Daniel Kalinaki's weblog

A commentary on news and events in Uganda and elsewhere


Just an ordinary bloke.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Merry Christmas; you have the right to remain silent...

THIRD FLOOR -- I got two letters from the police this week. The first was a belated Christmas card, personally signed by the Inspector General, Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura, bless his soul, to me and my family.

The card went to the ornamental table, next to the rest of the batch from workmates, sources, clients, etc. The second letter, copied to two workmates, was less pleasant and more direct: it was a summons to present ourselves at the Criminal Investigations Directorate to assist the police investigations that a story we published in the paper was prejudicial to national security.

To that uninitiated, that would be section 37 of the penal code act of Uganda. Maximum sentence? Seven years.

In many ways, I saw it coming. Being a journalist in Uganda is increasingly becoming unpredictable, rough and dangerous as President Museveni seeks to tighten his grip on power. Dissent and critical voices must be silenced. A department has been set up in the police force to deal with errant media. A Cabinet sub-committee was tasked to find ways of 'sorting out' pesky hacks through all means possible. The President has, on several occasions, vowed to deal with the media.

While this reference to the 'media' is wide, The Monitor, which I edit, is the 600-pound gorilla in the room, complete with a target painted on its backside. It is us that, more often than not, are foolish enough to question government actions, inactions, graft, incompetence, insolence, etc. It is us (with others) who question why political appointees, many of them school drop outs, are paid more than doctors; why public land is given away in dubious circumstances; why we spend more on the Presidency than on agriculture which employs eight out of every 10 Ugandans, etc.

So to work with the Monitor is to expect these kinds of things. If anything, it is surprising that it is the first summons in the six months I have been back at the paper. Yet, to be honest, when they come, as they did this week, they still send a chill down the spine, however momentarily. Friday is a dreaded day; if you don't have the time or money or sureties to arrange bail, a weekend in custody is on the books. But even if you do get bail, the incessant visits to court or to the CID are as schedule-disrupting as they are energy-sapping.

And yet, these trials -- and the fortitude with which other editors and journalists have faced them -- have a way of strengthening the resolve, of helping you see the posturing of power for the regime weakness and insecurity that it really is. I have been there before; once beaten, second time dragged to court, twice, to gag me.

I will be there again on Friday to take the latest installment from the state. If you don't hear from me for the next seven years, I will be doing my PhD by correspondence in the calm and quiet of the lakeside resort of Luzira (or, God-forbid, Kyenjojo!), all expenses paid by the state. Considering the dearth of social services, that might be the only time I benefit from my taxes, no?

Whatever happens to me, Happy New 2009 to you.