By Charles Kamya Ssentamu
On 1st May Jim Spire Sentongo of The Observer tweeted a cartoon of Museveni as the driver of a yellow bus with Ruhakana Rugunda as his front seat passenger. It had this for a caption: “Ndugu I think we are lost I’m going to start reversing up to Amin stage.” A day later, his media colleague Samson Kasumba of NBS Television tweeted something similar in a cryptic message, “These Ugandans asking me what is happening between Luzira and Court in matters of @HEBobiwine, what do you want me to do and to tell them? What don’t you all understand about minimum broadcasting standards and patriotism? Like surely …? We agree to a set of rules to be followed,” in reference to what is practically a media gag across the country and confirming in direct and indirect the obvious: that the Amin days are here.
However, why this has taken so long for people to notice is what is most interesting. Most Ugandans excused the assassinations of prominent people early on in Museveni’s rule because they actually reserved some hope that he would turn out to be a democrat. Indeed, there was some justification that Museveni’s highhandedness was understandable because he was trying to consolidate the country and deliver the peace that he had promised them. As a result, Andrew Rutakome Kayira, Francis Ayume, James Kazini, and Noble Mayombo, and a long list of others disappeared without much farce. It was as if everyone was saying that despite these hiccups Museveni meant well and that the killings were probably in the interest of the country. As it is always the case, only those families that are directly affected mourned in silence and Museveni continued to enjoy his clean billing as an aspiring democrat.
Museveni’s credentials as a democrat were always tested during election time, especially as he became unpopular almost decade into his rule when slowly by slowly people began to realize what Dr. Kiiza Besigye had predicted as he quit NRM in his dossier that rebuked Museveni’s grip on power. Besigye told whoever could listen that Museveni had no plans to ever leave power and that those who think they are in a queue were greatly mistaken. Besigye suffered a public lynching by his comrades until 2005 when the referendum to remove presidential term limits confirmed much of what he had predicted.
What Spire Sentongo has depicted regarding Museveni’s loss of direction Besigye predicted more than two decades ago. Even as Aronda Nyakairima, Andrew Kaweesi, Muhamama Kirumira, and the extra-judicial killings of prominent Muslim leaders were confirming that Museveni is indeed Amin in a yellow shirt, few people could come to terms with the reality that a conman had taken them for a ride for three decades. Along the way, Besigye would say “I told you so.” Others who jumped off the bus soon after are singing the same song as it becomes obvious that there was never a democrat in Museveni to begin with and that his greatest asset from the beginning was his ability to deceive those close to him and others no so close.
Media waking up from a 30 year slumber
A case in point is the media – the point Samson Kasumba is making. Museveni’s charm offensive towards the media in Uganda had members of that fraternity blinded form his excesses, including concerns over human rights violations. They became part of the lie that the man at the helm was an aspiring democrat and are now appear to be in denial that he simply never grew to his potential.
This comes after Museveni has ordered the suspension of journalists that he perceives to be hostile to his lifetime presidency. Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) has written to NBS television, BBS TV, Simba FM, NTV Uganda, Pearl FM, Kingdom TV, CBS FM, Capital FM, Bukedde TV, Best FM, and Akaboozi Radio so suspend journalists, “a total of 30 journalists are on the verge of losing their jobs,” wrote Hajj Kazibwe Bashir Mbazira, the president of Uganda Journalists Association (UJA).
“To the media fraternity, it’s at this time that we ought to speak out further and louder in unity as a body, otherwise, our future stands ripe to be eaten in pieces,” Hajj Mbazira wrote in his protest letter.
He concluded by saying that “these are disturbing events.” The media fraternity in Uganda appears to be waking up from a 30 year slumber that it had all along deluded itself in thinking Museveni was a democrat who respected media freedom and human rights.
The fact is that the “disturbing events” are not new. Events under Museveni’s rule have always been disturbing – as Dr. Besigye pointed out as early as 1999. For the media, Museveni’s decision to shut down the Daily Monitor in 2002 and the subsequent pressure on the newspaper to suspend Andrew Mwenda –then perceived as a credible journalist- and forcing it to exile Charles Onyango Obbo to Nairobi as conditions for allowing it to operate in Uganda should have been a wakeup call. It’s amazing that the journalists are finally concerned about the rules after allowing the game to be rigged for so long.