I used to be the guy words came to easily. Like water flowing off a leaf; words just occurred to me. I’d sleep – wake up and type nearly 500 words without any pointless meandering.
It was, partly, because my job required writing.
You see, those days, I wrote for a news agency. We had fancy offices on the quiet Mawanda road. Have you met a quiet place in the middle of the city centre? Mawanda road is that place. Our office was a well-built 1990’s home. The landlady, when we got there, told us it used to be an ambassador’s residence. Then it all made sense. Ambassadors don’t require noise. They are pre-occupied thinking about big diplomatic things. Like what would happen if North Korea bombed the United States? What is the status of trade relations between Russia and Kosovo?
I once interviewed the ambassador of an African Islamic country at his residence in Kololo. It’s also a quiet place – in case you were wondering. He had an ivory-made smoke pipe that was loaded with shisha. He kept puffing smokeballs into the air and riddling us on 1970’s history of Mengistu. And how his country had been ready to fight them then.
“You see, Jimmy Carter called us to stop escalating the war” he name-dropped. I kept staring both at the smokeballs in the air and his protruding pot-belly. “And I told my President, these Americans, they should concentrate on fighting Cuba” he added.
All this time, I kept scribbling down in my reporters’ notebook. And drawing cartoons when he got boring. Then, he gave me my byte. A byte is something important in the news world. It is the marijuana in a joint. The bullet in a gun. The button on a jacket.
“We won’t hesitate to go to war with Uganda” the byte went.
I’m not sure I heard anything after that but I was hoping to rush back to the newsroom and write. I would splash a big headline – ‘[Insert Country Here] READY FOR WAR – AMBASSADOR.
I just couldn’t wait to write the story. But that was when I was still good at writing.
Now I suffer what people call a ‘writers’ block’. Its constipation but of words for writers. It is like peacetime for soldiers. You’re all of a sudden ‘useless’. You spend days planning the next battle that won’t come. I stare at skies from expensive restaurants and draw a gaze of the whole city. Then I think about writing about the moments using big words like ‘behemoth’. But that is all. I hardly write them.
Now I am trying to find my muse, again!
I’m gearing for a battle of a blog a week. That’s like world war III but fought by a tired veteran from the 1st world war. The shooting is rickety; the guns have that croaky sound of rust pipe, there’s every likelihood that all targets will be missed. But what’s life without rebirth?
These, dear friends, are my battles at overcoming writer’s block.
The 1st of October marked exactly two years since I joined the amazing family at NTV- Uganda.
My core role at the station has been delivering quality investigations and special features that give context to the news. It is a duty I have executed with strength, agility and have potent results to show.
From there on, it has been the hard work and intellectual rigor of informing the public be it from Kasese clashes, to South Sudan, to the hunger that devastated the country for the opening half of the year.
On some occasions, like the elections, we have not delivered to the best of our potential particularly on the concerns of it’s rigging and events following it.
Investigative journalism is not a mere side-piece to the news, it is a core part of the news. It should sit at the heart of each and every journalist, we should seek and pursue truth to it’s logical and believable end.
It is this duty, the demand of hard work that I choose to set my eyes on every day.
The traditional media’s quest to respond to the waning influence it has on the consumption of information must also include asking the tough and soul searching question of it’s investment in finding information the public needs and the institutions created to sustain truth-telling.
I am leaving NTV proud of the work we have accomplished as a team in finding the truth. I hold my head high for the opportunity we have had to express the voice of the voiceless, to use our stories in the search for justice and for the balance and editorial fairness we have accorded everyone, the very basic of journalism.
I will, in the coming week join a new team principally to build the institution of investigative story telling and find more attractive ways of telling stories to younger and determining audiences – to create the blue ocean of media consumption.
Good bye my family at NTV. I wish nothing but the best for the team.
I’d grossly underestimated how much I needed time off until I actually got it.
Two weeks ago, after four years of working from one headline to another, I took time off – they call it annual leave in the working world.
I was granted atleast three-quarters of my due leave which was well into half a century of days.
I had plans lined up for it; Travel, food, catch up with old buddies, visit my dad who is now into seven months of his retirement and also grow personal bonds with friends and family.
I worked hard to clear my desk before I left, working till 1 am on the last two days to my leave.
When it eventually started, I was glad it had come.
I’d genuinely missed what it felt like to sleep-in the morning. My work schedule demanded I wake up at 4;30 am everyday – I’d ceded that in my leave.
The living room bulb which had blown on one of the many evenings I came back late had not been replaced, leave was here –and I’d fix it.
My library was growing with books I had bookmarked after 20 pages or simply hadn’t read yet. A manuscript and it’s ensuing sisters haunted me every evening I returned home.
My blog, this one, would have made for a good cob-web study before this came along.
But most importantly, leave allowed me to claw back on how much of myself I’d given to the world at the expense of myself. The ultimate work-life balance is something that many young people driven by ideas and passion are struggling with – and by extension failing at.
We are so obsessed with creating the world we want to live with that we often forget to live in the one we are at the moment.
So I have now been two weeks into leave and boy oh boy, has it been rewarding!
We all deserve some time off, to rest, travel, see the world outside the disruptive schedules of work.
Have you taken leave recently, what are you waiting for?
On the road to Arua, there’s a small town called Migeera. It Is so inconsequential that the name itself means nothing. (If there is, I wouldn’t want to know).
Okay, besides having a fuel station with pump attendants that add an extra zero to the fuel you’ve asked for, the rest is forgettable or downright regrettable.
I once stopped there to send a story. I’d been covering a campaign rally in Masindi and figured I should be in town before dawn, so after the rally, I rushed off as I edited my TV story and because then, MTN had given me this little thing from Alcatel they call a modem and told me it works at all towns in what they coded as 4G, I took it.
Migeera was that town after Masindi to Kampala. I stopped at it and ordered a cup of milk tea and chapattis – that’s again because they had no food – and started the very easy (or so I thought) task of sending 46 MB’s of data to an email address in Kampala.
20 minutes on, when I noticed they hadn’t brought our tea yet, the thing was buffering at 12%. Migeera, again, had no internet connection to offer.
When the milk got to us, it was as tasteless as the tap water flowing in my house and it probably was more a cup of water than it was milk. I refused it. I didn’t pay for it. My story didn’t send. The town remained as useless to me as it’s name had been written.
I’m so sure its useless that I’m convinced even Mabirizi, the last candidate in our recently concluded polls didn’t campaign here – even if it looked like he’d pick some votes. Or atleast they’d convince him to a tasteless cup of milk that floated at the top with water ‘down there’.
But that’s really not the point, every town in Uganda, should atleast have a hotel with a decent bed to sleep and meals to add.
Last week, while covering the refugee crisis in Uganda, there’s 1.2 million of them here now, I drove to Arua. The journey there is experiential and littered with the beautiful nature Uganda’s upcountry serves up.
To get to Arua, you pass through the inconsequential Migeera town, they have their signpost on the road, you can hardly miss it. If you google them and it will help if you have MTN’s new unlimited data thing, the first links that pop up on youtube are about the budding prostitution in the area.
But back to Arua.
It sits on the border with Uganda and the mineral rich DRC.
It should, by now, be a city but it isn’t, and I’ll tell you why;
It behaves like Migeera town.
They have menus with ‘omullets’ and ‘sand witch’
The town is fully asleep at 8pm.
Onduparaka is still conceding 7 goals against a city club.
Every so often, I get fed up of our city – Kampala, that is.
I loathe it’s traffic jams. I hate the bad roads, especially the one to my home now. I hate that only a few of our streets are lit.
I still have the basic fear that someone will creep up to the car and grab my gadgets or that someone will try to sell me mosquito nets and chargers and toilet papers and under garment shorts all in one go.
So I take all the trips I can out of the city. And my friends know this. One of them, Athan, decided to get married in these last weeks. I don’t know if it was to help me get away from the city but it has an element of it, if you look closely.
Athan is Rwandan and Ugandan. There’s hardly a difference between those two. Athan married his beautiful Burundian bride. He believes in the regional integration. So, to mark the occasion we had to go to Rwanda. And learn words like ‘Gusaba’ and ‘Kufasha’. We had to learn that suits are not exactly the most welcome fashion at a Gusaba. We had to learn to get used to being told ‘Bon Apetit’ when lunch was served and learn to leave the pineapples on the dessert plate they were served on.
Rwanda always has a surprise up their sleeves when you visit. A new hotel here, a roundabout you didn’t leave there, a bar of people talking about a gorilla permit fee and radios that can’t get past their obsession for Darassa and Ben Pol’s ‘Muziki’. It’s so famous now, their President dances to it.
The receptionists at the Kigali Serena headbob to it as they work. They’ve got the whole smiling and warm regards for their customers going. They’ll lead you to your room asking you about your trip in Luganda and Runyakore when you tell them you’re from the West.
Even the guy that serves the morning’s highly recommended breakfast mumbles a ‘Kamata’ as he places the croissants and sausages on the table.
Athan hadn’t warned me early enough about this. I had errands to run in the city before the wedding. It was only a week to the Transform Africa conference and many of my high profile interviews needed to be locked in with face to face meetings. Luckily, Serena had a thing for gathering many of them.
They’d either be at the Poolside bar taking in the band as they sip on half-priced cocktails or at the Maisha spa, burning their body weight away as CNN announced the new UK election. Meanwhile, Britons, make up your minds, you don’t announce an election fwaa. It takes us years to have one back here.
But well, Athan had elected to get married. That counts!
And I too had elected; To be out of my crazy city and be pampered under the Kigali sun. I also elected to Darassa’s ‘Muziki’ song atleast for as long as the Serena kept the speakers running.
I don’t think I can describe how my weekend was in a word.
It was good on Saturday – extremely exciting. I got to watch KCCA, a team I don’t support, lift the league. Despite being an SC Villa Fan for a decade, I was happy a deserving team had reaped the fruits of their sweat.
A few years ago, still under the old system of managing Kampala, KCC FC – as it was called then – struggled to do anything; ranging from paying players right down to putting water at the pitch side for them.
Saturday was a real testimony of growth. The team played against a struggling Sadolin Paints. The turf was everything standard international football is made of; artificial, well watered and green. There were no dodgy patches or unannounced holes waiting to swallow a player’s foot.
The pitch side was organised, the game was free for all fans and the crowd was electric.
KCCA was unveiling it’s new jersey – yellow with blue stripes – a proper fit on all its players. The match stewards wore it and capped it with their light green vests. Let’s also acknowledge that there were match stewards in the first place. And ball boys. And that the coach, Mike Mutebi, wore a suit.
With such precision in organisation, the reflection played out on the field. The club trusts its young talent. So much so, their backline averages 23 years and the entire squad averages 24 years of age. They also have, in their outfit, a 17 year old – Okello.
It took ten minutes for their flourishing possession and accuracy of passing to get one behind the net and if you didn’t believe them, they were back on the 22nd minute to prove their point with a second.
It was easy to believe their story of transformation. They had hired the best ; one, Mike Mutebi, as their coach, paid the price for the finest – like Sserunkuma, the top scorer who finished almost with twice as many goals as the next competitor.
The back end of KCCA FC’s administration was shockingly effective for a Ugandan football club. They crammed into a room on the sidelines of the field, typing away behind neatly organised PC’s, a game match sheet was availed in print, media tags were handed out by uniformed KCCA ushers. Everything about the game was amazing.
It brought to me the question of how far organising systems works in fixing problems.
Granted, KCCA isn’t perfect. They still have trouble attracting young fans, they have problems organising the digital department, their public branding is still whispering where it should shout and the club’s desire to win is visibly short cut by its dominance in the league but they are where no Ugandan club is daring to reach and that is – at a place of organised and functional systems.
I want to keep supporting SC Villa but KCCA presents a team that is easy to support and easy to grow with. It presents what every fan would long for, the joy of enjoying the beautiful game of football.
So, in the interim, I’ll support KCCA until the woes at Villa Park are sorted with proper administration and management structures.
There was a momentary pause from when he left his seat to pick a paper. The laughing in jest was muffled and eyes cast on him.
A small fire burned out three fat logs of wood warming a small circle that had gathered around it.
“This will be hard” Joel, the guy who’d stood up, said.
He skipped around briefly in excitement chanting some rambling before returning to a reflective pause on how he’d easily act out the word on the paper for his team.
About eight of them, some seated, others standing waited in anxiety, praying the clock didn’t tick off before they won this round of charades, another ten or thereabouts popped out snide remarks discouraging Joel even before he started.
The game of charades was like this. Two teams would square up against each other, a neutral judge would write out words on a paper that a member of the team would pick and act out for their team to guess the word in under a minute.
Joel’s was a phrase. A ‘dirty’ phrase.It needed the minds of his team to be as dirty too. A healthy serving of alcohol had been guaranteed on a table at the fireplace, whiskeys, gins, soft drinks and even flasks of tea were all on the menu.
So, in a giffy, he bent to the ground and acted out a sex scene and the guesses ran.
“Sex”, “Missionary style”, “Pleasure”. To all, Joel nodded in disagreement.
Then he stood up, flung a hand infront of himself and another behind, as you would ride a donkey, and ground his waist.
His team – and some of his opponents – burst out in laughter, the timer was forgotten, he went on and on and the laughing went from blithesome to buoyant down right to ground rolling.
Unable to continue the actions, Joel joined in on the laughter.
Soon the stories would be told about sexual encounters, experiences and how Joel had tried – but his team failed – to guess the word ‘dick-riding’.
That was the ultimate goal of the Koi Koi team. To travel the country and tell as many stories that would inspire people to see their own country. The phrase ‘Koi Koi’ itself, dominated on the internet by a Japanese card game, was used fondly in the Buganda culture as a starter for a riddle or story telling.
At the fireplace that evening, on Kalangala Island, the KoiKoi team had recreated, though not entirely, the ancient art of story telling for many African communities.
The night, turning morning then, was drearily shutting the eyes of many. At the extreme end of what was a semi circle sat Collin Asiimwe, a whiz bang of the group. You almost knew it was him when he spoke. His voice imperceptibly rose as he approached the point he wanted to make.
To say he was generous with his boldness was to underestimate his prowess.
I barely recall sleeping that night. The room bookings had been jumbled, unable to keep the frustration, Joan, fondly referred to by the group as ‘Mumbejja’Luganda for ‘Princess’, asked that we move to a nearby Hotel.
Ugandan hotel Owners, particularly those at the Island did this a lot. They’d book in guests way over their room capacity, hoping, with bated breath, that the visitors wouldn’t turn up. Unluckily, for them, we all did this time, only late by a couple of hours.
So they moved us.
The rooms next door were not as exciting as those we’d earlier anticipated to be booked in. The bed was raised, the sheets rough, a blanket had been assigned horizontally on each, loosely covered with a mosquito net. Two slippers, one in red and its pair in blue were at the shower entrance. The shower itself, was a small square bulging with a toilet in one corner and an old rusty pipe running to its roof.
The webs were out, threading from the bathrooms to the bedroom and to the veranda where a plastic chair and a mat-sewn table had been arranged.
“We hope you like it here” the attendant told me as he handed me a set of keys.
Frankly, even in its mediocre state, it was a welcome breather from the ride to it. We’d been shuttled in a manual Rav 4 by a driver with excessive need for speed. His car radio was fit for a concert and his dress style, (black vest and blue light shorts) pitted him more as a distraught teenager than a professional hotelier.
I however chose to go back with him, I couldn’t afford missing the conversations around the fire.
5;00 am the next morning.
We were now deep in the bush, far from the lake, far from the sand and far from civility. It was 5 am. The bike rods could be heard cycle off in the morning quiet. Monkey chatters could be heard from the thickening vegetation. Joel, ahead of Pipes and Pacutho, both photographers of the group, cycled behind a guide we had picked from the shores.
It was just the four of us that morning, biking to set cameras ready for the sun to rise above the water. That shot had gotten us up at 5 am in the morning.
One major problem was about to hit us though; The sun wasn’t going to rise that morning anywhere near the lake side we had chosen. We waited, and waited, and shuffled out feet in the cold water till, in desperation we started photographing anything that came by.
Pipes was shooting tree logs that had fallen in water, Pacutho was snapping away at the monkeys that dogged in the dense thicket behind us. Joel, well Joel had carried a camera without batteries, so he sat on the log admiring nature and his Nikon.
We cycled back to the Island a bit disappointed, you could feel the low spirit as the leaves caved under the thin bicycle tyres we were on. Andrew had taken the trip a little too hard on himself, the bike he rode was a bad fit and he spent more time on his feet than with his bike.
We returned to the hotel to join the other pack who, by now, we brushing off the morning sleep. Some had gathered in the little TV room where we’d been almost three hours back feeding our eyes on the serving of a 2001 action movie that was airing.
The Panorama cottage chefs made mean cups of tea. Each laced with its own ingredient of herbs. We served, ate, and chatted the morning away.
That morning was reminiscent of an evening Colin, Joan and David had sat to craft the KoiKoi dream.
Set on a cold evening in the busy environs of Kisementi, the three shared cups of tea resting on a round glass table planted on tristles at the Somali-owned Cafe Javas.
David had explained to them how Kafunda Kreatives had borne the idea of celebrating Uganda’s independence but never quite really set off.
“We live in a country where we never see the good in us, only the bad” David would text me, a whole year and some months after that meeting.
David, Collin and Joan would, in eight weeks after that meeting have the first trip to Fortportal then later to Jinja, Packwach and now Kalangala Islands where we were.
It was common place to hear ‘wow, that’s beautiful’ ‘I’ve never seen this’ kind of compliments when the boats roved over the lake.
We caught one of the moments at the Island to shoot a piece to camera in which we drew the connection between domestic tourism and increased revenues.
That evening, while we headed back to the main Kalangala Island, with night flies ramming unsuspectingly into our tired bodies, the joke from the first night returned;
“Honestly, what were you doing Joel with that charade move?” Collin asked.
From the back, Pipes, the photographer replied “That’s the Joel Jjemba move!”
The boat burst into further laughter, for, after a long day trekking an Island, there was still some humour left.
Just like the ancestors of old that, after a day, sat down to tell the story starting with the powerful phrase ‘Koikoi’.
A link to the story that later ran that night can be found here