Opinion | Response to Andrew Mwenda’s Uganda Election Diagnosis – Blame the Victim and the Messenger.

Posted April 17, 2016 by Ugandan Diaspora News Team in Opinion ~ 5,407 views



The ability of the Uganda government and journalists to define political narrative is gradually slipping out of their grasp which is evident in Andrew Mwenda’s desperate attempt to re-diagnose the tragedy of Uganda’s recently held elections. Mwenda sets out on a fishing expedition to justify the events that unfolded during the elections by systematically finding defects on the victim (opposition) while ambushing the messenger (social media).

Ugandans have in large numbers declared their independence from traditional media outlets and increasingly rely on social media. They are now able to receive raw data in real time and process it for themselves rather than depend on compromised enzymes to digest events on their behalf. It is ironic that Mwenda wages a war on social media which was the primary vessel for identifying election malpractice and incompetence of the Electoral Commission.

Andrew Mwenda’s article “How Museveni got 60% of the votes and Besigye won the election” was frankly an opening salvo for the case being made by the government to regulate, control and even shut down social media in Uganda. It was irresponsible journalism at work or to borrow a leaf from Mwenda’s philosophy, intellectual terrorism.

Andrew Mwenda lists a litany of symptoms that emanated from the social media disease. In fact he credits Besigye’s popularity on FDC‘s social media worker bees that fly and sting anyone with yellow petals. Mwenda appears to prefer a Uganda in which we trust the government and journalists to tell us the truth and provide a refined narrative on the state of our nation.

Social media while still in its infancy in Uganda has already had an impact by offering a platform for voiceless Ugandans and broken Mulago machines to be discovered and redeem the soul of our nation. Uganda is a country where a protest poster or gathering could land anyone behind bars depending on the mood of the police. News outlets and mainstream journalists have likewise often been harassed, intimidated and muzzled. Social media has eliminated the middle man and given the power back to the people.

Mwenda’s attack on social media offers a false choice by making the assumption that traditional media outlets would be more credible on a premise that the journey from collecting data towards publishing seeks the truth. However, he fails to acknowledge that media outlets including the Independent often have a spin zone with an agenda which could be as misleading as a case of Photoshop in social media. The New Vision is owned by the government and the editorial sieve often holds the facts to yield publications sympathetic to the Uganda Government.

Mwenda likewise overstates the ability of the opposition to master the social media landscape not only to mislead the public but to also create their own reality. I agree that in the era of open communication there cases of false information. However, it’s misleading to state that such occurrences were unique to the opposition in Uganda. There numerous documented cases of NRM propaganda and misinformation on social media during the campaign including a detailed design of the Kampala-Jinja express highway which did not only show traffic lanes counter to the driving patterns in Uganda but also displayed a photo of a highway from Poland. Uganda’s opposition doesn’t have a monopoly on social media misrepresentations as Mwenda suggests. It’s the abundance of rot in the Uganda government which goes viral whenever it comes out of the closet.

The most disturbing argument put forth by Mwenda feeds the narrative of dictatorship regimes that have embraced the tradition of shutting down social media during election cycles. The Orwellian state crack down on social media was coincidentally put to use in nations where Museveni and Nguesso of Congo wanted to extend their 30 and 32 years in power respectively. Mwenda argues that “Fake results can be announced even before closure of polling. Videos, photographs and documents showing rigging in progress can easily be manufactured to create a virtual reality of massive rigging. This would make it difficult to protect the integrity of the polling process.” Since social media is prevalent across the globe, why does it only threaten our elections in Uganda and not others?

The answer to this quagmire is the transformative effect social media has had in toppling dictatorships in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya among others. Social media has empowered people, provided leverage for citizens to hold leaders accountable and render governments more responsive. Social media has flashed a bright light in the dark crevices of rot that had been patched up with a Band-Aid. With social media, Ugandans no longer have to buy the truth. Besigye did not use social media to shape the public narrative. Social media for the first time was able to transfer Ugandans at the scene of injustice to be eye witnesses. The agitated bees are not only tired of collecting nectar from flowers with yellow petals, they are also demanding a new queen in the hive.

By Dr. Daniel Kawuma
Maryland (US)

About the Author

Ugandan Diaspora News Team

Ugandan Diaspora News Online is an independent, non political news portal primarily aimed at serving Ugandans who work and reside outside Uganda. Our aim is to be a one stop shop for everything Ugandan and the celebration of our Ugandan heritage.

One Comment

    Henry James

    The use of social media to gage perceptions is completely different from a choreographed attempt at creating perceptions to hoodwink Ugandans. The platform was equally used to correct the misimpressions propagated by Besigye’s “worker bees” to balance the equation. Ugandans are not gullible and can smell a rat on social media as was witnessed by how they voted leading to victory for NRM. That domain was and never will be the exclusive preserve of Besigye and you opposition in Diaspora.

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