Uganda’s media crackdown: Katandika butandisi…

In a poor country like Uganda most people only interact with Hollywood in the ubiquitous video shacks where action-packed movies are screened at a small fee with a video-jockey doing voice-overs in a local language (Luganda).

Every now and then, the VJ will remind the audience that the movie has just started by saying “katandika butandisi…”  This is done to reassure those who entered the ‘cinema’ a little late, not to feel cheated.

Kantandika butandisi has consequently become common street lingo equivalent to the American, “You aint seen nothing yet.” And to me it best describes the current situation faced by the media in Uganda.  As we approach the half way mark of the year all I can say to my colleagues is that it may have to get worse before it can get better.

The recent political pressure resulting from the campaigns by opposition under the umbrella, Activists for Change (A4C) have sent the recently re-elected government of Pres. Museveni into panic mode.  The government’s brutal response to the Walk-to-work campaign was well covered by the media something that left clearly angered the powers that be.

Pres. Museveni has gone on record naming media as ‘enemies of Uganda’s recovery’ and promising a crackdown.  And now foreign correspondents have now formed an association probably to buffer them selves from state repression.

In a space of just two months we have seen the police raiding two media houses. The government broadcaster UBC was raided on grounds of corruption although some have argued that they are being punished for covering the riots and even for having aired the Arab revolts.

Just this week, a vernacular newspaper Gwanga was also raided and its editors arrested. The police even laid a siege on the company that does the printing for Gwanga newspaper.

On May 12, as Pres. Museveni was being sworn in for another presidential term that will see he clock 30 years as the country’s leader, his nemesis Kizza Besigye spent most of the day on the road from the airport wading through thousands of cheering supporters who turned up to welcome him.

He was returning from Nairobi where he had gone to seek medical attention after being sprayed with pepper spray and tear gas at point blank range something that temporarily cost him his sight. The government’s response was to beat up Besigye’s supporters but more significantly journalists were beaten and their gadgets confiscated. They were only returned later with the footage deleted.

Citizen journalism also got a scare when government ordered ISPs to disable access to Facebook and Twitter. This happened soon after the banning of live broadcasts of riots in the city.

All said and done, tough times lie ahead for the media under a presidency that has been in place for over 25 years and is gradually being exposed as a vulnerable one.  In other words, although there is nothing is new about attacks on the media, more should be expected.

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About Allan Ssenyonga

I am a Ugandan freelance writer/journalist based in Kigali, Rwanda. I have an insatiable desire for understanding and trying to explain media, political, cultural and social dynamics.
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