Thursday, 20 October 2016

Why Uganda's Rwenzururu anniversary never got serious national media coverage

The cultural institution of Rwenzururu marked the coronation and official government recognition on October 19 in Kasese Town.

This event marked 50 years since Charles Wesley Mumbere was enthroned to take over from his father Isaya Mukirania. Isaya, the key leader of the Rwenzururu movement died in 1966.

Uganda government officially recognized the Obusinga bwa Rwenzururu on 19th October 2009.

Thus, yesterday’s event was historic for Rwenzururu. Indeed, thousands of people living around Rwenzori Mountains attended the fest. The central government was well represented by four ministers at the function.

President Yoweri Museveni who was the expected chief guest, delegated the Minister of Tourism, Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu to represent him. District chairpersons from Mubende, Ntoroko, Kabarole and Kasese attended in person.

Omusinga Charles Wesely Mumebere holding a spear (wearing bark cloth)

The media at national level especially the television stations were missing in action except reporters from local radio stations, New Vision, CBS fm,  Red Pepper and Daily Monitor. In the newspapers today (October 20) only New Vision ran a front page story picture and a news story on page 3 with a contradicting headline about the same event on the two pages. CBS fm aired a story about the event and of course radio stations in Kasese town and Rwenzori sub-region.

There was no live coverage of the event by any national television. Even the “public” broadcaster UBC  TV did not do better. Was it because these stations were not aware of the event? Or it was because there was no news (conflict) in the area? Perhaps Kasese is too far away from where news stations are headquartered.

Minister Kamuntu (shaking hands) being welcomed at the Rwenzururu anniversary

Rwenzururu kingdom, particularly Kasese has been rocked by clashes between Uganda national security agents and the elements in Obusinga bwa Rwenzururu royal guards.

The leading television stations in Uganda have always rushed to Kasese to cover the sad news of floods of River Nyamwamba, the clashes between security agents and royal guards, the deaths of people resulting from simmering ethnic tensions. In such times TV and radio stations even broadcast live feeds to the rest of the country.

But, lo and behold, they are slow to cover and broadcast the good news that portrays the happy moments in the Rwenzoris. I am told, some national TV stations had reporters at the event but they are still filing the stories because this kind of news from Rwenzururu is not urgent. What message are such media houses sending to the community? What kind of impressions do such absent media want the rest of Uganda to have about the people of Rwenzururu?

Maybe isn’t it time that we redefined news to include happy times as well not just conflict?

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Uganda: Media and stereotypes; give me a break!

Things I have confirmed about the mass media are many. But media creating images and entrenching stereotypes is alive in Uganda.

Take an example of reporting conflict in Uganda’s media. In the last two years, Rwenzori region, particularly Kasese and Bundibugyo, has been affected by conflict. This conflict sometimes borders on ethnicity and at other times it’s crime just like crime would be committed anywhere and be regarded as crime; nothing more.

But in the case of Rwenzori, the media reporters have developed a tendency of failing to distinguish between ethnic conflict and criminality. In most cases they are reporting wholesale the official accounts of the government agents.

Yet, one of the prized tenets of journalism is verification of news before publishing it. Among the many ways of news verification is interviewing as many people as possible about the same story/news and then report both accounts.

Unfortunately, this practice is fast disappearing in most of our media outlets. It is common to read or view single or two sourced stories.

A few years ago, when I was still an active member of the newsroom, my editor would not publish my story if it did not have at least four sources quoted or attributed. This editor would never get tired of reminding me to always triple check each claim made by a source. Reason? Each source has his or her interests to push in the story. So, as a reporter you better keep this at the back of your mind. The sixth sense in journalism I would say is being a little bit skeptical about all you hear until you have verified it.

In this era of social media many reporters are rushing to break the news. Never mind if the news is backed by facts or not. It’s now words like BREAKING, BREAKING screaming on their social media timelines and websites.

The recent incident at Bukara, Kabarole district has many of my friends question the credibility of what is usually reported in the media.

Well, all I am saying here is simple logic. If the case reported were rape, no professional police officer can take such a case lightly; and let alone release the suspect on police bond. Rape is a capital offence. In a civil case of adultery the conflicting parties can be advised to settle it amicably, which is what happened.
However, someone later advised the suspect to press assault and torture charges against the man who had been offended at first. As the authorities moved to arrest the assault suspect,  some irate residents of Bukara attacked the crime preventers and later on police officers. Suddenly, the local police spokeswoman and some local leaders in Police in their wanton search to absolve the police of any wrong doing, they sought to divert attention. Target? Rwenzori region has of recent been “a hot bed of ethnic tensions”. Conclusion? Bukara incident is “tribal”! The reporter falls in this trap of stereotypes that have been created about Rwenzori.

Such stereotypes like: “Africa is one country, Africa is poverty, Africa is disease, famine, conflict, etc” just show how little the media is helping demystifying these attitudes. My point? Rwenzori not always about ethnic conflict.

Give me a break! What happening to the news values of accuracy and objectivity?

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Kabarole police-civilians clash exposes Uganda's media

After reading several media versions about some officers of Uganda Police clashing with locals in Bukara, Kabarole district I'm wondering if editors are doing enough; putting their reporters to task.

First Bukara village is about 40km from Fort Portal town, where the headquarters of Kabarole district are located. Fort Portal town is 320km from Kampala, Uganda's capital.

That a newspaper or media house for that matter fails to send a reporter to the ground to gather facts, but instead relies on telephone interviews with officials in police and other government agents, is appalling. This is because Fort Portal being a major town it has representatives of most major media houses in Uganda.

The clash between police and some residents of Bukara occurred at 1pm on September 14. Why would a media house worth its name fail to send its reporters to a conflict area that is just 40km from Fort Portal town?

Why is the media rushing to brand the clash between police and some Bukara residents an ethnic conflict? It is because they are not on the ground. If the reporters were on ground they did little to source the story and only relied on the official account.

Social media reporters who always copy and paste mainstream media reports are not doing any better.

Basing on what I have gathered from the ground, this is what happened:
A man (whom I will call X) caught his wife in bed with another man (let's call him Y). The two men happen to be of different ethnic backgrounds.
The matter was reported to the area police post in Nyakigumba which is 10km from Bukara village. The suspect (Y) was later released and went to a bigger police station at Kibiito, the headquarter of Bunyangabu county, to report that he was assaulted and tortured by Mr X.

On September 13, Kibiito sent police officers to arrest Mr X to answer charges of assault. The villagers were enraged and resisted this arrest. They even assaulted the police officers, which is another offence.

In the afternoon of September 14, a group of seven police officers arrived in Bukara village to arrest Mr X and those who assaulted the police officers the previous day.

Unfortunately the villagers ended up attacking the police officers. This is wrong. I think it's plain ignorance and stupidity to attack people in authority or even resist arrest.

There might be mistakes on either side, which should be corrected. But I don't understand why the media is calling this clash between police and civilians, ethnic? How many people have been killed on the different ethnicity?
The dead are police officers and people who speak the same language of Mr X.

The deployment of police and army in the area was good thing. Today the  security officials and local politicians are meeting the residents of Bukara to calm down and resolve the situation.
May peace and the spirit of tolerance prevail.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Corruption in Uganda's road sector takes us several steps backwards

A report by a Commission of Inquiry into mismanagement of Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) reveals that, before the new management, UNRA had received Shs9 trillion and with this they delivered 1500km of tarmac roads. The report argues that with Shs9 trillion UNRA should have constructed 5,147km. 

UNRA was formed in 2006 to construct, maintain national roads. These mainly include highways in Uganda and they constitute over 20,000km of roads. Of these roads Uganda has only 4,500km paved/tarmac. Road construction in Uganda mainly done by big foreign companies; therefore there is big money involved. In the recent past, the share of the road subsector in the national budget has tremendously increased. This has attracted the attention of the corrupt officials who want to feast on tax payers money.

President Museveni receives a report of a probe into UNRA (New Vision photo)

In the same report it is stated that it is comparatively more expensive to construct 1km of road in Uganda than it is in Rwanda or Ethiopia. The report goes on to say Shs4 trillion was "misused" read stolen by 90 officials in collusion with some staff at UNRA.

So, in 10 years of UNRA's existence, corruption has forced the taxpayers to miss thousands of kilometres of road because some individuals were dishonest! 
According to the report, Shs4 trillion would have made UNRA construct additional 3,647km of paved roads in the country. 

Hello! This is just corruption at "old" UNRA. There are allegations of corruption in other government agencies and departments. All this implies that the cancer of corruption is taking Uganda several steps backwards in terms of development. This must stop.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Uganda: Vote wisely, remain peaceful

As the people of Uganda go to the polls this Thursday 18th February 2016 we have heard a lot from different political candidates at presidential and parliamentary levels. At presidential level there are eight candidates.

But I think these three key contenders have reduced the presidential contest into a three-horse race. Presidential candidate Amama Mbabazi says it’s time for Uganda to go forward; so vote for change and for a peaceful transition.
Mbabazi campaigning in Mukono 

Yoweri Museveni, who is the incumbent, says lots of things have been achieved in the last 30 years like peace, stability and increased kilometres of paved roads, so vote for steady progress to achieve even more.
Museveni campaigns in Zombo

Yet Kizza Besigye, another candidate, says forget the story about going forward and steady progress because as a Ugandan you are powerless. Your voice as a citizen is not listened to by those in public offices. So you got to first reclaim your rights, assert yourselves to the leaders. Besigye says, after asserting yourselves as the citizens, only then can you talk of developing a Uganda that works for Ugandans. He offers to lead this liberation and promises that after winning every Ugandan will walk with their heads high; "walk with swagger (‘swaga’)".
Besigye campaigns in  Rukungiri

Hey, other presidential candidates like Benon Biraro, Abed Bwanika too have fine messages for the Ugandan voters. Therefore you are spoilt for choice.

Now the ball is in your hands. Remember your vote is your voice. Use it wisely. Some people have been approached with gifts like sugar, salt, soap and bits of money or petty cash; please know that your vote is not for sale. Vote for leaders who will work for you.

Most important of all cast your vote in peace. Be peaceful, tolerant and respectful. Let the election not divide us. We are all Ugandans. Uganda continues even after elections. Peace.


Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Uganda: Don't miss the message in opinion polls

Today, The New Vision newspaper has published an opinion poll that gives incumbent President Yoweri Museveni 71% of the total vote if elections were held a few weeks ago. The poll says Dr Kizza Besigye who is competing with Museveni for a fourth time would get 19% followed by Amama Mbabazi, a long time confidant of Museveni now turned political opponent, 6%. Uganda will elect president and members of parliament on February 18.

As usual the NRM supporters are celebrating the poll results as the opposition are dismissing the opinion poll as fabricated and out of anger some opposition faithfuls are burning copies of the New Vision newspaper.

Well, I think this is the trouble we have with the so-called opposition fanatics in this country. Burning a newspaper that publishes an opinion poll is just missing the point. An opinion poll is simply an opinion; scientific study expressed in figures. It conveys a message. Whether accurate or not, the message is clearly put in the people's responses. The task is; if your supporters are according to opinion poll are fewer, simple, just devise measures of increasing them. Address the issues pointed out in the opinion poll. Otherwise, as they always say, figures don't lie.

Being cry babies won't increase your support. I have been to many rural areas in Uganda. The bitter truth is: political opposition candidates are not visible in many places.

Yes, I understand the circumstances and environment in which Uganda's political opposition operate in. But it is self-defeating to think that the level of political awareness and access to information in urban areas is the same as in among rural folks. The opposition politicians are just very thin among the grassroots. So you should be working on entrenching yourselves among the grassroots under the prevailing environment of unleveled electoral ground instead of burning a newspaper that publishes the message in an opinion poll. Surely, you can do better than that instead of living in denial.

Yesterday the Observer newspaper published a story that 91 parliamentary seats (out of more than 405 seats) have no opposition candidates in the forthcoming February 18 elections. In other-words, the ruling NRM party has already 9 MPs in the 10th parliament unopposed even before we go to polls; and is assured of other 82 MP seats being competed for by NRM candidates Vs NRM independent candidates. This is telling a lot about the strength of the political opposition in Uganda. How do you begin dismissing an opinion poll for someone in any of the areas where 91 parliamentary seats are being contested by NRM official candidates and NRM unofficial candidates?

Point is: concentrate on the message in the opinion poll. Besides this is not the first opinion polls giving more or less the same results. So, look for the message in the opinion polls. Burning the messenger is clearly not the best of options you have. It is missing the message in an opinion poll.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Critics of export of health workers to Trinidad are shooting at wrong target

A decision by the Government of Uganda to export healthworkers to Trinidad has sparked intense debate especially from some civil society groups. These groups have criticized the move arguing that Uganda does not have adequate health workers in its hospitals and health centres to afford to give its precious labour to another country.

While it is true that staffing gaps in government hospitals and health centres are widespread, the civil society groups are hitting at a wrong target. This is because any Ugandan is free to work anywhere they feel their labour is better appreciated. Two, the argument that Uganda has not got enough health workers especially the lower cadres like nurses is false. On the contrary there are thousands of health workers who are unemployed and underemployed.

Take as an example, in December 2014 the Ministry of Health through its Health Service Commission advertised for 219 jobs at Mulago Hospital, Uganda Heart Institute, Uganda Cancer Institute, Uganda Blood Transfusion Services and all 13 regional referral hospitals. Over 2000 applicants were shortlisted for job interviews. In one of the vacancies, Mulogo Hospital needed only 12 nursing officers but received 337 applicants. The same hospital needed 30 enrolled nurses but 529 nurses applied. Other advertised posts also attracted massive applications to the extent that the Health Service Commission was left with no choice but to subject the applicants to aptitude tests in Namboole Stadium on March 26th because it could not accommodate such numbers in its board room. Clearly from just this example, there is a huge army of not-fully utilized health workers in Uganda.

Instead these critics should be pressuring government to get serious with recruiting more health workers and improving their conditions of work. I know of over 100 health workers who the Ministry of Health deployed in health facilities in hard-to-reach areas but would go for as many as four months without pay. And when government would attempt to pay them payments would be for arrears of two months. These health workers were depending on their meagre monthly salaries to survive. A good number of them were not salaried, they were receiving Shs320,000 as monthly allowance which would not also be paid in time. In most cases they had to pay house rent.  Yet, these medics were expected to report for day and night duties. Surely, how would such an unmotivated health worker get the motivation to treat a patient as expected? The health worker would be worried of where to get his or her day’s meal instead of attending to a patient. Let alone, what do you expect such a health worker do if they get an opportunity to work abroad?
What we should be doing is to ask government to set its priorities right. Over the years the ministry of health has complained of insufficient budget for recruitment of health workers. The thousands of health centre IIIs and IVs littered across the country don’t have the required staff. No wonder we have had cases where storekeepers and askaris at such facilities also administering medicines to sick peasants!  

The health worker to population ratio in Uganda is 1:1298 compared to the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines of 1:439. Yes, in spite of these challenges, some achievements have made in the health sector. Life expectancy at birth improved from 52 years in 2008 to 54 years in 2011; the maternal mortality ratio reduced from 435 per 100,000 live births in 2006 to 325 per 100,000 live births in 2011; and infant mortality reduced from 76 per 1000 live births in 2006 to 63 per 1000 live births in 2011. But these key indicators can be improved further if the existing heath workers are properly motivated and supervised. Have you ever wondered why some private health facilities which, even in some cases, pay their workers less money than what government pays those in public sector continue to offer relatively better service? Supervision is the trick. 
The Ugandan health sector has experienced challenges related to recruitment and retention of qualified staff; this is mainly due to low remuneration as well as insufficient career opportunities . In 2010 there was a very low doctor to patient ratio of 1:24,725 and a nurse to patient ratio of 1:11,000. Both at an international and regional level, remuneration of health workers in Uganda is much  lower than most other countries. A doctor in Kenya for example earns approximately four times more than their counterpart in Uganda.

In 2013, Uganda recruited over 10,000 health workers to work in health centre III and IVs. But the staff numbers were still below what is required. Mind you, not all the 10,000 recruits remained at work -some who suffered at the hands of bureaucracy have left. The delays in salary pay caused the departure of especially the young people who had just finished school and expected to settle down on their pay. The bureaucracy in paying betrayed the health workers recruitment efforts. Some worked for up to three months without pay and resigned or abandoned work. Few persevered.

The civil society should be asking why the conditions of work for health workers especially those in hard-to-reach and rural areas are not being made better. For me that should the starting point other than trying to frustrate the medics who want to work elsewhere conditions may seem to be better.