No one remembers when the government last barred written matter, especially books, from entering the country. That is how rare these things happen, even in less-than-ideal free speech environments such as Uganda. And when they do, they create a buzz much more so in our wired and connected world.
Online debate, especially on social networks such as Facebook, has been raging since news broke in the Sunday Monitor newspaper of the customs officials’ refusal to release 500 copies of a book critical of President Museveni’s quarter-century hold on power. Predictably, the debate is as much about how outraged Ugandans are as it is about their keen interest in getting a copy of the book titled: The Correct Line? Uganda Under Museveni.
The government has unwittingly scored two own goals: alienated some more Ugandans, and also turned book and author into overnight hot property by giving them international publicity that they would not have enjoyed just yet had the book come in quietly. On “Ugandans at Heart”, a popular listserv, several Ugandans abroad are providing excerpts of the book while also telling those interested and able to buy it online at Amazon.
Customs authorities at Entebbe International Airport impounded the book as it arrived by courier from its publisher in London on Wednesday, October 6. Its author Olive Kobusingye, a medical doctor and sister of Dr Kizza Besigye who has twice challenged President Museveni for power, told the BBC that the book documents the bad experiences many Ugandans have been through since 1986.
Speaking before Parliament on Wednesday, October 13, Internal Affairs Minister Kirunda Kivejinja said the book was seized because it contained “security connotations.”
He said; “You see, we are very alert these days on matters of security.”
An editorial in the Daily Monitor newspaper has called on the government to accept criticism “regardless of whether Dr Kobusingye’s opinion is pleasing to those in power or not”. Added the editorial: “The government has a responsibility to protect and promote free thinking and expression through works of art, like this book.”
President Museveni and Dr Besigye will again faceoff in the 2011 presidential elections.
The launch of the book which was scheduled for the evening of October 13 in Kampala was cancelled after a major hotel that was to host the event backed off reportedly following pressure from the government. A leading bookstore that had initially indicated willingness to stock copies of the book chickened out as well.