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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Wear the old coat and buy the new book

With increased enrolment in schools and universities, coupled with a fast growing and literate population, Ugandan writers seem to be striking gold, though not yet, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza

The overall display at the different stands under the big tent at the National Theatre parking yard during the 16th edition of the National Book Week Festival was colourful with books on nearly everything for all reading ages and in as many languages.

After years of enduring a bogus dirge on the inexistence of reading material in Uganda (and by Ugandans), it was breathtaking to see all these beautiful titles smiling and seemingly beckoning the book lover: “Come and take me home and be with me all night long!”

But alas, the tent looked like the most unloved woman! Not many were seen buying books even at subsidised prices. So where was the crowd that thronged Makerere University’s Main Hall when Africa’s storyteller Ngugi wa Thiong’o was here in 2006?How about they that scrambled for the expensive books of V.S. Naipaul when he visited early this year? And the God-fearing that were seen at Hotel Africana paying for the books of American evangelist Andrew Wommack when he was here a few months back? Where was Mary Karooro Okurut so she could sign my copy of 'Child of a Delegate'?

A few metres away in the City Children’s Reading Tent, children were yawning wildly, the lucky ones licking ice cream from tiny cones and only one or two seemed engrossed in their books. It was a sharp contrast from the concentration at the same event in 2006 when Natasha Museveni Karugire read her children’s book 'Nzima and Njunju; A Story of Two Friends' to children at Garden City.

A children’s affairAt the National Theatre was a tell-it-all sign that even though books were now readily available and cheap, they were still not being read as much.

“We all know that people don’t read unless there is an examination, and that’s disastrous,” decried Loy Tumusiime, the chairperson of the Reading Association of Uganda (Rau). “If you visit another country at this time of the book fair, you have nowhere to pass because the human traffic is too much but here, very few people attend.”

She traced this lukewarm interest in books and reading to the illiterate backgrounds in which many are born where no book or newspaper can be found. Not forgetting school-goers that associate reading and learning with reading text books. It’s why Rau has covered close to 40 districts erecting reading tents to sensitise people about the importance of reading and exposing them to the available reading material. The association has also held literary workshops for teachers to instil in pupils and students the hunger for books.

But this cannot salvage the situation unless books indisputably relevant to contemporary Uganda are written. Abass Hassan Ibrahim Amin said: “I’m a hustler but my story as a rapper has not been told. I’ve moved in bookshops trying to get a book that talks about hip-hop but it’s not there. I last saw that book in Nairobi; so I’m like what’s up with Uganda’s book fair; don’t we have someone who can write a book about our hustle? Why can’t they write a story about police brutality and the hard life we are facing on the streets? We are not seeing that and that’s what we want to read. Let them write our own stories and we will read the books but if they are not writing our own stories, then there’s a problem.”

Some of Hassan’s points were faintly echoed by a P.7 pupil of Kitante Primary School while presenting a paper on the importance of reading during the official opening of the City Children’s Reading Tent. Adrian Ahereza berated writers and newspapers for chasing the quick buck by concentrating on silly subjects instead of quality substance that boosts the wisdom of individuals and helps transform society.

“Provide us with adequate, interesting and relevant reading materials,” he challenged. “Please inspire us; just see in the reading tents, there are only children; what about the adults?”

His Highness Moses Stephen Owor, the Tieng Adhola of Padhola who presided over the occasion, continued from where young Ahereza had stopped. It was an honourable task to fight illiteracy and its inherent ills, he said, by publishing and marketing great works that tempt people into a good reading culture. Because long gone are days of fireside stories and in their place should be books with strong African themes and valuable information to help all to contribute “to the common good of society.”

A day before, while launching eight new book titles on science and Agriculture Minister Hillary Onek urged all to utilise the knowledge in books by integrating them in their social-economic routines since it has been established that the higher the number of books read by each person in a country, the higher the per capita income.

At that point, you would agree with the theme of the event, “Publishing for lifelong Learning”, intended to popularise the pleasure and gains of reading beyond the curriculum, was befitting. As children of Railway Primary School recited a poem: One who reads is truly like gold.

Although Isaac Ssettuba, a Makerere University Literature lecturer, stirred many with his poem, 'Why Should I Write' when “None has time nor will to read…when handwritings mean nothing…” one can rightly argue that the country’s book industry has come a long way and the time is ripe to write more than never before.

Consider this: In 1962 Prof. Taban lo Liong declared Uganda a “literary desert” but withdrew the unpleasant proclamation 40 years later when he was hosted by the Uganda women writers’ association (Femrite) at their second edition of the annual week of literary activities when he found out that many Ugandan authors were writing avidly. Monica Arac de Nyeko, Moses Isegawa and Doreen Baingana have since won international literary awards and made Okot p’Bitek who was perceived to be the only accomplished writer to emerge out of Uganda seem insignificant.

Literary associations like National Book Trust of Uganda, Uganda Literature Fraternity, Uganda Children Writers and Illustrators Association, The National Library of Uganda, Femrite, Uganda Publishers Association, East African Book Development Association and African Publishers Network and others have indestructibly worked to preserve the country’s literary heritage by producing quality books, promoting them and the reading culture.

They have also organised literary awards like the one by the National Book Trust of Uganda (Nabotu) during the book week to honour the contribution of local authors and encourage them to write more and better and to inspire others to take up the noble and edifying challenge of writing.

During the 2008 Femrite’s week of literary activities, the government was urged to reduce sales and duty taxes on materials for producing books like ink and printing plates to pave way for affordable books and more production.

Femrite also proposed to the big players in the education system to recognise Ugandan literature as an expression of our identity and to have it on the teaching syllabus and set examinations on it. Except for Okot p Bitek’s 'Song of Lawino' and John Ruganda’s 'The Burdens' which were on the O-Level Literature syllabus of 1990/91, there were hardly any other set books by Ugandan authors.

This unfortunate trend however began to change in 1996. Today Julius Ocwinyo’s 'Fate of the Banished' (novel), Austin Bukenya’s 'The Bride' (play) and John Ruganda’s 'The Floods' (play) are on the A-Level literature syllabus 2009-2013 while Prof. Timothy Wangusa’s 'Upon This Mountain' (novel) and John Ruganda’s 'The Black Mamba' (play) are on for O-Level (2006-2010).

Even then, people like William Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy, the Bronte sisters and Chinua Achebe still dominate our literature syllabuses – which begs the question why, when we have our own accomplished authors.

With increased enrolment in schools, thanks to the universal primary and secondary education, and the tremendous population growth and with about 30 universities, it’s timely for Ugandan writers to redouble their efforts.

Without doubt, schools are reliable market places for Ugandan works and authors should take the chance to produce relevant and quality work.It’s reassuring that this year’s National Book Week had 31 public and community libraries exhibit their works in different areas countrywide.

That the Ugandan blogging community enthusiastically embraced the African Reading Challenge 2008, promising to read six African (Ugandan if you like) books and reviewing them on their blogs, shows reading is picking momentum.

We have no more reason to bemoan our poor reading culture. As author Austin Phelps once advised, “Wear the old coat and buy the new book!”

--Daily Monitor, Monday September 22, 2008

Who was who at the book week?


The 16th National Book Week Festival ran from September 15 - 20 at the National Theatre parking yard. Below are some publishing firms that exhibited their works.

Macmillan Uganda Publishers Ltd, a subsidiary of the Macmillan group of companies with an experience of more than 150 years of book publishing focuses on the development, promotion and widespread distribution of educational materials from pre-primary to university level.

MK Publishers Ltd., largely deals in major course books for primary and secondary schools. So here were books like MK Primary School Atlas, MK Primary School Dictionary, MK HIV/Aids Awareness Kit etc.National Library of Uganda –the government agency responsible for coordinating the development of public libraries in Uganda among others, exhibited some interesting titles.

Baroque Publishers (U) Ltd., had novels, plays, poetry and children’s story books. The plays included Victor Byabamazima’s Roadblock, one of last year’s national book week literary award winner.

Now for the Swahili lovers, the Institute of Kiswahili Research came all the way from Tanzania and exhibited works on Kiswahili grammar, phonology, oral and written literature, bilingual dictionaries including subject and scientific dictionaries.

Wavah Books were quite unique. From titles such The Shame of Dishonest Service, The Structure for Land in Buganda to Gordon B.K. Wavamuno: The story of an African Entrepreneur. All three titles were there, and many books in local languages.

Fountain Publishers Ltd., no doubt a giant in Uganda’s book industry had quite an interesting package. Gilbert Balibaseka Bukenya: Through Intricate Corridors to Power, The Buganda Factor in Uganda Politics, Principles of Land Law in Uganda, A Visitor’s Guide to Uganda, Rwanda the Land of a Thousand Hills, etc.

The East African Educational Publishers Ltd., really need no introduction. Their creative writers’ list has acclaimed figures like Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Chinua Achebe, Francis Imbuga, David Rubadiri, Okot p’Bitek and books by these great men and more were on display.

The children were given special attention by Uganda Children’s Writers & Illustrators Association (UCWIA) with all kinds of children’s plays.

Longhorn Publishers (U) Ltd who are considered the leading regional publisher of educational books in East Africa had a list on comprehensive primary course text books. Some titles included Understanding Integrated Science, Understanding Mathematics and Comprehensive Social Studies. So absurd the display happened when children are back to school!

Other exhibitors included Gusto Ltd., Kamalu Ltd., Pearson Longman Uganda, Femrite and a few others.

Let it be said that the books mentioned here are quite nothing compared to what was on the ground. You needed to be there to appreciate the vibrancy of the literary world of East Africa that we inhabit.

--Daily Monitor, Monday September 22, 2008

Sebunjo, Sundiata in concert


The world over, folk music is often performed by professional musicians and Uganda’s Joel Sebunjo is indeed one of them.

Fresh from a successful tour of Finland, Sweden, Belgium, England, Hong Kong, China and Taiwan, Sebunjo and his band Sundiata will be live in concert at Alliance Française offices in Nakasero tonight.

The Alliance Française-sponsored show starts at 7:30 pm and entrance fee is Shs4,000 for non Alliance Française (AFK) members whilst AFK members will go in for free.

The musical credentials of Joel Sebunjo are quite admirable, having learnt his trade with notable folk music masters such as Alagi Mbye (Gambia), Albert Ssempeke (Uganda) and Toumani Diabate (Mali).

The 24-year old composes in a number of languages and incorporates a variety of rhythms and styles into his music. His music is defiantly diverse, musically and linguistically. He sings in the indigenous Ugandan language of Luganda and in Wolof of Senegal, Mandinka (Gambia/Guinea). His kind of music a little sophisticated for the ordinary Ugandan, the very reason he’s not very popular.

His support cast, Sundiata, is a trio of young Ugandan talent also dedicated to folk music. Sebunjo is arguably one of the leading world exports from Uganda and has played at numerous stages around the world alongside the likes of renowned world music names such as Salif Keita (Mali), Ba Cissoko (Guinea), Cheb Kaled (Algeria) and Niger’s Etran Finatawa.

A holder of a Bachelor’s degree in music from Makerere University, Sebunjo spends a great deal of time composing and arranging his material. He draws on styles from the different regions of West Africa, rather than solely on the native music of Uganda.

His repertoire is varied between own compositions and Ganda-Mande folk music standards that are self interpreted and given fresh harmonies, mixing the sounds of Africa with folk, jazz and blues from around the world.

A percussionist, Sebunjo also emphasises a tight acoustic sound, showcasing some unique traditional instruments from East and West AFrica.

--Daily Monitor, Friday September 19, 2008

Real talent yet to come out of Wapi


“Fear or Respect?” was the theme of the third Words and Pictures (Wapi) event at Hotel Africana’s people’s space last Saturday. It was chosen out of the realisation that many confuse fear with respect and so would this be captured in the different presentations?

Yes, because upcoming poet Ronald Kiyemba recited a rhythmic and rhyming poem about the theme that earned him resounding appreciation from the audience while graffiti artists led by painter, designer and reggae artiste Xenson Ssenkaaba sprayed the stage dexterously bright as if to say that respect is radiant and upstages fear.

Otherwise, there was little change from the previous dos. We saw nearly the same faces, same acts and nothing extraordinarily fresh. It was however established that the Wapi advisory board is doing everything to ensure the monthly event helps the industry.

With hip-hop and other music genres dominating the programme, the biggest challenge facing the organisers remains that of artistes miming thereby making it difficult for the scouts in the crowd, if any, to spot real talent from the pretenders. Abramz Tekya who co-emcees at the event with Rachel K says this is what they have been discouraging artistes from doing.

“We’ve told them that this is a talent show and there’s no way people are going to know your vocal ability and your live performances if you just come and start miming your music,” he says. “We are heading to that kind of show were everyone will be doing it live with only an instrumental because we want to create a standard.

“We want to have a place where artistes can drop their music way before Wapi and then we can know who is to perform because if we are giving a platform to talent, then it’s fair to give a platform to people who are talented than to people who will just say ‘yeah, I can do that.”

A British Council initiative, Wapi was launched in Kenya in 2006. Besides Uganda, it has since extended to Tanzania, Nigeria and Ghana to help underground (undiscovered) artists display their creativity using words or pictures.

At Wapi Uganda however, writers, filmmakers, photographers, poets, dancers, painters, animators, emcees and sculptors are very few, leaving music, in particular hip-hop, to eclipse everything else. To inspire them to utilise the opportunity to the full, Tekya says they are planning to have what he calls “skill factories” whereby experts from the diverse art forms both foreign and local will within three months start equipping these young visual and verbal artists with skills that will help them ably compete at a professional level.

Meanwhile, they will continue to perform, network and engage the audience with something new in the best way they know how. At the Saturday event, Wapi established artistes performed alongside the upcoming which ideally is a good thing for the latter that still have more to learn. Talent, lots of energy and fast minds are at large as seen during the “raving mic session” where emcees pass the microphone around for interested parties to express themselves spontaneously with anything they like: A rap, a poem, a short story or a song.

This event is clearly viewed as a goldmine judging by the numbers that turn up. With a first-come-first-serve procedure, some have to be pushed to the next event because not all get the opportunity to perform on the day.

It cannot be denied that Wapi has great potential. Rapper Navio of Klear Kut says the “most important thing for upcoming artistes is getting the platform to be heard and British Council provides that in Wapi.”

It’s a platform on which many mingle and exchange notes; learn from one another, perhaps form groups and nurse their stage fright and look at each other as belonging to one formidable family.
Navio also admits he has seen some youngsters that with time will give him a run for his money. One of these could be 16-year-old Charles “Uncle 33” Ssebbowa who hypnotised the audience with his electric Luga-flow (hip-hop in Luganda) while performing Kigambo – a rap song in which he says he’s the next big thing on the hip-hop scene.

Tekya claims a certain American lady interested in African fashion and design was blown away by the creations she saw and promised to work with some of the designers. This could be a signal for something bigger.

--Daily Monitor, September 20, 2008

Uncle 33 is the rapper to watch


During the Wapi (Words and pictures) show at Hotel Africana, a new face drew the attention of the audience like no other. It took Charles “Uncle 33” Ssebbowa a few seconds into his performance to send the viewers wild with excitement.

The 16-year-old, in an army green T-shirt, faded jeans; a light green rucksack on his back, electrified viewers with his warp-speed rap style and dramatic hip-hop gestures. He was rapping in Luganda; what is known here as Luga-flow.

Later, back stage, the first question was why he calls himself Uncle 33 when he’s evidently not.

“Because I have 33 secret brains,” he said and laughed. “It’s just a name!”

Then he talked about his dynamic performance of Kigambo: “That record is ‘bout street hip-hop. It’s ‘bout free style. It’s ‘bout myself being a bad boy ‘cause I’m a hot rapper!”

In his self-made dictionary, bad boy means “being stylish, musically speaking.”

Uncle 33, an S.3 student of Chwa II Memorial College, Namungoona, also calls himself a soldier “cause I do terrible things in music.” He began rapping in 2006 and says he has performed many times at school shows but never before a huge crowd as was at Wapi.

“The response was good; now I have many fans,” he said happily. “I hope to get a sponsor so that I can go to studio; I’ve written so many records which need to be recorded.”

Besides Kigambo, Uncle 33 has another song called No Refuse about poverty, corruption, wars and bad governance.

The first born of five, Uncle 33, lives with his single mother, Rose Kajoina, a small restaurant owner in Kasubi. Growing up without a father (he abandoned them) proved difficult for Ssebowa forcing him to find solace in rap music.

“I could express myself better that way even when I was a little boy,” he said. “I’m a hip-hop boy and I want to be like Jay-Z because he raps marvellously.”

Uncle 33 promises to help Luga-flow get high: “I’m the hip-hop riser,” he says. “I want to be on a higher level like Bow Wow.”

The absence of a father pushes him to read and work hard: “I really love it and I want to get money so that I can also develop my family.”

With the incredible gift of self-expression and stage charisma, it may not take long for all eyes to turn on young Uncle 33. Then Wapi organisers who gave him a platform can brag if they like.

--Daily Monitor, September 20, 2008

Using holy hip-hop to win some for Jesus Christ


In a world many call crazy, youth culture has found its match in Renee ‘da preacher’ emcee of the Levite Clan, formerly Badda emcee of the Almighty TEAM, both hip hop crews that he has represented. The former is his current band and the latter is his old school band before his epiphany.

As a teenager, Renee yearned to live the American dream; drive fast cars, kick it with beautiful girls, grace the front pages, and pursue happiness with all his soul. But the tables turned round and next was his metamorphosis from a rollercoaster life to “holycoaster”, the latter coined by him to mean his journey with God.

Before that, Tupac Shakur, his idol, had inspired him to start writing his own rhymes and spitting them at school concerts. Soon, his walk morphed into the ubiquitous gangster swagger and buggy clothes became his fad, with chains around his neck and bandanas and baseball caps looking back on his head. He couldn’t afford the tattoo but he drew one that read THUG LIFE on his abdomen using a marker anyway.

Like all “Gs’ in da hood”, he became rebellious and often fought with school authorities and at one time with the police. Clever in class and dramatic on stage, Renee became popular among students and soon all the girls in the neighbourhood wanted to date this “young Mbarara nigger” (No offence intended).

But like the Damascus experience in the Bible, Renee got saved in 2000 and realised that: “Life is about more than beautiful girls and riding in a Benz; we all can’t achieve the American dream, but we can all achieve the supreme dream” – which he defines as being faithful to what God has called him to do.

What he does however has not gone well with some people because it doesn’t really put bread on the table like being a medical practitioner. As an urban missionary and hip hop minister, Renee has to wait on God to send him ravens with meat and bread like his Biblical hero the Prophet Elijah. But the ravens always come as God is faithful. Last year, for example, Renee spent three months in the UK and his ministering led many young people to the Lord.

“God used me mightily,” he says. “I prophesied over pastors and challenged their lukewarm culture of drinking wine; I was like, God wasn’t stupid when He juxtaposed the Holy Spirit with wine (Ephesians 5:18).You are either drunk with the wine of the world like those without Jesus, or you are drunk with heavenly wine (the Holy Spirit) and shaking the nations for Jesus, but you can’t have both.”

When Renee, whose real name is Richard Tumukunde, returned from Canterbury, he testified about his experience during Gospel Night at TLC and provoked young people to seek God. That’s how he got to be invited as guest preacher to a youth meeting at Jesus Alive Centre along Nkrumah Road. He is today the prayer leader of these weekly meetings called Change on Thursdays.

“We’ve been challenging the youth to embrace prayer and it is working. God is raising a generation of prayer warriors that will bring down the strongholds over our nation and the nations,” he says. “I’ve seen children weeping before God and some have spoken in tongues at the meetings.”

Though naturally talented as a speaker and rapper, it’s the spiritual element that makes listening to Renee’s sermons and music an uplifitng experience. In church when he leads worship or prayer, many get stirred to seek with depth for God.

“Some come to tell me about their little failings and I try not to make them feel condemned; I share about my own struggles and then we pray together,” he says. “Once you are struggling, do not allow the devil to put you in a corner alone where he’ll knock you out. You just need to stay in fellowship and seek God’s grace to continue standing.”

Renee’s leadership of urban youth began in 2003 in his first year at Makerere University, where he initiated the mass communication fellowship that helped transform many lives.

To hear this young minister confess that he’s a born-again Christian, with cornrows, clad in baggy jeans and a coat, an ear pin on his left ear, may get the book-cover judge posing questions; but Renee believes his style appeals to the youth – his target audience.

“I’m more burdened towards those who would rather not look God’s way and I’m talking about young children who don’t want to come to church, whose role models are 50 Cent and other Hollywood icons,” he says. “The ‘streets’ are my vineyard and ‘streets’ represent a platform beyond the four church walls, explaining my unorthodox way of discipleship – using holy hip hop to win some for Jesus.”

After the success of his band’s first album in 2007, Renee has embarked on a solo album, which he says was inspired by men like Leonard Ravenhill, A.W. Tozer, and the revivalists of old in Christendom who have mentored him in his spiritual journey.

He recently released his first music video off the album titled 'Glory 2 You Jesus' which talks of growing up as a young thug doing hard liquor and living on drugs, and how HIV/Aids killed many of his peers. He thanks God for transforming him from “a thug to T.H.U.G. (Totally Humble Unto God).”

It’s Renee’s grace and consuming zeal for the Lord that has stirred up many to turn to God.

--Sunday Monitor, September 14, 2008

Do you take time to read?

The 16th edition of the annual National Book Week festival, organised by the National Book Trust of Uganda (Nabotu), will take place from 15th to 20th September 2008 at the National Theatre, under the theme ‘Publishing for Lifelong Learning’. DENNIS D. MUHUMUZA asked some people about their love of reading and what they think of the event.

What do you think of the National Book Week festival?

Prof. Arthur Gakwandi, Author of Kosiya Kifefe, and president of International PEN Uganda Centre:
I think it’s useful in a sense that it provides a time when people involved in the industry get the public to focus on literary production and up-to-dates on new publications, important themes, and new messages that are being conveyed by writers. It’s also an opportunity for the writers to come into the limelight and reach the audience they write for. In a country like ours, where people don’t really think about books much; it’s good when they are reminded that books exist. And also, the publishers can share knowledge and experience about how to sometimes shift focus from money-making and explore ways of looking into different forms of publishing for an impact on society.

Rachel Mugarura-Mutana, Uganda Radio Network:The National Book Week is a grand idea with lots of potential that is executed rather poorly. I am drawn to the idea of many people meeting in one place to speak about books, to read books and to promote books. However the Book Week is by and large a dull affair and were I not an avid reader with kajanja and a lot of time on my hands, it would barely make a mark on my calendar. The National Book Week should be used to promote local literature and Ugandan authors. Dedicate a stage for books signing; involve “celebrities” if you must, have public book readings by the authors themselves. The publicity for the festival is very, very poor, it appears sometimes that the National Book Trust is ashamed of the one week in the year when it has free reign to brag and shine. Many Ugandans I have spoken to say they do not read enough because there is not enough affordable good literature on the local market. This of course, is not true. Many publishers in the country sell their books rather cheaply. Most of the books at Femrite for instance are no more than Shs5,000-10,000 for a copy. Unfortunately, no one knows this and a badly organised, laissez-faire, poorly publicised National Book Week Festival does little to help this situation.

Julius Ocwinyo, Editor, Fountain Publishers Ltd, author of Fate of the Banished and other works: It has now been decentralised; a lot of important activities take place in Kampala but then there are also activities that take place upcountry. And then there is the award ceremony and a lot of people get awards and that’s quite a big inspiration. Then also there are publishers and book traders who come from outside the country like Indians for example and people from Europe; they get to meet other publishers and writers and that actually helps them to network.

Charles Batambuze, Executive Secretary, National Book Trust of Uganda: The idea behind a book week is to draw the attention of the public nationwide to the importance and contribution of books and reading to national development. There’s the literary awards ceremony where we recognise people who excel in writing and some of the people who have won awards over the years have used that as a basis for advancing their careers, becoming famous and outstanding writers. In a way, what we’ve been doing reawakened or opened up the stage so that people become competitive and that’s probably one of the reasons why people have been winning literary awards elsewhere.

Musarait Kashmiri, Maisha Film Lab: I think National Book Week is a great idea. We all need to appreciate great writings. We live in a world where we are driven by technology but you miss so much if you don’t read and explore the world in a different way.

Hilda Twongyeirwe, Cordinator, Femrite: The National Book Week is bringing books closer to people. Writers and publishers will have the opportunity to display their works and to engage with their readers. The Book Week is also providing a platform for main stakeholders in the book industry to engage with the public on issues of book development and reading culture. There is a Book Forum where writers have been invited to make presentations on different literary topical issues and to come up with recommendations for the strengthening of Uganda’s literary landscape.

Why do you read?

Rachel Mugarura-Mutana: I read because of the beauty of words. Words create worlds outside my own, where adventure and despair, hopelessness and dreams, exist. Words open my mind to new philosophy and ideas. Words teach me about others, about the nature of the human and in turn, about myself. The Bible says it was with words that God spoke that the universe came to be. Sociologists tell us words set us apart from animals, creating this uniformity that we call humanity.I read because the only life I know is a life of words.
Julius Ocwinyo: I think it’s a habit I formed when I was still little; it just has not left me. I don’t even need to be pushed; I just find myself reading all the time.

Charles Batambuze: I read so that I can be knowledgeable about different things. I want to be on top of things; I want to be able to contribute to any debate. But also reading helps me in my work. My work involves thinking and strategising and there’s no way I can do a good job if I’m not reading.

Hilda Twongyeirwe: I read because books have a lot to offer me. Reading is like talking to people or like taking a journey where you will meet new people, new ideas, and new perspectives. It is a whole interactive process where I engage with the author, the characters, the places, the ideas, the circumstances and experiences. Reading is a learning process for me, an enriching experience and certainly an entertaining one as well. Some books are just funny and will just make you laugh and relax! Also, books are my sedatives.

What’s the best book you ever read and why?

Arthur Gakwandi: I’ve read so many great books in my life but if I was really to have to provide an answer I would say 'War and Peace' by Leo Tolstoy. I liked it because of its very wide and elaborate canvas and because of the profound themes about life that it explores in a manner which I’ve not found in any other book.

Rachel Mugarura-Mutana: My favourite book of all time is 'A Wind in the Door' by Madeline D’Engle. It is the second of D’Engle’s Time Quartet series. I read this book when I was 11 years old. It was the first book I read that combined both sci-fi and fantasy in a way that was relatable. I felt like D’Engle was no longer talking to me as a child, but edging me on into adulthood. It provided for me the bridge from children’s literature to adult literature and I haven’t looked back ever since. There is something deeply esoteric about 'A Wind in the Door' that keeps me returning to my well thumbed 22-year-old copy of the book again and again. Perhaps it is the pull of a well written piece of literature. Perhaps it is me just returning to the innocence of my youth.

Julius Ocwinyo: I’ve read some pretty good books but 'To Kill A Mockingbird' is one of the books that have really influenced me, but of course that’s by an American. One of my favourite writers is actually William Faulkner, who writes quite difficult books but I find them really interesting. And of course we’ve got African writers such as Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe and Ngugi wa Thiongo. And then because I did some French, I’ve also read several French classics. The psychological complexity of these works is that you are looking at people who are leading fairly ordinary lives but you know it’s the depth of their feelings and how they respond to the situations in which they find themselves, that’s amazing.

Charles Batambuze: 'Rich Dad Poor Dad' is the book that in a way opened my eyes to see that actually my actions in a way define what I become. I read it last year and I’ve opened up a business because I was inspired by the things that the author wrote.

Musarait Kashmiri: My two favourite books are 'The Alchemist' and 'The Prophet'. Both books have simple but great life lessons.

Hilda Twongyeirwe: 'Things Fall Apart'. It is a simple story that I understood very well. The author managed to paint the villages and the characters so well that much as I read it over 20 decades ago, I still remember it as if I read it last year. And the book also had very good lessons that are applicable in everyday life across humanity. Okwonkwo can be a next door neighbour in any village! It’s a hilarious book too, in many aspects.

What are you reading now?

Rachel Mugarura-Mutana: I am currently reading 'The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable' by Nassi Nicholas Taleb and 'Acts of Faith' by Philip Caputo.

Musarait Kashmiri: At the moment I am reading, 'Palestine, Peace not Apartheid' by Jimmy Carter, 'Birds Without Wings' by Louis de Bernieres and 'Reconciliation' by Benazir Bhutto.

Hilda Twongyeirwe: 'What is the What' by Dave Eggers. It tells the story of Sudan. It is a story that makes you laugh, cry, make promises to God and your neighour, recall your humanity, recall your humility and make you say...this should never happen should never have happened in the first place.

--Sunday Monitor, September 14, 2008

Art that carries the spirit of God


The paint brush makes light leaps across the canvas. After a few minutes, we see a thickly painted abstract piece with bright colours and intertwined things called 'Love Is Greater Than Power'.

“Each brush of the paint is a reflection of the beauty of the love of Christ,” says the artist, “because I believe this love is a truly beautiful thing that binds the world together.”

A painter of portraits, landscapes and events, Rolland Tibirusya Roldan, inspired by daily happenings and the magic of the moments, claims to have pioneered expressive live painting in Uganda.

“I began this functional art in church, where I would interpret sermons and take time to capture the message in a piece of art,” he says. “I’ve not seen any artist who has challenged me in this creative idea. I’ve even tried to encourage others to do this but they say they can’t paint on a live event.”

What his colleagues have shunned, he has continued to do. When Kirk Franklin was performing at the Kampala Serena Hotel earlier this year, Rolland was working vigorously to illustrate the mood and emotion of the day. He enthusiastically shares his unforgettable experience: “As the music was playing with people singing and dancing with Kirk Franklin, I was capturing everything on canvas with my paint brush. Later on, Franklin came and signed on the paintings. He said, “Good work brother,” then he gave me a hug. Other important people like pastors and MDs signed on the portraits but the signature of Kirk Franklin with my paint brush is the one that really was so amazing.”

The two paintings were auctioned and fetched Shs32m. Ten percent of that belonged to the painter and the rest to the African Children’s Choir but up to now, he has never received his share.

“They keep dodging me and I’ve taken them to courts,” he said dejectedly.

His other live paintings have generated millions of shillings for unprivileged children. When the Soweto String Quartet (SSQ) performed here in a Mulago Heart Benefit concert, his artwork raised 17 million shillings. And at the Nyaka concert earlier this year to raise money to build a school for HIV/Aids orphans in Kanungu District, another of his works generated 4.75m, which went to help the cause.

Rolland also participated in the Chogm charity walk organised by the Charity Walkers Club. During the walk from Entebbe to Kampala, he was on a pickup car painting, and his final product sold for $500. In all, his live paintings have this year alone raised over Shs80m for different causes.

“I’m not a philanthropist,” he says of his big-heartedness. “It’s just more of a blessing to give than to receive. When I use my art pieces to fundraise for noble causes that make a difference in young people’s lives, I’m just sharing the love of God and honouring Him for saving me from wickedness. I used to do paintings of nude women, and now that I’m born-again, my only heart’s desire is to do art that carries the spirit of God.”

As a boy, Rolland was apprenticed to his elder sisters, who are professional artists as well. The 26-year-old says he was an art champ all through school and has a BA Industrial and Fine Art degree from Makerere University.

“As a Mukiga from Kabale, where I grew up seeing men enjoying togetherness around a pot of Bushera, I believe in the communal doing of things,” he says. This belief in communism is reflected in his art, with the symbol of the cross and the prismatic colours of the rainbow dominating.

“As a born-again Christian, I recognise the cross as the greatest exhibit in the history of humanity and it helps me share my faith with the world through by paintings,” he says. “The colours of the rainbow are symbolic of hope and renewal that can only be found in Jesus Christ.”

Rolland’s work is simple but radical. At the time masked homosexuals demonstrated in Kampala demanding equal rights, he joined the prophetic gathering at Kampala Pentecostal Church to cry out to God to save the land from getting befouled by what he views as an abominable act. His painting showed multitudes with red tears and a panga reflective of the blood of Jesus and the sword of the spirit respectively, which would cleanse the land.

Another piece displayed at the recent WAPI concert at Hotel Africana had this expression: “Do not lie with a woman as one lies with a man; that is detestable!” – Lev 18: 22. This was displeasing to gays.

“Many were asking me why I was doing this to them but I used the chance to tell them that God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve; that homosexuality is a dishonour to God and that there is no way we can raise generations through homosexuality,” says the artist. “One of them was touched and told me, “Truly the God you serve is real,” and asked me to keep him in prayer as he works on his salvation.”

Rolland is perturbed by the nearly inexistent appreciation of art in Uganda. “I’m always burdened when a muzungu comes and buys a piece at $1000, then some Ugandan who cannot buy it at Shs50,000 calls it junk,” he says. “I urge Ugandans to respect our work because every piece of art is a brainchild in itself; even if you repeated it, it would never be the same; we put in so much and this art comes from the soul.”

It would also please him to see the creation of a national archive, where the best Ugandan art pieces are preserved for future reference as is done in Kenya.

Meanwhile, Rolland will stay put at the Makerere-based Mitchell Hall Armour Arts Gallery, wearing his helmet of salvation and spreading the goodness of God further through art.

--Sunday Monitor, September 7, 2008

Ugandan bloggers gone crazy

Citizen journalists have taken the world by storm providing an alternative source of information on their blogs, but Ugandan bloggers are not standing up to be counted, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza

On the evening of July 31, a short woman in blue compact jeans chased a beefy man around a bar table as she mirthfully pleaded to have her phone back. Patrons raised their eyes from their drinks and watched on mystified, wondering if this “run-and-catch” was part of the entertainment menu. The players were members of the Ugandan blogging community who had just gathered at the Turkish restaurant, Effendys, with the rest of the inner circle for their monthly meet-ups – what they call the “Happy Hour”.

Before arriving here an hour or thereabouts, a debate had raged between two bloggers and a visiting American: Are all Ugandan bloggers okay with taking their meetings to a bar? And what’s the whole essence of having a Happy Hour? Is it just to celebrate life by drinking expensive coffee and beer, fraternising, raising money for an orphanage or engaging intellectually say on the rising food prices?

With Michael Jackson’s Thriller blaring in the background, Thomas Smyth literally shouted his order, for that was the only way the waitress was going to hear. That’s about when the two adults pursued themselves around tables. It was the beginning of a shocking evening for the American. Soon, girls were eyeing him surreptitiously and whispering (possibly about his towering height) and taking pictures with their phones. Thomas Smyth gulped his drink and left the Happy Hour prematurely. He had come with a hypothesis: That this community of erudite bloggers was going to transform the Ugandan society but a few minutes with them and he began to doubt.

He didn’t know that a clever Ugandan blogger, S.A.G.E, had in August 2007 summed the Ugandan blogging scenario as “the theatre of the absurd” for which he incurred the wrath of the “blogren.” Blogger Savage had called him “a waste of space on earth and a disgrace to the entire human population” and insulted his parents saying they would have done the “world a huge favour had they decided to have a good night’s sleep instead of engaging in hanky panky the night” S.A.G.E was “conceived.” Ironically, Savage’s attack of S.A.G.E drew a backlash as equally inane. One blogger Keitetsi said Savage sounded like “a menopausal goose” and that if his comments were “on paper, it would be the kind of stuff people in jail use to wipe their butts.”

As drama ensued, the personalities of many Ugandan bloggers were exposed to a level where the discerning would no longer find it confounding that a woman would for example upload a picture of her g-string on her blog and ask if the readers like it.

A June 30 blog entry boldly titled “Boobs!” by Ugandan blogger Carlo, contained four pictures of women’s cleavage. Her blog soon jammed with comments from men and women begging with desperation to know to whom the ample busts belonged – Carlo’s or her sisters. Only a few wondered if she was crazy to flash such erotica.

“My blog is called Carlo’s for a reason; it’s all about me, so I put up what I want,” she defended herself. “I put them [cleavage] there to attract attention as a light-hearted beginning of a week so we’re not totally focused on serious issues but can laugh sometimes and be ridiculous, you get?”

While it’s true it’s the blogger’s prerogative to fill their blogs with whatever material, those creating blogs are prompted to restrict their sites to invited readers or to put a disclaimer that the blog contains adult content.

From S.A.G.E’s understanding, bloggers are supposed to update their lives and voice their opinions on things they strongly feel about to provoke intellectually stimulating debate.

“But in Uganda, it’s more of who’s more dirty,” he says. “They are not going to be interested if you don’t tickle the bad boy and the bad girl in them; so girls talk about the first time they lost their virginity in the shower room, and boys about how sweet sex in the morgue is and everyone cheers and their egos are massaged. Their superficiality comes to the surface as they smite those that would rather tell them the truth than hype them.”

Journalist Rodney Muhumuza agrees. “We don’t seem to have a lot of reported blogs in Uganda, which is very disappointing. In America, bloggers investigate and conduct interviews to scoop 'The New York Times' but most Ugandan bloggers that I know care about life at its most basic,” said Muhumuza, who writes The Kampala Review blog. “It’s more often about sex, sex and more sex. It’s hardly the stuff that will inspire a sober mind.”

Could it be they know they write banality that they hide under pseudonyms? Rather than heroes, you meet unrepentant cynics and provocateurs that spend a bulk of their time venting, fantasising and gibbering about trivialities with unflagging devotion. Writing about life in the Internet age, David Kaiza dramatically captured this in the June 30-July 6 issue of 'The EastAfrican' by noting, “The culture (of blogging) puffs out like a hot air balloon; directionless and pointless.”

It is this lack of focus that has left Ugandan journalist and blogger Benon Herbert Oluka disappointed: “I would expect people to use their blogs to give more insight into everyday happenings because I tend to get hooked to thought-provoking articles than someone whose blog is about where they hang out last night.”

One of the most popular and respected Ugandan bloggers, 27th Comrade, thinks many Ugandan bloggers are “simply not interested in serious discourse; it’s not a bad thing; it’s just different.”

Flipping the other side of the coin, there are also purpose-driven bloggers, however few, that command the respect of the intelligent and educated alike. Tumwijuke of the Ugandan Insomniac blog is for example loved for her ability to “poke the social conscience of people”. Writing with zing and flair, she has almost single-handedly cracked into the dominance of traditional media by arousing discussion on issues of national and global importance, for which she was in February this year voted Uganda’s best blogger by fellow “blogren”.

For some however, the uniqueness of blogs is the greatest thing to happen online. “Bloggers don’t have to follow conventional rules like the newspapers and that’s what I love most,” says Jared Ombui an avid reader of blogs. “Writing for them is a heart thing and often you find closet stories; the kind you will never see in our newspapers. I love that they are usually short and funny and also the comments from readers are hilarious.”

For blogger Denda, it’s the spirit of comradeship that he loves about blogging. “It’s like neighbours checking on each other,” he said. “I knock on your blog anytime and find out what’s going on in your ‘house’. During the Happy Hour we share ideas and swap books and meet some of the bloggers we love to read –that’s the whole beauty about blogging.”

It’s a positive sign especially in this era where blogs are increasingly being seen as points of reference. Already, there is a heated debate on the Internet that they will soon replace mainstream media which shows the power blogs possess.

Still, if the world’s best comic-strip artist was to invent something that best depicts the Ugandan blogging experience as whole, it would not be the kind patriots would like. It’s only after we have revolutionised the way we think and blog that people like Thomas Smyth will not leave the Happy Hour with inhibitions.

--Daily Monitor, Monday September 1, 2008

Original reggae comrade vows to help Uganda find its reggae roots


“Well, reggae music is created by Rasta people, and it carries earth force, people is a rhythm of working people, movement, a music of the masses, see?” – Bob Marley (1945-1981).

True music lovers find it absurd that many years after those words were first uttered by the man that is globally recognised as the father of reggae music, Uganda has not felt the sweet tremors of that genre like Jamaica or South Africa have. And it’s largely because of this that Edson Nimwesiga, known onstage as Jare, set out to help Uganda find its reggae identity.

The lean Kampala-based singer and composer recently released his debut album titled Bad Man’s State.

“I’m the original reggae comrade; I call my music truth and roots reggae,” he said with a Jamaican twang. “No nation can live without reggae music and it’s historically known that it’s only through reggae that we can strengthen our roots and cultures.”

Jare’s music comes with mellow choruses and a militant message that reflects a strong awareness of betrayal on earth, the suffering of people and the unfairness of life. In Take It or Leave It, he has a sermon to the different political camps: “Togetherness is still needed for the common vision for it is the common vision that made Romans make Rome look like it is now,” he sings.

Listening to Jare’s music, one almost feels the spirit of Peter Tosh, Bob Marley and Lucky Dube floating by. He actually tributes them in Back to Babylon, a song he was forced to do after Lucky Dube was murdered.

“The people who have really struggled to fight for the black man’s peace have been killed – Patrice Lumumba, Martin Luther, Lucky Dube…” he says. “In the song, I say worse shall come to worst if the Rastaman hates another Rastaman, worse shall come to worst if the Rastaman fights another Rastaman, worse shall come to worst if the Rastaman kills another Rastaman; who’s gonna stand to fight for our rights and freedom when the Rastaman is gone?”

So, does approaching his music in a Rastafarian fashion make Jare a Rastafarian?

“I really wouldn’t mind someone calling me a Rastafarian as long as he sees the true colours of a Rastaman in me,” he says humbly. “Rastafarianism is a conscious movement whose slogan is love, peace and maximum respect. And whoever brings all the three to light is a true Rastaman.”
Interestingly, Jare is not a man with rugged Rastafarian dreadlocks, and this he attributes to his beliefs as a Christian. Ugandan politicians will particularly not like listening to Which God is 4 yo Country. Jare sings: “They say for God and my country as if they have no eyes to see disadvantaged children sleeping on the streets, starving, burning, dying, whose parents still live but split because of adultery…they say abortion, lesbianism and homosexuality should be legalised; are we gonna be ruled again by mercenaries? Because procreation definitely is gonna be less or no more…and they say for God and my country but remember they shall be cursed if they used My name in their wickedness…”

Another song, We are One, draws from the violence that followed the last presidential elections in Kenya. It reminds the listener that we all are children of God - “big up people, stop the violence, we are brothers and sisters”.

A computer Engineer, Jare began singing in primary school, and often courted trouble for skipping school to listen to reggae music. But it was not until 2005 that the 32-year-old started composing his music.

“It’s not been easy, because in Uganda you have to first pull crowds before sponsors can step in, and what’s more, some artistes want to do music for business so they do one reggae song and switch to other genres of music; which is why reggae music has not taken root,” says Jare.

“The Holy Spirit connects my words to rhythms that’s gonna impact and gain me worldwide respect,” he says. “I’ll continue to do this music till I can breathe no more!”

--Sunday Monitor, August 31, 2008

Living the ambience of the poetic world


The 100-seater room at the National Theatre was on Saturday night full; so packed in fact that one could hardly find where to stand. Now, this was shocking because previous poetry events, at least in Uganda, are not known to pull such crowds. And you ask: why was this different?

The answer lay not in the fact that the show was free but in the packaging of the product. Apart from the musicality of the name The Lantern Society of Poets, this was the opening of the many poetry recitals dubbed ‘The Lantern Meet of Poets’ by this group of creative artists and budding Ugandan poets.

It was not until last year that they began and continue to meet fortnightly at the National Theatre although the idea was first mooted three years ago by four Makerere University students with the same passion for poetry.

“We wanted to share poetry, talk and critique young poets’ work with a view of raising the intellectual bar, the social bar, the literary bar and all the bars you can think of,” said group member Colin Asiimwe.

If the hush that encompassed the room and the concentration of the viewers and the wild applause that followed every act meant raising the bar, then it’s alright to give credit where it’s due, after all that is a mark of intellectualism.

Poetry is said to be an intricate subject too deep to be comprehended or performed by ordinary mortals. But don’t be deceived. A girl named Rachel had it right with enunciation and her system was sync with her rippling voice. She seemed unaware of the spotlight and her recitation of The Musician left the spectators spellbound.

The live musical breaks too had the audience riveted –especially the guitarists plucking away like no one was looking, and the guy that came and sat on a wooden stool and played a love song on his violin for “all the ladies in the house!”

Here were poems on the circumstances that define life; the good and bad times, love and hate, fortune and misfortune and all things brought out dramatically vocally to make the sensitive cry and laugh and the stony-hearted drink from their small bottles of gin. Only one or two of the performers were slightly inaudible.

When finally the curtain fell after three hours of outstanding performance, the Lantern Poets received an explosive ovation from the audience, at which point, a smiling Guy Mambo, the group director, promised another show over the Christmas holiday.

It was time to head home, singing that old Luther Vandross/Janet Jackson song, that truly the best things in life are free!

--Daily Monitor, August 23, 2008

Wapi brings out youthful vitality and talent but...


The second edition of ‘Words and Pictures’ (Wapi) concert kicked off with hype on Saturday at Hotel Africana’s People’s Space. Performers competed to live up to the do’s theme, “Gwe Ani? Define your identity” as they flashed unique identities in the way they were dressed, performance styles to their stage names and hip-hop parlance.

“Word for real, hip-hop in the buildin’,” rapper 2-Xtrim shouted as he swaggered cross the stage. He was right.
Hip-hop dominated the repertoire of creative acts. But that’s not to mean it was the best. Some songs carried a message on cross-generational sex, the dangers of drugs and generally advocated social change. However, everyone was miming.

How then is the British Council initiative going to help the industry by bringing out the best in these budding artistes if all they can do is mime? Perhaps we should let that slip as music is but a tiny strand of Wapi as a whole.

In fashion and modelling, creations by Mukisa Harriet Nagaya from Natty Fashion House, with their original African touch, casual as they came, stood out. The audience were particularly drawn to the Ethiopian scarf designs and the wedding attire.

The ‘bride and groom’, dressed to high heavens, slow-walked on stage in the radiance of all as real wedding couples do, to the beat of P-Square’s Do Me, a song which added a comical twist to the affair. Ugandan rapper Saint CA, did something different –recited a poem about victims of crime that truly was a revelation.

Art lovers were also captured by the expressive live paintings of Rolands Tbirusya Roldan, particularly the piece that preached against homosexuality: “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman;” it was written on, “that is detestable” –Lev. 18:22”
You could read the hunger and thirst for fame in the eyes of the youngsters who performed at Wapi. Many echoed the same sound –that of gratefulness for the exposure and for the neutrality of the event.In that way, the British Council gets the plaudits for creating a forum through which these young and talented visual and verbal artists join artistically to express themselves.

However, more professional assistance must be put in place to propel these youngsters into the mainstream limelight and be appreciated on the world stage.

Pneumonia kills more children than malaria

New evidence shows that pneumonia kills more children than malaria, measles and HIV/Aids combined. Though preventable, the disease remains neglected mainly due to ignorance of its causes and immediate symptoms, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza

A child suffering from pneumonia at Mulago hospital
In the acute child care unit of Mulago Hospital on Thursday mid-morning, a child of about five years lay in a slanted little bed; eyes sunken, pain all over his face, lungs visibly stiff. He was using a lot of energy to breath in what the doctor called “in-breathing.” Every time he did, his skeletal lungs expanded and contracted in a violent and alarming manner. A tube run from a container fixed to his bedpost, into his nose and directly into the blood vessel on his wrist. He was on oxygen which if removed, would make breathing difficult: “The oxygen is piped and must pass through water because if you don’t make it a little bit humid, it becomes dry and it dries up the chest,” explained the doctor.

Like tens of others packed in health centres countrywide, this child was battling a very painful case of pneumonia and would stay up to three days on oxygen depending on the severity of the disease. Unknown to many, pneumonia kills more children than measles, HIV/Aids, and malaria combined, according to a report, Progress For Children on

According to estimates from the United Nations children’s fund (Unicef), pneumonia kills over two million children in the world under the age of five every year. That is about the population of Kampala.

“Pneumonia is actually the leading infectious cause of death in children, contributing to about 20 percent of all under-five mortality rates. That translates to about 20,000 Ugandan children dying of pneumonia per year,” says Dr Eric Wobudeya, a paediatrician at Mulago Hospital Complex. “It’s a severe disease yet it has not been given the priority it deserves.”

This is because there has been little input to understand the grim disease. In fact, the first study, what Dr Jessica Nsungwa Sabiiti of Ministry of Health, called “A verbal autopsy” was only recently conducted around the country to determine the number of children the disease kills annually. The report is yet to be released.

As a paediatrician heading the ministry’s programme for the management of childhood illnesses, Sabiiti agrees that pneumonia has not been given enough emphasis because of the push given to malaria – long viewed as the number one cause of death in Africa. So malaria monopolised nearly all medical attention but all that is changing because with the help of the Global Fund, the effectiveness of the interventions put in place (mosquito nets and the new drugs) have weakened the severity of, and significantly reduced the proportion of patients dying of malaria.

After the examination of 2,080 children under the age of five in Mulago Hospital, it has been established that pneumonia is more common than malaria and needs to be dealt with before it wipes infants of the face of Uganda.

Things have not been helped by ignorance and the misconceptions surrounding the disease. Many times people say pneumonia is caused by cold – that if you don’t wrap your child in as much warmth it gets infected. Others are known to get painkillers and to administer all sorts of syrup or cough mixtures when a child begins to cry and cough and the temperature shoots off. The truth is that pneumonia is an infectious disease caused by bacteria and sometimes viruses.

Signs of pneumonia
Cough, fast breathing and high fever are signs of pneumonia and your child should be taken to the nearest health unit for proper treatment. These symptoms defer from those of the elderly where headache, chest pain, lung congestion and sometimes nausea and vomiting are symptoms.

Health experts say indoor pollution caused by smoke from firewood, congestion, poverty, poor ventilation, malnutrition and staying in a poor place like slums are some of the factors that influence infection.

Although a big problem among children under five and the elderly, with the spate of HIV/Aids, not even the youths can be spared.

“Pneumocystis Carinii Pneumonia (PCP) is the common cause of death in people with HIV/Aids but can be prevented with Septrine,” says Dr Wobudeya. He was quick to add that all forms of pneumonia, however fatal, are preventable when the disease is detected early and proper medication sought.

“Viral pneumonia is dangerous but the bacterial ones cause more deaths. And most of these are caused by two types of bacteria: Haemophilus Influenzae and Streptococcus Pneumoniae and both of these bacteria have vaccines and beyond the vaccines are other important preventable methods, for instance, if children develop measles, those children are more likely to get severe pneumonia, so if we immunise all our children against only measles we reduce the amount of mortality in pneumonia by about 10 percent,” says Dr Wobudeya.

“And in addition to drug treatment, a patient with pneumonia should stay in bed, eat healthy meals, and drink large amounts of liquids. With good treatment, it usually takes three days for patients to get better.”

Getting better is essential if Millennium Development Goal Four, which aims at reducing by two thirds the mortality rate among children under five by 2015, is to be achieved. There is however fear that it may take long to subdue this contagious disease especially with the fist of poverty dealing cruel blows in many households.

More troubling, according to Dr Wobudeya, is that pneumonia has become resistant to our simple drugs and yet chemotherapy which has helped combat the disease in the developed world are unavailable in government hospitals and poor clinics because they are expensive. While this poses no danger to the affluent who can rush their children to well-oiled clinics, the poor are left in despair because they cannot afford expensive treatment.

Kitagata Hospital, one of the biggest government hospitals in western Uganda, admits about 150 children suffering from pneumonia every month, according to its medical superintendent Dr Wilberforce Owembabazi, but the majority are those who don’t get to hospital.

This is a dire situation that the Uganda Paediatricians Association, whose major aim is to take care of the country’s children by ensuring they get good health care, may not handle on its own although it has rolled out an awareness campaign on child pneumonia throughout the country.

“We are working together with the Ministry of Health to prevent early neonatal death” [of babies aged 1-7months], says Dr Sabrina Bakeera Kitaka of the Department of Paediatrics Makerere Medical School, and the general secretary of the association. “Our aim really is to make pneumonia visible, do more advocacy and educate the communities but we are still limited by resources.”

The call by World Health Organisation (WHO) to have pneumonia managed at the community level has been heard by the Ministry of Health which is training nurses, nursing aides, lay workers and other volunteers in northern Uganda to become what Dr Sabiiti calls “mini-paediatricians.”

“You don’t need to be a paediatrician to manage pneumonia,” she said. “We are training them in using a respiratory timer developed by Unicef; we have taught them to examine the child and count the respiratory rate; and to ask the right questions from mother, and if the child is breathing faster than normal, has a cough then that child has pneumonia.”

The pain on the face of that Mulago child on oxygen is a haunting scene. Whatever means are used to scale up effective interventions; preventing death is all that matters.

--Daily Monitor, August 21, 2008

Losing isn’t an option for me - new Miss Uganda

Oftentimes, in the absence of her parents, about 13 years ago, a five-year-old girl would wear her Sunday best and smear her small lips thick with her mother’s lipstick, and after seeing her reflection in the mirror and making sure everything was alright, would frolic around the room proudly and gracefully like many little girls do.

THE WINNER'S SMILE: Dora Mwima, new Miss Uganda 2008 [Photo by Dennis D. Muhumuza]
This naughty but adorable little heroine had such fascination with fashion, beauty, and art that her parents were forced to buy her postcards and paintings of Italian and French models, which coloured her bedroom. She also drew her own pictures of landscapes and models on water colour paper and gazed at them obsessively.

The chance she had been waiting for came in August 2006 when she participated in the Miss Teen Kenya but was disqualified on account of being Ugandan. It was a blue day for the then 16-year-old but she vowed to do it again when she returned home. 

All is well, it is said, that ends well – thus it ended for the beauty on that glamorous night at Kampala Serena Hotel, where she was crowned Miss Uganda 2008, replacing the outgoing queen, Monica Kansiime. For a fleeting moment shortly before she was crowned, as she strutted across the stage in a self-designed creative outfit that she believes amplified her magnetism, with all eyes on her, Dora Mwima prayed in her heart: “Oh God, please give me this crown; I’m so not going to let you down; I’ll make everyone proud, please!”

It was a prayer said with the confidence of knowing she had her parents’ blessings. Her father, Mr Benjamin Mwima, is an evangelist who has travelled to over 150 countries preaching the gospel. Her mother, Ms Imelda Mwima, also did her best to encourage her.

“My family supported me because they have always known about my dream to succeed especially in the fashion and modelling world,” said the 5’6 girl. “They know that I’m a strong Christian and that God does not look at the outside but inside, and that it doesn’t matter if I participate in this show, which many think is immoral.”

Beating 17 other equally stunning beauties to the crown was a remarkable feat for the 18-year-old, who at the same event was voted Miss Personality.

“I think I deserved all this because of my character, my attitude and my behaviour,” she said confidently. “I’m more than unique, courageous, and more than confident; and above all I don’t fear failure at all.”

It’s this lethal combination of uniqueness, courage and fearlessness, she said, that will help her make history as the first Miss Uganda and the second African after Agbani Darego in 2001, to become Miss World when she represents the country at this year’s pageant in Ukraine.

“Why not? Who says that a Miss Uganda can never become a Miss World?” she poses her own questions and answers them: “I’m not going there to merely represent my country but I’m going there with all my zeal to bring the Miss World crown home.”

She speaks with a strong will and a fierce determination this girl, and for a moment you wonder where hails all this boldness, seeing as she has been home- schooled from all her life. It’s more of an American system and she says she has been trained by her mom with a professional supervisor dropping in occasionally with exams.

For someone who is inspired by God and not man, she’s quite something. Fluent in English, Swahili, French, Luganda and Greek, and with the exposure attained from travelling with her Dad to many countries, this Tororo girl has an independent outlook on life and has set high goals which will definitely help propel her further during the Miss World contest.

Ms Solaya Zalwango, the director of MKM Promotions, the official Miss Uganda organisers says: “We’ve scouted girls before but this is the first time we had someone like this; someone that young women will want to be like. She has a very good chance of winning Miss World; in fact if she drops out in the first lot, I’ll be so disappointed.”

The big-hearted beauty wants to help the hopeless; the people who have come to their endpoints and don’t have the spirit to face another day: “I’m going to go out to hospitals and orphanages, talk to people, and encourage them. I volunteered in Aga Khan in Kenya so I have experience at sharing with people and I know I can do it.”

She also wants to build something for her community in Tororo on her plot of land, given to her by her father when she was a child.

“Perhaps an institution for ladies; a clinic, or a school; once I‘m sure of what it should be, I’ll just develop the idea,” she says.

When reminded that some of her predecessors promised much but did little, this third of four children said, “I cannot do everything, because I’m only one, but at least I can do something and I will never refuse to do what I can. I will do it will all my heart. I want to work with the Miss Uganda organisers and any well-wisher who loves to see this Ugandan succeed in her vision of reaching out to the hopeless and needy.”

One thing Mwiima will never do is pose nude for magazines. In her own words: “Not even a million bucks are worth everyone out there looking at my goodies.”

It’s clearly the voice of an articulate girl who likes sweet potatoes as much as she likes listening to instrumental music and soft rock, reading motivational books, and visiting new restaurants, shopping malls and boutiques “to gaze at the different designs and know what’s on the fashion market and all that.”

With an innocent exterior, a dark smooth skin, bright eyes, a smile made more dazzling by pure white teeth, two little pins on her nose and a commanding height and warm personality, Dora Mwima is quite memorable; the kind of person you look at and want to look again.

Sorry guys, no boyfriend, right now she’s focused on accomplishing her dreams as Miss Uganda, and then she will fly to France or Italy for professional studies in interior design, fashion and art.

Her parting words after this interview, done at Sheraton Kampala Hotel, were inspirational - “I don’t see any virtue in losing. This society wants people who win.