Sizzling: When Rwabwogo told Mwenda to grow up


Odrek Rwabwogo addresses people in Mbarara recently. PHOTO BY Colleb Mugume/ Daily Monitor

Digging up the archives seems to help us tell where we are coming from and where we are going, or, for some people, why individuals are changing personalities like the famous reptile, a Chameleon.

Today, we uncovered a letter Queen Elizabeth wrote to former Ugandan president Idi Amin…hope you liked it.

Now, let us unveil a sizzling dossier the first son-in-law, Odrek Rwabwogo, penned in New Vision (2006) after then Daily Monitor Editor, Andrew Mwenda, accused the first family of “fleecing Ugandans”.

Part of Mwenda’s missile: Isn’t the First Family Fleecing Us?

Aug 19, 2006 (The Monitor) — This is the last column I am writing. I leave the country early next week for Stanford University in the United States where I will be a research fellow for one year.

I leave at a sad time when there is increasing personalisation of the State in Uganda by President Yoweri Museveni.

To understand this process is to study the trends in the budget of State House, which is the residence of the President and which is also his private office.

In Uganda’s budget, State House has its own vote. The official office of the president is called “Office of the President.” It too has a vote. This financial year, the budget for State House is Shs48 billion, Office of the President, Shs40 billion.

This gives the presidency a budget of Shs88 billion, ten times the size of the recurrent budget of the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (Shs9.6 billion), a sector that contributes 34 percent of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employs 73 percent of Uganda’s citizens…(Monitor never archived the whole article).

Rwabwogo writes back in New Vision: Publish Date: Sep 03, 2006

My attention has been drawn to an article you (Andrew Mwenda) wrote in Sunday Monitor of August 20, 2006 under the headline: “Isn’t the First Family fleecing us?”

The article reminded me about your paper’s faulty foundation, its narrow minded leadership and lopsided purpose for existence which in turn has led to your apparent negative contribution to the ethics of journalism in Uganda. This is a sad tale of the debasing of our media’s professional standards.

In 1993, in my last undergraduate year at the university, I was called for an interview for the position of Administrative Officer at Uganda Think Tank Foundation, where I was an intern. This Foundation was led by Elly Karuhanga, Augustine Ruzindana, John Ndyabagye and your former editor, Wafula Oguttu.

I was later told by Karuhanga I had won but Oguttu who had been a panelist had told his colleagues that he would not have another Munyankole in the organisation. He preferred a fellow Easterner who had come second in the interview. I have been told that in politics, that might probably be a clever way of doing things but for me, I knew then that you could not have a head of a newspaper that claims high moral ground on profession and ethics, run by such a person who puts tribe before merit.

I knew it would end up where exactly your paper is today: a forum for partisan politics that promotes politicians cloaked in the garb of reporters and editors who under-serve and violate the profession of journalism. Something with a cracked foundation normally does not last.

One writer said, “Fame is a vapour, popularity an accident, riches take wings; Only one thing endures and that is character.” This is so in regard to an organisation. If your foundation is shaped by narrow minded politicians, you cannot be an objective newspaper.

This is the unadmitted quiet crisis of character your paper is undergoing. It is the reason you rejoice and thump your chests whenever the nation of your principal market, Uganda, has a problem either with itself like we have had with a war in the north, or skirmishes with our neighbours at the end of the 1990s.

Many times you act as if you are heartless, not knowing that when all chips are down, Uganda is where all of you belong “like a monkey laughing at a burning forest. You don’t seem to appreciate that even if you have a problem with President Museveni, governments come and go but a nation remains.

What I find flabbergasting is that in doing all this, you put on a facade of patriotism like the last national conference your paper organised, to show that you care about Uganda. In truth, you are trying to soothe your guilty conscience by making public relations stances.

I also find your paper mischievous and devoid of value. One of your colleagues approached our firm at the end of 2005, asking for advertising and public relations representation with government.

He told me he had gotten approval to approach us, from your top management. Your leadership has not the slightest remorse that your paper has been at the fore front of fighting our firm simply because me as an individual, in a firm of 20 people, has a relationship with President Museveni.

He didn’t care that what your paper had done affected many families of our employees and directors who have nothing to do with President Museveni. I guess he came to us not out of respect but wanted to use us for influence peddling, something that I see your paper claiming to abhor.

I guess you have the proverbial nine lives of a cat. It just shows that even the government you fight during the day, you make overtures for attention and benefit in the night. That behaviour is immoral.

In 2000, I met with you and Onyango-Obbo at Speke Hotel. I tried to raise these ethical and value judgment issues that bedevil your organisation. You told me: “Mr. Onyango-Obbo does not regard you highly”.

I did not understand that remark then but as I later found out, your group horned all your political tricks from Obbo and Oguttu whom you all regard as role models. I was surprised at how unprofessional you were but I believed then that it was a matter of age, you would outgrow that phase.

I was worried at the manner in which you were putting your faith in people whose cause is nothing other than political advocacy dressed in a journalism jacket. Six years later today, I see that you have learned nothing and forgotten nothing like the Bourbons in France who ruled the country before the French Revolution and sought power 40 years later to rule in a similar fashion. Instead you have thrown all caution to the wind and fully joined a group that is debasing journalism and reducing the role of media to political activism.

I see you have even shifted the centre of your political advocacy from the institution of government to individuals you perceive to be associated with anyone in government. The name for that kind of work is political witch hunt and not journalism.

Ten years of Oguttu and Obbo tutoring have produced a rabid and reckless politician, not a professional journalist that I thought you wanted to be. That, unfortunately, is the sad tale of many of the kids like you who feed us with garbage everyday on airwaves and in print and expect the nation to sit and listen.

The name for that is ‘crying-for-attention’ and not reporting. As you would expect, that is so straining for people who have other things to do and they just shut off the radios. I hear you once in a while on air in a shouting match with everybody, copying the style of show hosts on some international media right from the naming of your programme to how it is structured and I wonder what happened to originality and creativity in our media houses.

What makes you think that Ugandans really enjoy this arrogance born of a sense of some complex that you need to be heard? You have a highly inflated sense of self exaltation. I guess that is the reason you are a presenter, debater, judge and everything else on your talk show.

Someone needs to tell you that there is a different and better way things are done. It is the small things that are done by private citizens, who you lampoon with government and whose businesses your reportage seeks to kill, that build a nation, not the daily noise that pollutes air on radio.

Media houses like other businesses I suppose are founded on strong ethical and professional tenets for them to create an impact and establish respect from their clients. This is not to say that good journalism is about avoiding political analysis.

Good journalism, in my opinion, is about respecting the principle of balance and fairness for what you do as reporters and editors has a deep impact on people’s lives and relationships. Since in Africa people seem to eat and live politics, those of you who have an opportunity to analyse politics, need to be impartial and not divisive and anarchical, like the politicians you criticise.

Good journalism is about separating your opinions and perceptions from the facts of a story or a feature so you let your readers decide based on the information you have given them. Many times I have seen you and your colleagues’ allusions and inferences which are highly opinionated and meant to drive your readership to a certain conclusion, placed in the middle of stories with no explanation.

I have also seen stories regurgitated many times just because they are associated with some of your major advertisers and political sponsors. I have seen stories that seek to kill or curtail growth of certain businesses whose leaders you perceive as associated with government and you have no single comment from those businesses or their leaders.

I have also personally walked into your editors’ offices to clarify stories run without my comment and all you do is pick those comments that you judge important from your political stand point and re-write the previous day’s negative story as a backgrounder.

What is shameful is that all this is presented as “independent and truth everyday” to your readers. What is the difference between your paper and politicians who shoot their mouth off about other people just to catch attention? What is the difference between you, for example, and Betty Kamya who goes on air and says I introduced the television tax, when she clearly should know as an MP that a private citizen like me does not raise motions in Parliament?

If a paper is not in business to build a strong foundation for professionalism and ethical judgment of stories they run, they are gutter press and should be seen as nothing more than that.

In your article you claim that my shamba boy and my cook are all paid by the state and my wife drives a sh400m Mercedes Benz from government. I know you had your usual emotional overruns because if you had cross-checked this information with anyone you would never have printed it.

You even had no courtesy of calling me since you knew that this kind of story hurts my family. My wife drives a car which we got on hire purchase from Cooper Motors and have been paying from my salary since July 2004. I pay my cook too.

Mr. Mwenda, you need some sense of humility and to give people some respect if you want to be respected in life. We work in the same country like you and we wake up everyday to make our homes and nation better. We don’t deserve this kind of biased press.

Other than emotional imposition of yourself in the stories and features you run and your attempt to project yourself as knowledgeable on family matters of private citizens who you know nothing about,

I cannot see the basis for your wild, unprovoked and hateful allegations. You claim your effort to make these allegations up is not driven by hatred. These allegations are meant to cast my family and my colleagues in negative light as people who live off the sweat of other citizens and do nothing for a living.

Did you know that hatred manifests itself in one’s sub-conscious and they get entangled in it until it consumes them? If this is the contribution of you and your paper to professional growth of the media industry, I ask you to trade professions. You should campaign for a political office. You cannot continue to use your position in a forum that many private citizens don’t have, to tarnish the image of innocent people.

On several occasions I have called you and your colleagues to participate as trainers on some of the communication projects we do. Do you pretend that you do not know what I do for a living? Would you really think I need the state to pay my cook?

One of your colleagues, Mr. Timothy Kalyegira even signed up for a training consultancy at our company. For six months, he wasn’t able to produce a work-plan let alone show any results. When we terminated his services, I realised why your paper attracts your kind of writers. It is because many of you are unemployable and can only sell politics.

Selling politics, I guess requires a special skill because it is the only area where ‘experts’ don’t justify or quantify results. You have therefore perfected the art of spewing venom and you see nothing good in your country and you think this is the way all of us should see our world.

Whenever I hear all of you on radio advising the country and businesses on growth and development when I know the limited capacity and experience of many of you to stand for something, I weep for our industry.

I pray that the school you are going to will help you grow professionally. I also pray that our nation gets a better media industry and a group of professional media practitioners, who exercise restraint, are sensitive to the feelings of private citizens, report the truth and are fair and balanced. We cannot continue to have a press that is either for or against government. There is a higher role the media needs to play in helping Africa transit from poverty to self-sustenance.

God has been good to our nation. He will turn what you intended for bad into something good. May He give you a sense of maturity!


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