In his famous resignation letter from Daily Monitor that later caught international attention, Andrew Mwenda, explains how he saw president Yoweri Museveni back then.
THE FAMOUS ANDREW MWENDA RESIGNATION LETTER:
The Managing Director
Monitor Publications Ltd
Dear Mr. Tom Mushindi
This is to formally inform you that I have decided to resign from being a Political Editor of Daily Monitor newspaper and from being a radio talk-show host on KFM. I have considered your request to return to Monitor and decided against it.
I have also considered your request that I at least resume writing my Sunday column and again decided that I should take more time before I accept to do so. Since I have been on unpaid leave from Monitor for a long while now, I would like my resignation to take immediate effect.
I have worked at Monitor since January 1994; first as a student intern during my first year as a student of journalism at Makerere University and since September 1996 as a full time employee. In fact, I am currently the longest serving journalist at the newspaper. During this period, I served Monitor with dedication and integrity.
Almost every year of my work at Monitor, I won a certificate of excellence. I broke the biggest stories in the country, hosted the greatest names on radio, and in many cases even attracted the largest advertisements.
Monitor readers and KFM listeners responded generously to my articles and radio shows because I upheld our core values of independence, truth, accuracy, courage, and balance.
Monitor was for me more than a workplace. It was more importantly an institution that embodied the values that I cherish dearly – freedom, liberty, independence, and professional journalism.
The founders of Monitor did not begin the newspaper for money. They did so to create a platform through which Ugandans could freely and openly debate public issues. This attracted me to Monitor.
Over the years, Monitor faced many threats from the state as a business. However, at no one time did the founders sacrifice its core values and heritage to safeguard it as a business.
In fact, many of us suffered state harassment, went to jail, and spent years in court on criminal trials for defending free expression in Uganda. Right now I am personally facing 15 criminal charges for expressing myself freely.
It is our firm stand in defence of liberty that inspired many people and brought us readers and listeners. These gave us revenue and attracted advertisers which made the company successful as a business.
By placing our core values above commercial concerns, we created a public space that many Ugandans, many of them in high government offices, came to value dearly.
However, during my fellowship year at Stanford University, I was saddened to learn that the major shareholder, Mr. Karim Al-Hussaini (commonly known as The Aga Khan) unilaterally suspended my articles from being published in Daily and Sunday Monitor.
Although the board of directors revoked the decision, I am not convinced that Monitor can regain its independence. I have consulted widely and thought deeply about Mr. Al-Hussaini’s arbitrary directive and reached a conclusion that the editorial environment at Monitor is no longer conducive to free and unfettered debate of public issues in the country especially the presidency.
The interference of the major shareholder in the editorial details of the newspaper is a tragic development. This is especially so because of his other business interests in the country.
He has increasingly undermined the paper’s editorial independence and its contribution to democracy and accountability in our country.
I have been informed by journalists and editors that they are not allowed to write stories critical of the president and his family. The air in the editorial rooms is suffocating. I hold the values of independence from the state so dearly that I cannot work in such an environment.
In sending his directive, Mr. Al-Hussaini was abusing his powers as a major shareholder. Media shareholders are not supposed to deliberately undermine the professional independence of media organisations.
Mr. Al-Hussaini can only do this in Africa because somehow, anyone who is anything on our continent tends to act with impunity. A president steals from and kills his own citizens.
An investor makes decisions about the company and disregards shareholders, employees and the values and the heritage of the organisation.
That has been the persistent message of disillusionment on our continent! I have done some consultations and learnt that Mr. Hussaini did not consult other shareholders in both Nation Media Group and in Monitor Publications Limited – who actually hold the majority shares in both companies – before sending his directive. He did not even consult the board of directors of NMG in Nairobi, nor of MPL in Kampala.
This arbitrary use of power is symptomatic of the way Mr. Museveni has been ruling Uganda and what I have been critical of. Does Mr. Al Hussaini think that only his interests matter and those of other shareholders don’t? Does he think that MPL employees are not stakeholders in the company – even if they are not shareholders?
Doesn’t he consider the aspirations of the Ugandan people? Africa has seen many investors” who traded blood diamonds, gold, Colton, oil etc as the countries in which they made huge profits collapsed under the weight of ethnic strife, civil war and abject poverty. I hope that Mr. Al-Hussaini has taken lessons from that experience.
I have also learnt that the instructions from Paris are that Monitor should desist from writing about the first family. I have been reliably informed that Mr. Museveni had a meeting with Mr. Al-Hussaini and another with the executives of Nation from Nairobi.
In both meetings, Mr. Museveni showed them an article I had written before leaving for Stanford titled “Isn’t the first family fleecing us?”
The article laid bare incontrovertible evidence on how the state in Uganda has been turned into a private estate of Mr. Museveni.
I am reliably informed that Mr. Museveni requested both Mr. Al-Hussaini and the Nation executives not only to stop my articles from being published in Daily Monitor, but for me to be fired from the company.
Sometime in 2006, Mr. Museveni addressed a meeting of the Central Executive Committee of his ruling party. He told them that he had defeated the opposition in Uganda and that both the FDC and Dr. Kizza Besigye were in disarray. Mr. Museveni then said the only remaining opposition is Andrew Mwenda.
“He is the only one who uses facts and figures to challenge our policies and programs in the newspapers and on his radio show. How can this one boy hold us at ransom?”
Museveni challenged his party colleagues. He then promised that if the NRM cannot challenge me intellectually, he will seek to silence me from the Ugandan public debate.
These developments are important. They should have been sufficient evidence that in the absence of a strong opposition political party, Monitor provides the most effective public forum through which alternative ideas, policies, and programs can be debated in our country.
But it also shows that Monitor needs to be bolder; to pry more into the activities of Mr. Museveni in his efforts to personalise the state. Instead, Monitor is being forced by one shareholder to cover-up the decay taking place in our country.
In return, the major shareholder is given more investment deals in Uganda. I am a citizen of Uganda, not a mercenary.
I therefore cannot betray the future of my country in order to retain the privilege of working or writing for Monitor. The future of Uganda is more than anything that money can buy.
Mr. Museveni has always employed blackmail to get his way. He has severally threatened to close Monitor in order to force the paper to lose its editorial independence.
He closed Nation TV for two months in order to force Mr. Al Hussaini to clump down on Monitor’s independence.
While I respect the interest of Mr. Al-Hussaini’s to increase his investment in Uganda, I despise his attempts to do so at the expense of freedom, liberty and democracy in our country.
Indeed, only a democratic dispensation can guarantee the security of his property rights in Uganda. Succumbing to blackmail only makes him more vulnerable to more blackmail not only in Uganda, but the East African region.
For example, what will happen if Daily Nation in Kenya publishes an article unfavourable about Mr. Museveni? Won’t Mr. Museveni threaten to close Monitor or KFM or Nation TV in Uganda in order to force Mr. Al-Hussaini to clump down on Nation in Kenya? Totalitarian control does not come in a gallop, but in a creep.
Before long, Mr. Museveni may be encouraged to employ his blackmail to influence the media coverage of presidential and parliamentary elections in Tanzania and Kenya. Mr. Al-Hussaini is setting a dangerous precedent in our region. Indeed, his business interests and monopoly of the media in this region may threaten our emerging democracies.
When I visited Monitor, the air in the newsroom and other editorial rooms smelt terrible. Reporters are afraid to write stories because they are unsure of the consequences.
A previously proud, ambitious and highly intelligent crop of independent journalists have been intimidated into acquiescing to the machinations of an illegitimate regime.
A thriving and independent media house has been turned into a supplicant of a corrupt, tribal, and nepotistic dictatorship.
Because Monitor has succumbed to bribes and intimidation from the state, it is no longer the institution I was once proud to serve. It has lost its soul. It has betrayed its readers and listeners.
It has betrayed Uganda. It has betrayed Africa. It has betrayed the cause of liberty and freedom. It has betrayed humankind.
I cannot be an accomplice to this death of a dream whether because of state intimidation or of sweet heart business deals between the chief of state and the major shareholder.
To do so would be identical to the action of Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.
As you take on this challenging job, I would advise you to seriously consider your own position at Monitor. You are a highly respected journalist with international credibility.
It will be tragic if you go down in history as the man who presided over the adulteration of an independent newspaper in Uganda that was setting an example for the rest of Africa.
It will also be tragic when you fall like many other Africans, especially the politicians, who have sacrificed the future of this continent at the Alter of a job.
I feel very proud of the contribution Monitor has made to Uganda’s faltering democracy. I also feel proud of my contribution to Uganda through Monitor. Monitor made me who I am, and it will remain a cherished institution in my heart. I thus leave Monitor not with any bitterness, but with a lot of pride in what we stood for.
But I also leave with a lot of disappointment. It is tragic that the business interests of one person – the major shareholder – have so gravely trampled the interests of all other shareholders and the aspirations of the people of Uganda for freedom and accountability.
I wish Monitor good luck and hope that it will find the wherewithal to rehabilitate its damaged reputation in the hearts of the people of Uganda. I hope that you will be able to convene a joint meeting of the board of NMG and MPL to discuss the increasing interference of the major shareholder in the editorial work of monitor.
As for me, I can never betray the cause of liberty. Liberty is an ideal for which I am willing to live for, work for to see strengthened and if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
Andrew M. Mwenda
- Linus Gitahi NMG CEO
- Wangethi Mwangi, NMG ED
- Martha Elimu, HR Manager
- HR , NMG
- Peter Kimanthi, FC
- Joachim Buwembo, ME
- Peter Kaba, Radio Manager
- MPL Board
- NMG Board