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Dr Spire: Threats to my life are serious but I won't quit

Dr Jimspire Ssentongo

Dr Jimspire Ssentongo

DR JIMMY SPIRE SSENTONGO, a renowned cartoonist who has recently assumed the role of a social and political activist, has revealed that he has received credible information about a threat to his life if he does not cease his activism.

Ssentongo, who has garnered significant attention, particularly on social media, for spearheading a campaign against the inadequate services provided by various government institutions, acknowledged that although he has encountered similar threats in the past, this time they appear to be more serious and credible. He, however, said in an interview with Muhammad Kakembo, that these threats will not deter him from continuing his work.

Can you provide further details regarding the threat to your life?

I would prefer not to delve into specifics, but I received information from reliable sources within my network indicating that there were plans to harm me.

These sources are individuals I genuinely trust, unlike those who may provide information for various ulterior motives. Sometimes people claim they intend to harm you, but their actual intention is to intimidate you into silence. However, this time, I received the threat from a source that I trust, and it appears to be a genuine threat.

You have faced similar threats in the past. What makes you believe that this time the threat is more serious?

Primarily, it is due to the source of the information. When someone shares such information with you, they provide certain clues that allow you to assess whether the threat holds weight or not. Hence, in comparison, I would say these current threats are of a higher magnitude than the ones I received earlier.

Are you afraid?

I cannot claim that I am completely fearless; that would be misleading. Engaging in the work we do does not mean that we lack fear but, rather, that we have the conviction to carry it out.

Yes, to some extent, I am concerned for my safety. Being an activist does not imply that one is ready to die at any moment or desires death. However, I firmly believe in the importance of the cause and my role in it. Yes, I do have certain fears, which is why I have chosen to openly discuss them.

Nevertheless, these fears will not divert me from my convictions. They may cause me to temporarily step back or reassess my strategy, but they will not make me abandon my convictions.

Have you taken any actions in response to these threats?

I would prefer not to disclose the specifics, as doing so could compromise my own safety strategy. However, I have implemented certain measures, one of which is openly addressing the issue.

By speaking out, I hope that if those who pose a threat to me possess even a shred of decency, they might reconsider or alter their plans. That is the extent to which I can discuss my strategy.

In situations where one’s life is threatened, it is common to report the matter to the police or other security agencies. Have you taken that route?

No, I have not done so because I do not anticipate any meaningful action from them, perhaps just formalities. At present, I have not deemed it necessary to pursue that avenue.

Has anyone within the security sector reached out to you regarding these threats?

Not at all, no one has made any contact with me in that regard.

We have witnessed instances in the past where individuals who claimed their lives were in danger ultimately lost their lives. With that in mind, does this make you contemplate withdrawing from your current endeavors?

I have taken a momentary pause to contemplate my next steps, as any battle necessitates assessing the environment and strategizing. While it is true that threats against others have been carried out in the past, remaining silent does not guarantee safety.

I also recognize that by speaking out, there is a possibility of preventing the intended harm. However, the fact remains that regardless of whether one speaks or not, you can be harmed.

Have you considered the possibility of leaving Uganda, like some individuals who faced similar threats in the past?

At the moment, no. Even when I received the threatening information, I was outside of Uganda, but I still made the choice to return because I haven’t found a reason to leave yet.

You initiated a media campaign to highlight the issues plaguing the country. How did you come up with that idea?

I would say it was initially accidental, without a concrete plan of how it would start or where it would lead. The main driving force behind it was the deteriorating state of Kampala’s roads.

Potholes were a glaring problem that even the people in power couldn’t ignore. Despite years passing, no improvements were made. I felt that a change in strategy was needed to challenge the status quo. People had already voiced their concerns, engaged in discussions, and even protested, but their voices were not being heard.

I believed that by showcasing the issue through visuals, we could create drama and satire, making as much noise as possible. If those in power were comfortable presiding over such a situation, we wanted to make them uncomfortable online by holding them accountable.

What are your thoughts on the level of interest the campaign received?

I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of attention it garnered. I never expected it to gain such widespread traction. Anyone claiming they foresaw this outcome would be misleading you. Of course, I anticipated that the campaign would resonate with people from different political affiliations and various sectors of society.

I had the expectation that people would relate to it, but I didn’t foresee parliament discussing it or KCCA acting within such a short period. It happened because many people, including some within the government, participated. Initially, they attempted to be defensive and divert attention from the potholes by showcasing good roads.

However, they soon realized that exhibiting good roads in comparison to the images we were sharing didn’t make sense. I was surprised in many ways by the attention it received.

Later on, you shifted focus to other areas. How do you decide, which areas to prioritize?

I didn’t initially plan to transition from one sector to another. My intention was to focus on Kampala, but due to the campaign’s prominence, people became excited about it and saw it as an avenue to express themselves.

Through the exhibitions, I noticed that many individuals were desperate to be heard. I didn’t want it to end there. As the pothole exhibition continued, people provided suggestions on what should be addressed next. Initially, I hesitated because it started to become burdensome for me.

I realized the level of responsibility people were placing on me, which I couldn’t handle given my other commitments. I couldn’t read and respond to all the messages they sent or share them. It became overwhelming. People referred to me as the next president or the next MP for Kampala Central, but that reflected their desperation.

On one hand, I didn’t want to take on more responsibility than I could handle but, on the other hand, I didn’t want to betray the hope that people had found. Therefore, I organized a vote on Twitter, selecting sectors that had been highlighted, such as Health, Police Welfare, and Education.

The majority voted for health, and that’s how we transitioned from potholes to focusing on health. It has always been driven by the choices of the people; none of us determined the direction in terms of which sector to prioritize.

Besides KCCA, have other sectors made efforts to address the highlighted issues?

It’s difficult for me to provide a comprehensive assessment of the responses received because some are direct and public, while others are not. During the health exhibition, we continuously urged the ministry of Health to respond to the concerns raised by the public.

Occasionally, they responded spontaneously to some issues, but it was mostly in a dismissive manner, denying the claims without committing to address the actual problems. Right from the beginning, their response was defensive and dismissive, suggesting that this campaign, just like the quarantine campaign, would eventually fade away.

There was a notable arrogance in their response from the health sector. I had hoped they would appreciate the feedback because it wasn’t solely me exhibiting the issues; it was the public’s feedback. I expected them to demonstrate a sense of responsibility by acknowledging the concerns and informing the public about the actions they were taking to address them.

Instead, their response was marked by arrogance, almost implying, “What can you do?” Some individuals even started questioning who was funding my campaign. Even if it were true that I received funding, the responsible approach would have been to address the valid issues within their purview, as not all problems can be solved instantly.

Initially, it was disappointing, but now I see it as one of the things the exhibition successfully revealed to the public—the nature of the services we receive depends on the attitudes of the stakeholders. We now know that the ministry of Health is only accountable to itself, and not to the public.

There is a perception among them that the public cannot hold them accountable. They believe that people may speak out, but in the end, no action will be taken against them, and they won’t be questioned by the appointing authority. That was one of the revelations the exhibition brought to light.

I have come across claims that these exhibitions are personal attacks rather than addressing public issues...

Such claims have been made but, in my analysis, they are more of a diversionary propaganda. They are attempts to silence the voices of the people. When legal means fail to stop the campaign, they resort to propaganda tactics. In this case, it seemed convenient for them to play the victim and claim they were being targeted personally.

But if it were personal, what was personal about the pothole exhibition?

Were we targeting the spokesperson of Kampala?

Why is it that the cries of it being personal only emerged when we shifted our focus to the ministry of Health? During the health exhibition, we never mentioned any individuals until the point when I discovered that the Permanent Secretary, Dr. Diana Atwine, had blocked me [on Twitter].

We directed our message to her because we saw her as a key player who should listen to us. If her response was to block me, I wouldn’t have commented on her.

I had never made any comments about her prior to that; so, I was puzzled by the accusation. There was nothing personal because, beyond her role as the PS of the ministry of Health, I don’t know Dr Atwine personally. When we mentioned her, it was specifically in response to her role as a key person who we expected to take action regarding the concerns we were raising.

Comments

-4 #1 Lysol 2023-05-31 05:10
Threats, like fear can be real or perceived, which is a Social Anxiety Disorder.

Spire has made a bold statement without being specific. It remains to be seen as to whether many people believe him or not.
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0 #2 Lakwena 2023-05-31 09:12
In other words, the wrongdoers want to execute their wrongdoing on the innocent like Dr. Spire.

Otherwise, since when has it become a capital offense to remind our wrongdoer rulers that: the ugly and deadly potholes on Kampala roads and/or striking doctors, drugless and rotting hospitals is bad for all of us?

Except the wrongdoers, who in his/her right state of mind would issue death sentence (fatwa) on someone like Dr. Spire whose only concern is the deplorable state of our Capital City Roads?

In any case Dr. Spire, you are not the only one being threatened with instant death (fatwa). 3 weeks a ago, in broad-day-light, one of the wrongdoers threatened to shoot me during a gridlock traffic jam in Potholes at the Kibuli/Mukwano junction.
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0 #3 Lakwena 2023-05-31 09:27
The thug even tried to reach out for his killer weapon. I told him to go ahead, and asked him whether he was going to shot me in self-defense or in stupidly.

These thugs drive huge SUV and have resorted to referring to themselves as Principles.

Wachireba Rwabasuma?

But Ugandans should not despair.

Before the assassin pulled the trigger and shot him point blank, Mahatma Gandhi had told the person who was dissuading him from going for the prayer;

"When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won.

There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it--always",

In other words, who will never die?
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+1 #4 Immaculate Nambi 2023-05-31 09:40
Spire, this is an appreciation "comment". I know that your contribution of shinning the spot light is not in vain. May God keep you safe, Spire.
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-1 #5 Remase 2023-06-01 02:12
Lyso, what is there to believe or not to believe? Mbu, "it remains to be seen as to whether many people believe him or not."

Lyso, I didn't know that you could stoop to low to that extent! This is someone's at stake here. It has been revealed in the above interview and factually true that such threats have been issued and carried out.

You clearly known that. One of them is Kirumira. Kirumira came out and told us that he received death threats. Indeed Kirumira was assassinated! Now, you are saying mbu it remains to be seen as to whether mpany people believe Dr. Spire or not? So we should take a poll and see how many people believe him, right? Then what? Scumbag!
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-1 #6 Remase 2023-06-01 10:00
Fellow Ugandans, people like Lyso don't value people's lives! We have a govt that is led by the most violent individual on the planet, M7.

M7 captured power by means of the gun, violence and killing innocent people. M7 has ruled our country by means of the gun, violence, nepotism/tribalism, corruption, patronage and are intent on looting it naked for life!

So, whoever comes put to point out how our country is rooten to the core and he/she is effective in attracting our attention, deserves a death sentence, hence the death threats to Dr. Spire.

These threats are for real and as recent as the other day they claimed Isma's life. In 40 years of M7's life presidency, we don't have a hospital in which M7's daughter, Natasha, counsel deliver her children!

So, to M7, his family, relatives, tribesmen and militants, if one comes out and points out that our health system is rotten to the core, he/she deserves to be killed!
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0 #7 Lysol 2023-06-01 19:20
Remase!
Spire failed to provide specifics. Spire's alleged threats cannot be independently verified.

Spire failed to convince some of us, except for the naive and gullible like you. Everybody can cry wolf, but there may not be any wolf. Scumbag!

In politics they say, if you cannot stand the heat, quit and stop whining.
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0 #8 Okello 2023-06-02 23:27
Lysol, is cow-brained and totally irrational. And he thinks he is being funny!

Such people are supposed to live in the bush with warthogs
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