Fred Enanga’s rounded cheeks, disaffected gaze and mild baritone that sounds like the groan of a distant tractor on a farm would’ve dominated the airwaves and newsprint this weekend as he laboured to sanitize the indefensible.
The entire editorial team at TIME Magazine would’ve spent the weekend in detention at the Special Investigations Unit in Kireka, “explaining” the list of Next 100 Most Influential People—which featured one of Gen. Museveni’s biggest headaches, Kyagulanyi Ssentamu.
Foreign staff would’ve been deported Friday night as embassies file protest letters with an indifferent Sam Kutesa!
Those TIME employees who weren’t arrested would be nursing injuries sustained during the raid.
Yellow tape with the words “crime scene, do not cross!” would be strung around TIME’s offices. Battle ready police and military officers in body-hugging fatigues would be seen pacing up and down, speaking into their walkie-talkies, regulating traffic and interrogating or shooing away curious passersby and nosy boda boda cyclists.
On Saturday afternoon, a truckload or two of uniformed armed men would screech to a halt as the occupants leaped off, commando-style, demanding to sequester the printing press, hard drives and other equipment “to assist with investigations.”
For days, every major breakfast and evening show would host attack dogs who would, with straight faces, justify the crackdown.
Little else would dominate WhatsApp group chats.
Godfrey Mutabazi, unable to restrain himself would take to the podium at Uganda Media Centre, flanked by a doleful Ofwono Opondo and a livid Shaban Bantariza. The trio would accuse TIME Magazine of anything and everything: from obsolete laws like false news, sedition, to subversion and yes, treason!
For good measure, Mutabazi would jazz it up with his favourite accusation: violation of minimum broadcasting standards!
An overzealous staffer from URA’s Compliance Unit would also address the press corps about TIME Magazine’s involvement in tax fraud and delayed filing of October’s income tax returns.
Frank Tumwebaze would be firing off on Twitter, proclaiming Uganda’s sovereignty and disdain for foreign meddling.
Meanwhile, hungry, thirsty and tired of besieging the premises while their potbellied bosses make calls from their favourite weekend hangouts and saunas, the Field Force Unit’s men and women would sit on the road’s edge and lean against whatever can give their tired backs and gun-carrying shoulders some reprieve.
The shadows would grow longer and by nineteen hundred hours, dusk would have blanketed Kampala as the junior policemen prepare for a third night in the cold, patrolling an office whose crime even they cannot fathom. If they’re lucky, someone at Human Resources could make a delivery of half-ready ugali, to be washed down with a bowl of tepid beans each. Patriotism, Kayihura would say!
On Monday morning, the usually sleepy and dull magistrate’s court at Buganda Road would stir to life as camera crews, reporters, relatives and friends of the Magazine’s arrive ahead of the bail hearing set for 9.00.
Devout wives and mothers, some in lesus, each holding a hankie to conceal a steady stream of tears, would huddle together, whispering and praying for the release of their loved ones. For most, headcloths would not be worn as a fashion statement but to hide the fact that none of them had time to dress up properly after the lawyers’ call came in that court would start at nine! Male relatives would be just as nervous, pacing about.
Lawyers in pressed suits and crisp shirts would pore over the grounds for bail applications as journalists adjust camera lenses to capture the best shots when the accused step off the maroon prisons’ bus in handcuffed pairs.
An animated reporter would begin a live broadcast in the foyer of the courthouse as irritated court clerks hide their faces and jostle for space to run their daily routines.
After a successful noncash bail application, the excitement and joy would be short-lived. The freed suspects would be violently rearrested, bundled into vans by armed operators in plainclothes and dark shades. Amidst the commotion, cameras would be smashed, memory cards confiscated, and half a dozen journalists injured.
It would later be revealed that some of the abductors belong to the notorious Special Forces Command.
Agreeing with yet another application by human rights and criminal defence lawyers, an outraged High Court judge would issue an order vacating the search warrant she granted the week before on grounds that state security forces have overstepped their mandate.
Gen. Elly Tumwine would scoff at the judge, reminding her that not only did the NRA liberate the Judiciary but it also freed women from the kitchen and they can now hold public offices—a privilege that can be withdrawn anytime because “sisi tayari” (i.e. “we’re here and ready!”)
If any of this sounds like déjà vu, it is because media houses, not least the Daily Monitor, CBS, RedPepper, KFM, Ddembe FM and several others countrywide have repeatedly undergone similar ordeals…and there’s nothing to suggest that the same cannot or won’t happen again.
After all, law don Busingye Kabumba warned us a while ago that “a nation dies slowly—not in one day. How else to kill a nation than to make wrong become so normal that citizens no longer recognize it?!”