have failed to do so after six months, it also requires the tenant or the landlord to give first right of refusal to either party in case they want to sell their interest in the land and failure to do so invites a sentence of four years to the tenant and seven years for the landlord. Another controversial section, which stated that somebody claiming interest in land under customary tenure shall not be evicted except upon a court order, was deleted after strong opposition from MPs from northern and eastern Uganda.

Otunnu returns

Ambassador Olara Otunnu as he’s fondly called arrived in the country on August 23 after spending more than 23 years in exile. He arrived at a time when opposition parties were talking about fielding a joint candidate.  Upon his arrival he embarked on a countrywide tour of Uganda where he decried the level of poverty and the poor state of public services. However, many were quick to dismiss him as a creeper trying to reap big where he had sown virtually nothing. Others however stolidly stood by him, seeing in him an alternative to President Museveni and his now perennial challenger Kizz Besigye. But Otunnu saw himself as just humble citizen wishing to make humble contribution to the democratic process.

Wherever he moved, he emphasised the need for the interparty cooperation to create a united force that will dislodge Museveni from power. ‘None of us will be able to accomplish on their own what this country is yearning for,’ he said. ‘2011 is an opportunity for Ugandans to elect a government accountable to the people.’

But before he can think of being the interparty flag bearer, he needs to jump the first hurdle which is to first take the leadership of Uganda Peoples’ Congress (UPC). He faces other hopefuls in the delegates’ conference, among them Jimmy Akena, Henry Mayega, Sospeter Akwenyu, George Okurapa, Joseph Ochieno, Fredrick Luwero and Nyekorach Matsanga who have already expressed interest to replace Mama Miria and wife to late Dr Milton Obote, the founding father of the party.

Otunnu’s participation in local opposition politics is viewed by political commentators as the international touch that has been lacking. He brings over two decades of international diplomacy to Uganda’s politics.

Rwakasisi pardoned

On January 19, 2009, a presidential pardon saw former Security Minister in the Milton Obote II regime Chris Rwakasisi released from prison from death row.  Also released was a former Kampala governor in the Idi Amin regime, Brig. Ali Fadhul, who also served as commanding officer of the then Simba Battalion in Mbarara and one Ezra Kusasirwa. The trio had each spent close to 24 years in Luzira Prison.

Rwakasisi was one of several senior UPC officials hailing from Bushenyi who were considered Obote’s strong men. It will be remembered that Bushenyi hosted annual celebrations on May 27 to mark Obote’s return from exile in 1980. As Security Minister, Rwakasisi supervised the National Security Agency (NASA). His accusers say many people were killed on mere suspicion of being rebel collaborators under his watch.

Oil brings hope, fear

The year 2009 will be remembered as the year that the oil industry in Uganda became a high-stakes, big money game, attracting huge international players.  The year started off with Tullow and Heritage announcing major oil finds in their Buffalo-Giraffe field in the Lake Albert region in January. The companies had confirmed at least 400 million barrels of oil, they said.  At the time Heritage CFO Paul Atherton called the find a ‘world-class discovery’ and touted it as the biggest discovery in sub-Saharan Africa in at least two decades.

Subsequent exploration brought the companies’ estimates of the oil up to 2 billion barrels.  With only about a third of licensed area actually explored, some analysts have suggested that the country has another 6 billion barrels yet to be discovered.  That would put the country’s reserves well above those of Gabon and Chad, who each sit at about 2 billion barrels, and in the neighbourhood of Sudan’s 6 billion barrels.

With the announcements of these colossal finds, speculation turned to how much of the revenue the Ugandan people would actually see from the reserves beneath their land and how much would go to the international companies extracting the resources. In September, Tullow CEO, Aidian Heavy claimed that Uganda had some of the best Production Sharing Agreements (PSAs) in the world with 80% of the revenue going to the government and only 20% to the company. However, a report issued in late November by London-based watchdog Platform slammed the PSAs for allowing the companies to make off with excessive profits and surrendering economic rent from rising oil prices that the government should have had.

Also in November came the news that Heritage was to sell its stake in oil in the country to the Italian oil giant ENI, heralding the entry of a world heavyweight into the oil game in Uganda. Tullow responded by threatening to exercise its pre-emptive right to purchase Heritage’s shares first. However, in a tussle with the sixth largest oil company in the world, the medium-sized Tullow will likely not come out on top.  Tullow and Heritage have said they are hopeful that the first drops of oil will start flowing in 2010.

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