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The seventh day of the month of June found me in Kampala. I received a text message from a friend, Moses Serugo who asked whether I could make it to town for a brief meeting with a PR friend of his. I responded in the affirmative and quickly set off for the city centre.
We met at around 10am and set off to meet his friend who works in Kololo. After the meeting, I asked Moses to accompany me to Mish Mash, an arts-themed club located on plot 28, Acacia avenue. I’d been told that I could buy some nice T-Shirtsfrom their crafts shop.
We walked to the place that was less than 100 meters away, and told the security guard what we wanted and he waved us on. When we got inside we asked the lady at the counter about the T-shirts designed by Green Backlight and she assured us they were available.
There was only one small problem; the shop would not be open until 11am (it was about 15minutes to 11am). We asked the lady if it was ok for us to sit and wait for the shop to open instead of leaving and returning later and she said there no problem in that.
So we sat quietly and Moses started telling me how amazing the place was, thanks to its regular art festivals, concerts and movie nights. Then as we sat there constantly checking our watches, a white lady (Genevieve) who I was told is one of the owners of the place sauntered in from one side of the establishment.
She walked to the counter and was soon involved in a light argument with a male staff member over something to do with a beer that had not been registered in the records of the bar. I jokingly told Moses that it must be hard working in this place as the owner was a strict person (nothing wrong about that).
Shortly thereafter, Genevieve approached us and greeted us and we responded aptly. She then asked how she could be of help, and we told her that actually we were just waiting for the craft shop to open (it was now a mere 5minutes to 11).
Genevieve then informed us that Mish Mash does not open until 12pm and that we were not even supposed to be there. We took the time to explain to her how exactly we came to be inside the establishment before the time she was talking about but she started raising her voice claiming we had forced ourselves in after ignoring a sign at the entrance that read 12pm as the opening time.
Moses assured her that there was no way we could have forced ourselves in yet there was a security guard at the entrance whom we had talked to before proceeding inside. Shockingly Genevieve was having none of it even after we reminded her that after getting past the gate, another of her staff members (lady at the counter) had kindly allowed us to sit and wait for the craft shop to open.
She persistently claimed that we had simply disrespected the sign at the entrance and forced ourselves in. After more back and forth arguments she grudgingly agreed to open the shop for us to buy what we wanted but as she moved to get the keys to the shop, a gentleman, Adam, who I later told was Genevieve’s hubby and a co-owner of the place appeared wearing shorts and a T-Shirt.
He inquired from her about what was going on but she just said, “It’s fine, I am opening for them the craft shop.” As we walked towards the shop, Moses softly exclaimed, “Mish Mash, good Lord!” That is when Adam literally charged towards Moses and said, “Mish Mash what? Mish Mash what? We are racist, is that it?” To which Moses replied, “Who said anything about being racist?”
Adam asked us whether we could just walk into any establishment before it was open. I reminded him that we had actually not just walked in as he was implying and that we had had this whole argument with Genevieve and we’d reached an agreement that she was to open the shop so we could buy what we wanted and then leave.
That is when Genevieve (in a rather patronizing tone) quipped, “It’s fine, we are here to support Ugandan art & crafts and we are opening the shop for you.” My reading of this was that by opening up a small club in Kampala, Adam and Genevieve saw themselves as saviours of the Ugandan art and crafts industry.
As Adam and Genevieve went on and on about how Mish Mash does not open before 12pm, I pointed out to them that the craft shop that is inside the establishment had 11am as it opening time clearly displayed on the shop’s door. Genevieve then run to the door and ripped off the “Open@ 11am” notice and screamed “Not anymore!”
Anyway, at exactly 11am, the girl who works in the craft shop showed up and we were let in. I then proceeded to check out the shirts as Moses assured Adam that there was no point in continuing with the complaints now that the shop had been opened. He assured him that we were not going to be long since we knew what we wanted.
As I tried on one of the shirts to see if it fit just fine, the security guard came into the shop and said, “Gentlemen I kindly beg you to leave because my boss is complaining a lot. I do not want to lose my job.” We informed him that actually the same boss(es) had opened and allowed us into the shop so there was nothing to worry about. However he pleaded that for the sake of his job we should leave immediately.
By now I had had enough of it and decided against paying for the shirt. I put it back and told Moses that we should leave for two reasons. 1. To save the guard from losing his job over a stupid incident and 2. I was not comfortable spending my money while being treated like trash. After all, the shirt was not a freebie. I was going to pay 30,000 Uganda shillings (about $12) for it without bargaining.
We finally left the place and on our way out we saw the small notice that read 12pm as the opening time. It is actually interesting that the sign at the entrance read 12pm yet the one inside at the shop read 11am and on their website the opening time is still written as 11am. Actually 11am is mentioned twice on the home page of their website.
[ Please note that I have just checked their website and the mentions of 11am have been changed to read midday - 23:22 Ugandan time. Interestingly the contacts page still shows 11am as the opening hours.]
At the beginning of the year there were reports of “racist” or plain abusive acts by the owners of Mish Mash circulating on Facebook and Twitter. A quick check on the Time Line of their Twitter Handle (@mishmashuganda) reveals that most of February was spent responding to these racist claims from different people.
Personally, I do not think that Adam and Genevieve Williams, (I am told one is British while the other is Australian) the owners of Mish Mash are racist but I am damn right sure they are very rude and very stupid. And I would not bet my life savings on them not being racist either.
I tweeted about this incident yesterday and I must admit I was overwhelmed by the numerous responses from people claiming that the Williams are not the best mannered people out there. I am also very certain that I will not be going back to Mish Mash ever again. Like Moses tweeted soon after the incident, I am also persona non grata henceforth. I am so done with Mish Mash.
Back in the day before capitalism took root and saw all those with some money digging up foundations for high perimeter wall fences not necessarily as a sign of insecurity but more of affluence, a neighbour was a real friend.
The morning routine was always started with greeting neighbours if you could see them or when you met them as your sett off for the day’s programme. Not any more. Now we all live in estates and flats where the wall fences are as common as the roofs.
Every home is an island. And no one cares about what happens even if the neighbour has a feast. We still don’t care. It used to be almost taboo for your neighbours not to attend if you had a feast or even a funeral at your home.
This scenario best represents what the East African Community is going through right now. The other day Tanzania marked 50 years of independence but none of the other four East African leaders was around for the feast in Dar.
This prompted some to argue that the absence of the leaders was a negative signal towards Tanzania whose leader dodged the last EAC summit to attend to American leader GW Bush. I totally disagree with that line of thought.
Many may not have noticed but missing a neighbour’s feast is now common even at the level of our leaders. Let say it is true four presidents did not attend the Dar celebrations because Jakaya Kikwete had not attended the Bujumbura summit.
Did you that he was not the only one absent? While Kikwete was sharing jokes with Bush, Pres, Kagame was trying to visit as many South Korea tech firms as possible. And in Bujumbura, Pres. Museveni who had airlifted his armoured convoy from Kampala left before his host Pres, Pierre Nkurunziza could even make his speech.
My conclusion was that the Burundi EAC summit was only attended by 2 and a half presidents. The half being Museveni’s brief stay.
As if to vindicate me, when Kenya celebrated its 48th Independence or Jamhuri Day as its referred to by the Kenyan, again other East African leaders were nowhere to be seen on my TV as I watched the live proceedings thanks to Citizen TV.
When Kagame was being sworn in, Museveni was not there to share in the celebrations. And the same thing happened when Museveni won his re-election. So next time your president has a big feast and a neighbour is conspicuously absent, just know its the new trend and they are only keeping with the times.
God bless East Africa!
In a poor country like Uganda most people only interact with Hollywood in the ubiquitous video shacks where action-packed movies are screened at a small fee with a video-jockey doing voice-overs in a local language (Luganda).
Every now and then, the VJ will remind the audience that the movie has just started by saying “katandika butandisi…” This is done to reassure those who entered the ‘cinema’ a little late, not to feel cheated.
Kantandika butandisi has consequently become common street lingo equivalent to the American, “You aint seen nothing yet.” And to me it best describes the current situation faced by the media in Uganda. As we approach the half way mark of the year all I can say to my colleagues is that it may have to get worse before it can get better.
The recent political pressure resulting from the campaigns by opposition under the umbrella, Activists for Change (A4C) have sent the recently re-elected government of Pres. Museveni into panic mode. The government’s brutal response to the Walk-to-work campaign was well covered by the media something that left clearly angered the powers that be.
Pres. Museveni has gone on record naming media as ‘enemies of Uganda’s recovery’ and promising a crackdown. And now foreign correspondents have now formed an association probably to buffer them selves from state repression.
In a space of just two months we have seen the police raiding two media houses. The government broadcaster UBC was raided on grounds of corruption although some have argued that they are being punished for covering the riots and even for having aired the Arab revolts.
Just this week, a vernacular newspaper Gwanga was also raided and its editors arrested. The police even laid a siege on the company that does the printing for Gwanga newspaper.
On May 12, as Pres. Museveni was being sworn in for another presidential term that will see he clock 30 years as the country’s leader, his nemesis Kizza Besigye spent most of the day on the road from the airport wading through thousands of cheering supporters who turned up to welcome him.
He was returning from Nairobi where he had gone to seek medical attention after being sprayed with pepper spray and tear gas at point blank range something that temporarily cost him his sight. The government’s response was to beat up Besigye’s supporters but more significantly journalists were beaten and their gadgets confiscated. They were only returned later with the footage deleted.
All said and done, tough times lie ahead for the media under a presidency that has been in place for over 25 years and is gradually being exposed as a vulnerable one. In other words, although there is nothing is new about attacks on the media, more should be expected.
This piece appeared in my Sunday column with The Sunday Times newspaper. I have decided to share it with my readers here as well.
Our media requires a new bottom-up approach
By Allan Brian Ssenyonga
By the time of writing this column, the much awaited National Dialogue on Media Development was taking place at the Kigali Serena Hotel. The conference got me thinking of so many things I almost failed to make up my mind on what to write.
The question of the media in Rwanda is one on which almost everyone carries a different view. The recent report by Reporters Without Borders even had the audacity to rank Rwanda below Somalia as far as media freedom is concerned. There is a lot of good ill for the industry from the different stakeholders.
Rwanda’s remarkable growth cannot continue or even be sustained without a vibrant and successful media industry. Anyone in doubt can just look back to the events that preceded the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis where the media became instrumental in steering the destruction of this country.
Rwanda’s stories have to be told by its media and to do this well, the media here has to develop in a multidimensional way. Although I was not one of the panellists or speakers at the conference I still have something to say about the media situation in this country and I am going to take advantage of this space here.
First of all it was interesting to see that the dialogue took on an East African hue thanks to the presence of Robert Kabushenga the CEO of Uganda’s Vision Group, Reginald Mengi the owner of Tanzania’s IPP Media and Dr. Githinji Gitahi, MD of Nation Media Group’s Daily Monitor newspaper assign of Rwanda’s belief and commitment to the wider East African Community.
I believe the three men were invited to give an insight into how they have seen the media in their respective countries and media houses growing to enviable levels. However at the same time, their presence may have served to obscure the fact that Rwanda’s media industry needs to look in on the inside to address its challenges.
This conference was a national dialogue and would have done better with Rwandans or media practitioners here discussing the way forward instead of envying and looking at neighbours whose environments are quite different from Rwanda’s. If I was the organiser of the conference, these three gentlemen would have been observers not panellists who in my view took on more than deserved attention.
Many speakers at the conference were calling on the foreign investors to come and invest in the media here. What about the local investors, where are they? Are they not worthy investors? It is good that Mr. Kabushenga and Mr. Mengi all called on Rwandans to spearhead the development of the media and not sit back and wait for foreign investors.
Local players in the media industry have to raise their game and prove to the foreigners that it is profitable to invest in the industry. There is no way, Nation or The Guardian can start newspapers here without seeing The New Times basking in profits or growing.
You will agree with me that the media in any country is a huge reflection of that particular society’s understanding of issues, thirst for information and level of tolerance among others.
My recommendation therefore is that media in Rwanda needs a bottom-up approach. Community radios and community focused coverage would go a long way in developing the industry. Many Rwandans can read Kinyarwanda but the Kinyarwanda papers only focus on stories about government officials and soldiers that are barely well researched.
We are now asking foreigners to invest here before we even think of developing a culture of enthusiastic consumption of media products. Have we thought about the reading culture? What about the fact that local businesses hardly advertise? How can media houses thrive when local business entities are not that keen on using the media to advertise? Just pick up a regional paper and see the difference when it comes to advertising space.
The industry has to take time to study the local population and see what they want or ought to consume and work hard to present it in a professional manner. In Tanzania, Mengi’s empire has tapped into the abundance of Kiswahili literacy to produce so many newspapers in the language. Ask Kabushenga about how Bukedde newspaper, Bukedde TV and radio have brought smiles to the Vision Group shareholders.
In Uganda the most profitable radio stations are the ones that broadcast in Luganda and play only local music. Then you wonder why the stations here are so obsessed with playing Ugandan music and endless talk shows about the English Premier League.
Let us look around ourselves for answers and once we find them, regional investors will come flocking. The development cannot trickle from up but it should bubble from below. The conference is nevertheless a step in the right direction.
It is quite interesting to note that a radio journalist went missing, allegedly taken into custody by security operatives but the media in Uganda chose to pay less attention this time. After all he is not Kalundi Serumaga and many scribes are busy covering the ongoing presidential campaigns.
The remaining attention has been turned to the hot story of journalists who were arrested over allegations that they tried to extort about Shs40 million from Dr. William Muhairwe, the Managing Director of Uganda’s National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) so as to ‘kill’ a negative story about him and the utility company that he heads.
The story has been making some rounds on the social networking platform, Facebook with many of my colleagues quick to accuse the journalists of shaming the noble profession. Others even suggested that the journalism fraternity should create entry gates to keep out rogue practitioners.
While reading the comments on this event, I was reminded of the verse that beckons assumed non sinners to be the first to cast the first stones. The wider media fraternity in Uganda long lost its moral ground when it accepted a huge envelope from the president.
During the NRM (ruling party) primaries, journalists were reported to have fought for money from the Movement secretariat. The tendency for journalists to expect kickbacks before writing good stories is an old one. The only new thing is that these ones were caught red handed. Yes the 11th commandment still is, “Thou shall not be caught.”
Do I have to remind you that these journalists were caught just two days after two other journalists and a city lawyer were arrested in a racket that attempted to extort Shs50 million from Works Ministry PS, Charles Muganzi?
My take on this is that corruption has eaten up all sectors and layers of the Ugandan society without sparing the media. Check any major Ugandan newspaper and see how many corruption stories are there and how diverse they are. We have a government that has totally failed to crack down on corruption.
Reports by commissions and media agencies detailing corruption are now reservoirs of dust. The general public seems to have taken on a fatalistic attitude with no hope in sight. Corruption has become the way of life in Uganda’s society with everyone trying to ‘eat’ from his job.
Many have ‘eaten’ more than they earn. Others even have no time to bank the loot; they just stash it under their beds like the Uganda Wildlife Authority official who had Shs900m stolen from under his bed by – wait for this one – his wife! Just recently, Salim Saleh’s (Brother to the president) daughter was robbed of Shs500m by the house maid.
It therefore makes no sense for us to feign shock over journalists who asked for money from a big shot. Uganda has nurtured corruption to unknown levels particularly in Museveni’s regime of 24yrs and counting.
The journalists’ crime in this case is simply getting caught trying to partake in the feast of corruption (the ‘Ugandan Dream’) that the government officials and so many others have been attending for ages. Now let he who has not been corrupted throw the first stone. God bless the media and our country.
Many times when using a computer beyond its best days just like my now fragile Dell Inspiron 8600, one is faced by a situation where the old machine decides to do a ‘Rosa Parks’ on you. It is tired and won’t be taking any further instructions from you. What do you do? You hit the magical CTRL + ALT + DEL and voila!
In Uganda, the government seems to have some key computer tricks that have occasionally come in handy whenever the media proved a bit stubborn. Like a tech savvy guy not ready to deal with a frozen computer screen, the current National Resistance Movement (NRM) government has mastered the art of rebooting the media for ‘better’ performance.
Governments are about power and control, and therefore a critical media will always threaten and cause restlessness among the corridors of power. We can even see this restlessness with the US government and the Wikileaks website.
In Uganda where the leadership is considered a quasi democracy especially after Pres. Museveni orchestrated the removal of presidential term limits in 2005, critical media have often had to deal with a CTRL + ALT + DEL situation.
In the early 90s the media was liberalised and FM radios hit the airwaves but most of them just focused on playing music and were therefore not a threat to the establishment.
In 1996, The Daily Monitor newspaper was born (out of the death of Weekly Topic). With seasoned and skilled journalists the paper cut out an image of an analytical and truth based publication that many turned to for the truth they failed to get from the government owned New Vision newspaper.
The government first tried to bleed The Daily Monitor by denying it the crucial government advertising revenue. However a growing private sector helped to keep the paper afloat until the ban on government advertising was eventually lifted.
When the maverick Charles Onyango-Obbo became the paper’s Managing Editor, things reached another notch. The paper’s sales grew as it uncovered more hot stories especially with its coverage of the Congo War where Uganda was a major player.
One day, the newspaper published a story claiming that the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels led by Joseph Kony had shot down a government helicopter gunship. The government’s response was to storm and ransack the newspaper offices and shut down the newspaper for 10 days.
After the ten days the paper was allowed to resume business but the Managing Editor, Charles Onyango-Obbo was quietly forced out and offered ‘asylum’ in Nairobi, Kenya where he is currently serving as the Executive Editor for Africa & Digital Media of Nation Media Group (parent company of The Daily Monitor).
Later on when the government wanted to purge MD Conrad Nkutu who it considered to be an opposition sympathiser, from the same paper, it pulled the plug on the yet to be launched NTV Uganda. Since the TV station owners are the same as the newspaper owners, the choice between Conrad and a new investment in the TV industry was clear. Conrad quickly followed Charles to Nairobi.
In 2005, when the then Daily Monitor Political Editor and ‘motor mouthed’ talk show host, Andrew Mwenda accused the government of complicity in the death of South Sudan leader, John Garang in a plane crush, KFM radio was also switched off.
Last year when the tensions between the government and Buganda Kingdom reached an all time high, the government’s last card was to shut down Buganda Kingdom’s cash cow, the Central Broadcasting Service (CBS) radio for slightly more than a year.
However just before the presidential nominations day, the president ordered the radio back on air. On November 1, the radio resumed normal programming but it is clear that some things have changed.
Each time the government closes and reopens a media house we never get the same service back. We get a new version. One that is timid and ready to play safe. More like a soccer player who has seen a yellow card for a bad tackle.
In such times the businessmen take on editorial roles to save their cash cows. This rebooting of the media is indeed the preferred censorship technique for the Museveni leadership. With Museveni back on the campaign trail to seek votes that will see him extend his grip on power beyond 24 years, the media will be following him but at a safe distance!