By Michael Wambi
The media fraternity is mourning the passing of veteran Journalist, Teddy Seezi Cheeye, whose controversial career ended in a hit and run boda-boda accident at Nakawa, on Thursday.
Recalling his journey in the newsroom, senior journalists say that Cheeye has left a mark in the journalism industry despite the tragedy that befell him long after he left the newsroom, finding himself in prison, for the same crime that he had fought through the use of the pen.
Barnard Tabaire, the Director of Programmes and a co-founder of African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) hails the late Teddy Seezi Cheeye for introducing crusading journalism in Uganda in the early 90’s. Tabaire says Cheeye through Uganda Confidential, led a crusade against corruption and abuse of government.
He says that it is ironical that corruption later ended up engineering him years later after he had stopped publishing Uganda Confidential. Tabaire says much as Cheeye did not get everything accurate, he tried as much as he could to make the conduct of public affairs in Uganda more transparent.
A number of other journalists have lamented the fact that Cheeye succumbed to corruption when he took up a job as the director for Economic Monitoring in the Internal Security Organization (ISO) and when he formed Uganda Centre for Accountability (UCA) whose activities landed him in trouble.
He was convicted by the Anti-Corruption Court in April 2009 for embezzling 120 million Shillings of the Global Fund and sentenced to 10 years in jail. He, however, served six of the ten years and was released a year ago for good conduct. He was also ordered to refund 110 million of the money he embezzled.
But despite the conviction and the jail sentence, many still believe that the late Teddy Seezi Cheeye exhibited courage required of a journalist to check excesses of those in authority.
Samuel Gummah, the Executive Director of Uganda Radio Network says The Uganda Confidential, above everything else, helped to shape journalists in the country. He said Cheeye personally pushed beyond the limits with his crusade journalism and exhibited courage that the untouchables in government could be touched through investigative journalism.
He adds that in the public, the late Cheeye became more of a commentator and campaigner and therefore failing to balance his stories. Gummah says even with that shortfall, Cheeye could still be credited because his stories generated public debate and discussion.
James Tumusiime, a former editor and contemporary of Teddy Seezi cheeye in a book “What Makes Africans laugh? Reflections of an Entrepreneur in Humour Media” says Teddy Seezi Cheeye stood out with his aggressive style of commentary, which bordered on libel and defamation, threatening a backlash from the public.
Tumusiime wrote that because of his style, Cheeye positioned himself as the crusader against corruption on the one hand, and defender of the NRM ideological line on the other.
The Uganda Confidential, in the early 90’s had a popular column; ‘Feet of Clay’ which targeted political figures and leaders. Some of its controversial commentaries then were about former Energy Minister, Richard Kaijuka and the then Secretary to the Treasury, now Bank of Uganda Governor, Tumusiime Mutebile among others.
The Uganda Confidential reported that the then minister of Energy and Mineral Development, Richard Kaijuka, has received a bribe of USD 240,000 as a bribe from Virginia-based AES Corporation, a private power company that had planned to build and operate a 200-megawatt dam at Bujagali rapids. The controversy later led to the resignation of Sir Richard Kaijuka who has been appointed as an Alternate Executive Director at the World Bank.
It is this nature of journalism that would lead him to numerous charges of defamation and libel in courts. The courts awarded his victims hefty damages which Cheeye most times failed to pay.
Media Consultant and Trainer, Adolf Mbaine wrote in his thesis for the award of a degree of Master of Arts in Journalism and Media Studies that Cheeye’s style was rather unconventional and his paper began making all types of allegations against all manner of people; ministers and other government officials, traders, soldiers, academics, judges, private people. After just two years of Uganda Confidential’s existence, civil suits in the High Court began to flow.
Mbaine concluded that Uganda’s defamation legal history would perhaps never have changed much, but for entry into the Ugandan press, in December 1990, of a newsletter called The Uganda Confidential, edited by Teddy Seezi Cheeye.
Cheeye personally complained that some figures in government had tried to use various means to discredit him and his stories, about government corruption. He battled several sedition charges too.
In 1996, Cheeye went through an embarrassing trial for allegedly kidnaping one Zainabu Puwata and attempting to rape her. He was acquitted when the magistrate ruled that the charge was a ” frame-up engineered by powerful and corrupt people who Cheeye had been long been criticizing in his journalistic work.
During several interviews upon his release from Luzira, Cheeye acknowledged the fact that he stepped on the toes of several people including a convicted prisoner who told him that he at one organized to have him killed.
Cheeye was one of the founding members of the Daily Monitor newspaper alongside Charles Onyango Obbo, and Wafula Oguttu among others.