Promoting Media Freedom and National Interests

By Ofwono Opondo

May, 17, 18
On Friday last week, President Yoweri Museveni spent six odd hours with Uganda’s media owners and senior managers discussing the historical political economy of Africa, explaining how and why Africa was subjugated, colonized, and pushed into the periphery of the world. Africa, which we have been taught over centuries, including from the bible, as being the first Eden of Man, today, remains the most inhabitable and poorest continent of the world, and yet, amidst abundant wealth, natural resources, conducive climate and resilient human beings.
The theme of president Museveni’s address was, “The role of the media in Nation Building: Aligning the media with government’s agenda 2040,” in which he stressed that Africa should never again be conquered. “Never again will a black man be at risk of survival. I don’t want anybody to have an illusion that we shall compromise on the survival of our people. Uganda now is unstoppable. Nobody can stop us now. We have pushed for patriotism, pan-Africanism, socio- economic transformation and ideological orientation; our views are tested. What I expect is a serious debate on your side in writing. If you don’t agree with socio-economic transformation or Pan-Africanism for example, what are your alternative views,” Museveni admonished.
Museveni gave the examples of Australia, South and North America, that were colonized before Africa, where indigenous peoples-the Aborigines, and Red Indians, have become extinct on account of what the new European invaders did to them during the period of occupation and exploitation. In fact, South America is today referred to as Latin America. Since imperial penetration, and the colonial subjugation the African mind through religion, education and technology, most attempts at discussions on the plight and future of Africans as a race, is often treated especially by its own elites as some of inconvenient distraction.
Consequently, most elites and leaders in religion, politics, academia, and now civil society groups are a disoriented lot that many doubt will or can directly confront the crisis facing Africa and Africans, within and outside the continent. Many of these groups find it easy to accept foreign lectures, narratives and money without questioning the motives. President Museveni’s discourse was another attempt to hopefully persuade the Uganda media to embrace development journalism even when hyping [sensational] entertainment, and hate politics that seem to dominate our public discourse. It is increasing becoming apparent that Africa is on another verge of foreign subjugation and derailment if the current generation of elite doesn’t step back.
President Museveni has for a long time been preaching to elected leaders especially politicians to mobilize their constituents to embrace development agenda and modernity, but unfortunately it seems his message has been falling on deaf ears. In many places, would be responsible leaders have abdicated, and think that only Museveni has the responsibility to ensure that Uganda is transformed into a prosperous nation, hence accosting him personally with all sorts of demands however petty they may be.
So, in the context of the on-going [current] discourse in Uganda, it is embarrassing that those individuals and entities with the hugest swathes [tracks] of land should be the poorest and most distressed socially, economically and financially, when they claim that land is the biggest productive asset they have inherited, own or possess. It is quite telling when cultural and religious institutions that own so much land estate and claim to have brought or championing civilisation also go around with begging bowls in hand.
So, when President Museveni recently turned his preaching to religious leaders and institutions that are centuries old, own so much wealth in land, and collects un-enviable monies usually not accounted for in tithes, baptism, marriage and funeral ceremonies even from the poorest without remorse, they should perhaps be asked to tie a knot and hang.
While media managers shared their strong, sometimes misplaced concerns with the President over lack of or poor information flow from government officials, harassment and obstruction of the media, Museveni too had his counter grievances against the media. It’s a lame excuse for any professional media to claim it can’t do its work well merely on account of non-cooperation from government.
Among these, he castigated the media of orchestrated partisanship, deliberate bias, extreme and sometimes consistent lack of editorial fairness, objectivity and balance, bordering on deliberate smear hate campaign to malign government, or its programs with intent to mislead and cause disharmony in the country. On these issues many media houses have been found wanting often giving their journalists leeway for partisan and extremists views without bothering to appreciate how harmful they are to their platforms.
And sometimes matters are not made any better when government officials and NRM ideologues fuel media discourse by fanning intrigue against each other, or shying away from legitimate major public debates hoping to hide behind the curtain of officialdom, legalese, or use draconian measures to control the media. It’s critical for every elite in Uganda to understand that NRM’s revolutionary standpoint will not waver in the efforts to expand the frontiers of democracy however odious the task may appear to be.