Closing Uganda Media Wrong

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There is absolutely no justification for the closure of KFM 93.3, the Monitor’s FM radio station, or the arrest of Andrew Mwenda, the host of a popular radio talk show who allegedly used language that had the intention to "bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the person� of President Yoweri Museveni.

Why would anyone, in all seriousness, be surprised that the death of Sudanese Vice President John Garang would generate intense speculation and the public airing of unanswered questions? After the hopelessly uncoordinated statements from the Ugandan ruler and his courtiers, as well as the initial lies issued by Sudanese authorities after Garang’s death, it is a wonder that anybody would expect some truth to come out of Kampala or Khartoum.

Recall that on Sunday July 31, Sudanese television informed the world that the helicopter carrying Garang had safely landed in Southern Sudan. This was almost 24 hours after Garang had died! Then came the mixed messages from Kampala that left even the most meticulous listener dizzyingly confused. A sample: Garang died in an accident due to bad weather. No, Museveni declared in Yei, it may not have been the weather. “I am looking at all options,� Museveni reportedly told a crowd of thousands of mourners.

But then last Wednesday, Uganda’s speculator-in-chief turned on those scribes who were speculating about the Sudanese leader’s death. Like in everything else, the Ssabagabe was the only one allowed to speculate. Not scribes whose job it was to do precisely that, lest they upset Museveni’s private business of keeping the Great Lake’s Region secure.

Someone should disabuse the president of the illusion that he is the only one allowed to talk about the Uganda army or the regional armies or the fate of a dead vice-president of a neighboring country. The security of the Great Lakes Region is the business of all citizens of those countries. What goes on in the Ugandan military is the business of all Ugandan citizens. They all have an equal stake, Mr President.

If Museveni’s threats against the Daily Monitor and the Weekly Observer were meant to put out the fires of speculation, they achieved the opposite. The threats, coming on top of the cacophony of contradictory sounds from Kampala and Khartoum have simply raised suspicions that there may be more to the story than meets the eye.

Mwenda, a journalist doing his job, raised questions that Museveni himself had ignited. Whether or not Mwenda’s tone was angry, emotional, abusive or whatever is utterly irrelevant. Journalists are not in their business to caress the frail egos of our politicians. They are in the business of serving the truth. At least that is what we expect of them.

And lest the Mwenda arrest sidetrack us from the serious matter of Garang’s death, let me reiterate a few of the unanswered questions which the journalists who are not yet in jail must pursue until the citizens of Uganda and Sudan get the answers. Did Garang die in a helicopter accident? If it was an accident, was it weather-related? Was it a machine malfunction? Was it due to lack of fuel? Was it human error?

If it was not an accident, was the helicopter shot down? Was there an explosion? Was there deliberate tampering with the equipment? Was it a murder-suicide? And if it was sabotage, was Garang the intended victim or was it in fact aimed at the helicopter’s temporary custodian, President Yoweri K. Museveni of Uganda?

This is a particularly serious question, because the safety of the president is not a private matter for him. It is of great interest and concern to all of us.  What if, instead of Garang, the chief passenger on that doomed flight had been President Museveni? What would that have done to Uganda in its current state where there is nobody else who, so we are told, is capable of filling his shoes? I may disagree with Museveni, but I want him alive and safe.

Which raises other important questions for our journalists to pursue. What is the state of all the other presidential air and ground transportation vehicles? These questions must be asked, and answers sought.  Meanwhile, the speculation about Garang’s death must go on. There is nothing new about it. Where there is no transparency, questions remains. The Americans are still not sure who killed John Kennedy 42 years ago.

Speculation continues on who killed Eduardo Chivambu Mondlane, founder president of Mozambique’s FRELIMO, in February 1969. Who killed Kenyan minister for Agriculture, Bruce Roy McKenzie --who was also an MI6/Mossad agent—whose plane exploded in 1977 after a visit with Marshall Idi Amin at State House, Entebbe? Did Zimbabwe’s Josiah Magama Tongogara, commander of Mugabe’s ZANLA forces die in a motor “accident� in December 1979, or was he murdered? Was Uganda’s Gen. David Oyite Ojok, Chief of Staff of the army during the Obote II regime, a victim of an accidental helicopter crash in December 1983, or was it an assassination?

Why did Mozambican President Samora Machel’s plane crash in South Africa on October 19, 1986? Was it an accident, or was his plane deliberately diverted from its correct flight path by a pirate navigational beacon broadcasting on the same frequency as the Maputo airport beacon? Then there was the mother of all crashes, the one in which Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana's plane was shot down as he approached Kigali’s Kanombe Airport. Who shot him down? Who ordered the deed? Who supplied the weapons?
Those who have something to hide will not want journalists and other citizens to speculate about these things.

Those who believe in the truth will conduct transparent inquiries and publish the facts. That is the surest way to stop the speculation. Until then, journalists who are not yet behind bars should continue where Mwenda has left off. Be of courage. Seek and speak the truth. Even at the risk of losing your freedom. Contact: (Source for this article: The Daily Monitor, Uganda.

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