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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Poets sip from Kiconco’s chalice


There is something about watching poets in session, hearing their cadences and tone, the passion as words slip off their tongues, and watching their facial expressions that combine to make one appreciate the truly compelling power of poetry.

It was thus easy to see, on Monday 19, why the Uganda Female Writers Association (Femrite) chose to crown the year by treating members of its Readers and Writers Club to a literary interaction caked with fascinating poetry recitals.

The Femrite Readers Club meets every Monday, and on the last Monday of the month, an established writer dubbed “author of the month” is invited to share his/her writing experiences and field questions from the club members.

Last Monday, the honour of author-of-the-month fell on Mildred Kiconco Barya, a UK-based Ugandan author, who is acclaimed for her two poetry anthologies: Men Love Chocolates But They Don’t Say (2002) and The Price of Memory: After the Tsunami (2006). In 2008, she won the Pan African Literary Forum Prize for African Fiction.

Kiconco (R) shares her writing experiences with members of Femrite Readers Club
The floor opened with members discussing a poem by the inaugural BN Poetry Award winner, Lillian Aujo. Her poem, Changes, is about people’s desire and equal fear for change, set the perfect mood before the guest of the night took the microphone.

Kiconco, 35, was wearing a pink top and a black mini-skirt that served to accentuate her small physical stature. You could see the joy in her eyes and hear the pride in her voice as she divulged that she actually coordinated the first Femrite Readers Club back in 1998.

“It gives me the pleasure that the passion is still here,” she said with gratification, and went on to ooze writing wisdom, telling her eager audience that writing is like a marriage that you cannot just jump in and out of: “You commit for life and keep working on it.”

The true writer, she advised, strives to create a signature style for which he or she will be remembered; a personal style that cannot be replicated by other writers. Even though writing can be laborious sometimes, she admitted there is a feeling of being liberated, knowing you are doing something you so love; something special; something for a chosen few.

It was soon the time everyone had been waiting; a time for the dread-locked author to recite some of her acclaimed poems. She did three poems; old and new, but the most outstanding was Sipi, in which she describes Sipi falls as “beautiful, harsh, ferocious” and adding cheekily that Sipi River must have been hewn out of the famous Mississippi River. It is a powerful poem, especially in its use of rhythm, and depiction of Uganda’s physical attractiveness.

Kiconco’s latest anthology, Give Me Room to Move My Feet, was launched in Kampala on Tuesday.

--Saturday Monitor, December 24, 2011

Waiting: Kyomuhendo digs into the terror and trauma of Amin


Waiting (2007) is Goretti Kyomuhendo’s fourth adult novel after The First Daughter (1996), Secrets No More (1999) and Whispers from Vera (2002).

Unlike her first novel, written when she was just a diploma holder in Business Studies, Waiting was published in 2007 in New York by the Feminist Press after the author had attained a degree in English Studies and was pursuing a Masters Degree in Creative Writing. So I was eager to establish how it differs from her previous works in terms of the quality of writing and the way it is structured.

Set in rural Hoima from where the author hails, the 111-page novel takes us back to 1979 when Idi Amin’s repressive regime has been knocked out by the allied forces from Uganda and Tanzania.

The book is divided into three parts that explore the overall effects of war and violence on ordinary people. We learn all about their suffering through what the teenage protagonist, Alinda, tells us as her family and her neighbours are besieged by fear as the remnants of Amin’s soldiers fleeing to northern Uganda where they can feel safer, wreck havoc; raping women, killing and pillaging under the blanket of darkness.

The tension of the affected is felt right from the first page when Alinda’s grandmother, Kaaka, urges all to eat because “If these men come, they will kill you unless you have the energy to run, and run fast.”

So dire is the prevailing predicament that Alinda’s father, a Post Office clerk - who has fled from the insurrection in the city and returned to his rural home - has to find a hideout in the banana grove near the main house for his family to sleep at night, in what is reminiscent of the night commuters of Gulu at a time when the LRA insurgency was monstrously attacking and killing civilians for sport.

Little Alinda witnesses the brutal kicking in the stomach and later the shooting to death of her beloved grandmother, and she is also there when the Lendu woman gives first aid to an old man whose leg has been blown off by a landmine. It all embodies the magnitude of terror and trauma people have to endure during the madness of war.

Beyond the impact of war, the novel also explores the theme of identity and cultural diversity. Alinda’s friend, Jungu is of mixed race and a symbol of exploitation that the locals endure at the hands of the Indian businessmen before they are chased while the Lendu woman from Zaire represents the refugees in our land.

The author succeeds in bringing out the rural lifestyle in a way that reminds a reader of Regina Amollo’s A Season of Mirth (1999) and Elechi Amadi’s The Concubine (1966). Amid the ravages of war, natives encourage one another and share light moments and often turn to traditional solutions for their problems. And how superstitious they are! According to Kaaka, a leaf falling from a tree announces a visitor coming and not leaving anytime soon while a pregnant woman suffering a heartburn apparently means the child she’s carrying has “a lot of hair”!

This time round, Kyomuhendo is beautifully frugal with words. The simplicity and definitiveness of her “novel of Uganda at war” makes it better than her previous works. Of course, you can beg to differ!

--Saturday Monitor, December 24, 2011

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Babyetsiza lives against all odds to fulfill dreams


Destined to Triumph chronicles Julius Babyetsiza’s roller-coaster life; an orphan that rises from abject poverty, survives a mysterious swelling on the leg that paralyses him, misses admission to Makerere University by a whisker but wins a scholarship to study Economics and Statistics at the Odessa State Economic University in Ukraine, and a Master of Science in Economics with Statistics at the same university. 

There, he earns a reputation for brilliance and on graduation day delivers a spectacular speech on behalf of foreign graduates. He also takes to wrestling with zeal and knows he is on the cusp of professionalism when he is lined to feature in the Ukrainian National Wrestling Championship. But a knee injury wrecks that dream. The inconsolable student then shies away from his true love - a Slavic woman of dazzling beauty. 

When he returns home, he is beset by unemployment, and forays into private business, marries a Rwandan beauty, who soon shows her true colours; melting “a golden ring into a tooth,” robbing him dry and vanishing.
Babyetsiza then lands a job as a Researcher and Computer Systems Administrator at the National Association of Professional Environmentalists, but is soon advised to denounce his critical newspaper commentaries, but he cannot allow to be gagged, so he later loses his job. 

Inspired by an old saying that if a person fell and remained on the ground crying, it exalts the devil, Babyetsiza heeds his cousin’s advice to put down the “highly dramatic twists and turns” that have characterised his life, and this hilarious 214-page autobiography is birthed. 

Published by CreateSpace, Amazon’s print-on-demand publishing house, Destined to Triumph, starts with the author’s early life, the untimely death of his father and the uncertainties that his four children have to endure seeing they are too young to fend for themselves, let alone see themselves through school. 

But it is said God never abandons orphans. In spite of the labyrinths that he has to navigate, Babyetsiza somehow makes it, thanks to his determination and perseverance. The author also explores the role of love and togetherness in progress. 

“Much as my life has been a mixture of intertwined dilemmas and opportunities, it is evident that boundless love has followed me all the days of my life,” he writes, thanking God for the countless people that have cared for him since the death of his father. 

Through the author’s life and times, we also learn something about the history of Ankole and service delivery then. The author recalls the story of how Mbaguta, the prime minister of Ankole in the old days, exerted his power; getting men to line up with hoes from Mbarara to Kazinga Channel to construct a road that long in one day! But today, jiggers are wrecking the lives of villagers while LC officials look on, and money for road construction and repair is diverted for self aggrandisement. 

The book is written passionately; with the author going beyond his personal life to expose the ills crippling the land. It is a commendable attempt at opening the eyes of the people of Uganda to quit goofing and rise above the mediocrity and build knowledge and technology-driven economies to overcome graduate unemployment, poverty and backwardness. 

The author is disillusioned with the elite, especially university leaders and lecturers, who are doing nothing about “lack of proper national planning and poor policies, environmental abuse, poor governance, poverty and stagnation” and look on indifferently while embezzlement of public funds meant to uplift the poor goes on, and corruption hits a crescendo. He feels these erudite people should set precedence as “guardians of political and socio-economic accountability.” 

--Saturday Monitor, December 17, 2012

Tuma sticks customer care service into our bookshelf


The notice on the wall announces with colourful importance that the “Customer is King” but the services are horrible. Either you are ignored or attended to with disinterest, and often the person behind the counter gets irritated when asked a question or two related to the services being sought. 

This is the alarming level that customer care has descended to in a country without a consumer protection policy. And in a bid to save the day, a book has been written. Keeping Customers by Dorothy M. Tuma was launched last week in Kampala. 

Ms. Tuma (left) with her parents and Ms. Mbiire cut the cake during the book launch
Dubbed “a must-have customer service handbook”, the volume is based on the column, Dora’s Diary, depicting “winners” and “losers” in customer service that has been running in Daily Monitor’s Business Power pullout for close to three years now. 

The writer goes beyond the content of her weekly articles, and in 15 chapters and over 200 pages, explores comprehensively the delights and pains a customer enjoys or endures while engaging with the service providers. The books also contains practical tips on what must be done to attain excellence in customer service, with emphasis on how to keep customers. 

It comes with humorous illustrations to enhance one’s reading pleasure and understanding, complete with points to ponder, a to-do-list that provides practical suggestions a reader can implement immediately, and an outline of principles through which service providers can assess their performance in customer care.

The launch was graced by the who-is-who in the service industry and other sections that all enjoyed an edifying interaction on customer care. One of the guests, for example, disarmed all with a rhetorical question: “If Ugandans are born with the DNA of hospitality,” she asked, “why then doesn’t customer care become second nature to us?”

Daily Monitor’s Executive Editor David Sseppuuya, who also wrote the book’s introduction, said the time is now for the service providers to train their staff and rise above platitudes and treat the customer importantly. He explained why Daily Monitor runs Dora’s Dairy: “Dorothy is a specialist in customer care and she has put her knowledge down. Let’s write, not just Facebook!” 

Dr Geoffrey Bakunda, the dean of Marketing and Hospitality Services at Makerere University Business School, said poor customer service has severely affected Uganda’s tourism industry. He advised that it is only through good customer service that we can survive in the jungle that is today’s business world. 

MTN’s head of customer service Stephen Mutana, lauded the impact of Dora’s Diary on local businesses and the greater impact the book will have, admitting he often relies on Dora’s weekly insights to improve service delivery and ensure customer satisfaction. 

Customer Care was officially launched by chief guest, award-winning entrepreneur and founder of Uganda Women Entrepreneurs Association Ltd, Ms Tereza Mbiire. Described by close friends as “a fearless influencer” that believes in leaving the world a better place than she found it, Ms Tuma was compelled to write by frustrating experiences of service providers treating customers like they were doing them a favour. 

“My hope is that this book will be used by businesses, but also that customers who read it will stand up to demand better level of service,” she said. 

The book is on available in local bookshops as well as on Amazon.

--Saturday Monitor, December 17, 2011

Monday, December 5, 2011

A gathering of purpose


Women are always trying to get together, be it for serious or light concerns, but most male meetings are limited to sports or brown bottles. However, writes DENNIS D. MUHUMUZA, every first Saturday of the month, a group of men come together at the University Men’s Breakfast to touch base on different issues ranging from their Christian faith and family to economic conditions and happenings in our society over a plate of Katogo.

Comedian Bob opens the Breakfast with some funnies
It’s a classic case of iron sharpening iron as university and post-university men come together every first Saturday of the month to touch base and talk without inhibitions on man issues in what’s dubbed University Men’s Breakfast.

“The world’s script says all men are liars and cheats, but what if we thought different?” said the Facebook ad on the event. And then: “Be part. Live life – on intention.” That provoked sufficient curiosity in me, and I attended the second edition, which like the first, took place last Saturday on the second floor of Diamond Trust building in Wandegeya, and is organised by Pastor Martin Ssempa’s One Love Dream Church.

The flier I was handed on arrival congratulated me for having overcome the temptation to stay in bed and enjoy the sweet morning sleep and for braving the cold to be here this early. I couldn’t help grinning at how apt it was seeing it was not easy abandoning my bed at 5.30am to prepare to be here by 6am.

“Our hope is that you will enjoy the katogo accompanied by a hot cup of spiced black tea, connect with other men, get a chance to stretch your vocal cords as we sing together and finally catch some words that will be thrown at us on our manhood journey,” the flier read on, and listed seven principles that should govern the authentic man.

These promises challenge the real man to honour God always, have vital friendships with other men to help him remain accountable, practice spiritual, moral, ethical and sexual purity, build strong marriages and families based on Biblical values, diligently support the church through giving his time and resources, rise above racial and denominational barriers to demonstrate the power of Biblical unity, and remain committed to influencing his world, being obedient to the Great Commandment of loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbour as yourself, and fulfilling the Great Commission of making disciples of all men as put in Matthew 28:19-20.

The meeting began at 6.30am with day’s emcee, comedian Bob Nuwagira of Pablo Live, cracking us up that some could be here this early out of running away from their landlords! Then David Katumba of Centenary Bank shared on the delights of being a family man, and how he has managed to balance family life with his professional work as a banker as well as spiritual life seeing he’s a pastor too.

He said it’s mandatory for a husband to pursue priesthood in the home, lead family prayers, bless your children and have the knowledge of deliverance because, “a Christian without knowledge of deliverance is like a soldier without a gun.”

He also explored the subject of sloth and mediocrity: “Some Christians are lazy and this morning I want to challenge you to wake up. Reach your workplace early, work like an ox, set an example because through all that there’s a lot of favour.”

Katumba’s sharing was followed by praise and worship as guttural voices soon rocked the house with men singing their hearts out to Jesus. Then they declared in one accord to lead the family, the nation and the world all for the glory of God.

Breakfast was served, katogo of matooke and rice with offals. Men helped themselves to a second serving, even a third because there was more than we could consume. And as they ate, Eddie Ssemakula representing all the bachelors in the house, shared on his challenges as a young man striving to be the man God desires him to be. His trials were basically an embodiment of what every career young man goes through, the challenges of striving to stay sexually pure in a morally decadent world, challenges of budgeting as the cost of living continues to escalate, and finally his struggle to remain true to his identity in Jesus Christ.

Key speaker, Ps Ssempa, talked passionately on “Crush-landing into Manhood,” about the negative effects of growing up without a father-figure. He shared his personal story of being raised by a poor single mother, and becoming a father at 16 after impregnating a girl, how he was once attacked by a homosexual and how he ended up at a Christian meeting because of “a hot babe,” only to find salvation and transformation.

Everything from identity to finances and domestic violence against the men were discussed with such brutal honesty that by the end I felt empowered and returned home with the true definition of manhood.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE MEETING: Five things that troubled the men

Domestic violence:  You won’t believe it, but the issue of domestic violence against men dominated the November Men’s Breakfast. Apparently, the independent woman of today who is educated, has a powerful job and probably earns more than her husband has become a bully in the home. Although the slap or pinch is sometimes part of the equation, this domestic violence against the men is more psychological as the woman uses intimidation and threats until the man is cowered into meeting her demands for the sake of peace in the home. It has reached such alarming proportions that the men agreed to establish a centre to help male victims of domestic violence.

Financial insecurity: As the cost of living continues to escalate, the men voiced their fears over how they’ll manage putting bread on the table while the younger men’s overriding concern was where they would get money to marry the girls of their dreams especially seeing they are all God-fearing and cannot steal or contaminate their hands through shoddy deals. They got reassurance that you can use your God-given wisdom to attain wealth without necessarily resorting to corrupt means.

Rootlessless: Apparently, most men have grown up without father-figures or mentors to help them navigate the difficult waters of life. And so have grown up with low self-esteem or insecurity, because most of them were born out of wedlock and raised in loveless homes by either a single parent or by abusive relatives. So the demons of the past still come back to haunt them, and this coupled with confrontations from the tough challenges of life force them into seeking solace in the brothel or nightclub or in the liquor bottle. The question was: where is love in this world? How can I find a sense of belonging? How can I gain self assurance and attain the destiny I deserve?

Decadence: The breakfast meeting happened just days after UK Premier David Cameroon said foreign aid to Uganda was going to cease unless the country changed its hard stance against homosexuality. This really incensed the men at the Breakfast Meeting who said they are not going to equivocate, or backdown. That there’s no way the developed countries especially America and the UK are going to bully Uganda whose motto is “For God and my Country” into embracing “licking vomit under the guise of minority rights.” They vowed to write a petition against Cameroon and through a protest walk take it to the UK embassy in Uganda.

What can we do: Most young university students and graduates wanted to know what they can do for their country, and how they can begin especially in this day and age where unemployment is such a thorny issue, and where without “connections” it’s harder getting a job. The men agreed to keep having the monthly meetings to network and join brains on how they can infiltrate the world and set precedence as leaders of integrity that will redeem this this country and the world from the social, economic and political ignominy it had descended into.

 --Sunday Monitor, December 5, 2011

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Is this the time for Ugandan writers to shine again?


There was a time when Uganda was an acclaimed literary powerhouse worldwide. The 1960s and 70s was the period in which Okot p’Bitek’s Song of Lawino was published (1969), the period that shaped writers like Ngugi wa Thiongo (he studied at Makerere between 1960-1963), Arthur Gakwandi, Timothy Wangusa and Austin Bukenya among others, the golden era of Ugandan literature that led to the production of work whose force and relevance remain unsurpassed.

Participants of the 2011 AWT writers workshop pose with their trainers
Sadly, times changed and famous literary magazines and journals like The Dhana and Transition folded, creative artists were harassed in the repressive times of Amin, some killed, and Ugandan literature suffered a stroke. Then the boisterous late 1980s and early 90s birthed showbiz with the flocking in of western entertainers that saw many abandon books for hedonistic fun.

It was not until the formation of the Uganda Female Writers Association (Femrite) in 1996 that Ugandan literature started waking up from its limbo. Since then, a couple of writers like Doreen Baingana and Monica Arac de Nyeko have won literary prizes of international acclaim like the Commonwealth and the Caine Prize for African Writing.

It also helped that the British Council initiated the Crossing Borders programme in which our sons and daughters like Julius Sseremba, Glaydah Namukasa and Patrick Mangeni outed books of outstanding merit.

Upsurge of readers
Today, people are writing with consuming fire. There are more blogs and websites displaying Uganda’s creative writing talent as well as reviewing it. The Uganda Modern Literary Digest at and the Reader’s CafĂ© at have some of the finest creative writings in the land.

There is also an upsurge of readers and writers’ clubs today than before, run by individual writers and literary organisations.

The annual Book Week by the National Book Trust of Uganda and Femrite’s week of literary activities, plus the monthly Authors’ Forum have all popularised Ugandan literature and contributed to its slow but steady acceptance.

But it is the spurt of training opportunities Uganda’s creative writers are enjoying lately that could transform our industry by giving writers hands-on tips to produce works of global appeal as would top best-seller book lists and rake in millions for authors.

In September, British Council Uganda, partnered with Femrite for a creative arts workshop to assist upcoming writers to develop effective writing skills in the fields of short story, drama and poetry. By the end, the over 20 participants produced works of publishable quality most of which will be submitted for international writing contests like the Commonwealth Short Story writing competition.

And hardly a month later, the London-based African Writers’ Trust (AWT), was in Uganda to train and mentor promising writers to stretch their imagination and strive for international breakthrough, and to link writers on the continent with African writers in the Diaspora.

“Whether we live here or in the Diaspora, we all face the same publishing challenges as African writers, so we think these groups should be meeting more regularly and in a more structured way to share skills and experiences and enhance learning and knowledge,” says AWT founder and director, Goretti Kyomuhendo.

That this year’s training is facilitated by award-winning UK-born Zambian author Ellen Banda-Aaku, whose first novel Patchwork, won the 2010 Penguin Prize for African Writing, tells much about the determination to help Ugandan writers write internationally competitive books.

Ms Banda was joined by Dr Susan Kiguli of Makerere University’s Literature Department and Ms Kyomuhendo, herself a holder of a Masters degree in creative writing and author of well-known novels like The First Daughter (1996), Secrets No More (1999), and Waiting (2007).

This is the second AWT workshop in Uganda. Last year’s was facilitated by UK-born Nigerian award-winning author Sade Adeniran who worked with young emerging writers from Ugandan universities.This year, the AWT is continuing with those students alongside other independent writers who certainly can do with help from their more learned and experienced counterparts in the Diaspora, on how to find a publisher in the developed world, get a literary agent and generally write a work of compelling quality.

The winner of the inaugural BN Poetry Awards (2008) Lillian Aujo, says she now has better insight into creative writing, and is foraying into short-story and novel writing, thanks to her participation in both British Council-Femrite and AWT workshops, while blogger Ishta Nandi called her participation in the AWT workshop “a major milestone” because it not only got her work evaluated and critiqued but also helped her learn that it’s not enough to have talent; “you actually have to work; make the time to write and rewrite” till the work meets the best standards.

Ms Kyomuhendo says it’s a good time for African works today because their demand in America and Europe is high if they pass the test of quality, the kind of quality those participating in these literary meet-ups are hopefully attaining, and the kind of quality that will reawaken the greatly missed golden era of Ugandan literature.

--Saturday Monitor, November 19, 2011

Sunday, November 13, 2011

To co-exist we must love


Winning the 2010 Penguin Prize for African Writing should tell you about the overall quality and relevance of Patchwork, but of particular fascination to me is its visual appeal and intensity.

Zambian/British author Ellen Banda Aaku explores the realities and complexities of life in the Lusaka of the late 1970s in which the book is set; realities and complexities that are bound to resonate in your mind as well because they epitomise today’s experience in most of Africa. She writes in the present simple tense, employing a vivid and fast-paced style that might make you think you’re watching a movie.

The 216-page novel is narrated in the First Person by Pumpkin from when she is a child to when she becomes an adult. It opens with her as a nine-year-old living alone with her alcoholic mother whose affair with the bottle comes to an end when her beloved Pumpkin is taken away and dumped at her stepmother’s. She begins life afresh; marries Uncle Oscar and brings Pumpkin to live with them again.

In the second part of the book, Pumpkin is a successful, western-educated architect of 31, so insecurely married to a structural engineer named Tembo that she employs everything including her fists and sharp nails to pound and scratch the young woman she suspects to want to wreck her marriage by snatching the father of her two children.

From early on, the volume crackles with wit and humour that made my reading experience worthwhile. Seeing how little Bee infuriates Pumpkin following an argument over whose Dad is more important: “Anyway, me, what I know is that every ‘uman on this earth is same,” she says. “Every man, he go toilet. And whether man is white, blue, green, rich, poor, he shit. And when he shit, his shit smell!”

How about this: “The car wipers squeak rhythmically as they swipe at the raindrops that trickle down the windscreen like tears. Sometimes I imagine that the tears we cry on earth rain down on a world somewhere below us.”

As it is, Patchwork is more a story of Pumpkin and her father Joseph Sakavungo, a self-made millionaire and shameless braggart and philanderer that very much reminds me of Kosiya Kifefe in Arthur Gakwandi’s novel by that title. Sakavungo endures poverty and early rejection. At one point he slept alone in a dorm meant for six because, “No one wanted to share a room with someone from a tribe that was only fit to empty buckets from pit latrines. I was a shit-carrier. That’s what they called us.”

He gets the last laugh though, and boasts: “Life has a way of coming full circle. The same people that refused to share a room with me come to me today, asking for loans. And you know what? I give them…I give them the money and look them straight in the face.”

Sakavungo shares with Kifefe a matchless weakness for women and both are incapable of making emotional sacrifices or taking responsibility for the pain they inflict on others, thinking money and power is all that matters. They rise from nothing to great wealth and join politics only to die before they fully relish its benefits (Kosiya dies celebrating his ministerial appointment and Sakavungo dies after losing a presidential election).

Overall, Banda-Aaku’s first novel is about a political and morally decadent society bustling with unloved children –a result of broken homes. The gulf between the rich and the poor is irreconcilable, prostitution and drunkardness, violence and betrayal rule, old men prey on young girls causing teenage pregnancies, alienation and death. Talk of street brawls and episodes of bravado as women nearly pluck out each other’s eyes over men, and go as far as settling their scores through witchcraft. And the imperialist is still blamed for all the adversities in the land. As a line on the cover sums it up, “this novel is a patchwork of love, jealousy and human frailty set against a backdrop of war and political ambition.”

It evokes the need to face the good and the ugly, and teaches that to coexist we must love. Patchwork was launched in Kampala on Thursday October 27, by the African Writers Trust.

--Saturday Monitor, November 12, 2011

A passionate evening of literature


Fine readings and edifying jokes from the cream of the Ugandan literati distinguished the public reading occasion at the Uganda Museum last Thursday.

Organised by the African Writers Trust (AWT) with support from the British Council Uganda, the literary evening was a culmination of two writing workshops from AWT to upcoming writers selected from three universities (Makerere, Kyambogo and Uganda Christian University Mukono) and independent writers –not attached to any academic institution or writing organisation, that for two weeks were offered professional writing skills with emphasis on the importance of words and mastering their chosen language of creativity.

“We at AWT share the same values with British Council Uganda, of promotion of literature, writing and language,” said AWT director Goretti Kyomuhendo, who founded AWT in 2009 to bring together African writers on the continent and the Diaspora to foster learning and information sharing.

Ms Kyomuhendo said today’s generation of writers are lucky they can easily meet acclaimed authors and get inspired. In her time, she said, it was difficult because there were few literary organisations and events that would attract writers or lecturers of writing like Doreen Baingana, Glaydah Namukasa, Sr. Dominic Dipio, Dr Patrick Mangeni, Dr Susan Kiguli, Dr Richard Watulo and British-Zambian writer Ellen Banda-Aaku, who were all in the house. She evoked laughter when she admitted the first time she met Chinua Achebe in 1999, she asked if she could touch him!
“AWT is keen to extend the impact of these workshops with more mentoring activities, and we plan to publish the stories generated during the workshops,” she said.

Excerpts from creative works produced during the workshops were read out to the guests, who savoured every bit judging by the applause the readers received. These were completely varied pieces but all touching on the theme of childhood memory, stories written compellingly because they were drawn from experiences well remembered.

“In our neighbourhood, you did not have friends if you did not have money…” began Ishta Nandi’s story while Sophie Bamwoyeraki’s poem, A Handful of Fresh Leaves reminisces about the radio bringing “into our homes Donna Summer and Abba…”
Ishta Nandi reads, with Ellen Banda-Aaku keenly watching while Goretti Kyomuhendo is engrossed in her papers. Next to Banda-Aaku is British Council Uganda boss Hugh Moffat.

And you will never believe Umeme’s not afraid of writers! Just when Irene Kahunde of U.C.U. was reading The Bubble, there was a blackout. British Council Uganda Director Hugh Moffatt slipped away and returned with two candles.

“Fantastic! Now we’ve a candle-lit reading,” cooed Doreen Baingana who was seated behind me.

Meanwhile a generator was powered, and soon all eyes were on the workshops leader and star of the night, Ellen Banda-Aaku as she read two extracts from her novel Patchwork, winner of the 2010 Penguin Prize for African Writing.

Banda-Aaku who has also published three children’s books and holds a master’s degree in creative writing, is the winner of the first AWT Fellowship for which she will spend six weeks in Uganda mentoring more university student writers, and crown it all by leading the November 14 to 25 Femrite Regional Writers Conference alongside our own literary superstar Baingana, that will have writers from South Africa, Namibia, Tunisia, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Uganda.

Patchwork was launched in Uganda that night, and Banda-Aaku said words that every hungry young writer present returned home with: “We should have the passion to write, the ability to persevere and the professionalism to excel.”

--Saturday Monitor, November 12, 2011

Hotsteps breathes life into boring evenings


We were having a good time on the evening of Independence Day when one of us, Britter, excused herself saying she couldn’t miss Hotsteps. She didn’t know it but what she did was a big statement at the magnetising power of the reality danceshow.

With local content on our small screens continuing to be paltry, Hotsteps was seemingly birthed to save the day, though its great reception has everything to do with the professionalism behind it, and its great promise to the talented who may not have the knack for academics, or have with a profound love for dancing as well. Ask Season I winner, Antonio Bukhar who has since maximised his fame and fortune to open his own dance studio where he’s said to be minting a lot more.

Yes, with the ultimate prize of Shs10m, the competition is fiercer than ever, with the dancers bringing rarer novelty and nimbleness and dynamism to the dance floor. And with judges –Roger Mugisha of KFM (who I hear was a dexterous dancer back in his heyday) and Ronnie Mulindwa (the man whose face is synonymous with growth of modern dance in Uganda thanks for starting the Obsessions dance troupe) –doing everything to keep the competitors busy and viewers glued to their screens.

It all started with regional auditions, where the most hilarious and absurd parodies of what is watched in American music videos, the craziest stunts and dance moves are to be witnessed. And you know what after? The Facebookers delivered their own verdict –that the people of western Uganda simply cannot dance!

Anyhow, those that were lucky to make the cut, are pulling out their best because the fourth season has no room for commonplace footwork. And the hotsteppers know it because they are pulling out their best. And with the variety of dances –foreign and local – and the glut of exceptional moves, the viewer cannot help but get mesmerised.

Catch the Hotsteps on NTV every Sunday at 8p.m.

--Saturday Monitor, October 12, 2011

News broadcasts leave alot to be desired


There’s an irritating practice that has infiltrated Uganda’s broadcast industry and is becoming acceptable unless it’s dealt a fatal blow once and for all. It’s understandable that more news items are sourced from the local community where the degree of literacy and English comprehension is scanty, but if you are going to mix two languages in the same newscast use subtitles. If it’s English news at 1pm, then don’t adulterate it with Luganda because not every viewer is bilingual in English and Luganda.

It does not stop there. Sometimes the wrong video clip for the right news item is shown, not forgetting this tendency of showing complicated graphs when dealing with issues of national interest, and indecipherable shapes when it comes to weather forecasts. This makes you gasp at the faith our news managers have in the comprehension of the average Ugandan viewer!

More flabbergasting though is news anchors losing their breaths and stumbling over words even when the news presentation is not live. Editors and producers need to work closely with reporters to ensure stories are well-written, well-edited, well-packaged, and to approve all content before it’s aired.

Evidently, more journalists should be deployed to cover related angles especially when reporting on national concerns like load-shedding, striking public servants and oil contracts. But in our typical broadcast industry, multitasking has gone down the drain whereby reporters are made to record their scripts, edit, assemble them and sometimes anchor the news all in one. No wonder the bloopers are seemingly endless.

Although NTV and WBS try to beam the best graphics/pictures to add visual appeal to and enhance the viewer’s understanding of the relayed content, while others are dismally limping so much that their footage is there to serve the purpose of merely filling airtime!

As it is, the moving pictures (action) makes television the most powerful source of news. So content managers and reporters must strive, always, for excellence and professionalism. Take off time and pick a lesson or two from how those BBC/CNN professionals approach and execute general reportage.

--Saturday Monitor, September 24, 2011

Thursday, November 10, 2011

It’s all about guts


In the “haven of peace” that is Dar es Salaam, is the Benjamin William Mkapa Pension Tower, the tallest skyscraper in this commercial capital of Tanzania that houses the famous Paradise City Hotel. The hotel is owned by a Ugandan entrepreneur, Justus Baguma, who at the height of the East African community talk in 2003, stepped on Tanzanian soil, and two years later, established the four-star hotel after leasing the multi-million US dollar complex from Tanzania’s National Social Security Fund (NSSF).

Hotel magnate Mr. Justus Baguma in his office in Dar
“I love to serve and I love good things,” Mr Baguma reveals the drive behind his hotel business. “I have lived in most expensive hotels and I always wanted to own mine, and today, I employ about 200 people in this country.”

Chanced meet
On a business trip to Tanzania early this year, I booked into the 72-suite hotel, clueless it’s owned by a Ugandan. On the third day of my stay, I jumped into the lift to go to my room on the sixth floor, and therein met a man who greeted me politely and asked how I was finding it at the hotel. With the ergonomic facilities I had enjoyed from day one, and the fantastic continental breakfast I had just consumed and the sweet smile of waitress that served me still etched on my mind, I found myself saying: “This place’s sure a paradise away from home!”

Turns out, I was speaking to the managing director of the hotel himself! And when he learned I’m Ugandan, he shook my hand excitedly, and invited me to his office where we spoke, like long-lost-finally-reunited-buddies, on life back home.

Ingredients to success
From his unassuming and friendly disposition, it was easy to figure out why it’s difficult for such a man to fail. Baguma is a “man of the people” who prefers “dealing with ordinary people because they can be trained and trusted to do a better job than professional managers that always walk out on you.”

The husky-voiced hotelier was born in Mbarara, 62 years ago, and studied business at Kyambogo. In 1986, he went to the United Kingdom for a Masters degree in Business Studies.

“A rocky road to success, rags to riches –that’s me,” he says quietly. “I’m a self-made man. I believe in hard work. I believe in comparing notes and I believe in challenges.”

The greatest ingredient to success, he said, is guts. The guts to take tough decisions, the guts not to quit when the going gets rough. Blunders characterised his early business days. “I used to get excited,” he confesses, “I would involve people in all sorts of business ventures without doing thorough research. We would lose all our money and they would blame me. That was my major challenge until I decided to do it alone.”

In 2001, Baguma attempted to bring McDonalds, the American fast food chain to Uganda, but it didn’t work. He retreated to the drawing board and made another strategy that birthed Paradise City Hotel. He uses the metaphor of death to describe the investment mistakes from which the real business men rise to make it.

Experience has also taught him that generosity is invaluable. “Someone comes and says ‘I want to stay here, but I don’t have that kind of money.’ What do you do? You have workers to pay, and rent, but you look at the empty room and give him accommodation.”

And when he begins to talk about God, in the success equation, you might mistake him for a pastor as this paragraph demonstrates. “God is one and we are all his children and when we seek Him diligently, He’ll be able to answer our prayers. I’ve tried to do things my way, depending on myself, and it doesn’t work. But when I’ve tried Him, I’ve seen doors open. I see His hand of protection and mercy doing things for me.”

With oil on home soil, Baguma plans to spreads his investment wings to Uganda. “Tanzania is governed without tribal differences and I pray Uganda forgets about ethnic boundaries and unites toward the development of this country. What should unite us is one thing; one God. God is love. Bring love closer, you can even invest in Russia or anywhere in the world. You give love you’ll be given love. Instability is a setback to development.”

Outside business and playing golf, the hotel magnate tries to find time to bond with his wife, Eulogia, a fashion designer. “She has been an inspiration in bringing our six children in a manner that’s expected and admirable. That in itself has been a big support on my side because if I had worries here and there, worries at home, I would not be here. I thank God because He has been able to protect us, guide and increase us in wisdom.”

The interview ends with his word to fellow businessmen. “If you know you’ve made yourself a successful entrepreneur, you need to fight day and night not to lose it. Once you lose it, it’s over.”

---Sunday Monitor, October 23, 2011

Ssali, Ssekamate and Kabuleta are spot on


Tonight is the night the Uganda Cranes must break the 34-year barrier and whup the Harambee Stars to qualify for the African Cup of Nations next year! This was the preeminent subject of discussion on WBS’s Sport On programme last Sunday.

Show host Mark Ssali and his team of analysts Joseph Kabuleta and Allan Sekamate, have earned their plaudits as Uganda’s best sports pundits, with Ssali sometimes hired by the BBC. Forget the misleading paroxysms of most Luganda sports commentators that shout “goal” when there is no goal!

Ssali, Kabuleta and Ssekamate know their game inside out and have actually transformed sports journalism in Uganda into a fun thing with their upbeat commentary and articulate on-field experiences.

And during their Sunday show, they advised our players not to panic when they, God forbid, concede an early goal, but to attack more and strive for victory no matter what. They also have to aim for an early lead, and do their best to protect it to the last whistle.

Ugandan soccer maniacs are known to be overtly critical, but Kabuleta said we must for once forget all that tonight because tonight is the night that Uganda Cranes need us like never before. We must yell, scream, ululate, dance and blow all the trumpets we can in support of our players. As Ssekamate avidly put it, “The adrenalin of the crowds has been known to inspire players to play their best game and deliver goals.”

Good thing nothing jazzes the Ugandan like soccer, and so far so good. Everywhere you turn: on the radio, on TV, in a taxi, and even on the streets, you hear the deafening chorus of “We go we go! Uganda Cranes we go! We’ve to win we go!” with many already clad in yellow jerseys written on Uganda in the most visible show of patriotism to be witnessed in the recent past.

More good news, UBC has mounted its cameras and will be bringing the game live to the viewer that will not be at Nambole. The overall anticipation fits Grantland Rice’s observation that “the drama of sport is a big part of the drama of life, and the scope of this drama is endless.” Be sure to catch the best after-match review and analysis on WBS’s Sport-On tomorrow night after the 9pm news.

--Saturday Monitor, October 8, 2011

Entertainment show hosts need to up their game


Talking show business on the small screen, it is pretty much predictable that every week, there’s almost nothing to look forward to. From WBS’s Showtime Magazine to NBS’s Pundonor Magazine and NTV’s Login, these shows revolve around the same storyline. Could be Moses Golola flaunting Sharon O’s handbag, Sean Kingston hitting town, Chameleon becoming Gadaffi, or Bebe Cool and Bobi Wine staging shows on the same day in a bid to see who still pulls the crowds.

My editor thinks I should be a little more positive, but how can I when the bulk of entertainment fans that have already had enough of this stuff in the gossip pages of newspapers and on the internet, are subjected to the same stuff by these show-hosts, moreover, mostly, delivered superficially; in synthetic sing-song voices with plastic smiles and forced accents!

Sometimes, the viewer is forced to mute the volume of the telly and be content watching those pretty things that haunt these entertainment scenes in a quest for fame or the thrill of rubbing shoulders with Uganda’s “happening” celebrities. Evidently most of them get a kick out of appearing on the front page of smut tabloids smooching with that one-hit wonder whose song still rules the local charts.

Seriously, our showbiz presenters need to up their game. NBS’s host of Pundonor, Precious Mable has a certain sweetness and naturalness about her except she desperately needs the services of a smart script-writer, plus she needs to polish up her interviewing skills.

Susan Nava who hosts Login every Tuesday night (after the 9:30pm news) is endowed with such looks and a honeyed voice that will keep you glued to the show, or “logged in”! She laughs a lot though, and most of that laughter is mechanical. Slow down girl, you have chemistry with the camera, and your flow is desirable. I like the one-on-one segment, plus the way you do that “Hear’Say” which is all about celebrity local and international gossip, sets the pace.

The show needs to be extended by at least five minutes so that the producers don’t have to run through the snapshots all in a bid to show a modicum on everything that happen in the entertainment week. Overall, ‘Login’ remains that ray of hope; a show worth “loggin’ in” without missing. If not for anything, at least catch Nava’s end-show trademark: “I’m your host Nava, thank you for watching…I’m login’ out!”

--Saturday Monitor, October 1, 2011

Baingana returns home to share literary experience


There’s probably no contemporary Ugandan fiction writer as decorated as Doreen Baingana. Her clout has everything to do with her 2006 Commonwealth literary prize winner for Africa –Tropical Fish: Tales from Entebbe –a collection of six linked stories about three sisters and the divergences that characterise their life journey. This nostalgic work is not only a captivating commentary on what makes people take different paths in life but equally embodies the quality and maturity of writing, rare in Ugandan works.
A year after garnering the prestigious accolade, Baingana packed her bags and returned home from the US where she had lived for over a decade. I bumped into her at a Femrite writers’ workshop in 2008 and she told me she was crafting her first novel. Soon after, she disappeared from the radar, leaving her tantalised readers anxiously waiting for the promised novel.

It’s the same mysteriousness with which she vanished that she resurfaced at the opening of this year’s Femrite literary week in July. Turns out she had been working in Nairobi as Managing Editor at Story Moja. It is evident how much the Kenyan experience has changed her. The heavy and withdrawn Baingana of 2008 is today a radiantly lean and effervescent woman that gladly obliged to strike me a ‘seductive’ pose when it was time to take her picture.

When we met at the National Theatre restaurant for this interview, she had come in from a swimming session and told me how crazy she’s about dancing. The single mother of a three-year-old son loves her independence, and says writing is such a consuming passion –the reason she will not marry. Still, I could not help thinking how slow we Ugandan men must be that none has swept this urbane and erudite beauty off her feet and charmed her into changing her stance on marriage.

Well, Baingana is back home as the new Chairperson of Femrite. All eyes will be on how she will apply her literary expertise and global experience to improve the quality of the overall output of Uganda’s most active literary organisation and help take home-baked literature to the mountaintop.

She's pro the theory that “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration” –her unflagging belief being that quality does not come by osmosis but through passion and a willingness to read widely and work hard enough. That she is particularly inspired by the works of African-American writer Toni Morrison, the first black woman to win a Nobel Prize in Literature (1993) is another pointer to the lyrical prose and literary profundity she wants Femrite writers to strive for.

Born in Entebbe, Baingana left the country in 1989 for Italy from where the process of putting words together in form of letters to her family stirred the writer in her with such intensity that she has never really disentangled herself. When she went to study and live in the US, she hounded poetry sessions; fascinated by the sheer beauty and intricacies of that genre. She also links her love of writing to the “wonderful times at Gayaza High School where teachers made books alive and showed us how to relate to our lives.”

The rest you have heard it all; how she shelved her law degree for fiction; weaving works with moving storylines and a rare spark of originality that her contemporaries could only dream about. To understand her literary sway, you have to peek at her trophy trove which includes the Association of Writers & Writing Prize (AWP) for Short Fiction, the Washington Independent Writers’ Fiction Prize, on top of the Commonwealth Prize, and cake all that with her 10 years as an editor for Voice of America (V.O.A).

With all that distinction and exposure, it comes as potent news for patriots and books freaks alike that Baingana resigned her job at Story Moja and returned home “for good” because “I love my country; east, west home is best, and I wanted to bring up my child in Uganda –he has already learned the national anthem!” Also, her preoccupations were making it impossible for her to focus on full-time writing, which is now doing on top of part-time editing.

She was commissioned by the Chinua Achebe Centre for African Writers to write a travelogue about Somaliland, but she is also working on a fictionalised account of a female rebel leader: “I am interested in how she manoeuvres her way to the top position in a male domain such as war; particularly what goes inside her head –the psychological underpinning.”

This could be the book she promised in 2008, the book by which her novel-writing competences will be gauged, or will she continue to be distinguished for the luster and force of her short stories?

--Saturday Monitor,  October 1, 2001

Monday, August 22, 2011

Jazz with Isaiah


The latest television show to watch out for is Jazz with Isaiah after the Friday 9pm NTV news. Its uniqueness is not in its exclusivity as a jazz show but in the little surprises and live performance skits that epitomize the show. 

Isaiah Katumwa
Did you for example know that Senior Presidential Advisor on ICT Dr. Ham Mulira is an accomplished pianist? Yes, he was Isaiah Katumwa’s guest last Friday as they shared their love and passion for jazz music. Turns out Dr. Mulira has played the piano since he was 10 but is so good at it that he has played for on stage for South African jazz legend Miriam Makeba!

Anyhow, Isaiah’s jazz show debunks the notion that jazz is a complicated genre that can only be appreciated by the equally sophisticated. For the three times I’ve watched this 30-minute show, I’ve fallen in love with jazz, because of the creativity, skilfulness and emotiveness that goes into this genre. 

Isaiah opens his show with a piece from the classics; could be something from Grover Washington, or Hugh Masekela or even Isaiah himself; something intimate and wistful to warm up the soul, making you recline deeper in the sofa to enjoy the rest of the show. Soon, the men in the studio are chatting away in so relaxed a manner you forget this is an interview. There are lots of light moments too. For example when Isaiah asked Dr. Mulira what his best jazz piece of all time is, and he replied that it’s actually Isaiah’s My Joy, the host, visibly flattered said, “Are you sure you’re not just being polite to me?” It was a brilliant light moment.  

The spontaneity of the host is also admirable. One moment he’s asking ‘what’s your take on jazz’ and next he’s saying “let’s play something!” When Dr. Muhira tickled the keys of the keyboard dexterously, a tantalized Isaiah picked up his saxophone, and soon the room was infused with poignant sounds that betrayed their emotional attachment to instrumental jazz.  

This is the show that initiates the amateur into the real world of jazz; from the different styles and the emotion that is poured in, you learn that jazz, like good poetry, is purely a heart thing. 

The show also has a segment where the interviewer gets to be interviewed! When he got his chance, Dr. Mulira asked what instrument besides the saxophone Isaiah would choose given chance. He said piano, because “it’s delicate especially when you want to hear something sensitive, quiet yet powerful,” and admitted how the seductive sounds of a piano sometimes bring tears to his eyes! 

No doubt Jazz with Isaiah is bound to popurize jazz music in Uganda like never before. It’s a show that should teach station managers to pick show-hosts as passionate and knowledgeable in their areas of interest as is Isaiah about jazz.   

--Saturday Monitor, August 20, 2011               

Monday, August 15, 2011

When one must move on

After over a decade of wooing listeners with her distinctive voice, former Capital FM news anchor Patricia Okoed Bukumunhe is moving on. Dennis D. Muhumuza divulges what made her exceptional.

After 14 years at the helm of news presentation on radio, maybe it was about time Patricia Okoed Bukumunhe left, but one sure thing her ardent fans are going to miss is her distinctive voice. She joined 91.3 Capital FM as a first-year university student (1997), starting off as a weekend anchor/reporter, and because of the zeal and fastidiousness she poured into her job, it didn’t take long for the towering anchorwoman to scale the ranks to news editor and staff presenter.

Patricia Okoed Bukumunhe
More Ugandan broadcast personalities have gained notoriety for “prostituting” from radio/television station to another and back, but Okoed cleaved to Capital FM; covering everything there is; the usually crazy elections, hosting celebrities and handling the daily buzz feeling of not knowing what to expect each day.

The beginning
For someone who joined as a girl, graduated, got married and garnered quite a following, you would think it was a till-death-do-us-part with the station. But in a world where even the seemingly most solid Christian marriage does crumble, it was only a matter of time before her affair with the station got severed. Maybe the word “severed” carries negative connotations, seeing she says, “it was mutually agreed” that she could move on to quench her thirst for “fresher challenges on an International platform” –which she has done by moving to Juba on a new job, still in the broadcast industry, but whose details she would rather not divulge for now.

As it is, this third-born in a family of five did not stumble into radio. It was her childhood dream and vow to work in radio even if it meant doing it outside her beloved motherland. So when private FM stations were legalised in 1996, the then high school student quickly seized the moment to fulfill her dream; her first stint being at the then Radio Sanyu where she co-hosted “Holiday Line” with Hussein Lumumba every holiday, Monday-Friday from 3-4pm.

It was while she pursued her Bachelor’s degree in Social Work and Social Administration (SWASA) at Makerere University that Capital FM snapped her up with a better offer. Driven by the life philosophy –“Reach for the stars, nothing is impossible” –the leggy prodigy quickly debunked the notion that excellence on Ugandan radio is exclusive to the club of Namasagali College alumni -the likes of Linda Kibombo, Alex Ndawula, Irene Ochwo and the late “hitman DJ Ronnie” –Ronald Sempangi, by the zing and oomph she put in the news bulletin, making it interesting to listen to. It’s no wonder that her leaving has punched news-lovers, particularly those who were simply disarmed by her voice. Val Oketcho of Sanyu FM mourned on Moses Serugo’s wall that he was “gonna miss that voice,” whereas famed DJ Alex Ndawula insists Patricia’s “command of English and polished delivery of news is second to none in Ugandan media!”

Escaping scandal
In a small city where tabloid scandals on celebrities can hardly escape the eye of a reader, it’s amazing that Patricia escaped unscathed. It says something about her discipline, although some would say it was her reclusive nature that saved her face. Yet being a recluse, she says, is another misconception people have about her.

“I’m a very social person but not just into the conventional Ugandan life of partying and going out,” she says. “I like to travel, spend time with family, listen to good music and watch something nice.”

Her taste for the quintessential is felt in the way she justifies her all-time favourite movie, Waiting to Exhale starring looker and vocal stunner Whitney Houston.

“Besides having a great soundtrack, this movie perfectly exposes the vulnerability, strength and susceptibility of a woman.” she says. “If you have watched the movie yourself you will agree that each character is built on one of these characters which I believe all women have within.”

Married to Timothy Bukumunhe with two daughters, the 34-year-old was born in Mombasa and started school in Kenya before relocating to New York City where her father was posted as a diplomat. The “close-knit family” returned to Uganda in the late 80s. Here she joined Kitante Primary School, Gayaza High School and on Makerere University.

She’s grateful particularly to her parents who brought her up to realise “the importance of hard work, loyalty and family.”

She draws inspiration from “within” but connects her success to “fearing God and praying dedicatedly.”

As Uganda’s broadcast business continues to grow with the proliferation of competing radio and television stations, those considering a career in the industry have to step up their game. To prospective anchors, the secret is in versatility. Advises Patricia: “News reading is not enough to make you employable; you must have other strengths and skills in editing, collecting and production.” 

Finding unity in music and dance

Milton Wabyona, founder of Uganda Heritage Roots, an organisation that uses Ugandan traditional music, dance and folklore to rehabilitate street children, believes that nothing unites people like music and dance, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza

A resolve to make it against all the odds is never in vain. That’s the conviction you get after hearing Milton Wabyona’s life story. It’s a story of a boy who lost his parents as a child and whose struggles made him realise early that to excel would propel him to a better destiny.

Milton Wabyona
An unlikely path
Indeed it is academic excellence that earned him a scholarship at Hoima High School. But after S.4, it seemed the end of the road-no tuition to proceed to high school. He became a fisherman in Lake Victoria but gave up a year later, returning home in Hoima, to dig.

One bright mid-morning, while riding his bicycle to the market, he chanced upon an audition session for traditional dancers. He auditioned and won his place in the African Village Cultural Dance Group.

It was the beginning of real promise in the life of the lad, a promise that began to take shape when one of his trainers advised the lanky orphan to consider pursuing music and dance professionally.

Picking the cue, he borrowed high school text books and took to assiduous reading. It had been his childhood dream to become an engineer but in the circumstances he decided studying arts was the easy way to a better future. In 1997, he sat for his UACE examinations, scored 13 points, and eureka - was admitted on government sponsorship for a diploma in music, dance and drama at Makerere University!

His adroitness as a dancer and leader was spotted by Ndere Troupe who snatched him up. Meanwhile he got a first class diploma, and was immediately sent to Norway on a cultural exchange program, in which he facilitated workshops for people with mental problems –what’s called rehabilitation theatre.

“My stint in Norway made me realise the potential in me as a performing artist, and the potential of the performing arts to transform distressed lives,” he says.

On returning in 2000, Wabyona embarked on a fully sponsored bachelors’ degree in music, graduating three years later with another first class.

Making a difference in lives
He stepped into the world focused on using his experience and knowledge to touch lives. He registered the Uganda Heritage Roots (UHR), an organisation that uses Ugandan traditional music, dance and folklore to rehabilitate street children and other disadvantaged young people that have had the misfortune of living without a proper home.

“We get these rejected and dejected children and train them to fit in the social cultural setup of the Ugandan society; bringing them to a point of self-belief; that they are capable of using their skills to change their lives for the better. Some have gone on to start their own groups like Peace Children Africa,” says Wabyona.

You probably have seen them performing at state functions, the most recent being at Heroes Day where they were the main entertainment group alongside the UPDF. And last year, these children collaborated with Mileage Jazz Band in a performance at Serena Conference Centre, and have presented before international audiences in China, Norway and the United States.

“I’ve learnt that nothing unites people like music and dance,” says Wabyona. “There are no wounds that cannot be healed by a combination of ekizino of Kigezi, laraka-raka of the Acholi to Bakisimba from Buganda among other traditional dances.”

He is happy that traditional music and performance is fast out-competing western music at weddings and other functions, which translates to more earnings and a better life for the composers and performers.

Award winner
And because of his work, Wabyona won a Ford Foundation fellowship and is mastering music composition and performance at the University of Kansas.
Some of the members of Uganda Heritage Roots, during a rehearsal
“I’m using western music art to apply to our music so it can fit in a wider setting,” he says.

“A conscious family man married to the world’s prettiest woman, Naomi, ” Wabyona believes his life is a miracle from God without whom he would not have achieved as much, and became a born-again Christian to show his appreciation. His belief in God is so entrenched that he has turned the classic Christian hymn, Abide with Me, into the group’s prayer before and after rehearsals.

Literature is his weapon against child sacrifice

He would have been an expert in the field of fisheries, but Oscar Katumwa felt he could be of better use to his society if he used his creativity to fight some of the evils like child sacrifice, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza

He may not be a celebrity even by Ugandan standards but Oscar “Ranzo” Katumwa is hard to ignore. There’s much to say about a man who trained in fisheries only to end up selling cloths and turning words into money, but you’re reading about him today because of a nobler cause: using creative literature to eliminate child sacrifice in Uganda!

Oscar "Ranzo" Katumwa
In fact, you could say creativity define this man. First from the way he turned his first name around; angling ‘c’ to form ‘n’ and twisting ‘s’ to produce ‘z’ all in a bid to invent his artistic name – Ranzo – which he calls “the mirror image of Oscar!” Not forgetting “oscCcar’s” –the fashion shop he opened to “make smartness easy for the busy.”

The corporate bunch, too lazy to go shopping, phones him, and after interviewing them, he ascertains their fashion taste and does their bidding!

“I’m not a style guru but I grew up around people who make cloths so I developed a good eye for cloths at a young age,” he says. “I also follow the fashion trends to stay on top of my game.”

Born in Jinja, Oscar lost his father at the age of four, and was raised with his six brothers by an indomitable mother who taught them all domestic chores. He attended Namilyango Junior and St. Mary’s College, Kisubi, where he studied Physics, Chemistry and Biology, and later pursued a course in fisheries. It was his mother’s wish, but Katumwa’s heart had long been seduced by something deeper –creative fiction.

And just last year, drawing from the gory press reports of child sacrifices, Katumwa got inspiration for a fictional story of a little girl who’s kidnapped to be sacrificed by two evil-wealth-hungry men, but is saved seconds before her head is chopped off. That’s how Saving Little Viola came worn; a book that quickly caught the eye of Alison Naftalin of Lively Minds, a community-based organisation working to improve the quality of life for deprived children of Uganda. And it’s this moving story that got Katumwa appointed the coordinator of Lively Minds Child Sacrifice Prevention Programme, a Unicef-funded project that aims at tackling the mindsets and behaviours sustaining child sacrifice.

A research conducted in over 200 schools in Jinja and Mukono revealed that over 80 per cent of the pupils interviewed believed child sacrifice, and not hard work, is the secret to riches.

“It’s alarming that children have been made to believe that the sacrifice of children brings wealth so we use the story of little Viola to change that mindset,” says Katumwa. “The book exposes the harm that child sacrifice causes and contains key facts about child sacrifice and questions to aid recollection and strengthen the child’s understanding of the story. During the reading sessions, we engage children in a discussion that stimulates critical thinking in them. Six schools in Jinja have benefited from this project, and 36 schools more are being targeted before the program is made national.”

He says there is a glaring nonexistence of children and adult fiction on Uganda’s contemporary experience: “Most of the children’s stories on the market are old folk tales with strange animals and weird foreign characters that are difficult for the natives to identify with; there’s hunger for good stories dealing with Ugandan subjects,” he says.

To bridge this gap, Katumwa is writing a novel Skeleton, and his collection of short stories under the title Cross Pollination, about the sexual network. Most of Oscar’s short stories deal with the frustrations of life with tragic, sometimes surprising end twists. Ugly Beauty, is for example a classic example of never judging a book by its cover.

His stories also deal with infidelity and promiscuity and the ramifications associated with leading a dissolute life. The loneliness of most his protagonists arguably come from his personal life; growing up as a young man without a father. His father was kidnapped in 1984, and he has never been seen again. Katumwa also subconsciously borrows something from his icon - the poignant beauty of Bernard Malamud’s stories, about the experiences of poor Jewish people in America struggling to make it against all odds.

Influenced locally by Lillian Tindyebwa, particularly by her novel Recipe for Disaster (1994), Katumwa’s overriding ambition is to become a full-time writer. He humorously alludes to The alchemist to the effect that since he wants this badly, “forces of nature will conspire to make it come true!”

--Sunday Monitor, July 24, 2011

A time to read Uganda


The question that has long confounded Uganda’s literary community is why home literature, which is an expression of our identity, continues to be relegated on the national school curriculum in favour of the likes of Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice among other foreign works. 

A poem in the making during the literary workshop
Ugandan schools still follow the curriculum structure put in place by colonial masters almost 50 years ago, giving British literature premium. Currently, there are only two Ugandan books for O’level and two for A’level on the syllabus. Moreover, there is no guarantee that these books are taught by the teachers. They are just a part of many other foreign books that are preferred by teachers because they have sufficient study material online.

At a recent literary seminar organised by the Uganda Female Writers Association (Femrite), as part of their 2011 literary week celebrations, the head of Literature and English at the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC), Angella Kyagaba, was cornered into explaining why so many works of acclaim and contemporary relevance by Ugandan writers have not been considered. Her explanation that William Shakespeare’s works continue to dominate Uganda’s literature syllabus because Shakespeare is the father of the British drama, was more than shocking.

Femrite coordinator, Hilda Twongyeirwe challenged her and authorities in our education sector to recognise Ugandan literature by giving it priority on the teaching syllabus. “Much as these books by Shakespeare and the like should remain on the syllabus, room should be given to Ugandan Literature as well,” argued Ms. Twongyeirwe, “How else shall we grow our own literature when it is not deliberately given space in the academic discussions?”

In the end, Ms Kyagaba conceded that NCDC would restructure the Literature syllabus to have a compulsory section of Ugandan literature. This means the choice of books to teach in this section will be from Ugandan books only.

Information and National Guidance Minister, Mary Karoro Okurut who is also the founder of Femrite, excited the literati by pledging to use her influence to push for more Ugandan books to be put on the literature syllabus. She bought 100 copies of the Never Too Late anthology to distribute to secondary schools in her constituency. Parents were also challenged to get involved in the promotion of Ugandan authored books by stocking their home libraries with such books and inspiring their children to read them.

The launch of Never Too Late, the latest collection of 15 short stories, was another highlight of the literary week. Edited by Dr. Aaron Mushengyezi and Hilda Twongyeirwe, the anthology which was written for the teenage audience but appeals to adults as well, addresses issues like teenage pregnancies, child abuse in homes, drug abuse, among others, all representing the desire for change for a better society.

It was a full house at the Uganda Museum where the launch took place, with students attending the weekly event in multitudes, a clear signal that they love reading, and since a reading culture goes with a writing culture, the country’s literary industry is guaranteed to blossom even more.

Award winning author Dr Graham Mort, who was behind the British Council writers programme, Crossing Borders, that helped promote budding Ugandan writers, was the chief guest at the literary week and shared his life story; how he was transformed by the experience of reading. He described Never Too Late, as an embodiment of literature that transforms society; stories that are relevant, shaping our life and beliefs as a people.

The literary week was crowned on Friday July 8, with a bonfire night attended by over 50 literary enthusiasts including the newly elected Femrite chairperson and 2006 commonwealth literature prize winner, Doreen Baingana. After paying an entry fee of Shs5,000, participants won books and other prizes in a raffle, but all the proceeds went to Loving Hearts Baby’s Home.

But the real icing on the literary cake was the exhilarating short-story readings and poetry recitals. Prof. Graham Mort himself read from his award-winning poetry book Visibility, and from Uganda’s golden era of literature (1960s-70s) came poet Prof Laban Erapu who recited several poems from his new collection of unpublished poetry.

--Saturday Monitor, July 23, 2011.

The joys and pains of travelling at night

Thankfully, night travel shields you from the sight of saliva dribbling from neighbours’ mouths and when the snoring begins, you plug your earphones in the right place to block that unpleasant noise, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza

I love night travel. It’s dark inside the bus and the road is not as busy as daytime. I love sitting by the window and opening it a little so the fresh air outside can gush in and blow tender kisses all over my face.
There’s no beauty like the heavenly firmament so I get to peep at the sky and watch the radiant stars break-dance to the rhythm of accelerating tyres on the tarmac.
There's no place like home!
The signals are strong so you facebook and chat up some lonesome girl at the end of the world. When she’s the slow type, you sign out without warning and call home to say you are seconds away. You visualise your little sister warming up your meal of yams and beans with a loving heart, because big brother is arriving any minute.

There’s a way the sexual impulse usually gets travellers ogling the beautiful girl next seat, but during night travel, all that is forgotten. The only thing you can see is a silhouette of her face, distorted by the phone light while she’s busy texting her boyfriend, probably.

And have you noticed how passengers love to sleep on long journeys? Thankfully, night travel shields you from the sight of saliva dribbling from the corners of their mouths and when the snoring begins, you plug the earphones in the right place to block that unpleasant noise!

During a recent trip to western Uganda, I sat next to a girl who, for the first part of the journey, was so lost in her own thoughts that I could hardly hear her breath. A lover of my space and peace, I couldn’t help thanking God for this quiet neighbour.

But the moment the bus made a stopover in Lukaya and the lights flipped on, she started stealing oblique glances at me. That’s when I noticed something uncanny about her. She slid one of her fingers in one of the ravines of her nose and returned it with a clot that she wiped on her polka dot blouse! When she was not sliding said finger in her nostrils, she would shove it in one of her ears and jiggle it there vigorously while producing some weird muffled noise.

My name’s Peninah,” is how she introduced herself and kept her eyes on me in a way I found shameless. It’s here that this muhiima, all the way from Rushere (Sevo’s villa) bought herself two chicken legs and gave me a piece. She refused to buy the explanation that I don’t eat while travelling: “Look at how long and thin those legs are,” I said, pointing at her chicken, “That’s not chicken thigh or leg! You’ve been ripped off my, lady, you’ve been sold kaloli meat!”

She broke into such loud hilarious laughter that everything in her being shook. Amid tears, she said it was surprisingly funny that any person out there could believe this old story. She made a big show of digging into her meat and smacked her lips, enjoying every delicious bit of it. Soon, her mouth was shining and dripping with grease from the chicken. She licked her fingers dry, leaned over to throw her kaveera through the window and burped the rest of the journey!

In Mbarara, she bought me two pieces of maize (she was certainly in a splurging mood) which I again politely declined. I was frankly hungry, and I love roasted maize, but when I saw her oily hands - the very hands on which were the very fingers she had earlier kept busy in her nostrils and ears, my stomach churned. I sighed with relief when she accepted the explanation that maize reminded me of the yellowish, half-cooked been-weevil-infested posho we had endured in high school, and that my stomach was too sensitive for the heavy dose of starch in maize.

She “understood” and with a hint of sexual innuendo, offered to get me something “irresistible” when she got back to Kampala, if I didn’t mind giving her my phone number. I gave her a wrong one and watched her bring the maize to her mouth, munching away while the bus started again on to my destination.

I sighed and let peace reign again, glad that the chubby girl had not succeeded in messing up my love affair with night travel. My mind wandered back to boyhood escapades many years ago, when the game of hide-and-seek still held innocent secrets and good, happy life was all about trapping wild rodents in their deep enclaves!

It was midnight when the coloured lights of the model town beckoned in their fullness in the near distance. The driver hit the horn hard, producing effervescent rhythms that reverberated through Bushenyi town, chastising its natives for going to bed this early. There’s no place like home!

--Sunday Monitor,  July 10, 2011