By Ofwono Opondo
Government of Uganda takes exception over a litany of negative and non-factual or conjured accusations by the US Ambassador Deborah Malac made on the 3rd May 2017. Her condescending and rumbling statement exposed her bias as she sought to make Dr Stella Nyanzi the only subject of the press freedom day although Nyanzi doesn’t qualify as a media person, and this isn’t to suggest that her rights to free expression shouldn’t be respected within realms of Ugandan laws.
By focusing on Nyanzi, Ambassador Malac showed she has not bothered to understand the state of the media in Uganda. While giving her thoughts during the World Press Day, Ambassador Malac made over the board statements to the effect that the Uganda government suffocates freedom of expression and harassing those involved in the profession. Malac cited the case of Makerere University lecturer Dr Stella Nyanzi, who was arrested and charged before competent courts of law under the Computer Misuse Act 2011, calling her the champion of free speech. Misuse of computer and internet is a crime in Uganda, as well as many jurisdictions around the world.
Dr. Nyanzi is not being tried before a hastily established kangaroo court. She is before a gazzetted Court and all the due processes of the law are being followed. She is accessing her lawyers and enjoying the liberties entitled to any suspect in Uganda.
Foremost, Uganda has values and ethics that form and define our country which Ambassador Malac is at liberty to disagree with. These values were further formulated into laws by our Parliament and these need not be similar to those of the United States. As a sovereign country we legislate for our citizens according to our norms and not necessarily USA ideals or whims. I believe the US has its values and code of conduct that govern her citizens as well.
Though Uganda continues to uphold freedom of expression as guaranteed by our constitution, government shall apprehend and prosecute those involved in suspected criminal transgressions in all its forms. The Ambassador should note that her government to this day continues to pursue and hunt Edward Snowden and Julian Asange for alleged criminality inspite of their claims to protection under US freedom of expression laws. The two are currently in exile, Snowden in Russian, and Asange is holed up in the embassy of Ecuador in the UK for close to a decade now. They fear they cannot be afforded justice in USA. Clearly Snowden has found more freedom in Russia, which Ambassador Malac doesn’t find odd as she praises her America.
Uganda has value systems and it is these systems that define us. For example, can Ambassador Malac site at least one case in her America where a university lecturer like Nyanzi has undressed to nudity before her students as a form of civil protest?
For the record Uganda enjoys a great degree of media freedom and freedom of expression, and continues to build on earlier successes across all media and communication platforms.
Uganda hasn’t reached that level and is unlikely to pursue that a good model. We have over 300 radio stations, over 30 TV stations, over 20 print media and a vibrant social media.
All these have no form of censorship and are free to criticize and expose government excesses of all kinds. The courts of Uganda have also ruled that the media is free to tell untruths. Uganda government enjoys a robust and relatively good working relationship with media and we shall continue to nurture this relationship.
However we feel we have a duty to protect our citizens from criminal behavior that endanger our people under the guise of freedom of expression.
Ofwono Opondo is the executive director of Uganda Media Centre.