Uganda: Museveni Reverses Directive Amid Media Uproar

A riveting turn of events unfolded at Entebbe on August 10, as President Yoweri Museveni, flanked by Prime Minister. Robinah Nabbanja, and the minister of ICT, Dr. Chris Baryomunsi, convened a historic meeting with media CEOs and editors.

The gathering marked a dramatic juncture in a saga that had ignited fervent debates across the nation. The backdrop to this theatrical scene traces back to March 6, 2023, when President Museveni issued a directive that sent shockwaves through the media landscape.

The order stipulated that all government advertisements must be exclusively routed through the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC). A cascade of consequences followed this decree, reverberating through the media fraternity. The directive’s potency was fortified further with the issuance of a circular on July 10 by Ramadhan Ggoobi, the permanent secretary of the ministry of Finance.

This circular, aimed at government accounting officers, held ominous undertones, warning of dire repercussions for any dissent. It bore a stern message: those who dared to disobey the directive would face punitive measures, potentially including dismissal.

Ggoobi’s directive also extended to the realm of print media, asserting that all print advertisements must exclusively flow through the New Vision Printing and Publishing Company (NV).

The response from media bodies was swift and resolute. The National Broadcasters Association (NAB) and the Uganda Editors Guild (UEG) rallied in protest, announcing a boycott of government briefings. The halls of power resonated with their collective voice, as media houses stood united in challenging the directive that threatened their autonomy.

In the aftermath, a series of deliberations unfolded, drawing the NAB, UEG, media CEOs, editors, and high-ranking government officials into a web of negotiations. The stakes were high, and the discourse centred on the directive’s implications for both the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation and the private media sector.

The pivotal moment arrived at the Entebbe meeting, where Kin Karisa, chairman of NAB, delivered a compelling presentation on behalf of the media entities. His words resonated with a call for collaboration rather than coercion. Karisa’s narrative struck a chord, underscoring that the private media was not averse to assisting UBC but emphasized the dire consequences of directing all advertisements to a single entity.

The president’s response, delivered with unexpected candour, laid bare the heart of the matter. He confessed that his motivation for the directive was rooted in a sincere desire to aid UBC. However, a jarring revelation emerged: he had been oblivious to the true magnitude of government advertisement revenues, quoting a meagre Shs 7.7 billion as the sum at stake.

Yet, as discussions deepened, the president’s perspective evolved. He later recognized that some media organizations were teetering on the brink of collapse, reliant on these revenues for survival. His metaphorical reflection likened his position to that of one refusing food due to plenty, while acknowledging the plight of those in the throes of starvation.

“I wanted to help UBC. I didn’t know that you are also on a starvation ration,” he wondered. To which Nabbanja interjected: “They are all needy.”

“For me, I am losing weight. Food is there, but I do not need food because I have enough. But the starving one cannot refuse food because he is on the borderline; he will be malnourished,” he said, prompting laughter from his audience.

He added, “When I asked about the money from public advertisement, apparently it is not a lot of money. It is about Shs. 7.7 billion. So, it will not solve UBC’s problems, and yet some people who are on starvation rations will die if they don’t have it,” he said before he made the monumental reversal of the directive.

Amid this unfolding drama, the president made an announcement that resonated like a script twist in a riveting play. “Abasadha tubaleke, tiyenda.. [in the context “let them have the ads–I have reversed the directive,”] he declared, adding that he could not bear the weight of curses on his hands [Sagala bisirani].

The State House gardens filled with a sense of relief as media practitioners breathed a collective sigh, knowing the reversal would avert a potentially catastrophic course of action. While the episode ended with an applause-worthy reversal, it has ignited pertinent questions.

Why did it take such a culmination of events for the decision to be reconsidered? What factors informed the initial directive, and who were the architects of this course of action? A sobering takeaway remains: the role of government extends beyond arbitrary decisions.

The rescue of UBC is imperative, but it must not come at the expense of a thriving private media sector. As the curtain falls on this chapter, it is a clarion call for a more informed and balanced approach to governance.

The president’s decision is appreciated, yet it underscores the importance of well-considered policies and laws that secure a vibrant media landscape without veering into coercion. The future narrative must be marked by collaboration and foresight, where government and media entities harmonize for a prosperous tomorrow.

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