Un-Answered Questions on Freedom of Speech


As I write this the proverbial media siege that has rocked Kampala and the Ugandan news for over 12 days now has been lifted. The images on our television sets depicting the manner in which the journalists were treated are still fresh in our minds, they are yet to be archived. The Ugandan government on the 20th May 2013 raided and shut down two radio stations and two newspaper houses. This was because of a letter that had been published by the media houses. The letter was written by an army general currently in hiding in the UK. The letter had something or a lot with Museveni grooming his beloved and not begotten son Kainerugaba Muhoozi for presidency. Muhoozi has risen to the ranks quite quickly I must be quick to add and he is currently in charge of the Special Presidential Guard Brigade. Whether or not he has the clout and or ‘revolutionary’ spirit to take on after his father, we wait to see.

Media SiegeThe issue though here for me is: the media siege as it has been termed. It is quite worrying that a country that is 50 going on 51 would have women clad in police uniform MAN-handling fellow women that are journalists. It is more than worrying, it is sad. It is also absurd that on the day the UN secretary general and the Head of World Bank are in town, the police would find it okay to raid the said media houses. Have we grown that old that we no longer care for a positive international image? I do not understand: One of the things that I was taught while growing up is that when the neighbors come visiting, however badly you may be doing, keep things in control, open a closet and throw everything in, you can get back to re-opening he closet when they are gone. We on the other hand are doing contrary.

So many questions remain un-answered and some will never be asked. One thing is for sure though, this media siege was probably not about the letter. In my opinion it was about the government trying to teach the media a lesson: we are still the bosses here. If it was about the letter then the majority of our gadgets would have gotten arrested or shut down when the second letter came through. The second letter by the general was sent via his ipad and circulated via email to the many people in media circles. So has the first letter been found? Was it worth all the government resources put into guarding the media offices and tear gas thrown at the journalists who were merely asking for their jobs back? The questions continue.

Interesting to note is what the international media has had to say about what was going in Uganda;

The Guardian was/is asking if President Yoweri Museveni has ‘outstayed’ his welcome as the Ugandan president. The Museveni regime has been riddled with lots of corruption scandals especially in the recent past. It is no secret that after 27 years in power, there is a lot that Museveni and his government could have done but has not done. The latter list seems to be longer.

The Huffington Post run a piece that talked about the rule of the law vs human rights. The Information minister of Uganda at that time [she has since been given a new office] said that the police in closing down the media houses were operating within the parameters of the law. In Uganda we have a knack of getting things done and then creating laws to back them up. Maybe that is the law under which the shutting down of media houses falls: the one which is yet to come.

The reflections show that this was hardly about a letter. It is about the core of what the government thinks is vital and what it holds dear. The events that have transpired over the last two weeks show something. That Ugandans are free to talk. There is freedom of speech, but there is not necessarily freedom after speech. And also whatever medium you have used to amplify your voice may be in trouble as well.

By Ruth Aine – www.ruthaine.com


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