In a thinly veiled warning to critics, President Yoweri Museveni used a notable inaugural presidential media roundtable discussion last week to announce that government has acquired the technology to catch Voltaire Okwalinga alias TVO, the notorious but anonymous Ugandan social media critique of his ruling NRM.
“You know we are now ready. We have the technology, we shall go for Okwalinga. If he is in Uganda we shall get him and if he is out, we also know what to do with him,” the president said, wearing his trademark derisive smile.
The president also warned that going forward, social media will be closely watched.
“We shall control it; we shall know who is spreading the bad message and we shall get him,” he said while meeting media owners and managers at State House Entebbe last week.
The meeting was held under the theme, ‘The role of the media in nation-building: Aligning the media with government’s agenda 2040.’
Okwalinga who remains anonymous has been leaking a series of government secrets through his Facebook account TVO. Once, Robert Shaka, an IT savvy person, was arrested on suspicion of being Okwalinga.
But the case did not proceed for lack of evidence. The president also said his government will ensure that social media is not used by people to spread “hate” campaigns similar to those which were propagated by Radio Television Libre de Milles Collines in Rwanda.
Radio Milles Collines was largely blamed for inciting genocide against the Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994.
Although the theme of the dialogue was on how to align the media with government agenda 2040, President Museveni spent a great deal of time explaining how for 300 years Africa was insulated from colonialism by the treacherous terrain and presence of mosquitoes.
Mr Museveni said when quinine was discovered from Latin America, the Europeans were able to enter and colonise Africans.
And this was facilitated by the spread of religion and divisions among African leaders. He said, however, that the meeting was not intended to urge media houses to influence and improve the public perception of his government.
“This meeting is about patriotism and pan-Africanism,” he said, adding that the media had not shown concern for pan-Africanism in its reporting. He said if Africa is not united and careful, it might find itself wiped out like the Red Indians who have been relegated to tourism sites in North and Latin America.
“One day the entire Africa may be completely occupied by Chinese. Chinese would now be the new Africans.”
The president appeared startled when he was informed that there are 279 FM stations in the country and some of them are owned by politicians.
“How do they survive?” he asked. “Should politicians own radios? Should partisan radios be licensed, Mutabazi tell us [referring to the executive director, Uganda Communications Commission] ?” he probed.
Later it was agreed that that question could not be resolved at the meeting and it was referred to the adhoc committee on media relations with government which is yet to be formed. This committee is supposed to report back in 30 days.
“I never started an NRM newspaper, TV or radio, not because I cannot afford but it is because it is not right. The Gospel of St. Matthew 23:23 says: “They left undone what they ought to have done and did what they ought not to have done and there is no truth in them,” he explained.
However, later the president urged the media to be part of the social transformation of the society and work for the development of Uganda.
“Otherwise, you will be like a parasite (enkwa). If your interests are inimical to the interests of the organism, then you are a parasite (enkwa).”