First off, this is not meant to pull down anyone or water down anyone’s efforts, rather, it is a professional debate to improve our craft as journalists.
Let me begin by congratulating NBS’ Canary Mugume for scoring such a high-profile interview at the dawn of his journalism career. Not many journalists get a one-on-one interview with a head of state. I could be wrong, but it must have taken some effort from Canary himself, considering he knows some people like veteran journalist Andrew Mwenda, Pastor Kayanja and others who have close proximity with the president.
Now, some people have praised his interview but beg to say “it was okay.” Canary’s tone of voice was very muted. Some could say he was calm, but I say he was overwhelmed and his voice showed too much admiration, awe and respect for his subject. When someone agrees to be interviewed by you, he has put himself on your level or put you on his level, so the best you can do is breath in, breath out, and get on with it. Quoting a proverb in one of Chinua Achebe’s novels, “When a child washes his hands, he can eat with elders.”
It was this muted tone of voice of the interviewer that gave us one of the dullest Museveni interviews ever. We all know Museveni as a charming and comical orator. If you interview Museveni and he can’t laugh or get you laughing, then you have failed to get to his element. A good interview lets the subject get into their element. Even a heated interview or exchange between Bobi Wine and Museveni would get the two laughing at some point. Humour is one of Museveni’s biggest attributes.
Well, maybe the tone of voice was because of the Covid mask, who knows, but I dare say, Canary was mesmerized by the opportunity he got hence his meek interview.
Secondly, and most importantly, a good interviewer gets answers as opposed to just asking questions. Canary asked the right questions. They were very good questions, some probably put together by his senior journalists at NBS, but what Canary did was simply read his questions. A good interviewer should be able to rephrase questions, ask new questions, probe further if his subject is proving evasive or cagy.
Case in point is the succession question. Canary asked; “Mr President, do you have a succession plan?” Museveni answered; “Succession plan is in the constitution. You vote every five years.” Canary went on to the next question earlier written on his piece of paper. A seasoned interviewer is supposed to probe further. That is the topic Ugandans are interested in. Everyone wants to know about what’s in Museveni’s mind on this topic. You owe it to the nation and your viewership to probe further. That’s why they are watching anyway.
Therefore (like Museveni loves to say every few minutes during his speeches), therefore, you are supposed to literally dig deeper. Questions like;
“Do you envision or ever think of a time when you will no longer be president of this country?”
“Does it cross your mind that you can hand over power someone else?”
“If succession is about voting every five years, do you ever think of a time when you are alive and not on the ballot paper?”
“Also, considering most of your elections have been disputed, just like you disputed the 1980 elections and went to the bush, deep inside your heart, do you think you are ruling by the will of the people or your own will power, or your own will and power?” ……. I’m sure you have heard the mockery former EC Chairman Engineer Badru Kiggundu had to endure after the previous election where some people nicknamed him Cheatggundu …..
“Where do you see Uganda after Museveni as a president?”
“Is there an individual you think is fit enough to be president of this country other than you?”
“Mr President. I was born when you had ruled for several years, and during those years, I have gone through school and become a professional journalist. Do you think I’m unfair to you when I say you have ruled long enough and it is time for someone to succeed you?”
Of course, to the above question, he will still refer to the constitution, which will force you to ask, “Mr President, unlike the Bible which hasn’t been changed in thousands of years, your 1995 Constitution has been changed several times and you were the sole beneficiary. Case in point was the lifting of the two Presidential term limits and the 75-year age limit that caused a physical fight in Parliament. Do you think Ugandans believe you when you quote a fluid Constitution that is changed night and day to your sole benefit when the issue of succession comes up????????”
Of course, Museveni has done hundreds of interviews even very tough ones and can maneuver through them, but you have been given the opportunity. Ask them!!!
It is a good thing when you have a presidential interview on your CV, but it not a good thing when you can only speak about your interview but not the substance of your interview!!!
Good thing for Canary is that there is a lot of room for improvement of his skills. If the journalist was Mzee’s agemate, it would be a different story all together.
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