Saturday, April 29, 2017

NRM politicians reminisce on before they became National Robbers' Movement #Uganda

This is not for the faint hearted like Bugos...


[4/22, 22:29] Conrad Nkutu: New Vision is very resilient paper. When Monitor went daily in 1996, New Vision's marketshare fell from 100% to 52% overnight (assuming a 2-paper market) and the company went into negative cash flow.

I was hired by William Pike to help turn round this loss and four years later we were back up to a 70% share of market.

Three years later, Nation Media Group tasked me to lead the loss-to-profit turnaround of a massively loss making Monitor, whose share was down to 30%.

Three years later we had grown Monitor from 30% to 48% and were well on our way to market leadership.

Today, New Vision is back to 70% and Monitor is down to 30%... again!

[4/22, 23:00] Conrad Nkutu: House rules apply: During the 2006 presidential elections, Monitor put itself in a very difficult position.

My stand was that the independent paper had to be boldly pro-democracy to support the country transition into the then infant multipartyism.

My Executive Editor was Peter Mwesige. We took the view that where the interests of a democratic Uganda and those of the opposition coincided, we would not dilute our pro-democracy activism in order to appear neutral.

The test of our firmness was 3 big events:

The first was our running of the Obote life story series. I got wind that Obote's health was deteriorating as he aged and sent Andrew Mwenda to Lusaka to interview him. It was a fascinating life story and circulation went up 25%+.

The President was furious and called me three times to complain about the attention the former President was getting. He told me to wind up the series and I respectfully declined.

He then got real mad when we published an episode in which Obote blamed Museveni for messing up their joint anti-Amin invasion from Tz in September 1972.

The President called daily for 4 consecutive days demanding a retraction and apology from Monitor. While I was personally more inclined to believe Museveni's version of the 1972 events, I told him that as a newspaper, it was difficult to confirm the truth of 32-year old events and it was his word against Obote's so he could give us his version and we run it off page 1.

Man was furious and said he would sue Monitor plus me personally for damaging his reputation as a freedom fighter if we didn't apologize.

I told him "Sir, with all respect, at the time of the invasion, both you and Obote were rebels committing treason against the legal (by Decree) government of President Idi Amin. So you had no injurable reputation for that period..."

To my total surprise he went quiet then asked: are you sure that is a correct legal position? I said yes Mr President, we are sued daily and I know the defamation law very well. We should refer this matter to your Private Secretary Legal, Hussein Kashillingi, who will confirm to you that I am correct.

A few minutes later, Kashillingi was on the phone laughing at the exchange. The President called back to say he wud not sue me but I should not tell Ugandans Obote's lies about him. I renewed the offer to run his version and he declined.
[4/22, 23:12] Fal Kay: 2006?
Patu come and read this!
How I wish M6 was on this forum. Conrad those two wanted to eat me up for those facts......i was subsequently labelled a kipinga!.....This is the same period there was a diversion in NRM,  a movement away from Nation building to Party/ individual survival
[4/22, 23:35] Conrad Nkutu: House rules apply: in the Obote story, there was no big deal beyond press freedom. Obote died a few months later and we were glad we'd told his story.

Same for the second test: Around Sept-October 2005, the Army Commander, General Aronda was appointed CDF. Mwenda ran a story saying the President had initially appointed Saleh CDF and sent out a radio message to this effect then rescinded it and appointed Aronda, who was set to go abroad for a course, after Saleh declined the appointment in the middle of the night.

Museveni was much embarrassed by the story and sent Information Minister Nsaba Buturo to tell me it was false and we must retract and apologize. For reasons I cannot explain here, I was 100% sure Andrew had his facts right and I respectfully declined.

The President then sent our Board Chairman, Dr Martin Aliker, also a Presidential Advisor, to see me with the same demand. He told me the President had vowed to close the newspaper if we did not give in.

I told him I was sure the story was true and I would stand by my Political Editor and the right of reporters to report factually.

The Directors flew in from Nairobi for an emergency Board meeting as closure was imminent. Some senior editors attended. I told the Board that Andrew had excellent sources and had never filed a single fact-disputed story in his entire career and I was standing by him. Everyone present fully agreed on this.

We discussed for 5 hours how to survive closure. Late in the afternoon I sensed the Board caving in as telephone pressure from Nakasero and Nsaba Buturo was piled on Dr Aliker.

I called Aliker and the Group CEO Wilfred Kiboro, a very loyal boss, out into the corridor and with Andrew's consent told them why there was zero percent chance that the story was false. They went quiet.

We walked back in and Kiboro said: I am convinced the story is true. The decision on closure now belongs to Conrad. It is he who must close his paper or keep it open.

I told the Board : look, we hv just relaunched a growing paper #"Truth Everyday." We cannot betray the public trust. If we do, the readers will "close" us and if we don't, Museveni will close us. But we will re-open some day with our professional integrity and reputations intact. I cannot retract this story today then face reporters tomorrow and urge them to go seek truth and believe management will protect them. So I will not retract.

The room went silent. Then all our phones received an SMS message saying Besigye was being arrested and serious riots were breaking out. I said this will be the story of the  election.

A day or two later, Kyam may recall that everyone was getting word that Monitor was to be closed by CMI.

I packed personal stuff and company cheque books and many staffers went to sit outside the gate to await the army.

We got further word that troops were on trucks at CMI awaiting final orders from Museveni to Mayombo and almost everyone cleared out. I was given last chance by Buturo and declined. I sat at the Reception for two hours but they never came. We went back to work
[4/23, 00:05] Conrad Nkutu: House rules apply: the biggest test ever faced by Monitor was the detention and trial of Besigye.

The country was outraged. Besigye was nominated from prison and you cud not sell a newspaper in this country without the word "Besigye" in the headline. Our editor, Peter Mwesige vowed to use the word Besigye in the headline till he was freed.

Mayombo was appointed Chairman of New Vision to control William Pike's Besigye coverage and Pike complied. Vision sales plummeted and Mayombo calls 6pm demanding an immediate dinner meeting at the Sheraton. I had met Noble many times on presidential instruction and this was my last time to see him.

At the time, the Ukrainian opposition presidential candidate Yushchenko, had recently been poisoned at a dinner with the country's intelligence chief and his face had developed green lesions that almost killed him.

So when the waitress came, Noble ordered. I said double his order and serve us on a single plate. Noble laughed and said the Ukrainian chief was incompetent but he had no plans to poison me. We ate off the same plate.

Noble told me the NRM machinery was agonized over Besigye's detention and lacked moral strength to give its best to the President. Monitor has to get Besigye off page1 and out of the newspaper. Pike has told us he can only blackout Besigye if Monitor and Red Pepper play ball. I know you will not be persuaded so I am authorized to offer XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX in form of YYYY or ZZZZ.

I declined the offer and said Besigye should be tried in a civilian court or freed - or we focus our coverage on the injustice of the court martial and the denial of bail.

He said okay, I will return my focus to you after the election. A month after the election, the newly launched NTV, into which our parent company had just sunk $4.5 million, was closed by UCC and the NMG Board and the Aga Khan were told it would only be reopened if I was transferred to Nairobi.

I resisted the transfer and on two occasions I got NTV reopened with the help of Nsibambi, Kategaya and Kajura.

After a 6-month standoff, the Aga Khan gave in and I was eventually compelled to accept a promotion and transfer to Nairobi as Group Strategy Director.

And so Ndugu Makokha, that was the road to my exile and the beginning of Monitor's troubled path back from 48% to 30% marketshare.

Rugyendo and Nick, house rules apply!
[4/23, 00:51] Conrad Nkutu: The President always found me very respectful of him and his office in the dozens of meetings to which he summoned me to Nakasero.

There were many things he asked for to which I said yes without a fuss. These were usually requests to put UPDF-LRA defeat stories on page1. Or regional statements from Arusha, please put the photo of a visiting President on page1 etc.

On many a Sunday morning, 6am, the switchboard wud call and he wud come onto the line demanding I turn up for a 6.30am breakfast to review a pile of complaints. I had to think about what I would say to him for every critical story or editorial and rarely went to bed before reading every adverse story knowing the phone will ring 6pm sharp.

I never went 20 days without a face to face summons to Nakasero. Half the time it was about Andrew Mwenda - print and radio complaints. Watching Andrew do total battle with Museveni with high voice, gesturing arms and endless facts fascinated him and Amelia and I would smile quietly at each other as Museveni predictably lost almost all his battles with Andrew and ended up writing notes.

I am always amazed by the strong view the public has that Museveni buys Andrew because nothing cud be further from the truth.

Amelia must laugh whenever she hears it because she is one of the people who understands that relationship well. Museveni respects research and needs and uses but despises yes-men and I cud see that that was Andrew's strong point with him. We wud go there to be bashed and the meeting usually turned into him consulting Andrew on some economic policy war he was having with donors or Cabinet.

Museveni wud jail Andrew for shredding him on the radio and when I go to see him at CPS, I find Saleh, Muhoozi and the President's Doctor hv just been to see him on the President's orders.  Andrew was a very frequent visitor to my office and many of the President's phone calls found him in my office.

I cannot go into the details but the President has always valued his advice even as he occasionally jailed him when he hit him too hard. Contrary to the public view, Andrew was never the opposition journalists who crossed over. He was always NRM-Critical and he has been very close to the President for almost 20 years now.

Museveni's relationship with me was very different, it was permanent merry go round of wooing, convincing and menacing.
He tried hard to persuade me that he was acting in national interest and Monitor should embrace him.

He showed some respect for my independent assessment of national interest while sometimes losing his cool and asking if I thought I knew national interest better than him. Answer: no Sir, I know it differently!
[4/23, 00:57] ‪+256 782 848908‬: On the other side , this shows the man has some level of tolerance. Had it been his x spy chief down south... You would be "the late Conrad" God forbid
[4/23, 01:25] Enock Twinoburyo: May be M9 never crossed over, he was arrested  etc f9r his criticality(percieved as noise). And if u sch of thought is real, then it was all stage managed. But certainly the change of views and criticality have  changed 4 M9. He was critical of the half full bottle, now he massages the half empty one
[4/23, 01:39] Edgar Tabaro: As you managed Monitor I managed UBC during the same. In my case I put the story openly Facebook. Haters can go hang!!
[4/23, 01:41] Conrad Nkutu: We engaged in a battle of wits and wills when he attempted to sell the Dairy Corporation to a Malaysian "investor" for one US Dollar.

I was sitting at the State House veranda. A group of Ministry of Finance officials were at the next table. They were frustrated that the President was not taking their advice on Dairy Corporation. The Privatisation Unit had over 4 competitive bids ranging from $9-14 million.

But the President had told by the owner of Malee Sampran, a dairy company in Malaysia, that he would import machinery that would process milk in Ankole and fruits in Busoga but he found Uganda risky so we should give him Dairy Corporation for one dollar as an incentive for him to invest another $25 million.

One very senior official who shall remain nameless said Mzee will never listen to us on this issue, he needs external advice... as he stared at me. The rest looked at me, looked away and then offloaded all the problems with the President's decision.

It was on this occasion that i realized that many senior civil servants fight hard to give good advice to the President.

I grabbed my notebook and they turned their backs to me while speaking a little louder for my benefit.

2 days later Monitor ran the story. Dairy Corporation was to be sold for a dollar inspite of a $14 million bid being on the table. Unnamed senior government officials doubted the financial ability of Malee Sampran and the Parliamentary Committee on the Economy and the Ministry of Finance had already advised against it.

I was summoned to Nakasero at 6am. But I went well prepared, knowing he wud be furious.

The President told me I was an economic saboteur and he would close the paper if I ran another story on Dairy Corporation. He was going ahead #$1 and wud not tolerate any further sabotage.

I said Mr President there's something your officials are afraid to tell you. He calmed down. Sir, the investor is broke. You visited his factory and things looked okay but that company has no capacity to invest $25 million in Malaysia, let alone Uganda. I want to return this afternoon with an analysis that is being prepared for me. The due diligence on your part has not been well done.

He agreed. I returned that afternoon with the Management Accountant of Monitor, Peter Mpala. Andrew and I opted not to take the Finance Manager, who was a Kenyan.

We took Mpala's ACCA Certificate and explained to Museveni what the ACCA qualification means in the accounting profession, globally.

Peter then took him thru a 1-page analytical summary we had done on Malee Sampran's accounts plus the accounts themselves, obtained easily online since the company was public.

From the profit ratio (it was in losses) to the negative cash flow to the balance sheet insolvency, we took Museveni through the accounts and he was convinced the company was broke.

Malee Sampran had also registered a Ugandan subsidiary, Pan African Foods Ltd which Ministry of Education was to give a sole contract to supply school milk to UPE schools. All this I learnt at the State House verandah. I also learnt that certain prominent dairy farmers (names withheld) were lined up to supply milk to Pan African Foods.

We also learnt that the Board of Dairy Corporation was in the know of a request to Malee to pay $14 million to the Ugandan shareholders in Pan African Foods in consideration of it getting Dairy Corporation for a dollar. We did a company search at the registry for the Ugandan shareholders and were told the company was wound up and the file vanished while our reporter was waiting to see it. The whole thing was rotten.

I gave him the whole story and said Mr President we are not after embarrassing you. Give us a statement saying you have found the investor has weaknesses and the bidding process should proceed. We will not say we brought you this information and we need not publish most of it. Just stop this deal. Most of this information will leak to MPs from all over and it will come out if you don't cancel the deal.

He accepted but then turned round and asked me to give him 5days to bring the MPs on the National Economy Committee to accept the deal... I was shocked and said Sir, 5 days yes but to cancel not to woo Parliament. If there is no cancellation in 5 days, I will publish.

Over the next 5 days, the President called daily to buy time and cajole for non-publication. On the 5th day, at 5pm, I called Amelia and asked her to tell him we were printing tonight.

He rang back furious and threatening to close us. I respectfully stood my ground. The story appeared the next morning and Parliament sat that afternoon and immediately passed a resolution barring the deal.

A presidential letter was sent to the Aga Khan in Paris, labeling me an economic saboteur and demanding my transfer to Nairobi. The Board in Nairobi was very embarrassed when I briefed them and I survived another year till the closure of NTV...
[4/23, 01:46] Samuel Makhoka: Basing on this, do you think Museveni is a corrupt man?
[4/23, 02:10] Samuel Makhoka: Joseph Tumushabe!  Very interesting person. I have an interesting story with him. But what comes to my mind when he is mentioned is how he left the country. That morning, he was driving his 3 year old son, in his Pajero short chassis, to kindergarten in Gaba. Along the way, he got a call from a former student of his who was working at CMI. Joseph turned the car in the middle of the road. The rest as they say, is history. But he got to see that, then 3 year old, son of his when he was 17 years.
[4/23, 02:13] ‪+256 782 848908‬: He is one hell of a tough guy . He recently narrated his last days in Uganda .... Hollywood stuff!
[4/23, 02:18] Conrad Nkutu: Hehehehe @Simon Kasyate was a very good professional. I still remember the day the President himself leaked to me, a letter he had written to Gen Moses Ali and all Ministers, informing them that: I have seen the Minutes of the last Cabinet meeting in which Cabinet noted that Col Kizza Besigye has a right to return from exile. I agree but Cabinet should be aware that Col Kizza Besigye has criminal cases to answer...

I sent the letter to KB in South Africa and asked for his comment. His reply: I will bring forward my travel date and return to Uganda next week on flight KQ....

So I called @Simon Kasyate to my office and tasked him to fly to Nairobi, track down Besigye and keep his eyes glued to him till what we thought wud be his airside arrest as soon as he got off the plane, where no other reporter wud be present.

Simon duly tracked down KB in the transit lounge at JKIA and filed constant news reports for the 5 or so hours it took them to get to Najjanankumbi where KB registered as a voter. That day, people trekked into town in miles of queues for last minute voter registration. It was massive.

Now here's the interesting foot note on Mwenda. Andrew had confronted the President with evidence of massive presence of ghost voters on the 2001 register. He told the president that given as KB had gone into exile, the opposition was in a much weakened position for 2006.

So no need to rig. Clean the register of these ghosts and win a clean election. So the President directed the introduction of the first photographic Voter's Register which was cleaned of 2.5 million ghosts... knowing KB wud not return, especially knowing he wud be arrested. I was even briefed about the rape and LRA-PRA charges and told him about them before he returned.

And then Simon Kasyate decides to fly back with Besigye, who presents another ambush candidacy. Because the register was cleaned, there was panic... so now you know why he ended up #Luzira...
[4/23, 02:24] Samuel Makhoka: Conrad, did you also follow the David Tinyefuza 'negotiations' with FDC leadership in which he suggested that they are willing to fund another FDC delegates conference?
[4/23, 02:25] Conrad Nkutu: Are you referring to the episode that saw Mushega's name mentioned "here and there?" πŸ™ˆπŸ™ˆπŸ™ŠπŸ™Š
[4/23, 02:27] Samuel Makhoka: I was then summoned to pick 'new' nomination forms, given money and told to send guys out to look for new signatures.
[4/23, 02:29] Samuel Makhoka: I got a special hire from Nkumba, went to my shack in Bweyogerere with the new forms
[4/23, 02:31] Samuel Makhoka: Upto now, I have been asked to account for that money...πŸ˜…πŸ˜…πŸ˜…
[4/23, 02:56] ‪+256 782 848908‬: Samia ,Nkuntu received endless calls over mere headlines just  imagine how muzeyi relates with other organs of state .  Imagine meetings with CJ prior to  presidential petitions, imagine meetings with the speaker prior to  constitutional amendments.  Imagine how many calls and directives  Mutebile receives on a daily !!!
[4/23, 06:19] Kyamutetera Muhereza: The brokenness of Malee Sampran was my story....I broke. I downloaded their results from their website, then went to Conrad...who asked me to speak to Mpala

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