Letter from Kampala
In July 2015, Ronald (who asked not to disclose his real name), the host of a political and public affairs radio program in Uganda, invited perennial opposition candidate Kizza Besigye to his show to discuss yet another presidential bid against long-standing leader Yoweri Museveni. That summer, talk of Uganda’s upcoming February elections was beginning to make airwaves.
But when Besigye showed up at the studio, Ronald’s bosses rebuked him for the invitation. “I told them I didn’t know that I was supposed to seek permission to let him in the studios,” Ronald said. “And that’s when everything went wrong.”
According to Ronald, the station’s owners switched the station off for about half an hour so that he couldn’t go on the air and then suspended him for about a month for “insubordination.” He resumed his work, but not without constant reminders of where his loyalties should lie—the posters of prominent candidates from the country’s ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party were plastered on the walls of the recording studio…
…In Uganda, which is consistently ranked as “partly free” among global press freedom groups, journalists are given general free rein so long as their work does not undermine Museveni’s power, particularly during an election season. Of course, the reality is more complicated. The government uses less overt ways to repress free speech—through opaque media laws and financial pressure—making censorship more difficult to detect and to fix. A resulting environment of self-censorship exacerbates this reality.
This is an excerpt of the piece. The full report is available on the Foreign Affairs website.
Reporting for this story was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation African Great Lakes Reporting Initiative.
This piece was originally published on May 31, 2016, on Foreign Affairs.