Tuesday October 12 2010

Release Kobusingye book, tolerate criticism

The government sometimes has uncanny and often times unwise ways of courting controversy. It is sometimes difficult to determine whether it is over zealousness or complete naivety of the consequences of its actions.

Take last week’s blocking of the entry into the country of a book by Ms Olive Kobusingye titled The Correct Line? Uganda under Museveni.

According to Dr Kobusingye, a consignment of 500 books she had imported into the country as part of a major launch set for Wednesday, was confiscated at Entebbe International Airport.

While Dr Kobusigye says she has not received an official explanation as to the cause of the seizure, she says an official at the courier company she hired to get the book into the country told her it was being held because it contained anti government information.

The action is self defeating at two levels; one in a bid to promote scholarship and education, government waived taxes on such materials as books, so failure to pay customs dues is not a cause for the confiscation.

Secondly, as a government that has often attempted to project itself as open to criticism, confiscating the book could lead to just that and possibly it has helped put it more under the microscope. Letting it into the country quietly could have been better.

Since breaking the story in Sunday Monitor, interest has been growing by the minute. Debate on social networking sites like Ugandans at Heart, Facebook and Twitter among others has turned it into major item on demand.

The action of seizing the book is a violation of Dr Kobusigye’s freedom to express her opinion through the book, regardless of whether this opinion is pleasing to those in power or not.
It also violates the free business environment that the government has been working to promote.

The government has a responsibility to protect and promote free thinking and expression through works of art, like this book.
It also has a responsibility to guarantee and protect business interests of individuals because Dr Kobusingye’s book is a work for sale and she has invested in producing it.