Thursday, May 12, 2011



At work yesterday, one of the teachers at the lunch table warned us of potential troubles that might ensue during today's inauguration. She said, "You know Besigye is going to try and have his own swearing-in ceremony at Constitution Square on 12th May."

Oh really? Now that would have the potential for disaster, except I didn't believe it was ever true. I've been following the news
pretty closely, and I did not recall ever hearing Besigye say that or read a quote from him related to him having a simultaneous swearing-in ceremony. Where did this rumour come from? Well, if you do a basic Internet search, you will find that one publication has printed a story about Besigye's planned swearing-in ceremony where he "hopes intoxicated youths will cause havoc" (I'm sure that's just what he wants.), and that rag is The Red Pepper.

The other place you will find the supposed simultaneous swearing-in ceremony referenced is during an interview Museveni gave on 21st April on a talk-shop program Mugoba Nsonga on Bukedde Television and Bukedde FM (both Vision Group-owned, which is government owned). When the subject of Besigye's swearing-in came up, the President commented, "Besigye to swear in on May 12 as President is not wise and it will not happen. Anybody who will involve themselves in that, I feel sorry for them..." I feel sorry for anybody who would use a Red Pepper article as a source of information. As Susan O'Chola de Roy succinctly put it: "that's trash journalism."

Besigye's swearing-in is just one of several vicious rumours I've heard circulating around town over the past several weeks. When Besigye was shot with a rubber bullet in the finger, the message I received made it sound like he'd died. Gossip is very ingrained in our society. Some find the spreading of rumours to be fun and interesting, and I must admit that I've enjoyed an earful or two of gossip in my life. However, during certain times, under certain circumstances, and related to certain issues, rumours can be very dangerous.

I'm reading a fascinating book right now call They Called Themselves the KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group. The author, Susan Campbell Bartoletti, explains the role of rumours during the Reconstruction Era in the South of the US, but I think her explanation holds true in most times and situations:

During times of crisis or uncertainty, people often resort to rumours, or stories circulated without facts to confirm the truth, to help them cope with anxieties and fears. Of all the rumours, racial and hate rumours are considered the most dangerous because they are divisive and create hostility that can lead to violence.

When rumours with no factual confirmation begin to be spread around as truth, when tabloids begin to be read as legitimate newspapers, we have a problem. Likewise, when seemingly legitimate news outlets with large audiences present rumour-based material as fact, the problem grows exponentially. Then I get fed preposterous rumours at the staff lunch table.

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