Last Tuesday I got a call from Charles Sebugwawo of The Observer. He told me I had my packages that had been at his office for some time.
When I reached The Observer, 'Bugos,' as we call him, handed me the two items, all well packaged. One was a diary from Crane bank. And another was a brown, well-wrapped, envelope with the word 'Private' inscribed on it from Andrew Rugasira.
It was long since I last spoke to Andrew and did not know what he was up to. Slowly, I opened the envelope. And a white book with an illustration on the cover of the map of Africa pouring coffee into a cup appeared. Rugasira was the author of the book titled: A good Africa story; how a small company built a global coffee brand.
Quite happy that Andrew had finally recorded his ambitions and achievements into a volume, I began bidding my byes to Bugos. But just across from the basement where Bugos' office is, near the staircase, stood two journalists, also with The Observer.
Tash Lumu and Sulaiman Kakaire called me out. I went upstairs to speak to them. We first sat in silence. The two looked disturbed. They occasionally swore under their breath. Tash's face was more sanguine. Kakaire looked on as if he would jump and strangle someone. I had to break the silence. "So, what is the matter?" I asked.
They spoke in unison. "We have been banned from reporting on Parliament."
I stared at them without knowing what to say. "Who banned you?" I asked.
Again in unison: "Rebecca Kadaga."
"Why?" I asked.
"She was not happy with a story we wrote."
Again I ask: "How has she enforced the ban?"
"Every time we get to the gate of Parliament, we are told by the security that they are under instructions not to allow us onto the grounds of Parliament."
"Was the story accurate; why is she so vile?" I asked.
Kakaire answers: "The story is true and I stand by it, and I will not apologize for reporting what is true."
I could feel him, for it's a streak yours truly greatly cherished those past days in journalism.
I ask again: "But does the speaker of Parliament have a right to ban journalists?" The silence was loud.
I give them my advice. If this is war between you and Kadaga, you may have to use guerrilla tactics to get the same stories. They don't look convinced. I tell them that they can still report on Parliament without fighting the third most powerful person in the country. Tash lifts up his face and says "Parliament is not hers; it's for all Ugandans; she has no right to ban us from reporting what happens behind the scenes."
As he finishes the sentence, The Observer Editor Richard Kavuma enters. After pleasantries, I ask him what is happening between The Observer and speaker of Parliament. Calm and composed as usual, Kavuma tells me that there is some impasse between Kadaga and the newspaper. He had had a meeting with the speaker but it had not solved the problem.
"Why don't you go to court and challenge her decision." I ask. Kavuma says it is but one of the options that could be considered.
As I leave The Observer premises, I am wondering about how things change whenever one wields immense power. Lately, Kadaga had endeared herself to many for her stance, not only on the independence of Parliament, but Uganda's sovereignty when she told off the Canadian Foreign Affairs minister that Uganda was neither a protectorate nor a colony of Canada for him to lecture her on Uganda's morals.
Many thought she had ably defended the country and had been spot-on. The last I met Kadaga was at Commonwealth resort, Munyonyo. There was a session on oil for MPs. I remember after greeting her the next question she asked was "Why is The Observer writing things that are not true about me?" I told her that she needs to meet the Managing Editor and sort out the matter. I did indeed give her the contacts of James Tumusiime.
The Kadaga of the past would know very well what its means to get into the ring with the press. I used to interview her while she was in private practice at her chambers on Kitgum House where she and MP Abdu Katuntu were some of the most prominent lawyers in town in the 1990s.
She was suave and knew the importance of what a fight with the press would mean to anyone. Hon Kadaga knows only too well that fighting the press has never been a solution. The reasons are simple. If the journalists want to fight for their freedom of expression, it is more like what Kadaga is doing: fighting for the independence of Parliament.
But should this war continue, then there won't be any difference between the executive and Parliament when it comes to deciding who has which freedoms.
The author is a human rights expert and specialist on refugee issues.