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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.