Early this month, the media fraternity in Uganda marked the World Press Freedom Day.
As it was the case for education, modern medicine and Western religion, the print media in Uganda owes its birth to the missionaries. Next week will mark 119 years since the Anglican missionaries pioneered the print media in Uganda.
The first newspaper, Mengo Notes, was printed by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) as a monthly newspaper.
By virtue of its ownership, the publication focused on religious work, with a little bit of colonial administration work. It was an English paper targeting mainly the White missionaries and colonial administrators. After three months, its name was changed to Uganda Notes.
Seven years after its first edition, the missionaries introduced a Luganda newspaper called Ebifa mu Buganda. Since they were competing in the same territory, the Catholic missionaries were not to be left out. The White Fathers, a section of the Catholic missionaries, in 1912 also launched a Luganda paper called Munno.
Unlike Mengo Notes, Munno was targeting the Catholic faithful. By 1934 when the Anglican Church reach had extended far beyond Buganda, it changed its Luganda publication from Ebifa mu Buganda to Ebifa mu Uganda.
Both Munno and Ebifa mu Uganda were predominantly religious in content, keeping away from politics. Both publications being owned by foreigners, paid little attention to issues concerning the natives. The few times they published beyond religious issues, they towed the government line.
As the literacy levels in the local population grew, so was the readership and the scope to be covered by the media.
To fill the gap, local landowner W. Kulubya started the first Ugandan-owned newspaper, Sekanyolya, in 1921 with Sefanio .K. Sentongo as the editor.
The newspaper concentrated on discrimination, exploitation and oppression of the natives by both their traditional leaders and the colonialist.
Besides legalising British rule over Buganda, the 1900 Buganda agreement also created classes in the kingdom.
Writing in The Social Origins of Violence in Uganda, Prof AB Kasozi says, “The neo-traditionalists included bureaucrats in the Buganda government, descendants of landowners… were beneficiaries of the 1900 Buganda Agreement, which had established Christianity as the source of secular law and created definite social classes based on religion.”
In doing so, a section of Baganda known as the Bataka felt left out in the agreement. To fight for their rights, they started the Bataka Movement and in 1922 they started a newspaper called Munyonyozi (the explainer) with Daudi Basudde as its editor.
He later went on to become one of the first prominent journalists, editing newspapers such as Sekanyolya and Matalisi, the Luganda version of Uganda Herald owned and edited by Michael Moss, the first foreigner to own a private newspaper in Uganda.
In the same period, a number of newspapers such as Gambuze and Doboozi lya Buganda, edited by Yunusu Bamutta, all pro-Bataka newspapers, came up.
The traditionalists also started their newspapers to counter the Bataka Movement. In 1924, Apolo Kaggwa, one of the three regents to infant king Daudi Chwa, started Enjuba Ebiresse which was to defend the chiefs in Buganda.
During World War II, there was a campaign against the recruitment of Ugandans to fight on behalf of the British.
Newspapers such as Tula Nkunyoyole, Uganda Commonwealth and Uganda Voice became very vocal in the campaign against the recruitment of Ugandans to fight the war. The same period also was very riotous because of what natives saw as unfair treatment and exploitation.
Newspapers such as Buganda Nyaffe and Mambya Esaze were started.
Much as the print media campaigned against their recruitment, upon their return the ex-servicemen were at the forefront of fighting for independence based on what they had experienced abroad.
Prof Kasozi says: “The veterans of the war brought a spirit of nationalism that was for the press to reinforce, but for the protectorate government to curb.”
As the struggle for more liberties continued, two newspapers – Mugobansonga and Okwegata Manyi – were started by Uganda African Farmers Union.
The two papers concentrated on fighting the trade monopoly enjoyed by Asians and some Whites. It was the same monopoly that led to the 1945 riots. One of the by-products of these riots was the formation of another newspaper called Uganda Star.
It was during these riots that the colonial government realised the influence and power of the print media in Uganda. Thus in 1948 the government passed the Press Censorship and Correction Ordinance No13.
This restricted the circulation of three newspapers, Uganda Star, Mugobansonga and Okwegata Manyi. They were accused of sensational reporting and fuelling the riots.
However, the ordinance did not deter the riots. They extended beyond Buganda and became violent. In 1949, the colonial administrators imposed a total ban on three newspapers Mugobansonga, Gambuze and Munyonyozi.
Realising how powerful the print media had become, the colonialists decided to start a government newspaper, the Uganda Gazette, an English newspaper. Eight years later, they extend their reach and started several regional vernacular papers. These included Matalisi in Luganda, Wamata in Runyankore, Apupeta in Ateso and Lok Awinya in Luo.
However, the early 1950s was characterised by tension fuelled by the exiling of Kabaka Muteesa to Britain in 1953.
Though the act of exiling the Kabaka galvanised the country to demand for his return, in the print media the differences were still visible.
Newspapers allied themselves to political parties and advanced the political party’s beliefs and ideologies.
People such as Jolly Joe Kiwanuka started the Uganda Post and the Uganda Express newspapers. They were allied to his party, the Uganda National Congress (UNC). Uganda Eyogera, started in 1953, was also allied to UNC’s ideologies.
People such as Kirunda Kivejinja, Bidandi Ssali and Kintu Musoke started African Pilot newspaper leaning towards UPC, so was Mambya Esaze which was edited by Paulo Muwanga and Ddamulira Mukiibi.
Church in mainstream media
It should be remembered that political parties had religious affiliation at the time. The first political parties were allied to the Anglican Church by virtue of their founder’s faith.
Aiming to have a foothold in the political arena, the Catholic Church indirectly helped in the creation of the Democratic Party (DP).
The two churches were in control of the influential print media at the time. The Catholic Church had the lion’s share in both English and vernacular regional newspapers across the country.
On the national level they had the Leadership Magazine, and the African Ecclesiastical Review, both in English. They also had an English paper for the West Nile sub-region called the West Nile Catholic Gazette.
Their vernacular papers included Mutabaganya in Luganda, Erwon K’Iteso for Teso region, Lobo Mewa in Luo for the Acholi and Lango regions, Ageterine in Runyakitara for Ankole and Kigezi regions.
Since most of the political actors were Anglicans, the Anglican Church did not make it big in the print media. It only established two English papers the New Century and the Upper Nile Magazine.
With independence won, the newspapers took on a new character. They changed focus on their new government, with emphasis placed on governance and hard news. What was also clear at the time was the ethnic divide, together with the new political set up, that were very clear in the newspaper reporting at the time.
The first government was set up on the shaky alliance between the Uganda Peoples Congress/ Kabaka Yekka which did not last long. When the alliance collapsed, most Baganda-owned newspapers became Opposition newspapers.
In return, the UPC government through the Milton Obote Foundation and the Uganda Press Trust started two newspapers, The People and the Transition Magazine, respectively.
Copying from their predecessors, the colonial administrators, the UPC government went ahead and established regional newspapers such as Dwon Lwak for the northern region, Mukulembeze for Buganda, Apupeta in Ateso for the eastern region and Omwebemezi for the western region.
During this time, private newspapers struggled to stay afloat and many, if not all of them, closed. The government-backed papers managed to weather the storm until the 1971 coup.
The Idi Amin era was not only a disaster to human beings and the economy, but also to the print media. Private print media was almost totally annihilated. The one that survived and did not attract the government’s attention was Soccer Word edited by Paul Waibale Sr (RIP).
The post-Amin era saw new newspapers coming on the market, and others that had folded for fear of persecution were revived.
Papers such as The Star, Agafa E’Buddu, Saba Saba (a military newspaper), Ngabo, The Economy, The Weekly Topic, Embuga and Mulengere were on the streets. However, they were partisan by virtue of who owned them.
Embuga was owned by Paulo Muwanga, it was more or less a government mouth piece. Papers such as Munansi, The Equator Point, Paulo Ssemwogerere’s The Democrat, The Citizen and Ssosoliso were anti-establishment and all were DP-leaning.
Other papers of the time that had political inclinations included Forward that was bent on exposing the Obote II regime excesses.
The Guardian newspaper leaned towards the Conservative Party (CP) while the Weekly Topic was considered a pro- Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM) newspaper.
The government official newspaper went through changes. At the fall of Idi Amin it was called Voice of Uganda, it changed to Uganda Times, later The National Mirror and finally The New Vision.