By Alex Muhumuza
The Kampala regime which likes to brag that, “Uganda respects freedom of expression” has once again by itself roundly disproved that notion, this time with the arrest, abduction style, of popular NBSTV anchor Samson Kasumba by agents of the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) this Monday.
In what analysts have called “another nail in the coffin of Kampala’s boasts that it respects media freedoms”, CMI operatives picked Kasumba from his house in Naalya, in the outskirts of Kampala in the morning hours. They drove him away, to Kiira Road Police Station, it was reported.
The journalist was released a day later, on Tuesday evening.
However Ugandan propaganda media such as Trumpetnews – one of the countless outlets run by the country’s intelligence agencies – were quick to attempt to drag Rwanda into the mud with an article published in the morning of Tuesday with the headline, “Exclusive: Security links Samson Kasumba to Rwanda.”
The website claimed, “Samson Kasumba has been grilled over his alleged links with Rwanda.” In a telltale sign that the claim was as fictitious as most things these kinds of websites publish about Rwanda, Trumpetnews throughout the article did not say who it was that accused Kasumba of “links with Rwanda.” It only relied on made up quotes from unnamed sources, such as from “a top shot in security”.
This mysterious official supposedly said: “We have been monitoring Kasumba and how he uses his social media. His posts are completely undermining the Government of Uganda.”
The website did not indicate in what way that is supposed to establish alleged links with Rwanda. Stretching credulity even further, the propaganda mouthpiece follows up with this quote from the same dubious source: “We know how Kasumba got a job at NBS; he was recruited by a Rwanda apologist whose job was to furnish Rwanda with good PR.” They do not say who this mysterious “Rwanda apologist” is.
Kasumba is not known to host pro-Rwanda shows. Another giveaway that Trumpetnews was just inventing things for its anti-Rwanda article was the comment of Uganda Police, through its spokesperson Fred Enanga. He said they were “holding Kasumba for alleged subversive activities”, but that his arrest was not related to his journalistic work.
Enanga added that they were still investigating – though it turned out that they were charging the journalist with “sedition”. Strangely, there is no “sedition” charge in Uganda’s law statutes.
Following the police statement, it was not clear how Trumpetnews got the idea to drag Rwanda’s name into something their police said they were in the course of investigating.
On the other hand, it is not the first time Uganda’s media of misinformation have thrown Rwanda’s name out in public as a smokescreen for misdeeds authored by the powerful in Kampala. The first indication of the real source of the journalist’s troubles lies in another quote in Trumpetnews’ article.
“They (unnamed officials) were shocked to always learn of Kasumba’s questionable behavior on social media”, said the website. What it calls “questionable behavior” however, is what a real journalist does: ask questions, and hold the powerful to account.
That is what Kasumba was doing in his work examining the administration and it’s officials for their woeful response to the Coronavirus outbreak. Many in Uganda’s media fraternity, such as Kasumba’s NBS co-host Sheila Nduhukire are highlighting exactly that.
Nduhukire in a series of tweets yesterday drew attention to two messages that her senior colleague had tweeted out recently, in which he takes the powerful Ministry of Health, and a couple of high-ranking individuals to task.
“How can it be possible that there are persons in the MOH that have not been paid in three months? Are we not asking too much of these same people to be in the frontline of a deadly pandemic fight? @DianaAtwine, is this true? Is this fake news? Let the nation know the truth”, wrote Kasumba, tagging the powerful Atwine, permanent secretary in the Health Ministry.
Currently in Uganda it is being reported how enormous amounts of money, trillions of shillings, are being appropriated in supplementary budgets in the guise of combating COVID-19. More than one observer has pointed out that a tweet by an influential journalist indicating how the country’s medics are owed salary arrears for multiple months is liable to be highly embarrassing, not only to the ministry but to those higher up, “in charge of the country”.
Kasumba followed up the first tweet with another in which he tagged Museveni’s “anti-corruption czar”, Lt. Col. Edith Nakalema. “I am hearing troubling reports that frontline staff ‘everyone working under the outbreak is crying’, especially in the Surveillance Department. 3 months without facilitation. Some top official in MOH has kept all the money. I have the name with me. @edithnaka over to you my sister.”
For anyone that read the Trumpetnews article – when one overlooks the anti-Rwanda fictions – it becomes obvious which the unnamed officials were that it said “always were shocked to learn of Kasumba’s ‘questionable behavior’ on social media.” It also becomes obvious what that “behavior” is.
Right from the start of the Coronavirus crisis Kasumba’s team has been a thorn in the side of the Ugandan administration for the shambolic way it has handled it. NBS for instance broke the news of how over 40 Chinese nationals made their way out of Entebbe Airport in March without even getting tested. These individuals stayed in an apartment building in Nakawa for days, and later three of them tested positive to COVID-19.
It was one of the highly embarrassing reports in this period, preceding many others of how corruption facilitated hundreds of travellers from high-risk countries, to enter through Entebbe without tests or the mandatory quarantine.
Uganda’s media fraternity were under no illusion that the NBSTV anchor was detained for anything else other than properly doing his duty as a journalist. “Let us remind all Ugandans including those in positions of authority that journalism is not a crime,” the interim Uganda Editors Guild President, Alex Atuhaire was quoted in the media, commenting on the Kasumba case.
Meantime Trumpetnews is yet to deviate from its tall tales about Rwanda so as to say something about reported corruption in high places whereby officials fail to pay overworked doctors, even as they bankrupt Uganda by appropriating huge sums of money that no one knows how they will ever be repaid.