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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

‘I despise people who think majority is better than minority’

Sylvester Kabombo is a rapper and songwriter from the rap duo commonly known as Sylvester & Abramz. He is currently pursuing a solo career. DENNIS D. MUHUMUZA caught up with him 

When were you happiest?
When Ugandan hip hop music crossed over to the mainstream audience and finally the media recognised it as a genre worth listening to and writing about.

Which living person do you most admire, and why?
Nelson Mandela, because of his positive struggle; he’s the true definition of the words “never lose hope” and “never give up your struggle”.

What was your most embarrassing moment?
I got on stage, was well received and suddenly power went off.

Aside from a property, what’s the most expensive thing you’ve bought?
A Hammer DiscMan that I own with Abramz; it’s the only one in Uganda. It looks like the Hammer vehicle. I like it because it plays all the audio files you can think of - data inclusive.

What is your most treasured possession?
My musical artistry.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?
Currently nothing, because I learnt to love myself the way I am.
What is your most unappealing habit?
Prolonged laughter when watching a comedy.

What is your favourite scent?
Calvin Klein for Men

Who’s your greatest love?

What’s your greatest fear?
This world coming to an end.

What is the worst thing anyone’s said to you?
That the music I do will never make it big in Uganda!

When did you last cry and why?
This year, when our brothers and sisters in Bududa and Haiti died due to mudslides and earthquakes and others seriously got injured. And then, some local officials in the Eastern Uganda stole items that were delivered for the landslide victims.

To whom would you most like to say sorry and why?
To anyone I’ve hurt regardless of age or race because it’s human to err.

Which living person do you most despise and why?
I can’t mention names but people who think that majority is better than minority.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Inspiring so many guys to join the hip-hop field.

What song would you like played at your funeral?
Lemerako, our breakthrough song as Sylvester & Ambramz, because I am going to persist till death.

--Sunday Monitor,  April 18, 2010

Healing through breaking the silence after child abuse

Title: Hush: Moving from Silence to Healing after Childhood Sexual Abuse
Author: Nicole Braddock Bromley
Reviewer: Dennis D. Muhumuza 

When she was still a little girl, Nicole Braddock Bromley was sexually abused by her father. Sexual abuse is a global tragedy, with untold victims living in silence for fear of stigmatisation. But it came to a point where Nicole could brook no more. She wanted to help herself and give others the courage to speak out as well. Not only did she break the silence, she topped it with a book, Hush: Moving from Silence to Healing after Childhood Sexual Abuse, in which she stresses that breaking the silence is the first step to healing.

“Silence delays the healing process by perpetuating the hurt, shame and guilt of adult survivors. It imprisons us in a dark closet…it also protects sexual offenders by allowing them to continue to abuse their victims,” she writes. “Telling released me from my past so I could embrace the future.”

Published by WordAlive Publishers, the 181-page book is interspersed with uplifting stories of survivors of abuse who have broken out, forgiven those that hurt them and made a difference. Although counsellors do help, Nicole argues that true healing comes from God. She’s aware that many might not believe God cares by asking questions like, ‘If God loves me, why did this happen?’ She says she was there once and that such questions are normal.

“That said, I also believe that you’ll never find genuine healing outside of a relationship with God,” she notes. “I would be doing you an injustice to tell you that breaking the silence and accepting the truth about your abuse is the end of healing. I’ve heard many speakers say that you should never expect to overcome the pain of sexual abuse. They say that you’ll always feel empty inside because of it…I know from my own experience that knowing God was what quieted my questioning heart and allowed His healing waters to flow in and out of my life…what God has done for me, He is longing to do for you.”

Hush is not at all preachy and is written with a sincerity that emboldens those who are afraid of dealing with an ugly past thrust on them by fate. Hush is available in leading bookstores for Shs21,000.

--Sunday Monitor, April 18, 2010

An evenly matched and exciting showdown


On the night of last Sunday, secret painters, the dread-locked and heeders of vintage advice faced off in what went down in my journal as the most memorable episode of Zain Africa Challenge this year this far. The encounter between Malawi Adventist University (MAU) and Jomo Kenyatta University (JKU) (pictured) was evenly matched and provided light entertainment that has eluded previous showdowns.
First, Malawi’s Alinafe Mwanza used his platform to dote on his “wonderful family”, proceeding to send “a shout-out” to his mom, brothers and sister, and thanking them “for everything.” It was nice of him. But he got carried away and by the time he regained competitive composure, his dread-locked opponent in centre position, Raphael Otieno Okal, had steered his team to an early lead with 130 points, a cool 90 ahead.

It was ironical that Alinafe kept picking ‘American Hip-Hop’ category as if he was a hip-hop head yet he even had no clue Jay-Z is behind the catchy rap single, Izzo. Okal, with his hip-hop attitude had shunned the category but gladly provided the answers to what the Malawian had flunked.

The next round gave us the witty advice I should live by, from Munthali Chawanangwa, who saluted his grandfather for inspiring him: “He died at the age of 92," he told show host John Sibi-Okumu, "but his philosophy was ‘keep on searching for knowledge, use it wisely, never disappoint others or yourself because that’s the call of life.’”

It was evident the Malawian heeded his grandpa’s advice as he engineered a steady recovery of his team so much that by the end of the third round, Kenyatta was now leading by a meagre 10-point margin. I was all for the Malawians to draw from the “spiritual nourishment” that is an integral part of their university and choose wisely, for like Sibi-Okumu likes to say, "the Ultimate Challenge is the ultimate choice."

Alas they went for the M Posing category that turned out to be tough as only five questions were answered correctly, giving them a total of 250 points and a grand total of 510. JKU, now 240 points behind, needed five correct answers before they could celebrate. Of the remaining categories, ‘Historic Battles in Africa,’ was picked and the questioner started shooting at a terrific speed that is now his trademark.

Although the Kenyans shambled like drunken men, they got eight correct answers in the stipulated minute, for a total of 400 points and grand total of 670. That made JKU the third Kenyan University this season alone to cruise into the quarterfinals of the academic competition and the team was justifiably jubilant, while across the room, not even the consolation of $1,000 could console Chawanangwa whose face was now wreathed in grief, poor boy must have felt he had let down his grandfather and country seeing the last Malawian university was now out as well.
The race tomorrow is between Zambia’s Copperbelt University and University of Sierra Leone. Catch it on NTV at 8:30 p.m.

--Saturday Monitor, April 17, 2010

A noisy bus and thieving hotel rogues

My journey to Mbarara was quite tumultuous but I reached safely, much to my relief. What I was not prepared for was thieves in the pleasant hotel I checked into, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza 

The mention of travel is nowadays frightening considering the endless carnage on our roads. So when I landed an offer to travel to Mbarara to give creative writing tips to a group of students in exchange for good bucks, I was apprehensive but accepted for I needed the money.

That’s why I found myself in the bus park on a hot Friday afternoon queuing for a bus that was visibly in good mechanical condition - looked new and was clean inside. I reclined in a seat by the window and smugly opened my copy of Aesop’s Fables. Soon we were moving and I was glad.

The driver, who must be a certified fan of singer Jose Chameleon, turned the volume of the stereo on the bus, suddenly awakening me to the realisation that I was occupying the seat on the third row from behind cc–just below the loudspeaker on the bus ceiling.

As Chamili-Chamili and Vumilia popped off into my ears, I couldn’t help bobbing my head to the effervescent sounds. But the driver stretched it when he pushed the volume button to maximum. The speaker itself didn’t take to it kindly and turned croaky to irritating proportions.

My eardrums hurt and my head began throbbing explosively. The patience of other sojourners had been pushed to the limit for one young man shouted at the conductor to “go tell the driver to turn the freakin’ volume down!”

The driver obliged but the next sanity was only cursory. The blaring was soon back and the most intolerable bit about it was that it was still Chamili-Chamili and Vumilia playing relentlessly. Even my belly grumbled and not from want of food but the unwelcome noise inside the bus. I occasionally had to push my head through the window to protect my eardrums from bursting but the avalanche of the wind outside didn’t make it any easier.

Even more, the bus was now moving at a dangerous speed; either the driver was high on crack or he was crazy, in which case I bowed in prayer and pleaded with the ever merciful God to protect us. And sure, God heard the cry of His child for as we approached Lyantonde, the driver reduced the volume to a friendly level and soothed our nerves with the sounds of Judith Babirye. I looked up in amazement but the elevating lyrics could not assuage my pounding headache and the distaste the bus had left in my ears for Chameleone’s songs.

When we finally reached Mbarara and alighted, I nearly knelt on the tarmac with gratefulness. I checked into a popular hotel near the Rwizi River, where I was welcomed by a shapely Muhima girl with an adorable face and an affable manner reminiscent of the girl I’m in love with.

My room had all the amenities a man of easy stature like myself found acceptable. It had a double bed and a small screen and was spick and span. However, the screen just wouldn’t project the pictures it was supposed to and it was after I gave it a light kick that it produced bleary pictures on Africa Magic.

Meanwhile, the pretty girl kept checking on me to see if there was anything I needed. She handled me like a treasure and made me feel like a prince. There were woolen sandals but you never know what kind of potbellied mister with a contagious skin disease could have used them previously, so they were left untouched. On the smooth floor, I indulged in break-dancing and almost broke my leg.

After my presentation the following day, I strolled around town and at Arch View, posed for a picture with a statue of a herdsman with a smoking pipe grazing his cow.

I was soon back at my hotel. I shrugged off the inviting smile of the hotel lady and entered my room. I found it smelling so sweet it reminded me of the fable I had read from Aesop’s book about a woman who found an old wine bottle and on sniffing it, declared, “If you can still smell as sweet how about when you were full?”
In the sweet fragrance of the room, I packed my few things, ready to leave early the following day. That’s when I realised my pair of sports shorts were missing – the very shorts I was wearing that morning as I worked out in my room. I checked the bathroom, under the bed and everywhere in the room. My novels and Sony recorder were there but the shorts were gone.

I’m a very private person; my diary is written in a coded language only I can read and my phone has a code. So the very thought of the hotel employee snooping in my private stuff and nipping my fancy Adidas shorts is what maddened me, not because I had bought them expensively. I did my best nursing my fury, forgave the thieving rogue, but vowed never to set feet in that hotel ever again.

--Sunday Monitor, April 11, 2010

A significant addition to Uganda’s literary heritage

Title: Dance, Words and Sounds of Colour,
Authors: Femrite
Reviewer: Dennis D. Muhumuza 

The poor reading culture among Ugandan children has for a long time been attributed to the inexistence of relevant and captivating reading materials. The few that exist are clich├ęd fables and traditional folktales that have long lost their appeal. It is because of this that the Uganda women writers association, Femrite, has released an anthology of poems, short stories and songs for children and teenagers that should begin the healing process.
Launched last week at Makererere University, Butterfly Dance, Words and Sounds of Colour, draws its themes from everyday life as well as natural and invented splendour –things like cars, rainbow, landscapes, insects and school life that in all capture a whole range of experiences that children can identify with and enjoy reading or sharing about.

Some of the titles of the poems and short stories are inviting that a reader can hardly wait to discover what they are all about as represented by Mrs Butterfly, Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!, The Singing Fish and The Boy who Grew Tired of Being a Boy.

Others are much fun when read out aloud because of the rhythm and rhyme formation used, and the rhetorical flourish and sounds they generate. A poem like The Speeding Car is simply about the musicality in the ‘noise’ vehicles make. The “Vroom! Vroom!” , the “beep – beep…” and gradually the “Vrooooooooooo” and “Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee…!” and “Booooooooooom” of the car offer pleasurable reading for the child.

Of the 39 poems, 18 come with colourful visual illustrations and one of the five stories is accompanied by a painting illustration while three of the five songs also come with a musical accompaniment.

The editors of the book, Okaka Dokatum and Rose Rwakasisi, note in the preface: “This is a great innovation because the visual imagery that is usually seen with the minds eyes can be seen within these pages with the naked eye, enhancing the enjoyment of poetry for readers.

Musical accompaniment creates a performance setting complete with mood and atmosphere…” Overall, the collection is sure to play a not-so-insignificant role in ingraining in the young reader the love of poetry, song, writing and appreciation.

--Sunday Monitor, April 11, 2010

Makerere remains Uganda's only hope


They came up all fired up and put up such a marvellous display within the first half of the showdown it appeared it would be an extraordinary night for Uganda in last Sunday’s Zain Africa Challenge.

That became more apparent when a word as simple as “polygamist” for a man who marries multiple women, eluded the University of Maiduguri. Uganda Martyrs University, Nkozi provided the answer and went on to win the first round with 140 points, 80 ahead of their opponents.

The Nigerians obviously entered the next round with the ambition of reducing the damage only to be dazzled by the pulsating brilliance of Benjamin Mugema Axel who, in centre position, was now the engine of Nkozi. This Rwandan national went through Sibi’s questions like he was going through letters of the alphabet. Although he failed a question on basic Math, his team extended its lead to 250 points while at 140 Maiduguri looked vulnerable.

When he took centre spot to captain Uganda Martyrs in round three, Joseph Eid Osama was asked by show host John Sibi-Okumu if his name means anything. The Mbale native said Osama is an Arabic name meaning lion. “That’s where I derive my personality from,” he added in the tone of a braggart. “I go into everything with no fear; I demand respect everywhere I go and when I roar, it’s louder than hell!”

But Osama's dramatic quip proved to be mere twaddle when next he provided wrong answers and muttered a staccato of “pass pass” to Sibi-Okumu’s torrent of questions. His ineptitude visibly delighted the “Ogas”, particularly Francis Chukwukeme who, in centre position, changed the course of the face-off with grit, poise and pace that soon saw West Africans overtake Martyrs, who were now looking like a bunch of boys that had inadvertently found themselves pitted against their teachers in the battle of the brains. That’s how the team that had started so well and stepped into the third round with a 110-point lead margin left lagging by 90 points.

Come the Ultimate Challenge, they further fuelled their total destruction by picking a category as intricately alien as “French Names of Countries” (as if they were thoroughbred Frenchmen!) Here, Osama tried to redeem his now shattered image by offering most of the answers but they managed eight answers worth 400 points, bringing their total score to 660 points.

Now our boys powerlessly watched their fate get sealed as the well versed University of Maidugiri players romped through the 10 questions worth 500 points of the Ultimate Challenge, booking their place in the quarterfinals with a grand total of 890 points and a bonus of $500 each.

The martyred Ugandans took the loss nonchalantly thanks to the consolation of $1,000 each and $10,000 for their university, leaving Makerere University as our lone ambassadors in this rollercoaster academic quiz. Catch the show tomorrow at 8:30 pm on NTV as Malawi Adventist University will be up against last year’s finalists, Jomo Kenyatta University.

--Saturday Monitor,  April 10, 2010

Egerton University sets record


If Tanzanians were really small creatures, they would be snails. And if they were not-so-really small creatures, they would be tortoises. That is as far as the Zain Africa Challenge (Zac) goes. Their slowness in this inter-university battle of wits, as was last season, deserves special placing in the Guinness World Book of Records.

If you witnessed the thrashing the University of Arusha got from University of Ghana a fortnight ago, or the torture Tumaini University suffered at the hands of Egerton University last Sunday, you know I’m not exaggerating.

The Tumaini team, Gift Joshua, Kisaka Mzava and Jokha Ahmed who was attired from head to bottom like an Emir’s daughter, looked like they didn’t want to be reminded that Egerton were favourites, having lifted the prestigious Zain Scholars’ trophy consecutively in 2007 and 2008. They proceeded to answer a few questions taking their first round scores to 60 points.

It’s only when Egerton’s Ralph Obure, George Ralak and Philip Chwanya got their chance to field the host’s questions that Tumaini was exposed as having flattered to deceive. By the end of round two, Egerton had 295 points; 205 ahead of Tumaini.

The ripping apart of the Tanzanians worsened in the third round which had questions on Science, Africa’s Current Affairs, Cotton and How To, at the end of which Kibaki’s boys were enjoying the shine with 515 points while their now pitiable opponents were stuck with 90.

It was really the end of the road, for to expect them to score all the 500 points of the Ultimate Challenge while expecting Egerton to flunk all was impossibility. The only option was to glean from the Ultimate Challenge as many points in order to return home with a little pride. And they laboured through the 10 questions, got five right (250 points) bringing their grand total to 385 points.

That’s how Egerton became the day’s champions even before they played the Ultimate Challenge. They would have chosen to call it a day and wait for their next opponent in the semi-finals but they went for it anyway so they could knock down all the questions and pocket the bonus of $500 each.

They did, smashing the record of 920 points set by fellow Kenyans –Africa Nazarene University (ANU) in the third week, which Egerton now replaced with a whopping 1015 points.

Meanwhile, pray for Uganda Martyrs University as we battle Nigeria’s University of Maiduguri tomorrow night, 8:30 p.m., on NTV.

--Saturday Monitor, April 3, 2010

Friday, April 9, 2010

One on one with Commonwealth’s book prize winner

She quit her job after increasingly finding it “too hard getting up in the morning” to do a job she didn’t actually believe was giving her joy. She became a writer so that she could wake up late in her “pajamas and sit on my computer and create these worlds”, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza

As soon as the interview was over, I asked if it was okay to have her picture taken. “Oh yeah,” she said, and quickly rummaged through her heavy leather handbag, coming back with a small round mirror and a colourless lip shine which she suavely used on her full lips.

It was quite something watching this polished lady do this. For a moment, it was difficult to believe this was Sade Adeniran, the London-born Nigerian author whose self-published novel, Imagine This, scooped the 2008 Commonwealth Prize for Best First Book for Africa Region.

In her conviction that “every writer needs encouragement,” she grabbed the opportunity to spend a week (February 20 – 27) in Kampala mentoring and inspiring Ugandan university students of creative writing at the African Writers’ Trust Seminar. When she narrates the five years she toiled away, without guidance, writing Imagine This, you know she’s not blithering.
First she quit her job after increasingly finding it “too hard getting up in the morning for a job you didn’t actually believe was giving you any joy,” deciding she wanted to become a writer so that she could wake up late in her “pajamas and sit on my computer and create these worlds….”

It was not going to come easy creating these worlds though. What eventually provoked her to put pen to paper was an infuriating boss.

“He made me work a whole day before he told me he no longer needed me,” she says. “I remember feeling so upset, so mad.” She quickly adds with a smile: “Instead of killing him, I went home and started writing a story about a girl who gets revenge on the boss.”

Only to realise that was “rubbish anyway. But the main character of that story is very interesting because she’s in my journal; she kept a journal, so that’s how I started writing Imagine This.”

When did she first discover she had the blood of a writer? Adeniran thinks a little before responding: “I discovered the power of words when I was a teenager living in Nigeria with my dad. We didn’t get on; I could never communicate with him; when I tried to we would start screaming at each other, slam doors and everything, so all I would do is compose a letter about something that I wanted and the reasons why I should have whatever it was, and I would slip it underneath his door and watch him through his window reading it and shaking his head.

“And at university, I didn’t want to write a dissertation because I was quite lazy; I didn’t want to do research,” she says with a naughty smile, “so I said I’ll just write a radio play for my final year piece so all I had to do was sit down and imagine and that’s what I did.”

The play, Memories of a Distant Past, was accepted and broadcast by BBC, and that’s when Adeniran really felt she should be a writer after all.

It was with this confidence that she distributed the manuscript of Imagine This “to people I knew loved reading; loved literature” and the response was “so enthusiastic that I thought it must be good and because of that I got the courage to publish.”

To her shock, the manuscript was rejected by literary agents. She was not daunted though for she believed in those she had initially sent her manuscript, so she published the book herself.

Adeniran met a lady at a writers’ fellowship in Spain, who found the book “fabulous” and encouraged her to send it to the Commonwealth for the writers’ prize. She obeyed, not knowing her life was about to change.
“It didn’t have a proper professional editor and I was short-listed against all these professional books and I never thought that Imagine This had a chance; I was just happy to be short-listed. I had been acknowledged and I was happy with that so when I was actually announced as the winner it was almost beyond belief.”
Suddenly, even the literary agents that had initially shunned her were now clamouring for her signature.

“I now have an agent who I didn’t have before. In the UK they don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts from writers; you have to have an agent and getting an agent is even harder than getting a publisher.”

Surprisingly, Adeniran has not been influenced by other writers, “I guess I’m selfish; I just wanted to write my story; wanted my story to be heard,” she says. “Beyond that I really didn’t think about other writers.”

Talking of her second book, which is in the works, Adeniran says, “People think, yeah, ‘you have an award therefore you must be really good’ but I don’t consider myself really, really good. I find it hard; I procrastinated for two years. I don’t even call myself an experienced writer; I’m still on a level down there.”

To young and struggling writers she says: “Practice makes perfect; you can’t wake up one day and say I want to be a doctor. It takes years; you have to go to medical school; perfect whatever specialty you choose and maybe after you’ve killed a few patients [she laughs], you become good at what you do. It’s the same with writing. Be more persistent because writing isn’t always about being better –it’s about believing in your work and actually going out there and trying to sell it.”

Hearing her faultless British accent, it can hardly occur to you that this bright, towering lady from the age of nine spent over a decade in Nigeria before returning to UK where she has lived since.

I ask if it’s true great writers are great readers.

“I’ve always read,” she says simply. “To me the story always comes first; I don’t really care about the genre as long as it’s a good story.”

“Does that mean you have abandoned stories you have not found good enough?”

Her introspective eyes light up: “Yeah,” she laughs. There’s passion in her laughter as in her voice to hyponotise some men. And she’s single! “There are too many books out there; I’m not going to be able to read all of them before I die so I might just as well stick to the ones that are interesting.”

After the photo opportunity, Adeniran promised to return and explore the country.

--Daily Monitor, Monday March 29, 2010

Pilgrim’s Progress in today’s English

Title: Pilgrim’s Progress
Author: James H. Thomas
Reviewer: Dennis D. Muhumuza 

I’m still excited that I landed on the modern version of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, written by James H. Thomas “in the language of the 20th century.”

The story of Christian as he carries his “awful burden” from the “City of Destruction” is the most moving I’ve ever read as it fleetingly made me pause to pray or wipe a tear. Christian is a representation of modern man tormented by his own sins and a contaminated environment. In his disturbed condition, Christian meets Evangelist, who gives him a scroll written on: “Flee from the wrath to come,” marking Christian’s pilgrimage to the “Celestial City”, which signifies Heaven.

First, he falls into the “Slough of Despond” and is abandoned by Mr Pliable. Then a treacherous Mr Worldly Wiseman of Carnal Policy town nearly shoves him to an early destruction. But on climbing a heavy hill on top of which he finds a cross, the burden on Christian’s shoulders falls of its own accord and tumbles down the hill into an open grave, much to his relief and utter amazement.

Suddenly, three celestial beings appear to tell him his sins are forgiven. They clothe him in white and hand him a book to read on the rest of his journey and for identification at the Celestial Gate.

Leaping for joy, the pilgrim resumes his journey. But a strange creature called Apollyon nearly kills him. It’s almost a miracle also that he survives the “Valley of the Shadow of Death.” Christian is delighted to catch up with his friend, Faithful, who tells him he was almost ensnared by the smashing seductress, Mrs Wanton. Onward, they enter a town called Vanity, reminiscent of modern Uganda because the “people of the town were vain, caring for nothing but money, pleasure, and fame.”

Christian and Faithful are arrested and Judge Lord Hategood accuses them of persuading “good honest persons to embrace their poisonous and most dangerous doctrine.” Faithful is hanged and goes straight to heaven and when Christian is released, he is joined on the road by Mr Hopeful, but they are seized by Giant Despair and tormented until they are miraculously rescued. After crossing the “Lake of Death,” they finally enter the “Celestial City” where they are joyously received to dwell in everlasting bliss.

The second part of the book is a reversal as a remorseful, Christian’s wife, Christiana, and their children, also take the hazardous journey to the Celestial City. In this timeless allegory, you meet mixed characters, who through their contemptible conduct remind one of the corruption of the heart of modern man.

The author relays so powerful a message in an exceedingly entertaining style that would interest even the most unyielding individual in the things of God. Pilgrim’s Progress vitalises those on the verge of giving up to faint not because the rewards will exceed their wildest expectations.

--Sunday Monitor, March 28, 2010

How giants were felled by 'dwarfs'


To see the reigning champions fall like that in the fourth episode of this year’s Zain Africa Challenge brought back memories of the 2002 soccer World Cup when debutants Senegal pounded the then World and European champions, France in the opening game.
Similarly, few if any, could have predicted that the great University of Ibadan (UI), the very university that shaped the intellectual prowess of Chinua Achebe and Africa’s first winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Wole Soyinka, could be crushed out of the televised inter-university quiz at the hands of little-known University for Development Studies, Ghana (UDS).
Everything between the two universities is seemingly diametrically opposed in favour of the Nigerians. At 64 years, and as Nigeria’s oldest university, UI has pedigree to brag about whereas UDS which started in 1992 still has lots of evolving to do.
But this didn’t stop Martin Oppong-Quainoo, Stefan Froelich and Joseph Awindaogo from bringing tenacity to last Sunday’s battle of the wits. They took charge early on, firmly answering John Sibi-Okumu’s questions on current affairs, notable places and ‘trans’-formations, winning the round with 150 points against UI’s 30.
Elaine Irabor, Samuel Toluwaleyi and Cyrus Majeri of UI had entered in smugly but soon their complacency vanished when the second round became an even harder nut; so hard in fact that by the end of it they had 60 points while their opponents were rocking the boat with 290.

Recalling the sheer pace with which last year's Ibadan team outshone everyone on their way to slashing Kenyatta University in the grand finale thereby solidifying Nigeria's reputation as Africa’s brain superpower, and seeing the glory they earned their university dissipate like fog due to the sloppiness of their 2010 counterparts was painful.
Majeri had to fight like a jungle cat in the third round to propel his team to 170 points but UDS stuck to their heady style; cracking questions on “money in the bank” and “things in the sky” on their way to scooping that round as well with 340 points.

It's never over until it’s over, so it has been said, and with the Ultimate Challenge worth 500 points, UI came with all guns blazing well knowing this was their last chance to knock the enemy off the pedestal. The hunger with which they answered their last questions made it appear they would hit the day's jackpot until one little question engaged the gear of inertia. The question was: "Morgan Freeman portrays him in Invictus."

Even I who's not a movie buff knew that was Nelson Mandela but the hapless Nigerians were clueless. But 450 points out of 500 was not bad at all, and gave them a grand total of 620 points, but was that enough?
Maybe it was as UDS now needed at least six correct answers to carry the day. It was no easy feat, but the Ghanaians, inspired by their motto, “Knowledge is power” and a hunger for the day's plaudits, answered seven questions, bringing their sum to 690 points, ecstatically romping into the quarterfinals while the now downcast defending champs bid their goodbyes.
It’ll be a battle of neighbours tomorrow when Kenya’s two-time winners, Egerton University, engage Tanzania’s Tumaini University. Catch the show on NTV at 8.30 p.m.

--Saturday Monitor, March 27, 2010.

Pastor Okudi bares his heart

Pastor Okudi of the Wipolo fame was the first Ugandan to earn the Best Male Artiste in East Africa Award and Best African Male Artiste at the Kora Awards. After that, his life was marred by scandals, which forced him out of the country. Here, he tells Dennis D. Muhumuza why he fled and his future plans.
If my mum sees this, she will pass out,” he said breathlessly. “I hope my wife, who is five months pregnant, will not give birth right away!” The house responded to the memorable words with exuberant applause while Bebe Cool and Jose Chameleon jumped on the glitzy podium and lifted him up to the animation of camera flashes.

All the attention was now on Uganda as the flamboyant pastor pulled magnetic dance strokes to the contagious sounds of Wipolo, the hit that catapulted him to fame. The Sandton Convention Centre momentarily turned into a church as the guests got to their feet, swaying and singing along to the spiritually elevating lyrics.
The year was 2003, at the Kora Awards Ceremony in Johannesburg. A night to remember for no one had possibly guessed that the then 34-year-old Pastor George Okudi, raised by a single mum in extreme poverty, would this day earn the Best Male Artiste in East Africa Award and top it with Best African Male Artiste the same night.

The significance of this accomplishment was gilded by the reality of his being the first Ugandan to scoop the prestigious music accolade, moreover on his debut participation. Obviously, the lanky Pastor was overwhelmed as words from his acceptance speech affirmed: “There are things that happen that you think are a dream; this is one of them…I am a nomad boy who learnt how to sing by listening to bird sounds. I am now the best. This is to celebrate nature, Jesus Christ and God!”

Even the Ugandan Parliament honoured his achievement by observing a minute of silence. Earlier the same year, he had become the first Ugandan pastor-cum-musician to win the Pearl of Africa Music (PAM) Award for Best Gospel Artiste and his funky Wipolo was voted Best Gospel Single. He had unwittingly set precedence for the likes of Ps. Wilson Bugembe, Martin Sseku, Judith Babirye and Exodus, who today are enjoying popularity in both gospel and secular circles.

Okudi’s historic success was a result of hard work and the unique blending of the traditional sound and urban beat. The resonating power of his music also comes from singing about his experiences growing in difficulties and the invigoration that comes from knowing God.

“I’ve gone through a lot as a person and I sing from the heart,” he told me. “The lyrics speak of what is going on inside me.”
Mysterious disappearance
No one knows what happened. Maybe it was difficult to reconcile the prominence garnered by the Kora Awards with the down-to-earth persona inherited from his humble upbringing in Wera village, Soroti, but things began going wry for the young pastor. Allegations of marital infidelity and of a strained relationship with his wife filtered in. The pastor was nowhere to respond, and next it was said he had left the country incognito. Not long after, reported that he was residing in Minnesota, working in a home of the mentally deranged.

Okudi kept a low profile until a U-Tube video showed him in September last year performing at the Ugandan North American Association Convention in Chicago. Meanwhile, his Facebook page was swamped with messages from fans expressing their disappointment over his mysterious disappearance and wondering when he would return home. And, about five years after he unceremoniously left the country, Pastor George Okudi finally granted us an online interview in which he did bare his heart.

He says he was hounded out of his beloved motherland by some envious figures in the Ugandan church. “I was the break-out artiste of the continent in 2003 and I’m still the only one with the greatest music award to ever come into the East African area,” he says. “But being a pastor, I had to reconcile too many things at the same time and that’s when my critics started trying to bring me down. Some pastors in Kampala wanted me to be typically a church artiste but my talent had already transcended the church boundaries; it was time to work with everybody and spread some wings and that’s exactly what I did. I made many friends and fans but also many enemies,” he says.

“When I won the Koras, and being from the Northeast and operating in Kampala as pastor, some pastors started fighting me and calling me a no-good; they caused confusion, so I was left in the middle with no promoters and no church support,” he adds.

In retrospect, the pastor says he has no regrets for he found a home in Washington DC, where God continues to use him “mightily” through his music and behind the pulpit.

“I preach with Tower of Hope, an organisation that raises money all over the US to support disadvantaged children in Uganda,” he says. “I’ve preached in some of the largest congregations like those of KC Price, Creflo Dollar and TD Jakes. I’ve performed with Kirk Franklin and in universities all over USA and also had the opportunity to meet dignitaries in the White House because of my music,” he says.
Okudi also owns a studio in the US and has four albums waiting to be launched. “The first is called East to West, a mix of east and west to create a neutral beat. Survival Africa is an album that follows the Wipolo trend, Children of Africa has a reggae feel and the last album is called I Found the Way,” says Okudi. “And I’ve sent a song called Celebrate Africa to South Africa for evaluation; I want it to be one of the theme songs for World Cup.”

The pastor is determined to launch his albums in Kampala and expects to be back in the country in November this year. The interview could not be complete without him commenting about the accusations of his infidelity. “Every family has ups and downs but as for the affairs - that didn’t happen. Things happen but we have to move on and continue to run. Even Benny Hinn has been going through issues –who expected a great man like that to be going through that? So, tell everyone to forgive me for not being perfect; I wish I could be,” he said.

He added: “To my fans, I’m going to send the first wave of beats next month to start the reconciliation process and for sure there’s and will always be only one Pastor Okudi and he is alive and well – ready to rock just like before; get ready!” 

Admirable and challenging girl power


The two girls on Kenya's Africa Nazarene University (ANU) team so added colour to the third episode of this year’s Zain Africa Challenge that I wanted to enter my TV and give them lingering hugs!
In a contest that has for three years become the domain of men, it was invigorating to finally see female brainpower as Vanessa Karuri Wairimu and Jane Ndug’u Waithera synergised with Sammy Kitonyi Mwaniki to give the Njala University (NU) boys running noses.
It was not just lady luck when Commerce student, Ndug'u correctly answered the first face-off question thereby endorsing her teammates to back her up in the next on geography, animal kingdom and sports idioms.

At the kick-start, Njala’s Ibrahim Kargbo talked with such vigour about how reading is his favourite pastime and it made me wonder what things he reads if he could only help his team to a miserly 50 points when his opponents were riding high with 120.
There was still enough room nevertheless for West Africans to redeem themselves so they didn’t fret.

But the mark of true competitiveness is to never give your antagonist leeway as ANU proved. When lanky Sammy took over from Jane in centre position, he cruised through John Sibi-Okumu’s questions so effortlessly I thought the question setters were generous beyond description. But then Sammy is a Computer Science student yet he was cracking questions on abbreviations from diverse fields, chemistry and architecture. No, the boy is eclectic! He was so good that he failed only one question and by that time, it was time up for that round, leaving Njala stuck at 50 points, a whopping 250 points behind their opponents.
When Vanessa took up centre spot with a wry smile, I knew the routing was not over yet! Sibi-Okumi cocked his gun and shot but she crunched his ‘bullets’ like popcorn. And although she flanked three questions, she bagged the 30 points from the Super-bonus segment and extended her team's lead to 420 points as NU looked on helplessly.
The only way for them to emerge from the grave was to snatch all the 500 points from the Ultimate Challenge and pray that ANU answer no more than two questions. Keeping their eyes on hope, they chose a category about chemical elements. And guess what? They got it all right, becoming the second university to register this feat this season after the University of Ghana. Environmental Chemistry student Musa Korgie Mustapha could now afford a smile and a swagger for even if they left, it was with integrity and a cool $1,000 each in their pockets plus $10,000 grant for their university.
And ANU, determined to monopolise the spotlight, picked “Cure what ‘ales’ you” and proceeded to sweep all the 10 questions in a record 32 seconds, carrying the day with 920 points which I bet will remain unsurpassed for the rest of this inter-university battle of the brains tournament. The girls offered infectious smiles and deservedly hugged their boy Sammy.
The blaze resumes on NTV tomorrow at 8:30p.m. when defending champions University of Ibadan locks horns with University for Development Studies, Ghana. 

--Saturday Monitor, March 20, 2010

‘I was interviewed by the CNN crew and they ended up crying…’

Brovin Kato is an actor and dancer with Uganda National Contemporary Ballet (UNCB) and also performs with the Latin Flavour. Dennis D. Muhumuza caught up with him

How long have you been dancing?
I’ve sang, acted and danced since 1997. Mzee Christopher Kato trained me in ballroom dancing (Latin and Waltz) and I was snatched by UNCB, where we only do modern, contemporary and ballet.

Do ladies hit on you after watching your slick dance moves on stage?
Yes! Mostly, they love my smile and the flexible and fragile manner with which I handle ladies on stage.
What, in your opinion, is the most beautiful dance and why?
Contemporary dance, for it tells real-life stories, but also the romantic attitude of the dance is unsurpassed.
A date with a smashing girl or an opportunity to dance for the president?
A president comes with a big audience that could help my career, so definitely I would shun the date and dance for the president.
Which living person do you most admire and why?
Apostle Henry Kisakye, because he tells one about their life and predicts their future. Also, I admire Alex Mukulu because he’s creative, verbally constructive and so hardworking that he can rehearse for more than seven hours without taking a break in between. That amazes me, considering his age.
When were you happiest?
The first time I presented modern and African contemporary ballet with instructors and pros yet I had rehearsed for less than a month!
What traits do you dislike about other people?
Not forgiving and forgetting when wronged and absence of a sense of purpose – it freezes personalities and any yoke of apathy.
What would you bring back to life if you could?
My brother. I lost Kizza while I was still young, plus my grandparents. They were said to be lovely and caring. Also, my set of milk dental formulae.
What’s your favourite scent?
I love the smell of one’s breath when they have just brushed their teeth with flouride toothpaste.
When did you last cry and why?
I was very young when I lost my brother; I thought he was still sleeping and kept asking mum why he wasn’t waking up, only for him to “sleep” till he was covered under the soil.
What’s the most expensive purchase you ever made?
In 1995 when I first sang a solo under the theme “Life is what you make it” at Sharing Youth Centre, my attire cost me around Shs300,000.
To whom would you most say sorry and why?
My parents, for they are easily forgiving and surely, they forget!
Have you ever said I love you and not meant it?
No, and I don’t look forward to doing so if it’s not true.
Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
The poor, the needy and well-wishers.
What has been your biggest disappointment?
I got an opportunity to upgrade my studies in Britain but met a dead end when my sponsor demanded to know my passport details yet I didn’t have one.
What has been your most memorable experience as a dancer?
When I danced to “Memories of Child Soldiers” and it was broadcast live on CNN. I was interviewed by the CNN crew and they ended up crying because of the dance’s strong message. Also, when I performed for so many presidents during Chogm.
What is the greatest love of your life?
Beauty. I really love looking at beautiful things.

--Sunday Monitor, March 14, 2010

And the last shall be the first


It was a case of the last coming first as is said in the Bible when the University of Ghana came down to whip the University of Arusha in last Sunday’s second episode of the 16-game knockout Zain Africa Challenge.
The two universities are first timers in this televised 30-minute question-and-answer inter-university tournament, but the money was on the West Africans to win the day considering the show of mediocrity Tanzanians put up last year.
But Arusha’s Ngugi Morris, Majo Shimbi and Martin Mwangi entered with a confident stance that made it appear it was not going to be easy for their opponents. Indeed, they were good in African politics and business, crowning the first round with 100 points to Ghana's 50.
  The undaunted Ghanaians, led by Political Science student Richard Nachinaba in centre position, pressed on vigorously in round two and soon rose above. How painful it must have been for Tanzanian fans to watch their great start go down the drain; to see Arusha add a miserable 20 points to their 100 while Ghana’s oldest and West Africa's most prestigious university (according to was riding high with 190 points.
And when Shimbi flunked the super-bonus question of the day for 30 points than the usual 20, hope for a miracle escaped the Tanzanians. By the end of round three, they were clutching 170 points to Ghana’s 350.
Even more, the dexterity with which Ghana’s bespectacled Lloyd Owusu-Asante cracked John Sibi-Okumi’s questions, particularly on films and sea borders, must have drained any ray of optimism remaining in minds of Jakaya Kikwete's boys for they approached the Ultimate Challenge with flagging energy.
It was their last chance for a miracle considering it’s worth 500 points. They picked a category in which they were to identify some words that begin with or end with E-N-D. I thought it was a betrayal of their University’s motto: “Wholistic Human Development” when they couldn’t even name a word that ends with E-N-D that means presage or to foretell. It was not that bad, anyhow, for they answered six questions correctly giving them 300 points and a grand total of 470 that however could not salvage the team.
When the Ghanaians rubbed their hands and took deep breaths, I didn’t know they were about to enter this season’s record books by sweeping all the 10-Ultimate-Challenge questions in a magical 45 seconds, carrying the day with a grand total of 850 points. None of the three players does sciences but the proficiency with which they named scientists and some of their inventions, was far more hilarious, earning each $500 extra cash, while the now distraught Arusha boys bid their goodbyes and hit the road homeward with a consolation of $1,000 each and $10,000 grant for their university.
Tomorrow will witness another battle of East versus West when newcomers, Africa Nazarene University (Kenya) take on experienced Njala University of Sierra Leone. Catch the showdown on NTV at 8:30pm.

--Saturday Monitor, March 13, 2010