By Bernard Tabaire
This article first appeared in the Sunday Monitor (27 March 2016). It’s republished with permission.
Mr Abraham Byandala is an engineer. He is a minister of some sort. He is an MP. And a man of not much honour.
Mr Byandala punched a female TV journalist on Wednesday as the woman went about her job. There is so much that is disagreeable about this act that outrage is inadequate to capture what it evokes.
First, Mr Byandala beat up a journalist. He obviously thinks journalists at work are a bunch of irritating creatures to be “dealt with” at will. It is okay to feel contemptuous of journalists and journalism, but unacceptable to engage in assault.
Yet Mr Byandala is not alone. Mr Hassan Basajjabalaba, then a member of the NRM central executive committee, beat up photojournalist Arthur Kintu in 2010. It took about a year for him to be forced to show up in court.
At the start of 2015, a senior police officer beat up WBS TV journalist Andrew Lwanga so bad his spinal injury left him bed-ridden for months.
Two, what is common in all these cases is that the journalists had not gone out of their way to follow the said Big Men into their private spheres. No. Mr Kintu was slapped while taking pictures of Mr Basajjabalaba dishing out money in suspicious circumstances during the NRM delegates conference in Kampala.
Old Kampala DPC Joram Mwesigye beat up Mr Lwanga as he filmed him arresting youth protestors. Bukedde TV’s Judith Naluggwa was filming Mr Byandala at the Anti-Corruption Court, where the Big Man is facing corruption charges relating to the Katosi Road scam that happened when he was Works and Transport minister.
If Mr Byandala is embarrassed by the scent of corruption and therefore does not want journalists reminding his family and the entire world about Katosi, he should have learned long ago to act above suspicion.
He should not take out his sense of shame on journalists covering court – as far as we know court has not barred journalists from appearing anywhere in its precincts when Mr Byandala shows his miserable face.
Three, all these cases, and there are many, many others, highlight a serious arrogance of power amongst some in the government and ruling party. It is not a stretch to say, as I have before here, that President Museveni has set the stage for this violence through his repeated public denunciation of the media in Uganda.
He has called journalists all sorts of names: rumormongers, fishmongers, enemies, economic saboteurs and has repeatedly closed media houses for stretches of time.
The logic goes like this: what the boss denounces is okay for the rest of us to denounce in our various ways as well, after all it shows we toe the line and toeing the line brings us rewards. Careerism stinks.
Four, Mr Byandala beat up a woman. He looks like one of those cowardly big-size bullies that pick on people they think are no physical threat because then they can easily show how powerful they are in their nastiness.
It is a shame. And, of course, the minister without Portfolio punched the woman in the lower abdomen. Yes, lower abdomen. As we say, who does that? Such a low blow, even from a low man.
I don’t see Mr Byandala resigning his ministerial position for the assault. Neither do I see his boss firing him, partly because of the boss’ hot rhetoric referred to earlier.
Besides, the minister has never resigned from anything, not when he was presiding over the expansion of potholes in Kampala as the city’s chief engineer or superintending over a ministry of Works in disarray in the roads, railways and aviation sectors.
Not even the present charges have got him to, at the very least, step aside. He has no sense of propriety. So the presiding judge should do something about the violation on his premises.
If this minister’s backside ends up cooling off in Luzira over the Katosi swindle, it may well be for his own good. I hope he expends his thinking time on wholesome thoughts.
Happy Easter, everyone.
Mr Tabaire is the co-founder and director of programmes at African Centre for Media Excellence in Kampala.