By Joachim Buwembo
Norbert Mao is probably the wittiest Ugandan politician of our times. A collection of his anecdotes could fill a reasonably sized booklet.
Some fifteen years ago, Mao described Uganda’s politics ‘kuma nyoko’. This vernacular term is the crudest insult imaginable and I shall not translate it here, much at it could reasonably describe our politics. Recently when President Museveni found it necessary to use the terrible expression, he found an easy-to-understand English translation: ‘your mother’s something-something’. I shall use the short form of the translated expression – yomososo.
In a separate occasion in the recent past, when Mao and Museveni bickered about who spoke better Luganda, Mao took a quick jab at Museveni’s Wealth for All campaign, Bonna Bagagawale. He mocked the drive, deliberately mistranslating it as bonna bagwagwawale or ‘let them all become idiots/imbeciles’. Clearly, Mao does not stop at identifying Uganda’s yomososo politics, but practices it as well.
Indications so far are that the campaigns for the 2016 elections will be nothing but yomososo. I wish I could be wrong on this. In case I am not, and I think I am not, journalists have no business covering such drivel.
This is not a call for self-censorship. Consider this: journalists do not cover what happens in Kampala’s motels at lunch time or the state of latrines in Bwaise and Kazo Angola out of respect for their audiences. For by not covering slum latrines, the media does not deny the citizens of Bwaise and Kazo the right to ease themselves. Denying yomososo politicians a right to coverage will not stop their activities; it will however show that the media holds audiences and real political issues in high regard.
But is it practical and justifiable for me to suggest that journalists avoid the yomososo politics of 2016? Yes. It is possible to do so. And it happened next just door.
When old man Moi was approaching the inevitable end of his rule in Kenya, having exhausted all the tricks in the book, his henchmen tried to come up with a plan for him to beat the presidential term limits. They advanced a theory that since the opposition had argued vehemently that Moi rigged past elections, those polls should be nullified and new ones held. This was some four years later after the last election, with barely a year left to the end of his final term. Since in Africa people who steal elections are allowed to stand for office even after court finds them guilty of the theft, Moi’s men expected him to vie again for an nth term.
What the media in Kenya did was deny the nonsensical proposal any space or airtime, and it died out. Had the media rushed to cover it, they would have legitimized the crazy debate. And once a debate starts, it can go either way and everybody should accept the outcome of the debate, having joined it freely. That ludicrous arguments by opportunistic yomososo politicians should never be debated in the first place, was the logic behind the Kenyan media black-out of the Moi re-election proposal. They sacrificed a few headlines for the sanity of their country.
Why do I fear that the journalist could descend into the yomososo politics of the 2016 elections? Well, it has already started happening. The first victim was the National Resistance Movement (NRM) in which the two biggest presidential aspirants, Amama Mbabazi and Yoweri Museveni, are members. When Amama made his declaration of intent via social media, one mainstream tabloid led with a headline “Museveni gamumyuse” (loosely translating that Museveni is running so scared that his eyes are bloodshot). To emphasize its claim, the newspaper photoshopped a Museveni picture, making his eyes blood red.
For journalists, this kind of sensationalism is quite sexy and an easy sell. Why should they not harvest such low hanging fruits? My answer is that it is all yomososo news and should not preoccupy our journalism. After all, social media is well poised to disseminate all of this and much more. In Uganda we have accepted that social media should be used to transmit both sense and nonsense. Let the nonsense remain on social media. Real journalists cannot out-social-media the social media on yomososo coverage and they should not even try to do so.
How then should journalists cover the 2016 election campaigns? I think the campaigns should only merit media attention if they are issue oriented. By issues, I mean real issues, not just routine administration. In my view, campaign issues should be about policy change geared towards transformation of the society.
When a female MP yells that the incumbent president should retain power because his main challenger is beholden to him, that is yomososo that should not receive space or airtime in mainstream media. When opposition MPs accuse the incumbent of wrecking the country without substantiating their claims, that is also yomososo and should not preoccupy journalists. A blackout on yomososo would not hurt the media. It would prevent the insinuation of their partisanship and raise the debate.
So how can the media cover the election campaigns without appearing oblivious to reality? Here is my humble submission: journalists should agree on the important issues of the 2016 elections, analyse and report them fully; they can set the agenda for the campaigns. In this regard ACME could convene a grand meeting by October to identify issues of national import and journalists could consent to emphasising these things above all else in the campaigns. This way we would leave behind the yomososo politics of who has abused who, who was beaten like a thief, who gave how much money and so on to social media.
After all, there will be life after May 2016, and the real issues affecting our people will still be there. Why postpone them for half a year just because people want to talk yomososo?