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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Writivism: Meet the finalists

Writivism sought for unpublished fictional works from young writers aged between 15 and 25 years on topical issues of concern to society, stories able to inspire positive change in our communities. Forty-three entries were received for the inaugural young Writivism writers’ competition with only 23 making it to the final shortlist. DENNIS D. MUHUMUZA brings you reviews of the top 5 stories which will be made available on the Daily Monitor website, and Facebook page, next week. To vote for the top three, go to

“Together” by Kathryn Kazibwe
An older sister, driven by the jealousy of not being as much loved as her young sister, abandons her dying mother and returns two years later after losing her own child. In a society where the older are expected to take care of the younger, there is an interesting twist as little sister is forced by circumstances to forgive and forget the pain of abandonment and console her now remorseful big sister. When they finally embrace, they realise how much they have needed each other, and they know nothing can part them again.
On being a finalist Kazibwe says, “It feels surreal! It has been a lot of hard work; writing and rewriting with the help of my mentor Beatrice Lamwaka. That I’ve come this far is pretty satisfying. However greater things lie ahead; I’ll keep writing and have a ball while at it.”

“Picture Frames” by Anthea Paelo
This is not just a story about a mourning mother but also about a father who is embittered more by his dead son’s sexual orientation than his death. The fact that Okello is a homosexual who has committed suicide does not change his mother’s love for him. She clings to everything that reminds her of him, including the cot he slept in as a baby. But her husband, Daudi, is fed up and wants her to get rid of those things because keeping them is like “living with his ghost”.
“He was a homosexual. We are better off without him,” he tells her. Will Rose ever forgive him for saying that? Even more, will she overcome her grief and find herself again? A powerful, subject-driven story that leaves you torn on who to empathize with between Rose and Daudi. Anthea says, “It’s a great feeling being a finalist. It’s one thing to think you are a storyteller, it’s another thing when someone else tells you you can be really good at this. It’s a validation of sorts, and I’m grateful to the judges.”

“Emotional Rollercoaster” by Paul Kisakye
Another story on homosexuality. When a battered woman, Sanyu, comes to seek solace from her homosexual friend David, they end up dancing to Maurice Kirya’s music: “…I wrapped my arms around her and we swayed to the smooth ballad. We continued dancing to four or five other songs until Sanyu asked me a question that caused my heart to stop beating: “Why can’t you be straight, just for me?”
Sanyu then undresses David and they kiss. By the time David gets his senses back, this reality confronts him: “I was naked. I was not alone in bed. And the person on the other side of the bed was not Joel. It was a girl. A stunningly beautiful girl with lips slightly curved in a dreamy smile.” Call it a story of a homosexual who is compelled to question his sexual identity. “It is a privilege being a finalist,” says Kisakye. “It has confirmed to me that I’ve potential as a writer. Get ready to read more of my writing in the near future”

“The Shadow” by Emmeline Bisiikwa
A First-Person narrative on the familiar theme of love, betrayal and revenge. Jess pours everything into her marriage to Danny but he still leaves her, saying his mistress is “ten times the woman” she shall ever be. It transpires Danny wants a son yet all Jess has given him are daughters.
The words “hell has no fury like a woman scorned” are lived out as Jess sets her husband’s house on fire and leaves. The power of this story is in the perfect use of verbs, making it rhythmic and enjoyable to read.
“It’s delightful being a finalist,” says Bisiikwa. “Working on this story was a challenge but my mentor, Ukamaka Olisakwe was a genius and together we managed to make the story work. The competition and mentoring process has helped me grow as a writer, so I intend to keep getting more stories out there.”

Side Walk” by Nassanga Rashidah Sarah
Life on the streets is brought to life in this story. It reveals what drives people to the streets. For example, Kama, an albino and her little brother Timmy had no option after their parents were lynched on orders of a witchdoctor because “in a backwater village of perfectly black people, two children with rare health conditions equalled sorcery.” Then there is Mamadou, a perfectly healthy mother of twins who goes to the streets because it is the easiest way of earning quick bucks. In fact she hates that she has competitors in Kama and her brother. What follows is a power struggle; one party must liquidate the other to enjoy the monopoly of beggary.
A memorable story with all the earmarks of great story-telling; fast-paced, twists and turns, tangible conflict all convincingly bringing out the idea of survival for the fittest, or the smartest – if you want! “I’m humbled being a finalist,” says Rashidah. “It was my first competition and I entered solely for the experience and skills. I never expected to get this far, at all. Whether I win or not, I’m definitely going to write some more because writing is such good therapy; I want everyone to experience it.”

--Saturday Monitor, August 10, 2013

Friday, August 2, 2013

Planting seeds of ambition


The story of Alice Nkole suitably captures the common expression that what does not kill you makes you stronger. As she traverses Ugandan schools spurring young people to higher purposes, it is difficult to accept that at the age of 14, she was falsely accused of something that nearly shattered her life.

It started with rumour spreading wildly through the school that little Alice, at 14, was HIV/Aids positive. This was in 1993 when the stigma surrounding the infected was extreme. How was a Senior Two teenager supposed to defend herself?
Alice Nkole in Dallas
Nkole decided that silence was going to be her defense. For eight years, she kept quiet while the countdown (to her death) was on: “To make matters worse, every little sickness put me down because of the emotional drain. By the time I completed high school in 1997 at Immaculate Heart Girls Secondary School Nyakibaale in Rukungiri, I looked like a typical HIV/Aids patient. The only thing I did not display was mental sickness.”

Finding herself
It is this mental strength that kept her in school despite the resentment, stigma and rejection. Night after night, tears drenched Nkole’s pillow. She prayed for death that never came, but later realised God knew she was innocent and intended to use her experience to help others discover their true worth in spite of the debilitating circumstances they might have encountered.

The empowerment of others however did not begin immediately. Nkole went to Makerere University to study Social Sciences, graduated in 2000 and could not find a job until 2002. For three eyes, she toiled away in an Indian shop for a salary that could barely meet her basic needs.

With mounting frustration, she decided she was better off suffering in a foreign country where no one knew her than staying in Uganda. She filed an application to the University of Dallas in Texas for a Master’s degree in Business Administration. Luckily, her expansively-hearted brothers and sisters chipped in and got her a ticket and part of the tuition.

Thus one day in 2007, she found herself on a plane for the first ever time, with only Shs60,000 in her purse, and an incomparable excitement, for she knew that somehow things would work out for good.

Taking a leap of faith
In Dallas, her first mission was to find a job, but heard that international students were not being hired anymore. “But I believed in exceptions, so I confidently approached Melissa Ellis who was in charge of Graduate Assistantships and told her I badly needed the job otherwise I would die.”

To Nkole’s delight, she was granted an interview. The first question was if she had a car. Texas has no walk-ways. Everyone owns a car. The panel was worried how she would be getting to work. She told them her strong legs were her best car, and reassured them to sack her the day she reported to work late.

“What had began as a laughing matter at a Ugandan girl who walked to work ended up being the inspiration as other students began to believe in their ability to walk too,” she says mirthfully. “The 30-minute walk became a treasure that I would forever cherish as it turned out to be my refilling moment; the only personal time with God I ever had off the busy schedule.”

A job in Disney World
After her Masters, she landed an intern position at Walt Disney World in Florida: “This is the largest single site employer in North America with more than 70,000 employees. So I gave it my best. In addition to getting valuable experience in business management, I wanted to paint a new picture with a pleasant colour that black people are not lazy, but that we are in fact very hardworking, professional and honest even in small things. I wanted to show everyone that we have goals and dreams to achieve just like everybody else.”

For her outstanding performance, Nkole was within three months promoted and appointed to handle one of Disney’s entities: the Disney Publishing Worldwide where the girl all the way from Bugangari in Rukungiri had great experiences competing with the cream of America’s professionals.

Arousing abilities
The four challenging albeit rewarding years of her life abroad were all she needed to fully discover her purpose in life. In 2011, she returned and founded the Sense of Value and Purpose International Network, to help those who have lost their sense of value and purpose get it back. With the ability to identify with all kinds of people and backgrounds, nothing was going to stop her.

“We are busy arousing people’s abilities and planting new seeds of ambition to a twakowa (tired) generation,” she says. The Network has so far been to 18 schools including Gayaza High School, Comboni College Kambuga in Kanungu and to Makerere University among others, where she has been shocked by the fears and insecurities of the unloved.

Alice inspiring students of comprehensive college
“Many youth have been left to figure out life on their own; they are not told what to expect or how to face this challenging life optimistically,” she says. “The youth are not getting inspiration and the emotional support to believe in themselves, be positive about life and understand that making mistakes is not the end. And that is the gap I’m trying to close with the little that I am doing.

To reach out to as many people as she can, Nkole recently released a book titled Seeds of Ambition rallying all to rise above life’s obstacles and refuse to be entangled in the rat race of meaningless, superficial, empty living, but rather to quickly find the authenticity, determination and enterprise that distinguishes the great.

“Work like you are the top-paid person in the organization; work like you earn USD 100,000 a month; work like a manager of your own enterprise – giving it the best you can,” she advises fervently, “and never even ever think of quitting because quitters are never winners!”

--Sunday Monitor, July 21, 2013

Literature icon gone


On the morning of July 20, the literature fraternity woke up to the heartrending news of the death of Victor Amos Byabamazima, 71, a man whose contribution to the education sector and publishing industry in East Africa was outstanding.

The late Victor Amos Byabamazima
An affable and loving man with a subtle sense of humour and quick wit that captivated those with whom he interacted, Byabamazima taught English and Literature in Ugandan and Kenyan schools before distinguishing himself as an author and publisher.

“The sun has set over one of the finest minds of his generation. Victor was a teacher and educationist by profession, but over the years, his search for intellect turned him into many other disciplines. “He became an administrator, a novelist, playwright, a literary critic, editor, publisher and consultant. So intellectually active was he that even a few days before he was admitted into the hospital, he was in the final stages of editing a new play, and polishing up a manuscript of Rukiga proverbs and idioms,” said retired ambassador and novelist, Godfrey Mwene Kalimugogo who was a close friend of the deceased. “He was also a man whose deep and penetrative intellect ranged freely over many academic disciplines, thus he was at home discussing philosophy, politics, metaphysics, history or literature. He will be greatly missed.”

His contributions
Byabamazima’s writings include English Primer for Beginners (2000) and English: Vital Elements and Skills (2002) – text books for upper primary and secondary school levels respectively, a novel, Shadows of Time ((1999) and three plays: The Interview in Afrikatauni (2001), Roadblock (2006) and The School (1991), a satirical comedy listed in the Heinemann Drama series that enjoyed acclaim and stage performances in Kenya and was reprinted by the East African Educational Publishers in 2011.

“He was one of the pillars responsible for developing the culture of reading, writing and publishing in Uganda. He truly believed in the ideal that for Uganda’s cultural sector to thrive, it was best to create opportunities for indigenous authors and publishers to grow,” said Charles Batambuze, from the National Book Trust of Uganda (Nabotu), an organisation that Byabamazima helped found in 1997. Nabotu is instrumental in inspiring quality through its annual literary awards.
FROM LEFT: The late Victor Byabamazima, myself and Ambassodor Godfrey Mwene Kalimugogo
Byabamazima’s publishing firm, VB Services, focused on works of fiction and talent development. Its latest publication is Kalimugogo’s 2012 novel, Escape from Shadows. 

“He introduced me to the world of book publishing and spurred me to aim higher,” said Taddeo Bwambale whose short-story Die, Dear Tofa, won the 2008 Commonwealth Short Story Competition for Africa Region, while journalist and poet Lindah Niwenyesiga who worked under Byabamazima when he was the Publishing Manager at Baroqu
e Publishers (2008-2010) said:  “He was always there to guide me when I was still a novice in editing, and would also encourage young professionals to grow by sending us to attend enriching training outside the company.”

The deceased’s life motto was, “Always learn ahead.” According his brother Prof. Sam Turyamuhika, he even planned ahead his departure from this world by making peace with God.

Accepting Christ
Two years ago, Byabamazima gathered his entire family and told them he had accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour. 

“All of us are in transit and each one of us needs salvation,” Rev. Canon Ben Mugarura, a childhood friend of the late told mourners during the requiem service at All Saints Cathedral, Nakasero. “Victor got it. He has even been having a fellowship in his home. We celebrate the fact that Jesus’ invitation to him was accepted and now he is with the Lord.”

When his prostate cancer took a turn for the worst, Byabamazima told his wife that he had reached the end of his short story. But to his five children, the gentle soul will always be remembered as a doting father, and his name will always be valued in East Africa’s education and literature.

--Saturday Monitor, July 27, 2013