Free information flow will raise levels of civic consciousness
Posted Wednesday, January 9 2013 at 02:00
Threats towards media outlets seem to be spiraling each passing day with the most recent being the informal warnings of probable closure of those radio stations that are found hosting ‘undesirable guests’ on their talk shows or programmes. Of course this doesn’t mean well for a country that purports to embrace liberal democratic values and ethos.
Let’s take time to look at Africa’s democracy estimable, Ghana. Although Ghana’s democratic development process is said to have began in 1992 with the passing of the liberal democratic constitution, there wasn’t really much to show of democratic progress beyond electoral politics. Elections seemed to be the only window for citizens to assert themselves.
All this however changed when President John Agyekum Kufuor assented to the repeal of all criminal libel and seditious laws in 2001. In Ghana today, people freely express themselves without fear of being reprimanded. It’s potentially because of that kind of environment that we see a dramatic rise in levels of civic consciousness amongst Ghanaians. In-depth, discussions on government policy seem to constitute a greater part of the conversations of the people in Ghana – from the old mama selling palm oil in rural Akosombo to the middle aged intellectual minds at Legon University in Accra, the levels of civic discussion are exceptional.
In Uganda, critical dialogue on government policy seems to be a preserve of a few. And this is because of the attitude that the administration accords the voices that attempt to lead such conversations. In just the recent years alone, government has threatened to ban a number of critical governance publications including books such as: The Correct Line?: Uganda Under Museveni by Dr. Olive Kobusingye; People Power—Battle the Mighty General by Vincent Nzaramba; Is it the fundamental change? Unveiling the Hidden truth by Doreen Nyanjura and Ibrahim Bagaya; and the latest being: Betrayed By My Leader by John Kazoora.
You might remember that a couple of months before the end of 2012, the Media Council attempted to ban the popular State of the Nation play on account of it being overly critical of government. Of course I will not go into detail to catalog the several songs that government agents blacklisted not because they contained strong language, racist views or harmful references but because they were simply deemed to carry content that disapproves of certain government actions or inactions.
Sadly, we forget that it is such music or theater that would be best placed to trigger ordinary minds into serious debate on issues around public policy. My 90-year-old grandmother deep in Bulindi, Hoima district may not have the energy to go and attend the highly promoted Baraza forums at her sub county, close to five miles away but she is able to listen to radio and hear that local captivating song (Bakoowu) by Mathias Walukaga that will move her to question her surrounding in respect to service delivery and inspire her to take steps in demanding accountability from at least one of her several representatives. Likewise, university student Andrew Karamagi may not have the time to locate or attend the Baraza forum due to his busy library schedule, but he is very likely to catch a glimpse of ‘Is it the fundamental change?’ which could spark his intuition not only to question his leader’s capacity to deliver but also make brilliant public policy proposal options.
My strong thinking is that, such information restrictions have contributed to the low levels of civic consciousness in Uganda. It is therefore my strongest conviction that if we are to nurture a sturdy, vibrant and politically conscious citizenry, then we have to make reasonable choices in terms of breaking barriers to information sharing. In Uganda, censorship of information has majorly been politically motivated and this has only served to emit foul effects exhibited through a ‘sleeping’ population. It is time to allow for organic dazzling ideas from our very own citizens. Whether we agree with them or not, let’s respectfully listen to them, we might be pleasantly surprised!
Mr Kaheru is the project coordinator – Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda. email@example.com