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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

Bright’s optimism has brightened his life

The blight circumstances of his upbringing may have robbed him of many bright moments, but today, nothing can stop Bright Ntakky Arinaitwe from cheering up the lives of those he encounters, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza

Bright Ntakky Arinaitwe
Through self-sacrifice, humour, poetry recitals, portraiture, stage drama, inspirational speaking and writing, Bright Ntakky is determined to bring a smile on the face of whoever sees his work.

At 25, he’s the author of 7:77…Theirs was a Race Against Time, a novel he wrote while a student at Kyambogo University, where he has just completed his Bachelor’s Degree in Art And Design.

Inspired by his own story, the people he has interacted with and lessons picked, the book draws the reader’s attention to the inevitability of death, reminding you and I that every living person is old enough to die, so we must seize the moment and live each day meaningfully.

The son of the late Godson and Dinah Kamanyiro of Kabale, Ntakky was orphaned at the age of five. While struggling to accept the tragedy, he had to come to terms with seeing his mother toil day and night - juggling two nursing jobs in a government hospital and a clinic to raise him, till she too went to join her creator.

Alone and frightened, Ntakky turned to God at the age of 13 and saw his faith in Christ Jesus rewarded when African Evangelistic Enterprise paid his tuition all through high school. In 2004, shortly before he sat his UACE examinations at Kigezi High School, he fell too ill to complete his papers. Nevertheless, he scored nine points in Physics, Economics, Mathematics and Art (PEM/A) and was admitted to Kyambogo University on a private scheme. Without tuition, Bright became a hawker on the streets of Kabale, but ended up being forced to pay Shs90,000 to Super Sales Company after his wares were stolen. By the close of 2005, the young man was dismally depressed.

“I attended an All Saints Youth Camp, knelt down and prayed,” he recalls. It was a prayer of desperation that paid off. He met the Arch Bishop there, who was moved by his story, sent him to Seroma Christian High School and paid for his A-Level again. It was a new, bright beginning for Ntakky. He dropped PEM for Literature, Economics Divinity and Art (LED/A), completing in 2007. With 22 points, he earned a government-sponsored spot at Kyambogo University. It’s here that the scrabble and chess master formed a group called Laugh-2-Learn, which enlivened campus with drama and stand-up comedy on weekends.

Achieving significance by the age of 25 was his overriding dream, and he realised it early this year with the launch of his novel. The book’s foreword was written by none other than Bishop Zac Niringiye and the launch presided over by retired Supreme Court Justice Patrick Tabalo.

Getting the novel published was itself a Herculean challenge. Ntakky couldn’t find a publisher and had no money to self-publish, so he formed a praying committee that soon brought him a loan of Shs2m. His girlfriend topped that with her tuition (he would pay, later of course) and with Shs3m, the book got published.

As the title suggests, Bright had raced against time and won. “I’m living the dream because I grabbed all the chances life hurled at me. Life gives all of us opportunities and when we don’t seize them, we don’t live complete lives,” he says.

The soft-spoken writer and painter speaks so eruditely you would think he has been through Harvard. He shares a story that embodies his altruism, a story of a poor friend who used to walk to and from Gayaza to Kyambogo University every morning and evening, on an empty stomach.

Says Bright: “I told him, ‘You’ll eat my lunch and I’ll eat only supper, you’ll sleep on my bed at night and I’ll sleep during the day.’ A week to exams, he had not paid tuition, so I mobilised my friends and we moved to halls and hostels and through Kampala and by midnight, we had collected all his tuition from kind people. By the grace of God, he managed to finish and even gave his life to Jesus!”

Now out of university, Bright is painting and drawing more. He has so far done the portraits of Arch Bishop Henry Luke Orombi and the First Lady, Janet Museveni. He’s also writing three books and utilising his acting and oral gifts to counsel and inspire Kampala youth with a positive attitude.

“I want them to learn from some of my experiences and know that they too will make it,” he says. “Life is too short to give it a casual approach; you’ve to work now and get rewarded, or play and pay later!”

--Sunday Monitor, July 3, 2011

As women excel, where are the male writers?


The news of Ugandan writer Beatrice Lamwaka getting short-listed for the 2011 Caine Prize for African writing has generated excitement on social networking sites with more women lavishing praise on her for making women proud, and others boldly prophesying that she’ll on July 11 step into the shoes of Sierra Leone’s Olufemi Terry who scooped the prestigious award last year.
Femrite member Christine Namuli shows of a popular novel by Ugandan female writer Violet Barungi
Of the five writers on the shortlist, three are women. Lamwaka’s achievement has resurrected the long silent debate about the whereabouts of Ugandan male writers who used to rule our literary landscape years ago.
In the recent past, Ugandan women are writing more and winning all the international literary awards while their male counterparts are disturbingly silent.

Last year, Ugandan playwright and thespian Deborah Asiimwe won the BBC African Performance Playwriting Competition. Her victory left Ugandan men grappling with envy seeing how the judge of the competition –Africa’s first Nobel laureate in literature Wole Soyinka –doled out praises upon Asiimwe’s quality of writing, which he said had left him enthralled. But Asiimwe is just one out of a string of indigenous female writers that have won literary accolades of global stature.

When Doreen Baingana’s Tropical Fish scooped the 2006 Commonwealth first book prize for Africa region, she was following in the footsteps of a hitherto unknown midwife from Wakiso District, Glaydah Namukasa who a year before, had amazed the literary world by winning the Senior Category of the Macmillan Writers’ Prize for Africa with her novel, Voice of A Dream. Ms Namukasa, now writing her third novel, is a recent beneficiary of the International Writing Programme at the University of Iowa, and is in the US, agreeing terms with a literary agent.

In 2007, Monica Arac de Nyeko unwittingly intensified male pressure by winning the prestigious Caine Prize for African Writing with her short story Jambula Tree. Her stupendous achievement was symbolic of the ladies discovering their muse to unstoppable proportions! It was her victory that ignited the online debate among literary enthusiasts as to who was/is writing more and better among Ugandan sexes.

I can zealously vouch for the Ugandan male writer by citing Taddeo Bwambale’s Die, Dear Tofa, which won the 2008 Commonwealth Short Story Competition Africa Region, plus Kenneth Bashir Atwine’s Kitu Kidogo which tied with Julia Child’s Coffin Factory for second position in last year’s African BBC playwriting contest but that pales compared to the international recognition our women writers have basked in for more than a decade today.

Recently, UK-based erbacce press published a collection of poetry, Unjumping, by Beverly Nambozo Nsengiyunva, while Lancaster University recognised her quality of writing and contribution to the poetry genre by awarding her a scholarship to master in Creative Writing. This is the lady who initiated the annual BN Poetry Awards in 2008 to propel poetry by Ugandan women writers to greater heights.

The Uganda Female Writers Association (Femrite), which continues to hold its annual week of literary activities, takes the plaudits for giving our creative women the motivation and self-belief. When it was founded in 2005, hardly any female voice could be heard in the neighbourhood. Today, it not only runs a weekly readers and writers club on Monday evenings, but the other active Book Club is also run by the very Lamwaka who’s lined up for the 2001 Caine Prize.

The grapevine has it that a group of male writers have stirred from their laurels to form their own “Men-rite” to show Ugandan women writers the “write” thing in a literary battle that is bound to enrich Ugandan literature like never before. But until the world begins to see the results of that group, we men have to doff our hats for the women and accept, however grudgingly, that they are on top!

--Daily Monitor (pg. 12), Tuesday May 17th, 2011