By Charles Kamya Ssentamu
Drama ensued in Bugolobi, a Kampala suburb, on Wednesday when a top NRM official berated Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) for the arbitrary decision to suspend nearly 40 senior journalists in the country.
The journalists are accused of “breaching minimum broadcasting standards.” They were suspended without a hearing and with no consultation with the media houses they work for.
The directive, affecting seven radio and six TV stations, directly came from President Museveni, according to sources.
According to UCC, the crime of the sanctioned journalists is that they had aired the brutality that was meted out last week on politicians opposed to excesses of the Museveni junta. They had been
to the pulp by security forces.
This abuse angered many Ugandans. However, instead of restraining his brutal security forces, Museveni turned on the media and gagged it for apparently inciting the masses against him.
It is this clampdown on the media, which has attracted global attention, that provoked Capt. Francis Babu, a senior member of Museveni’s ruling NRM, into an outburst that played out in the open.
Capt. Babu is a founding member of the party and also sits on the Central Executive Committee (CEC), the topmost organ of the party.
During a meeting between broadcasters and the UCC, Babu berated the commission’s executive director Godfrey Mutabazi over what he called “a draconian directive.”
“You handled this case extremely shabbily. You could have handled it in a better way. It has gone out, internationally,” an angry Babu told Mutabazi, sending the entire meeting into silence.
He said that the decision had not only affected journalism in Uganda but also attracted negative media attention to the country.
“Anything to do with restrictions and management of content, we shall not accept,” he said admonishingly to Mutabazi.
Careful not to draw his boss into the issue, Babu went on to say that this latest decision is a culmination of other draconian directives that have been issued by the commission.
He, of course, didn’t mention that all the directives only benefitted Museveni.
But Babu is no victim. It must be noted that Babu sat in the CEC meeting in February at Chobe Safari Lodge, Nwoya district, that stamped approval on Museveni as a single candidate in the Presidential elections to be held in 2021.
Museveni chaired the meeting and according to insiders, it was a mere coronation of him by CEC members, and no one was expected to dissent, just like in the subsequent caucus meeting that rubber stamped the endorsement.
“For Capt. Babu, this was a way to vent his frustration of his boss’s continued clinging onto power, it was just an opportunist performance for him,” said an NRM insider who asked for anonymity to be able to freely speak.
The insider added that Capt. Babu, being as close to Museveni as he is, knows exactly where the directive came from and was merely scapegoating Mutabazi, well knowing that the message will get to the intended person, Museveni.
“He is simply a frustrated man and he had to communicate that to his boss, in his own way”.
The source cited the different media talkshows at which Babu has fiercely defended Museveni, including justifying his decision to run in 2021.
Be it as it may, it is a good sign that the junta’s own inner circle is coming to the realisation that his continued stay in power only makes him a liability to them.