An Insight to the Other Side of Journalism in Uganda

Growing up as a child, I hoped to be an inventor, a creator of new concepts and designs…well, and that was until I read my first book. Realizing then that there was power in words, in stories and as such while my objective remained to be a creator, it was to be a creator of stories. To journal, to write, to inform and to entertain. As I grew older, I began to understand the critical role that storytellers play in society, particularly those in the press.

The press, in any country, plays a crucial role in providing information to citizens through media coverage. The press records events, writes, covers events and informs the population of the numerous happenings that occur in society.  Consequently, He who controls the press holds the narrative, so in an instance where the government clashes with the press, the life of a Journalist becomes increasingly difficult and dangerous as they strive to report the truth despite oppression. It is not new that sometimes information is deliberately censored from the population, a government ploy here and there, some social injustices under cover-up yet still, journalists of the press brave the odds to inform and illuminate what citizens ought to know.

While the constitution guarantees press freedom in Uganda, the practical implementation often deviates from these legal protections. Journalists and media houses operate under the constant threat of harassment, arrest and violence especially when reporting on sensitive issues such as government corruption and human rights abuses.

This dynamic is starkly evident in the tensions between the government of Uganda and the Daily Monitor, one of the country’s leading independent newspapers that emblemize the ongoing struggles around press freedom and government censorship in the country.

Since his ascent to power in 1986, The President of Uganda, H.E Y.K Museveni’s administration is believed to have met numerous allegations of authoritarianism often manifesting in efforts to suppress dissenting voices and control the national narrative; The Daily Monitor is known for its crucial reporting on government activities, has frequently faced the brunt of government harassment, highlighting the broader issues of press freedom and censorship.

One of the most notable clashes in the newspaper was the Uganda Police raid on their offices triggered by a published letter written by General David Sejusa that seemed to antagonize the government.

“One of the newspapers, Daily Monitor, had reported on April 29th a letter written by Gen. David Sejusa, or Tinyefuza, Coordinator of Security Agencies, to the director general of Uganda’s Internal Security Organisation earlier that month. The letter, which Sejusa confirmed writing, called for an investigation into an alleged plot to assassinate senior government officials who were opposed to Brigadier Muhoozi Kainerugaba, son of President Yoweri Museveni, assuming the presidency in 2016, the Monitor had reported…” by Committee to Protect Journalists.

Adam Mayambala, a Ugandan journalist also recounted encounters with press oppression at the frontlines, facing harassment, unfounded accusations and imprisonment at the news front lines.

Talking about injustices against journalists in Uganda, we cannot exclude the assault that occurred while covering protests related to the arrest of then Presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, some of whom are believed to still be held incarcerated to this day. Documentary filmmaker Moses Bwayo was shot in the face with a rubber bullet while covering a protest in February 2020 as he was filming opposition leader Bobi Wine’s campaign activities when police dispersed the crowd using excessive force.

The arrest of investigative journalist Charles Etukuri in 2018, who was detained by security agents after reporting on sensitive matters involving the security forces, highlights the challenges faced by investigative journalists. Many journalists today prioritize self-preservation by avoiding sensitive topics for fear of facing the same fate. This, however, defeats the essence of investigative journalism.

Another hit against journalism was seen in 2020 when Joyce Bagala, a journalist and news manager at NBS Television, faced threats and harassment after interviewing opposition politicians and covering stories critical of the government. Bagala’s home was attacked, and she received numerous threats aimed at silencing her.

The brutal arrest and subsequent death of freelance journalist Robert Ssempala in 2021 brought international attention to the issue. His death was widely condemned and highlighted the risks faced by journalists in Uganda.

“It is unacceptable that violence has become an everyday hazard for journalists on the political beat in Uganda,” said CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative, Muthoki Mumo.” Committee to Protect Journalists.

While these oppressions might seem contained only to Uganda, they span different African countries as seen on the World Press Freedom Day commemorated in May.

“Amnesty International, marking World Press Freedom Day, has condemned the escalating suppression of freedom of expression and media liberty across East and Southern Africa. Documenting a pervasive pattern of intimidation, harassment, and imprisonment of journalists, the organization highlights governmental crackdowns on reporting of corruption and human rights abuses. Authorities frequently exploit national security and cybersecurity laws to stifle dissent, with broad provisions enabling arbitrary arrests and prosecution of journalists.

Cases from Madagascar to Zimbabwe underscore the dire challenges faced by journalists, including bans on coverage and imprisonment under draconian legislation. In several countries, journalists endure threats, censorship, and violent reprisals, exemplified by the detention of Stanis Bujakera in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the imprisonment of Floriane Irangabiye in Burundi.

Journalists in Nigeria have been attacked while covering political unrest, Burkina Faso‘s decision to suspend foreign news outlets following reports of alleged military atrocities highlights the ongoing threats to press freedom in the region.

Amnesty International urges regional authorities to release unlawfully detained journalists, cease targeting the press, and uphold the freedom of the media.”  Press Freedom Under Attack as Journalists Face CrackdownAll Africa.

International organizations like the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters without Borders (RSF) often rank Uganda poorly in terms of press freedom, citing incidents of intimidation and violence against journalists.

Government censorship of the press can take many forms, from direct action against media outlets to more subtle forms of pressure. The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has broad regulatory powers including the ability to suspend media operations and censor any content they deem in violation of national security or public order.

The government can also employ legal mechanisms such as the Anti-Terrorism Act and the Public Order Management Act to justify crackdowns on the press.

However, while these powers are meant to protect; govern and allow for reputable distribution of information, they are often used to silence critical voices, leading to self-censorship among journalists in a bid to stay in good graces with the powers that be.

Despite these challenges, the press and journalism at large continue to play a crucial role in Uganda’s media landscape, striving to uphold the principles of journalistic integrity and accountability. Not all heroes need capes after all 🙂

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Andronicus E. Muwanguzi
Andronicus Enoch Muwanguzi is a passionate Ugandan writer, novelist, poet and web-developer. He spends his free time reading, writing and jamming to Spotify music.
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