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Friday, November 23, 2012

What a man wants

CHOICES. In seeking to understand men, the Women of Makerere Full Gospel Church invited the Men’s Ministry to speak to them. Turns out men want much more than what today’s typical woman offers, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza. 

A young woman prayed passionately for “Mr. Right.” God responded accordingly, except that the man was physically not what she had expected. “He’s too small,” she confided in a friend, who foresightedly advised her to take a chance since the guy had all the qualities she wanted apart from his diminutiveness.A year into marriage, the small man filled up to the delight of the woman. Oftentimes men are rejected on account of their prevailing circumstances. Most women seek security but forget that it is not guaranteed by a man’s physical stature or material possessions.
A beautiful couple: men are looking for the friend they married

“The man that seemingly has nothing today could have everything tomorrow,” says Godfrey Mwanje, urging women to have a little more faith. Some women have also failed to appreciate that we approach life differently. Men are soldiers and women are tender like the roses they love to sniff. They should know better than to spend days sulking when the husband does not notice your new hairstyle. Men rarely notice such things unless you are a one Betty Kyakuwa spotting a “mountainous headgear”! The fact is most women are not ready for hard truths. She has these trousers that make her look like a cartoon but expects you to say she looks sexy in them!

“Good communication is the ability to receive hard messages,” says Eric Settuba, a father. Maybe your husband is the conservative type that finds thongs repulsive. Instead of blackmailing him with how other men would kill to see you in a thong, just go to the next shop and get yourself some nice cotton pair of “mothers’ union” if that is what turns him on.

Moreover men need words of affirmation but most women behave like the wife of Job who told him to curse God and die. If your man is starting a business that is impossible, don’t tear him down with negative talk; engage him with wisdom lest he thinks you’re judging his business sense. Submission comes in, and it’s not about you kneeling for us. It is simply about “acknowledging the man as the leader in the home,” as David Kamugisha defined it.

This does not make a man an autocrat who ignores the wife’s constructive input. The problem is the typical modern woman who is educated and probably earning more. She relegates all family activities including serving her husband, to the housemaid. She has developed the “balls” that make her return home at odd hours but expects the man to remain docile about it. She has tranfered the power she exercises at her work place to her home as well. Alas, the man is looking for the friend he married but finds an aggressive woman who thinks life revolves around going up the corporate ladder and making as much money as possible. It’s not bad to be ambitious but retain your modesty, that’s what we are asking.

A laugh will not hurt anyone
Also, we want to feel valued through your words and deeds. When you laugh at our jokes even though they are not funny, when you discover our favourite dishes and have them served frequently, we love it. Some women are overly concerned about trivialities like how a toothpaste tube ought to be squeezed. Then they prattle on when a man is dying to have some peace after a long day. Basically men are naturally introspective while women are “cackling creatures”, to use words of one writer. So a woman who knows when to speak and when to hold her tongue is a woman that understands her man.

Then some women think all we want is to be “sexed up.” No doubt sex has its place but without you keeping clean and in shape, you’ll keep complaining about us not taking you to the peak! Besides, if you slept around a lot before marriage you can’t expect your man to be a sexual wizard that pulls all the tricks of your past lovers. If that’s what you want, teach your man but go about it wisely. As Humphrey says, “Sex is a beautiful gift from God to the married and the highest form of communication.”

So if in a fit of anger you tell off your man about his “small member”, women who think otherwise will snatch him. Consider the words of Pierre la Mure in The Private Life of Mona Lisa: “Men, and husbands in particular, are prone to think themselves as great lovers. The perfect wife must never fail to let him keep his illusions on this point. Tactfully, she should extol his amorous prowesses and he would love her for it.”

--Sunday Monitor, November 18, 2012

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How to Decode Uganda


The Ugandan Paradox – a book title that was no doubt deliberately chosen to trigger something in whoever reads it. It’s all typical of its author, Joachim Buwembo, the Ugandan journalist known for poking the consciences of the authorities in his endless newspaper commentaries.

It would be interesting to read the tomes our social commentators would churn answering the question, “What is the Ugandan paradox?”

English poet Matthew Arnold once described journalism as “literature in a hurry.” After years of journalistic ‘hurrying’, Jo (as Buwembo is fondly known in media circles) has decided to “slow it down,” thus the arrival of The Ugandan Paradox, in fact his second book after How to be Ugandan (2002).

 Journalist Moses Serugo has described the book a “A riveting semi-autobiographical read penned in the journalism sage’s signature witty style…”

The witty style is of course an allusion to the string of humour with which Jo shoots his arrows at his protagonists and antagonists, but who view him as a hero or rogue depending on who is reading.
Jo who studied Economics and French at Makerere University, taught for six years before foraying into journalism, first worked at the defunct Weekly Topic, then The East African, and as Sunday Vision editor before moving to Daily Monitor as Managing Editor. Today he works with Citizen newspaper in Tanzania, is columnist in both The East African and Sunday Monitor. So he is up there with the Obbo’s, the Pike’s and the Oguttu’s for significantly shaping the Ugandan press as we know today. 

Jo has stood out not only for his prolificacy but mostly because his writings provoke a good laugh but also leave the reader better informed and educated about our history and the Ugandan way of life. His simplicity and clarity bring to mind the words of Thomas Paine: “I dwell not upon the vapours of imagination. I bring reason to your ears, and in language as A, B, C, hold up truth to your eyes.”
While journalists are infamous for complaining about “writer’s block” Jo never seems to lack what to write about. It could be about the hurriedness of the Ugandan taxi man, the motives of the pseudo intellectual and the sham doctor, of men dying their hair and the Ugandan woman’s obsession with the wig, or even about the long forgotten Ugandan farmer.

His unpredictability chains the reader in anticipation. A sharp memory comes in handy as he uses seemingly insignificant details to dissect the big issues; cutting through the fat to expose the dirty bones in the national closet. Grilled by the small and mighty As a satirist, Jo has been compared to the late Austin Ejiet, is not as confrontational as Andrew Mwenda in his glory days but is equally blistering. In his words, he’s been grilled by the small and mighty in this land, even been sued over his ‘rumblings.’

 But to the young journalists striving for excellence and incisiveness, he’s a mentor. Sarah McClendon once defined the journalist’s role as “To inform people so they can help themselves.” Jo has not only lived to the billing but has extended it to his latest book. He was born in 1959 for which he joked in 2002: “I was born around independence time but because of the tumultuous history of our country in the 40 years, I’ve seen almost as much as those born around World War II.” 

To his fans, today is the day as Jo signs copies of the book at Aristoc Garden City from 10am to 2pm. The book costs Shs10,000.

Making her mark in South Africa


If you were asked to sum up Cynthia Ayeza in one line, it would be that she sure knows how to get what she wants. By the age of 26, she was already lecturing in a top South African university, and is today the Public Relations Officer for the Community of Mandela Rhodes Scholars (CMRS), a prestigious position that not even the most xenophobic South African could deny our home girl after she distinguished herself academically and as a leader.

Ms. Ayeza’s dream at Nakasero Primary School was to become a pilot. But when she joined Rubaga Girls’ School she thought of becoming an architect, then a great lawyer. But all that had changed by the time she completed her A-Level at St. Lawrence Citizen’s College (Creamland Campus). Now she wanted to study English at university but her father wanted her to pursue Law. This disagreement cost her two years as she looked out for opportunities in alignment with her ambitions.

 Eventually she secured sponsorship and flew to South Africa in 2003 for a bachelor's degree in Languages, majoring in English and Communication. She immediately joined a local church, and got involved with its youth program. But it’s after she pioneered, along with three others, a campus student program called Chi Alpha aimed at injecting character in the future leaders that her leadership potential became manifest. That’s when the Dean of Students (Prof. Speckman) at the time encouraged her to apply for the Mandela-Rhodes Scholarship.

 “The Scholarship stems from Nelson Mandela’s desire to see exceptional leadership capacity harnessed on the continent,” says Ms. Ayeza, “but its uniqueness is in the way it juxtaposes the personalities of Mandela and Rhodes. It is a major representation of reconciliation which all of humanity needs to learn - to move beyond past injustices and press towards a more common ground, a common vision, and rebuild our continent.”

This is what got her applying, and becoming the first Ugandan Mandela-Rhodes scholar. She went on to ace her Masters Degree in Culture and Media Studies at the end of which she was offered a lecturing job at the University of Pretoria, from where she had attained her first degree as well. Two other Ugandans: Cornelious Ssemakalu and Anthea Pelo have since benefited from the Scholarship, and 178 Africans overall.

As the CMRS publicist, Ms. Ayeza now looks forward to having more than one Ugandan getting the scholarship in a given year. At the moment you have to be registered as a student at a South African University but there are plans to extend into the rest of Africa, she says.

“You need two academic references and two personal references and if you’re wise, have some leadership initiatives under your belt of experience during your academic journey,” she says of what it takes. “They are not looking for the A student even though that can help; they are looking for a well-rounded leader; one that has a good balance of intellectual, emotional, physical, social and global awareness; also your current context matters – what are you doing to influence positive change in it?”

A very light-skinned girl with small eyes that shine when she speaks of something close to her heart, Ms. Ayeza says remaining authentic in who and what she believes, is what has brought her this far. Adjusting to South African culture was not easy: “Being black, I was expected to speak the languages here (they have 11 official languages)," she says, "so speaking in English and Zulu or Xhosa or Setswana to some ladies got me rude stares and harsh words. To them, I was a snob and trying to be white. But as I got to understand their background better, the history behind it (not that it is an excuse right now) I understood. I think South Africans are open-minded people, not half as friendly as Ugandans but generally, as is the case with Africans, they too are warm.”

 She also talks of falling in love with the spicy South African salad dish called "chakalaka", joking that Indians would love it, but nothing lights her up as recalling her first meet up with Nelson Mandela. “It was awe-evoking,” she coos, certifying him as the world’s most charming icon!

The scene shifts back to Uganda as Ms. Ayeza takes us down memory lane; being born at Mulago hospital in 1981 and her father joking that she looked like a gecko, her childhood friends in Bugolobi flats that taught her bits of Acholi, and of loving grandparents that taught her how to dig and to speak and write rukiga properly.

 “We were poor, but we had a very loving and playful mother that strived to give us the very best,” she says affectionately. It’s this love and charm inherited from her mother, and the latter discovery that words and people are what make her happy, keeps her going in a capricious world. Soon after, her vivaciousness is replaced by introspectiveness as she shares her thoughts on what will help Africa to become a superpower continent that we all can be proud of.

“I’m always re-learning that there is more to life; indeed there’s more to life than our little cocoons,” she’s emphatic. “I think that generally, Africa needs to get to a point where it thinks as a mass community as opposed to the fragment-like nature that our countries are; Africa needs to consider dreaming as one in our respective contexts.”

 She also stresses the need to function out of who we are as a people and not what the world expects of us. It’s actually Africa’s potential to hold its own and the reality of God that drives Ms. Ayeza. She also has a word for women not to measure their worth against what the men are: “You are your own person and the fight is not against men. You are responsible for your own potential, so, live and play your part in the grand orchestra that life is.”

 Talking of orchestras, Ms. Ayeza is passionate guitarist whose acoustic strings she loves to strum when she gets away. CMRS work can be draining, and to keep on top of her game mentally and physically, this single lady reads and goes swimming on weekends.

A heart of compassion


Many people think it takes the Bill Gates and Oprah Winfreys of this world to help the needy in significant ways because of their affluence and influence, but one man from Kanungu District has defied that to prove that with courage and faith, anyone can make a remarkable difference.

Mr. Jackson Kaguri shows off his book
 Twesigye Jackson Kaguri had just left Columbia University as a visiting scholar of Human Rights Advocacy when his big brother died of HIV/Aids, leaving behind three little children. Five months later, his elder sister died too, leaving a son born HIV positive.

“I was a young man ready to tackle life and enjoy, and here I was with four children to take care of.”

The year was 1997, and a still grief-stricken Kaguri had no idea it was the beginning of a transformation of not only his individuality but of his community as well. The real turning point happened during one of his visits to the village when he was mobbed by the locals, mostly the elders whose sons and daughters had also perished under the deadly disease, leaving behind little orphans.

“All these people would bring these children to me asking for help because they knew I had had a good education; had been to Makerere and America,” he says. “I sat there and said ‘I want to be an uncle beyond my nieces and nephews; I want to make sure these children also can get an education.’”

 Kaguri was lucky his parents were selfless. Every beginning of term, they would sell a goat, sheep, chicken, and finally his father sold part of his land to keep his son in school. In turn, Kaguri worked hard and went to Makerere University on government sponsorship to study Social Work and Social Administration. It was an enviable achievement that made him the talk of Nyakagyezi, his village.

At Makerere his concern for the disadvantaged was first felt during a discussion in which officials from the Human Rights Commission gave a presentation on universal human rights particularly the right to education and health care.

“I told them this can’t be universal because in my village it’s not possible; people don’t have all these things you are talking about and yet they are human beings,” he says. “They got interested in my views and attitude and gave me a job, and I started writing papers on children and women rights, and that’s how I got a scholarship from Columbia University.”

There, he met and fell for an African-American beauty, Beronda, who he married in 1998, and with whom they have a son, Nicolas. In fact, it was while he was visiting with his wife in 2001 that he was mobbed by desperate villagers. He deeply comprehended their plight seeing he too had lost a brother and sister to the HIV/Aids pandemic.

 “We decided to use our savings to build three small classrooms that would serve as a place for children who have been orphaned due to HIV/Aids to come and get free quality education and extra curricular activities both formal and informal as a means to break the circle of poverty and deprivation,” he says.

And in January 2003, Nyaka Aids Orphans School was opened in Nyakagyezi village, with 56 children selected from more than 5000 Aids orphans. Not that the Kaguris were financially or even psychologically ready for the task but they had been overwhelmed by the plight of these orphans and knew something had to be done immediately.

“I had just gotten married and trying to build a family but I was faithful,” Kaguri says. “I grew up in a family that prayed and understood that what God promises He will deliver, so I was determined to do whatever I can.”

The leap of faith didn’t take long to pay off. Sceptics and enemies of progress who had hitherto branded Kaguri a con artist bent on using Nyaka as bait to enter elective politics and rip off donors, came on board and more donors after conceding the seriousness of the initiative and the lease of hope it ignited.

“Today there are over 200 children in our school; and everything is taken care of: meals, uniforms, pencils, pens, salaries of their teachers,” says Kaguri. “We knew just like my parents sacrificed to give us an education, we looked at this situation that these children deserved to have a person who would believe in them and invest in them; and that’s what we did.”

The initiative has since expanded with more classrooms, another Aids School in a neighbouring village, a community library, a clean water system that supplies the entire village, gardening programs for widows and Kaguri adds that 131 houses are being built for the elderly. In fact, he has recently quit his job as Interim Senior Director of Development in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University, to focus on his Directorship of Nyaka Projects.

He has also published a book, The Price of Stones, that’s enjoying rave reviews on The title is drawn from Psalms 118:22 about the stone that was rejected by the builders only to become the cornerstone. Released in the US in June 2010 and co-written with Susan Urbanek Linville, the 263-page memoir is all about the inspirational story of the Aids orphans’ school, the man behind it, and the challenges he has had to confront to keep it going and growing.

Kaguri has also worked as a Programs Assistant for People’s Decade for Human Rights Education (PDHRE International-New York), and was instrumental in drafting resolutions that were adopted at the United Nations Youth International Conference held in Portugal, in 1998.

He attributes his success to God: “I’m a Christian man, born in that family of 7th Day Adventists; my grandfather actually built a church in our village. My prayer everyday is for God to help me to touch someone’s life, and He’s really blessed me with being blessed by others while also looking out to bless someone else. So I juggle my stuff based on the philosophy that if you can’t help me do it, Lord, then it’s not possible.”

He spends his free time playing soccer, reading, and sitting by the side of the pool watching his 10-year-old son swimming. He will die a happy man, he says, if all these children that have been helped will mature into respectable and productive citizens that will give back to their communities as well.

Uganda's top biochemist is also a preacher, instrumentalist and and singer


A diminutive man in big spectacles and lines of seniority on his face stepped on the platform at Makerere Full Gospel Church and was moments later strumming his electric guitar and singing his heart out in an old-school style reminiscent of American country singer Johnny Cash in his heyday. The song, Give Me Grace Today, was a hypnotic preamble that got congregants lifting hands and singing along. The man’s zeal extended into his sermon on Walking in the Power of God’s Might, eliciting mighty “Amens” from his listeners. His name was Prof. John Lubega, in the country for a short visit, and Pr. Fred Wantaate had seized the opportunity and invited him as guest preacher.

Prof. John Lubega
    But this is Prof. Lubega’s real claim to fame: “I’m the only Ugandan at the moment who’s experienced well enough in laboratory medicine; there is no other.” Also the first Ugandan to become professor of biochemistry, he has for 35 years worked in some of the world’s best universities and hospitals, and distinguished himself with some inventions too. For example he was the first to crack the mystery of how a pregnant woman’s defense molecules cross to her unborn baby without leading to auto-immune diseases.    “I managed to work out the molecular configuration involved – the way the anti-bodies cross – and my work was the first to elucidate on how this process works.” 

       Now a Professor of Laboratory Medicine and Biochemistry at the University Hospital, the Medical School of the University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Prof. Lubega’s life has been one roller-coaster! Born in 1948 at Nsambya Hospital, his father Dr. John Lubega (after whom he’s named) had other wives and didn’t play a significant role in the bringing of his son. So Lubega and his sister were solely raised by their mother, Dorothy Namuddu, a nurse. 

     In the early 1960s when Pentecostalism was beginning to take root in Uganda, his mother embraced it, and one Sunday grabbed her then 12-year-old son by the collar and dragged him to the alter to get saved. Lubega reminisces mirthfully: “It was the craziest but most important decision my mother made for me. I was very stubborn but after that dramatic conversion, all the demons of boyhood left me and for the first time I experienced real inner peace.”

      Lubega attended Aggrey Memorial Primary School but failed examinations, on account of which he was denied admission to Mengo S.S. Still believing in the competence of her son, his mother managed to get him a place at Lubiri S.S. He repaid her mother's confidence in him by coming on top of his class from then on.  In fact, when he got into S.2, he decided he deserved a better school and wrote to the headmaster of Kings College Budo about it. To his delight, his prayers were answered!  This was in 1963 – the year his mother quit her nursing job to become a full-time preacher. Lubega panicked but somebody somewhere always appeared and paid his tuition fees. “It was the first greatest lesson I learned from my mother,” he says, “that whoever serves Jesus never lacks.”

    From Budo, Lubega went to Makerere University to study medicine on government sponsorship. After graduation, he landed a scholarship to the University of Cambridge. He pinched himself not believing he was in the same university that Charles Darwin of the Natural Selection fame attended. Surely this was God's reward for his mother’s faithfulness and prayers. Moreover this was in 1976, at the height of Idi Amin’s reign of terror when doctors were not allowed to leave the country. Lubega was helped by his diminutive physical stature; he left through Kenya disguised as a local boy in torn shorts and slippers! Lubega graduated with a Masters of Medicine top of his class and was retained as a student scholar. 

     He later moved to the University of Leicester for his PhD in Biochemistry, where he also took Fellowship exams in Medicine and Surgery. The University recruited him as a lecturer, and made him the second black person in the UK to become Head of Department in his field. The first is also a Ugandan - Dr. Richard Ddungu. 

    In 1985, Prof. Lubega left England after noticing that black children there rarely progressed beyond Form Four. “I felt there was some kind of deliberate move of discouraging them from getting certificates and beyond, so black people live mainly in the inner city where there are more problems and they get involved in drugs…I said let me move out of UK or my children may never be educated…”

     He got a job in Saudi Arabia, at Riyadh Central Hospital, the oldest and largest hospital there. After four years, Prof. Lubeba moved to Kenya and worked as Consultant and Head of Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Nairobi Hospital.  

      “In 1991, the Ministry of Health in Kenya recruited me and about 10 other doctors to design how to do HIV testing in the whole country but it’s me who started it there before the Kenya Medical Research Institute started to deal in HIV as well,” he says. “I also set up a top lab at Nairobi Hospital dealing with everything to do with laboratory medicine.”

       He was also teaching at Nairobi University when he was recalled to Saudi Arabia in 2005 to set up the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at King Fahad Medical City, the largest hospital in the Middle East. He says, “When the people at the University of Sharjah where I am currently, heard that I had set up ultra-modern facilities at King Fahad Medical City, they asked me to go and set up the same for the government of Sharjah. Sharjah is the third largest of the Emirates after Abu Dhabi and Dubai Emirates.” 

        After 35 years, Prof. Lubega feels he’s now well positioned to help improve facilities and provide better medical care in East Africa. “I’m negotiating with the American company Siemens, which deals with large medical equipment and has now taken over in the world in diagnostics – the things that can be used in laboratories to diagnose diseases, to see how they can assist us in East Africa to set up diagnostic facilities across the region. We’re going to start in Kenya next year, before coming to Uganda. The facilities at Mulago are overstretched. The private sector has set up a few hospitals here that are very expensive. In between, the common man has nowhere to go. Uganda needs at least five hospitals like Mulago but nobody seems to care,” he says, adding he hopes the situation changes as it has in Kenya where he has set up various businesses supplying technical items to hospitals. 

      Prof. Lubega attributes his success to assiduous reading and researching, and being alert all the time. He doesn’t drink or smoke and is always on the look out for challenging opportunities in his field, and taking them on by faith. “Most of all, I attribute my success to my mother who knew the secret of getting things from God – through daily, persistent prayer,” he says with a smile. “Everyday from January to December she would lay hands on me and pray for the blessings of the Lord to follow me wherever I went.”

      That’s why Prof. Lubega can’t help being a preacher every chance he gets. It helps that he’s dexterous with the guitar (he also plays the organ and drums which he grew up playing in church), and has composed over 100 songs through which he, accompanied by his guitar, expresses his gratitude to God from making him the preacher, composer, singer and biochemist he is. He is married to Esther Lubega, a computer scientist, and they have five children one of which went to be with the Lord. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Radio drama gets its groove

With Uganda’s cutthroat radio competition, it’s no longer about music and more music; listeners want something that intertwines information, education and entertainment in a novel way, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza

In one of the episodes I listened to, a boy wanted out of a relationship with a sugar mummy but could not since she was paying his school fees. Plus he needed her money to look after his sick mother. It was a classic case of being stuck between a rock and a hard place.

The episode was from a 30-minute radio serial drama, Rock Point 256, that hit the airwaves in August 2005. The number of radio stations it airs on have since gone up to 22 from 16, including 93.3 Kfm.

Recorded in English, Luganda, Luo, Ateso and Runyakitara, the action-packed series try to paint contrasting portraits of Uganda – the country as it is, the country we all desire; a Uganda devoid of HIV/Aids, domestic violence, teenage pregnancies, alcohol/drug abuse and related ills.

Far from being just emotionally involving, the series also explore familial relations and friendships, transactional sex – popularly known as “something for something love”, sports and life skills while employing a fast-paced approach made the series more appealing with humour, music and sound effects.

The serial’s slogan, “Discover the rock in you” is an appeal to the youth that it seeks to influence positively, to invoke their inner strength while grappling with the challenges of life. Parents and policy makers have a lot to glean from the storylines although the drama targets young people between 13-25 years.

According to a 2007 media survey conducted by The Steadman Group, the Series have reached up to 50 per cent of its target audience and are causing behavioural change, especially among rural families.
Pablo (in a suit) with his cast
Kenneth “Pablo” Kimuli, the Series production director, tells the story of a man who, after listening to an episode, quit alcohol and violence and went around his village in Bushenyi convincing people to tune in.

In 2007, the drama won the AfriComNet Award for Excellence in HIV and Aids Communication in the Best Multi-Channel Communication category. In 2010 it was voted the best radio programme by the New Vision readers and in 2011 won the Africa Edutainment Award in the Fighting against HIV category. And just last week, on May 18, Rock Point 256 outstripped several companies, organisations and individuals to win the Local Content Award in the UCC-organised Annual Communications Innovation Awards (ACIA 2012).

“The UCC award means a lot because it came at a time when the mother project Young Empowered And Healthy (Y.E.A.H) had just closed and the Drama was looking for sustenance from commercial sponsors,” says Tony Mushoborozi, the Script Editor. “We hope that this milestone will open that door for us.”

Tony and Pablo should have nothing to fear. With Uganda’s cutthroat radio competition, it’s no longer about music and more music; listeners want something that intertwines information, education and entertainment in a novel way, thus the station that uses radio drama to confront the complex and controversial political and social issues of the day could have an advantage over its competitors. It would also mean more jobs for script writers, actors and producers since Rock Point 256 alone employs 200 actors.

“Radio drama, though a complex and sophisticated art form, is capable of so much and is therefore worthy of a lifelong pursuit,” says Pablo. “I believe that there’s still great radio drama yet to be made by talented people with a deep love and understanding of the medium.”

--Saturday Monitor, May 26, 2012

Art, history and hardships in a package


The author also puts his bachelors degree in art and design to good use by beginning each of his nine chapters with an illustration that captures the essence of the chapter

The author and his book cover
It’s fiction that reads like non-fiction, or rather like a motivational book. Bright A. Ntakky’s 7:77…Theirs was a Race against Time is his first publication in book format and was written in his student days at Kyambogo University but has such absorbing nature as will force you to pause and reflect.

Published in 2011 by The Investors Nest, the novella is a moving account of Brave, a prototype of hard work, courage and of living a purpose-driven life but who unfortunately is snatched by death out of this world as unexpectedly as his arrival into it was.

Therein is the essence of this 84-page book –reminding the reader of the reality of death and of the need to prepare. The grim reaper comes like a thief in the night, and you will never know when he strikes. But if you have prepared, if you have lived a full, responsible life, if you have been a blessing, then your spirit will go singing into the next world.

It helps that the author is a painter who lost both his parents at a young age and struggled through life largely on his own and through the goodwill of others. So he draws from all that and from the people he has interacted with during his struggles and explore his subject matter vividly and punctiliously.

He advances the sobering argument that the day you are born is the day you qualify to die and through the deliberations of the protagonist captures the essence of living each day meaningfully: “Before death stole tomorrow from him, he was determined to make his today count. To have something to show for the life he had been given. It was better he died at 7 than at 77 with an empty slate.”

Ntakky is a born-again Christian but tactfully avoids the preachy style of shoving his convictions down the throat of the reader. Rather he hides the moral of his narrative in the wrong choices his characters make and the subsequent ramifications as they race against time.

The author also puts his bachelors degree in art and design to good use by beginning each of his nine chapters with an illustration that captures the essence of the chapter and serves to whet the reader’s expectations. He also designed the book cover himself which art connoisseurs can have an involving time making sense of.

In his introduction, he says he was inspired to write 7:77…Theirs was a Race against Time after noticing how people are affected by death and yet tend to live in denial of its existence. “I seek to draw attention to this fact in a way that would leave the reader hopeful; making death cease to be a surprising bitter end, rather a soft landing, expected and prepared for.”

It’s a mission he achieves. At least his book left me strongly convinced of the need to fight a good fight and of seizing the opportunities life throws at me while I race against time. And as the Rt. Rev. Dr Zac Niringiye notes in the Foreword, the story Ntakky tells through the different characters acts like a mirror to the readers – challenging you and I to look at life as a mysterious albeit precious gift that should be cherished and made the most of since it will not last this side of eternity.

--Saturday Monitor, May 26, 2012

Sunday, May 20, 2012

At ‘sweet 16’, Femrite waves Uganda’s literature flag high

By Dennis D. Muhumuza

In Summary:Women writers: Started by current Minister of Information, Mary Karooro Okurut, Femrite’s 16 years have been a time of achievement.

On Tuesday, May 15, the Uganda Female Writers Association (Femrite) celebrated 16 years of existence. It was a real “sweet-16” birthday party, complete with a cake whose icing was the launch of the latest short-story anthology, Summoning the Rains.

Members of the Femrite Readers and Writers Club during one of their Monday sessions
But for me, it was a time to reflect on the evolution of Ugandan literature in the last 50 years of our independence, and Femrite’s part in the whole equation. When Mary Karooro Okurut (‘Mother Hen’ as she’s fondly known at Femrite) founded the organisation in 1996, the Ugandan woman had no literary voice.
No simple journey for female writers

In the 1970s, Elvania Namukwaya of the famous play When the Hunchback Made Rain (1972) and Jane Kironde Bakaluba of the satirical novel, Honeymoon for Three (1973), had held the banner for women writers. But the candle had waned and finally been extinguished when President Idi Amin started killing artists.

Moreover, there were few educated women, and society was still strongly patriarchal. In 1966, Okot p’Bitek set the bar very high with Song of Lawino, and from then, the roosters did not look back. They dominated and devoured all the glory of the golden years of Ugandan literature from mid 1960s and the 70s.

After the ouster of President Amin, it took over 10 years before the literary echoes could be heard again. Of course, gender discrimination had been suffering a slow but steady death, and the government and civil society had put a premium on the education of the girl-child.

Encouraged, women put pen to paper and published works of admirable quality. Jane Okot p’Bitek’s Song of Farewell (poetry), Lillian Tindyebwa’s Recipe for Disaster (novel), Mary Abago’s Sour Honey (novel), Violet Birungi’s The Shadow and the Substance (novel), Jane Kaberuka’s Silent Patience (novel) plus Hope Keshubi’s Going Solo and To a Young Woman (novels) were all released between 1994 and 1999.

Still, “Mother Hen”, then a lecturer in the Literature Department at Makerere University, felt local publishing firms showed gender bias, and so gathered a few literature ladies, Goretti Kyomuhendo, Lilian Tindyebwa and Hope Keshubi among others, and formed an organisation purposely to support and nurture women writers in Uganda.

Two years later, Femrite released two short story collections (A Woman’s Voice and Words from a Granary), two novels (Mary Karooro Okurut’s The Invisible Weevil and Memoirs of a Mother by Ayeta Anne Wangusa) plus Susan Kiguli’s poetry anthology, The African Saga, which sold out under a year because of its sheer quality and power of its relevance.

At the age of four (2000), Femrite in partnership with Alliance Française de Kampala, released the first Creative Writers Directory with information about Ugandan writers, dead and alive with excerpts from their works. The vintage booklet was another of the novelties that showed the pragmatic approach Femrite would continue to employ to grow while growing the industry as well.

This is when Austin Bukenya commented, “The advent of Femrite and its associated publishing wing has led to a productivity in Ugandan writing, which is likely to affect the whole writing and reading culture of the country.”

This productivity today is epitomised by 32 publications and the organisation’s monthly online writers’ journal. This has however not helped improve the country’s flagging reading culture. Book sales are still low, and in a population of over 30 million people, the best selling newspaper on a good day sells just about 50,000 copies.

However, Femrite is not deterred, and continues to popularise Ugandan literature through literary partnerships and activities. Its Monday evening Readers and Writers’ Club is more vibrant, and numbers soar at the Club’s Author-of-the-Month session.

And the Femrite annual week of literary activities every July is now established on the literary calendar, and three years ago, the Femrite Residency for African Women Writers was born. It has since birthed three books, including Summoning the Rains – a collection of 20 short stories launched on Tuesday.

The residency is what former Femrite chairperson, Jocelyn Okochu, likened to the female version of the Big Brother Africa for uniting women writers from different African countries. The third edition had 15 women from Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Botswana, Malawi, Tunisia, South Africa, Namibia and the host country Uganda overall.

Femrite chairperson Doreen Baingana said it’s at the Residency that the writers get to concentrate on writing, grapple with their experiences, compare notes from such a diverse audience and mentor each other. By working hard and strengthening collaborations, the women writers have made enviable strides, no doubt.

However, you have to pose questions on the power of Femrite publications to inform and reform society. Do they have a connection with our daily realities? Can teachers of literature proudly teach these works? Can they inspire or stand the test of time? That’s another hot discussion altogether!

For now, join the literary cognoscenti that filled a Hotel Africana hall to congratulate Femrite on its 16th anniversary, and pat the organisation for maturing from a chick to chicken that has given women writers in Uganda and Africa a formidable voice.

--Sunday Monitor, May 20, 2012

Getting that block-bursting story at all costs

By Dennis D. Muhumuza

In Summary:It’s a real-life book every Ugandan journalist should read to learn a thing or two about exposing societal rot.

Imagine a bunch of reporters opening a swanky bar targeting city authorities so they can eavesdrop and expose their excesses! In a small city like Kampala, it would be easy to burst the ruse seeing that almost everybody knows everybody. But in a place as vast as Chicago in the United States, the scribes pulled it off, and that’s what The Mirage is all about.

It’s February 1976 when Chicago Sun-Times Editor James Hodge asks reporter Pamela Zekman if she has any investigative projects in mind. Zekman has heard about the massive corruption that small-business owners have suffered and has long wanted to expose it first-hand.

“We’re always getting complaints about the shakedowns, and payoffs in this city…” she tells her boss. “If we owned a tavern, we could be there when it happened. We could see how the system actually works. We could photograph it; get down on paper once and for all…”

Social corners
Though costly, the idea is irresistible. Bars are where people tippled and discussed life in the big city. “There was no telling what a newspaper might discover if it owned a tavern for a few months. It was the chance to lay open the system, document it. Photograph it. Maybe even help reform it.”

So when the ‘Mirage Watering Hole and Pub’ is open, the Chicago Sun-Times is in business! Its journalists are the bartenders. Even the repairmen are “photographers headed for a hidden loft.” But can they sustain their cover before their sensational story breaks? As “Chicago was the city of the Front Page, everybody was on the lookout for good stories to steal. And the smallest slip –a bit of gossip, a lost memorandum, an overheard conversation, a misdirected telephone call –could easily wreck months of effort.”

In 255 pages, the authors Zay N. Smith (‘Norty the Bartender’) & Pamela Zekman (‘Pam the Barmaid’) tell about their novel experience. They are so determined to succeed that Norty joins a ‘professional bartenders school’ where the curriculum included five days of intensive “mixology”. He learns recipes for more than 85 drinks, attends lectures on wine history, and the basic rules of customer service, which include among others, to stand back when there is a fight so you won’t get sued. He even learns about hidden tricks: “bartender tax fraud, shakedown etiquette, routine thievery, insurance cheating, fraudulent advertisement, and short pours for unsuspecting customers plus “short-shotting the customer” i.e. giving him less liquor in his mixed drink than he paid for.

In this hilarious account, you get to meet Mr Fixit (Phillip J. Berasch), “an established Chicago corruption broker, thriving on a package deal of tax fraud and fixes. He revels in teaching his clients how the system works, “This is how it works. Everybody knocks it down. Everybody chisels it down…they slice it off so they won’t have to pay their sales tax and federal tax…” he likes to say.

Hunting down corruption
It’s also not long before the investigators find out that “in Chicago they didn’t have to look for corruption, corruption looked for them. City inspectors examining the bar’s unashamed violations of health, fire and safety standards were always eager to work things out unofficially “for a small fee”.

Firemen would come into the Mirage selling tickets to golf tournaments when they should have been on active duty in the city that has the highest rate of death by fire in America. Accountants openly bragged about their ability to skim as much as 70 per cent off the top of the profits without the government noticing.”
They also learn through scores of interviews that “tavern tax fraud wasn’t a sometime thing, limited to an occasioned Mr Fixit. It was a regular trick of the trade –a felony that had become a tradition. Everybody kept saying that everybody did it. The big skim was costing the state tens of millions of dollars.”

When the Sun-Times serialises the mind-boggling discoveries, the city is electrified. The “matchless journalistic sting was a scandal that shook the municipal government; an exposé that gained world attention, and, now, one of the most entertaining books that serious reporting has ever produced.”

--Sunday Monitor, May 20, 2012

Friday, May 18, 2012

Rules of the first date

By Dennis D. Muhumuza

This article was provoked by a recent Facebook discussion about dates gone wrong. It’s dedicated to men unfamiliar with chivalrous behaviour that are planning on going on their first dates.

Confidence: Firstly, some men begin to panic the second she agrees to the date. What shall we talk about? Listen, you don’t have to be under pressure to talk when you are a man of few words. You can have a friendly conversation with her without even words if you are genuinely interested in her. Do not dare leave her alone to go to the Men’s to compose yourself. And don’t answer your phone on your first date –it is rude. She should be your interest completely; look into her eyes when she speaks to you; do that without staring lest you freak her out. Listen with concentration when she talks, and take your time answering her questions. Do not try too hard to be funny; women know superficiality, so do not make a fool of yourself. Be real with her and with yourself. That confidence should earn you a second date.

Call on your arsenal of social graces and treat her like a lady
Noble intentions: Please keep your eyes away from the ‘apples’ on her chest. You are not on a date with her boobs! You do not want her thinking you were not interested in her but in laying her, do you? Some men also think a woman agreeing to a date is a ticket into her or your bed after the date. So she is “a detoothing bitch” if she says no. Listen, man, women love men with noble intentions, men that respect them as interesting people, men that would proudly introduce them to their close friends and relatives. If you make her believe you are that kind of man without even telling her, she wll be looking forward to a second date with you.

Have enough money: Some girls have talked of guys that asked them to split the bill on the first date. That is unforgivable, man. Why did you invite her for that important first date when you could not afford it? It is common sense that taking a girl to a posh place will cost you. So do your homework; visit the place beforehand, look at the menu and make calculations in the mind and let the girl never know about that! There is nothing as shameful as breaking into a sweat when the bill is brought. And then you start haggling and saying you did not know it was this expensive moreover at the top of your voice, with spittle splattering from your mouth; it is unforgivable. Can’t you tell from her facial expression that your date wants the ground to swallow her for the shame you are subjecting her to? Why didn’t you take her to a kafunda in kikubo if you wanted it cheap!

Impropriety: Speaking rudely to waiters when the order is delayed is inexcusable. And so is lifting that chicken wing in the air before telling the waitress to take it back and bring you a thigh instead! And please, do not talk with food in your mouth. My uncle used to pull our ears when we did it even when we were still young. And if she asks a question when you are chewing, do not rush to swallow to answer her quickly – you might choke. And after the meal, do not move out of the hotel with a toothpick sticking out of your mouth. And please do not belch loudly, or have too much wine like some guy that could not hold it and ended throwing up on the table. It will all revolt her into never seeing you again.

You are welcome!

--Sunday Monitor, May 06, 2012

Remembering the ‘beautiful’ sufferer


Book Review: Even the most rabid critics of Mother Teresa will admit she set a standard for those who aspire to make a mark in the field of humanitarianism.

It’s one of those books you read and know instantly that it would be unforgivable not to play your part in helping the suffering people. Malcolm Muggeridge’s Something Beautiful for God is about Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her Missionaries of Charity, acclaimed for serving “the poorest of the poor.”

The author bases this 156-page book on his 1969 film by the same title on Mother Teresa’s works in India, and includes the transcript of his conversations with her alongside other writings about and by her.

In 1946, at the age of 36, the nun was going on a retreat when God called her to give up the comforts of the convent and serve Him in slums among the poorest of the poor. She heeded the call, starting out with five street children in Calcutta. A year later, the number had multiplied, and some other nuns followed her there. In 1952, she opened the first Home of the Dying in Calcutta in an abandoned temple. Her first patient was a woman who had been “eaten by rats and ants,” and here, many other dying destitute were nursed to show them that they were not forgotten; that they too were children of God worthy of human and divine love.

By the time Something Beautiful for God was first released by Fontana Books in 1971, the Missionaries of Charity had spread their wings to other Indian towns, in Australia, Latin America, Roma, Tanzania, Greece and Jordan tending to HIV/Aids, leprosy and tuberculosis patients in their orphanages, soup kitchens, schools and hospitals. And at the time of her death in 1997, Mother Teresa had not only won a Nobel Peace Prize (1979) for her humanitarian work, but her charity organisation was operational in 123 countries where the chain of affliction and destitution was biting hard.

“The Saint of the Gutters” as she was fondly known, had evidently taken altruism and pragmatism to unprecedented levels. You should see some of the pictures in the book, of her enfolding frail children in her loving arms, or of her charity sisters cutting the nails of leprosy patients or on their knees because it’s from daily prayers that they drew sustenance and strength.

Muggeridge captures it succinctly: “I only say of her that in a dark time she is a burning and shining light; in a cruel time, a living embodiment of Christ’s gospel of love; in a godless time, the Word dwelling among us, full of grace and truth. For this, all who have the inestimable privilege of knowing her, or knowing of her, must be eternally grateful.”

While some people blame God for the sorrowing world, Mother Teresa proved that with concerted effort, suffering could be wiped out of the face of the earth. It does not take money (because Mother Teresa started out with only five rupees) but Christian love shining on our faces, in our hearts and through our lips. She proved that what the poor need more than food, and shelter (though these too are needed,) is to be wanted.

“The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for, and deserted by everybody,” she once said. “The greatest evil is the lack of love and charity, the terrible indifference towards one’s neighbour who lives at the roadside assaulted by exploitation, corruption, poverty and disease.”

It’s for this reason that she had a place in her heart for all the poor and deprived who she saw as “children of God, for whom Christ died, and so deserving of all love...”

The late critic Christopher Hitchens once dismissed Something Beautiful for God as a hagiography, accusing its author of credulity. But who can blame Muggeridge for being so influenced by Mother Teresa’s “love in action” that he even changed from agnostic to believer? A man with a theory cannot gainsay a man with an experience, so I cannot blame Muggeridge for rightly extolling Mother Teresa.

--Saturday Monitor, April 21, 2012