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Media Election Technology:

Uganda is headed for a heated election in January, 2021. Journalists in Uganda since last year have been gearing up for campaigns and polling day. Most of what is usually reported about during elections, is what happens in the capital Kampala and other urban centers like Jinja, Mbale, Mbarara, Wakiso among others.

It is always difficult to know the political dynamics in deep rural areas like border districts and other places like Karamoja always have limited coverage on the election. This perhaps could be explained by the limited resources media companies are faced with, or sometimes media concentrates in hotly contested areas with a lot of ‘talkability’ – buzz around the election and candidates. But even when they do, the usual is what is expected. Things like what candidate has got how many votes compared to their opponents. We as media rarely take time to scrutinize the voting patterns, voter turnout and reasons behind it, localized issues driving the agenda of the candidates, amount of money spent on campaigns and how this money is spent, and most importantly; documentation of violation of human rights and use of military to man elections.

It is about that time we as media embrace -digital technologies to deliver this election. Where the resources and capacity of the media are limited, some have argued that such technologies make it possible to rapidly “leapfrog” to cleaner and more credible elections, where every bad act by the state or the deployment of its machinery to crush opposition figures and journalists themselves are documented and may later in the future be used for accountability.

The failure of digital checks and balances often renders an electoral process even more vulnerable to rigging than it was before. Journalists should start thinking about being equipped with gadgets and media houses support journalists in this journey. Previously, journalists have used social media as a tool, but this round we should take it a step further beyond social media to include live streaming of panel discourse prior to elections and utilizing mobile apps to report live incidents from different polling units across the country.

Due to the limited resources and this may limit countrywide coverage of the elections, journalists and media houses at large should think about training agents in all parts of the country, and equip them with basic reporting skills and basic technology just for the sake of receiving information from all corners of the country, instantly. These agents should be able to use mobile phones and live reporting applications to tell, if [voting] materials arrived on time, if the police were helpful or not, if there was any violence at their polling unit, if the counting was done the way it should be done.

These observations are not intended as a manifesto against the digitization of reporting on elections; apart from anything else, the drivers(media) of the adoption of these new methods are too powerful to resist, and that’s a good thing. It is a good thing because holding the state accountable takes much more than just filming the state’s actions against its own people, but it also gives an opportunity to civil society groups to follow up such incidents and demand for justice on behalf of the victims that face the wrath of the state’s violence. But that must begin somewhere – film the process first.Though this analysis draws attention to the importance of more careful assessments of the problems, as well as the benefits, of such technologies – and to the need for more careful planning in their deployment. Things like poor network coverage of the internet could hinder deployments of such technologies in different parts of the country.

The author is an investigative journalist, radio show host with NBS television – Uganda, and believes in the power of new media in changing narratives in Africa.

Author:Canary Mugume

Covid-19 crisis should not be a window of opportunity for crooks to make a quick buck.

As the world comes to terms with the COVID-19 pandemic and countries do everything humanly possible to contain the spread of the virus, the list of worries across the world now stretches from health to economic effects of this challenge. António Guterres, the United Nations Secretary General has described the pandemic that was first reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan last year as the most challenging time in the world since World War II that span from 1939 to 1945. As the world wars did, this pandemic’s toll on our economies is dire. In the case of Uganda, experts anticipate that the virus will ease out no earlier than 90 days from first confirmation.

The situation could get worse. No country is capable of precise estimation of when life will return to normal. We are concerned with the way we plan for calamitous times such as these. In February, the government requested in three batches, sums amounting to more than sh38b to battle the desert locusts that had invaded East Africa, like large parts of Arabia and the Indian sub-continent. What drove Uganda’s figures up was not the actual cost of fighting the locusts, but the arrears that had accumulated over time due to non-payment to the Desert Locust Control Organisation of East Africa. The organization, which boasts of aircraft for aerial spraying of the desert locust had earlier threatened not to offer any support to Uganda since it has not been paying the fees which had accumulated to about sh18b.

The issue of locusts was not an emergency as many of us had been meant to believe, technocrats knew the locusts were coming several months in advance so rushing to get all these monies and equipment was a means for a few well-placed people to make a quick buck.

The same has happened with COVID-19. China first reported the matter in December 2019, the rate at which it was spreading, made it a matter of time before it got to other parts of the world, Uganda inclusive, but we waited until it was at our door step. Such ‘emergency situations’ are where the well placed, again fetch a windfall. Only recently, the government asked for sh305b supplementary budget to combat the COVID-19 Pandemic. This is the first of what will become several supplementary budget requests. Of this money, some sh82b has been requested for security. It is a given that in difficult times such as these, security is a requirement, but the same security was provided for the fight against locusts by an ill-trained, ill- equipped team of largely paramilitary Local Defense Unit (LDU).

In what Naomi Klein, author of the ‘Shock Doctrine’ calls disaster capitalism, our nation seems hijacked by crisis entrepreneurs. The President and health ministry, whose efforts are commendable thus far in ensuring we are all safe, despite room for improvement in several areas should be on the lookout against these selfish interests. No one should take advantage of life and death crises such as these to profiteer. The ICT ministry, for instance, has requested for sh14.7bn to do things that are already being done, for free, things that fall under the mandate of other ministries, or things designed to target the wrong audiences. Items such as billboards to share infographics is ill-informed as billboards require excellent vision, there is only so much you can put into an infographic and hope that will be legible, let alone target an audience of market dwellers.

The same ministry also wants to pay for airtime and print space to media houses that are already doing it without pay, and are happy to continue with that, if it passes as their civic duty. Also, behavior change communication, which this is, is a mainstay of the health ministry, who have a budget for it, what is the ICT ministry trying to prove, if not to grab for themselves whatever they can from this bonanza? The President, in one of his addresses to the nation mentioned that he had received a donation of thousands of dollars which he intended to use for the purchase of motor vehicles, this is commendable, but is that what the nation needs? Uganda has very few ventilators and specialized equipment to manage Covid-19, should it take that direction, that equipment can serve other purposes after Covid-19 passes and these will by far outlast the vehicles, benefit more people and will ease an insatiable appetite for foreign medical travel, among others.

The Members of Parliament want a piece of the action as well. Some of them have asked that the support planned out by the Office of the Prime Minister to the most vulnerable be channeled through them. They argue that they know their constituents better. Whereas this is true, we cannot put our hands on the chopping board and swear that they too aren’t looking at this crisis and the state’s intervention, as an opportunity to milk political capital and possibly even make a few millions. I say this with the greatest respect for those members of our parliament who are well intentioned. But, as the president said in his address on April 3, 2020; “…we have some crooks as usual…”. It is these crooks in these unusual times that must be weeded and exposed wherever they are. After Covid-19 has passed, Uganda will still be here. What kind of country are we planning to settle into post the pandemic? Are we planning to borrow more money to implement activities and services that had already been catered for during the pandemic?

Cissy Kagaba, Anti Corruption Coalition Uganda

Aiij Holds Webinar On The Role Of Investigative In Public Resource Accountability.

After confirmation of the first case of COVID 19 in Uganda Parliament Approved Supplementary Expenditure Schedule No. 2 for Financial Year 2019/2020, the Shs 284 billion Health, Security and Local Government sectors, Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) and the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness and Refugees In the same regard, the World Bank Board of Directors in June similarly approved a $300 million budget support operation for Uganda to boost the Government’s capacity to prevent, detect and treat the coronavirus, protect the poor and vulnerable population, and support economic recovery.  This is not to mention the USD 491.5 million (1.9 trillion Shillings which the The International Monetary Fund approved in emergency funding for Uganda to address the impact left by the coronavirus on the economy. 

Flipping through the several newspapers in Uganda in the recent past, stories of corruption and embezzlement of public funds make headlines screaming out how public resources have been misused and stolen. History has taught us that there is always a high appetite to steal public resources whenever there is plenty. In fact, according to a report that was released by the World Bank in February, 2020, whenever the World Bank released aid funds to poor countries, a significant amount of money  was systematically channeled out of these countries to private bank accounts in tax havens. 

While everyone focuses on how to control the spread of the deadly pandemic and to treat those who tested positive, little attention has been focused on monitoring public resource expenditure for the money being given to government.

Against this background, the African Institute for Investigative Journalism held a webinar about the critical role of investigative journalism in following the COVID-19 money. The webinar tittle “COVID-19 and the Money : Is the media watching?” featured investigative journalists like Raymond Mujuni, Ivan Okuda, Allan Namu from Kenya as well a guest speaker, Anti-corruption activist Cissy Kagaba . The panel was moderated by the Executive Director African Institute for Investigative Journalism Solomon Serwanjja.

To set the stage for the discussion was the Executive Director of the Anti Corruption Coalition Uganda (ACCU) Cissy Kagaba who made an urgent call to investigative journalists to look into how the money is being spent. “ Journalists need to look into who how procurement contracts were given out and to who. How much was given to procure what and was it justified? Ofcourse the Auditor General’s report will come but the did will be done” Miss Kagaba said.

Investigative Journalist and the Executive Director for Africa Uncensored John Allan Namu shared the Kenyan perspective. Namu said “The corruption in Kenya is as old as the pandemic itself.  The validation for the notion being the lack of transparency in the procurement processes for some of the preventive protective equipment , and loss of some of the items donated by Jack Ma of Alibaba is an indication of the bigger problem beyond the virus its self.” Mr. Namu also noted that the access to information on the COVID-19 expenditure was also difficult especially from government agencies and ministries. This makes very difficult for journalists to follow up.

Raymond Mujuni re-echoed the need for investigative journalists to look into the issues of the supplementary budget and what the money which was being disbursed was being used for especially when doctors and other frontline health workers did not have protective gear. Mr. Mujuni emphasized that for investigative journalists to play their role, there is need for collaborative investigative journalism to manage some special investigations.

Ivan Okuda turned the tables to the ability of media houses in Uganda to support investigative journalists to conduct special reports into accountability. He also challenges the media in Uganda to do independent investigations with out any influence from the advertisers or government influence. “ Media houses are having salary cuts while other have halved their staff because of the financial challenges that have been brought about by the corona virus pandemic. Until when the media gets alternative funding modules, then investigative journalism will be at its lowest.” He said.

The panel noted that media has tried to do a good job in shading some light on to the path accountability from the government but much more can be done if the challenges in financing to have these stories told can be solved.

The Executive Director of AIIJ Solomon Serwanjja  noted that such conversations are very helpful to the growth of investigative journalism not only in Uganda but in the region. “Such tough conversations are the reasons why the African Institute for Investigative Journalism was born. So that we can grow investigative journalism by looking at every available model to support the media to play its watchdog role.” He said.

The webinar can be found here.


COVID-19 & THE MONEY.Is the media interrogating the classified vote?

I was invited as one of the speakers to discuss a webinar topic titled ‘Covid-19 and the Money:  Is the Media Watching?’ 

 This paper attempts to address this subject. 

I must however provide a context. Covid-19 struck at the time legacy media was facing an existential threat as print circulation and appointment broadcast viewership continue to fall. Advertising, which sustains the pay cheque of journalists continues to shrink. Cheaper cyber-space advertising is now consuming the bigger advertising revenues as the sting of corporate tyranny cherry-picks ‘friendly’ and public relations infested-media to advertise with.

Covid-19 brought life to a shuddering halt in Uganda and upended the media industry. It became the death knell of some struggling newspapers and radios in the country. 

Media houses slashed salaries and curtailed their operations. Lockdown measures restricted movement and journalists had to adopt unconventional methods to report stories through cyberspace.

This limited the ability to interact with sources and much of what was reported during this spell was the officialdom narrative. Journalism could no longer make a jurisdictional claim of reporting fairly, objectively, accurately and with depth. 

The niche of investigative journalism and long-form explanatory reporting were pushed to the backburners as cash-strapped newsrooms could barely operate beyond the confines of Kampala.

Amongst the major stories that were not adequately interrogated include the shs 400bn supplementary budget to purchase military equipment under classified expenditure.

Thomas Amlie a former US congressman provides a definition of classified budgets known in American lexicon as black budgets. To him, there are three reasons for classified budget expenditures, which are explained: “One you are doing something that should genuinely be secret… two, you are doing something so damn stupid that you don’t want anyone to know about it. And three, you want to rip the moneybag open and get out a shovel, because there is no accountability whatsoever”.

It is estimated that in the Financial Year 2016/17, total classified expenditure accounted for only shs 441 billion but has now risen to shs 2.5 trillion representing an extraordinary increment of 488% over a period of 4 years. A combination of classified figures in the budget for Financial Year 2019/20 with other supplementary budget approvals brings the total classified expenditure and assets to 3.6 trillion shillings for FY 2019/20 alone.

 Specifically, the Ministry of Defence has an Equipment Project whose budget has had a huge increment from Shs469.25b in 2018/2029 to Shs1.976T in FY20l9/20 and this will run on for the next 5 years 2019/20 – 2023/24 will cumulatively cost a total of Shs6T.

According to a research paper titled: “Classified expenditure in Uganda: A look into faceless bureaucracy and Public Spending” authored by Prosper Mubangizi, Uganda’s classified expenditure could be anchored on the hostile Great Lakes region. Mubangizi cites the late Prof Dan Mudoola’s postulation in in regard to why Uganda requires a big Defence expenditure. 

Mudoola made a plausible argument that Uganda needed “to build a cordon of sanitaire around Uganda’s borders and at the same time to contain internal fluid situations”. 

This debate elicits ambivalence. Whereas some actors in the West view president Museveni as the anchorman of stability in the volatile Great-Lakes, others accuse him of aggression and playing the brinkmanship card in the region.

Journalists must therefore ask a compelling question: For instance, was the classified expenditure to purchase military equipment warranted as Ugandans faced an existential threat from the Covid-19 pandemic? 

Was there an enemy state in the troubled region that was planning to attack Uganda’s territory? 

International law provides the legal framework for Uganda to defend its self against acts of aggression from a neighbouring state. For the probing journalists, it is quite unlikely that Uganda could be attacked by a neighbouring state in the throes of a Covid pandemic.

Is the military equipment to be purchased for the purpose of suppressing internal strife or violence? 

These are some of the questions curious journalists ought to ask. 

The Public Finance Management Act provides for a legal framework to enforce transparency and accountability in regard to classified expenditure. But Parliament, which is mandated to enforce accountability has shirked this responsibility and is complicit in regard to the misuse of funds.

In April, MPs doled out 10bn shs to themselves in a supplementary budget under the pretext of combating Covid-19 in their constituencies. Can MPs competently audit classified budgets when they are engaging in dubious payments?

Journalists should be keen to probe classified expenditure as the 2021 general election is barely months away. Such classified votes should raise redflags in newsrooms and compel journalists to trace the details of such expenditures. 

It may not be easy to find the smoking gun that such monies could be spent on renting support during campaigns or buying political adversaries. 

Developing an aptitude for investigative reporting requires resilience, the skill and work rate of a sleuth and journalistic enterprise. 

It starts by establishing anecdotal leads and being able to build them into cogent evidence.


Covering Covid-19: Reports, Resources, And Tools

As COVID-19, otherwise called novel coronavirus, spreads globally, so too does conceivably hurtful deception and disinformation. With nations all around the globe catching to contain the spread of the coronavirus, the requirement for versatile, free, and precise media is getting progressively obvious. Read more.Numerous media associations have been taking a shot at tasks to help forestall the spread of bogus data, which can be found beneath. We welcome you to share any musings, tools, or resources that can add to the push to battle the spread of deception around COVID-19.