God bless all parents of all journalists – now and in the future



THE cameras in the hall at the CNN Multichoice African Journalist Awards last weekend kept flashing off glistening eyes every time the Awardees said their words of tribute.
See, every time someone remembers the contribution of their parents and acknowledges it in public you must think about your own parents. If you’re a responsible adult, tears normally ensue. Tears intermingled with silent prayers of gratitude, praise and worship; because God bless all parents who allow their children to become journalists.

Those are parents sacrificing their own comfort just so their children can fulfill their own calling while contributing to making this world a better place without getting paid for it in ways that attract more derision than envy.

Those are parents agreeing to see their children live as broke, money-less adults. Parents who will proudly clip their children’s stories out of newspapers or record them on video tapes while hoping they won’t have to contribute to rent payments yet again, after all those years of paying school fees.

Parents who read or watch those stories again and again and wonder whether the corrupt official, inept civil servant or brutal officer won’t take up some form of painful revenge against their children. Parents who buy extra bits of goodies for their grandchildren just because they know how humbling their children’s paychecks really are.

Asha Mwilu, half of the duo that won the top Africa Journalist Award 2016, brought it to life with her tribute to her mother: “Thanks for the ear rings!”

Not that parents are only useful in funding and supporting journalists who are generally underpaid; these parents inspire us. Asha, again, told us how she switched from Law to Journalism, and focused on terrorism as her beat.

Her (with co-winner Rashid Idi) award winning story this year was “Terror Crossing”. It’s a TV story about security and terrorism at the Kenya-Somali border, in Mandera County –  a place many do not dare go to but where these young journalists spent days and nights filming and talking to people just so the rest of the world sees reality. They didn’t hide their identities like the secret agents a la ‘Jason Bourne’ and other such characters we celebrate in movies, and they didn’t use face paints to camouflage their faces in any way.

Yet their work put them directly in the line of fire and went straight against what some really dangerous people believe and do.

Asha’s stepfather was one of the victims lying under the rubble of the Al-Qaeda bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi in 1998. That step-father did not just inspire her, but with her mother had also set that moral compass that journalists seem to contain in more measure than the people they cover – regardless of the beat they patrol.

Her decision was made when she wasn’t even ten years old, because she needed to get to the bottom of this terrorism thing and tell the stories so that other children the world over would understand why their parents kept dying in an apparently needless manner. Her ear-ring buying mother, having lost a loved one to terrorist activity, would have been well within rights stopping her lovely daughter from getting into harm’s way. But again: God bless that woman, along with all those other parents of journalists.
And thanks to the CNN and Multichoice people, all other parents of ordinary people get to learn that THIS profession involves more than just jotting down a few words every week or propping up a camera at workshops, so we applaud them as well.
The free-flowing tears of joy and triumph, even on the faces of nominees who didn’t actually win and people who hadn’t even participated, were well justified.
When spouses and children got their share of gratitude for bearing with this career and its “issues”, we applauded. Most people who don’t know journalists, or live with them, or have to rely on them for supper in the evenings and school fees at the beginning of term have no idea what it entails.

Most of them cannot understand how a journalist can spend weeks, months, even years, pursuing one single story. Then getting paid a few thousand shillings for it.
Do you know what freelancing is? You have to respect those guys – adults who go to work every single day at a job where they don’t have a regular salary. Getting paid by the story is never easy – even when you command ‘colossal’ amounts like Ushs100,000 per article as some of us do with our columns (I believe the IGG and URA are already officially aware of this).
Freelancers are sometimes paid Ushs5,000 per article or story published. Those guys you see pushing recorders into the faces of politicians and bank managers at the morning press conference? By day’s end they are going to try to submit four stories and hope that at least one gets published – an average of Ushs150,000 per month if they get one story in per day, every day. Yet they have children who should go to schools like yours do. They have the same taste buds as you do, and would not mind filling up a fridge by way of the same supermarket experience as yours.
But they stick to the job and chase after Besigye and his rioters or the police and its rambunctious citizenry, and elusive corporate managers who won’t tell a straight story first time round, and…
Can you calculate what it takes to spend a night at a concert looking out for every possible angle of interest? Then spending your own money on a few drinks and muchomo and transport home, then to office with or without a hangover to beat the deadline, just so you can tell the story of what happened so that those who were at another event can know?
And I mean every angle: gate collections so that URA can compare with their collector declarations; costs so event organisers can stay friends with transparency; attendance so husbands and wives are accountable to each other; enjoyment levels so the performer can land another gig elsewhere…the list is long.
And how many journalists are killed and jailed and beaten and abused…all around the world? 

You can’t imagine how it feels like to be the Parent of a person whose work is out there in public getting dissected and critiqued every single day by the widest possible range of people – everyone! (Just like Politicians – and most times a Journalist reporting on a Political comes under just as much scrutiny as the Politician they’ve quoted, or recorded or filmed). 

Doctors will mostly get their public assessment from the families of the people they treat, Pilots and Drivers the occupants of their planes, taxis or buses; Teachers, by the parents of their children, and the children themselves. Journalists? Like Politicians, it’s everyone. So think about how the Parents of these journalists feel when they’re minding their own business in a meeting, or at a party, or in a bus and the conversation turns to that news story and, “That journalist must have been paid to write this!”

It’s not easy being a journalist, but it must be much harder being the parent of a journalist. 
So seriously, God Bless all the Parents of all Journalists!

improve your sales – lessons from saalongo mukiibi, the sugar cane guy

LAST Saturday after a brief discussion about urban poverty and the seeming hopeless of many of our very numerous youth in this country, I drove past Bugolobi and spotted my sugar cane guy there back at his station. I had noticed on some days over the last couple of weeks that he was not always at this point, and twice I had stopped to ask why but the boda men at the stage never seemed to know or care.
I had lost interest in him as a supplier a while back because he is located at a very busy spot right in front of the market where the parking is tight or scarce, and many a time one can’t catch his attention quickly enough to avoid road rage from other users whose interest in roadside sugar cane doesn’t match mine.
At any rate, his sugar cane is much more expensive than other suppliers I have found elsewhere, even though his product (the green stems called something like ‘gowa’) is superior to most other thin stems, being more fleshy and therefore juicy.
This Saturday the traffic was a little light so I took the opportunity to address a few irritations he presents, and as I was holding the seminar with him I realized that some boda men and one or two muchomo grillers (those that do sausages and chicken) were keenly eavesdropping. What I was telling the chap was useful to them as well – and, it would turn out, to anyone doing any sort of business.
First of all, he had a habit of facing the market rather than the road, so he constantly has his back to the considerable traffic going up into Bugolobi. Explaining to him that his location was prime for retail, I told him to re-position himself so he faced the traffic directly. That way, he would make eye contact with potential and actual customers and sell much more; even without making a sale, it would be easier for him to market his product if he smiled at all the cars driving slowly past, and gestured to them politely to try out his product.
But having done that, I told him, he needed to clean up his appearance. Like most of the roadside sugar cane guys who normally sell the stuff off of the back of a bicycle or wheelbarrow, his clothes were as filthy as the sugar cane itself. He, individually, was worse than most as his style of clothing was urban grunge – torn jeans, wrinkled clothing and basically dirty and messy, all the way through to his unkempt hair.
This, I told him, would not attract more customers especially if he judged them by the vehicles they drove and their concerns of the hygiene involved in his ‘processed’ product. One reason he stood facing away from the road was he was busy peeling and chopping up sugar cane into bits to put into buveera for those who wanted it already peeled – he didn’t have gloves but at least he had covered his hands with buveera while doing so, because sugar cane is so white you can’t hide grime even though bacteria is invisible.
We stood there and counted the Range Rovers, Land Cruisers and Mercedes Benzes going by and he agreed that those were certainly potential high value customers but they would be unlikely to hold a conversation with him, let alone allow him to lean against their vehicles if he were so shabbily turned out.
When I pointed to one of the muchomo guys and explained that the white coats they wore were to project the hygiene expectations that would give a customer comfort that they wouldn’t fall ill from eating that roadside meat, they all nodded.
Then, I told the fellow, get a piece of cardboard and neatly but clearly write the price of the sugar cane then prop it up so that everybody driving by can see it – display pricing will make some of these potential customers stop and think, “Hey! I can afford that quite easily…” and even if they don’t stop to buy right then, they can send a maid running down the road after they get home.
In fact, we agreed, even the sugar cane itself should be propped up in a manner that makes it call out to the potential customer, rather than laid out on the road out of sight. Actually, the people driving past get to see more of the sugar cane peelings than the sugar cane itself, making that spot appear to be a garbage collection point rather than a sugar cane point of sale.
He nodded as more of the boda men came closer and worked their auricles harder.
Even better, I suggested humbly, how about adding your name to that piece of cardboard so you brand your sugarcane and make it distinct from all the others in the village, division or district?
He smiled. His name is Mukiibi Saalongo.
Fantastic! I exclaimed; use Saalongo rather than Mukiibi, so that customers believe that they are helping to support the livelihood of a man who is looking after a couple of twins – in fact, thinking about it now I should go back and tell him to get involved the next time there is a Twins Festival organized by The New Vision, as that would be the perfect marketing opportunity for him and his products.
At this point in our seminar, though, I couldn’t resist pointing out that his current appearance made one worry that all the money he receives goes straight into habits that keep law enforcement officials busy at night and very early in the morning.
He laughed, but agreed with the opinion – also because a couple of boda chaps were also chuckling on the fringes of our roadside workshop.
And then he expressed his thanks and introduced a “But the problem is…” – Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) demands license fees that make it difficult for him to operate. This is a serious problem for these fellows, and keeps them ready to up and disappear at the sight of the KCCA enforcement colours turning a corner.
But I wasn’t done yet, and detailed to him how if he faced the road and did all the above he could easily set up a sugar cane delivery system right into the homes of those 1,200 apartments in Bugolobi and more than 500 residents living there – using his bicycle.
And, if it all worked out well then he would increase sales exponentially (I did not use this very word with Saalongo Mukiibi) and sell much more than the 40 sugar canes he ferries on his bicycle every day.
I think.
We’ll find out when we do a review – in about a month’s time.

focus on the elephant, not the birds

dsc_2871-1TOO much has been said on social media platforms in response to the one negative “review” (quote marks very deliberate) about the uplifting movie ‘Queen of Katwe‘.
Most of the vitriol and anger poured onto the unfortunate author of the negative review was based on his confession that he only watched 20 minutes of the movie before forming his opinion.
The fact that his twenty minutes was slamming down a two-hour movie that took more than two years to script and produce should have made us all pull our punches a little bit, even before paying attention to his credentials as a film critic.
I didn’t know, when I met him at the entrance of the movie theatre that night, that the reviewer had gone through so much anguish inside there, and greeted him brightly as he took photographs of the area and those of us hanging about.
By that time my focus wasn’t on going in to watch the movie or take photographs with the stars both Ugandan and foreign. There was finally rumbling in some quarters of Uganda, with people indignantly decrying the fact that a large part of ‘Queen Of Katwe’ was shot in another country. The fact that this rumbling was coming two years too late was as amusing as an intellectual addressing mere minutes of a movie and not even once ever mentioning the three-year old book on which the movie was based.
And as soon as the negative “review” landed I knew there was going to be a digression into the non-essential – against that Ugandan proverb that warns the hunter in pursuit of an elephant to avoid stopping on the way to throw stones at birds.
Let’s focus on the elephant instead: The ‘Queen Of Katwe’ has set a major stone rolling for Uganda and we must keep it going. First, we should focus on the Ugandan giants who got that stone rolling, rather than those that stick toes out in its path. Those giants are Robert Katende, Phionah Mutesi, Tendo Nagenda and Mira Nair.
Phionah Mutesi embodies the true spirit of a good Ugandan, fighting all odds to rise up and excel in her chosen field. Robert Katende is a superb Ugandan, selflessly committing all his energy to helping vulnerable others overcome struggle and realise their potential, and gives Phionah reason to be such a big global story. Tendo Nagenda is a patriotic Ugandan, moving mountains to get a moving Ugandan story told to the rest of the world by Ugandans in Uganda representing Phionah, Robert and many of us. Mira Nair is an enterprising, energetic Ugandan (yes – Ugandan!) who executes the emotional stories of all these Ugandans with such cinematic excellence that even the most negative people acknowledge the brilliance there.
Even a month from now we probably won’t be talking about Phionah, Robert, Tendo or Mira on the mainstream pages of our newspapers, and by the time the roll of Medals is being read out in Kololo next year their names might not be on it – in spite of the tens, perhaps hundreds, of millions of dollars worth of positive publicity Uganda will have raked in from ‘Queen of Katwe’.
I was quite concerned when I saw more officials of other countries trying to hobnob with the film people from Hollywood, and even alarmed when some of them let slip their plans to benefit from our ‘Queen of Katwe’. Luckily for Uganda, we have a very responsive Prime Minister, who didn’t hesitate to swing over to spend a couple of hours with the industry people to seriously discuss what else Uganda can do – both government and the private sector – to get more movies filmed here within our borders.
Within a matter of hours the good Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda had focussed the discussion and assigned a team to put together plans that would focus the various parts of the government so that our national efforts are effective at making it easier for both local and foreign film producers to make use of our amazing range of scenery for location shoots, our vast amount of acting and other performing arts talent, and to develop our infrastructure so that the Disney’s of this world choose us first every single time.
“The hunter in pursuit of an elephant does not stop to throw stones at birds,” reads that Ugandan proverb. Focus on the elephant, all. The birds will always flitter off whether you throw stones at them or not, but every step you lose in your pursuit of the elephant lets it get further and further away; elephants move very, very fast but once you’ve caught one very many people will eat for many, many days (*Ignore the poaching allusion).