RSS Feed (xml)

Powered By

Skin Design:
Free Blogger Skins

Powered by Blogger

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Do Ugandans appreciate their values and cultures?


Thursday May 21 was the climax of a week of activities celebrating World Culture Day. Children showed their understanding of culture through artistic creations and dramatic performances, there was a public debate, a poetry discussion, a fashion show and a film night all from which critics could make a lot of noise on whether Uganda understands and values her culture.

World Culture Day, first established by Unesco during the World Decade for Cultural Development of 1988-1997, puts the spotlight on the importance of culture and cultural diversity in development and provides an opportunity for people to learn to coexist harmoniously.

The national celebrations were organised by the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development together with the Uganda Theatre Network under the theme, “Culture: It’s Role in Growth, Employment and Prosperity for All.”
Culture, according to the Uganda National Culture Policy (2006) is: “The sum total of ways in which a society preserves, identifies, organises, sustains and expresses itself.”

The dictionary defines it, generally, as the shared beliefs and values of a group; their rules of behaviour, language, rituals, arts, technology, styles of dress, religion, and political and economic systems.

Last Tuesday, as part of World Culture Day celebrations, the now locally popular Lantern Meet of Poets engaged the audience in a discussion. Citing and reciting the poetry of Okot p’Bitek, they agreed that poetry is more than a beautiful expression of an impression and has power to change society and preserve the traditions.

The Wednesday fashion show at the National Theatre –also as part of the celebration –had creative designers showcasing old school to modern couture.
But has Ugandan culture created wealth and improved the well being of many as the national theme of the World Culture Day seemed to suggest? You could say the cultural industry has generally brought prosperity in certain circles. The performing arts industry is vibrant but the performances largely rely on comic relief and sexual innuendo which unfortunately sell, and many are earning their living that way.

There is also the artists’ Savings and Credit Cooperative Organisation (Sacco) that promotes professionalism and a saving culture among the artists.
The arts and crafts business is alive with monthly exhibitions at the national art gallery and at Makerere University art gallery attracting more people. The crafts people at the National Theatre, the National Museum and the National Art Gallery also make brisk sales especially among foreigners.

“Performing arts are an important ingredient of culture,” says the Director of The Planets cultural group, Kiyimba Musisi. “Most of our traditional dances do not only bring people together but are also a tool of communication. Mbaga dance is for example a circumcision dance in which one becomes a man, while the Amaggunju dance from the Butiko (Mushrooms) clan depicts the strength of a king and his vision for his people.”

Such performances and traditions, say at Ndere Centre, carry with them a strong cultural legacy but are not popular with the avant-garde generation of today that get their fair share of foreign cultures and style from blogs and through social networking sites like Facebook.

This seeming obsession with foreignism has altered the nature of our culture and cultural exchange (in good and bad ways) where music and literature – easily accessible on You-Tube and online libraries –has shortchanged the local arts.

Maybe the development of the East African anthem and the proposed establishment of a regional culture and sports commission will bring the much needed cultural renaissance. Otherwise continued marginalisation of culture in development policies will leave this country wandering like William Wordsworth’s lonely cloud in the world of arts.

--Daily Monitor, May 25, 2009

The author who wouldn't edit his past for anything

Victor Byabamazima, 67, is the Publishing Manager of Baroque Publishers (U) Ltd, a novelist and the writer of the award-winning play, Roadblock (1996) and
other plays. Dennis D. Muhumuza talked to him

Are you a happy man?
Happiness is essentially a state of mind and it’s rather hard to capture that elusive moment. But yes, I am a happy man.

What is your earliest memory?

I remember when I was attending a church service in my village; I broke away from my mother’s arm and joined the preacher. I started shouting. “In God we have everything!” I was only three or four years old.
What part would you play in the film of your life?
A writer.

Where did you draw the inspiration for your novel, Shadows of Time?
From a neighbour’s school-going teenager who was overwhelmed by the materialistic society, way back in 1969.

How long did it take you to write it?
I began with conceptualisation, research and then writing. It took me about two years to write that novel, but a lot more time to get a publisher.

Which is simpler: Writing a novel or a play?
I’ve found novel writing liberal in terms of space and time, and it offers more latitude for word use/expressions. Play writing is compact and taxes the writer to employ skills of expressive precision. It’s harder. You also write with play-acting environment in mind.

As a writer, what has been your biggest disappointment?
None of my works has been selected for the Uganda School syllabus, and yet they are popular outside the country.

Has someone ever brought you a manuscript and you thought its place was the dustbin?
The manuscripts I have received, as a publisher, have characteristic values in form of messages and purpose. But the publisher has to consider external factors like marketability when considering such manuscripts.

What’s the best cure to Uganda’s poor reading culture?
The reading culture in Uganda has been over hyped. People here read and do so in regard to the reading materials that interest them and satisfy their desire and needs. On the other hand, our information culture is intrinsically oral. The best cure is to globalise our needs which will force us to get the information about them from books, etc.

Summarise our book industry in one word?

What is the worst job you have ever done?
All my jobs have been interesting and fulfilling with varying levels of challenges. However, I found being a headmaster a very demanding and thankless job, at that time. But it’s uplifting and enriching when I meet well-to-do adults who remind me that I was their headmaster at Kigezi High School more than 25 years ago.

What is the closest you have come to death?
When Amin’s soldiers shot at my car – about 10 bullets. The car overturned, I was pulled out, beaten to almost a pulp, put in a car boot and taken to Naguru cells. I am glad to be alive to tell the story.

If you could edit your past, what would you change?
Edit my past? No, I have liked my past full of good and bad things, which have made me what I am.

What loss would you wish restored?
My hair, but the compensation is my beard. But on a serious note, I lost the 1970s decade, especially the four years when I was in exile.

What is your deepest desire today?
To research and write something vital in the Rukiga language.

What is your most treasured possession?
A bed – my bed.

Which living person do you most admire and why?
There is a woman who has been selling newspapers for years on Kampala Road, come rain or shine. She radiates happiness and contentedness in spite of the harsh odds surrounding her. Otherwise, my parents would have been the best choice, but they passed on years back.

How do you relax?
Having a leisurely walk or/and sipping on a glass of Bell Beer, while watching people.

What keeps you awake at night?
Mosquitoes. And then I begin to wonder why God created such nuisance.

--Saturday Monitor, May 23, 2009

Uganda Martyrs University made the University of Sierra Leone look unschooled


Never before had the phrase “separating the boys from the men” explained itself so clearly to me, and you bet, to the rest of Africa, with the “boys” from Sierra Leone getting such a lashing from the “men” of Uganda!

We are talking about the Zain Africa Challenge; the 16th episode of the inter-varsity battle of the brains. Wednesday was the night; Uganda Martyrs University vs University of Sierra Leone. The “living martyrs” approached the game shrewdly, going for simple categories like “Rhymes with Rain” while the lads from Freetown showed their “sophistication” and “class” by settling for “Let’s Go France.”

At the end of the first round, they had 30 points against our 170. Come round two, and Moses, in centre position, had the west Africans salivating as he told show host John Sibi Okumu about the quintessential Ugandan delicacy, the rolex.

Yet again, our lads fielded Sibi’s rapid questions deftly and were even lucky to answer the Zain Super Bonus for 30 points. The round ended with them almost doubling their lead at 300 while Sierra Leone looked lost with only 40 points.

At the start of round three, Ronald who was now occupying the prestigious centre position, also popularised luwombo, colourfully describing, in regal bass, how the wrapping is done.

The Sierra Leoneans licked their lips and chose “Eating Right” from the new categories. The questions called for a good grasp of scientific terms in nutrition. They lacked that and fumbled while the Ugandans who had chosen "International Organisations" enjoyed the ride.

At the end of this round, they had 420 points while the "boys" languished with a paltry 70. God knows they needed all the 500 points that make the Ultimate Challenge, and came with all their guns blazing.

But all they scored was a mere 300 points, giving them a grand total of 370. It almost defies logic that a university that brags of its dedication to excellence in teaching and learning; a university with an enviable legacy as West Africa’s first institution of higher education established in 1827, could be humiliated by Uganda Martyrs which was only born in 1993.

I say humiliated because Ugandans won even before they played the Ultimate Challenge. In fact, they went for it only because they wanted to get all the 10 answers correct and win the extra $500 each in cash. Alas it was not to be as they got only seven, but were still glad to be the day’s roaring winners with a grand total of 770 points.

It is said Sierra Leoneans accept life’s hardships by asking, Ow fo do? (What choice do you have?), to which the response is Na fo biah (You must bear it). So they bore their loss, and with a consolation of $500 each, plus a $5,000 grant for their university, found their way home.

In the play-and-win the Zain game, the viewers were given the options of Miria Obote, Mariam Ndagire and Joy Biira and asked to pick the maker of Strength of a Stranger and Down this Road I Walk films.

In old news, the rosary worked magic on Sunday as Kenya’s Catholic University of Eastern Africa trounced Zambia’s Northrise University.

Tomorrow, it is Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (Kenya) against Nigeria’s University of Ibadan. Catch the game on NTV at 7:30p.m. or at the same on DStv Channel 141, and the subsequent round on Wednesday at 8p.m.

--Saturday Monitor, May 23, 2009

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Dramatists fight HIV stigma through music, dance and drama


Under a big mango tree in the home of Cornelius Mwima in Butaleja, a small Eastern Uganda district, children shook decorated calabashes, men made guttural sounds, and with the cadence from the percussion instruments, everyone was soon dancing.

Sweat run down the faces of the performers and drenched their costumes. It was a taste of what lay ahead that day in a collaborative performance between members of Hatagote Development Association (HDA) and six visiting students from Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois.
The six-year-old HDA is a non-commercial group that uses drama to find solutions for problems such as poverty, unemployment, domestic violence, HIV/Aids stigma and discrimination.

“Our vision is to sensitise people because society has got more salient matters political, social and economic that need to be addressed by a counsellor and that counsellor should be music, dance and drama,” says group director and coordinator Mwima.

Performers combine music, dance and drama to educate villagers.PHOTO BY DENNIS D. MUHUMUZA

He remembers how HIV/Aids patients used to be shunned in Butaleja, and the trauma it caused them.
“We developed a play on HIV/Aids to fight stigma and discrimination and we performed it in schools, churches and homes in the whole of Butaleja, and that helped change the attitudes of many people,” Mwima says.

The 35 member group was praised by Minister Without Portfolio, Dorothy Hyuha, and soon, they were being invited to perform in Pallisa and Masindi, and even took their educational drama to Bungoma in Kenya.
It was on such missions that this repertory group caught the eye of the East Africa Theatre Institute (EATI) that offered to add a professional touch to their performances by training its members. EATI also linked HDA to the Northwestern University students to put up a public health performance together.

The result, a play titled Obunghono (lunyore for cleanliness), was staged on Saturday at Busolwe Township Primary School in Butaleja.
It’s about a child who’s down with a bad case of vomiting and diarrhoea, forcing the parents to consult a witchdoctor.
They are told their child has been bewitched by a neighbour. The witchdoctor’s demands are unaffordable, and the parents turn their frustration on the neighbour.

A village meeting is convened to resolve the conflict, where it’s discovered the cause of the illness is actually poor hygiene.
This truth opens the eyes of the parents who share one room with goats, hens, dirty plates and cups.

It’s one of those performances that educates about the importance of proper sanitation and better hygiene in a very entertaining way.
“Theatre for development provokes the members of the community to dramatise the challenges they face and suggest solutions,” the executive office of EATI Uganda Chapter and the Director of House of Talent (HOT), Andrew Ssebaggala says. “There is closeness between the actors and the spectators because both formulate the performances and own them.”
The fact that the presentations are often in the open without a raised stage leaves no gulf between the performers and the audience.

As was the case during the performance of Obunghono, the people of Butaleja visibly getting a kick out of bazungu acting alongside their own (Case Martin was a witch doctor’s helping hand while Julie Kornfeld acted as one of the children in the play) and finding humour in the way the Americans seemed to fumble through their traditional dances, jumped onto the stage to show them a few ropes, adding that extemporaneous beauty.
“The performance was very good because it showed how theatre for development works in Uganda and how we can we can use it to further our education and performance,” Martin says.

“I had never really participated in a performance that had anything to do with public health so it was really interesting,” Irene Swanenberg says. “I liked that this form of theatre uses the community itself; like people talking to their own people, and I think it should be encouraged in all parts of the country.”
As such, community theatre groups like HDA have found the best cultural expression through which a number of lives in the rural communities have been transformed.
Unfortunately, they have to depend on good Samaritans for financial support which is in most cases not forthcoming.

--Saturday Monitor, May 16, 2009

Universties battle for big cash continues


Has the star in the Ghanaian national flag lost all its significance? A week after the University for Development Studies lost to Malawi’s Mzuzu University in the Zain Africa Challenge, Nigeria’s Federal University of Technology Akure on Wednesday night dealt out a similar blow to the University of Cape Coast, also from Ghana.

Kenya’s Kenyatta University had on Sunday proved it’s not for showbiz when the university named after a great statesman knocked out Tanzania’s International Medical and Technological University in this inter-varsity battle of the brains.

The Wednesday round was the 14th episode of the 31-game knockout tournament. Both teams answered questions from choice of categories that included Founding Fathers, Chemical Elements and the Business of Journalism etc.

The Nigerians were lucky the flash of lightening came during their turn, which means that they got to answer simple questions from a special category architecture. They were shown, on screen, the famous Roman Colosseum and the Eiffel Tower which they easily identified and scooped 30 super bonus points.

In this game, viewers get to play as well to win a Nokia Internet-enabled phone and Shs100,000 in Zain airtime. So they were asked to name the town in which the official residence of the Bunyoro King is located.

Anyway, by the end of the third round, the Ghanaians were trailing with 125 points to Nigeria’s 390. Not all hope was lost though, as it was time to play the highly exciting ultimate challenge when either team has its last chance to win.

As show host John Sibi likes to say, speed is of the essence here because players have 60 seconds to answer 10 questions as a team in the category of their choice. With every correct answer worth a whopping 50 points, and knowing answering all questions right earns each member of the winning side an extra $500 in cash, both teams give their best.

The University of Cape Coast was behind so it went first and nailed eight of the questions (400 points) giving them a grand total of 525 points.

At this stage, the Federal University of Technology Akure, 135 points behind, needed three correct answers to be declared the night’s champs. They went for the ultimate challenge nervously but got eight questions right too. With a grand total of 790 points, John Sibi had no option but to wear his broad smile and congratulate the Nigerians with his trademark rhyme: “Well done well won!”

Luckily in this race, no one leaves empty-handed, so the Ghanaians returned home with a consolation of $500 each plus $5000 grant for their university.
But the battle for $5,000 and $50,000 for the winning university complete with the prestigious Zain Scholars Trophy continues. Next week, the Zambians take on our neighbours Kenya. Be sure to catch the competition on Sunday at 7:30pm and Wednesday at 8:00pm on NTV.

--Saturday Monitor, May 16, 2009

Mix of poetry and prose

Title: Painted Voices
Writer: The Readers and Writers Club of Femrite
Reviewer: Dennis D. Muhumuza
Available at: Aristoc bookstore and Femrite offices
Price: Shs10000
If you thought poetry was a complicated language spoken and understood by sages and recluses, wait till you pore over Painted Voices (Vol. 11). A serial to the 2008 edition, Painted Voices (2009) is a collection of 44 poems and two short stories on the whole human experience; poems on growing up, on school life and self discovery, love and pain, dreams and desperation, on heroes and heroines and on the beauty of the heavens and the earth.
Hail Diego Maradona is for example on the on-field brilliance of the former Argentine soccer star, while Dr Susan Kiguli is a tribute to the Makerere University lecturer and poet by that name.
The poems are written in everyday language in a colourful style, avoiding the complexity of poetic devices, but striking that balance of wit and originality that has kept the love of this genre deep for a very long time.
Full of images and bustling with emotion, some poems stir up old memories, and will dig up all that mirth hidden within you, or make you cry if you happen to be the sensitive specimen.
Yet others like Philo Nabweru’s The Melody are simple and playful like the beautiful lyric that sends a sorrowing baby sweetly to sleep. 20 of the poems are blended with paintings that attempt to capture the thoughts and mood of the subject, thanks to the collaboration between the writers and fine artists.
As for the two short stories, The Miracle of Life by Sophie Brenda Alal is about a young man who’s dealt a cruel blow by fate, while Beatrice Lamwaka’s I Always Know is about a girl who escapes from her kidnappers and is determined to win the race.
Painted Voices falls under the Poetry-Poster project that is out to hook students to poetry and encourage the spread of creative writing and reading in secondary schools. It’s a creation of the Readers and Writers Club of Femrite – the Uganda Women Writers Association.
--Sunday Monitor, May 10, 2009

Legendary Makerere poet reborn at campus


It will be an afternoon of nostalgia when Prof. David Rubadiri (below) arrives to give the inaugural memorial lecture in honour of the late Prof. David Cook in the Makerere University Main Hall this Thursday, May 7.

The two, besides sharing a first name, have arguably done more for East African literature like no other.

Poetry lovers and those who have studied Literature in English are familiar with the vintage selection, Poems from East Africa (1971), the anthology that was edited by the duo.

Cook joined Makerere University as a lecturer in 1962. He became a senior lecturer in 1965 and Head of English turned Literature Department between 1967 and 1977 during which he largely shaped what is reasonably the golden era of Ugandan literature.

“I’ve fond memories of him as my lecturer,” says Prof. Arthur Gakwandi. “He was dedicated to his work. He organised a good library for the department where people could make quick reference before going to the main library. He created an atmosphere of creativity and intellectual dedication.”

Cook may not have been a creative writer himself but his influence reverberates in V.S Naipaul who participated in a creative writing fellowship he initiated at Makerere and went on to win the 2001 Nobel Prize in Literature. Ngugi wa Thiong’o and playwright Robert Sserumaga gained from the programme too.

Ngugi was also part of other Cook’s initiatives, such as the Makerere Travelling Theatre that became popular in the mid 60s for taking dramatic performances to the people. In fact, it’s then that he was inspired to write one of his popular plays, The Black Hermit (1968).

Cook, a very close friend of Okot p’Bitek, was also the editor of Pen Point (later renamed Dhana), a student creative writing magazine that whetted the creative and writing skills of the likes of Dr Susan Kiguli, Ngugi, Prof. Gakwandi, and Prof. Timothy Wangusa who are today acclaimed authors.

They were members of the Makerere Writers Club that met fortnightly at the professor’s house or the Guild Canteen to talk books and writings. They wrote short stories and poems that were discussed and broadcast by BBC and Radio Uganda and many were published in international anthologies.

When David Cook passed on in 2003, Ngugi wa Thiong’o paid him glowing tribute saying even though he had some reservations about his teaching,
one thing he can never doubt was Cook’s ability to inspire his students.

Such was the man’s long and heartfelt connection with Makerere that he left the institution in his will Shs180m to promote the work he started there: Promotion of creative writing.

“The money will be used to reactivate Dhana with two publications every year: one entirely creative, and the other scholarly,” says Edgar Nabutanyi, an assistant lecturer of Literary Theory.

“We are also looking at having an annual creative literary prize as a way of acknowledging Cook’s contribution to our literature.”
Although there is more Ugandan literature today, the reading public is less supportive than it was then.

“It’s going to be an annual event at which people interested in creative writing especially in Uganda and East Africa, come and talk about the legacy of David Cook and the progress that has been made since then,” says Prof. Gakwandi.

As a contemporary and great friend of Cook, but also as a man who has deep roots with Makerere University as a lecturer and poet, David Rubadiri was deemed the perfect choice to deliver the first Memorial Lecture.

Yes, he is Malawian but much of his writings are about Uganda because he attained his primary and secondary education at King’s College Budo, and at Makerere University where he obtained his first degree in English and History.

Rubadiri then left to pursue post graduate studies, and in 1964, became Malawi’s first Permanent Representative to the United Nations. However, he fell out with the government of Kamuzu Banda and returned to teach drama, poetry, and creative writing at Makerere and in Nigeria, Kenya and Botswana.

With the fall of Banda in 1994, Rubadiri was reinstated to his job at the UN. Later, he was appointed the Vice Chancellor of the University of Malawi.

“What he has published has been translated into so many languages, and read, enjoyed, recited, studied, taught from and examined in so many educational institutions and homes on the African continent and beyond,” writes Malawian poet Jack Mapanje in a forward to An African Thunderstorm and Other Poems (2004), a collection of Rubadiri’s most loved poems. “Rubadiri’s poetry is as ingenious, meaningful and powerful today as it was at conception decades ago.”

In the June 1995 edition of Dhana, Prof. Abasi Kiyimba, the now Deputy Dean at the Faculty of Arts, Makerere University writes that although Uganda and East Africa are at the centre of his writing, Rubadiri is committed to the problems and beauty of Africa:

“He glorifies the African past and its heroes, and protests against misuse of power. He deplores racial segregation and other forms of social-economic injustice. All these concerns put together make him one of the greatest poets that Africa has produced.”

This is the man who will give the first Memorial Lecture in respect of another man who together used their time to teach, instruct and inspire those who shared a love for books and in many ways changed face of East African literature.

--Daily Monitor, May 4, 2009