Daniel Kalinaki's weblog

A commentary on news and events in Uganda and elsewhere


Just an ordinary bloke.

Monday, January 19, 2009

It's the war of attrition

SECOND FLOOR - As it turned out, the interrogation was more farce than fierce. We presented ourselves at 10am, as requested, and were led to the Media Offences Department of the Uganda Police Force. We do not have a Child Sacrifice Department but we have one for media offences, real and imagined. Classic Uganda.

After a while, Charles Kataratambi, the head of the MOD turned up. A stocky fella with a law degree and a sharp brain, Charlie, as many of his friends call him, could have made a smart lawyer or more but he has to 'serve' and his service is to keep an eye on the media.

After a few pleasantries, the interrogation started with Angelo, one of the two authors of the story. Grace, the other author, and I, were asked to step outside and wait in the room next door. Considering that the rooms are separated by thin plywood, this was the equivalent of listening in, rather that watching proceedings.The main thrust of the interrogation, as expected, was to try and extract the source of the story.

It would have been easier to squeeze water out of a rock. An hour later, Grace was next and the routine was repeated with no more success until it was my turn. Charlie and his team of co-inquisitors, including a cameraman who captured proceedings on a small camcorder (so that we could not claim to have been tortured, according to Charlie) wanted to know who had edited the story. I told them I did not edit the story but I was the editor of the paper. Two different things that took a while to sink in before Charlie declared; we have the wrong man. We need to person who edited the story.

Three weeks later, I am a free man but both Grace and Angelo are out on police bond which has been renewed several times. (The editor of the piece was never summoned, after all). The police say they need more time to find evidence to take the duo to court and charge them with endangering national security, abetting the enemy or same such. The idea that the LRA rebels in their DR Congo hideouts are waiting for copies of the Monitor to be delivered to them every morning so as to plan their military formations in ludicrous to the extreme. And yet, as we head closer to the magic year of 2011, there is evidence that this is just the start of a different war against the media; the war of attrition.

It does not matter whether there is evidence or not to justify prosecution; the plan is to keep summoning journalists and make them jump through hoops until they are physically, mentally, emotionally and financially worn out (the lawyer's meter keeps running!). it is a nuisance and an irritation but it could be worse. Ask journalists in Somalia, Iraq, Philipines or Sri Lanka.

So we keep soldiering on, keep packing overnight bags every Friday just in case you are arrested and taken to court after the banks close (so they can't take your bail money) and have to spend the weekend in the chiller. But we shall keep speaking truth to power and keep saying things that officialdom does not want to hear. After all, we are not here to please; if we were, we would have been dressed up as clowns.