HOW RED PEPPER RE-OPENED
The Red Pepper is finally back and the boredom for most Kampalans will be no more effective Monday. This unexpected development came up following personal pardon from President Yoweri Museveni who clearly has used the two months closure of the people’s tabloid to re-assure everybody that he remains the most powerful man in Uganda. But how did this re-opening come about?
THE INSIDE STORY: The re-opening was preceded by very complex negotiations in which both sides sought to understand each other more. The newspaper was supposed to be re-opened about two weeks ago after an informal cabinet committee headed by Premier Ruhakana Rugunda held several meetings with the company Directors and secured several concessions and re-assurances. This informal cabinet subcommittee inter-alia had the likes of David Bahati, Chris Baryomunsi and others.
As of two weeks ago, Rugunda felt the subcommittee had covered enough ground and resolved most of the sticking issues. He opted to go and brief Cabinet and get them to endorse the new consensus he had reached with Pepper Directors. This was considered the prudent thing to do to relieve anxiety that the Red Pepper matter had occasioned on some ministers. Many were being asked by their voters regarding the fate of the people’s tabloid and they had no answers. Some had personal views but were fearful to express them because they didn’t know what Museveni’s position was.
So Rugunda felt that this early January cabinet meeting would be used to hammer out something similar to a unanimous cabinet position. But as fate would have it, Rugunda’s plans that day never materialized. Guess what? President Museveni, who none expected, suddenly turned up and naturally chaired the meeting. Ministers pensively waited to hear what the big man from Rwakitura was going to say about the Red Pepper saga but he never said anything. This prompted Rugunda to privately engage him after the meeting. Rugunda updated the President how much progress they had made and his view was that the people’s tabloid had been punished enough. The two leaders casually concurred that the 5 Bishops behind one of the continent’s most successful tabloid enterprises had reflected on their mistakes and were indeed remorseful. “That consensus you say your committee has built on re-opening is okay Rt. Honorable but I must meet those boys first before they re-open. I feel we need to engage and understand each other more.
They need to understand me more and I need to understand them more,” Museveni was reliably quoted as telling Rugunda as the two exclusively discussed the Red Pepper situation. It’s also true that sometime before Christmas Security Minister Gen Tumukunde surprised many when he took initiative and suggested a cabinet discussion on the Red Pepper continued closure but members, who perhaps didn’t want to goof in case someone utters something contrary to where the President stands, shut him up. They insisted they aren’t ready for such a discussion yet in actual sense it was largely for the fear of the unknown. But this Museveni/Rugunda engagement gave the clearest indication so far that it was now a matter of when and not if anymore. From that day on, the Red Pepper re-opening now depended on how soon the State House powerful PPS Molly Kamukama scheduled a meeting for the very enterprising Bishops to meet the big man. In the end, this opportunity came (rather very unexpectedly for the Bishops) just hours ago indicating to them President Museveni would meet them late Tuesday. Since we resent fake news, we won’t claim to know as yet what exactly transpired in that meeting beyond what is now out on record contained in the Pepper management statement that Director Arinaitwe Rugyendo released early Wednesday morning. We hereby share that statement below:
The government of Uganda has agreed to allow The Red Pepper and its sister publications resume business.
After a meeting with President Yoweri Museveni at State House Entebbe, Tuesday night, His Excellency pardoned the Company Directors and its Senior Editors and promised to immediately order the police to vacate the Pepper head office at Namanve and return all confiscated electronic equipment to the company.
The meeting followed both formal and informal protracted negotiations with senior government officials and individuals which commenced when the police stormed the Red Pepper offices on November 21 last year and closed down the publication, sending its five directors and three senior editors to prison for a month.
The closure and subsequent prosecution of the paper’s senior officials, followed a publication the previous day of a lead story that the state said was prejudicial to national security and that of the region.
During the meeting at State House Entebbe, H.E the President warned the Directors and Editors to stop being reckless and become more professional in the course of their reporting.
He immediately ordered his staff to give each of the 8 officials copies of a revised edition of his autobiography, *Sowing the Mustard Seed* and a booklet containing a lecture he gave during the marking of Nelson Mandela’s Day at Makerere University last year, to sharpen their ideological awareness.
The Directors and Senior Editors pledged to the President and the nation, a more transformed and professional publication going forward.
As the formal process to reopen the newspaper that has been under police siege for two months gets underway, the ground is now set for The Red Pepper, Uganda’s most influential newspaper, to hit the streets very very soon.