Over 1000 journalists and media practitioners from different parts of Uganda converged at the Makerere University Business School (MUBS) in Kampala, between March 6 and 10, 2020, to participate in a conference that, apparently, was aimed at teaching them how to move themselves and other Ugandans out of poverty.
The conference was organised by the Youth Innovation and Transformation Association (YITA), under the theme: The Role of Journalists in Advancing Uganda’s Overall Development Agenda. President Museveni was, reportedly, listed as the chief trainer.
Many people applied mainly because they expected a “Presidential handshake” after the five-day residential conference. Rumours were making rounds that the envelop was as big as UGX 1m.
On the evening they reported (March 6), they were shocked to find that no proper accommodation arrangements had been made for them.
“People had to sleep in chairs and others on the floor. I chose to return home because it was near,” one of the participants said.
In a photo that was posted on Facebook, three participants are seen sharing what seems to be a two-inch old mattress with one of them supporting his legs with a chair.
One Wilson Asimwe, at 9:07am on March 7, shared videos and photos via the face book page of Joseph Kato, the Kampala Bureau Chief of the Uganda Radio Network, with a caption that seems to have been aimed at mocking the participants:
‘How Journalists who converged at MUBS to Meet President Museveni Spent the Night. This Profession has been abused and ‘vulgarized’
On Monday, the journalists turned sour and threatened to beat up a Top TV journalist who tried to film them, a clear indication that they did not want to be seen to be associated with the event.
They had been informed that the conference was ending on Monday with the speech of the President. They were, however, told that the fountain of honour (the chief trainer), was unable to make it but would be available on Tuesday so they had to wait.
Come Tuesday and the President is nowhere to be seen. Some people, reportedly from State House, arrived at the venue and told the participants that the President was unable to preside over the closure of the conference. He had, apparently, advised the journalists to form SACCOs through which they would be supported. What came as the final blow to many was the announcement that they would each be receiving a transport refund of UGX 100,000. From expectations of UGX 1m to a paltry UGX 100,000 after five days was simply crashing.
“We were already worn-out. We did mchaka mchaka, they made us sing songs in praise of Museveni, we just said ‘give us that 100k and we go home’,” a participant told us. “I will never again in my life go for such unclear conferences.”
By all indications the conference was politically motivated and any professional journalist should have known that. Apart from the quacks who have nothing to lose, it was a reckless way for any professional journalist to lose his or her credibility. Should we blame it on poverty?