The world is rightly harsh in its criticism of Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, but tolerates some really bad behaviour byÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â Yoweri Museveni, writes Mondli Makhanya in the Sunday Times. Recently, Uganda's leader has cracked down hard on the media, and the continent – and the world – should not tolerate it.
A few months back, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni stood side by side with his Zimbabwean counterpart Robert Mugabe to condemn the evil they believe the media does.
Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â 'I came out of the TV station and four guys grabbed me and forced me into a car. They dragged me on my back'Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â The two men, who are notables in the elite club of the planet's longest- serving dictators, decried the role played by the media on our continent.
"You (pursue) political agendas against us and you do so to promote people into power, quite often backed by foreign governments. You persistently render Africa as a continent incapable of doing anything positive, not even managing its own affairs, and try to cause your foreign masters to impose policies on us," said the man whose ascension to power most of us toasted back in 1986.
Mugabe echoed him, singling out the BBC and CNN as the worst offenders.
"I know you, agents of the Western governments who want to impose their policies on us; you are employed to deliberately report negatively about Mugabe," he said.
It was not surprising to hear such talk from these two men, who have never been friends of the media. Or of democracy, for that matter.
They are among the most notorious violators of human rights on the continent and hate being shown up in their respective countries' media for their failings and their nefarious deeds.
Mugabe has gone as far as banning a newspaper, a sin fit for eternal damnation to fire and teeth-gnashing.
But what was striking was that even though Mugabe hates and is equally hated by the Western powers, Museveni is not. Mugabe is persona non grata in Western capitals, with travel bans on him and Zanu-PF posse.
Museveni, despite his anti-imperialist rhetoric, is a darling of the West and his heinous acts receive little or no criticism from the world's powers. In fact, former US president George W Bush was rather fond of this despot, exchanging back slaps on many an occasion. The US even helps in the training of Museveni's security forces and the UK is generous in its assistance to Museveni's despotic regime. The worst censure he has ever suffered has been the temporary suspension of aid.
And I'm almost certain the recently discovered oil reserves in the Great Lakes and Uganda's strategic location next to al-Qaeda-friendly Sudan and Somalia have absolutely nothing to do with this blind eye.
But Museveni is as bad as, if not worse than, Mugabe. The atrocities committed by his security agencies are spine-chilling and should receive a great deal more attention from us in the media.
What brings me to Museveni this week is the horrible story of Kalundi Semuraga, a top Ugandan journalist who has over the years had the guts to speak out against Museveni's excesses.
Last month, Semuraga appeared on a television panel discussion about the recent riots in which 11 people were killed by the security forces and scores more injured and detained.
On the show he was scathing about the Museveni government's handling of the crisis. He would have known that he was going to irk the high-ups, but he did not bargain for what was to happen when he stepped out of the studio.
He was abducted in front of several witnesses, including his co-panelists.
"I came out of the TV station and four guys grabbed me and forced me into a car. They were dragging me literally on my back and dumped me into the back of the car. They were punching and kicking me and for some strange reason trying to undress me," he said after his release.
Over the next two days he was moved around various detention centres, known in Uganda as "safe houses".
He was, as is common in Uganda, severely tortured. The methods used included twisting his fingers backwards, punching and kicking, poking his eyes and attempting to choke him.
He was subsequently charged with sedition and will go on trial soon.
Serumaga's case has attracted the attention of international bodies, who are becoming increasingly aware of Uganda's deteriorating human rights situation.
East African writers signed a petition in which they stated that the fact that "state forces were brazen enough to abduct a well-known media personality in the presence of witnesses is an extremely worrying indication of the direction the Ugandan government is taking against perceived critics". PEN international warned that the prosecution may contravene the United Nations' International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Now this may sound like bleating on behalf of a member of my tribe. I will confess that it is, but the broader picture is about the evil that this continent tolerates in its leaders.
I happen to live in a country where we can pretty much say what we like about the most powerful figures in the land. No one goes to jail for utterances that are within the bounds of the law legislated by our democratic parliament. There are no government critics who are tortured for their political views and activities. Even racist right-wingers who spew bile are dealt with in a civilised manner.
I like that.
It is something we need to protect and entrench and ensure is not encroached upon. But at the same time we need to be conscious of the plight of those on our continent who should enjoy the rights that we enjoy.
* Makhanya is editor of the Sunday Times. This column first appeared on 4 October 2009.