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Friday, November 21, 2008

Every inch of Kayunga is an adventure

From the dusty roads, a flat terrain, simple people to stories of unearthing the dead, Kayunga is a home of peculiarities, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza.

Kayunga is an interestingly peculiar district. On a recent trip there, I jumped on a boda-boda motorcycle to be taken to the district headquarters. A woman stopped us along the way. The cyclist asked me to inch closer. That’s when I realised he wanted me to share the small seat on his rickety bike with the chubby, unknown woman. I flatly refused. He then asked if I was going to pay double the fare. I said I would pay no more than what we had agreed. He called me stubborn and angrily asked me to get off his boda-boda before he stormed off back to town having lost both passengers.
But it was later that afternoon on our way to Bangala landing site on Lake Kyoga that I realised that Kayunga, which was formed eight years ago, can be spectacularly unforgettable as soon as you begin to traverse her remote areas such as Galilaya sub-county, which in English becomes Galilee –that Biblical town made famous by Jesus Christ.

A seemingly endless dusty road cuts through stretches upon stretches of remarkably beautiful shrubs. The shrubs harbour a variety of invisible insects that at zero cost entertain a first time visitor with a rare genre of music, which when it interlocked with the rev of the car engine and the whispering breeze was so sweet to my ears. I closed my eyes and momentarily forgot about the business of the world.

The terrain is flat; very flat in fact, that when I stretched my eyes hoping to catch a glimpse of a hill or village in the distance, it was the same lush, graceful vegetation that confronted me. I was left wondering at the amazing lifesaving medicinal properties that could be hidden in there. Suddenly, a beautiful rabbit crossed the road and my mouth immediately watered at the thought of the sweetness and tenderness of its meat.

It is about 86kms from Kayunga town to Galilaya and every short distance we were interrupted by herds of cattle ruminating in the centre of the road. Several times, I got out of car to whip them off before we drove on, until, seeing how exasperated I was, the driver asked me to get used to it because “these cows are the owners of the roads!”

Chuckling, he added that they are set free every morning to go feed themselves before they find their way home in the evening and that the wild rabbits like the one we met earlier have taken advantage of the situation to grow fat on free milk.

Only once did we meet a hunched man whistling beautifully to himself while attending to his cows. I also learned from Mr Paul Byakika, a clinical officer at Bbaale Health Centre Four that many residents in the area suffer from consistent diarrhoea because of drinking too much unboiled milk from dirty containers.

At the same health centre, I met a handsome young man whose foot had been cut open. The story is that the mentally-ill man trespassed into a bachelor’s home one night and the owner, mistaking him for a thief, cut him. How the machete landed on his left foot and not on his head or hands or stomach is something I failed to crack.

The area, like I said, is a flatland with scarcely any hills and vales. And the weather can be devastating. The rains have dug trenches and ditches, forming ugly puddles and mini-lakes in the middle of roads. We found over a dozen bare-chested men labouring to help a lorry stuck in one of the said ‘lakes.’

But this didn’t foil the beauty in the straightness of the area. Foliage stands majestically tall on either side of the road, and because of that, I felt like we were about 30 feet below sea level. Yet through the windscreen, the sky seemed near; very near in fact, that I stretched my hand through window hoping to feel the anomalous clouds whose lustrousness is beyond description.

At about 3p.m., we arrived at Bangala landing site. Canoes in blue and maroon rested and floated on daffodils by and near the bank. I wanted to see fishermen at their trade but was told to wait for dusk or to come early the next day. I parted with Shs5,000 in exchange for my first experience in navigating the lake in a canoe. I was allowed some rowing too, and as the little canoe wavered against the waves and picked up speed, golden rings formed on the blue water. In the far distance, Amolotar district beckoned; it was beautiful!

Before we knew it, dusk had fast fallen and stars, so many, lit the sky but could not avert the blanket of darkness now covering us. Soon we were racing back to Kayunga town. Having read odd stories about odd people in this place who dig up human corpses (perhaps to eat them), I expected strange creatures to crop up anytime in the middle of the road and have us for dinner. I implored the driver to triple his speed while mosquitoes the size of houseflies rapped on the windscreen wailing and threatening to suck us dead.

We arrived in Kayunga town after 10p.m. Now, getting a taxi to Kampala at that time was tricky. And I had turned down a kind gesture from the driver to sleep at his. I bought airtime and though I was as tired as a drunken old man, I pulled out my best and convinced the attendant to give me a place to spend the night. Just in case.

Suddenly, a battered taxi coughing like someone with a chest heavy with smoke surfaced. I grudgingly bade goodbye to the pretty MTN girl and dragged myself in. I closed my eyes and tried to nurse my weariness thinking about the lovely calf we had earlier in the day seen by the roadside butting its mother’s udder and suckling passionately. Then the five made-in-Kayunga chapattis I had eaten –which must be the most delicious chapattis in all the earth! And about the really tempting garden of ripe pineapples which brought a smile to my lips reminding me of the naughty years of childhood when I would have plucked the fairest of them regardless of the trouble such a move would cause me.

Kayunga is a home of peculiarities.

Uganda’s prolific sculptors in grand exhibition


Ugandan sculptors have not earned the recognition that’s due to them and have for a long time lived in the shadow of artists who specialise in portraiture and other paintings. Saturday was the opening of the Grand Sculpture Exhibition at Makerere University art gallery with the hope that it will change the situation. The exhibition runs up to November 30 and will be an annual event.
On display is a variety of what the gallery administrator, Ms Rita Namayanja, calls the “finest works from the very cream of Ugandan sculptors.”

The artists used natural materials such as wood, bronze, leaves, polythene bags, scrap metal, plastic, glass, and horns to come up with terrific creations, most of which are functional. For example, Isaac Sulah’s Cow Horns is designed to act as fluorescent bulb holders. The light emitted through the softened translucent horns from which it’s created gives out beautifully relaxed radiance.

Henry Ssegamwange’s Look Through is a circular piece made out of bamboo and glass and holds a mirror that every woman would love to have in her dressing room.

Another untitled piece curved out of wood is an idealised representation of all the clans in Buganda and their totems. Geometric lines separate the totems and the lifelike portrait of the Kabaka is included. The piece is large enough and would do great decorating a cultural centre wall.

The exhibitors are experienced sculptors but a few good enough university students were given a chance too. It explains the presence, at the gallery, of the work of Brian Wambi, a student but a master in his own right. His creation, titled Like Margaret Trowell is made out of bronze.

A note on the painting explains that iconic figures in society breath the same air like us, walk the same path, and are as human as we are; that’s why the artist sculpted his portrait with his heroine’s face partially unmasking her skull on the left to prove his point – that you can, if you put your mind to it, achieve like Margaret Trowell, after whom the Makerere University Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Arts is named.

Koona Dance depicts a dancing couple. Allan Mwebe’s Misery is made out of sponge. Mama Africa has exaggerated lips and Dr. Lilian Nabulime’s curved wooden piece shows a woman with thick red lips and eyes that stare at you unblinkingly. These and more explore the subjects of beauty, revelry, misery, neighbourliness, feminism, disease, and politics that evoke mixed emotions.

Lucus Ogwang, a third year art student, summarised the exhibition: “These sculptures are simply incredible. Their different shapes and their roughness and smoothness represent the sculptors’ unique styles and the messages they are putting across. Anyone interested in art would be inspired!”

Not your dream circus


The Kampala Dream Circus that promised to be was after all ordinary. It appeared to me the organisers poured their all in painting faces and picking masks than planning memorable performances.

Sylvain Bernabe, a guest from France who was expected to show Kampalans fireworks did a couple of flip-flops and other aerial acts with a colleague that lacked that colour that would leave the crowd in awe; the homeboys far outstripped him.

However, his counterpart in Germany’s Mareike Moerschen had some magic up her sleeve in a performance titled “Love under Water” in which she set out to woo a marine she was in love with. Accompanied by the sound effects of bubbling water, her suppleness and fitness were things to marvel at as she “swam” under the waters and pulled daring moves using a piece of blue cloth strung high on a rail.

Dr. Diotribe is a clown that’s no stranger to the Ugandan stage. He was one of the main acts and appeared with his clumsy walk and bulbous red nose and waltzed with a red nosed old white lady in a straw hat. Then he juggled balls, mimed washing his hands and proceeded to pull from his pants his well known orange underwear with which he wiped his hands. These are moves many Ugandan theatregoers have seen him perform over and again which makes them quite unbearable. To be fair though, he had children giggling heartily which can only mean they enjoyed him immensely.

About 90 per cent of audience at Nakasero Primary School playground where the show took place on Saturday were white children and their parents. Their faces were inscrutable while their own performed and then they stood up and watched intently as if to pick something from what ours had to offer.

The Fondodelik Squad, a group of Rastafarians who had earlier in the day performed at Hotel Africana were on spot in red baggy overalls dancing energetically and spectacularly to the Congolese rhythms of Awilo Longomba. One of them, Fireman, sent the children into hilarity when he pushed flames down his undergarments and jumped up and down as if being blazed. Then he collected himself into unusual calmness before swallowing tongues of fire. His acts had the day’s emcee, Susan Bamutenda, begging the children not to play with fire when they get home. The Fondodeliks also writhed and coiled like snakes around the stage, and using each other as steps glibly made a tower atop which was a small boy who threw balls way above him, catching and throwing them back in fluid succession. Another entertainer walked on wire, stopping midway to remove his trousers, and still balancing on the wire, putting them on again. They also played tricks with a bicycle rim, leapfrogging on their butts and somersaulting in so spectacular a way it seemed to defy gravity.

Organised by Alliance Française Kampala and the Ugandan German Cultural Society together with In Movement: Art for Social Change, the circus had the Break Dance Project flaunting a large repertory of dances that understandably excited the children.

But the mature people were the more charmed by Black and White – a modern dance by the Burudani Dance Company in which two black men clad in red pants and white tops danced with a white lady apparently to explore the prejudices caused by race. The dance is actually one-hour long but was reduced to a few minutes because of time.

So the Kampala Dream Circus didn’t have the audience jumping about with enthusiasm as is so at many circus performances but the effort must nevertheless be applauded for our interest in circus entertainment has been kindled and there’s no looking back.

Daily Monitor, Saturday, November 15, 2008

Wapi proves its versatility

The audience was impressed by the tone, pace and variety in the show and by the different creative performers , writes Dennis D. Muhumuza

"Fresh" may not be the real mot juste but it was a thing of beauty the Baxmba Waves did to the soul at the fifth edition of the Words and pictures (Wapi) presentation at Hotel Africana’s Peoples Space on Saturday under the theme: 'Focus Uganda.'

Relying on African drums, the guitars, the keyboards and other types of percussion instruments, the group played on exuberantly for over an hour, producing intimate jazz and heartfelt cultural sounds. The highlight was their collaboration with the man who has popularised Lugaflow (rapping in Luganda) GNL and the Jinja duo of Coin and Bear who have increasingly become popular at Wapi.

Those with an eclectic taste in music who were getting bored with the shallowness, monotony and predictability of the previous events savoured the moment and you could tell from their whoops that they would give Wapi another chance.

And the wannabes who had taken to miming in the name of singing were shown that you have to learn to play an instrument and perform live, to entertain rather hop about the stage, but most of all train your voice to be noted.

The Saturday show had new faces in Fondodelik Squard, an ensemble of Rastafarians who warmed up across the stage shouting hail Haile Selassie. Their leader assured the audience early that “you will love some of our samples.”

The “samples” were Rastafarian rhythms fused with acrobatics, magic tricks and somersaulting. One of them, shirtless Powerman, lay on his back on top of sharp nails and had a kanyama step up on his chest. When he was up again, he turned his back to the audience who saw where the nails had pierced but no blood.

Then Fireman played around with matches; lighting and smoking a cigarette with his feet, and then swallowing tongues of fire and waiting a while before spitting out the smoke. Accompanied by African drumbeats, the background crew all this time sang feelingly: “We knew no feeling till we came to know Jah/ We knew no love till we came to know Jah…”

Wapi is a platform for “underground visual and verbal artists” and so sculptor Hebert Bakka stood out among other arts and crafts exhibitionists. His little ‘guitarman’, ducks and dancing creatures all made out of old cutlery, especially forks and spoons were quite an attraction.

And plastered on the wall of another stall was some poetry by the East African Poet. Afrika was about the never ending beauty of the continent whereas Hush was “written for that only one who runs me helplessly helpless!”

The change extended to the free condom distribution and the Youth Link newsletter, which, Joseph Kasozi, from the Uganda Youth Anti-Aids Association, said were aimed at encouraging the youth to abstain from sex or use condoms to avoid STDs and unwanted pregnancies.

If the Wapi advisory board and performers retain this standard or more, there’s no reason why our visual and verbal arts cannot attain the desired greatness.

So much to learn from Leonardo da Vinci’s world of art


Is Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) the greatest artist to ever live? What is that quintessential element that made Mona Lisa and the Last Supper his most famous masterpieces?

Mona Lisa is arguably the most talked about portrait of all time and Last Supper is one of the most celebrated paintings worldwide.

Last Supper dramatically depicts that Biblical moment after Jesus informs His 12 disciples that one of them is to betray Him (Matthew 26: 23-25).

The mural wields heavyweight influence that it took some of the best artists 22 years, starting 1977, to clean and scrape away “500 years of dirt, glues, and mold, as well as many layers of overpainting by zealous previous restorers” in order to “preserve what is left of Leonardo’s work”.

But that’s beside the point. The discussion is: what really separated Leonardo da Vinci from the boys? In a 1983 National Geographic article, Carlo Bertelli writes that Leonardo da Vinci was a man after perfection.

That one day, the painter saw a stranger whose eyes bore “a sadness and pathos” he had been struggling to sketch. So he followed him through the streets of Milan until he memorised “the details of the man’s face”, with which he visualised Apostle James as he wanted him on the painting.

Matteo Bandello, a Leonardo contemporary and writer, also wrote that Leonardo “would stay from sunrise till darkness, never laying down the brush, but continuing to paint without eating or drinking. Then three or four days would pass without his touching the work, yet each day he would spend several hours examining it and criticizing the figures to himself.”

Leonardo has been described as “a master of perspective” who “designed the ceiling of the room in his Last Supper; the tabletop and the height of the figures all to give anyone in the dining hall the feeling of dining with Christ and the Apostles.” He preferred intriguing subjects and in the Last Supper, he was captivated by the “concept of betrayal”. That’s why the spotlight in the painting is on a seemingly isolated Jesus and the reactions of the twelve are captured vividly; their faces reveal different emotions, the shock and anxiety caused by the disheartening words of their master.

In the book Lives of the Artists: Leonardo da Vinci, 16thCentury painter and biographer Giorgio Vasari lauds Leonardo for drawing with “such marvellous skill” and for painting with “wonderful realism” which made his creations look “more convincing than the real thing.” In the Last Supper, Leonardo left the head of Jesus unfinished; convinced he would never give it “the divine spirituality it demands.”

Then he did his best to depict “features that would form the countenance of a man (Judas Iscariot) who, despite all the blessings he had been given, could so cruelly steel his will to betray his own master and the creator of the world”.

So, Judas as he appears on the Last Supper is “the very embodiment of treachery and inhumanity.” More amazing is that “the texture of the very cloth on the table is counterfeited so cunningly that the linen itself could not look more realistic.”

It is said that Leonardo had a room which no one else ever entered. Sometimes he locked himself in to weigh ideas which he would later express masterfully with his paint brush. To Vasari, Mona Lisa is the best example of “how faithfully art can imitate nature”.

He describes the portrait beginning with eyes as having their “natural lustre and moistness, and around them were the lashes and all those rosy and pearly tints that demand the greatest delicacy of execution. The eyebrows were completely natural, growing thickly in one place and lightly in another and following the pores of the skin. The nose was finely painted, with rosy and delicate nostrils as in life.

The mouth, joined to the flesh-tints of the face by the red of the lips, appeared to be living flesh rather than paint. On looking closely at the pit of her throat, one could swear that the pulses were beating...”

Leonardo was very creative while painting Mona Lisa that he hired singers and comedians to keep her happy “and so chase away the melancholy that painters usually give to portraits.”
That’s how he managed to capture what has since come to be famously known as the “enigmatic smile”, which Vasari describes as “so pleasing that it seemed divine rather than human; and those who saw it were amazed to find that it was as alive as the original.”

Clearly, Ugandan artists have much to learn from the patience, hard work, creativity and class of the Italian genius, whose works continue to immensely influence modern art over 500 years after his demise.

The circus comes to Kampala

It will be a beautiful moment as refined form circus performances come to town as opposed to the almost amateur style stage clowning and acrobatics we are used to writes Dennis D. Muhumuza

The art of circus in Uganda has seemingly remained elusive although the country boasts a vibrant performing culture in as far as music, dance and drama go. Will the upcoming Kampala Dream Circus then set the precedent and stir our performers to rediscover themselves in the area of circus entertainment?

That for sure shall be known on Saturday November 8, at Nakasero Primary School playground (near Fang Fang Hotel) where the first Uganda made circus show will take place from 6-10pm for Shs2,000 (Adults) and Shs500 (Children).

Organised by Alliance Française, Kampala and the Ugandan German Cultural Society in conjunction with the In Movement: Art for Social Change, and sponsored by the French and Germany Embassies, among others, the event is aimed at promoting local talent and intercultural exchange, raising awareness and appreciation of the art of circus in Uganda.

It’s a show that will combine the art of juggling, clowning, miming, acrobatics and gymnastics, break-dance, magic tricks, balloon making, walking on stilts, and movement --the latter focusing on what the organisers have called “the concept of animals.”

Although the show will feature international circus artists like Mareike Moerschen from Germany and Sylvain Bernabe from France, critics will be curious to see if the performances are relevant in concept and nature to appeal to the average Ugandan.

Should that not be the case, then those interested in nurturing the art of circus will have lost an important platform in the making, considering that the organisers view this show as a dress rehearsal of sorts which if well-received will be turned into an annual event.

There’s however reason to hope for the best since preceding the Saturday show has been a weeklong workshop that began November 3-7 in which local and international artists had to interact and talk about technique methods and training through performance.

The opening act at the Kampala Dream Circus will be a combined team of children from Nsambya Ex-Street Children Organisation, Rainbow International School, Reach Out School and Banunule Primary School.

Circus clowns are known for overt exaggeration: big noses, oversize shoes, strange haircuts and mismatched clothing as they bumble their way across the stage, engaging in foolery meant to make people laugh.

Hopefully it won’t be the kind of clowning that borders on the vulgar. But as the show is directed by guest artists who are experienced professionals, one expects a hilarious approach, perfectly timed tricks and generally mirth-making closer to what made Charlie Chaplin a darling of the world.

Rapping his way to international stardom


Eric Twizera, whose stage-name is Ddosa, is a 13-year-old rapper. He was the youngest rapper during the British Council-organised event code-named Words and Pictures (Wapi) show at Hotel Africana recently.
A Primary Five pupil of Stathasius Primary School, Eric said he was taught how to rap by his father at the age of five. He would rap and dance at weddings and birthday parties and for his parents whenever they seemed unhappy.
When asked about his dreams, Eric smiled and confidently said: “I want to do music forever. I want to be a star like Lil’ Bow Wow and Rocky Giant.” Bow Wow is an American hip-hop artiste who became a star at a tender age and Rocky Giant is one of the loved Ugandan rappers.
Eric has done songs like Gy’akola, Tetwagala Tunyoma and Mwekolele. Eric is the son of Maraji and Modex of Kisenyi.

A parable of the lost love

Book: Jesse’s Jewel.
Author: Nick Twinamatsiko.
Reviewer: Dennis D Muhumuza.
Available: All leading bookstores. 
Will Nick Twinamatsiko be the one to write the great Ugandan novel that will distinguish him like Nigeria’s Chinua Achebe, Kenya’s Ngugi wa Thiongo or Senegal’s Sembène Ousmane? That question kept roaming through my mind after reading his first autobiographical novel, Jesse’s Jewel. 
Subtitled 'A parable of the Lost Love,' the novel is an interestingly peculiar read largely because, besides a raging conflict between the conventional and the unconventional, it explores “memory’s partiality towards peculiarities.” 
The protagonist sees life as a curve and as he grows up more in wisdom, he’s not at all surprised that “memory concentrates its interest on the turning points.” 
At the tender age of four months while on his mother’s back, he sees his cousin hit by a shell; then his mother’s description of the monstrous pains she braved birthing him, the piercing whips on his buttocks from his drawing teacher and meeting a drunkard reciting Shakespeare are some of the things that stand out in his young mind. 

Then he begins contemplating the mystery of God, who he hears is everywhere and all-seeing; was God watching when he did “dead things” with girls, which his cousin introduces to him, saying they are sweeter than mangoes? He’s gripped by the fear that he may not have a seat in heaven, which comes with the dreaded everlasting torment in hell. 
As he seeks the answers to life’s hardest questions, the women of the village dismiss the inquisitive 6-year-old, advising his mother to rush him to a witchdoctor. Fate brings the clever 16-year-old Helen into the life of Jesse, and she begins explaining things that troubled the solitary mental faculties of the young boy. She convinces Jesse that his peculiar fascinations, talents and physical characteristics point to a peculiar purpose and challenges him to keep true to himself and identify and fulfil that for which God placed him on the earth. 
Soon enough, Jesse’s peculiarities become his source of satisfaction and pride. When Helen suddenly dies, he’s shattered and struggles to remain as original as God created him. At school, he meets staggeringly beautiful girls that inspire much of his poetry but few come close to stirring his curiosities as Helen did. 
As more pages turn, you get the feeling that Jesse is an unrepentant braggart and idealist but upon much reflection, it strikes you that it’s only because he’s a man of distinct features and talents that the society in which he lives has failed to reconcile with. 
Besides, childhood events and the intellect of Helen have had a powerful psychological influence on his life that he cannot extricate himself from especially when he ponders what a genius like him should achieve.
At university, Jesse realises that his potential is in his imagination and ingenuity; that the Civil Engineering course he’s pursuing won’t help him attain the fullness of his potential. 

He begins to reminisce about his childhood: how he found beauty in the spectacles and sounds of nature while his own peers were indifferent, the mystery and beauty he discovers reading the Bible, his intense desire to leave a mark on the world, and he concludes that “every person’s peculiar path, is a function partly of his choices – both the wrong and the wise – but mainly of the invisible hand (of God)”. 
The 156-page novel is written in the first person, which gives it the desperation and intimacy that heightens with the protagonist’s inner conflicts. The writer’s preoccupation with the peculiarities of life is counterbalanced by humour, romance and a poetic language. 
The author’s tale sounds more like a trumpet call to readers to challenge convention and pursue what stirs our affections if we are to become the heroes of our own lives. 
Published by Pilgrim Publications, the book won this year’s second best of the National Book Trust of Uganda literary award in the published novel category. It’s a recommendable read especially for students torn between what choices to make in life as they pursue the academic careers that will affect the rest of their lives.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


In March this year, Uganda lost one of her gifted performers. Winkle Karitundu who was delightedly known to his fans as Rutamikira because of his unforgettable star role in the 90s drama titled Omwana W’abandi, was murdered by criminals outside his home in Nsambya.

At the time of his death, a film, Eshaha Yamwenda (The Ninth Hour), in which he was starring was being made. It was very difficult for the Abafrika Entertainment with whom he was acting, to continue with the movie when its star was killed before the shooting ended but they decided to carry on the mission; tweaked the plot, and finished the film which was screened last Friday and will show again this weekend at the National Theatre as a special tribute to the fallen thespian.

Although Rutamirika is not physically in the movie, it rotates around his life. In fact, the original title was changed to Oku Mwankunziire Tindibebwa (The way you loved me I’ll never forget you), which are said to have been his last words.

Written and directed by Desha Munyangoga (who also plays the major role), the movie, subtitled Bye Bye Rutamirika, is about the life of Dan Kanyankole (Desha Munyangoga), a jobless graduate who is ostracised from home by his father after impregnating his girlfriend Molly (Anita Seruwagi). A friend, Mark (Frable Kwesiga), gives him a lift to the city where he struggles against the odds until lady luck smiles his way when another friend, Hubert (Aggrey Nshekanabo), helps him scoop a job as an advertising agent. He rises through the ranks and soon becomes the object of envy among friends who later scheme and have him liquidated at the point he’s beginning to taste the sunny side of life.

The entire plot is reflective of the real life of Rutamirika, an orphan who turned his life around from being a secondary school teacher when he formed the Kigezi Kinimba Actors –a group he soon outgrew in popularity because of his riveting performances.

Rutamirika always played the lead roles that included acting as a penniless but very clever orphan who wins the hand of rich man’s daughter in marriage after solving a complex puzzle.

If he was not a born actor, then he learned and perfected the techniques of acting in that he captured human happiness or suffering as naturally as in real life and thereby had a great effect on the audience who empathised with him and always looked forward to his next performance.

Aggrey Nshekanabo, who acted with him in Abafrika Group says Rutamirika’s mannerisms, vocal inflection and sense of humour were the same on and off the stage.

It’s this on-stage natural streak that single handedly helped put drama from western Uganda in the limelight and as well distinguished him from the amateurs who still think real stage action takes the form of ranting and posturing.

As Oku Mwankunziire Tindibebwa screened, it was clear that the film was missing that indispensable touch of its original central character (Rutamirika). The plot lacked the twists and tension characteristic of Rutamirika’s performances, but also, Dan Kanyankole didn’t come closer in distinction as Rutamirika would have.

The tempo of the production is mostly grim and left me looking on nonchalantly even when Dan and Molly are murdered at the end, yet Rutamirika always shouldered his stage roles, however tragic, as humorously and as fascinatingly, throwing in unforgettable witticisms and proverbs to the effect that misery or unfairness are inevitably linked with life.

It’s the few clips showing Rutamirika’s nostalgic performances and the soundtrack of the movie that moved the audience the most. The sorrow of his memory was etched on their faces and as the soundtrack kept playing, many were moved to tears.

It is commendable that the proceeds from the sale of the CD containing the soundtrack will go to support the five children Rutamirika left behind. Like the track says, the pain is too much to have lost such a remarkably talented actor, director, producer, politician and businessman who in a career spanning over 20 years featured in over 37 local films and plays and was still to realise his highest potentiality.

--Monitor, Saturday, November 1, 2008

Never an elien


The novel saddened yet made me laugh out loud as well. Three years ago Richard Wright’s Lawd Today made me feel this way. I had all forgotten until I opened Ferdinand Oyono’s Houseboy, which I bought curiously because I had never read a Cameroonean novel before.

In this work, unpredictability jumps off leaf after leaf.

When Tounde Ondoua runs away from his cruel father into Saint Peter’s Catholic Mission, you love everything the benevolent Father Gilbert teaches him: reading and writing and keeping his own diary. It is his daily recordings in the two exercise books that will sadden yet charm you.

Tounde is fascinated by everything white and when his master and benefactor is suddenly killed in a motorbike accident, he becomes the Commandant’s houseboy. His life begins its nosedown when Madame, his boss’ wife –inexpressibly pretty and delicate –joins his husband and shamelessly begins her cheating ways.

The houseboy is now a brave, witty and keen a man Madame has fallen for but won’t say; a man she knows is not stupid and knows about her looseness as much as her sweating armpits; a man that respects and admires his boss and won’t betray him even if she seduced him.

Imagine Tounde’s shock when he discovers the Commandant knows about his wife’s randy ways but can’t assert himself as a man. For example he vows to leave her but when Tounde catches them kissing soon after, the Commandant behaves like a boy caught stealing something he pretended not to like. Guilt and the knowledge that Tounde knows their ugly secrets drives the Commandant and his wife to frame their houseboy and have him eliminated.

Next we are in the prison; the pathway to the cemetery. It’s terrible. Think of hippopotamus-hide whips and iron boots flogging and kicking innocent blacks. Imagine having a ruffle butt in your chest. Imagine a hospital being called the ‘Blackman’s Grave’? Then on Sunday the colonial priest still finds the voice to tell the “Dearly beloved brethren” to “ pray for all those prisoners who die without peace with God…”

Houseboy is about that and more. It’s about two worlds: The black world is a long dark pit and the other is the couch in your rich Dad’s living room. The whiteman is the one that has come to ‘save’ the blackman’s soul by preaching love of neighbour as of self but his neighbour is the blackman whose land he has stolen. The question of equality is out. Natives have lost hope.

But maybe it’s not all lost because the author still paints the Africans as the true connoisseurs. For example when Tounde collects his decomposing bones into an escape and finds himself in some hat being nursed by fellow Africans, he manages a mischievous wink in spite of the pain. The loving kindness of natives stands out and they are presented as resilient and conscientious workers.

On the other hand, the point is loud and clear that never trust an alien. I still ask myself why poor Tounde is sacrificed and then it hits me his storyline would have been different had the naivety of boyhood not driven him away. As he puts it on his deathbed: “I’d have made old bones if I’d been good and stayed at home in the village.”’

Overall, Mr. Oyono’s magic is in his frugal use of words and ability to show you that not all houseboys are stupid.

--Sunday Monitor, October 19, 2008

Ugandan art mirrors the emotions of independence


As Uganda celebrated her 46th Independence anniversary slightly over two weeks ago, the country’s contemporary artists convened at Nommo Gallery and exhibited works depicting the emotions that followed the attainment of self-rule.
On display was an intrig
uing repertoire of abstract and semi-abstract paintings, metal and wooden sculptures that evoked the deep sorrows of what the country endured on her road to independence, and of course, the revelry that accompanied this achievement.
The words of one critic that authentic art must ignite an argument between an artist and his audience struck the mind by just looking at Yusuf Ssali’s painting.

Aptly titled Africa and the Struggle for Her Independence, it depicts a white and black cock menacingly staring at each other like sumo wrestlers before a bout. The black cock’s beak is sealed with a padlock. A note next to the painting explains that the black cock represents Africans and the white cock symbolises the white colonial masters.The black cock’s padlocked beak shows that Africa’s claim to independence is false since Africans don’t have the freedom “to determine anything before the colonialists approve it” and that “Africa is in a deep state of sorrow for the lost independences she had before she was colonised by the powerful colonies…”
Ssali’s painting arouses disturbing reflections: Is the continent truly free? And if not, what then is the meaning of the annual independence celebrations?
Pinned on an adjacent wall was another painting showing two little figures, predominantly done in national colours and titled Independent Minds. The painter, Bwabee Malik, is the same creator of the Independent Choir. The latter shows a trio of animated sketches playing the flute and other musical instruments, probably to say independence came to the ears of many like a sweet melody.
The Crested Crane, the national bird, was there too, painted meticulously in oil by Ssensalile James under the title Darling Bird. But most outstanding, though it was difficult to tell what it had to do with independence, was a painting by Olsaam Ponika sophisticatedly titled Yellow Mode.
It portrayed a nude woman complete with an inviting cleavage and a luscious figure. It’s not clear if it was a painting or merely a drawing but art connoisseurs say a successful drawing is that one which is not fluent.
Drawn on white, Yellow Mode gets you wondering if the painter used water colour or coloured pencils. You also wonder why the artist employed yellow colour. And is that how an independent woman looks in the nude – delicate and glossy? What was the painter’s motivation? I could not tear my eyes away from Yellow Mode for before me was a rare work of perfection; clearly created with utmost diligence; it looked wet as if it had just been finished, and I wanted to throw my arms in the air and cry out, “Behold a Ugandan Mona Lisa in the nude!”
The overall mastery in the use of colours and the general ingenuity behind the art works on display was amazing. Some of these were made by combining a multiplicity of articles like bark cloth, paper beads, cut-offs from old jeans, candle wax, cassava starch and thread; to form some of Uganda’s finest art inventions.
It’s this complete ability to put in perspective, through works of painting and sculpture, the joys and fears of attaining independence that every art lover must without inhibitions applaud.

The roadblocks of those days


Roadblock is a political play that draws from the sordid and unhappy reality of the past. The title suits it for the period in which this piece of drama is set for it was frightening to travel because of the danger associated with being stopped at the endless roadblocks. This is emphasised on the book cover showing a roadblock signpost with gunmen standing menacingly on either side of the road and two others dragging a man away from his car.

Looking at this, even before opening a book, a curious reader should ask: is the dragged man a criminal? What are gun-wielding army men doing in the place of traffic police officers? It is symbolic of the collapse of the rule of law which the author, Victor Byabamazima, graphically depicts in this five-act play.

As hopelessness reigns; as ordinary people grapple with terrible poverty that drives the pastor’s daughter into the house of prostitutes, as they die like flies, as corruption defies the odds, as uniformed “wolves” manning roadblocks steal and make the lives of others hell; will the protagonist retain his courage and spiritual leadership necessary to keep the village together in the midst of this “great depression”?

Roadblock is based on the historical incidences of the 1970s and early 1980s; particularly the bleak and desperate times prevalent then. When Nyeka is sent to Parliament to help change the deplorable status quo, the once promising and honest son of the soil quickly gets “swollen with the drug of power” and becomes worse than the man of the people in Chinua Achebe’s novel by that title.

In addition to forgetting his own folks, Nyeka is the play’s antagonist who after being corrupted absolutely by a ministerial post, finds the shameless gall to abuse the man he once looked up to, the old pastor: “You are not a citizen…you are a placenta!”

This satirical piece may be difficult to stage but you’ll like the writer’s sharp use of realism to typify an ugly period in the country’s lifeline thereby intuitively making the reader appreciate even the little moral or political sanity existing in contemporary Uganda.

Published by Baroque Publishers in 2006, Roadblock also interlaces witchery with the healing salvation that can only come from God. It is ironically captured through the juxtaposition of the pastor and the “Jajja of the Luweero Ancestral Spirits”, a self-professed protector of “Yoweri” – the liberation war leader.

In the end, the playwright seems to suggest both forces become victorious when an important announcement is heard on the national radio: “On this day, the 27th July 1985, the government has been overthrown by a military junta…wait for more news.”

The pastor reunites with his prodigal daughter; the prisoners are set free, signalling a new beginning and the end of roadblocks.

Although the play was one of the 2007 National Book Week literary award winners, it cannot be called a masterpiece of realistic drama (we leave that to works in the league of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People). But it’s up there among Uganda’s best modern plays alongside Alex Mukulu’s 30 Years of Bananas.

More than being an instructive read for those seeking to gain new insights into Uganda’s political history, it would be interesting to see how Roadblock can translate into live stage action.

--Sunday Monitor, October 26, 2008

Self-taught crafts artisan raising Uganda’s level in footwear


As a young boy, Labartin owned a beloved pair of Kenyan sandals, a birthday present from his mother. With time, the sandals were badly in need of repair but Labartin didn’t have the money to have them mended. As necessity is the mother of invention, so it has been said, he made his own awl and set on repairing his sandals.

He fell in love
with his repair work and was suddenly seized by the urge to make his own sandals. Pencil on paper, he began sketching different types of sandals, then started collecting old car tyres and making lugabire out of them. To his delightful surprise, the locals clamoured for his work, a sign of appreciation for his creativity.

To cut the story short, that’s how Labartin became a self-taught crafts artisan. From tyre sandals, he experimented with real leather and began “making serious stuff”. He went over to Crane Shoes on Sixth Street, got membership to pay facility rent which allowed him to work there and master his art as well.

Labartin makes leather sandals, belts, and classy wallets. He also makes key holders in designs of sandals, maps, bottles and animals. You just have to tell him whatever design you fancy and should you want your name included, it will be done.
He cannot forget how far he has come, which is why his favourite creation remains what he now calls the “Labartin Sandal” along with its catchphrase: Walk in style!

“It has put me somewhere and I know it has put Uganda at another level in footwear because people really love it,” he says.

It makes his story interesting that he came from nowhere and started doing these things. He admits though that he was best at fine art in secondary school and also learned something from one of his uncles who is an artist specialising in batik.

Shortly after S.4, Labartin, whose real name is Edman Mwima, was confronted with life’s hard knocks with the death of his mother. He couldn’t continue with his studies because of financial limitations, so he began earning his living solely from his crafts business.

“People believe in my designs because they are original and unique; that’s why I supply those craft shops at National Theatre and on Buganda Road,” he says. “I even get some customers from Rwanda and Sudan. In Sudan they call my sandals Kabaya, which means something nice.”

The young craftsman has reason to boast. At only 22 years, he’s already a landlord in Kampala! He owns two rooms which he bought from his arts business and he rents one out and occupies another.

Labartin says it has taken him patience, hard work and discipline to win the trust of customers: “As a very creative artist, I have to sit down and take a lot of time sketching and cutting the patterns which I turn into stuff people like…no one can copy my products because they are unique and customers like that.”

Labartin, who comes from Tororo, surfs the net to update himself with the latest designs and is particularly “inspired by Italians because they are very ahead in leatherworks”. In fact it is an Italian that gave him the name Labartin, which he says means something genuine.

“I want to open a school that teaches young people about leatherworks so that in future it will not be me in the production room,” he says of his big plans. “I know my dream will come true because I believe that you can come from the ghetto and make big things.”

Corruptible performances at Wapi


Last Saturday was the fourth edition of the Words and pictures (Wapi) show at Hotel Africana’s people’s space. The day’s theme was “Wapi: My Rights”, and by sheer coincidental irony, the audience fulfilled their “right” of lagging in late so much that the show began three hours late.

The viewers were also fewer and less responsive than the crowds that jammed the previous events.

A few harmless presentations kicked off the show in earnest before a grotesquely dressed clown befouled the mood with a shameless show. He wore black thin-textured pants, tight like an Elizabethan costume, which made his crotch stand out like the beak of a vulture. He introduced himself as “the devil”. His definition of funny is vulgarity. His take one was directed at girls: “Have you ever been f*#ked up by five different guys and you wind up getting pregnant and you don’t know the father of your baby?”

With sweat pouring down his face, he then made some jerky movements and dragged on and on barking like a dog and later pantomimed lewd scenarios while lip-syncing pre-recorded dirty songs. Of course some adolescents found some of his weird acts funny but from the look of many, it was good riddance when he finally left the stage.

A delightful watch came in a 13-year-old called Eric “Ddosa” Twizera. He sent the crowds wild as he bounced on stage like a ball and performed one of his songs, Kampala Muzuri. Later, many were seen clamouring to have a “Kodak moment” with the young boy.

Another surprise was the two look-alike brothers who could easily be mistaken for twins. Paul and Lawrence or PLA as they call themselves, charmed the audience with the simplicity and innocence of their freestyle. Unlike those before them, these students of St. Peter’s Nsambya SSS didn’t do it behind the beat or mime but just created words on stage, rapping in Luganda in a fluid and clear style that elicited gleeful applause.

“We did the real thing up there because music is our game,” they said. “We came here to find a name and get known.”

The members of the Break Dance Project, mostly children ranging from 12 to 16 years flaunted dance tricks that the audience marvelled at. They rolled on the dance floor, threw in swift and nimble flips, glided better than Michael Jackson, walked on their hands and writhed like cobras with such finesse it appeared they had no bones in their bodies. T

he models came on strutting in some interesting creations and it was back to music. This time it was rapper Xtreme. His was a performance of obscenities splashed with the “f” word and belted with such ferocity and speed you would swear something was wrong with him.

Had he just read what was on display at Roland Tbirutsya’s stall? The painter had on his canvas some “truth about hip-hop”, downloaded from the website of controversial American preacher, Craige “The Messenger” Lewis to the effect that secular hip-hop is the devil’s tool to hoodwink young people and keep them away from God. The information included “hip-hop’s unspoken ten commandments” that included, among others, coveting expensive things like cars, doing drugs and having lots of sex.

Many read this information attentively which the born-again painter had displayed “to mainstream God’s truth and show the young people that being a celebrity or having power minus righteousness is wickedness.”

If Xtreme had annoyed the moralists in the crowd, it was worse when the Maisha Girls in their half-naked state put up what – without mincing words – was a pornographic show. Their erotic twists and gyrations is fodder for patrons in some red light bar but not for Ugandans. They soon coupled up with their male counterparts to grind and bump against each, making a frenzied group of boys at the mouth of the stage to remove their shirts and lick their lips.

Is this the talent Wapi is nurturing?

Even guest artiste Mad Ice was disturbed. As soon as he grabbed a microphone, he lambasted the likes of Xtreme to stop “being 50 Cent” and watch their content for “it’s not good for the young people.”

The Gwe Wange singer also challenged the audience not to accept dirty stuff from the performers, and upcoming artistes to stop miming and get real if they want to make a mark.

At 8p.m., when the show ended, as I found my way home, I wondered if the ferocious sun had had something to do with the generally corruptible performances. But the poor turn up coupled with the lackadaisical response was hint enough that the honeymoon between the British Council organised event and the audience is over. The organisers might want to change rules, and pretty soon, if Wapi is going to have a positive impact and win the respect of all.

--Daily Monitor, Monday, October 19, 2008.

The Internet makes inroads in rural Uganda

The spread of the Internet to rural areas has sparked off excitement among residents giving them hope for future flourishing businesses through communication with the outside world writes Dennis D. Muhumuza

The rate at which Ugandans are tapping into the Internet especially after the introduction of District Information Portals countrywide is exciting analysts who see it more than President Museveni’s fascination with industrialisation and modernisation of agriculture as the fastest way through which natives will be pulled from the doldrums of poverty by availing them with important information and changing the way they do business.

The portals project started five years ago under the Rural Communication Development Fund from the World Bank with Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) acting as the regulatory body.

The initiative fits in the larger Rural Communication drive of expanding Internet to rural communities by having as many Internet kiosks and setting up what are called Internet points of presence at every district headquarter. To make this possible, UCC availed private proprietors of Internet cafes in rural districts with more computers, strong bandwidth, generators and the necessary software, and also contracted MTN and UTL telecom companies to fix the said Internet points of presence in the 80 districts of Uganda.

The vibrancy of Internet in districts brought by these Internet kiosks and Internet points of presence coupled with the village phones programme has roused many even in the far-flung districts of Uganda to value the use of Internet which they see as a potent factor in communication throughout the world.

Also, they have learnt that whoever controls content in this generation has power because more people want to know what’s happening and what’s new.

Yet the websites remained stagnant until May last year when they were officially handed over to be managed by the respective districts.

Before this, UCC would meet the cost of hosting, updating and maintenance. Each district now pays an annual cost of Shs1.2m for the domain name, registration, hosting and maintenance but whatever information they want on their websites is for the district officials to decide.

“Since 2005, we’ve been trying to have our district portals running, unfortunately due to managerial problems we didn’t have access to these websites but things have changed because we now have full authority of our access,” says Iganga District Information officer, Mr Daniel Saire. “This is the way to go because it gives the districts an opportunity to market themselves and communicate to the outside world. As a district, we need to mobilise and interest our people in the use of Internet. We can start with schools and if we start with the youngsters, by the time they turn 30 or 50, every body will have caught up.”

Busia, Pallisa to Rukungiri among others are vigorously posting new information on their websites. Although updates are lacking and a lot is still desired in how some of these websites look, it’s a step in the right direction; the revolution is in gear.

Besides the coverage of their social, political and economic infrastructure, including human interest stories intended to entice potential investors and tourists, the districts are also branding themselves on their home pages. Bushenyi is ‘officially’ “a model district”, Gulu is the seen as the “Hub of NGOs”, Rukungiri is the “Land of Bahororo” and Kabale is the “Switzerland of Africa.”

To live up to the perception that that they are referral centres as far as local information is concerned, digital maps showing the location of the district, tenders, jobs, district budgets and development plans are now accessible on the district websites.

The plan is to work with the private sector as well, so that a visitor to the district can find information on where to get the best accommodation, hospitals, schools, hotels and where to start a business.

The websites also communicate market prices so vendors can for example visit the sites of multiple districts to compare prices and then purchase from those they think will boost their profits. The businessmen in rural Uganda can as well take advantage of the district websites to market their products or services globally without being limited by their geographical positions. This has been made easy by search engines like Google or Yahoo, which pick up uploaded content for online researchers and other users.

In fact, it’s because Google knows the future of Internet depends on local content, experts say, that it has registered many a country’s domain. Computer geek and one of the trainers of the first batch of district officials, Yuda Muganda, says once Ugandans are given a reason as why they should be on the net, a mass criteria will happen whereby even farmers in the remotest district will be rushing to their district website for information on where to find the best market for their products or services.

Muganda uses a simple illustration to shed more light on this: “I’ve always been looking for a Blackberry phone on the Ugandan market and the cheapest I found is Shs500,000 but by using the Internet I’ve discovered that in Kenya I can get it for Shs200,000,” he says

As districts continue to handle their information, a private company, Rural Digital Media (RDM), still plays its part in regard to training; equipping the district officials with the necessary skills to update and sustain their sites, changing the layouts of the websites to make them distinct from others, as well as helping out in difficult technical aspects.

The project coordinator of District Information Portals under RDM, Mr Brian Rwehabura says database is being created to be tied with the SMS component. This means if one wanted know how many kilometres there are to travel to Soroti from Kampala, the person merely uses his phone to send a code to 188 which will automatically go to the databases on website and pick the desired information.

Mr Rwehabura added: “Most of the content on the websites has actually been translated into the local languages. You find most of the websites in western Uganda are in Runyankole-Rukiga, if you go to northern Uganda you have the Luo, the Lugbara, in east and we have Lusoga and Ateso for the north east.”

He says the information portals project has helped some districts generate money by selling advertising space to companies and NGOs who well know the websites attract multitude readers in the diaspora.

As the Internet is the world’s biggest library and therefore an essential ingredient of the information superhighway, it makes sense that its usage is being encouraged throughout the country but of more significance is that even those in the remotest parts of the country are empowered to transform their lives and define the greater socio-economic destiny of this country.

--Daily Monitor, Wenesday, October 15, 2008

Crazy storms


Theatre enthusiasts that were at the National Theatre on Wednesday evening celebrated the 46th Independence anniversary early. On the menu was a free, script-in-hand performance of Crazy Storms, a play by experienced Ugandan actor, director and playwright Philip Luswata.

This script-in-hand phenomenon is new, at least to the local theatre lovers, but the moment the five-member cast led by seasoned actor, Kwezi Kaganda Ruhinda (of Theatre Factory), appeared on stage, and began reading their scripts out loud, the audience were riveted.

It is amazing that in the absence of makeup, costuming and other dramatic effects, the actors could rely on their vocal abilities to convincingly express their strong feelings, fears and vulnerability.

The one-act play is set in a refugee camp, or to bring it closer home, an internally displaced people’s camp, peopled with characters who, driven by the survival instinct, often find themselves in tricky and amusing situations which they try to come out unscathed.

Babadi (Kwezi Kaganda) is a sex-starved, broke and frustrated teacher and a classic voyeur that brags about authority he possesses not and uses self-made pompous titles such as Resident Refuge Camp Officer in Charge and Refugee Internal Affairs and Rules Compliance Supervisor to intimidate others and solicit for sex from ladies, which he never gets by the way. You have to laugh at Babadi’s lasciviousness as he never ceases complaining about the lack of some (sex). With his flaws, Babadi is the fulcrum of the play and vividly brings out the humanity in many a man.

Then there is Munduki (Abu Kawenja) with his fat and protruding belly which betrays his fondness of food. He’s not interested in innuendo; you would think he’s a capon! Spare him the blabber; give him food. When anyone tries to say something, he punches the table: “Shut up!” because all he wants is to eat.

It helped that the script draws from real life experience where, because of poor leadership, people become victims of circumstances as they are torn away from the normal life and end up in refugee camps because of insurrection.

Even in the camps where you expect they would live in harmony as people sharing a common plight, you meet schemers like Maneno (Geresome Mayanja), an unrepentant crook, trickster and schemer who uses carefully planned ruses to enrich himself at the expense of others.

And if you are a young woman that happens to be Sharon (Susan Bamutenda), with all the sexual appeal, you become the object of interest; every lusty male wants a piece of you; you would be harassed into madness but you are a strong character, so you ignore them and try to keep sanity in the camp. She tells a distraught Munduki who has lost his restaurant to a fire: “The most important thing is that you still have life. You can rebuild all that.”

This is the biggest statement in the play; it’s the heart of the play with a concealed message: that suffering or loss is not the end. It implies that however crazy the storms, a man must hold on, stick his chest out and never surrender.

The author mirrors the grim reality of life; the folly and wickedness of humanity, but carefully builds a gripping, optimistic climax as people begin to leave the camp and return home.

The script is a product of the play-devising workshop by Performing Arts Cooperation between Sweden and Eastern Africa and was read live to an audience to “test its intonation and comic relief elements” according to its director, Mr. Richard Kagolobya, a lecturer of drama at Makerere University.

It will be performed at the fifth Eastern Africa Theatre Institute festival in Ethiopia next month before it is brought back home to a real stage performance in different schools and theatre halls around the country.

--Daily Monitor, Saturday, October 11, 2008

UFN brings Ugandan filmakers together

Ms Joanita Bewulira - Wandera is an actress, script writer, director and Head of Communication of the Uganda Film Network (UFN). The Last King of Scotland casting director told DENNIS D. MUHUMUZA about how UFN is determined to help Uganda’s film industry.

What led to the establishment of UFN?
The UFN was launched this year in response to the absence of a well established body that could control film content in Uganda. Although there are some good productions, our society has been fed on substantial amount of substandard material that’s detrimental to our society. Secondly, we were getting a lot of international film companies coming here and exploiting Ugandans through poor pay and poor working conditions. I’m not saying that all the film companies mistreated Ugandans but in the absence of a film body our people could not be advised. A lot of movies being shot about Uganda have been taken elsewhere; for example earlier this year there was a film by a Dutch company called White Light about Joseph Kony; it was shot here in Uganda for 10 days and for two months in South Africa. Ugandans were flown down to South Africa; Ugandan cars were taken to South Africa yet all this income could have come to Uganda and jobs created. So UFN is here to bring together Ugandan film people as part of one network, to streamline a plan of action in dealings with foreign film companies and ensure that works of excellence are produced in Uganda.

You talked of the control of film content. How are you going to do that and what is acceptable content?
First of all, I would like to explain that we are not imposing ourselves on anyone; so we can only do this with our members if they agree to let us see their work. Unfortunately there isn’t really script culture in Uganda; people have ideas, shoot and improvise the dialogue. But where we are approached we’ll advise our members about lighting, sound and the content; we can’t really control things like pornography but we would strongly advise our members not to go in that direction. We’ve a strong team of directors, actors, editors and producers, so we are in a very strong position to be able to help and advise. I’m hoping we will get quality work; films that educate, inform and at the same time will entertain and build the moral fabric of society.

Ugandan obsession with Nigerian films is well known. How is UFN going to help our filmmakers supersede that?
By nurturing the enormous talent we have and using it in a comprehensive, well-driven, well-timed, well-aimed and well-produced manner and by also marketing our productions and the country’s spectacular sights like the source of the Nile, forests and winding rivers, mountain ranges and islands which could act as great scenic locations for foreign filmmakers.

Isn’t UFN promising much in the absence of a film institution and with little formal training in film making for the few Ugandans in the business?
Not really. The annual Maisha Film Lab brings in the directors and mentors from all over the world and we are encouraging our members to attend these workshops because there’s more to learn. Secondly, UFN is working jointly on a major film project that will be able to show our members and say –you want to make a selling movie –this is how to make it. We are also going out of our way to find out possible workshops; we attend as many as we can ourselves so that we can pass on information to our members.

What has been hampering the growth of Uganda’s film industry?
The red tape; many film makers have been frustrated because they are given such a hard time in getting permissions for locations and for using certain props and in shooting in certain areas and that’s something that needs to be streamlined. Also the industry does not pay, for example, filming is done only on the weekends to cut on the costs and time, otherwise in the ideal world we would be shooting for a stretch of a month or maybe more. Most films are rushed jobs because many local film makers are still struggling financially and yet they are not getting much support like the music or theatre industry. We want to reawaken the culture of watching films because we’ve got pay TV and people are glued to that but we want to revive the culture of going to cinema halls to watch films because without an audience there to watch them; no matter how many we make it’s still not going to help. In fact, we have started film shows at the National Theatre and we’ve gone a step further in establishing a Friday film night at Bat Valley theatre where only Ugandan films are shown.

--Daily Monitor, Friday, October 10, 2008

I can't deny my ancestry

I'm Nubian and one of the grandchildren of the late Idi Amin Dada. My name is Ugly, Abbass Amin told Dennis D. Muhumuza

Anyone who has heard, read and watched films about Idi Amin Dada knows that beyond his capriciousness, he was a man who captivated more than he repelled. When “Big Daddy” got down to dishing out tips to Ugandan pugilists, playing his beloved accordion or wooing pretty women, he was simply irresistible.

Would the lustrous elements of the Kakwa boy who was deficient in formal education but ruled Uganda for nine years, be reflected in one of his grandsons, a rapper? It appeared not on first sight. The wiry and glum-faced Abbass Hassan Muhammad Ibrahim Amin was wearing wrinkled black leather boots that could do with some mending at the cobbler’s. But when he introduced himself, it was with a burst of energy tinged with characteristic assertiveness that was known to strike fear in the hearts of those who knew his grandfather well.

“I’m Nubian and one of the grandchildren of the late Idi Amin Dada,” he thundered. “My name is Ugly.” Looking him over: The not-so-shapely big nose, lips and rough outlook brought him closer, physically, to his own description.

“Don’t raise your eyebrows,” he said, “Ugly stands for “U gotta love yourself!”

The self-loving 25-year-old is the only son of Hassan Amin and Aisha Ibrahim Rajabip. His father, who shares a mother with Taban Amin was an air force soldier in the 70s and died in 1986. His mother, a business woman, stays in Kibuli. Ugly won’t say more but readily talks about the good his grandfather did.

“People shouldn’t just say that Amin was terrible. They are supposed to see what he did. He liberated the country from mental slavery whereby we did think that it was only the Asians to run our economy. But now move around Kampala; it’s we the Ugandan people running our own economy,” he said.

Ugly is alluding to the 1972 “economic war” in which Amin expelled about 80,000 Asians and handed over their businesses and properties to the locals. It disturbs Ugly a lot that his blood relation with Idi Amin is affecting his music career: “I would have gotten a promoter by now but for my association with my late grandfather. A gentleman came to me and said, 'I would have helped you because I like your music but the problem is because of this.' But you know you can never run away from yourself. I mean I’m Amin’s blood and there’s no way I can run away from that. I’m composing a song that will make people accept me and forget about the bad side [of Amin]; why have beef with a dead person; when someone is gone, whether he was a murderer or a thug, we just have to look at the positive side and move on.”

Moving on is what Ugly is doing through hip-hop, a lifestyle began at inter-school music contests during his early formative years in Nairobi. He returned home in 1997 after Standard eight at Mashimoni Primary School and attended Kololo High School, and later on Kololo SSS to study Physics, Chemistry and Biology (PCB).

“I would be a doctor by now but I was very crazy, which resulted in poor academic performance prompting me to do a diploma in counselling rather than studying medicine at university,” he says.

It’s not that Ugly has any regrets, after all he counsels using hip-hop. In Break Through, for example, he warns against drugs: “As a teenager, drug abuse nearly wrecked my life; we used to sniff shoe gum just to be high…I was taken to a rehabilitation centre in Nairobi and when I came out, I said I was not going to do drugs any more because drugs destroy.”

Ugly’s music, done in many languages is reminiscent of Bongo Flava from Tanzania (and Kenya). “I rap in Nubi because I’m Nubian; I rap in Swahili so that I can be embraced in East Africa; and in French because when I go to Kigali, I can easily be welcomed.”

His is what is called conscious rap; focusing on the suffering of street children, ethnic rivalries, poverty, a poor education system, unemployment, crime, insecurity, child labour and how these weigh heavily on society. He also preaches hard work, reassurance, togetherness and love.

In Una Nubi, he implores Nubians to come from their hideouts and accept their identity. And in Cing-Cing, he uses the symbolism of a beautiful bird that has left him, to tell a true story of how his girlfriend left him because of the attention he was giving hip-hop.

As the man behind Arise Hip-hop Uganda with its membership of over 70 youths, Ugly is determined to help hip-hop culture find acceptance in Uganda, and also guide young people to keep away from drugs, alcohol and sex.

“We are moving to schools and to NGOs like Naguru Teenage Centre advocating, as Barack Obama says, "change we can believe in" and the only change for the young people that Arise Hip-Hop Uganda is coming up with is captured under one theme: Rise up and move on,” he says.

Ugly performs and emcees at the Hip-hop Night at Sabrina’s Pub on Tuesday nights. When he hit the stage last Tuesday, clad in a black T-shirt with a scary monster plastered on it, Ugly roused the audience with a magnetic performance of his militaristic hit, 999.

He has also found time to write a movie script titled Ugandan Hustler. “What’s the right way to hustle?” he asks, “Should we steal? No. Should we work? Yes. But how should we work? cientifically, the definition of work is force times distance. So that person who gets a metal bar and hits someone and goes away with the money, is working. But it’s wrong work which we can never embrace as Arise Hip-hop Uganda.”

In 2030 or after, Ugly will be playing politics because, “I’ll be a little older and wiser and Hon. Amama Mbabazi and President Yoweri Museveni would have retired!”

For now, he’ll do with his circumstances, not minding his weathered boots as he directs Arise Hip-hop Uganda, cuts more CDs and labours towards the reunification of the Idi Amin fraternity. Then his reward will be a royal Nubian Crown, should there be such a thing!

--Daily Monitor, Monday October 6, 2008