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Exhibit 1510: Silence on Museveni role in Patrick Ho bribery is a damning indictment on Ugandan media

The government has pretended that its head Yoweri Museveni was not displayed as a cheap exhibit before a US jury. No statement and no no summons for US ambassador to explaining how the US debased a Fountain of Honour. But matters are not helped by the media keeping quiet.

COMMENTARY | JACOBS O. SEAMAN

CORRUPTION | Not long ago, Ugandan media milked corruption scandals involving senior government officials with the crunching vigor of a sugar mill squeezing juice out of sugarcane.

But today Amama Mbabazi is probably wondering where the energy local media and Ugandans put in demanding for his head in the guillotine during the oil kickback scandal has gone to.

Sendo Cleaners

Justifiably so.

Last week, a federal jury in New York found Patrick Ho Chi-ping guilty of offering millions of dollars in bribes to African leaders, including President Museveni and his foreign minister Sam Kutesa.

The US federal jury heard that Kutesa received $500,000 (about Shs2 billion) wired from a New York-bank to an account in Uganda for a fake charity, and that Ho also gave a gift ($500,000 too) to President Museveni during his 2016 swearing in ceremony.

Before the federal jury in November, pictures of President Museveni and Sam Kutesa were displayed on a giant projector monitor. Exhibit 1510 and Exhibit 1504, they were branded, for a witness in the dock to identify. And it was a positive identification.

Back in Kampala, President Museveni shamelessly announced that he had spoken to Kutesa about the bribe. His minister, he said, had not denied receiving the money, but that had claimed it was a donation to a charity.

Kutesa is Exhibit 1504. Museveni doesn’t address the issue of Exhibit 1510. Himself. It’s almost as if he is not cited in the bribery scandal, as if his image wasn’t on display. And the media has gone to the beach — partying with their heads in the sand.

This is arguably the biggest corruption scandal that should have seen headlines running for days and weeks into months, that should have seen tough queries and several editorial columns, that should have seen Museveni at least pushed to deny the claims against him…

… and yes, that should have seen the government summon US ambassador to explain why the picture of the Fountain of Honour was displayed in such a disparaging manner before the US federal jury.

Is it because the docket responsible for such a summons is held by the very minister reduced to an exhibit in a US court? Or perhaps for the obvious — guilt? Couldn’t the government at least release a statement through Uganda Media Centre denouncing the manner in which the head of state was levelled before a US jury?

And so the focus is on Kutesa, a minister who, where others live by the sword and die by the sword, lives by corruption scandal and is not about to die by corruption scandal. In fact, if there was a customised toothpaste, Kutesa could as well be using one branded “Corruption Scandal” — for his breath is all about that.

Addressing mourners at the burial of Celinah Murumba in Rubanda, on Thursday, Dr Kizza Besigye questioned Ugandans for not demanding answers of the government and Museveni in particular, for his role in the bribery scandal.

The Opposition leader indicated that Ho, a former minister in Hong Kong, was accused of bribing the two relatives (Museveni and Kutesa), ostensibly to gain business advantage in Uganda, yet the media has chosen to ignore this fact and focus on Kutesa alone.

Only Sam Kutesa, Besigye’s aide Ronald Muhinda added, is accused of bribery. When was the other exonerated? Who exonerated Exhibit 1510? he asked.

In a way, local media is almost complicit in the corruption scandal having abandoned its role on the issue of accountability. Unless the jury got it wrong, a guilty Ho means a guilty Kutesa and Museveni.

So why is the media at the beach trying to prove that sand it better than print ink?

Many who have critically observed the local media behaviour over the last four years will tell you they have noticed deliberate change in the coverage of governance, accountability and the rule of law. It is not a kind of pattern driven by the times, but rather enforced by the State.

Originally, the plan was against the Opposition, more specifically, Dr Besigye and FDC party. There was a time Museveni invested a lot of energy in the security of Ugandans. But that changed with the emergence and challenge of Dr Besigye. He has since invested considerable time and resources in “finishing” his erstwhile comrade.

After the heat of the 2011 Walk to Work protests and the wild media coverage of the same, Museveni’s government envisaged that the best way to smother Besigye without using energy to hold the pillow over his head was to turn the media against him. From intimidation of journalists who hovered around Besigye 24/7 to cover every developing story on him, to buying them out, Museveni has not left anything to chance.

Several journalists have received and continue to receive handouts. Initially, these looked normal. But a man who keeps laughing while eating will soon realise that it is not good for food to fall off the mouth at the dining table. Then they shut up. And once they shut up, they begin to see and hear things with the eyes and ears of the one feeding them.

As they enjoyed the handouts with bated silence, a couple of others — the more influential lot in editing and talk show sie of the media business — became privileged enough to further their studies on bursaries secretly paid for by the venerable State House.

Slowly, what was initially a project to ignore Besigye has found itself in the grand scale of things. Museveni couldn’t have been happier to kill several birds with just a single sling toss of buttered crumbs.

If you indebted to the State against a political party, what guarantee is there that you will raise serious issues of accountability against the benefactor? Sam Kutesa is just Museveni’s in-law. Besides, someone had to be the fall guy, even if just for carrying the cross for a while until the taxpayer has been starved of critical news on the matter and has forgotten.

On March 14, 2019, Patrick Ho, guilty of bribing Exhibit 1510 and Exhibit 1504, will be handed down his sentence. And jailed. In Uganda, two of those Ho is guilty of bribing will be plotting how to raise funds for the presidential election 21 months away.

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