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Media and Mental health; Stop the “Crazy talk”

Have you listened over the radio or come across tabloids; a post on social media or watched on television a journalist or presenter refer to a person as “Crazy?” 

Well, you and I have probably used it in casual conversations and without even ever noticing! Some movies have normalised the word crazy like one of my favorite ‘The gods must be CRAZY’  have the word in the title! There are songs, you remember the 2009 hit of Beyoncé and Jay Z “Crazy in Love” and Eminem’s crazy in love

From the day I started reading about mental health and talking to different mental health advocates and psychologists, I have come to learn that language is one of the contributing factors to the stigma surrounding mental health. The word Crazy is one of those words that are all over the place and used to describe both good and bad moments for instance “That guy is crazy” “I had a crazy day…

I have been paying attention to how the media reports and talks about mental health and on a certain morning whilst watching a news digest I thought I didn’t hear it but truth is it was said! “People who commit suicide are cowards and selfish…” These and more words are used unknowingly but they give life and sustain the stigma around mental health and they make it hard for people dealing with mental health challenges to seek help or treatment.

The ignorance that surrounds the language used by the media while talking about mental health is very worrying! The media continues to  misrepresent mental health thus sustaining the prejudice and stigma around mental health.

The language used by journalists and “netizen journalists” while talking about mental health disorders for instance “cowards”, “selfish’, “aggressive”, “violent” to mention but a few are some of the stigmatising words making people with mental health challenges fear to come out and seek help for fear of being stigmatised or discriminated against by their social circle. Imagine you are depressed, gained weight or lost weight, or you have no sleep and everyone you open up to tells you that “man, you are crazy!”,  “ you have got to Man up”…

The media is considered as a powerful tool of interaction and such use of labeling or condemning language will bring about relapse to people healing from a mental health disorder. They will also start to withdraw from social networks because they fear to be discriminated against.

According to the World Health Organisation, 1 in 4 people have a mental health challenge. While the media is considered as an educative and informative tool that gives in-depth insight to issues happening, there is more to research and study to challenge the stereotypes and stigma surrounding mental health.

As stated by the  National Center for Biotechnology Information report, the media is considered as one of the sources of information about mental health. Given the power of this tool, the media can challenge mental health stigma and promote seeking help for instance getting mental health related topics on the trending list of twitter with a hashtag. The more conversations with the hashtag, the more awareness will be spread.

Great strides have been made by the media on reporting on issues surrounding mental health however there is still more work to be done. Information provided by news media for instance the way Hussein Walugembe’s story was reported, it lacked a mental health angle to it with the media choosing to focus on the political and violent angle of the story.

 Walugembe was a motorcycle taxi operator who died inside the Masaka Police station after setting himself on fire when the police impounded his Boda boda (motorcycle) after violating a curfew order during the Covid-19 lockdown on the 3rd of July. His story gained international coverage. It was a hotcake on mainstream media with sensationalised headlines like “Omuvubuka yekumyeko omuliro e Masaka”, “mother to Hussein Walugembe, the motorcycle rider who set himself ablaze, has lost her speech”. and a wash all over social media feeds with polarising comments.

Mental health remains a difficult term that is not well understood by the majority of not only the mass media and new media but also the general public. For example, did you know that every referral hospital in Uganda has a mental health department? The widespread stigma and the continual misrepresentation of mental health as a complex topic by the language used to talk about it affects the health seeking behavior of those dealing with mental health challenges.

The media is undeniably one of the most powerful tools of communication. If rightly used, the media can influence public attitudes and perceptions about mental health. The media needs a better understanding and insight into mental health so as to have informed conversations about mental health challenges which will be the basis of influencing public beliefs on mental health.

Shemei Agabo is a budding investigative journalist and Host of ‘The Event’. The Event is an increasingly popular original YouTube talk show series focused on mental health and wellbeing. Agabo’s passion rests in telling stories that bring about social & political change. He is currently a fellow at the African Institute for Investigative journalism.


Journalists & politics: to endorse or not to endorse candidates?

As the nomination days for candidates seeking to contest in Uganda’s 2021 general elections get ever closer, you may have seen a significant number of journalists who work for local and national publications or broadcast outlets express their support for some politicians on social media.

This was particularly evident during the primaries to select representatives at various levels for the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, the hitherto leading opposition party, Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), and the on-going selection exercise of flag-bearers for the new-kids-on-the-block, the National Unity Platform (NUP) party.

In some cases, the endorsements that the journalists make on their respective Twitter, Facebook or WhatsApp accounts are subtle while in others, they are turning into a blatant show of partisan support for the candidate of their preference.

For instance, on September 1, 2020, a reporter with local news website ChimpReports, Dickens Okello, wrote, “Hon. David Bahati has for the [last] two consecutive sessions of Parliament [been] declared the best legislators and remains the most valuable debater on the government side. The people of Ndorwa West, your MP has done his best as a legislator. Keep the political spirit burning and return him to Parliament. Endorsed.”

Similarly, on September 3, 2020, Okello offered support to another candidate, a former minister, on his social media page. He wrote, “Rt. Maj. Jessica Alupo Epel is a good-hearted and dependable leader. Katakwi District voters, please return her to Parliament. Endorsed.”

Speaking to this writer in a telephone interview on September 26, Okello defended as his right the decision he’s taken to canvass support for political leaders he believes have Uganda’s interests at heart. He said the fact that he is a journalist does not take away that right.

“Fundamentally, as a journalist, I am supposed to remain objective, fair and balanced, but there are three things that inform my decision to support candidates. First, I am a citizen. Secondly, I am a taxpayer. Thirdly, I am a voter. So, if I am a stakeholder in this country, I also need the best for this country,” he said. “Let us also understand one thing; we have our social media pages which are supposed to be for our personal views.”

Okello explained that followers of his work need to know there is a distinction between his professional and private life when consuming the information that he shares in his different capacities. The critics of his work are those who don’t make the distinction.

“When I am writing an objective story, that’s going to be on the Chimp Reports website and social media pages. That’s where I don’t take a side. But for my Facebook, that’s for my personal views. So long as I am not lying, it’s not defamation, and it’s not going to affect national security, there’s no problem with me expressing my views,” he said.

Another journalist who has come out in support of political aspirants is Sadab Kittata, the editor of Witness news website. On September 10, Kittata, who also reports on a freelance basis for The Observer, offered came out in support of Masaka Municipality MP Mathias Mpuuga, who is seeking to retain the seat. He wrote on his Facebook page, “Articulate, Intelligent, Reasonable… Mathias Mpuuga, the perfect choice for Masaka.”

In an interview for this story, Kittata said he looks at social media as his private space and he does not take his social media views into his professional work. He added that unlike others, he is open about his political leanings and interests.

“Those [candidates] that I have shown support for, I never write stories about them because I know people will not take it to be an objective story. They will think that I have been influenced,” he said. “For instance, if you look for a story from me about Asuman Basalirwa, you will never find it.”

Kittata says that where he offers support to particular candidates, he often puts disclaimers that he is doing it in his personal capacity, and not as a journalist. This was, however, not the case

“One thing I don’t like about us journalists is that we pretend too much. Many of us get actively involved in these things, like politics by showing support to politicians, but come and pretend to be neutral. And I have always wondered, ‘why don’t we pick a leaf from the Americans?’ Because you can know that Fox News is promoting the Republican agenda and CNN is promoting the agenda of Democrats, and it’s clear. So, I fail to find a justification for us to continue pretending and yet, quietly, we get so involved in the political processes,” he argued.

According to Kittata, part of the hypocrisy that he has seen in Uganda’s media sphere is that journalists demonise colleagues who support the ruling party but will praise colleagues that show open support for the opposition.

“To me, the best thing for us for you as a journalist to declare and come out openly and say, ‘on this issue, this is my stand’ so that we can know that when Sadab is talking about this, he is out of the other coat of a journalist,” he said.

It must be noted that the majority of the journalists working with Uganda’s leading media organizations such as Nation Media Group – Uganda (Daily Monitor newspaper, NTVKFM, etc.), Vision Group and The Observer have largely restrained from engaging in the endorsement of candidates. But that does not mean it is not happening.

On September 18, the Public Editor for Nation Media Group – Uganda (NMG-U), Charles Odoobo Bichachi, published an elaborate article in which he articulated what in his view, the media-consuming public expects from the ‘fourth estate’ generally and journalists in particular. 

On the issue of fairness and balance within the media, Bichachi wrote, “Should journalists take sides? Professionally, they shouldn’t. They can and do have sides, but this should never be seen in their stories and pattern of reporting.”

In a telephone interview for this story, I asked Bichachi whether NMG-U had found patterns of partisanship within the stories it published, let alone the social media activities of its journalists, that should be a cause for concern.

“I have raised the flag [about bias] because I have noticed this within some of the stories in the media generally and within NMG,” he said. “I have flagged this matter for the editors to take note and take appropriate measures from growing because it goes against the NMG and the rules of good journalism.”

Bichachi, who has in the past written about the slippery slope that social media presents for journalists, believes that the best way to overcome some of the contestations about what journalists should or should not do during elections coverage is to offer refresher training.

“It is important that the newsroom gets refresher training on elections reporting, social media policies within the media house,” he said.

Organizations such as NMG-Uganda have a set of rules of engagement that clearly outline how the company requires its journalists to conduct themselves during the time they work for such an entity. Besides the general editorial policy, they also have a social media policy and an election reporting policy among others. The challenge for NMG-Uganda and other media organizations is to ensure that all the journalists, many of them often quite opinionated, well-known and eager to leverage on their prominence in society, tow the same line.

Okello, for instance, admitted that while Chimp Reports has clearly documented guidelines on how journalists working for the organization should conduct themselves professionally and in their private activities since they are closely associated with the company’s brand, he often goes against the company’s recommended principles.

“We have a strong editorial policy [at Chimp Reports]. We are supposed to remain not only objective but even the way we carry ourselves in public, like me who reports from Parliament, there are standards expected of me. Yes, at times what I post conflicts with the editorial policy but when I feel it is necessary, then I am going to use my power of writing and speak out,” he said.

Between September 6th and 12th, I travelled to the four cities of Arua, Gulu, Lira and Soroti to support Media Focus on Africa – Uganda in its effort to train journalists on the key principles of election reporting. Having covered three general elections before, I had several experiences to draw from that I shared with the journalists, including on issues of objectivity and fairness, conflict of interest and election bribery.

Before each session, I posed a trick question, asking the journalists I was training whether any of them had a candidate they had backed who had lost in the party primaries. In all the four districts, not a single journalist admitted they supported a candidate.

The answer was always the same: “We are journalists who must be objective so we do not support any candidate.” It was difficult to tell if the journalists were merely playing to the gallery or actually held those views close to their hearts as professionals.

It was only in Lira where some journalists were candid enough to say that they are human, live and interact with the population and so have their biases and also faced pressure from candidates who, when elections are done, they will continue to live amidst. What they wanted to know was information that would help them ensure that whenever they do their work, they are able to do it as objectively as they can, despite the challenges they had shared.

At the training workshop in Gulu, Jane Angom Mujoma, a production manager at Speak FM, said that journalists often let their guard down on social media yet it has an effect on the way the public perceives the fairness of the stories that they publish on the mainstream media platforms.

“We must continue to live up to principles of good journalism; fairness, balance, accuracy. These are things that we cannot run away from, regardless of the fact that we are doing it on digital platforms,” she said. “Sometimes when we are doing these things on social media and digital platforms, we don’t think twice [about the consequences], but we need to uphold these principles [of good journalism].”

The author is a Ugandan journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor with The Observer, The East African and Daily Monitor newspapers. He has covered Uganda’s last three general elections (2006, 2011, and 2016).

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I don’t mind dying for the right story – Sudhir byaruhanga

AIIJ had an interview with NTV Uganda’s Investigative Journalist Sudhir Byaruhanga on his award winning investigative story at African Center For Media Excellence (ACME) 2020  “Ranches encroachment”. He shares his experience as an investigative journalist and what makes him stand out of the crowd of other investigative journalists in Uganda.

Why Investigative Journalism?

When you look at the content available in our mainstream right now, TV, Radio and Print. It is visible that investigative pieces are still lacking and still a virgin area for Uganda. You can hardly get a very good investigative story a week or even months. 

What we see as investigations sometimes are just some features that are expounded on and given some little bit of depth but do not reveal so many facts, therefore it’s an area that I find still virgin hence an opportunity for every journalist in Uganda to harness.

Journalists are at liberty, it’s like going into an orchid and you are free to pick whatever fruit you want. Journalists need to know what they want. Do you do stories and go home and wait for your salary or do you want to do a story and create an impact? Do you do stories that contribute to the betterment of Uganda. The stories that we do of; he said, she said, this happened. They never make Uganda better.

People are getting bored of news, they are getting away from the mainstream media and resorting to social media. If we are to wallow in the steps of those that were there before us or even before innovations, it is ideal for all the journalists in Uganda to indulge in investigative journalism.

It takes a lot of courage to pull off a good investigative piece. You must have full support from your bosses and they must be ready to be patient. What kills investigative journalism in Uganda is, the bosses want input every day because it’s what counts to them but they forget that you could have one piece in two months and that story will leave an impact and will always be linked to the station where it aired. 

The impact is felt once and it might come after a long time, but it is felt more than an ordinary story that would air on a daily basis. If I walk around the street and I ask people who watch everyday, asking them the stories I have done, they will tell me MABIRA, NODDING SYNDROME, GOLD MINES IN MUBENDE e.t.c; those stories always have an everlasting impact on people’s lives.

 I am not someone who is easily shaken by threats, despite the fact that they are there. “I don’t mind dying for the right reason, people die for wrong reasons. If you kill me for the story I have done, if it makes Uganda better and it can make other people’s lives better so be it.”

 It takes a lot of time and endurance to come up with a piece, if you are not patient in investigative journalism, you will easily give up or ignore some bits. How much depth do you give to your story? You can’t focus on one side, two or three, every person you are accusing in that story must be reached out however, if you still fail you should prove that you tried.

Is there a future for investigative journalism in Uganda?

The future for investigative journalism in Uganda is still blurry, (he responds with a depressed face), media houses have not sat down to invest in that properly and effectively, they are still in their comfort zones. (He questions the security of investigative journalists who are covering sensitive stories), are media houses protecting them? Where journalists sleep, is it safe for them to continue pursuing their stories while in the field?

Until the media houses realize that it’s a department needed in the newsroom and demand for the results, you will see investigative journalism go further.. Many of my colleagues in this fraternity have the capacity to pull off these stories but they lack support from their bosses and resources. 

How are you a unique investigative journalist? 

He smiles, I always have support from my bosses. I am trained, I have the opportunity so it’s a catch 22.

I am able to pull off stories because I know how to gauge when I am safe and when I am not. I know how to hide from the wrong guys, I know how to play with their minds and I know how to play a smarter game than them. It takes a lot of thinking, experience and commitment. 

If it were up to you, which story do you feel deserved to win an award?

I believe every story that I have done deserves an award, each story comes with its own impact. You come back and you are trying to put the story together but you can’t hold your tears, with that particular impact you long for.  

He goes silent for a while then with a calm soft voice he adds, an award for me, is not about what comes with it. It’s an appreciation and a recognition that you have understood and acknowledged that I am contributing towards the betterment of my society. It is such small things that encourage journalists to work harder. 

What was so special about the story that won you an award?

Smiling…, what stands out in that story is, the whole list of people who encroached the ranch were police, army, highly placed officials within the government. The story of the ranch had enough sources. I didn’t just mention the encroachment but I showed the evidence. It was so extensive, it had depth and multiple sources and I think that’s how it stood out because I didn’t leave any stone unturned. 

It was four seconds of footage of soldiers standing there in army uniform but it’s what was missing in that story to qualify a statement that I had mentioned “that army officers were manning the site owned by Kahinda Otafiire as he is going on with his construction of a glass factory.” 

What challenges did you face while covering the story?

When I went to the ranch in Njeru they told me soldiers are manning the area and this was an expanse (an area that has no development) In mind, “I was like at what point are these soldiers but I had to walk towards the place. I went into the bush and we managed to capture the activities taking place. I was like what if in the process of filming, we are shot dead.” 

For any investigation, it will never rub everybody the right way or else it’s not an investigation, it’s a promotion and those people can retaliate very badly. 

At that time, I was debating whether to rely on the drone or go there and film the story on my own but I needed to see. 

Are you settling now that you have an award?

He sarcastically laughs, whether I get an award or not, it’s not what pushes me. I don’t care If I get one or not, what I care about is the impact I create within the population and the society I live in. If I meet someone on the way and they say, well done, it is very rewarding. 

What advice do you give to the budding Investigative Journalists?

“Put the highlighted in brackets”, do your best, don’t back down because somewhere in the middle of the investigation someone will want to buy you off to drop the story or buy you to pursue another angle of the story. We have a lot of influential people or advertisers who inject money in different media houses and have an influence on investigative stories, especially if the story hinges on what they are doing.

If you are faced with such a challenge, don’t sell your soul. Do what is important and what is important is the initial idea you had, do not stop along the way. You can do the story and not get the millions they want to pay you but, in future the name you make will fetch you hundreds and hundreds of millions.

Trust me I don’t regret being a journalist.


AIIJ Receives Computers From NSSF

Journalism is the torch to the society as creates scenarios for inward looking to all the stakeholders through going to the core of the societal problems in health, politics, and the economy. This notwithstanding Investigative journalism has proved a potent weapon for helping change policies, bringing to book those that antagonize the public order and shined a special light down the path of a society that is better for everyone. The National Social Security Fund besides its official mandatory duty of enabling people plan for retirement as a statutory role, understands and appreciates the critical role that journalism does in society and thus continues to be socially responsible in a number of ways. Through its corporate social responsibility like NSSF friends with Benefits, among others to uplift the standards of life for the Ugandans. As a deliberate effort to improve the lives of Ugandans through the use of investigative journalism. The NSSF on 31st August 2020 kickstarted the month of the African Institute for Investigative Journalism with a smile through donating Laptops to support the cause of good journalism and in-depth story telling. The donation came in as part of the Funds Corporate Social Responsibility plan to allow the center easily facilitate the process of investigative story telling. The donation was handed over by Babra Teddy Arimi the head of Marketing at NSSF at the ceremony that was graced by the different people at the NSSF including Victor Karamaji the Public Relations manager at NSSF .The Executive Director of the African Institute for Investigative Journalism Solomon Serwanjja received the donation on behalf of the Institute at the event where he commended the management of NSSF for seeing good in investigative journalism and supporting the institute to continue doing the work of capacity building,mentorship,litigation, and giving grants to the young investigative journalists as a deliberate effort to build the next generation of investigative journalism . NSSF thanked the Executive Director of the Institute for making Uganda proud by winning the Komla Dumor BBC award of 2019 and continuing to raise Uganda’s journalism banner to the world .In the same regard, encouraged him to do more of the good investigations as well as mentoring and training more investigative journalists to shape society for the betterment of the country. The Executive Director as well noted that investigative journalism is the future of journalism and thus requires journalists that have received mentorship and training therefore highlighting the need for more resources towards the same cause. The African institute for Investigative journalism is an initiative by Solomon Serwanjja to provide a home to Investigative journalism on the African Continent and using investigative journalism as a tool of ensuring public accountability. The institute continues to call upon organizations in public, private and civil society to partner and handle a number of projects that include, investigative stories, and fellowships.


Ruparelia Foundation Donates Computers To Aiij

Ruparelia Foundation under the leadership of Sudhir Ruparelia, Jyostsna Ruparelia and Rajiv Ruparelia have donated 9 computers to the African Institute for Investigative Journalism. They believe that for investigative journalism to thrive in Africa, it requires an entire team behind it, therefore the donation came in as part of the Corporate Social Responsibility plan to allow the center easily facilitate the process of investigative story telling. Investigative journalism is a form of journalism in which reporters go in-depth to investigate a single story that may uncover corruption, review government policies or of corporate houses or draw attention to social, Economic, political or cultural trends as well as loopholes in the legislation. With the vision to create positive and transformative change in community, the Ruparelia Foundation for the past seven years has worked together with several people championing positive change in communities across Uganda. The principle of Kampala Parents school Daphine Kato said “We believe in a society that is inclusive with the ills in society exposed thus drawing to the attention of the policy makers to do the needful” thus highlighting the importance of the wonderful work done by the institute. The ceremony took place 1st September 2020 at Kampala Parents School which was attended by different stakeholders. The African institute for Investigative journalism is an initiative by Solomon Serwanjja to provide a home to Investigative journalism on the African Continent and using investigative journalism as a tool of ensuring public accountability. The institute continues to call upon organizations in public, private and civil society to partner and handle a number of projects that include, investigative stories, and fellowships


Anas Anas Speaks To AIIJ

As the world comes to terms with the novel COVID19, that has ravaged economies across the globe, the opposite has been true to some people especially in African countries as it has provided an opportunity to others to make money against the will of the people. Billions of monies have been committed to the fight against the pandemic for example a total of 300 US dollars was approved by the board world bank to Uganda, 491.5million us dollars by the IMF and the supplementary budget that was passed at the eve of the pandemic in Uganda.

A 2020 February report released by the world bank indicates whenever money is given to the low developing countries, a significant amount of money is stealthily channeled out to private offshore accounts in tax havens. But also, the corruption perception index of LDCs (Low Developing Countries) suggests that there is high level of corruption especially whenever money seems to be available in plenty, though stealing of public resources happens still happens with scarcity. So, the bigger the amount available, the bigger the amounts stolen and vice versa.

Anas Aremayaw Anas is a celebrated undercover journalist with the BBC Africa Eye with tumultuous experience and knowledge of the wider field in which such timorous acts of bribery, corruption, theft, murder among others happen. His work has caused a lot of positive change in the West Africa and beyond however much it puts his life on the line and thus staying in the shadows for all investigations.

This Friday 31th of July, at midday he speaks to the African Institute for Investigative Journalism on the role of Investigative journalism in ensuring Accountability in Africa given banking on his experience and referent power on the global investigative journalism scene. Solomon Serwanjja, will moderate the online discussion that is expected to bring to life crucial journalism coverage observations from across the continent, abut also shine a light on practical ways investigative journalists can cover stories related to the money channeled towards the fight against the pandemic.

This will be episode two of the webinar series that the Institute holds to have knowledge shared by the different journalists on how to cover stories that are in public interest as exposing of the Quaks and Thieves  would deter and reverse the appetite for theft of public funds geared towards the fight against the pandemic something that is so emblematic of the status quo.

Join the discussion across all our social media platforms as we will be streaming live on face book @AfricanIIJ, and YouTube.


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.