let’s celebrate Philly Lutaaya again on December 1 – and take up his challenge to DO SOMETHING ABOUT HIV/AIDS

This coming December 1 will be World AIDS Day once again, and you might (should) wear a red ribbon to commemorate the day.
A short while ago I was in a classroom in Bweyogerere covering the visit of the RTI International Chief Executive Officer, Wayne Holden, and some of his Global Executives. Part of what they do, along with USAID, DFID (UKAID) and the government, is support educational programmes.
One of those programmes, strangely enough, promotes reading in vernacular. So I was in this classroom full of children reading schoolbooks in Luganda while a group of Americans who had no clue of the language, nodded in appreciation of something.
I was nodding at something different – the story the teacher was reading out to them, in Luganda, was about Philly Bongoley Lutaaya, and his role in raising awareness about HIV/AIDS.
The children were reading along and looking up in silence and serious attention as she enunciated her words carefully for their learning benefit, and they imbibed everything about the Ugandan hero.
I knew for a fact, as I watched those children, that my own did not know much about Philly Bongoley Lutaaya besides the comments I kept making every time I played his music.
As the teacher read his story I recalled his visiting us at King’s College Budo, and how I felt when I got to shake his hand. That was a mark for me that helped me overcome the stigma of how contagious the disease was.
And I still feel the rush of adrenaline I felt when he played cricket up there, with John Nagenda, and after swinging for one ball, collapsing in a heap to a collective gasp that seemed to go round the whole school.
He got up smiling after a panicked group had raced to him, unsure what they were going to have to do – it had been a small prank.
But when he eventually passed on the gasps we exhaled went round the whole world, as did our tears.Philly Lutaaya III
The man was a hero. A heavy-on-the-mind Ugandan hero.
I was sad that my children don’t know enough about him and that their schooling in english was neglecting these lessons, but I was happy that many other children in the countryside are getting this exposure.
And then it hit me that the gap was my responsibility.
That evening, I went home and asked them if they remembered him – and the name was familiar, so I assigned them the task of doing research on Philly Bongoley Lutaaya and presenting their papers to me within a couple of days.
To help them along, I played his music for a couple of days and was myself refreshed by how much he promoted tourism in his songs and videos, how much he promoted Uganda’s (not just Buganda) cultures, his contribution to health awareness, and how he ably demonstrated the fun and creative side of Ugandans.
I eagerly awaited the children’s papers and was pleasantly surprised when they handed them in Saturday morning – and I discovered from them that that very day was Philly Lutaaya Day!
Philly Lutaaya
As I was reading through their papers, celebrations were being held in Kanoni, Gomba District, which the official flyer I eventually received said were “to mobilise wanainchi to take action by coming out openly to share what they are doing as individuals, as communities and as a nation to STOP HIV as Uganda moves towards zero infections, zero discrimination and zero deaths.”
I couldn’t go to Kanoni that day, but we spent the day thinking about Philly Lutaaya, and that evening lit candles in his honour as we watched his music videos and appreciated further – adults and children alike – his importance in our history.
On World AIDS Day this December 1, we will pay attention to him again, as our Ugandan hero of the day, as well as address the challenge: “What are you doing to stop HIV?”
All triggered by a Luganda story book being read out to schoolchildren in a classroom in Bweyogerere, by a schoolteacher whose name I did not get but who also represents another group of Ugandan heroes out there making a massive difference in this society of ours.
Philly Lutaaya IV

Victor Ochen: let’s take him viral for Uganda

Allan Ssenyonga (@ssojo81 on Twitter) is a Ugandan living and working in Rwanda who makes incisive, prolific observations every so often in his weekly newspaper column down south (I don’t get that paper in regularly), and more importantly, on Twitter.
A week ago he was angry at the Ugandan media focus on Desire Luzinda, Bad Black and the likes of Zari instead of presumably ‘more serious’ matters.
“Dear friends,” he wrote, “that’s how Bad Black/Desire Luzinda find space on page one while you struggle to know when the next LC elections will be held.”
“From setting the agenda,” he continued, “newspapers now just reflect what is trending on social media…in the process (the papers) have lost their voice.”
We applauded him, in between tweets about the just-leaked racy nudes of one Sheebah, a musician.
“Newspapers seem to be struggling to be blogs. Like that 30yr old who still wants to sag his jeans to hangout with campus kids,” he went on.
He hit nail after nail on the head with heavy, effective tweets, but of course life went on and the newspapers are probably not following him THAT keenly.
By the time he was tweeting this up, I was popping off a few of my own seeking excitement, on Twitter at least, about 2015 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Victor Ochen, whose appearances on our front pages so far have not been numerous enough by far.
Victor Ochen’s popularity amongst the social media crowd is low, of course, because of his severe failure to be photographed in a state of undress or on video while engaged in a sexual act.
Victor Ochen and-Archbishop-Desmond-TutuThe most commonly available photograph of him online has him draping his arm over the shoulder of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
This amazing young fellow is being lauded (a nomination on its own is serious global applause) for starting and running the African Youth Initiative Network (AYINET) in northern Uganda which has changed the lives of thousands of people.
Without focusing on how young he is in calendar years, Victor Ochen’s initiative has provided direct surgical medical rehabilitation to more than 5,000 victims of torture, gunshot wounds, rape and other forms of war-related trauma in northern Uganda.
And while most people prepared to cast votes for the Social Media Awards 2015, he got nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
And he wasn’t nominated by me, or any other Ugandan I know – even though nominating someone isn’t complicated at all – the categories of persons and organisations who can nominate people are many and include any Member of Parliament (Victor Ochen’s MP must be kicking himself right now, I wrote in my first version of this article; but when he read it on Saturday night – the early edition of the Sunday newspaper – he sent me a Facebook message and we had a good chat about this.
Victor Ochen’s Member of Parliament is Moroto County’s Benson Obua-Ogwal and he is NOT kicking himself over this.
“I’m not surprised by his nomination, and he deserves it. But you and I know that it is hard to know exactly the criteria for such nominations, going by many past winners. I dare say if the nomination came from me or a fellow African of any rank it probably would not have carried as much weight as the nomination from …(this is revealed a few paragraphs from here)... He has worked very closely with international friends, and we have been in touch. I am proud of his work. I’m praying he wins. It will be my pride and that of the people of Moroto County, Lango and Uganda!!” he told me.
To nominate someone you just send an email to postmaster@nobel.no; but obviously if your airtime has been eaten up by all those WhatsApp messages with photos and videos of Ugandan ‘celebs’, then you can’t send that email.
Without saying that all of us who didn’t nominate Victor Ochen for the Nobel consideration were otherwise engaged in soft pornography, guess who nominated him?
The American Friends Service Committee.
No, it is NOT a Ugandan organisation with an American name. The organisation doesn’t even list Uganda as one of the countries in which it has operations, so I am not certain or how where they heard of Victor Ochen.
The AFSC itself won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947, and so is high up on the list of organisations allowed to nominate future winners. We have to applaud them for using their valued opportunity on Victor Ochen.
There is no telling exactly how many people have been nominated for the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize, since the organisers, the Nobel Foundation, keep the list of nominations secret for 50 YEARS!
Still, there are people who make their nominations public, and so we know that Victor Ochen is up against Pope Francis, Ban Ki-Moon, Edward Snowden and the World Health Organisation, among around 200 or so others.
At this point, it is not healthy to judge your own friends, or posse, or investment club as you ponder the proverb regarding ‘birds of a feather’.
Instead, salute Victor Ochen for getting nominated by way of noble Victor Ochen 2hard work, and say a prayer or cross your fingers that the Ugandan flag will be flown in places such as the location at which the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates are announced and awarded.
And tell your children about Victor Ochen so that they aspire to be like him. Also, if you can take a break from your smart phone, or the bar, or life as usual otherwise, lobby our educationists so that they include the work of Victor Ochen and people like him on the curriculum of our schools.
It is important for our millions of students to get exposed to more of Uganda’s Victor Ochen’s than all these undressed celebs and their shenanigans.
And maybe for our media to tell us more about the work of AYINET than the last sighting of a photograph of a nude person on the mobile phone of a misguided person.
In fact, YOU get a photo of Victor Ochen and send it round to a couple of people with a few positive comments just in case you can inspire more people to be like him.
Victor Ochen
The heroic Victor Ochen – photo from http://www.africanyouthinitiative.org/