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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