Meet Marcella Karekye, the new Director of GCIC and Special Presidential Assistant for Communications

Since the appointment of the new director for the Government Citizen Interaction Centre not much was known about this non-descript outfit except for the few online tweets and virtual engagements here and there but nothing more. Verbal research yielded little to nothing but the usual indifferent ‘I don’t know’ chorused by many a Ugandan who like me, can’t seem to quite get a hang of all these organizations and institutions that seem to materialize with each passing day.

Before we delve into the subject of this story, it is imperative that we understand the fragile and volatile relationship between the Government, its proletariat and of course the 4th estate. As is the norm with most countries, the relationship between the media fraternity and the Government can get quite tumultuous as evidenced in the recent elections when journalists were beaten and arrested during the riots.

However George Orwell, author of novels: 1984 and Animal Farm, noted that every writer was biased to a certain degree that it reflected in their writings and works of Art. A pivotal Country, Uganda has faced a number of setbacks along the way but to entirely ignore what very little progress there might be would be a fallacy-for it is evident for anyone one to see, whether foreign or local that Uganda is steadily making progress.

Fortunately for the Ugandan Weekly, we were able to meet up with the new head of the GCIC and discuss her new post and the herculean task set before her. Meeting with the highly educated, youthful and affable Karekye was indeed a sight for sore eyes, a breath of fresh air from the usual domineering senior or middle-aged men that dominate the directorial world of Uganda. Below are a few excerpts from the interview.

UW: Who are you, what are your names and before you started at GCIC, can you give us a brief insight in to your history/background?

Marcella: Yes My name is Marcella Karekye Tumusiime, I am the director of GCIC and a Special Presidential Assistant, for Communication under State House. I used to work at Fountain Publishers: where my background is in publishing and information and I have a historical connection to the media from my dad ( James Rwehabura Tumusiime, proprietor Fountain Publishers). I went to school here and after senior six I went away to University in Oxford Brookes and did my masters and MBA in a business school based in Arusha, Tanzania which gave me a broad outlook on life and all those principles are applicable today. GCIC was started in 2016 but commissioned in 2017 as a response to the President’s tour after his campaign in the 2016 elections; he found that the citizens didn’t know about government programs and yet there were recipients of these government programs. So there was that disconnect and he found that because the population was mostly young and with the advent of social media and digital platforms it was an easier way to communicate these programs and alert the audience who needed it. The youth is in a totally different world and so there is a gap. We feel that the government is also abit out of touch with the times especially when it comes to small and medium enterprises  and the  programs available to them.

UW: Thank you. Now we have different types of audiences: we have those who are learned and then there is also those who are not able to access this information because they might not be as eligible. What type of solution to do you have for that particular Ugandan?

Marcella: We hope to partner with Radio stations and Television stations and part of our teams here go to radio stations where they are open to anyone who can come and communicate about their programs. We are hoping that once we break down these programs enough for people to understand, we shall go to radios stations and explain that this road, or electricity that has been brought to you comes at a cost but it is for you in the end and there is a responsibility that you must extend.

UW: There is a lack of communication between the Government and its citizens, and this has allowed certain elements to exploit this gap or ignorance. Do you have any plans to broaden the transparency between this government and the people?

Marcella: Well just before you came we were hosting people form National Planning Authority, somehow it has to be a collective effort to be able to bring the government to the people; we are the bridge between the people and the government, so we must have transparency on the side of the government. Which by the way, they are really willing to do they are just too busy doing the work they forget to communicate.

UW: In my village we as residents decided to collectively work on our road, because to wait on government given past experiences would be futile. So as GCIC, much as you communicate these government programs, do you also take feedback from the people back to those in charge?

Marcella: Yes, we take information from you (the citizens) back to the officials. We have a toll free line which was set up and will be up and running. Where we got a few issues was the response from the other side but also social media is a very good place to connect with us and hope that going forward it will be easier for us to pass these reports or complaints to the respective Ministry’s Departments and get them to work in a more seamless manner.

UW: I went through a small phase of rebellion and what helped me was seeing pictures of the President on his farm and the anecdotes that accompanied them, this helped to put me and many youths around the country on the path we’re on today as modern famers, but then on the other hand we have the government stifling voices and limiting the use of social media which defeats the purpose. Can you promote something then turn around and restrict it?

Well you know that didn’t come until after a long time, I think at one point we were really the laughing stock of many neighbors; that here anything goes. So by the time he (the President) did it, it had rattled a few people. He will open it eventually, but first of all we still have a lot of these abusive people on social media and it was really unfair for Facebook to interfere with his campaign, you(FB) can’t say that these people are for the National Resistance Movement and remove them all then leave those for other candidates, if they had removed all of us then it would have been beyond us and we would have accepted their policies…

UW: And what about the Media relations with the Government. I believe this is the right institution to address these issues because you as the ears and eyes of the government at ground level should have solutions to the impasse between the two.

Marcella: Uh, well the main stream media has a different way of doing things because they have to sell, they are commercial orientated so they might do some conventional things and unconventional things. Where I think we can help them is provide factual news instead of them alleging that the government has done something. It’s our place to come in and double check this information but it is abit tricky; because Media has the need to be sensational and they are competing with so many other people/media houses so you have to see how to get into the minds of these people first. For the most part our role is to provide facts and by being consistent and factual, eventually people will find us to be more credible than most. We don’t want to compete with these people they have their place, but we would like to see more serious news although you can’t dictate how they run their media houses.

UW: Can’t you implement specific guidelines?

Marcella: That is for Uganda Communications Commission and the Media Council and eventually the Ministry of ICT to do so.

UW: By the way myself and many Ugandans thought GCIC came about because of the poor interaction between the President and the people, specifically the opposition because people are not happy and they do have some legitimate reasons?

: Well partly that is due to propaganda. If someone gets into your head and skews some information or like you said ‘takes advantage of the information gap’ it’s enough for someone to believe you that there is in fact this particular tribe that is in power taking the money and all the jobs, but if you go into public service you will find that it is not true. There are so many dynamics generally that I believe maybe 80% is because of the fact that there is no information out there. So there is a lot of education that needs to be done.

UW: And that is where you guys come in right, to counteract all the wrong/false propaganda circulating in the country. What about those in the diaspora, do you have any programs for those?

Marcella: People in the diaspora have reached out after seeing that Uganda was not bleeding and instead discovered it was much more propaganda than anything else. They also said there wasn’t enough content coming from the country, so they hope that whatever we do, we send to them and they will in turn disseminate that information to fellow Ugandans living abroad.

UW: Apparently the MAMA awards were also cancelled because of the picture painted to the outside world?

Marcella: Yes, they were pushed, postponed actually but they are still there. At the time it was so sensitive because the noise that was coming from here was the louder people who were claiming that the country was burning to the ground and at the same time the internet was also off so there wasn’t enough engagement on our side to say that ‘look there is nothing happening here, it is really fine.’ So the organizers found it difficult to go on with all the controversy.

UW: When you engage a Tourist, they will tell you about 10 different things they love about Uganda, which is not the case when you talk to an ordinary Ugandan, their dialogue always rotates around politics. Do you intend to promote the country itself, not just the political side but as a whole?

Marcella: That’s why I think for a while we were pushing Tourism as a product and now the Agro-processing, because these are the things or natural resources that are ours. If you don’t love your country because the President is so and so it doesn’t change the fact that it has minerals, fantastic folds and animals.  I think Politics for me is a spoiler but it’s inevitable because the politics really do kinda affect everything else but if we don’t manage our narrative here internally then other people who want this to look like a politically unstable state will come out and push their narrative.

UW: Actually when you look at countries like Rwanda, they have a hold on the narrative coming out of the country to a point that any critical article against them is met with a bombardment of online bots that discredit any story contrary to what they want to portray.

Marcella: We are the only ones actually. If you go out of the state and meet like five Africans, the person who will be criticizing their country is most likely a Ugandan.

UW: This poses a huge challenge for you guys, because it all comes down to Ideology. In fact one wonders why they don’t teach Kiswahili in primary schools or how American students pledge their allegiance to the National Flag, why can’t Uganda adopt such programs?

Marcella: We are going to be partners with whoever or whomever will be able to start this. I think in this NDP III there is an element of mindset change and some money has already been allocated for this. If you asked me I wouldn’t allow civic education to be about any other country besides Uganda purely. I would also have Ugandans sing the National Anthem every day, I would have Kyankwanzi training come back or for every Ugandan to have a year off for National service. That way the love for their country becomes engrained in their mindsets.

UW: If we are not rooted where we are right now then you will find instances where Africans run to the white man for solutions when we as Africans are more than capable of finding these solutions for ourselves. Is it possible to harmonize all these opposing ideas to make a united, single front?

Marcella: I feel that one of the ways to make people love their country is to tell them what is good about their country. If you manage yourself internally and manage the narrative here, then you will be able to sell it to someone else. The narrative around Oil right now is to make it seem like it is not going to benefit Ugandans and so on and so forth, which is actually not true but until we have the real information-and we have to start sharing it-don’t listen to someone who has all these falsehoods because that is how you end up with a society with so much mistrust.

UW: And that is where you come in, to make that knowledge public and easily attainable?

Marcella: And tell it in such a way that people don’t look at it as propaganda but facts.

UW: For our last part how do we (citizens) know or trust this institution enough to get feedback back to government so that they can implement change?

Marcella: Because you (citizens) don’t have access to these government communicators or these entities to get information as quickly: 1. We are going to be the ones bringing this information to you and then 2. Hopefully in that interaction we will be able to bring back feedback from you (citizens) to them (Government). Even now the way they deal with us is by answering questions because they’ve realized that there is a gap and they have also studied the propaganda articles e.t.c, so they hope we can help them in that way by bringing back some feedback.

UW: Are you going to tackle specific areas or is your management broad?

Marcella: All sectors. As long as you are a government program or run a government program.

UW: Strictly government programs? Because you have instances where people are crying injustices at the hands of Security Operatives e.t.c

Marcella: You see at the end of the day even Security is a government program. Now Security can communicate through us; they can say: ‘look this is an operation we want to carry on for people without identification.’ So if they communicate this in advance, why wouldn’t you go and look for your I.d or maybe get off the street or something?

UW: What about the citizen’s feedback to Police?

Marcella: If they come back to us and tell us what happened we shall take it back to the people in charge. We hope that by the end, since we are still new, once we settle we shall be able to call upon those responsible and they should have someone ready to answer since these offices have Public Relations Officers and Communicators.

UW: So how is this different from what the Ministry of ICT does?

Marcella: ICT used to house GCIC at one point then we moved it to State House but ICT is also another government entity; they have so many programs that we are also supposed to publicize. They are just the mother ministry of all these communication works like: NITA, UCC e.t.c and everyone reports to them.

UW: Speaking of divisions, we have a problem of tribalism in this country. Some have even used that as a basis of their campaigns, what do you plan on doing with that?

Marcella: The best thing about his government is that it has taken its programs everywhere. It has contextualized them because we have different regions, resources and cultural aspects and there is development form one end to another. So to debunk or demystify all these claims, I will tell you that there is no road that asks you where you’re from or you can’t travel somewhere because you are of a different tribe. If you enter any health center, tribe is not on the form of requirements that you fill out; these are government projects and tribe is not an issue. Uganda has become cosmopolitan, you cannot now want to try return it back to a certain sect.

UW: Well Thank you so much, this has all been rather insightful unless you would like to add a few more words for the people of Uganda on behalf of the organization?

Marcella: We are really here to harmonize relations between government and the citizens, not so much to market the government. We feel that ignorance doesn’t help anyone and if you are raising children and can’t even explain simple things like the country’s history or what certain government entities do, or who is in charge of what then you are not helping either. We want to come and help with that knowledge gap and it’s not entirely government’s fault but also the fourth estate’s (media) which can be used a lot as a battle ground and a weapon.

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