Mr Joel Ssenyonyi, newly appointed spokesperson for Mr Robert Kyagulanyi and People Power, has joined the fray with a bang. He has jumped into the pool with a splash. And the noise and accompanying sprinkle is causing discomfort. In a veiled tweet (read threat) President Museveni’s senior press secretary Don Wanyama declared his readiness to unleash whatever he can at Ssenyonyi.
In an acerbic tweet, State minister for Privatisation and Investment Evelyn Anite reminded Ssenyonyi of his failed attempt to become Youth MP in 2011. Others have accused him of having been a partisan political operative hiding behind the mask of media objectivity.
The truth is Ssenyonyi is not being ignored. The government spin doctors, quacks and hacks have opined that Ssenyonyi is part of the anti-government sleeper cells hiding behind the veil of journalism.
That argument is used to bolster the bogus and illegal attempt by the Uganda Communications Commission to arm-twist some media houses into sacking certain journalists.
Needless to say, these arguments are bogus. Journalists like all citizens have the right to hold political views and opinions. They are only bound by the ethics of journalism as a profession. This expectation is that they are impartial. Not neutral. Impartiality is not neutrality.
But Ssenyonyi is no novice. He is well read. His first degree is in Statistics from the famed Institute of Statistics and Applied Economics (ISAE). He also has over a decade of journalism experience under his belt. From his life story he also knows how to hustle. He has overcome many odds and, therefore, it is no surprise that he has found himself in the inner circles of the People Power honcho.
In 2017, in a widely publicised story, Ssenyonyi confessed that he was a virgin. Uganda Christian News, an online portal, attributed the following statement to Joel: “I’m a virgin, some people might think that maybe I do not have opportunities, or that my ‘things’ don’t function. Of opportunities, they are immense. In fact, I was about to report a police case. About the ‘things’ God blessed me with, they are working. However, just because they work, doesn’t mean I go all over putting them in every place.”
This may not be a necessary qualification for his current assignment, but it speaks volumes about his self-discipline and his ability to sacrifice current pleasures for the sake of larger future goals. It also gives him an advantage since it is well known that State operatives deploy a bevy of women to tempt rising male politicians who can’t keep their zippers up. The reverse is also true. Some young and rising women leaders have been baited by weaponised hunks facilitated to lure them with worldly pleasures only to end up as fodder for the tabloids. Ssenyonyi is thus bulletproof in this department - so far.
Another online news outlet quoted him saying, “The leader in me has always been there. At one point I looked at things around me and said how can I be part of making things different? I said let me run for political office.”
Rumour has it that he may run for Parliament in the next elections. If that is true then his media celebrity as a news anchor and the high profile platform he has stepped on as the spokesman for Robert Kyagulanyi, has given him a head start.
Ssenyonyi brings his celebrity brand to his new assignment. Expectations are high. He is expected to be knowledgeable in public affairs, public speaking and writing. A spokesperson must be a true believer. He has to be someone who shares the goals of the person or the organisation he or she speaks for. A spokesperson should represent the organisation’s position even when they are in conflict with his or her position.
It is hoped that Ssenyonyi will be creative and bring gravitas to the job. It would be sad if there’s so much icing and no cake in his performance. He should be a spokesperson in the strict sense of the word. We don’t expect him to be a mere publicist.