Sejusa’s return: How we broke the story

At 8am on Saturday, my phone rang. The caller was precise to the point. She had a breaking story of national importance and was particular about the reason for the call.

“I want you to break that story. You can take my word that no other journalist both here and outside Uganda has it, you are the only one I am telling and please don’t break my trust,” she said.

The anxiety and excitement that comes with breaking a story is one that sends the adrenaline surging only one who has practised as a journalist can know.

What was the story? The source was not ready to share for now. She laughed and said, “It is a big one, I will call you later.” Up until the afternoon, every phone call that came through stirred immeasurable anxiety.

True to her word, she called in the afternoon, saying: “The story is that Gen. Sejusa is coming back to Uganda tonight. I have done my part. Do the rest. He lands at 10pm.” The source, however, requested that the story is only broken after the general had landed. Anything short of that would be breach of trust.

As I briefed the news editor, I could see his excitement, albeit restrained. The idea was that the Sunday Monitor would change its late edition after the general had touched down.

“We shall be on standby so go to Entebbe and text us when you see him, and then we shall change the cover,” the editor said. As I struggled to fight the excitement of being the first to tweet and post on Facebook about the general’s unannounced return, my source called to announce there were changes in the flight arrangements. Gen Sejusa would land between midnight and 1am.

I tipped off a senior colleague and photojournalist, hopped onto a company car and cruised to Entebbe, having our dinner at Lubowa. We kept resisting the urge to inform colleagues from other media houses and praying this was no hoax. This was a high-level operation.

By 2am, we were at the airport’s arrivals lounge. There was no security deployment. Gen Sejusa’s sister, whose presence our source tipped us about, kept pacing about and making phone calls. We also saw renowned human rights lawyer Ladislaus Rwakafuzi making endless calls.

We approached Mr Rwakafuzi, who told us Gen Sejusa was his client. We also learnt that the Chief of Defence Forces, Gen Katumba Wamala, was at the airport en route to Nairobi while the Police Director for Operations, Mr Andrew Felix Kawesi, was also around “positioned strategically”. Meanwhile, the presidential convoy had bypassed us at Zana on the Entebbe highway, at about 11pm headed to Kampala.

As we waited for the general’s arrival, I could not help but wonder. “Would he be arrested? Would it be smooth sailing for him? Will he speak to us? What if he does not turn up anyway?”

These were the questions I battled with when at 3:13am, information came that Gen Sejusa had landed and was at the VIP lounge. We could see Mr Rwakafuzi and Brig Ronnie Balya, the head of internal intelligence, at a distance. They were watching as Gen Sejusa’s sister hugged him.

My colleague, Isaac Imaka and I were the first to tweet about what we were seeing. I also made the announcement on my Facebook wall.

We realised we would not be allowed near him. We called Mr Rwakafuzi asking if he could place us in touch. The General first accepted before declining and instead dictating a brief message through Mr Rwakafuzi, asking that we relay it on KFM, our sister radio station. It was a request we could not honour at the odd hour of 3am.

Even if we had not gotten a detailed interview, we knew we could wake up with a scoop of a photo. As our photojournalist positioned himself strategically at the VIP Parking yard, ready to take a shot of Gen Sejusa boarding the waiting car, something happened. In a split second, the renegade soldier was whisked away—leaving our photojournalist helpless. He had missed the shot of a lifetime!

Later, Mr Rwakafuzi would announce that the sleek jeep was taking Gen Sejusa to Sembabule. The clandestine mission was over. Our photojournalist was dejected but we encouraged him—saying we could still find solace in the fact that we had broken the news first. We had not braved the cold Entebbe in vain.

SOURCE: Daily Monitor


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