8 February 2013

Uganda: Shoot Not the Messenger, Mr President


President Museveni this week released a statement in which he responded to comments made by former FDC President Kizza Besigye.

Dr Besigye had spoken, in a Sunday Monitor interview, about his dissatisfaction with the management of the economic affairs of the country. Besigye also picked issues with the manner in which the president's son, Brig Muhoozi Kainerugaba, joined the UPDF, where he now heads the Special Forces Command.

First of all, we commend Mr Museveni for writing the statement. Because Mr Museveni was unhappy about what he called Besigye's lies and distortions, he chose to provide what he saw as the truth. because he thought Besigye had introduced darkness, the president tried to introduce what he believes is light. This is much better than threatening to shut down media houses that carry messages that the president does not like.

We are, however, concerned at Museveni's attack on the media house that carried Besigye's message. By branding the newspaper as an "enemy", at best, the president is simply trying to score a political point, hoping to push editors into some kind of self-censorship. But in a country where appreciation of press freedom is still underdeveloped, Mr Museveni's attack is tantamount to inciting violence against men and women of the media.

Hearing that from the commander-in-chief of the army, a soldier or policeman on duty may not fail to see an "enemy" next time they see a journalist "armed" with a pen, notebook, camera, etc. So, we appeal to Mr Museveni to focus on the message rather than the messenger.

It's indeed ironic the president's handlers found it worthwhile to send his message to the same "enemy." How would Museveni feel if Dr Besigye called Daily Monitor an "enemy" just for carrying the president's rebuttal?

In enshrining freedom of expression therein, the makers of the Constitution of Uganda envisaged the media not as an exclusive carrier of Besigye's "lies"; they did not expect an exclusive preacher of Museveni's "facts"; they wanted an even platform where the two can compete.

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