Appointment of former Daily Monitor chief Don Wanyama gives insight into Museveni's strategy to deal with critical donors
Ideally, an attack by a foreign diplomat on Uganda should be frowned upon by any patriotic Ugandan; but Observer political editor EDRIS KIGGUNDU today reveals how a rant by an American official gave one journalist a very sensitive job in State House.
Don Wanyama's recent elevation to senior presidential press secretary was triggered by an event thousands of miles away at the United Nations headquarters in New York, The Observer has established.
But more than anything, our investigation gives an insight both into who calls the shots in the Presidency, and Kampala's strategy to silence donors increasingly critical of Museveni's 30-year rule. For instance, while he may not always be in the media defending his father, First Son Muhoozi Kainerugaba is strategically influential.
The events that changed Don Wanyama's fortunes can be traced back to a March 21 UN Security Council meeting in New York. Samantha Power, the US permanent representative to the UN, savaged President Museveni, describing him as a threat to the stability of Uganda and the region.
Power said the February 18 general election was not free and fair and that Museveni had won by harassing his opponents and intimidating the media. While this was nothing new, the fact that it was being said by a top United States official surprised many - and shocked Museveni.
Insider sources said that Power's claims infuriated President Museveni, the First Lady Janet and First Son Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the commander of the elite Special Forces Command. Museveni reportedly instructed Maj Edith Nakalema, his private assistant, to tell Linda Nabusayi, then presidential press secretary, or any other person to respond to the accusations and defend him.
For some unclear reason, according to sources, Nakalema failed to get through to Nabusayi despite repeated attempts. She then turned to Wanyama, then special media assistant in the office of the NRM chairman. She asked him to see if he could write something. Other sources say that in addition to Nakalema's call, Maj Gen Muhoozi too called Wanyama over the same subject.
Whatever the case, Wanyama, a former managing editor at Daily Monitor, readily answered his country's call. On March 23, New Vision published an article titled: Museveni does not need lectures from Samantha Power.
In the 996-worded rebuttal, Wanyama argued: "It is just not Uganda's stability that Museveni guarantees; it is that of the entire Great Lakes region. When everyone was running out of Mogadishu and allowing al-Shabab to turn the city into its base, it is President Museveni who placed Ugandan boots on the ground and helped pacify that country."
Wanyama also noted that apart from a few incidents, the elections were fair because none of the eight presidential candidates were stopped from campaigning in any part of the country.
Sources claim the article impressed Museveni. Days later, Museveni summoned Wanyama to a meeting where he made it known that he wanted to appoint him as his senior press secretary.
Shortly after, State House employees got notification that Wanyama had been appointed as senior presidential press secretary, a new position that makes him the head of Museveni's media operation.
Contacted for his comments, Wanyama disputed parts of this version (without offering his version). But he admitted meeting the president after penning the article. He declined to reveal what was discussed in the meeting.
He told The Observer last week: "I am ready for the challenge," emphasizing that "it will not be a one-man show" but a team effort.
On Monday, May 16, Wanyama was officially introduced to the State House media staff as their new head at State House, Entebbe. According to sources that attended the meeting, Wanyama said he expected all members to work diligently to improve the image of the president.
Wanyama, once an avid critic of the president, now follows in the footsteps of former journalists who have headed Museveni's media operations. Virtually all presidential press secretaries (with the exception of Hope Kivengere and Mary Karooro Okurut) had long stints in the print media.
Wanyama's elevation completes a cycle that started mid last year when he was appointed as special media assistant in the office of the NRM chairman. Earlier in the year, Wanyama had been sacked by Daily Monitor for reportedly sanctioning the publication of an opinion poll without authorization from senior management.
He is supposed to design and ensure the implementation of a new media strategy, aimed at boosting President Museveni's image, nationally and internationally. According to sources, the strategy will go beyond dealing with the traditional media and encompass the social media.
As for Nabusayi, sources said, she is now in charge of making field deployments for the press team. She will be based at her office at Okello House, Nakasero. A senior journalist who requested for anonymity described Wanyama as a "sanitized" version of Tamale Mirundi, a former presidential press secretary, whose no-holds-barred approach to defending the president made him a loathed and loved figure in various circles.
"He [Wanyama] might not get as abusive as Tamale but expect him to be vicious when it comes to defending Museveni," the journalist said.
Mirundi, who often described himself as Museveni's dog, was pushed out of office last year under a cloud of controversy. He is currently a presidential advisor on the media.
Some commentators have said Nabusayi's major undoing was that she was not abrasive enough while defending the president, something Wanyama is unlikely to be.
Source: The Observer.