International Federation of Journalists (Brussels)
5 October 2007
Posted to the web 5 October 2007
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today called on the Ugandan government to withdraw sedition charges against three journalists working for the Monitor private newspaper, in relation to a story alleging soldiers were secretly trained as policemen in order to have the police force under military control.
"We are very surprised by these charges, which are totally baseless," said Gabriel Baglo, Director of the IFJ Africa office. "In the story the journalist gave the view of heads of the army and the police. It was a balanced and professional piece of work. Thus, we call on the Ugandan government to drop all the charges against the journalists and to make sure they can continue to work freely."
In the edition published last Sunday, the Monitor ran a story with the title, "Soldiers train to take police jobs." The paper reported that "at least 40 serving soldiers were quietly drafted into the training programme as part of a move to have the force firmly under military control." The story also expressed the comments of Army Chief of Staff, Brigadier Robert Rusoke, Army's Chief of Personal and Administration, Colonel Phinehas Katirima and the acting commissioner of police in charge of human resource development and training, Felix Ndyomugenyi. They denied the information or said they were not aware of it.
On Monday the Monitor's Managing Editor of the Weekend Edition, Bernard Tabaire, Sunday Editor Henry Ochieng and author of the article Chris Obore were summoned to the police and released on bail after they were charged with sedition.
The court hearing is due to resume on Monday.
The journalists' lawyer, James Nangwala, quoted by the Monitor in a story on Monday, said that the "police feared the story was likely to create a collision between the police and the army."
Sources say that in Uganda the army is considered loyal to President Yoweri Museveni while the police force was seen as supporting the political opposition.
The IFJ believes the charges are an attempt to intimidate journalists in Uganda and stifle independent reporting.
"Charging journalists with sedition simply for writing an investigative piece that includes the government's point of view is a harsh and disproportionate response," Baglo said. "If the charges are not dropped, it will send a chilling message to media that critical reporting can land them in jail."
The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 114 countries worldwide.
'Media enemy is not state but losing staff'
ANDREW MWENDA is an outspoken Ugandan journalist who recently resigned from Daily Monitor. He spoke to SSEMUJJU IBRAHIM NGANDA about his new plans:
You recently resigned from Daily Monitor. Is that the end of your journalism career?
Far from that, my career in journalism is still on track. I am planning with other friends in the media to launch a newspaper called The Independent. Its aim is to provide a platform through which people of this country can freely debate public issues.
Your articles were suspended because you were allegedly getting personal with President Museveni instead of criticising policies.
If that is the reason, Mr. Karim Al Hussaini (commonly known as Aga Khan) should have made it known to me or the public. He did not because he knows his reasons were dubious. It is not me who is saying that Daily Monitor’s independence has been greatly compromised. The Daily Monitor journalists are telling everyone about it. A board member, Mr. Wafula Oguttu, confirmed this to you when you interviewed him about my resignation.
Secondly, I do not have any personal differences with President Museveni. On the contrary, I like the person of Museveni and I used to have good relations with him. Remember that I am a product of a lot of President Museveni’s teachings.
In his early speeches, he castigated African rulers for flying in executive jets when their populations walked on bare feet. Now he flies his daughters to Germany in executive jets to deliver babies when 98 percent of Ugandans depend on firewood for energy. My job as a journalist is to remind him of his first address to the nation, and hold him to account for his actions.
I disagree with Museveni’s politics, with the way he runs the country. I believe that he has increasingly come to treat the nation’s Treasury as his personal bank account and its physical assets as his family estate. The evidence is overwhelming: he personally has been giving preferred businessmen public funds and other assets without going through the formal institutions of state.
I have discussed this with President Museveni personally and extensively. I remember one Sunday in mid-2005, I spent four and a half hours with him at State House discussing this issue. At the time, he was trying to give Dairy Corporation to a Thai Investor.
I told him that while I shared his strategic objective to attract investments into the country, I found his approach wrong and detrimental to the national interest. As an individual, the President lacks the core competences to assess every investment and ensure value for whatever Uganda can give an investor in form of cash, land or forest. That should be done by institutions of state and in tune with the laws of the land.
But you focus on writing about the First Family as opposed to covering departments of government?
But this is spurious. I used to write articles on the front page of Daily Monitor, and two columns a week. 100 percent of them focused on public policy and on national politics. If President Museveni featured in any of them, it was because of how he affected public policy and national politics.
I never discussed the President’s personal lifestyle or his private life because it is of no interest to me. The only time I wrote about the First Family was in my last Sunday column before I left for Stanford.
I argued against the increasing personalisation of decision making and that State House is allocated too much money relative to other and more productive ministries of government. I showed how this money is used or misused to sustain a lavish lifestyle of the President’s family contrary to our Constitution. That is not a personal issue; it is in our budget and therefore a matter of public policy.
It is claimed you wanted to marry one of Mr. Museveni’s daughters and you took it personal when he refused.
That is nonsense.
Maj. Muhoozi Kainerugaba remains your friend and he actually visited you when you were detained for maligning his father. How do you maintain this friendship?
Muhoozi is a very intelligent and analytical person. So we share a common love of ideas and knowledge. He is also a nationalist and Pan-Africanist. So we share common political aspirations.
He is a very liberal guy. That is why he can afford to keep in touch with me although my political views are divergent from his. He is a politically very mature person. That is why he can still engage me in intellectual discussions even though he may disagree with many of my ideas. I love and respect him a lot because he has demonstrated that he has breadth of perspective, depth of understanding and amplitude of comprehension – very rare qualities to find in one person. I have not been meeting him as regularly as I used to. But I still consider him a friend.
But you forget that I am friends with the President’s brother – Salim Saleh. I disagree with his politics but at a personal level I find him an interesting and nice guy. I grew up in a family with divergent political persuasions. But at no time did our political differences affect our relations as a family. I still carry that tradition of separating my political views from the people I choose to be personal friends with.
What sort of newspaper will yours be? When are you launching it, and how different will it be from existing ones?
The newspaper is already registered. It is called The Independent. It is going to live up to its name – to be a platform through which Ugandans and other interested parties of all persuasions can freely discuss public issues. It will also be a forum through which national issues can be covered without fear or favour of any person or authority.
The aim of the paper will be to support the democratic process in the country, defend human rights, freedom, liberty and accountability.
The maiden issue of the paper is supposed to come out on October 19. It is going to be unique in that it will lift the level and quality of public debate a lot higher. A lot in its opinion pages will discuss the fundamental problems and solutions for Africa.
I will have as guest contributors some of the world’s leading experts on Africa – people like professors; Paul Collier, William Easterly, Mahmood Mamdani, Larry Diamond, etc – all of whom have promised to contribute to the maiden issue.
It is claimed that Maj. Gen. Jim Muhwezi and Hakeem Lukenge are your main financial backers, in other words your partners in the new newspaper?
Again that is nonsense. I have been working for more than 10 years, consulted for international organisations, etc. Don’t you think I have made enough money to begin a small newspaper?
It is true I have been approached by many politicians and businessmen in Uganda who want shares.
I have flatly refused because I do not want The Independent to suffer the crisis Monitor is in now – of a major shareholder who is willing to sacrifice liberty in exchange for business deals with the state. I find that cheap.
Secondly, I have a lot of international exposure and have made many international friends who value freedom, liberty and democracy in Africa. They include a number of venture capitalists in the Silicon Valley who have promised to contribute share equity and some foundations with the West which would want to give grants.
Because I am very critical of foreign aid, I have put foundations on hold. I am negotiating with venture capitalists. I will withhold their names for a while; but I can tell you that they are some of the richest people in the world.
Your views on the state of the media in Uganda today?
Over the last 10 years, the media in Uganda has grown impressively well. Although the legal regime is Stalinist, political practice has allowed more space of free expression.
That space is under threat from the state, and we need to defend it. Journalists today earn much more than when we joined and enjoy great respect from the public. Media institutions command enormous resources and influence in the country.
The liberalisation of the economy and the privatisation of state enterprises have led to sustained growth of the economy over the last 20 years. This has led to the growth of a sizeable private sector that has allowed media to make a lot of money out of advertisement.
The biggest threat to press freedom in Uganda is not the state, although that is an important factor. It is a dearth of professional journalists. The largest media houses in Uganda –Monitor and New Vision – have been losing their best reporters every year. That is why their combined circulation has not grown by more than 5 percent over the last 10 years. Ugandans have given them a vote of little confidence.