UGANDA: Of generals and journalists – suspicious deaths under Museveni regime
Quiet end to Teddy Ssezi Cheeye’s loud journalism
Written by BAKER BATTE LULE (THE OBSERVER)
The same conspiracy theories played out when Brigadier Noble Mayombo (permanent secretary, ministry of defence) and General Aronda Nyakairima (Internal Affairs minister) died suddenly.
“Generals don’t die like that,” Phillip Wafula Oguttu, then the leader of opposition in parliament, said as Nyakairima’s body lay in state.
Last week, a boda boda rider allegedly brought an end to the life of noted journalist Teddy Ssezi-Cheeye at Nakawa. He was hardly a year out of prison where he had served time for corruption. What Cheeye, Kazini, Mayombo and Nyakairima have in common is their deaths were as controversial as their lives. Relatives and friends demanded investigations.
Cheeye is credited by contemporaries for having revived activist journalism in Uganda, bringing the powerful to their knees. He feared no one. The president, first lady, ministers, army, police officers, judges and wealthy private citizens, all tasted the wrath of his pen.
His closeness to the establishment gave him access to gripping information. Dr Okodan Akwap, a former journalist and now dean of the faculty of social sciences and management studies at Kumi University, eulogised Cheeye, describing him in Daily Monitor as a controversial, cocky and sometimes self-absorbed journalist who pursued a brand of investigative reporting that set him miles apart from other local journalists who dabbled in that line of journalism.
“His newspaper, Uganda Confidential, acted as some kind of abattoir where Cheeye slaughtered the reputation of many mighty individuals… Cheeye stepped on way too many toes,” Akwap wrote.
Goretti Nassanga, a journalism professor at Makerere University, told The Observer: “He was one of the first journalists to contribute immensely to investigative journalism and it is sad that he has not lived to see this kind of journalism he contributed to blossom,” Nassanga said. “These days there are a lot of challenges to do this kind of journalism due to commercialisation of the media.”
Many of those his pen didn’t spare allege that Cheeye was paid to defame them. Indeed, Cheeye lost several legal suits for defamation, sedition and publication of false news [before it was struck off lawbooks] that were brought against him.
“Along the way, he got distracted; once you are preaching something, try and live up to those standards. We know journalists are human beings and live in the same society that has become infested with the vice of corruption but they should try and resist the temptation,” Nassanga said.
James Tumusiime, The Observer’s managing director, said Cheeye was passionate about journalism.
“When he told me he was going to revive Uganda Confidential just a few days after leaving Luzira, I thought he was crazy, but Cheeye was serious and within two months the magazine was on the streets,” Tumusiime said.
Cheeye’s name also appeared frequently in sexual shenanigans; most notorious of which was his trial for attempting to rape a one Zainabu Puwata he had allegedly kidnapped. Although he was acquitted on both accounts, his name was soiled.
In his book, Nothing Left to Steal, renowned South African investigative journalist, Mzilikazi wa Afrika, writes that in Africa there are two kinds of journalists; those who write about missing cats and those who write about missing money.
“If you write about missing cats, you are safe; but if you write about the missing money, you either get a bullet in your head or spend your entire life looking after your shoulders. Those who spend their life looking after their shoulders sometimes get tired and give in to the temptation of the state where they are offered government jobs with good perks hence becoming the most ardent praise singers of corruption and maladministration,” Mzilikazi writes.
In 2002, Cheeye gave up ‘looking after his shoulders’ and accepted a job as director for economic affairs in the Internal Security Organisation.
In 2009, Cheeye was found guilty of embezzling Shs 120 million meant for HIV, malaria and tuberculosis control under the Global Fund. The Anti-Corruption court presided over by Judge J.B. Katutsi sentenced him to 10 years in Luzira Upper prison. He was released on March 3, 2017.
Upon being freed, Cheeye maintained his innocence, instead telling interviewers that he was ‘fixed’ by those on whose toes he had stepped.
Cheeye was born on October 8, 1958. He married Annete Kairaba in 1986 and they begot Arnold Sseezi, Laura Sseezi and Lorna Sseezi.
Cheeye went to Kenya Institute of Mass Communication for a diploma in journalism. He also had an MBA degree from London School of Economics and Politics.
Cheeye’s daughter Laura said he finished his biography a day before he died. She recounted how he was one of the journalists who started New Vision newspaper in March 1986. How he wrote the lead Op-Ed piece in the first issue.
In mid-1986, he was recruited into the army to head the information department. He was the first editor of the Tarehe Sita, the army’s commemorative magazine. He was later appointed a captain and assigned to head the political secretariat at Republic House, now Bulange, the seat of Buganda kingdom.
In 1988, Cheeye moved to the NRM secretariat as the editor of the National Resistance Movement newsletter which folded almost immediately. Then he moved to the ministry of information.
In December 1990, Cheeye started Uganda Confidential newsletter. Two years later, together with Wafula Oguttu, Ogen John Kevin Aliro, David Ouma Balikoowa, Richard Tebere, Jimmy Serugo and Charles Onyango-Obbo, Cheeye started The Monitor newspaper in 1992.
According to Oguttu, Cheeye wanted the newspaper to be known as the ‘Flame’ but fellow revolutionary Augustine Ruzindana, advised that would be too radical.
At Cheeye’s office in Nsambya, they agreed that Uganda Confidential ceases publication once The Monitor starts. However, Cheeye had a change of heart and was one of the first shareholders to sell his Monitor shares to Nation Media Group when it bought off the paper and its associated businesses.
In January 2002,Cheeye was appointed director of economic affairs in ISO, bringing to an end the nightmare which Uganda Confidential had become to government officials. It is said that before Cheeye was appointed, there was an agreement that he would wind up his newsletter. January 2002 saw the last issue.
Seven years later, in April 2009, Cheeye was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment at Luzira prison from where he wrote four books; Uganda’s Thirty Years (1986-2016) of Failure to Singaporise; Uganda’s Recent 45 Years of Political History; The Two Political and Economic Falsehoods Which the IMF/World Bank and Their Black Local Masters of Ceremonies tell Africans in order to keep Them in Perpetual Backwardness and My Journey to Luzira Upper Prison, My Days There, and My Days After Prison.
All these books are yet to be published.
After his release, Cheeye relaunched Confidential magazine whose final issue was published on March 2, a day after his life was brought to an end. Cheeye was buried in Luweero at a ceremony attended by few people.