Business, Finance & Economics

Uganda writer arrested for book on Museveni

Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni has shown that he is not tolerant of challengers and critics. Here Museveni arrives at the African Union Peace and Security Council meeting on Libya in Addis Ababa, on August 26, 2011.
Credit: Simon Maina

Want to know what is going on in Uganda? Ask a Ugandan journalist.

President Yoweri Museveni, in power for more than 25 years, was once hailed as one of Africa's new progressive leaders for bringing peace and stability to Uganda after it had suffered bloody civil strife in which hundreds of thousands died.

But now Museveni is looking like an African strongman who wants to stay in power as long as possible and the country is suffering from creeping corruption and repression.

Ugandan journalist Jackee Budesta Batanda has written a sharp piece in the Boston Globe about how the Museveni government arrested Vincent Nzaramba and held him in jail for five days on charges of inciting violence in his book, “People Power - Battle the Mighty General.’’ The book calls for Museveni to resign, demands the reinstatement of presidential term limits, which were lifted in 2005, and urges Ugandans to demand democratic change, in the line of the demonstrations of the Arab Spring. Nzaramba's book was seized by Ugandan authorities.

This is not first time that Museveni's government has restricted a book critical of the president. In late 2010, customs officials at Entebbe Airport impounded copies of “The Correct Line: Uganda under Museveni’’ by Olive Kobusingye, sister of Ugandan Forum for Democratic Change opposition leader Kizza Besigye. The authorities claimed the book was a security threat.

In her article in the Boston Globe, Batanda writes that the confiscation of books shows just how vulnerable to criticism Museveni has become. "Sadly this is a familiar story in Africa, where liberators often turn into the very dictators they claimed to have ousted from power," writes Batanda, who is the the 2011-2012 IWMF Elizabeth Neuffer Fellow at the Center for International Studies at MIT.

Batanda says it is not books that Museveni should worry about, but protesters in the streets. 

"Few Ugandans read, and the ones who read are not participating in the recent mass protests in Uganda," writes Batanda. "Readers tend to stay in the safety of their homes, watch from the periphery and wait for the violence to end.

Earlier this year Kampala was rocked by protests and the people in the streets are not the book readers, according to Batanda. She says the demonstrators are people who are "disenfranchised socially, politically, and economically, and therefore form good fodder for riots."

"This class is not reading books. It is listening to radio. After the 2011 presidential elections, political analysts in Uganda expressed fears that the next five years would see a Museveni less tolerant of criticism who would move to clamp down on media freedoms and spaces. The arrest of Nzaramba affirms these fears."

I met Jackee recently and found that she is a commited and articulate journalist who wants the best for her country.

Africa's democracies need freedom of the press to hold governments and leaders accountable. Jackee Batanda is one of those determined journalists working to get democracy to thrive across the continent.

You can follow Jackee on Twitter @jackeebatanda.  

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