Behind the scenes at the ongoing presidential live radio broadcasts meant to sensitise people on the controversial Constitution Amendment Bill 2017 is a carefully constituted vetting team, which makes sure the right questions and messages filter through the studios.
In interviews with people familiar with radios where President Museveni has so far appeared on his land awareness talk-shows, The Observer learnt that apart from the frequent body searches of program moderators, the president’s team vets questions to be posed.
For instance at Point FM on Saturday, September 9, the show host Sam Balaba Magala spent some time with Don Innocent Wanyama, the senior presidential press secretary, and the minister of state for Kampala Benny Namugwanya Bugembe, going over more than 400 questions that had been sent in earlier by the radio’s listeners.
President Museveni (R) inside Point FM studios
“We took two days asking listeners to send in their questions to the president but on the D-day, the questions were edited and those that were deemed irrelevant were dropped,” Magala told this writer.
Most questions that were dropped, according to Magala, were about the president’s longstanding unfulfilled promises. Besides that, a radio manager who declined to be named, said phone calls into the studio were controlled.
“They [president’s team] came with some phone lines that they added to our on-air studio lines,” a manager said.
ONLY TWO CALLERS
At Point FM in Mubende on Saturday, September 9, only two callers got through the designated studio lines and both, according to Magala, were callers he knew. He said after that, the studio telephone lines went off.
About an hour to Museveni’s arrival, the show host was ordered to enter the studio and was required not to move out until the president left.
Inside the studio, Magala was reminded that he had to allow the president to make his case with little interruption. But the show host was also told that he had to project a sense of being in charge.
At Radio Buddu on Sunday, September 10, Museveni got about seven callers, all NRM leaders who had spent days in meetings with the Masaka resident district commissioner, Lt Joe Walusimbi, and Umar Ssekasamba who hosted the programme.
Interviewed for a comment on Monday, Wanyama accused this writer of having a hidden agenda.
“You have specialised in telling lies about this radio campaign, and it is obvious you have problems believing what we tell you, I doubt you’re asking to inform your story,” he said.
During the president’s talk show on Point FM on Saturday, Museveni warned government officials against helping landlords to evict tenants.
“The NRM cannot side with landlords against bibanja holders because during the bush war, we never had any landlords fighting with us, all the fighters were tenants,” Museveni said.
This came hours after Museveni issued free land titles to some 250 bibanja holders in the western district of Kibaale under the systematic land demarcation program.
The titles are part of the 20,000 acres that Uganda Land Commission (ULC) acquired at Shs 92bn from landlords in Bunyoro, Tooro, Ankole and Buganda who lost interest in their land after tenants took it over.
Landowners who gave up their land in Kibaale were paid Shs 15bn in compensation, according to President Museveni, who told his audience that most landowners had acquired the huge chunks of land unfairly.
“Most of the landlords acquired the land as a reward from the colonialists for collaborating with them. That is why we have a few individuals owning expansive chunks of land; it was a reward to them for betraying Africans; they were collaborators, to us they are traitors,” Museveni told his radio audience.
From Mubende on Saturday, Museveni travelled to Masaka where he made another appearance on Radio Buddu. At both radio stations, Museveni arrived shortly after 8pm for the shows originally scheduled to air from 7pm to 9pm.
To put into perspective his desire to have article 26 of the Constitution amended to allow government to take possession of private land without prior compensation of the owner, Museveni takes his listeners through the 1900 Buganda agreement that created the landlords and tenants.
But in Mubende, he was asked about landlords with connections to State House. For instance, Sam Balaba Magala, who moderated the Point FM talk-show, consistently mentioned a woman only identified as Omumbejja Naava who owns more than three square miles of land at Butoloogo.
She reportedly works with Maj Eric Kigambo who is attached to Special Forces Command (SFC). The president was told that Naava uses soldiers to evict people. The defiant ones, Magala claimed, are arrested, beaten and jailed.
Museveni asked Mubende RDC Florence Beyunga to explain.
“Mubende has a high influx of migrants from other parts of the country, especially Kigezi, and some from outside our borders; it is some of these that are claiming to be bona fide occupants that are being evicted,” Beyunga said.
“As for the soldiers, Your Excellency, the soldiers are mostly returnees from Somalia who bought their own land. But even if the soldier rightfully owns the land, the locals will protest,” Beyunga added.
The RDC was, however, challenged by talk-show host Magala and Mubende LC-V chairman Francis Kibuuka Amooti. Magala told the president that Beyunga was covering up for Naava and Maj Kigambo.
NO ARMY UNIFORM
“I don’t want to hear any case of soldiers involved in quarrels over land with the locals,” Museveni said.
He wondered why soldiers have to dress in their military fatigues when buying land. He ordered an investigation into the Butoloogo case and promised to visit the area next month to hear more from the residents.
“But you should also tell these issues to Justice Catherine Bamugemereire’s commission [into land matters] when it comes here. We are going to jail all those who are involved in evictions of our people,” Museveni said.
Museveni also faulted the army for “mishandling” the Mubende gold mines evictions.
“The army overstepped its mandate, they went against some of the orders we gave them. Much as the artisanal miners were illegally occupying that land, there was no need of using too much force,” Museveni said.