A minister’s driver accused of damaging beyond repair a student’s suitcase at Buddo secondary school has been ordered to report the police tomorrow.
The directive comes after a social media post about the incident went viral with many netizens calling for action against the errant driver. The government vehicle, registration number UG-0915Z has since been traced to Jennifer Namuyangu, the state minister in charge of Bunyoro Affairs, whom netizens are now asking to return to the same school and compensate the child, whose property was allegedly damaged by her driver. Government vehicles have often been accused of creating havoc and mess on Ugandan roads at times resulting in road carnage.
“Dear Hon. Jennifer Namuyangu, state minister Bunyoro Affairs. We’ve been told that this car was assigned to you. If it’s true, go to Buddo with a new suitcase and apologize to the kid or else…” Nation Media journalist Gabriel Buule posted on Twitter.
But while the debate rumbled on, the permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) Keith Muhakanizi issued a statement calling the incident unfortunate. Muhakanizi says that the act committed by the driver was very grave and puts the image of OPM in disrepute.
He directed the driver to report to the acting director of traffic police tomorrow Tuesday, February 7 at 10 am. The driver has also been asked to show cause why disciplinary action should not be taken against him through a written response which is also expected on Tuesday.
But Livingstone Ssenabulya, the director of studies (DoS) at the school notes that the driver knocked on the suitcase accidentally because the student had placed it directly in the reversing space. He says so far, an officer from Buddo police post and the regional CID officer have visited the school to investigate the matter. He, however, acknowledges that the money that was given to the learner wasn’t enough to repair the suitcase
“I think the student put a suitcase [in the way] and the driver reversed, he’d not seen properly. So after realising that, he gave him some Shs 10,000 which was not enough to repair the suitcase. It might need a replacement not just repair,” said Ssenabulya.
The utilization of social media as a means of expressing grievances and demanding accountability from those in authority is growing in popularity in Uganda, where over three million people regularly use these platforms. Social media has enabled heightened public scrutiny and pressure on various issues, resulting in the formation of public opinion and holding those responsible accountable.
For instance, recently social media played a key role in exposing alleged corruption at Entebbe international airport and bringing attention to the controversial issue of rainbow painting (associated with homosexuality) in a children’s park, which resulted in the removal of the paint.
Dr Wairagala Wakabi, the executive director, of the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), believes that the rise of social media as a platform for public discourse is a positive development as it provides the public with a space to raise their issues and reach decision-makers in a timely manner. He also believes that offline mechanisms have sometimes failed to provide solutions.
“There are very few avenues for citizens’ public participation, many of them don’t work. Now when you look at social media there is the is and convenience with which citizens are able to participate in public affairs. You’re actually able to reach millions of people very quickly including duty-bearers. The avenues that we have to reach offline, to reach duty bearers are extremely few and they don’t work but social media gives us a very swift, a very cheap, a very efficient means of communicating, of monitoring public affairs, of participating and even reaching the ears of those who able to action on these matters,” said Wakabi.
Wakabi, an expert in the field of ICT, research, and media training, recognizes the downside of using social media as a tool for holding duty bearers accountable. He notes that some individuals may spread false information, leading the public to act based on misinformation. However, he also notes that, largely, social media platforms can be effective in shaping public opinion and holding those responsible accountable.
“Yes we have a problem of misinformation sometimes, of false news sometimes and lack of digital literacy where some people take some false news on face value thinking it is the truth. So there is need to address that but on the overall balance, the value of social media as medium for public engagement and a medium for holding leaders to account or as a medium for raising issues that are hurting citizens overrides the few negatives that I have mentioned,” said Wakabi.