- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 18, 2006

Out of Uganda

Reporters seldom have any control over the headlines that appear with their articles, but they often have to live with the consequences.

So it is for Blake Lambert, a freelance correspondent who until this month contributed to this and other newspapers and broadcast outlets from the Ugandan capital, Kampala.

A little over a week ago, Mr. Lambert was detained at the Kampala airport upon his return from a vacation in South Africa and placed on the next flight to Nairobi, Kenya. The Kenyans also denied him entry; he is now back in his native Canada and trying to figure out what to do about his personal possessions in Kampala.

What exactly made him persona non grata? He was never told precisely, nor was he given any opportunity to officially contest a decision not to renew his work permit or journalists’ credentials. But he has a few ideas.

One is an article that he wrote for Salon.com, which was reprinted in a Ugandan newspaper, the Daily Monitor. It ran with a headline saying, “An African success story gone sour,” and a subhead saying, “Donors who poured billions into Uganda have hyped its progress, but President [Yoweri] Museveni had proven to be just another corrupt despot.”

Mr. Lambert, of course, was not the first reporter to say Mr. Museveni, once seen as a model for free market and democratic reforms in Africa, has grown increasingly authoritarian and interested in preserving his own rule.

But his work was particularly visible to the authorities because he also served as a regular panelist and occasional guest host on a Kampala radio program, where he could be heard by ordinary Ugandans.

Another of his articles, which appeared in this newspaper and elsewhere, noted that Uganda was moving away from the use of condoms toward abstinence-only solutions to the spread of AIDS, and linked this to the influence of first lady Janet Museveni, a vocal evangelical Christian.

I know from my days as a correspondent in neighboring Kenya some years ago that the surest way for a reporter to get a one-way ticket out of the country was to write something that reflected poorly on the president’s family.

The political level

Whatever the reasons, Mr. Lambert got his first inkling that something was wrong in early January when he applied to renew of his press accreditation — until then a routine matter.

Despite repeated inquiries, he heard nothing back until the local press and wire agencies began producing articles saying he and British Broadcasting Corp. reporter Will Ross were having accreditation problems.

Robert Kabushenga, a political appointee responsible since the start of the year for vetting such applications, was quoted by the Associated Press saying, “That man has his own problems. As for his seeking the accreditation, the answer is either yes or no. He goes on the radio and talks useless things.”

Mr. Lambert finally got a meeting with Mr. Kabushenga on Jan. 16, where he was told that his accreditation was now being handled at the political level.

The correspondent appealed to diplomats and press advocacy groups such as the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders; he also learned through intermediaries that members of the civil service were arguing in his support.

However Mr. Kabushenga formally objected to the Media Council, constitutionally responsible for accrediting reporters, that Mr. Lambert’s work was “a negative mixture of biased and false reporting” and that it was “prejudicial to our foreign policy in particular and the national interest in general.”

And in a remark particularly rich in irony, Mr. Kabushenga accused Mr. Lambert of having claimed the Uganda government had “started restricting freedom of expression in the country and clamping down on foreign journalists.”

Mr. Kabushenga’s arguments appear to have been decisive.

David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is djones@washingtontimes.com.

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