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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Is Doreen Baingana Uganda’s star of the short story genre?

Ugandan lovers of literature are not known to compliment their own but it was a different case for one literary figure after her book won the Africa region Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book.

Suddenly, songs of praise flew all over the Ugandan blogsphere, with one blogger going out of her way to say she would do everything to make friends with Doreen Baingana. As a student of Ugandan literature and collector of award-winning books, I paid Shs20, 000 for Tropical Fish, hoping it would resonate like its online approval and that I would be looking forward to meeting its author and convincing her to autograph my copy. Part of my wish was granted on July 18, 2008 when I met Ms.
Baingana at a literary do organised by the Uganda Female Writers’ Association at Hotel Africana. There she sat through the event, following the presentation as if entranced and colouring her concentration with some brisk writing.

At the end, I told her her book made good reading and she smiled and her eyes shone brightly as she autographed my copy of her work. Later that evening when I opened to see the shape of her signature, I was surprised and at the same time pleased that she had, before appending her signature, written clearly: “To Dennis – tell your story as well!”

God! Was this reassurance; a sort of go-for-it boy, considering I had admitted my ambitions of writing a book? Or was she challenging me to write a better one since I had told her hers was “good” rather than excellent? The answers to the two questions remain elusive but the verdict on her book stands. No doubt there are flashes of excellence in the seven stories but in one or two I got the feeling the author was struggling to attain the depth and masterly stroke synonymous with great works.

Let it not skip you that Tropical Fish is a collection of short stories, six of which originally appeared in some journals abroad between 2002 and 2004. This means they must have gained from the editors’ sharp pens and again during the compilation. But the author deserves the creator’s plaudits. Of the entire collection, Green Stones, Hunger, A Thank You Note and story from which the book title is derived, Tropical Fish, are works of a genius. They are deeply personal and written incandescently – the reader appreciates.

Early in the book, one meets the precocious Christine and falls for her. The author uses the techniques of point of view and consciousness to stimulate emotional and imaginative responses in the reader as you go on a journey of discovery with Christine.

Turn the pages and there’s the adorable Patti writing in her private diary about the school circumstances that trouble her little soul. Through her, the author juxtaposes the better off lifestyles of the rich children at school with thorough description of that of their poor counterparts to reveal the frustration and alienation experienced by the latter.

And oh, there’s the non-conformist in Rosa; stunning, but too reckless for her own good. In A Thank You Note, she really draws you to her inner conflicts. So we see the trio of these sisters evolve; trying to decode the complexity of life; and at the end we are still uncertain of what drives them, and life remains a paradox to them and to the reader. Perhaps that’s the whole beauty about the book; the subtlety the author deploys while exploring the tacit harmony and disharmony in the family, the question of gender, religion, politics, dissatisfaction and the trouble of not taming the lusts of the flesh.

As Christine says, “There’s a lot to untangle, to make sense of…” You realise it’s a poignant commentary on the vulnerability and fragility of humanity in which the author seems to stress the point of sticking together as family (Christine returns home) and choosing light from darkness (Patti) in order to overcome. There’s a formidable display of skill in the way the author contrasts her heroines. Her ingenuity and the candour with which she weaves her stories in line with the sensitivity of her characters is empathy-inducing and quite enviable.

In all ways, truly, Doreen Baingana, just like Monica Arac de Nyeko, has distinguished herself as a distinct Ugandan literary voice in the short story genre. After all, she has received critical acclaim for her book complete with a literary prize of no insignificant stature.

But those who understand these things know that in one moment of brilliance, it’s easy to create a great short story. So Doreen Baingana will be judged by her first real novel the day it appears on the scene.

Our very own screenwriter


After fumbling through my cluttered notebook and finding the blank leaf on which to write, she switched off her phone, took a deep breath and with a smile, said she was ready. What I had thought would be a fire-and-respond approach turned out to be a light exchange like we were long lost chums.

It pretty had much to do with my interviewee’s modesty, charm and fluency. Judith Lucy Adong was here to share her experience as the only Ugandan of the six writers of the new Kenyan series which started airing on M-Net East on January 20, 2009. The others are Kenyans and one Tanzanian.

The Agency, which runs for an hour every Tuesday at 8p.m. and at the same time on M-Net West on Saturday with a repeat on Sunday, digs into the politics, rivalry and intrigue in the world of advertising.

There are records of local actors featured in films that have garnered international acclaim but little is known about screenwriters. And being the only Ugandan screenwriter for M-Net, Adong has set the precedence that should inspire others to take the first step on the worthwhile journey of screenwriting.

But it takes hard work, voracious reading and deep interest all made complete by a resolve to get there. For Adong, it began with writing for theatre and radio. Her first venture into film was in 2006 when she wrote a short film script titled Shadows of Tinted Soul, a story of a 12-year-old child soldier who returns home but cannot adapt to the new environment because of the suspicion with which he’s treated.

It was combined with another and later turned into a high-profile feature film called Imani. She has also written and directed Downcast, a 15-minute film of a woman struggling for acceptance after declaring her HIV/Aids status. To spite her family because of the rejection she receives, she deliberately infects her nephew, something for which she’s banished.

Adong who with Patricia Achiro Olwoch, were the only Ugandan finalists in the 2008 Maisha Filmmaker Lab, has scripted and directed many NGO commissioned films to raise awareness. Dangerous Opinion is for example about a man who gets meningitis but thinks he’s been bewitched, while Together Fighting Hepatitis E is a documentary that sensitises people about the disease.

An actress and a professional story-teller who last year represented Uganda at the prestigious Swedish Storytelling Biennial, Adong was tipped off in 2007 about the M-Net search for screenwriters from East Africa. She applied and soon enough, received a congratulatory message telling her she had gone through. She was meant to relocate to Nairobi where M-Net’s regional headquarters are located but the decision was reversed following the post-election violence in Kenya.

As it is, the writing of The Agency began last year. “For every episode, you are given a one-page overview called the hook which you develop into a detailed episode of between 45 and 50 pages,” she said.

Judith talks about the huge difference therein writing for M-Net and for a local film company.“Writing for M-Net,” she says, “is a lot more demanding in terms of deadlines and the quality but at the same time, more interesting because of the creativity involved.”

She also gives her verdict on local films: “I used to be very hard on Nigerian films until I saw Ugandan films. People just go in without understanding the technicality. The plots are largely superficial; dialogue is too simplistic to challenge the intelligence of the viewer and writers solve the situations for characters. But it’s good people are making films because they do learn from the mistakes.”

Adong who also lectures creative writing and writing for radio and TV at the Institute of Languages and the Department of Music, Dance and Drama at Makerere University respectively, wants to ride on the M-Net exposure and write more for big networks because she believes in doing professional work and getting professional pay for it. Like all good writers, she believes writing gets better the more it’s done, but also admits that one must have talent and love for what they do. It’s because of the latter that she has never stopped writing.

“I don’t wait for anyone to contract me to write; I just write,” she reveals. “I’m not trained in screenwriting but when I sent in my samples, my new bosses were impressed.” Somewhat believable, seeing she was hired, but the reader needs to watch The Agency to gauge the truthfulness in her words.

Otherwise Adong can brag all she wants. Besides, it’s been long coming and as she says, it’s an honour working with gifted producers, directors, creators and writers where art is at the forefront. She puts you in the mood when she delves into the pleasure of writing independently and the suspense of not knowing what the others have written yet the series have to maintain a certain level of consistency of situations and characters. But it is when she starts talking about the second episode of the series which screened on January 27, which she crafted, that Adong is overcome with feeling.

“I’ve seen my name roll in credits of message-suffocated NGO films but for me seeing my characters and incidents come alive on screen in a production where your imagination and talent are your first bosses and on a huge TV network beats every human emotion possible!”

--Daily Monitor, Saturday February 14, 2009

Lutalo’s modern art of exaggeration


As a child, Juma Lutalo, 23, born in Masaka town, was preoccupied by nothing else but drawing simple objects like houses, cars and boys playing with girls. But it was in August 2007 that the real action started. An art exhibition by renowned Ugandan painter Taga Nuwagaba inspired Lutalo to develop the real art in him.

“As a self-taught artist, I spent restless days and sleepless nights trying to master the movement of the brush and blending of colours,” he says. “This was however not easy because of the expensive art materials so I had to give it a break for some time to look for money elsewhere because I had no support.”

His “hustle” paid off a year later when his first works were accepted in a grand exhibition at Nommo Gallery. “Experienced artists told me I was gifted and it would shine through with more practice and professional guidance,” he says.

With his painter’s eye on the crown that would come with his breakthrough into the industry, Lutalo worked like a horse, drawing and painting all kinds of things. He wanted to be distinguished for his uniqueness and therefore came with an idea of a new style he called “Modern Art of Exaggeration”, in which he relies on different colours to bring out all the small details in his works.

Inspired by the seemingly mundane things that make everyday life interesting, Lutalo’s works capture Africa in all her wonderful beauty; depicting wildlife and nature. He’s afraid the rare species of animals and plants are endangered and he’s preserving them for posterity through art.

In all this, birds have a special place in his soul. It’s the answer to why his favourite painting is that of the African Jacana, which he gives all his creative attention seeing how vividly and impressively he captures it on canvas; the colours, the distinct beak, making it as rare in its look as in its existence.

His sculpture pieces made out of wood, clay and cement, and done in abstract and realistic styles, show the social life of the African man engaged in different activities.

How does he rate Ugandan art? “Ugandan art is good but the problem is that many artistes don’t paint out of passion or to exhaust; they do it – largely – for money,” he says. “What makes it worse is that few Ugandans appreciate art; looking at it as the work of those finding a way to survive.”

Lutalo is however emphatic in saying that his art is not driven by money: “That’s why I spend a lot of time on each of my works to make people appreciate and understand what art is,” he says. “As long as someone tells me the piece is good and he picks the message, I am happy.”

Under his exaggerated art style, Lutalo also tries to promote and advocate for the enforcement of the rights of children and vulnerable women. For example, one of his paintings titled The Power of Blanket is that of children at a camp while another titled I Have to Go shows a woman leaving by the canoe her abusive man.

Lutalo, who has also exhibited at the Makerere University Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Arts, has seemingly done it all where art is involved; sculpture, painting, interior and exterior decorations, sign writing, and portraits. But his distinction, I think, is in his ability to rely on colour to bring out the intricate features in his subjects. Some of Lutalo’s works adorn the interior of Antonio’s Grill at Pioneer Mall in Kampala.

--Sunday Monitor, February 8, 2009

Friday, February 13, 2009

Sculptures colour Valley College compound


Valley College Bushenyi has spruced its outlook with a couple of sculptures molded out of clay, steel and cement by its art students. Just as you slope to the school, a first time visitor is welcomed by a realistic sculpture of the Biblical Ark of Noah perched on which is a dove clutching a plant with its beak. It vividly captures the school’s motto, "Deliverance."

In the middle of the school compound are other interesting sculptures that carry an educational theme. One of the nameless pieces depicts a uniformed girl and boy engrossed in their books. The other is a bronze sculpture of a girl leaning leisurely on the shoulders of a man. Beneath them are a packet of Rex Cigarettes and an empty bottle of Uganda Waragi. The piece is titled Pleasure At Ease.

A few feet away is another piece with the same characters – they are seated on a tree stump and look old to clearly show that they are long out of school. Their backs are turned on each other; they look forlorn and miserable. Two clear balls of tears are rolling down the girl's face. The piece is now titled No Longer at Ease. The moral of the piece is direct: those who go to school to study but instead play games have no one to blame when many years later thet meet difficulties. It's an artistic story of "you reap what you sow."

And not to be outdone, the founder and director of the school had a life-like iconic sculpture of him complete with his walking stick planted at the school next to his office. It's so real that when I first entered the school compound, I almost thought it was the old man himself. A friend who was taking me around laughed out loud and said it was merely a scarecrow of a sculpture that has scared many unsuspecting truants before.

Besides adorning the school compound and making it look attractive, the Valley College sculptures are an example of how schools can make use of their students in a practically enterprising way and make them leave something behind for which they will be remembered.



A year after her husband's death, Heather cannot just move on; her life is falling apart. Her son wants to take her to a life care facility to spend the rest of her life there. But does Heather need protection? Why is George treating her like a child?

William Salmond's Grandma is a captivating narrative of a woman who has lost hope until she receives an urgent letter from her granddaughter on a voluntary mission in Uganda asking her to come to her rescue. 

It's also an honest account of life in northern Uganda; of a former child rebel who returns from the bush too shocked to speak and how the warmth of his folks (not necessarily his kin) helps him find his voice and smile again. It's about a people living in hard times but who act with courage and compassion and find true happiness.

Grandma is realistic fiction that serves didactic purposes; helping us to reflect on how best to use our prime of life or how to live in accord with one another. The author's idyllic treatment of Uganda's natural endowments is remarkable considering he's Scottish.

Here's how he captures Heather after landing at Entebbe airport: "She stood for a few moments at the bottom of the steps and looked over the vast expanse of Lake Victoria, the fabled source of River Nile, and the ultimate prize of all nineteenth century explorers…"

From the old jalopies on our roads to the stretches of green shrubs, the buffalos by the Nile and the vast expanse of the sky and the myriad stars hovering above us, Salmond lyrically depicts the country as generously gifted by nature. In the novel, you meet sunflowers "bowing in prayer". You literally taste a traditional concoction that heals arthritis called "The Devil’s Claw" and the "Philly Soup" made from the bones of fish and named after the late musician and HIV/Aids activist Philly Bongoley Lutaaya.

Oil, a recent discovery, gets a mention too. One of the searchers, Hans, is not interested if it's going to result in better schools and hospitals; he only wants to enrich himself.

Heather observes: "Oil and minerals are bad news. They create too much greed…oil discovery could turn this paradise into an industrial wasteland."

The author creates many heroes yet manages to remain transparent. The plot is uncomplicated with every chapter ending in suspense. He writes simply but colourfully; a style that reminded me of the works of John Steinbeck, especially Of Mice and Men.

In acknowledgement, Salmond notes: "Uganda remains a secret place to so many people in the world...I hope that Grandma's adventures will open up this wonderful new world to many readers."

It sure did for me. With only 91 pages, I read the book in four hours and again and it was a smooth, funny, instructive and overall terrific read that by all accounts deserves a place in your bookshelf.

Orombi leads the flock to Christ in Ankole


Hundreds took the step of faith and became born-again Christians and in other souls, faith in God was rekindled during the second edition of the annual West Ankole Diocese Youth and Students Convention held at Bweranyangi Girls School in Bushenyi District from January 16-21, 2009.

The planning committee expected about 1500 participants but over 5000 came compared to last year's 1000. As a result, the earlier plan to hold a "Jesus Walk" through Bushenyi town was abandoned out of the fear that the overwhelming numbers would paralyse business in Bushenyi town.

Under the theme, Set An Example, drawn from 1 Timothy 4:12 (Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believer, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity), the convention was organised in partnership with the African Evangelistic Enterprise headed by Rev. Can. Geofrey Byarugaba, the convention's Bible expositor.

Renowned for his passion for young people and a big heart for evangelism, the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, His Grace The Most Rev. Henry Luke Orombi, was a befitting chief guest and main speaker. He called 2009 "a year of harvest and one in which God is going to manifest His glory among men." Then he encouraged the youth that they can make it and their light can shine bright against the darkness of immorality, corruption and all the evils rooted in modern society.

"We have a friend in Jesus," he said heartily, and cautioned the youth to be wary of the devil, which he said turns you from a gentleman to a pauper. His Grace also urged fathers to hug their daughters and hold their hands because out there are loose men and women who hug them lustfully.

He further challenged parents to refine their conduct and detest sin passionately in a way that pleases God. The Archbishop related his own story of prodigality as a young man when he turned his back to God. He chased after all the beautiful girls in the neighbourhood and at school, he confessed, but realised that even that couldn't quench the longing and emptiness in his soul.

"I was no different from the Biblical prodigal son; a young man from a rich father who was reduced to a shepherd of pigs," he said in a remorseful tone. "But his shame was covered by his father and in this convention; some of your 'nakedness' will be covered by the blood of Jesus, which cleansed me 41 years ago."

In his trademark firm but fatherly voice, the Archbishop suddenly broke into an old hymn: 'Softly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, O sinner, come home,' sung with feeling, as tears came to the eyes of many who lined up to give their lives to Christ. They raised their hands and prayed the prayer of surrender in which they acknowledged the sovereignty of Jesus, and like true penitents, cried out in unison, "Jesus, we need you."

With elevating hymns and other songs of praise and worship playing in the background, Innocent Paul Nyamujunga, a student of Bishop Ogez High School, who, like many others had just become saved, said he was grateful to the curiosity that led him to the convention.

"I wanted to find out what happens at a convention and when the archbishop gave his testimony, I was touched and after asking myself many questions, I found myself giving my life to Christ," he said. After a long pause, he added joyfully, "I’m so glad because I'm now a changed person."

Several choirs such as the Anglican Youth Fellowship Choir and other singers blessed the convention with uplifting songs. Mama Africa, for example, drew the congregation to their feet, clapping and singing along to her The Lord Loves Africa, a song in which she pleads with her listeners to shun lesbianism and homosexuality, calling our bodies the temple of the Lord.

The Bishop of West Ankole, the Rt. Rev. Yonah Katonene, asked the youth to be exemplary in their conduct and said the gospel should be preached with urgency in this depraved world. He offered to put a lot of energy in promoting the youth ministry in West Ankole and elsewhere because young people can easily be shaped and moulded to become great leaders of tomorrow.

Mrs Peace Tindyebwa, the Headmistress of Bweranyangi Girls School, talked about the pursuit of one's dream. She shared her own testimony of how in S.1 in the same school in 1977 she gave her life to Jesus.

"We are made by God for God and only in God do we discover our origin, identity, meaning, our purpose, our significance and destiny," she said, and ended with advice that drew prolonged applause: "Put your dream in God's hands and allow Him to give you the strength to pursue it, and you'll achieve."

Monitor editor named 2008 Professional Man of the Year


KampalaThe Management Forum Committee has voted Mr Daniel Kalinaki and Ms Noelina Nakagwa as the most outstanding male and female professionals of the year respectively.

The Management Forum, a British Council initiative, was established six years ago to help bring out the best in business leaders and other professionals through sharing ideas and experiences.

The two awards were announced during the annual Professional of the Year dinner in December. The awards recognise achievers who have not been recognised before, but are also an opportunity to celebrate key achievements of individuals who have excelled and made a formidable impact in the management fields for which they inspire other young professionals to achieve greater heights.

"We at the British Council aim to develop professional and diverse groups of leaders skilled in helping organisations change for the better," the acting British Council Director, Mr Julian Baker, said. "We have continuously contributed to this through a range of products such as professional development courses, inter-action leadership programme and the management forum," he added.

Mr Kalinaki, who joined Daily Monitor in 1998 as a freelancer before rising to news editor, also worked as Kampala Bureau Chief of the East African. He returned to Daily Monitor in July 2008 as managing editor.

"Mr Kalinaki is an amazing young professional who has climbed the ladder so fast as a result of his excellent performance," read a nomination note.

Ms Nakagwa, is a counsellor and founder of Bukulula Disabled Baseline Development Centre in Masaka, a community-based organisation that cares for orphans and disabled youth. The awards committee noted her as a good manager who has ensured that there is income generation and sustainability of her project.

"As a result of her hard work and good management, the formerly marginalised youth have gained back their pride and have become productive members of the community," her nomination note read.

--Daily Monitor, January 19, 2009

Nommo Gallery in a Christmas exhibition


On December 11, Uganda's finest artists gathered at Nommo Gallery in a grand opening of a Christmas exhibition that will go on up to January 15, 2009.

From John Odoch's famous metal sculptor, Nilotic Warrior, to Henry Kajubi's Boda Boda, are diverse works that enthusiastically capture the theme of the exhibition, "Art and Culture."

It is the 11th year the national gallery holds this annual event and this time, over 36 artists have come together to reflect on the last 12 months of the year through their artistic touches.

Pieces such as Gilbert Mugabe's Village Labour, Robert Skim's Marry Me, Gilbert Obel's Vanishing Tilapia, Juma Ahimbisibwe's Out minded, to mention a few, show the inevitable linkage between art and culture and how society comes in.

As one of the guests observed, some of the creations on display are clear political statements while others make critical remarks on our moral decadence. From abstract to realism to semi-realistic works, artists largely relied on local materials and now show their deep interest in the society in which they live, and could positively change it.

It was also clear from the different eloquent art forms that long buried is the narrow range of perception when art was only associated with making portraits.

According to Nommo Gallery manager, Ms Jacqueline Ampaire, the exhibition is a showcase of the amazing talent of Ugandan artists and another opening to raise the opportunities of this country through art.

Is the monotony of reality TV leading to its demise?

Uganda has had its taste of reality shows with several contestants representing the country. Dennis D. Muhumuza writes about the challenges faced by our stars and the fate of these shows

Since the 2003 Big Brother Africa 1, reality television gripped Ugandans and the excitement continued to rise with the screening of other shows such as Pop Idols, Project Fame, Face of Africa, Show me the Money, Hot Steps and The Apprentice Africa.

But nothing seemed to attract more than BBA. The moralists may have branded it "big bother" but the idea of locking 12 complete strangers; males and females in a house for 98 days; seeing them play dirty to win the race, the tears and frustration of evictees or seeing the remnants on the edge of breakdown as the pressure of possible eviction mounted and the speculation over who had sex with whom, was seen by many viewers as entertainment par excellence.

That was in 2003 and later 2007. This year the verdict on BBA has not been favourable with critics and bloggers judging it dull and uninteresting; a "big bore." This is because it returned too soon. Viewers were still relishing talking about the romantic rollercoaster Tanzania's randy boy, Richard (BBA 2 winner) had had with his partner in the "steamy crime", Angola's Tatiana, when lo, BBA3 was thrust upon us! There was hardly any room for desiring it again.

Morris Mugisha's cool-like-cucumber disposition and laid-back temperament would not help him much in the quest for the fame and fortune that BBA had laid on the table.

It's a dynamic world; the producers might want to take a long nap and arise with a fresh package; perhaps a new location and more housemates. Heck, they should even consider switching the field presenters with chosen contestants, if that is what it will take to keep the over 27 million viewers glued to the show. Otherwise, it's unforgivable to bore your viewers twice consecutively.

It has been said that to be an entertainer, the most important thing is to have a skill or talent. Esther Nabaasa proved to have both, with an extra charm (those eyes!) and a magnetic stage presence as she beat 17 contestants and hummed her way to winning the April 2008 Tusker Project Fame.

Then there was the show's judge, Ian Mbagua, who critics accused of being an irritating imitation of Simon Cowell of American Idol. However, Mbagua's acidic tongue against the lacklustre academy performers was likeable. Then there was our own Tshaka Mayanja. His massive frame and potbelly made him distinct, ok, as much, his perceptible quips. But nothing is remembered of the third adjudicator, Dan Kiondo.

So was the second season of Tusker Project Fame boring or a flop? It seems nothing really went wrong until after the show. The participants had the talent, the ambition and the zeal. The fierce battle was between Kenya's Wendy Kimani and David Ogola and Uganda's Esther Nabaasa. In the end, our 21-year old took the fame and the Shs130m prize along with a recording contract from Gallo Records.

A couple of months later, we are asking what happened. The long awaited album is not coming and we wonder if the promising Nabaasa is still relevant? Endemol East Africa, the producers of the show or Gallo Records owe her fans an explanation.

Like Tusker Project Fame 2, Pop Idols Africa kicked off in earnest. For the contestants, all eyes were set on the recording deal from Sony BMG and the whopping $80,000 prize money.

The judges were free spirits; a hip hop artiste from Botswana, Scar (Thato Matlhabaphiri), a Kenyan radio presenter, Angela Angwenyi and Zambian music producer Trevor 'TK' Siyandi. But don't be duped; they were as bad as the wannabes they were adjudicating. My God, they were so bad that I don't even know the winner that was. Uganda seemed gratified with the performance of Faycal Birikunzila who had flopped in the Coca Cola Pop Idols that birthed Blu*3. And then there was this controversy surrounding his nationality – some saying he was Rwandan but he insisting he was Ugandan.

Ultimately, what should have been a talent show ended up as a popularity show – meaning if you had a likable face but a horrible voice you still had higher chances of becoming the next African idol.

The homemade shows: Hot Steps and Show Me the Money became hits on NTV. In the former, dancers vigorously moved their bodies for Shs10m. The moves were quite contagious as viewers were served a hot meal of African dances from Bakisimba to Congolese wiggles and a variety of contemporary dances.

The fun in Show Me the Money lay in the original, seemingly crazy but practical ideas that contestants mesmerised the judges with. One wanted to use banana peels as a source of renewable energy and another contestant wanted to create herbal tea that would also act as an anti-malaria drug.

Then there was the first season of The Apprentice Africa. 18 dynamic, business-minded individuals gathered in Lagos and for 18 vigorous weeks and competed for a corporate job. The show was dubbed the gold standard of business excellence because it measured the contestants' business acumen, marketing, leadership, public relations and problem-solving skills in an entertaining way.

Contestants were given diverse business tasks such as creating marketing communications campaigns, inventing and selling artworks, designing mission statements and television commercials, refurbishing and redecorating hotel rooms and vending ropes on the streets.

The cohesion, novelty and innovativeness mixed with overwhelming ambitions, and the varied personalities of contenders, the boardroom drama as they fought for their lives, the politics and intrigue made the show fun. The CEO was an imposing and unpredictable man called Shobanjo who seemed to enjoy shooting down contestants with three most dreaded words: "You are fired!"

A self-made Nigerian billionaire, Shobanjo detests laziness and mediocrity. There was a loud-mouthed cunning Nigerian lawyer named Akatu who touted himself as a shrewd negotiator and dubbed himself "AK 47." There was also a charismatic Cameroonian woman and an arrogant but exposed gorgeous lady called Eunice, vivacious Omar who added an executive quality to the show. Not forgetting our boy Deox whose calculative moves and confidence outshone everyone else. But in the end June 22, a humble but "deep, solid man," Ghana’s Isaac Dankyi-Koranteng was pronounced the winner.

From the general recap, how did the glut of these reality shows on our small screens fair? I think we were not much moved. Many draw from the American versions which are excellently organised and executed. Our contestants lacked innovation and creativity; so we had Ricco imitating Richard to get his hands to the prize.

So, many people turned their attention to the American campaigns. For the first time in history, a wife of a former president was challenging an African American for the nomination of a major party. The African American was victorious and the drama became more real BBA and other reality shows whose hallmark is immorality were shunned for the English premiership soccer, and stiffly opposed in west and central Africa.

It explains why there was no media buzz when Morris Mugisha returned from BBA. Looks like TV stations are going to have to pull up their sleeves next year if they are going to hook us onto reality shows.

--Daily Monitor, Saturday, December 20, 2008

Defending nature through art


"We can't survive without nature but nature can survive without us." Those words by Ugandan artist Louis Ssemalulu summarise his resolve to continue advocating for the preservation of the environment through art. From his on-going exhibition at the National Theatre, you can tell that the painter is a man in love, if not obsessed, with nature.

His impressions of waterfalls, forest glades, mountains, crater lakes, clouds in the sky, open savannah and generally flora and fauna, are convincingly captured on large canvases. And when I examined them from a distance, I was amazed at how real they appeared.

Katwe Crater Lake, Bujagali Falls, Botanical Gardens Entebbe and Matada Volcanic Lake are part of the physical features and other scenic spots the painter brings to life in a simple but very impressive style that would appeal to anyone who finds abstract art too sophisticated to comprehend.

"Nature speaks; nature mesmerises me. And as you can see, my favourite theme is Idealistic Landscape," he says. "My concern is the way nature is being defiled and all other greens encroached on by man."

The painter's distaste of environmental abuse is best depicted in one of the paintings showing a typical Ugandan setting; a dusty road on which is a lorry overloaded with sacks of charcoal, with men atop, emitting fumes – which of course are dangerous to human health.

"I'm worried about where we are going with all the global warming, forest fires, floods, poaching, polluted environment and all such things," he says. "And in my work I give people a glimpse of the joys of nature, hoping that my work will convict them to stop corrupting nature."

His paintings also extend to other vulnerable groups in society like the disabled and the children. My Heart Weeps for example, is a moving portrait of a pretty little child wet with tears.

A diploma holder in art and design (specialising in drawing and painting), Ssemalulu says after touring sceneries, it takes him over two weeks to finish a painting: "I don't sketch; I do everything realistically," he says. "I view myself as a simplistic and impressionist kind of painter, and sometimes a romantic because I like experimenting with colours."

You will find it peculiar or interesting, but Ssemalulu paints only at night: "It's calm then and that's when I'm in a state of mind to exercise my calling in the best way I can."

--Sunday Monitor, December 14, 2008