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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Our very own Robin Hood


On Thursday and all through the weekend, the Kampala Amateur Dramatics Society returned to the National Theatre with yet another end of year pantomime after last year’s The Emperor’s New Clothes.

Written and directed by Tom Adlam and produced by Flora Aduk, Robin Hood of Mabira Forest draws from the 12th Century English story of Robin Hood, who shuns his wealthy family and leads a band of outlaws into a forest from where he becomes a hero by robbing the rich to give to the poor.

It opens with King Richard (Tom Adlam) departing for war and entrusting his Kingdom of Uganda to his young brother, Prince John (Alistair Taylor).

Under the wicked influence of the Sheriff of Kampalaham (Dick Stockley; known to his friends as Big King Dickie), John and his clique impose unkind taxes on the poor who, to make things worse, are already finding hunger and poverty unbearable.

Meanwhile, the rich go about singing “money oh my honey” and the deprived have nothing but to grumble at the unfairness of it all; paying taxes yet the roads still have “cracks,” and of the rich having so much but not sparing a few shillings for the poor.

The redeemer comes in the name of Robin Hood, who, flanked by his band of “Merry Women” (in medieval England they were called “Merry Men”), including a nun – Sister Tuck (Sharren Glencross) who waylay the rich barons, rob them and take to the poor people of Kampalaham.

“Robin is a special hero for children, whose innate sense of fairplay and morality immediately recognise the intrinsic justice of his direct approach to the redistribution of wealth,” reads a note from the director.

As the plot develops, a plan is pitched by Robin’s foes to nab him at an archery contest and throw him in “the deepest, darkest, dankest dungeon,” but will they catch the hero of Robin Hood’s calibre?

That Mabira Forest is the home of Robin Hood could be viewed by critics as satirical to the present establishment that earlier this year sought to cut down the forest to plant sugarcanes but met stiff resistance from the masses.

The musical comedy is further given the Ugandan flavour with some of the characters adopting the names of local celebrities. There is for example Bobi Wine (Lucas Haitsma), a little boy of about eight years who goes the extra mile to wear a T-shirt with “Ghetto President” emblazoned on the front, an oversized cap and the accompanying bling-bling.

Just like his little friend Bebe Cool (Alex Sherwen), they get distracted during the show but are adorable all the same especially when ‘Bobi’ pulls some awkwardly slow but hilarious break-dance strokes on the stage.

Staying true to British tradition, the hero (the “principal boy”) – Robin Hood is played by a young woman (Hope Laila) and another major role – that of a large, older woman (the “dame”) known as Widow “Booty” Winterbottom is excellently portrayed by David Griffiths.

And like all traditional pantomimes, there’s lots of audience participation through music and rhetorical questions for comic effect. But slapstick is stretched (much to the laughter of the audience) when a gentleman is wooed from the audience to the stage only to have his face smacked with pie.

The romance between the “so dashing, so brave” Robin Hood and the feisty Maid Marion (Barbara Kasekende) is funny but nothing beats the expert portrayal of the huge crush the “horrible, hideously ugly (especially with that wig) Widow Winterbottom” has over the principal baddie, the Sheriff of Kampalaham.

Although the director called it a fun thing for children, Robin Hood of Mabira Forest also appeals to adults because it tackles salient issues in contemporary Uganda; the wide gap between the rich and the poor, the misuse of public funds and poverty. In fact, one is bound to ask, when is Robin Hood coming to rescue Ugandans from the political shackles that hold us down?

The production will be staged again today and tomorrow, 7:30p.m. and 3p.m. respectively and tickets are available at the National Theatre Box Office for Shs12,000.

--Saturday Monitor, December 13, 2008

Pure Souls spread the word through rhythm


After five years of true and firm discipleship through holy hip hop, Pure Souls are wrapping up 2008 with a celebration of their ministry’s achievements in a concert codenamed Urban Fest at Calvary Chapel in the city centre this Sunday.

The all-male crew based in Kampala have had school outreaches and visited many prisons “taking the gospel of hope to the hopeless.”

They curtain-raised for Papa San when he performed in Kampala early this year and have ministered in Kenya, California and around the country. Julius Mukasa , Joel Otim, Simon Mubiru and Odie Trophimus believe their meeting was divine.

“We were brought together by God for a great commission; to spread his word through beats and rhymes,” says Mubiru.

This much is clear in their two albums Doxology (2004)’ and Cross Reference (2006) which have been well-received in the Christian circles.

“Our music is urban-centred and our core audience are the youth especially those caught up in the misleading culture of secular hip hop,” says Trophimus. “God is leading us to show them the right way through spirit-filled and anointed rap songs.”

In Luganda and English, with an extra one or two songs in Swahili, Pure Souls “spit” unadulterated ‘sermons’ over hard-hitting beats that will not leave you lounging on the sofa.

Beyond glorifying God, their lyrics are drawn from personal testimonies; the struggle between good and evil and the challenge of “keeping it real for Christ” amid the lures and lusts of this world.

They also sing about social evils, the anti Christ, the last days and about false prophets and plead with God to deliver the city from adversity and let peace reign in the land.

One of their more popular songs, Vanity, is about a young man who falls for a pretty girl called Veronica. When she invites him to her place one evening, she tries to intoxicate him with booze, he stands up to her in defiance: “I’m born-again Veronica; no liquor…”

The song is dedicated to big timers in the music industry, They “gat” all the fame, money and the girls, but life without Christ, no matter how fancy is all vanity.

In some faint way, Pure Souls sound like Cross Movement, an American holy-hop quintet who inspires them. From their fashion and passion, this Ugandan act is an authentic representation of hip hop, the difference being that everything they do is based on “Biblical Truth.”

And more distinct is their versatility and creativity; the story-telling, the dramatic pauses between the songs, the suspense, wordplay and the conversational approach does make their music stand out. During the weekly Gospel Night at TLC on Tuesday nights, the quartet is loved for their spontaneity.

“Through Pure Souls Ministries, hundreds have given their lives to Jesus Christ –the masterpiece of God’s love,” says Mubiru.

Urban Fest is a free concert that has the blessing of their pastors --Josh Carlson and Brian Kelly. And will have other gospel bands, choirs and individual artists such as Levite Clan, Worship Harvest Choir, Soul 5 among others.

“It’s not going to be just another entertainment time,” says Trophimus. “It’s going to be different in that Jesus is the focus of our rhymes, so we encourage you to come in multitudes and you will return home rejoicing to the world what the Lord will do for you,” says Mubiru.

--Saturday Monitor, December 13, 2008

Art for peace


Tulifanya Art Gallery on Hannington Rd., opposite Crested Towers, is one of the oldest and most active galleries in town, organising exhibitions every month. From mid November to December 10, is an exhibition of 30 paintings by Sudanese artist Ahmed Abushariaa, who has lived here since 2001.

What should pass as Abushariaa’s trademark style is his masterful contrast of bright with darker colours, which shows his inner conflict between peace and war. One of his paintings is bloody red, and others on big canvases capture destruction of innocent lives and war in Darfur.

The bright colours that appear largely in his small paintings depict life in the village and generally show his dreams about the return of peace and calm so that people can live normal lives again.

“I hope one day we shall wake up and there will be no war, terror and fear,” he says. “I support peace in all my paintings.”

Abushariaa studied art at the University of Khartoum and uses water colours and mixed media on the canvas. Sometimes he sticks old newspaper cuttings onto the canvas and draws onto them, and they become part of a painting – a style artists call collage.

Some of the titles of his works, like Symbols of Hope, Oldman’s Story, Dreams of Peace, and Once in the Village show Abushariaa’s concern and connection with society and the people therein.

This year alone, he has participated in three exhibitions in Denmark and two in Germany, not forgetting his present exhibition at Tulifanya. His unique and moving work shows what professional art should look like.

--Sunday Monitor, December 7, 2008

This is the age of the Ugandan woman writer

In a world where patriarchy rules, literary works of female writers have often been underlooked and men given more ownership in writing and publishing but this trend is soon to change writes Dennis D. Muhumuza.

There used to be an exciting literary time for the Ugandan male writer, especially following the publication and immediate success of Okot p’Bitek’s Song of Lawino in 1966. In all literary genres, names like John Nagenda, Okello Oculi, Henry Barlow, John Ruganda and Richard Ntiru among others, added meaning to the words: prolific writer.

However, in this age of local literature, the woman writer was conspicuously absent. As Austin Bukenya, in the Ugandan Creative Writers Directory (2000) puts it, “…the insidious manipulation of patriarchy did not promote publication of their work.”

Even in the then literary productions, women were given minor roles that would not permit them to develop as today’s woman. It’s after the publication of the epic poem with its heroine Lawino that the wind of change began blowing.

“Okot p’Bitek had uncannily succeeded in giving the Ugandan woman a literary voice…” writes Bukenya. “After Lawino, women writers began to make themselves heard with impressively strong voices…”

Among them was the deceased dramatist, Rose Mbowa and Jane Kironde Bakaluba who authored the satirical novel, Honeymoon for Three.

Whatever happened, the enthusiasm of the male Ugandan writer has long waned. Today, the predominance of their female counterparts cannot be disputed. To put it clearly, this is the golden age of the Ugandan woman writer.

Femrite, the Ugandan women writers association founded in 1995, has since published over 20 books and 10 of its members have won national and international literary awards.

It must hurt the nation’s manhood that it’s the women (in the Femrite July 2008 week of literary activities) that challenged the Education ministry to harness Ugandan literature by considering much of it on the national school curriculum.

It may be true that few local publishers publish creative writing but what have the men been doing while the women lobbied and organised creative workshops and literary discussions to further their goals?

Femrite recently organised the first Regional Women Writers Residence in Africa and Uganda, from November 15-22 that brought together some of the best female writers from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ghana and Ethiopia.

Do you see the irony in the fact that the chief guest on the opening day was Prof. Timothy Wangusa? He addressed the guests on ‘Overcoming the barriers in the art of creative writing” which must have amused the women because the “barriers” he shared have not stopped them from writing unlike their male colleagues.

Prof Wangusa who has been writing for 40 years and said he only recently finished his second novel 20 years after he wrote Upon this Mountain, seemed to plead with Femrite to do something about “its aggressive and gender-sided publishing programme” and consider publishing “something by a gender-sensitive gentleman writer.”

From his presentation, it appears the males have been waiting for the spirit of creativity; the so-called muses believed to inspire writers in third century Rome. That is why, as someone joked, “the woman is busy telling Herstory while the man tells History”.

The residence was organised to promote intercultural literary dialogue among female writers and create opportunities for promotion of new African literary women’s voices and generally to have African women writers inspire and support one another to be able to “cause meaningful change in the social and political environments that continue to humiliate, dehumanise and gag women.”

Sponsored by Africalia and The Commonwealth Foundation and running under the theme ‘Shared Lives,” the residence had women engage in creative writing, the results of which were shared with the public during a reading session at the Makerere University last Wednesday.

“All the stories from the residence will be published by Femrite in an anthology,” said Femrite Coordinator Hilda Twongyeirwe. “Femrite has also established a literary award that will be awarded to the best story. The award is open to all the writers in residence and to other Femrite members that will submit stories.”

Femrite founder Mary Karooro Okurut reiterated that African women have from the stone age era been known as natural storytellers but this should extend to women worldwide. Remember the best-selling novelist of all time, according to The Guinness Book of Records, is Agatha Christie, whose books have sold some two billion copies in 44 languages.

So while men wait for the muse, one of our women could be on her way to winning a Nobel Prize in literature. It’s debatable that women are more talented than the men but seem to have learned to put into practice the famous words that writing is 10 per cent inspiration and 90 per cent perspiration.

--Saturday Monitor, December 6, 2008

EpiHandy mobile simplifies survey and data collection


Commercial companies, research organisations and individuals involved in collecting field data have something to smile about because the latest developments in Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) are first improving the way data is collected and disseminated.

Makerere University Faculty of Computing and Information Technology (CIT) together with The University of Bergen, Norway, have implemented a mobile-device based form application called the EpiHandy Survey Data Management Suite, which is out to change the way surveys and data collection are done.

During the launch and demonstration of the EpiHandy mobile tool in Kampala on Friday, participants agreed this could be the solution to the traditional paper-based data collection techniques that have proved expensive and time consuming for many years.

According to, “EpiHandy is a new cutting edge solution that revolutionises the way surveys and data collection are done in health and development research. It eliminates bulky paper questionnaires and subsequent data entry as well as costly errors related to manual data entry and lack of validation of data at time of collection.”

This is possible because the EpiHandy mobile tool has in-built validation and cross-checking features which simplifies the collection and correction of data through an easy-to-use technology that researchers who are used to the traditional way of collecting data can easily adopt to prepare, gather and interpret data faster and more effectively.

“The EpiHandy software can be downloaded from Google and free of charge onto mobile devices such as Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) commonly known as the hand-held computer and phones for collection of data,” said Daniel Kayiwa from the Faculty of Computing and Information Technology (FCIT), Makerere University, adding that it will go a long way in helping to get updated and reliable data much quicker even from the country’s remotest areas.

The building of the EpiHandy software began in 2005 at Makerere University’s FCIT under the Department of Software Development and Innovation, out of the desire to develop a paperless system of data collection and management, for the generation of high quality and timely information.

After developing a user-friendly questionnaire design in EpiHandy, it was field-tested in Iganga and Mayuge districts using 30 hand-held computers with inbuilt cameras, Global Positioning System (GPS) connectivity, wireless data synchronisation and memory cards.

“On average, each field worker would do a minimum of eight households within five hours which is compared to an average of seven households within eight hours using paper based forms,” Doreen Nabukalu, who was part of the digitalised research talks about the advantages of using the EpiHandy mobile tool. “There were fewer errors found during editing as most of them were captured during the data collection exercise; talk of reduced costs, better quality data, timely reporting and analysis, and flexibility as opposed to the inconvenience of conducting paper based interviews.”

Exactly how the EpiHandy works; a questionnaire or form that guide the data collection activity in the field is designed on the server; then downloaded to a mobile device on which data is collected and then manually uploaded into the database through synchronisation. Cleaning and editing of the collected data is done from the database within the office. The mistakes that would result from the feeding of data into the computers or systems by people who did not collect it as has been the trend with the traditional way of collecting data, cannot arise with EpiHandy since it comes with an easy procedure of collecting and finally exporting of collected data into the computer. The data on the phone is sent using HTTP, GPS Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or a data cable which are all possible on a java enabled phone. The only fear is the security of PDAs, the possible loss of data due to battery failure, and smaller inbuilt capacity memory cards which may not accommodate the ever increasing data volumes.

Otherwise in a world where ICTs are advancing rapidly and changing society profoundly, electric data collection and processing systems have shown that reducing the data collection time can improve reporting and therefore decision making. Even in Africa, the mobile phone is fast becoming the most immediately accessible ICT device because of the direct result of the benefits and convenience it offers at low costs, which means there is much to gain in sensitising the masses to utilise all the possibilities and efficiencies to be derived.

As Prof. Fisseha Mekuria of Makerere University FCIT said, “Mobile phones are a platform for public information access and are no longer a voice only communications tool. It’s a mass product carried by three billion people worldwide and is used as a video camera, an MP3 player, calendar, calculator, alarm clock…we can use it for innovative mobile applications, for example in health, banking, education, voting, census and marketing of goods and services and generally as a vehicle of economic development.”

He added: “The EpiHandy tool is only the beginning; we want to work together with you to solve outstanding issues; develop mobile based services to the public and private sector; we need a change, and –‘Yes We Can’ locally develop innovative mobile applications and use ICT and mobiles for social, business and economic development.”

So the EpiHandy mobile tool excited participants but many, including Prof. Venansius Baryamureeba, the Dean of FCIT Makerere expressed their fear in regard to its general acceptance and practicability especially in Uganda where many live in rural areas, and about 90 per cent of mobile phone owners hardly use other applications on their devices beyond placing and receiving calls.

Mellisa Ho from the University of California said technocrats need to evaluate what makes new technologies work, and that a lot of sensitisation ought to be done in order to build a community that will innovatively use mobile phones to enrich their lives.

In October 1983 when the first commercial cellular call was placed, few would have guessed that a time would come when we would access the Internet, listen to the radio and watch television programmes on our handsets. Likewise, the development of the EpiHandy could be a linchpin to greater things to come.

--Daily Monitor, Wenesday, December 3, 2008

Boyz II Men are coming to paint Kampala with love


When Boyz II Men perform in Kampala next weekend, it will be a time to reminisce for the high school "kids" of the first half of the 1990s, when songs like End of the Road, I'll Make love to You and On Bended Knee were hugely popular. They will be reminded of the "squeeze" dance during "socials" and the grooving that crowned inter-school debates and seminars.

Boys coupled with girls and slow-danced to Boyz II Men's enchanting "love cuts" on memorable evenings. One day during holidays, my elder brother told us how he had serenaded the most beautiful girl from Bweranyangi Girls School, bringing tears of love to her eyes! End of the Road was the magic!

He knew all the Boyz II Men songs word for word and the wall above his bed was plastered with a mega poster of them with sharp boxy haircuts that every high school lad at the time loved to sport. Masters of the romantic song, Boyz II Men's lyrics played a prominent role in the love letters wooing the stunning girls in the neighbouring school.

The passionate choruses that made their smooth harmonies were unforgettable and lovely to sing along to, which made it easy for the school show-offs that loved to mime their songs. R&B and new jack swing was in vogue and Boyz II Men were a young and stylish act with great vocals that had many try to replicate their style. No doubt it will be a memorable day to see them perform live in Kampala.

They are now older than the four adorable smiling young men on the poster in my brother's room back in the day that we all wanted to be like, but they are still Boyz II Men. If the four-time Grammy award-winning, chart-topping, record-breaking, most commercially successful male urban soul artistes that have sold more than 60 million recordings are truly coming to Kampala, then it's amazing!

You have to delve into history to fully appreciate the magnitude of their talent and acclaim. Marc Nelson, Nathan Morris, Michael McCary, Shawn Stockman and Wanya Morris first hooked up in high school in 1988 under the name Unique Attraction.

"Boyz II Men were put together by Boyz II Men," Wanya Morris told Shane Gilchrist of Otago DailyTimes Online in a May 2008 interview. "There was nobody standing off to the side saying 'I want to put together a group'. Music put us together – that is our mother. Music is our mother."

When the quintet sneaked backstage at a 1989 concert and impressed a former New Edition singer-turned producer, Michael Bivins, with an acapella version of New Edition's Can You Stand the Rain, they had no idea a miracle was about to happen; Bivins offered them a recording deal on the spot! They immediately changed their name to Boyz II Men, an altered version of Boys to Men, another song by New Edition, the group they idolised that brought them good luck.
Suddenly, Marc Nelson quit; leaving other members dispirited but determined to move on. Their first album, Cooleyhighharmony was released in 1991 and became an instant hit, winning them the 1992 Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.
It was followed with the alluring End of the Road which confirmed the notion that Boyz II Men were "crooning Cupids." The ballad was no.1 on the music charts for 13 weeks, breaking the earlier record of 11 weeks set by Elvis Presley's double-titled single Don't Be Cruel/Hound Dog.

In 1994, they released their second album simply titled II. It went up and on to sell over 12 million copies in the US alone. This album has timeless harmonies like On Bended Knee, Water Runs Dry and I'll Make Love to You. The latter enjoyed a record 14 weeks atop the charts, ending End of the Road's 13-week reign. It was later overthrown by On Bended Knee and Boyz II Men joined Elvis Presley and the Beatles in music books as the only artistes to replace themselves at number one.

In 2005, they scooped two Grammy Awards for Best R&B Album for II and Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for I'll Make Love To You. They had become legends and are said to have started the "boy band craze" with groups like Take That, Soul for Real, 98 Degrees, Blackstreet Boys, All 4 One, Jagged Edge and Backstreet Boys; who tried but miserably failed to imitate the inimitable style of Boyz II men.

Their uniqueness lay in the avoidance of the trend of the time where other groups would have one or two lead singers and a choir. A music critic observed: "The multiple-lead arrangements became a Boyz II Men trademark, and it became typical to hear Wanya Morris' vibrato-heavy tenor, Shawn Stockman's smoother tenor voice, Nathan Morris' baritone, and Michael McCary's deep bass (often used in spoken-word sections of many Boyz II Men hits) trading bars in each song. Their flawless four-part harmonies blend so smoothly that most of the general public would be hard-pressed to name any of the group's individual members."

Most of the early songs by Boyz II Men are groovy and funky; a style related to new jack swing style, which they christened "hip hop doo wop". They later carved out their niche in soulful ballads which a Ugandan night show radio presenter would later call "the right music for all the lovers in the house!"

The next album, 1997's Evolution didn't meet much success but gave us the sweet and heartfelt A Song for Mama which today is arguably the number one dedication to mothers. The follow-up album three years later also sold few records but the class and passion on a couple of its songs such as Pass You By and Thank You in Advance helped confirm that Boyz II Men are the true manufacturers of romantic music.

These Philadelphia natives last year released the LP Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville USA, with songs originally performed by greats such as Marvin Gaye (Mercy, Mercy Me), Just My Imagination by the Temptations and the Commodores' Easy, to honour the legends that "paved the way with their style of music, their lyrical content, just the spirit of those songs actually gave you another vibe… those artistes became the soundtrack to our lives."

Boyz II Men are bringing with them a 20-year music experience and songs that millions of people worldwide have loved and related to. Will it be the groovy and funky types like Beautiful Women and In The Still of the Night (I'll Remember) or will they take it slow throughout the concert, resurrecting their Midas touch on classics like End of the Road, Doing Just Fine and Dear God?

Or will they put Kampalans in a Christmas mood with The Christmas Song and with their version of The First Noel? It may not be the same without Michael McCary, who retired from the group in 2003 because of back problems, but when Boyz II Men do step up on the stage, many will remember and cry over the golden days when music was still real.

--Sunday Monitor, November 30, 2008

Makerere’s food basket


A Ugandan blogger once complained about the weathered sculptures and other artistic pieces that litter the Makerere University Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Arts courtyard. Visiting there, you honestly wonder why they cannot be spruced up or new ones added to give a fresh look to the surrounding.

It’s not clear if Vincent Kaganda read her blog entry but the 22-year-old third year student of fine art recently invented something he said he would be remembered for, and that would probably inspire future students to take the step too. His invention is a life-size sculpture he put up just opposite the Art Library. Titled “Food Basket”; the sculpture depicts a happy mother holding a basket of fruits.

“Every mother is happiest when she knows she has something to feed her family,” he said with a smile. “She’s holding a basketful of fruits which are a source of vitamins and other nutritious values.” The basket is actually a kisaniya (shallow pan) like the one the roadside chips dealer uses to fry his chips, which the sculptor bought from Kisenyi and welded onto his invention while the said fruits are also metal scraps also welded onto the kisaniya.

“I used scrap metal to show that discarded materials or waste can be useful too,” said Kiganda.” What strikes you most about his work is the smile; very broad, truly motherly and so heart-warming to look at. “Many artists put emphasis on the agony but I chose to capture a big, warm smile symbolising a mother’s love, and to reflect the theme of my sculpture – Happy Mood,” he said.

Under the supervision of Dr George Kyeyune, who is Dean at the School of Industrial and Fine Arts, and Dr Lillian Nabulime, one of Uganda’s acclaimed sculptors, it took Kiganda a fortnight to complete his captivating creation.

He made his armature (the framework that supports a sculpture while it’s being moulded) with metal and iron bars, upon which he added cement which is water resistant and would make his work last.

“Food Basket” is the more colourful because she’s wearing a delightfully greenish dress used by her creator to harmonise with the green grass and the flowery environment.

“Many related sculptures I’ve seen are plain and I decided to introduce the element of colour because I’m also a painter that is used to colours,” said Kiganda. “I also mixed oxide of many colours to get that coffee brown colour of her skin.”

The result of his ingenuity is a three-dimensional (meaning you can walk around it) semi-realistic figure in whom I seemed to recognise the cheerful woman; the avocado seller at the nearby market!

Also a creative art designer and a painter that lives by the slogan “Creativity talks”, Kiganda scored 85 percent for his project and will be remembered for making the area in front of Makerere University Fine Art Library very attractive.

--Sunday Monitor, November 30, 2008

When colour speaks


Colours, especially red, fascinate and inspire Ugandan painter Fidelis Nabukenya Matovu. “I believe much of the beauty of a painting is decided by colour,” she says.

This explains why her first solo exhibition is codenamed “Colour Speaks.” The exhibition that started on November 5 and ends today was organised in partnership with Alliance Fran├žaise and Uganda Germany Cultural Society.

All the 22 colourful paintings on display are dominated by red, supported with a shade of white and black. These are paintings that start an inner dialogue with the viewer because the colours are arranged in such a complex yet lively way; the subjects look real yet not real, so you wonder how the painter did it.

It’s something she says she was able to achieve because her work philosophy is that for a painting to be complete, it must touch or move the viewer.

“Come my Beloved,” shows a group of people on a journey. Jesus is depicted in the top corner of the same painting with his benevolent face and open arms and the background is bright - symbolising the beauty in the after life.

“I was thinking of life after death; everybody dreams of going to a better place after death,” said the painter. From her own confession and by looking at her collection, Fidelis is a painter obsessed with hope, love, spirituality, life and death. So she tries, in her work, to capture her understanding of life and its secrets.

You can even tell by the title of her creations. “A Journey Well Travelled” was for example inspired by her deep thoughts on life and she wanted to pass on the simple message that “A life well lived is a journey well travelled.”

The interconnectivity of colours in her paintings and the way the painter distorts her figures yet still manages to achieve that naturalistic effect is in its own way symbolic of the mysteries of this bittersweet life that we lead.

Also, the exhibition shows the painter’s interest in women. But again, the world of womanhood is one she understands best. “I choose to paint women mostly because men tend to hide their feelings a lot and women are expressive and go through a lot,” she explains.

“Emerging Beauty” is a painting of an attractive woman and the backdrop is grim. The simple message behind the painting is that we should always settle for the beauty as opposed to the ugly things.

Another piece shows two curvaceous and wide-hipped women flaunting with pride what God gave them. It’s aptly titled “Showing Off”. Even “No Longer Prisoner”, one of her favourite paintings, shows a woman standing tall and firm.

“She has had a tough past but now she has conquered and is ready to move on,” said the painter, with a glint in her eyes. One distinctive feature about Fidelis’ work is that she concentrates on women’s head gears and their faces, often painting the lips red.

Fidel has all her life been searching for the meaning of life and in her art probes even more the meaning behind everything. And her paintings, though largely semi-abstract, have authentic human appeal.

They cost between Shs70,000 to Shs450,000 - a price she says is determined by the attachment she has over the painting, the message it conveys, the originality, not forgetting the materials used.

It’s interesting that Fidelis, who today is one of Uganda’s top painters, actually majored in sculpture at university.

--Sunday Monitor, November 23, 2008

The imprisoned writer is remembered

Despite persecution from the powers that govern, writers in Africa and worldwide have always expressed their feelings through drama, prose and poetry as amessage to those exploited, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza

Many enjoy reading great books but little do they know that some of the authors have paid with their blood for using their craft to say no to injustices in society. Nigeria’s Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka was once detained for his critical writings against the tyranny, corruption, and violation of human rights. His jail experiences inspired one of his most powerful works, The Man Died (1972).
It's because writers were increasingly becoming targets of cruel rulers that PEN, the worldwide association of writers was founded in 1921 to champion the values of literature and defend freedom of expression.

The organisation is open to all writers, publishers, editors and journalists and has national chapters in 104 countries. Every year on November 15, writers and Human rights activists join to remember colleagues who have been killed and to highlight their plight and campaign for the release of those still in prison. They encourage themselves to remain steadfast and continue to use their pens to help change the world.

This year, Pen International has recorded the killing of 31 writers and print journalists who it is believed to have been targeted for what they wrote or said to displease the authorities. Somalia tops Africa in the persecution of her writers and many see the writing profession as very risky.

Pen Uganda, the national chapter of Pen International on Saturday joined other countries to remember the Imprisoned Writer. Writers, journalists, human rights activists, literature and media students and lecturers gathered at Makerere University on November 15 to honour the courage of those who have committed their lives to speaking the truth, even when it puts their personal security at risk, said the president of Uganda Pen Centre, Prof. Arthur Gakwandi.

The group mourned the humiliation and depersonalisation that people experience in prison and expressed solidarity with them as a way of defending human dignity. But the day’s highlight was the reading from some of the most fascinating prison literature from Africa. The opening scene of the controversial play, The Crocodile of Zambezi by Raisedon Baya and Christopher Mlalazi was read.

“Prison is a form of sanction/Against flesh and the soul/It is not a place to seek truth/But a place to die a thousand deaths/It is not a place to be born in/Certainly not a place to dream about I am here/I have been here/I will always be here/Because my name is Conscience/And will not allow or watch/My peoples honor and dignity/Kicked and trampled My name is conscience.”

A student from Makerere University, Rachael Amutuhaire, read a section of Soyinka’s, A Man Died and another read from Ngugi wa Thiongo’s, Detained. An impassioned discussion followed in which the discussants agreed that the writer is under siege everywhere; they suffer intimidation; their stories are imprisoned with death threats, forcing them to adjust their content to what is acceptable by those in power. Prof. Abbas Kiyingi of Makerere University Literature department called this; “a great atrocity”.

What the group found disheartening is that most countries where writers are persecuted are signatories to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights: Such countries cannot easily change these practices unless pressure is exerted by the international community, said Gakwandi. That is why it is important for us to organise and continue to oppose anything that constrains the writer.

Isaac Ssettuba, a poet and Vice Chairperson Pen Uganda observed: Incarceration has been a recurrent theme in literary creation down the ages, in both the fictional and autobiographical modes of writing despite the critics little attention to this ever-growing body of literature.

As writers celebrated the courage of those who have refused to be silenced and pledged their commitment to speak out in support of one another, they also reminded themselves that while it was their right to enjoy freedom of expression, they had to do it responsibly and not violate the rights of others.

The overall unity and determination of Ugandan writers was admirable but it was the enthusiasm shown by literature and journalism students that stood out. It means the country is assured of a new generation of courageous writers, those who are ready to embrace the words of former American president Franklin D. Roosevelt that books are weapons and use their pens to fight the political, social and economic forces that make the world uninhabitable.

--Saturday Monitor, November 22, 2008

Monday, December 8, 2008

Sharing artistic experiences


At the National Theatre on Wednesday evening, Uganda Theatre Network (UTN), gave theatregoers a taste of what will be showcased during the fifth Eastern Africa Theatre Institute (EATI) regional festival in Ethiopia from 22-27 November 2008.

Phillip Luswatas latest play, Crazy Storms was staged together with a musical production from Bitone Children’s Centre and Troupe titled The Princess Wish for Marriage.

Crazy Storms, which is directed by Mr. Richard Kagolobya, a lecturer of drama at Makerere University, is a product of the play-devising workshop by Performing Arts Cooperation between Sweden and Eastern Africa (Pacsea). It dramatises the experiences of refuges and the challenges they go through in a new setting.

The title carries symbolic connotations, for in this play characters struggle to deal with psychological, physical, emotional, financial, spiritual, and political storms as they find themselves in a refugee camp and so have to face this displacement in its totality and the many storms raging within themselves.

The other artistic presentation uses various traditional dances, instrumental music and drama to narrate a story of how the kings only daughter married a commoner. In normal circumstances, it would be impossible for a princess to marry the local guy; a commoner, according to Mr. Lawrence Branco Sekalegga, the Executive Director of Bitone Children’s Centre and Troupe.

Among the audience was the Minister of State for Gender and Cultural Affairs, Hon. Rukia Isanga Nakadama who said she was fascinated by the professionalism in the two presentations and thanked UTN for its commitment to promote and facilitate the development of theatre in the region.

Overall, 40 artistes including professional storyteller Ms. Judith Lucy Adong, will represent the country at the biannual festival and get to share their artistic experiences in theatre management, script writing, sound and costume design and performances in acting, storytelling, music and dance, with others from Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania.

Themed Celebrating Cultural Diversity for African Solidarity and Peace, this year’s event will celebrate the contribution of art and culture to social development and the role of the artists in addressing social issues.

There has been growing concern that our cultural differences have worked to divide us than to enrich our lives, said UTN Executive Director Mr. Andrew Ssebaggala Lwanga. This festival is therefore a conscious and deliberate effort to reiterate that cultural differences should be perceived as a positive environment for understanding, tolerance and growth.

He says the festival will build a platform for enrichment of cross-cultural artistic exchange and learning to help performing arts grow in strength and scope both for individual participants and their communities.

The closing ceremony will see Uganda’s long theatre practitioner Fagil Mandy and the chosen few from other participating countries awarded for their outstanding contribution to the development of the regions performing arts.

The Ugandan team is expected to return with a deeper understanding of cross-cultural issues and to share what they will have learned with their immediate audience to enrich the country’s creative industry.

The venues for the week-long festival include the Ethiopian National Theatre, The Addis Ababa City Hall Theatre, Hager Fiker Theatre and Addis Ababa University.

--Saturday Monitor, November 22, 2008