Uganda’s Covert Censorship

Letter from Kampala

May 22, 2012. Adriane Ohanesian / Reuters

In July 2015, Ronald (who asked not to disclose his real name), the host of a political and public affairs radio program in Uganda, invited perennial opposition candidate Kizza Besigye to his show to discuss yet another presidential bid against long-standing leader Yoweri Museveni. That summer, talk of Uganda’s upcoming February elections was beginning to make airwaves.

But when Besigye showed up at the studio, Ronald’s bosses rebuked him for the invitation. “I told them I didn’t know that I was supposed to seek permission to let him in the studios,” Ronald said. “And that’s when everything went wrong.”

According to Ronald, the station’s owners switched the station off for about half an hour so that he couldn’t go on the air and then suspended him for about a month for “insubordination.” He resumed his work, but not without constant reminders of where his loyalties should lie—the posters of prominent candidates from the country’s ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party were plastered on the walls of the recording studio. Among them were Museveni and another local member of Parliament, Moses Grace Balyeku, who is also a co-owner of the radio station.

Starting on election day, the government blocked Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and mobile money services for three days “because some people misuse those pathways for telling lies,” as Museveni had justified at the time. In the end, Museveni won about 60 percent of the vote, according to Uganda’s electoral commission, seizing a fifth term as president. And yet, after voting results were announced and he accused the elections of being rigged, Besigye was jailed multiple times. Journalists who tried to cover his arrests were detained themselves. One journalist even ended up filming her own arrest as she reported from Besigye’s house on live television. Ahead of Museveni’s swearing-in ceremony in May, the government’s information minister, Jim Muhwezi, announced a ban on live media coverage of the opposition’s activities. Social media

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