When a good friend read that the Ugandan Parliament prematurely observed a moment of silence following mistaken reports of the death of the Zambia President, Levy Mwanawasa, he sent me an email: “It’s highly dangerous to pass a story before thorough verification.”
Uganda’s deputy Speaker Rebecca Kadaga had asked the MPs to observe a minute of silence over Mwanawasa’s death, saying she had already confirmed the story.
“Before we adjourned for lunch break, I had received information that President Levy Mwanawasa had died. During the break I confirmed the news. Let us stand up and observe a moment of silence in his honour,” Kadaga is quoted to have told Parliament.
But she got it wrong. Mwanawasa, 59, suffered a stroke earlier this week in Egypt where he had gone for a summit of the African Union.
Varying reports on Mwanawasa condition led to confusion even at the top of South Africa’s government, with President Thabo Mbeki commenting at a public ceremony on Thursday that he had been told Mwanawasa had died.
Later, Zambian Information minister Mike Mulongoti told state radio and television that the President was responding well to treatment and that doctors were happy with his progress.
“The president still remains in the intensive care unit but he is responding well to treatment. He has made steady progress,” Mulongoti said. He described reports that the Zambian leader had died as “malicious”.
It’s very important to verify a story before it’s told to the world. But those in charge of giving information should also be honest and straightforward too. They should act very fast to avoid any room for speculation.
In Rwanda, the suspension of the Commissioner General of Police, Andrew Rwigamba and the Criminal Investigation Department boss, Costa Habyara and head of police training school in Gishari Lambert Sano was the talk of the town last Thursday but government and police officials had remained evasive over the matter when The New Times contacted them.
Nobody could go on record for two days. After the story was published based on police sources, Internal Security Minister Sheikh Musa Fazil Harelimana told journalists that the story was indeed true. Reasons regarding three senior police officers’ suspension are not yet public and speculation is rife.
Police Spokesman Willy Marcel Higiro had earlier said he could not confirm because the issue was too sensitive. When those in charge of information give wrong information, it creates confusion. And when they withhold it, a room for speculation is created.