Those who know him and what he goes through, the possible threats and risks he exposes himself to as he seeks particular information from various government agencies, describe him as Uganda’s most courageous journalist.
Well, I haven’t known him for long.
It is now about 4 months since I met him at a conference in Kampala in November last year as one of my facilitators on media training that ran for about a week. Since then, I have known him as a simple person, jovial and social person.
But that is at the personal level, professionally, he actually does what many think is provocative and risky as he looks for information that might expose the biggest thief in government or the most underperforming departments, in particular government agencies.
Sekyewa is a man who doesn’t compromise on good governance and accountability. “Journalists….actually all citizens should be knowledgeable people who have a responsibility of ensuring good governance and accountability by milking information needed by the public government,” he says.
Sekyewa started his media agency, Hub for Investigative Media (HIM) in January 2013 with keen interest in how government funds were being handled.
“At the time I was beginning, I remember about nine permanent secretaries from different ministries were battling corruption cases against their employer (government). I wondered what was happening and that’s how I picked interest to find out, and for the public to know what was happening, especially in the government ministries,” he says.
Although he knew it was going to be difficult, he could not waver as he believed in the law. “I read the 2005 Access to Information Act and realised there was a tool I could use to help me in my battle,” he recounts.
“The law was very clear and I started filing my request to various government agencies, especially demanding information on remittances of withholding tax to Uganda Revenue Authority. I heard that some are cut and disappear in unscrupulous means,” he says.
Due to his desire for government accountability, Sekyewa abandoned his Shs4.5m a month job. “We had been working on a project where we trained journalists on how to use the law to demand accountability from government. After the training, we did an evaluation and nobody had put into practice what we had trained,” he says, adding that, “this prompted me to take it myself and champion this cause [demanding for information]”.
Sekyewa had heard different people say journalists and the media do not research. “I was fed up of this nonsense of government leaders saying journalists don’t do research. When I looked around and found a good law, I decided to start,” he says.
He encourages journalists to look beyond their fingers. “They want quick gains but they should think about what country they want for their grandchildren,” he advises.
He, however, cautions: “You don’t just file an information request, you have to read the laws and understand them, otherwise they will keep tossing you around until you give up.”
Not a big deal for Sekyewa
Following a recent ruling in which Sekyewa won a case against National Forestry Authority, many journalists showered him with praises.
“Well, it was good but this is just the beginning because I have made about 132 information requests, and I can tell you that over 98 per cent have been rejected,” he says, adding, “and this is not about me. Everybody who thinks this country should be governed on the principles of accountability needs to pick up the courage and demand information from state agencies.”
Despite the high rate of rejection he has faced, Sekyewa is not about to give up.
“I am preparing more requests and this time, I am interested in district administrations across the country,” he says.
Sekyewa is aware of the sensitivity of what he does and says he “folds his shirt’s sleeves” to fight every day.
“It is a risky venture, I have received some threats from certain people, but I don’t want to give that [the threats] prominence,” he says adding that, “most people point fingers at me and say I like to sue everyone.
“The moment I make an information request, I am determined to follow it to its logical conclusion,” he stresses.
Sekyewa now has a team of six, who help him since the workload keeps growing.
He wants to see more cases being decided the way the NFA case was, so that the public can worry less about what might be going wrong in the country.
“This keeps me going, when I ask and information is withheld, I push on. Because I know that something is wrong,” he says, adding that “you can’t deny anyone information unless you have something to hide. These agencies should provide this information as a proactive measure to avoid wasting tax payers’ money in damages when they lose cases,” he concludes.
Sekyewa recently won a case against the National Forestry Authority (NFA) for denying him access to information on fires in the 506 central forest reserves in the country.
He took the case to court in 2013, saying the NFA had violated the Access to Information law and Article 41 of the 1995 Constitution.
Both laws state that “Every citizen has a right of access to information in the possession of the State or any state agency except where the release of the information is likely to prejudice the security or sovereignty of the State or interfere with the right to privacy of any other person.”
On February 6 Chief Magistrate Boniface Wamala ruled in favour of Sekyewa, stating that NFA acted in disregard of the law, when it took more than 21 days without responding to his request for information.
Education: Mengo Senior School for O and A- Level. Journalism training at Uganda Management Institute and an MA in Journalism from Freie Universitaet Berlin, Germany.
Employment: Worked with Teddy Seezi Cheeye at the defunct Uganda Confidential for about nine months before moving to Germany, where he lived for 16 years.
He is currently the Executive Director of Hub for Investigative Media, which he started. He also does part-time media consultancy for international organisations.