24 February 2013

Uganda: Tamale Mirundi's State House Job On the Line

Tamale Mirundi, the most abrasive, and most outspoken presidential press secretary of his time, is a rattled and unsettled man, following talk in the State House corridors that he could lose his job sooner rather than later, insider sources told The Observer last week.

Reports about Mirundi's impending exit gained currency recently when Sarah Kagingo, a former guild president at Makerere University, was appointed special presidential assistant in charge of communication at State House. Besides updating the State House website, Kagingo's responsibilities, according to sources, include handling Museveni and his family's image in the media.

The fact that Kagingo's job description is similar to Mirundi's has not only set off tensions between the two but also cast doubt on Mirundi's future at State House. Kagingo started her work with a lot of zeal. On February 17, she was part of the State House entourage that accompanied Museveni to Rakai district, where he launched a series of development projects initiated by the Catholic Church.

Last Friday, she was key in updating the media on the burial arrangements of Amos Kaguta, Museveni's father. Kagingo told The Observer at the weekend that she was hired to revolutionalise communication between State House and the media by ensuring that the president's statements are circulated in real time in their right context.

"So many of the president's remarks have been taken out of context by the media and my role is to try and find a solution to this," she said.

Her appointment, sources told us, marks the first step in a restructuring exercise of the press and communications department that would see new people recruited, and others dropped or redeployed.

For Mirundi, the situation remains precarious. Several state officials have been stung by his abrasive and confrontational character and have tried to influence Museveni to drop him. In some cases, these people have reportedly authored dossiers and sent audio and video recordings to the president to cement their arguments that Mirundi's acidic tongue is causing more harm than good to the president's image.

Some of these people, sources told us, have proposed alternatives to Mirundi that they believe are more sophisticated and will do a better job of cleaning up the president's image. Names so far proposed include Simon Kaheru, the director of Media Analyst, a public relations firm. In the mid-1990s, Kaheru worked as a journalist at The New Vision before joining former vice president, Prof Gilbert Bukenya's press team.

It will not be the first time Mirundi's job has been said to be in a balance. In 2009, following tensions between Mengo and the central government, some Buganda officials blamed Mirundi's attacks on the Kabaka for exacerbating the situation. During the talks aimed at resolving the impasse, the officials reportedly urged Museveni to sack Mirundi, a demand the president rejected.

Mirundi speaks:

Mirundi told The Observer on Friday that he was aware of people trying to influence the president to have him sacked but he was not scared.

"There is a group of people who think they are nearer to God because of the tribes they belong to. What those people fail to understand is that I did not apply for this job. I am a rich man and I have a career beyond working for government," Mirundi said.

He declined to mention names. Mirundi said some people are envious of his work ethic and having failed to match his performance, he said, they have resorted to fighting him.

He boasted: "I am very articulate when it comes to communication. I am an eloquent speaker and for me when it comes to the president, I do not serve him as a mercenary like some of these people. That is why I am the longest serving PPS."

He confirmed that talk of him leaving State House has been on for some time.

"When they appointed Linda Nabusaayi [assistant press secretary] some people said I was finished. But I'm still here," he said.

Mirundi said even if the president eventually decides to sack him, he will remain eternally grateful to him.

"Museveni saved my mother, he has educated my children. What else do I want from him?" he asked.

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