Uganda's Museveni lashes out at media, blames 'drug users' for unrest

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni accused foreign and domestic media outlets of cheering on opposition supporters on Tuesday. He said they would be treated as 'enemies of Uganda’s recovery.'

James Akena/Reuters
Ugandan riot policemen beat a supporter of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change during a procession to welcome the party's leader, Kizza Besigye, in the capital, Kampala, last week. Ugandan police fired teargas to disperse thousands of supporters of Mr. Besigye while President Yoweri Museveni was being sworn in for a fourth term.

After Egypt's ousted President Hosni Mubarak attacked satellite TV channels and Libya's embattled leader Muammar Qaddafi called protesters drug-addled rodents, you might have thought that other African leaders facing unrest at home would try a new approach.

But on Tuesday veteran Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni instead took a page out of the playbook of his colleagues from North Africa – blaming recent turmoil in the country on drug-fueled rioters and lashing out at outlets such as Al Jazeera.

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In a lengthy statement, Mr. Museveni accused opposition leaders – especially his perennial bête-noire Dr. Kizza Besigye – of using a spate of recent protests over surging living costs as cover to try to create chaos in the country.

“They want to ignite riots using drug-users or even hired groups to loot the property of the [civilians],” Museveni said.

Protesters brought 'shame' to Uganda

Museveni was particularly incensed after his lavish swearing-in ceremony for a fourth term last Thursday was overshadowed by Dr. Besigye’s return to the country following almost two weeks in Nairobi being treated for injuries he received from security operatives during an earlier arrest.

Security forces dispersed tens of thousands of opposition supporters lining the airport highway with tear gas and live rounds and visiting dignitaries were caught up in chaotic scenes that Museveni’s statement said bought “shame to Uganda.”

And despite human rights groups condemning a government crackdown over the past month in which at least 10 people are thought to have been killed and hundreds arrested, Museveni said that some of the country’s security forces and judges had so far been too soft.

“Weaknesses in the existing laws, too much laxity by the elements of the judiciary and the police allow all this indiscipline and criminality to persist,” he said in a statement.

A warning for journalists

As for journalists, Museveni followed up on a spate of recent accusations by Ugandan officials with a pretty pointed warning for Ugandan and foreign outlets.

"The media houses both local and international such as Al Jazeera, BBC, NTV, The Daily Monitor, etc., that cheer on these irresponsible people are enemies of Uganda’s recovery and they will have to be treated as such,” he said.

And these are not empty words.

At least 16 local journalists – including some from state-run outlets – were beaten or had their equipment confiscated or damaged by security personnel as they covered Besigye’s return last week.

Although the chief of police has said that journalists were not targeted, few doubt that they were deliberately singled out and fear is mounting of a media clampdown in a country that is known for some of the region’s most vibrant and outspoken media.

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