"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


what's going on in uganda?

Sean at Africa is a Country notes a good summary from the Committee to Protect Journalists as to why the above political cartoon is apparently illegal in Uganda. Uganda, you'll remember, is ostensibly a democracy:
"A Ugandan newspaper’s critical caricature of President Yoweri Museveni led police to interrogate three journalists today on allegations of sedition, according to a defense attorney and local journalists.

"For four hours, 10 officers of the Media Crimes Department of Uganda’s Criminal Investigations Directorate questioned the editorial decisions of Managing Editor Andrew Mwenda, Editor Charles Bichachi, and Assistant News Editor Joseph Were of the bimonthly newsmagazine The Independent, according to defense lawyer Bob Kasango. Were was told to return for further questioning on Saturday, while Mwenda and Bichachi were ordered to return on Monday, according to local journalists."
The Independent's blog, Uganda Talks, has an update here and I'm sure they will continue to keep us posted as events develop.

Uganda's status as a "democracy" is paradoxical. On the one hand, it's a place with regular elections that are somewhat fair and free. On the other, it's a place with only limited political competition. And then there's the press freedom issue. The CPJ further notes:
"Criminal prosecutions of independent journalists--particularly those working for Uganda's largest independent newspaper, Monitor--are on the rise against the backdrop of mounting national tensions and hostile presidential rhetoric toward the press, CPJ research shows."
I am eagerly awaiting the release of Aili Mari Tripp's new book, Museveni's Uganda: Paradoxes of Power in a Hybrid Regime. According to the summary, she points out that Uganda is really a semi-authoritarian regime, and that Museveni simultaneously pursues liberalization and centralizes his control.

We would all do well to remember that becoming a democracy is a process. Democratization doesn't happen overnight, especially when a country doesn't see regular transitions of power from one party to another. Nobody expects a country with Uganda's unique history and challenges to get there overnight.

But that doesn't give anyone license to limit the freedom of the press, or to intimidate journalists (or cartoonists). I for one, want to make sure that as many people as possible know about the challenges these journalists face. They do good work, and their voices are too important to be silenced. Uganda's government should be hearing about how unacceptable this behavior is from diplomats and aid organizations. If you have a blog or a Twitter account or whatever, please consider giving this situation a mention this week.


Blogger Adam Hooper said...

I (a Westerner) remember hiding out at home in Kampala on the day of the Kiboko Squad's emergence. And it would seem that the Kiboko Squad is still a reality.

I am constantly humbled by the bravery so many Ugandans show, standing for their rights in full awareness of the potential consequences of their actions. Journalists especially, who publish their names next to their opinions, are truly praiseworthy.

Monday, August 31, 2009 9:18:00 AM

Blogger Mwistar said...

A month before the cartoon was published, M7 had warned Ugandan journalists 'not to behave like the western ones do'.
Remember when a newspaper printhouse was sabotaged, computers stolen, and nespapers burned to ashes, one frightful evening in Nairobi?
Freedom of press in East Africa is a previlage (not a right) accorded to journalists only when elections are at least 2 years away.

Monday, August 31, 2009 12:10:00 PM


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