President Museveni has softened his hard-line stance on Buganda Kingdom’s shut-down radio CBS, telling Cabinet that the radio station should be switched back on air. Mr Museveni summoned the Cabinet for a special sitting at State House Entebbe on Thursday where he issued the communication.
A source that attended the meeting who spoke to Sunday Monitor on condition of anonymity said the NRM leader admitted before his ministers that he had listened to the voices in favour of CBS reopening because the closure has since affected “many people who are not necessarily anti-NRM.” “The President told us that he felt concerned that the media institution has been of economic benefit to many people in Uganda who are not against the NRM and they are now unemployed,” said the source.
The Broadcasting Council shutdown CBS radio in September 2009 on charges that the station had violated minimum broadcasting standards and had been used as a tool to propagate violence and civil unrest during riots that engulfed parts of central Uganda that month. The riots, which claimed at least 29 lives, were sparked off after the government barred Buganda Kingdom officials, including Kabaka Ronald Mutebi, from travelling to Kayunga District for a cultural function.
Mr Museveni is reported to have told his ministers that since the station was switched off air, he has been approached by prominent but “very staunch” NRM Baganda elders who have begged him to have the station re-opened “as one last favour.” The President is understood to have used the analogy of a son who has angered his father and seeks redemption for his misbehaviour, arguing that the “father must be ready to forgive” his child, in making the case for CBS re-opening. “If the President has come to terms with that, well and good,” said Buganda Kingdom spokesman Charles Peter Mayiga.
Information Minister Kabakumba Masiko confirmed discussion of the subject but declined to offer specifics. She said, however: “People should know that CBS was not closed forever. There are things that have to be sorted out. The issue now is, can we fasten the process and come to a common understanding?” According to the source, however, Mr Museveni told Cabinet that his decision had also been influenced by his recent tours promoting his administration’s flagship programme “Prosperity for All” (or Bonna Bagaggawale). “The President also told us that he had met the Military High Command and that the Generals had also advised him to re-open CBS,” said the source, adding, “He [Museveni] said he wanted to do it [open CBS] instantly.”
After the brief remarks, the President is then said to have opened the subject for debate, asking his Cabinet on whether or not a directive should be issued to immediately switch CBS back on the air.
According to the source, several ministers spoke passionately about the CBS affair, with many insisting that it would be wrong to open the station without any conditions. Some ministers who hail from Buganda Kingdom, reportedly argued that an apology from Mengo, the seat of Buganda Kingdom, which run CBS, should be issued before the decision can be taken.
The source said some of the ministers said they would be happy to see the station opened but only if individuals who have reportedly used CBS as a platform to discredit the achievements of President Museveni and the NRM while promoting sectarianism “are not allowed back again.”
Some of the ministers who were reportedly in favour of conditions for re-opening included Isaac Musumba (State Regional Affairs), Janat Mukwaya (General Duties, Prime Ministers Office), Syda Bbumba (Finance), James Kakooza (Primary Healthcare) and Apolo Nsibambi (Prime Minister). The conditions reflect agreement by a special cabinet sub-committee which the President set up in December 2009 to discuss the CBS affair.
That committee was chaired by ICT Minister Aggrey Awori and concluded its work a few months later. A report was handed to the President but it is yet to be discussed by Cabinet. “Before we left, we agreed that the Broadcasting Council should revisit the problems which brought about CBS closure,” said the source, adding, “Then we discuss the Awori report.”
Asked whether Mengo is skeptical of Mr Museveni’s dramatic change of heart, Mr Mayiga said: “I don’t know whether he is changing his stance because of all that has been happening. But well, this issue has always been in the hands of the President anyway.” Ms Kabakumba insisted, however, that President Museveni “is not the one who shut them down. They [Mengo] all know what happened.”