• Mon Aug 15 2005
  • Who is Andrew Mwenda?

If a person is gifted with boldness, humour, egoism and arrogance, he is near to a character called Andrew Mujuni Mwenda. But if that person can speak eloquently at the speed of a steam engine, then he is the real Andrew Mujuni Mwenda, who was arrested last week, charged with sedition and released o
Vision Reporter
Journalist @ New vision
If a person is gifted with boldness, humour, egoism and arrogance, he is near to a character called Andrew Mujuni Mwenda. But if that person can speak eloquently at the speed of a steam engine, then he is the real Andrew Mujuni Mwenda, who was arrested last week, charged with sedition and released o
By Joshua Kato

If a person is gifted with boldness, humour, egoism and arrogance, he is near to a character called Andrew Mujuni Mwenda. But if that person can speak eloquently at the speed of a steam engine, then he is the real Andrew Mujuni Mwenda, who was arrested last week, charged with sedition and released on bail yesterday.

The “boy” from Fort Portal loves arguing and engaging in intellectual discourses. This has won him lots of praises and friends, but also lots enemies and ridicule.

Just look at some of the descriptions given by both his admirers and enemies, “ He is intelligent”, “He is motor-mouthed,” “He is a rabid dog”, “He is simply humorous and a joker”, All of these are trying to describe a young man who burst onto the media field about 12 years ago.

The moment he started writing, controversy followed him like a smoking gun. This was, however, not just the beginning of controversy in his path. In his early days, he wrote venomously about corruption in the government and the military.

Those in power thought he was simply another pretentious journalist, whose star would fade as fast as he came.

The star has instead been rising higher and higher and shining bright and brighter. From a reporter at The Monitor, to senior reporter and to political editor and a powerful talk show host.

All through his career, he has exhibited a degree of journalistic boldness that most of the time hinges on controversy and dances in the jaws of confrontation with the State.

“Over all his other weaknesses, Mwenda is a very bold fellow. Nobody can stop him from saying what he thinks is right,” says a senior journalist who worked with him at The Monitor, but has since left for another publication. This boldness has, of course, landed him into problems. The August 10 utterances are just the latest.

During his secondary school days at Mwiri in 1994, he was selected to be editor of the school newsletter. Just a few days later, he wrote a very hard-hitting article about the school headmaster. He was suspended for some days.

Earlier at Nyakasura School, he had led a strike in which the school headmaster was chased away from the school. When he joined Mbarara High School, he again led a strike in which he and other students loaded the headmaster’s property onto a lorry and escorted him straight to his home.

At MUK, both his lecturers and fellow students say he was very bright in the Mass Communication class. However, they add that he always took them on in heated arguments sometimes over small issues.

A journalist who studied with him at Mwiri remembers him in more ways than one. “I lived in the same house (Willis) with him,” he says.

This journalist remembers one particular incident that Mwenda perhaps carries even in his adult life. One Friday, a debating competition was held between teachers and students. When they failed to find a neutral chairman, Mwenda, then in S.5, volunteered to be the chairman. He turned out to be a very tough chairman who completely disorganised the teachers.

“There was a literature teacher called Kaweileku who was a wonderful debater. But when he came on stage, a student pointed out that the teacher had unkempt hair,” says this journalist.

Mwenda, speaking very seriously, ruled that it was not in order for a teacher to come on stage shabby. He ordered him to go and comb his hair. When the teacher came back, the same student pointed out that the teacher did not have a belt. Again, speaking in no uncertain terms, Mwenda ordered the teacher to go and put on a belt.

When the teacher came back the third time, he was again not looking as smart as Mwenda wanted. “As a matter of etiquette, I already warned you to be smart. Since you have failed, I disqualify you from the debate,” he said. Students celebrated.

Although he wanted to be a lawyer in childhood, his early years showed a budding journalist.

At school, he was known as the newsman. On top of being the editor of the school newsletter, he was also responsible for reading the daily news to the rest of the students on the school assembly. “He was a very hot cake to students. They always waited for him expectantly,” this journalist remembers.

Ever since he joined journalism around 1995, he has been summoned by the Police to answer this or that charge numerously. In September 1997, he fell in hot soup when he wrote a story that the then DRC President Desire Kabila had paid Uganda lots of dollars worthy of gold, for its role in the DRC war. He was charged with sedition and publishing false news but later acquitted in 1999.

In between his controversial utterances, he reads and researches a lot. His research works are now read worldwide.

He is occasionally invited by universities around the world to deliver papers on various issues, including politics, security and the economy.

One of his most widely read paper Foreign Aid Sabotages Reform touches on the effects of debt relief to poor countries. He, of course, argues against debt relief.

This paper was printed in reputable media around the world including The International Herald Tribune.

In March 2005, he was among the 16 senior journalists invited by the British government in London to acquaint themselves with African Commission, a PM Blair campaign to fight poverty in Africa.

“The other side of Mwenda is of a playful fellow. Every time he enters the newsroom and he is in the right mood, he goes around hugging everybody while cracking jokes,” says a journalist at The Monitor.
Although he sometimes claims in his utterances to support the opposition, close friends say he actually does not support any side in politics.

At one time, members of the opposition thought he was being used by the Government to spy on them, while at another time, the Government suspected him of spying for its opponents. This is after his phone number was found on the body of a dead rebel. “As a journalist, I talk to everybody,” he said. The army did not pursue the issue further.

According to some members of the intelligence bodies, his friendship with Rwandan President Paul Kagame is more than a normal one.

They argue that whenever Andrew visits Kigali, he is accorded VIP treatment. He is hosted in the most expensive hotels at the expense of the Rwandan government.

While addressing mourners at Kololo, President Museveni alluded to Mwenda endangering regional security by writing the way he does.

Mwenda does not help matters by writing articles that seem to favour and praise Rwanda compared to Uganda. Most of these articles touch on the military balance of the two countries. This obviously angers the powers that be.

On July 27, he wrote that Uganda had planned to attack Rwanda in 2001. The UPDF spokesman Lt. Col. Shaban Bantariza denied this.

Referring to these very articles, Monitor’s Executive Director Conrad Nkutu argued they did not in anyway endanger regional security. “The information was four years old,” he argues, adding that The Monitor used less than 10% the information they had.

Whenever he hosts top military officers, Col. Noble Mayombo and Lt. Col. Shaban Bantariza, he quickly reminds them he has more genuine intelligence about Ugandan security than them.

Mwenda says by looking for that information and writing it, he is fulfilling his responsibility as a journalist. He adds that the military and government are public goods that should not be hidden. Besides, he reasons, “It is the responsibility of the Government to keep its secrets.”

Some people who have worked with him claim he is very arrogant and respects no body. “ He is very erratic and rabid,” says one of his fellow journalists. “He loses his cool very quickly,” says another.

During the condemned Andrew Mwenda talkshow on Wednesday, he, for example, threatened to “slap” Moses Byaruhanga. “I can also slap you in this office,” he shouted. This might have been another of his jokes, but some people out there took it seriously.

Just a few weeks ago, he had an argument with a senior journalist in the newsroom that almost got out of hand. “He thinks he is the only person who knows everything. That is why he talks more than the guests on his show,” says one journalist.

But others who know him think a lot of the hard-hitting salvos that he launches are actually part of his humour. “For example, I don’t think he was serious about changing residences to Nakasero (State House),” says his colleagues.
Ironically, most of his relatives work for the same State he always launches salvos against.

His elder brother, Lt. Col. Kayanja Muhanga, is a senior officer in the UPDF while his elder sister, Margaret Muhanga, also a former journalist with The New Vision works with President’s Office.

His parents Mzee Phillip Muhanga of Fort Portal is said to be a staunch Museveni supporter.

Mwenda went to Nyakasura School, Mbarara High for his O’Level and Mwiri College for his A’Level. He joined Makerere Unuversity where he obtained a Bachelor’s degree in mass communication and doing his Master’s Development Studies and Political Science. Although he is an expert on many things, one field that has eluded him is family. That perhaps explains why, at 33, he is yet to marry. Strange but true!