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Rukutana and Uganda’s social media lynch-mob

In the age of social media, with its instantaneous dissemination of news, alongside such technologies as deep fake and photoshop, journalists in mainstream media need to be extremely sceptical and cautious of all information even that on video that seems authentic. Nowhere has journalism in Uganda failed as in the case of state minister for labour, Mwesigwa Rukutana.

I have watched in shock the social media mob lynch Rukutana condemning him for shooting someone. Police were quick to arrest and detain him. President Yoweri Museveni joined the fray and ordered police not to issue any bonds, a politically astute move but illegal and a clear abuse of power. An FDC activist even posted that the man who was allegedly shot has died. Traditional media have joined the social media lynch mob to tell a one-sided story.

I have no access to Rukutana and any of his friends. The only information I have is the video clip and what I have read in the news. In that famous clip, people inside a car complain that Rukutana is going to shoot them. Then you see the minister grab a gun and cock it. The voice in the car says let us drive away, and the car takes off. The passengers advise the driver to be slow, as it gains speed. No gunshot is heard.

So when did Rukutana shoot? Where is the video where a Rukutana is seen aiming and shooting? If the cameraman did not focus on him shooting, where is the video with gunshots? Did Rukutana actually fire that gun? Did the bullet he fired hit anyone? Where is the evidence? These are basic questions for any journalist.

One witness quoted by The Independent, a newspaper I work for, claimed that after shooting the victim, Rukutana drove him to his home. New Vision was restrained but Nile Post claimed with authority that “Rukutana grabbed a gun and shot two people.” Police are claiming Rukutana shot one person.

In fact, the Nile Post quoted Rukutana claiming that his opponents had gone to his farm and blocked his family from leaving and that they were armed. Some blog called Operanewsapp gave an even more detailed account, claiming that the bodyguard removed the magazine from the gun when Rukutana was grabbing it from him.

For now, it is only operanewsapp that has given Rukutana’s side of the story. It also interviewed eyewitnesses to the incident. All the eyewitnesses said there were no gunshots. In fact, the alleged victim, whose picture I have seen, was not shot at. He was beaten in a fight between the two sides. Police can confirm this.

Let me state categorically that it was wrong and blatant abuse of power for Rukutana to grab a gun from a trained police officer to take the law into his own hands. I condemn that in the strongest terms. But this does not blind me to the possibility that Rukutana may not have fired any gun at all. If he did, the person recording that specific video would have been all too happy to show him firing and we would have heard the gunshots.

For now, I am inclined to believe that the people who recorded and spread that video are master manipulators who are trying to frame Rukunata. By grabbing the gun from his bodyguard, he gave them a rope with which to hang him. The Rukutana story is a failure of traditional journalism to do its job by standing above public excitement and telling the truths without fear or favour.

The real story of Rukutana and the political wars in Ntungamo will one day be told. It involves powerful political forces in that birthplace of Museveni and the First Lady, Janet. The social media mob accuse Rukutana of being a powerful figure abusing his power against small people. The truths, however, is that the minister is actually involved in a titanic struggle against very powerful forces deeply connected to and entrenched in state house.

Those of us who have covered elections in that area since 1996 can read between the lines.


What do you think?

Written by Andrew M. Mwenda

Andrew M. Mwenda is currently the Managing Director of Independent Publications Limited, the publishers of The Independent, East Africa’s leading current affairs newsmagazine. An admirer of Socrates, Karl Popper and Frederick Von Hayek, he is an activist, a journalist, a columnist, a part time poet, a businessman and a social entrepreneur.

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