RSS Feed (xml)

Powered By

Skin Design:
Free Blogger Skins

Powered by Blogger

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.