The year 2009 shall be best remembered as the ‘Black Year’ in the media fraternity in Uganda and the reasons for this have always been certain.
The last time I spoke with the Weekly Message´s ‘Hardthought’ Columnist and also Voice of Africa and Voice of Teso radio penalist Ebokorait Okile, was a day in April, after the Chieftainship of Military Intelligence (CMI) squad led by the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID)`s head of Media and Political Department Charles Kataratambi waylaid the Independent Publication`s managing Editor Andrew Mwenda.
The CMI waited for Mwenda a few meters from his Kololo home and and arrested him in a style that sent a new message to the media fraternity in Uganda.
Firstly, mwenda´s Persuers did not wait for him at his office to carry out the arrest but instead did it outside Mwenda´s area of normal duty.
They then stoped Mwenda, pointed a gun at him, handcuffed and forced him back into his house and searched the house like a bomb had been planted in there and was about to explode. All they wanted was one single journalist, the news Editor, Mose Okile Ebokorait.
The Libyan diplomats who work with the wealthy World Islamic Call Society in the same offices and who are the official sponsors of the Weekly Message and it´s sister radio station, Voice Of Africa pleaded with the CMI but to no point.
Instead, the CMI threatened to arrest the Libyans. The search for Ebokorait was such a brutal one that it earned the Publication´s then Editor in Chief, Anas Kwerinda, a physical assault. Much as the CMI at first claimed they were searching for ‘Seditious Material’, Kwerinda later told the press that the, military personal were much more interested in an individual than the alleged seditious material.
It was also so fortunate for Ebokorait that he was out of office on a honeymoon. Other reports suggested he was upcountry in his mother region of Teso where he conducts regular political radio talk-shows while others said he was already out of the country to England for a refresher program.
However, There was a lot behind this assault that the media did not report. The journalist who is also the Director of a local Pan African NGO is a close friend to Mwenda.
On that fatefull day of may 28th the CMI, headed by one Joash Mugisha as believed by the Message staff, during the arrest threatened to shoot Kwerinda if he did not produce the wanted journalist. It was so strange that they did not arrest Kwerinda who was head of the publications and instead destroyed PCs and file and beat up a few staff.
But prior to the assult on the Weekly Message, the Pan-African movement headed by Ebokorait was heavily involved in conference in support of President Omar Al Bashir of the Sudan which too place in Kampala. Ebokorait was also part of the group that was funded by the Libyan government to hold a huge African cultural leaders´ meeting in Kampala. The meeting, meant to discuss the African Union government never took place because the NRM sought it unconstitutional.
The end result was a serious fall out between President Muamar Gadafi and President Yoweri Museveni. This is believed to be the real cause of Ebokorait´s problems with the Kampala establishment despite his usual intellectual verbal jabs at the NRM corruption and bad rule.
His case was turned a high profile case because of the alleged 300 Million Shillings the Pan-african NGO allegedly received from Libya to conduct the conference.
So many hands had interest in the money perhaps, yet it is not even clear if this was the real amount. Then the bigger part of it is believed to be the defence the former Muslim Newspaper Editor always put up for Gadhafi who happens to fund the Weekly Message. Ofcourse that is expected of any one but perhaps it had gone to a higher level.
Ebokorait was believed to be a personal friend to the Libyan Ambassodor Abdallah Bujeldain and was in his company throughout the media (Red Pepper)´s attack on Gadafi´s personality.
The Journalist also defended Gadafi last year after the Libyan leader make remarks in Kampala that the Bible had been forged, promoting public outcry.
During the court sessions in which the Libyan Ambassador sued the Red Pepper, Ebokorait wrote defending articles and also accused President Museveni of silence.
The move promoted the Minister of Information Ali Kivenjinja to personally attack the journalist and request him to chose between Museveni and Gadhafi for President. Kivejinja also threatened that the journalist would be relieved of his job how? We have now known.
The NRM´s Ofono Opondo also at one time during a radio talk show alleged that Ebokorait had become Gadafi´s new money bag.
The whole story of Ebokorait´s sudden disappearance from the media scene in Uganda remains more of a mystery while the media fraternity point fingers at government´s usual suppression of the independent minded journalists.
It is also a continued blue print that the media is not free in Uganda and it will not be so long as the NRM is not willing to curry out a real media reform. Threatening, detaining, and intimidating of journalist is taking a new twist in that journalists ought to be careful especially when it comes to dealing with the state.
In early 2000, The Monitor´s Charles Onyango Obo was silently forced out the Momitor for his criticism of the NRM and Museveni. Then in 2008, Mwenda too was forced out of the Monitor and Ebokorait was forced out as was promised by Ali Kivejinja and we have many others including Daniel Kalinaki who have lost their jobs in the past in a similar manner. Many journalist were threatened during the Mbabazi NSSF sage.
It is a subtle way government does to silence journalists or supress the freedom of speech in Uganda. However, more cases of a kind are likely to happen as we move towards the elections and all the Uganda Free media advises journalist is to BEWARE! Report to us any cases of intimidation or harassment and we could be in position to help.