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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