By Patrick Kamara
I was on my way to Kampala from Fort Portal when hell broke loose.
I had gotten a seat in the Kampala bound mini-bus at the Fort-Portal taxi park when the driver tuned our station for the 10am news bulletin and there was a breaking news story. “….Dozens of people have been killed by suspected ADF rebels in Kijura…” came the voice of the news anchor.
I knew this was serious and decided not to continue with the journey. I disembarked and headed straight to the station. I asked the Acting News Editor, Frank Bagonza, to give me all the information he had so far collected. He did and I immediately noticed that things were not adding up.
He had rushed to air the news after receiving only titbits of information. He did not subject this information to our basic editorial guidelines. Verification was not done and so the story had so many gaps and yet it was causing commotion in the region. People were ringing the station asking how many had actually died.
There was stampede. Kijura was on a migration of biblical proportion. People were fleeing their villages in fear of being slaughtered by the rebels or getting caught in crossfire between the army and the rebel force.
The story had been reported by Joseph Kasimbazi aka Kash and edited by Frank Kimome. I called both of them for a short meeting to get the details. First Joseph had received a phone call from someone who claimed he had been told of a massacre in Kijura. I think the saying that in a war truth is the first casualty is very much true. A rumour that had been started by one man in the village had now been extended to all corners of the country through modern technology; radio. I told Frank that this was going to be tough to defend and questions were going to be asked from the highest office possible and that he should be “ready for anything”.
I immediately wrote another story trying to set the record straight and do some kind of damage control. But I guess it was too late. Upon realising the story was causing controversy, Kimome escaped the station. Soon the criminal investigation officers from the Fort Portal police were at the station. They demanded to speak to the reporter and the editor. Under normal circumstances the editor should have been me but because I had officially handed over to my assistant in preparation for the Kampala journey, I was not responsible for the news gate-keeping of the day.
To make matters worse, President Yoweri Museveni was in neighbouring Kasese district and was meant to travel to Kabarole. Apparently he had received a call from the First Lady who was in London at the time and wanted to know more about the alleged massacre.
“…..my wife called and asked where I was. I told her I was at the warfront…She wondered what warfront… when people are being massacred in Kabarole,” Museveni was quoted saying.
Everyone in the military hierarchy of Uganda was interested in this story from the Commander-in-chief to the lowest ranking foot soldier.
There was a serious manhunt and it was not long before my colleagues were arrested and taken to Muhoti Military Barracks. For the first time the army commander called the station asking why the story had been aired. But it was the acting division commander at the time Brig. Nyakaitana who sounded even angrier.
I told him that it was illegal for my colleagues to be incarcerated in a military prison. “Kamara” he thundered, “Onanipata? Waca wawafunge!” loosely translated to mean, “Kamara, do you get me? They deserve it!”
The following day, I went to the military barracks looking for my colleagues. I spent almost three hours at the barracks gate, called the Quarter Guard, waiting to be cleared to enter.
Even when they eventually allowed me in, it took me ours to see Frank and Joseph. Finally I was allowed to see the two whom I was surprised to find were in a rather jovial mood. In fact they did not want be transferred to the stinking civilian prison in Fort-Portal. Their arrest was a lead story in the major dailies. The Daily Monitor followed it closely.
They were eventually taken to police and released on police bond. Frank later acquired Canadian citizenship and he now works for the State of Montreal, while Joseph is a successful businessman and occasionally plays golf in Fort-Portal.