NOT QUITE ALL THAT JAZZ IN UGANDA

All that jazz is a song from the 1975 musical Chicago (and later the title of a film based on the musical), and is the opening act which sets the mood for the story set during the so-called jazz age. The musical is about a free living, some would say scandalous, behavior of the ‘roaring twenties’ of the United Sates. It paints a picture of people who live for the enjoyment of life, and have no care about the rest of us.

Many Ugandan jazz aficionados will tell you about visiting outside countries where, typically in small clubs, a bunch of guys without a care what you thought of them get together to play jazz, and have a roaring good time. New Orleans (where it all begun), New York, Washington, all over Europe, and others are places where folks just want to be free to listen to their music.

What about Kampala, you may ask? For a time, it seemed we had joined that international group of free-spirited people and lived for all that jazz. But just for a time, because word going round is that Jazz FM, a station ostensibly dedicated to the preservation and spreading of jazz in Uganda, was sold off. It must be true, because last time I tried to tune in, it was Nigerian music being played.

What is it with Uganda and jazz? It’s like a tale of star-crossed lovers, whose every attempt to make things work somehow always ends in tragedy. Shakespeare would have loved the story lines that make up the tale of jazz in Uganda.

The earliest mention I can find of jazz in Uganda is a poster from 1960 somebody shared on Facebook, announcing that Louis ‘Satchmo’ Armstrong would be performing in Nakivubo Stadium. Louis Armstrong in Kampala? Seems like the stuff of dreams.

In more recent times, the only public jazz performances were mostly when visiting American artists, brought by the USAID, performed in Kampala. Then sometime in the mid-noughties the late DJ Bangirana decided to organize a jazz night at the then Viper Room discotheque (which would later become the Basement before eventually closing its doors).

What must have been the biggest group then of self-acclaimed jazz aficionados (addicts, fans, enthusiasts, buffs) to ever get together in Uganda found their way there, as did many great instrumentalists. It was really going well, but Bangi had other plans, which included a break for karaoke. That broke the spell, almost everyone left, and did not return to a jazz get together for years to come.

There were several attempts after that at regular jazz gigs but they did not last very long, although Alex Ndawula tried to keep the fire burning with a weekly jazz night at the Rock Gardens. But that soon came to naught, as did the Tusker Jazz Night at Sabrina’s hosted by Harry Lwanga.

In the meantime Tshaka Mayanja started the Jazz Safari, but it was more of a social event where folks were more interested in being seen than to what was going on stage. And Ugandans actually dressed up to go for a jazz concert! Wonder what the folks on New Orleans would think about that? But credit must be given to Tshaka’s persistence in that the Jazz safari still takes place, and is currently in its 11th year.

performers at the Jazz Collective at Copper Bar in 2013

Performing at the Jazz Collective in 2013 

But the biggest effort to introduce regular jazz in Kampala was when the Jazz Collective was started at the Grand Imperial’s Copper Bar by a group of determined people. From May 2013 lovers of jazz gathered there every last Friday of the month to play their favourite jazz songs, and live acts soon followed. The word spread far and wide, and many visitors timed their tours of Kampala to include that last Friday, and for a time it seemed the tragic tale of jazz in Uganda was to have a happy ending, after all.

But it was not to be and after about a year, without any explanation or evident cause, the Jazz Collective stopped happening, and the Copper Bar became, first a forex bureau, and now a casino.

What was jazz lovers to do? At least we had Jazz FM, and if we couldn’t paint the town and go into a club where the ‘gin was cold and the piano’s hot’, we could chill out wherever we were and listen to some cool jazz.

But now that is not happening anymore, and the tragedy rolls on. A new spot in Ntinda, the Old Timerz, had planned to have a jazz night, tried it a few times, but it was not thought out very well, and that too came to an end.

So sadly, we are not going to paint the town red, and all that jazz.

 

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A NEW DAWN FOR UGANDA FILMMAKERS, SMELL THE COFFEE

(this article run in the New Vision Friday October 5th, 2018)

pearl

What came first, the chicken or the egg? That seemed to be the question at Monday’s launch of Pearl Magic, a DStv channel dedicated solely to Ugandan content. While everyone agreed it was a good move, long overdue actually, the debate was whether Uganda had sufficient quality content to be aired, or whether the content was not there because there were no platforms to air it; and all this was within just 30 minutes of the channel being launched.

The biggest point of contention was the inclusion on the line-up of an Indian soap, with the audio dubbed into Luganda. Many film makers and producers at the launch took exception to having an Indian soap on a channel supposed to be dedicated to Ugandan content, and explained how they had fought long and hard to have a platform for their content (some complained why it was in Luganda, and not other languages?).

Efforts by Multichoice management to explain that the content line-up was as a result of a lot of market research, and that it was just the beginning and could change in the future, did not seem to go down very well.

The Uganda film industry has come a long way (and I’m not talking about the folks in Wakaliga), and it has been largely a labour of love. It is rare that a Ugandan film has been shown in cinemas in Kampala, most go straight to DVDs and are very quickly pirated and sold for as low as sh1,000 on the streets.

Film making is an expensive endeavour, and funding in Uganda is notoriously difficult to get. For example the Maisha Film Lab was established in 2005 by Hollywood Director Mira Nair to train Ugandans in all aspects of filmmaking, including production, screenwriting, directing, producing, cinematography, editing, sound recording, and acting.

Since then dozens have graduated from Maisha, including Kenya’s Lupita Nyong’o, who went on to win an Oscar Award. But dozens more litter the streets of Kampala, their dreams of making feature films held back by the lack of funding for their projects. And if no one is going to see your film anyway, why would anybody give you money to make it?

I think this is what Ugandan filmmakers have not internalised properly, as yet. As explained at the launch, Multichoice is going to pay for any content aired on the Pearl Magic channel. It was not revealed just how much that pay is (we will surely know soon enough), but it is definitely much better than that sh1,000 for a DVD on Kampala streets.

When I interviewed Ugandan filmmaker Joseph Ken Ssebaggala in 2016 after his film House Arrest did not win anything at the Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards, in spite of having four nominations, he said he would henceforth just make films and sell them to Multichoice, and that it was the only venue Ugandan filmmakers had a chance of making any money for their work.

Guess what, the gift horse has come to Uganda, and the filmmakers did not have to look for it after all. But is it going to work, or even last? Several channels that were introduced on Africa’s largest pay TV network have quietly gone off air, for different reasons.

Whether the Pearl Magic channel does work out depends a lot on our filmmakers, methinks. First of all, Ugandans are not known for just consuming something because it is Ugandan, all the calls for patriotism notwithstanding. For example, instead of visiting the various tourism destinations the county has to offer, which foreigners pay thousands of dollars to come and visit, a typical Ugandan with a few loose shillings will probably choose to go to Dubai, or South Africa. So calling on Ugandans to watch local content just because it is made by Ugandans will not wash, I’m afraid.

Secondly, Multichoice is going to demand top quality work from our artists, whether videos, series or feature films. That will definitely push the industry forward, to an extent where Ugandans will inevitably and willingly choose our local content over that of foreigners.

It is a new dawn, Ugandan filmmakers have to stop crying wolf and, to paraphrase a popular quote, when the day breaks they better start running, or they will starve and dry away.

MOMBASA AHOY! NOW I’M TRYING TO FIND MY KNEES

The view from my window at the Reef Hotel, Mombasa

view from my window at the Reef Hotel, Mombasa

The last time I was in Mombasa was as part of a crowd of college kids going away for the weekend, and it went by in a blur fuelled by a lot of alcohol. As students from the United States International University, we took the night train to Mombasa, and it was very different from what happened about a month ago when I went with a bunch of families from the My Uganda Forum.

Then, the train had sleeping bunks, and most important of all, a bar. We were determined to make sure the bar was empty by the time we got to Mombasa the next morning (it was a whole night’s journey, so whoever succumbed to the booze took a nap, woke up later and continued to contribute to that group effort). I don’t remember if we actually succeeded in emptying the bar, it was a blurry morning after all, but we gave it our best shots.

This time we took the SGR morning train from Nairobi, it was sitting room only, and alcohol was prohibited on board. But this was Kenya, where a little ‘kitu kidogo’ goes a long way, so our group was well stocked. These were no college kids but many middle-aged men and women, but they did a good job of exhausting whatever was in stock.

We were booked at the 3-star Reef Hotel on Nyali beach, which is on the northern coast of Mombasa. It was a nice and quaint place, and reminded me much of the Uganda Hotels of old, and a big sign in the lobby reading ‘Reef hotel 1972’  confirmed the old time charm. I really prefer such hotels to multi-storeyed, modern monsters.

Many of the rooms had large French windows which opened up to an immaculate lawn facing the beach, and that first night I was woken up by the sound of the tide coming in. Whenever I go to Ssese I stay at the Kimbugwe’s place, which has wooden cabins right up next to the beach, and the sound of the water coming on to the beach is what memories are made of. But these tides are dozens of times bigger, so I got up in the middle of the night and went to watch the tide come in. It was only spoilt by the loud typically Nigerian music coming from the nightclub at the beach, but even those folks closed up after a while and went to sleep, and I remained alone with the ocean.

There had been a program of things to do, but many of those were cancelled, since it meant going back on a bus, and not many folks were eager for that, especially the kids. I have also never understood folks that fill up their holiday times with things to do, while they should just be chilling and taking it easy.

On Day Two we did have a tour of Mombasa, took in the sights of the old city, and a must-do visit to Fort Jesus. The last time I was in Mombasa we did not bother much with sightseeing, and concentrated on the several bars at the hotel we stayed at. But this time we did make time to take in the sights, including watching the multitudes of people running off the ferry from the island to the mainland. Apparently accommodation on the island is at a premium, so many of the folks just work there but live on the mainland.

Fort Jesus

Fort Jesus

Fort Jesus is a major tourist attraction, is a UNICEF heritage site, so I did not understand why folks sitting around it drinking tea took exception to my taking pictures. I was tempted to give them the bird, but decided it was not worth the bother; so I ignored them, took whatever pictures I wanted, and moved on.

It was altogether a very enjoyable trip, although many of us made the mistake of, every time we paid for something in Kenya shillings to mentally convert the value into Uganda shillings. If you do that, Kenya is a very expensive place indeed compared to Uganda. Even the fuel was relatively more expensive, and that was before they added on a 16% VAT the day after we left.

We took the afternoon SGR train back, which thankfully was express so we got to Nairobi in good time. But I could not help thinking how it would work if the SGR ever made it to Uganda. The coaches (sixteen of them) all seemed full of people travelling between Nairobi and Mombasa; would there be enough people from say, Busia to Kampala? Will it continue on to Entebbe, where the traffic is really heavy?

From Nairobi we took a private bus to Kampala, travelled through the night, and got here in the morning. I felt refreshed, though it took me a few days to find my knees again.

An after note of sorts is that the guy at the Uganda immigration desk at Busia wanted a selfie with me, said he likes my column. Oh well, I’ll take a bow…

 

ONWARD TO THE KENYAN SGR

It is almost a decade and a half that I last took a road trip around East African roads. In the year 2004, I travelled by bus from Uganda, through Kenya to the north western town of Mwanza, and finally to Dar es Salaam. My body took a real beating that time, and I have travelled by air since then every time I visited our neighbours.

But there is something magical about travelling by road, and when a group of friends and their families planned a road trip to Mombasa, I decided to give it one final go. The My Uganda Forum organises an annual Family Day Out (FDO), a getaway meant to bond the different families, and also as an opportunity to get away from the stress of ordinary life. This was the first time an FDO was to happen outside Uganda, and the plan was to go by private bus to Nairobi, and then take the much vaunted SGR train on to Mombasa. It sounded too good a chance to miss, so I signed on to find out how much the region has changed since 2004.

SGR_1

Our bus to Nairobi

We took off from Kampala on Wednesday morning, and since we had paid for the bus, it was our rules in place. So when the bus driver tried to get into a speed argument with a double trailer even before we got to Nakawa, we demanded a change, and that driver was left behind near the Nakawa market. His pleas that it was the trailer driver in the wrong, not him, just made us realise how bus accidents happen so frequently on Kampala roads.

There was no incident after that, the replacement driver was very receptive to our suggestions, the roads were smooth, and we got to the Busia border post in good time. I was last in Busia about 20 years ago, and then it was like a Wild West town full of hustlers trying to make a quick score. Not this time, the one-stop post was very smooth, and we didn’t have to fill in those annoying entry/departure forms.

SGR_2

There was also no incident till we were past Kisumu, when the Kenya traffic police pulled us over, ostensibly for speeding. This was a surprise because I was seated near the front, could see the drivers speedometer quite clearly and he rarely even made 80kph; so much that some in the bus complained he was driving too slowly. But the Kenyan policemen were not having any of it, held us up for more than an hour, and I understand it was not till ‘kitu kidogo’ had changed hands were we allowed to proceed.

That was unfortunate because part of the attraction of travelling to Nairobi by road is a chance to see the Great Rift Valley, but thanks to the Kenya police that was not to be because it was dark by the time we got there. I had also wanted to see what changes a decade and more had brought to Kenya, but it was not to be.

After a night in a Nairobi hotel, it was time to get to the Nairobi Terminus of the SGR, very near to the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, and we couldn’t wait to get there. Many in our group had never travelled by train before, so the excitement was almost tangible. I have travelled by train before, including traversing the US from the East coast to the West coast, and the luxurious Blue Train in South Africa, so I was curious what the much hyped SGR was all about.

First thing I noticed is that we had to carry our luggage a long way to the train, almost 800m, and trolleys can only be used for about only 20m. The SGR is a long haul train, and takes about six hours to traverse the almost 500km between Nairobi and Mombasa. Travellers are probably not just commuting, so they all had a lot of luggage. In addition the few escalators are very narrow, so it takes a long time for passengers to make their way to the train.

Entrance to the Nairobi Terminus of the Kenyan SGR PHOTO BY KALUNGI KABUYE

The Nairobi SGR station 

The security was adequate (it had to be, what with Al Shabbab just next door in Somalia), but you are not allowed to take any alcohol beverages on board (a little kitu kidogo soon took care of that, though). We were a big group, about 100 people, so we had booked a whole coach to ourselves. An economy class ticket costs Ksh1,000 (Ush38,000) one way, and a First class Ksh4,000 (Ush152,000).

We were booked in Economy class, which turned out to be little more than a glorified ‘kayoola’. The seats are narrow and hard, although clean, and any plans to have a nap over the 6 hours travel time soon literally went out of the window.

SGR_4

Inside the SGR train, Economy class

The area between Nairobi and Mombasa is largely semi-arid, so there was little to see, in fact it reminded me very much of the pictures we saw of the planet Mars. The only distraction was when we passed through the Tsavo National Park and spotted herds of elephants in the distance, although what they were doing in such an arid place beat me.

There are nine passenger stations between Nairobi and Mombasa, and the train stops an average of 5 minutes at each, although the Sunday afternoon Mombasa to Nairobi was express.

The train reached speeds of up to 110kph, so it was obviously an improvement on road transport, and because we were a group we had our own entertainment. Only light snacks are sold on board, so I noticed many people carried packed food, which added to the amount of luggage one had to carry on board.

We left Nairobi at about 8:30am, and got to Mombasa at around 3pm in the afternoon. What happened after that, though, is a story for another day…

 

ROMANS 13, THE MOST ABUSED VERSE IN THE BIBLE

Romans13

In the midst of an outcry against the Trump administration’s so-called policy of ‘zero tolerance’ against immigration, which led to thousands of young children to be separated from their parents, the US Attorney General used the Bible in an attempt to justify that policy.

In a speech, Jeff Sessions cited the Apostle Paul “…and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government, because God has ordained the government for his purposes.” He went on to say that “…orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent and fair application of the law is in itself a good and moral thing, and that protects the weak and protects the lawful.”

The White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Sessions’ comments, saying “…it is very biblical to enforce the law.”

The reactions to this were fast and furious, with many people pointing out that Romans 13 has been used in the justification for many of the greatest evil deeds ever inflicted on the human race. Like slavery. During the 18th and 19th century in the Southern states of the USA, politicians established legislation that legalised the slavery of millions of Africans (like the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, which required U.S. citizens to return individuals who had escaped from enslavement to their owners).

Faced with the fight for abolition, the slavery proponents quoted that verse from Romans as justifying their way of life, arguing it was the duty of all Christian ‘men’ to abide by the law (Of course they conveniently forgot that one of the factors that lead to the American revolution was the fight against unfair taxes by the then ruling British colonial administration).

But since after the American civil war (which the Southern states lost and slavery ostensibly abolished from the law books), it had not come up, until members of the Trump administration brought it up to justify what many people saw as an unjust and immoral policy.

Romans 13 was also used to justify the system of apartheid in South Africa, especially by the ‘Christian right’ (H.C. Hoeksema, a Reformed Christian, was especially vocal in this) in the USA, till the laws were changed in the late 20th century. It was also the backbone of much of the justification of many of the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany.

Many of the excesses of the Church, things like the Inquisition and the burning of ‘heretics’ on the stake, had roots in the insistence that people had to follow the law, as set out by people supposedly empowered by God.

Back home in Uganda, that verse reared its potent head again when the social media tax and tax on mobile money transactions became law in July. While the greater majority of Ugandans cried out against the taxes as unfair, some ‘born again’ Christians insisted that while it might be deemed to be unfair, it was the law, and as Christians they were bound to obey the law.

So what does Romans 13 say, exactly? ‘Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted…’ (New International Version).

I am no Bible scholar by any means, but many have condemned what they see as a selective interpretation of what St. Paul was saying. A professor from the Harvard School of Divinity argues that Romans 13 should not be used to argue for theocracy and unquestioned obedience to law, even in the fact of oppression. Laura Nasrallah points out that Christians should obey only just rulers, not tyrants; and by extension they should only obey just laws, not those that are unjust.

Others point out that by the time he wrote that letter, Paul had never been to Rome, but was concerned about the increased prosecution that Christians there were facing. They also point out that when he eventually managed to make it to Rome, he was soon put in jail for breaking the law, from whence he wrote several of his other letters. In spite of the fact that he became a Roman citizen, or maybe because of it, he was eventually executed for his pains.

No one in the Ugandan government has gone on record as saying all those folks agitating against unjust laws and taxes are going against the Bible, but with all these national prayers, does anyone doubt that it is far off? Watch this space!

 

 

 

 

STALKING IS A REAL AND PRESENT DANGER THESE DAYS

Rwabwogo

Sylvia Rwabwogo

A few weeks ago a certain ‘young man’ named Brian Isiko was in the news for all the wrong reasons, but strangely some folks did accept the ‘wrongness’ of what he did. Tabloid sites were all over themselves proclaiming how Isiko had been jailed for love. It probably sounded better than writing what actually happened, that this adult man was sentenced to 2 years in prison for stalking and harassment of Sylvia Rwabwogo, who happens to be a Member of Parliament.

Predictably, social media went to town with it, and there were cries that the punishment was too harsh, that the ‘young man’ was only guilty of falling in love with a beautiful woman and expressing it, and that he should have been treated ‘fairly’; which to me is absolute poppycock.

First of all the naysayers and Isiko apologists refer to him as a young man; poppycock, again. He is 25 years old, by which age Alexander the Great had already conquered half the known world in the 4th century BCE. During the Vietnam War (1955-1975) the average age of the American soldier was 19 years, tens of thousands of whom died before reaching the age of 20, so Isiko would have been a grizzled veteran comparably. I’m not sure what part of Uganda Isiko is from, but just two generations ago at that age he would probably be on his third wife. So scratch that, he is not young by any definition of the word, the fact that at 25 he is still going to school at the YMCA notwithstanding.

Isiko

Brian Isiko

Secondly, he did not send love message. ‘Lovely’ is defined as something ‘beautiful or attractive’, or even ‘pleasant or enjoyable’. There was nothing attractive or enjoyable about what Isiko did, when for eight long months he harassed and stalked Ms Rwabwogo, who tried her level best to prevent him from doing so. She blocked his number, but somehow he still managed to get through to her. According to evidence adduced before court, he even sent extremely graphic messages of himself engaged in lewd acts (where’s Father Lukodo when he is needed?).

And the pseudo-media trivialised the whole thing by referring to them as ‘love messages’; I’m not a bad guy, and don’t wish most folks harm; but what if those fellows writing such stories (must be men, I bet) had the same kind of attention? And in this age of liberalism be their luck the stalkers are fellow guys. What, then?

These fellows often tripped all over their UPE English trying to justify what Isiko did, effectively turning into defence counsel for the accused. They wrote how he ‘enticed the legislator and asked for her love’; to ‘entice’ means ‘attract or tempt by offering pleasure or advantage’, implying that Ms Rwabwogo was an active participant. Any different from ‘she wore a mini-skirt so asked to be raped’?

Ms Rwabwogo’s main problem was that she is beautiful (surely, that is not her fault?), and that she is a public figure. So the argument by the apologists would have us believe that any person pleasant to look at, and whose contact is available to the public is fair game for unwanted attention.  Hogwash and balderdash!

In this age of start-ups, many people wanting to promote their businesses avail their telephone contacts to the public. And it is a feature of the age we are in that these contacts are almost exclusively mobile phone numbers, so anyone can send you a text message, or even a WhatsApp message. But it is not, and should not be, a license for harassment. And these days of the ‘Inbox’, it has reached epidemic levels. And in a sick twist, it seems in vogue to send pictures of one’s private parts.

Ugandan public figures continually change their numbers to avoid this kind of thing, but I hope they have learnt from the Rwabwogo case – if someone is staking and harassing you, get them arrested.

The Internet is full of stories of ‘admirers’ turned stalkers, and many are frightening. One Madonna stalker was imprisoned for ten years in a mental institution for his unwanted attention, but he escaped, went to her home and was shot by her bodyguards. If Ms Rwabwogo had not had Isiko arrested, who knows to what extent he would have gone to meet his ‘crush’?

Other international celebrities that have suffered from stalkers include actor Uma Thurman (Kill Bill), singer Beyoncé and others. Some that paid the ultimate price include musicians John Lennon and Selena.

Reports from Isiko’s trial indicate that even when arrested, he continued sending Ms Rwaboogo the text messages. And he was reported to have laughed throughout proceedings in the court. I don’t know about you, but that is scary as hell. Anyone remember the film The Silence of the Lambs? The terrifying character of Dr Hannibal Lecter would laugh at his victims before he ate their kidneys.

 

ABOUT JUBIREEWO – YOU CAN ALL EAT IT AND SMILE!

budo chapel

Jubireewo was the catch word for the 25th coronation anniversary of the 36th Kabaka of Buganda, His Majesty Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II, which took place on Tuesday July 31st, 2018. I am not sure who came up with the term, but it is supposedly a play on the word ‘jubilee’, which means a celebration of 25 years of a king’s reign. To that end someone composed and produced a musical video to mark the occasion, and invited many schools from all over the Buganda kingdom to be part of it.

All well and good, right? But apparently not, because many people took exception to the fact that one of the schools that participated in the video is King’s College, Budo. Mark you, it is not the Budonians themselves that took exception, but other people. Now, you have to realise that for different reasons folks love to hate on Budo and everything the school represents. It used to be that the school would get regular bashing, but it had not happened for a while, probably because the likes of Kalyegira run out of new ways to bash it. So this came as a welcome reason to bash the school originally established for the children of kings, and social media went into overdrive.

Forgotten were the debates on the mobile money tax, and more recently the clash between feminists and other women about whether men are trash or kings, and social media trolls all came to town about the Jubireewo video. Bastardised to ‘jubileewo’, all kind of at times very funny memes made the rounds. But under all this was the fact that many people still feel hopelessly insecure every time Budo is mentioned.

The underlying theme to the memes was that Budonians should not have participated in the video, that they should have been above it. Uh? Budo is where the kings of the most powerful kingdom in the region have been crowned for the last 800 years, and its last two kings went to school there. If at all, Budo should have taken over the whole Jubireewo song, but somehow it was decided that some unknown fellow of dubious reputation should compose it. Imagine for a minute that Budo had declined to take part? The memes would not have been funny, but vicious in condemnation.

Some popular rapper said that the video was both cheap and local; again, uh? Did they want a sonata in F minor, or a symphony with multiple, probably 25, movements? Where would that have left all the other schools? And all those trolls conveniently forgot that the video had many other schools joyfully participating in celebrating the 25th coronation anniversary of the ‘man of all men’.

Many claimed that the video was below what they referred to as ‘Budo swag’, but Budo was in existence long before the phenomenon of ‘swag’. What Budo has is style, not swag, and in the words of a famous film character, “you can all eat it and smile”.

Time for Uganda to shine at the ‘African Oscars’

AMVCAs trophy2

When times of adversity come upon us, Ugandans tend to unite in either opposition or in efforts to overcome whatever it is that is befalling us. In ancient times, especially in Buganda, drums would sound ‘gwanga mujje’, literally calling on people to gather and face whatever calamity needed to be dealt with.

In more developed democracies this would manifest itself through elections, but somehow that does not seem to work in Uganda. But the very loud and sustained outcry against the taxes imposed in the last budget has shown that when push gets to shove, Ugandans can get together and act as one.

This column is a call for just that kind sentiment, and it really is for a noble cause, whatever people’s political inclinations are. Last month (June), nominees in 27 different categories were announced for this year’s Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards, or AMVCAS.

The AMVCAs were established in 2013 by TV pay company Multichoice to recognise excellence in both film and television. The Oscars might have been taking place for 90 years (since 1929, gulp!), and the AMVCAs for only 5, but they are to African filmmakers and actors what the Oscars are to the global film industry. Winning an AMVCA has opened doors to many, and some have gone on to be recognised on a global stage.

Nabwiso

Mathew Nabwiso won Best Supporting Actor award in 2013

Unsurprisingly, most of the AMVCA winners since 2013 have come from West Africa, especially Nigeria’s Nollywood. Uganda has only had one winner, when Mathew Nabwiso won a Best Supporting Actor award in the inaugural awards for the film A Good Catholic Girl. Each year since then, Ugandan filmmakers have been nominated, and in 2016 Joseph Ken Ssebaggala’s film House Arrest had four nominations, but every single year we have come up short.

Will this year be different? There were over 3,000 entries received for this year’s awards, and Uganda has a total of 13 nominations. Of these 3 are among the 4 nominees for Best Movie East Africa, and are Devil’s Chest by Hassan Mageye, The Forgiven by Kizito Samuel Saviour, Rain by Mathew & Eleanor Nabwiso, and Bella by Matt Bish. Other nominees include songstress Cinderella Sanyu for Best Actress (Bella), Richard Mulindwa for Best Writer (The Torture), which also had nominations for Best Cinematographer (Rwamusigazi Kyakunzire), Best Actress (Joan Agaba), and Best Actor (Raymond Rushabiro).  In addition Devil’s Chest was nominated in the Best Overall Movie category, while Bella was also nominated for Best Soundtrack (Andrew Ahuura).

Nigeria leads all nominees with thirty-two (32), but it also leads in the number of categories just for Nigeria films (4), although many Nigerian critics were of the opinion that 2017 was not the best year for Nollywood films. Among others Ghana has seven (7) nominees, Malawi three (3), and Kenya eight (8).

The trick here is that winners for seven of the categories will be determined through voting by the public, and Ugandans have not been very good at that in the past. During the days of Big Brother Africa there would be all kinds of groups on social media dedicated to making people vote for any Ugandan housemate up for eviction.

Many times it worked, and several made it all the way to the final 5. Can we do the same for the AMVCAS? Can all peer groups concerned (actors, writers, musicians and others) go on a concerted effort to get Ugandan vote for our film makers? Whenever two or more artists of whatever kind are gathered together, can one of them remind the rest to get voting? At the beginning, and end of every gig, or play or comedy act, let us talk about coting for our filmmakers.

Can we get hashtags about voting for our nominees on the Uganda Twitter universe? You can all start WhatsApp groups dedicated to reminding Ugandans to vote, given that each one can vote 100 times. Instead of spreading gossip and fake news, can we do something worthwhile? We are paying the OTT tax, after all.

Filmmaking in Uganda has been trashed as something not much more than a joke (I won’t say anything about the folks in Wakaliga), and even if many of us would not give water to the fellows in the Uganda Communications Commission if we found them in the middle of the Sahara desert, and we had the whole of Lake Victoria at our disposal, the folks there have tried to get Ugandan films recognised. I am sure we can go further. We really only have ourselves to blame if none of these people come home with an award, when the winners are announced on September 1st, 2018, in Lagos, Nigeria.

Voting opened on Saturday June 30th, and will close on Sunday August 24th, 2018. One has to register to vote on the Africa Magic website www.africamagic.tv, and it is free, you just have to register. Come on people, let us do this.

 

NOW THAT THE WORLD CUP IS DONE…

world cup1

Note: this article run in the New vision of July 20th, 2018

The 2018 soccer World Cup is done, and it is time to move on to other things. But before we do so, an after note of sorts, if you would like. First of all, this event left copious amounts of egg on many people’s faces, especially the so-called experts and pundits.

Almost all the ‘big’ names in world soccer did not make it out of the group stages, so maybe there is a new world order in the making, and like it or not the centre is increasingly looking like it will be in England. Even before the World Cup, which saw more players from the English Premier League feature in the knock-out stages, it was ranked as the top league in the world, based on talent production, quality of the matches, overall quality of the squads, players, coaches and stadiums, number of goals scored, championship structure, level of competitiveness and unpredictability.

This World Cup also saw the wide use of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), and predictably there were cries of how it has spoilt the ‘beautiful game’. But soccer is the only major world sport that did not use some sort of video refereeing, and it was bound to do so sooner than later. And all the arguments of how VAR gave wrong decisions ignored one thing, it was the match referee that had the final decision. All the VAR did was to give the referee a clearer look at what actually happened, unlike other sports like cricket, rugby or tennis where the video referee has the final decision.

And finally, there are all sorts of claims that Russia delivered the best World Cup ever, that the western ‘fake news’ media had given a wrong portrayal of what that country is really like. But Russia is an autocratic country, ruled by a dictator, so there were no chances of demonstrations or even terrorist acts during the games. In fact, it was a real shock that members of the Pussy Riot managed to beat security and run onto the field during the final. I bet all the security guys that were on duty on Sunday are on their way to some labour camp in Siberia right now, how could they embarrass the great leader that way?

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Who’s afraid of a little rain?

And the final image we got was of the tough, macho Russian President standing under an umbrella while the rest of his guests, including many women, got soaked to the bone by rain. And of course he was upstaged by the Croatian President, who bear-hugged every winner, and did not mind the rain at all.

NO HONOURABLES IN UGANDA’S PARLIAMENT

Parliament

Note: this article first run in the New Vision on June 2nd, 2018

Honourable (adjective)

– bringing or deserving honour; honest, moral, ethical, principled, righteous, right-minded, full of integrity

– the Honourable (prenominal) a title of respect placed before a name: employed before the names of various officials in the English-speaking world, as a courtesy title in Britain for the children of viscounts and barons and the younger sons of earls, and in Parliament by one member speaking of another

Apart from raising their salaries to obscene figures, and then passing legislation excusing their fat allowances from being taxed, there is something our Members of Parliament hold very close to their hearts – being referred to as ‘honourables’. Except they are not quite that, when you think about it, or do a bit more research.

They love it so much that they have turned it from being an adjective, which describes something, to becoming an actual noun; a being, if you would like. Our MPs would like us believe that once elected to Parliament, they metamorphose into a different being, something known as an ‘honourable’.

Where did it all come from? From the British, to which we owe much of our civil service administration peculiarities. Except the British would not recognise these ‘honourables’(even the dictionary alerts you that there is a mistake, and such a word does not exist). Our former colonial masters usually use ‘The Honourable’ in addressing envelopes (where it is usually abbreviated to The Hon), but in speech what would be ‘The Honourable John Smith’ is usually referred to simply as Mr John Smith.

In the House of Commons members refer to each other as honourable members out of courtesy, but they are not entitled to the style in writing. But in Uganda, at times ‘Honourable’ even replaces the MPs name, and these salary-raising, don’t-tax-my-allowances, money-lenders-dodging bunch of windbags get very offended when you don’t use that term.

It is on all their profiles, I bet their business cards have it, and even their wives are referred to as ‘Mrs Honourable’ so and so. I also bet, probably copying from their brethren in Nigeria, that there exists people with titles like ‘second wife to Honourable’, ‘side-chick to Honourable’, ‘driver-to-Honourable’, ‘father-to-Honourable’, ‘second-cousin-twice-removed-to-Honourable’, and so forth, ad nauseum.

Inquiries as to whether there exists maybe an Act of Parliament where these people actually legalised the term ‘Honourable’ went unanswered, but if they have haven’t yet done so, it must be just an afterthought. Wait for a Member who has not said anything in the August chamber ever since they got elected to move a private member’s bill, which will be passed with a resounding ‘all ayes’.

It is interesting to find out what other countries refer to members of their legislative bodies; in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has not really had an effective government in recent memory, members of the upper chamber, the Senate, voted to have themselves referred to as ‘Venerables’ (again, the dictionary will tell you such a word does not exist. But the adjective does, meaning ‘accorded a great deal of respect, especially because of age, wisdom, or character’).

In the Philippines, on the other hand, every elected official is referred to as ‘The Honourable’. From the lowest political unit, the barangay (a village council, equivalent to our LC1), to the Congress of the Philippines, which consists of a Senate and House of Representatives, they are all ‘Honourables’.

So when we finally get to elect our LC officials, and you go down to Kikuubo and want to authenticate some good or another, you could be directed to the ‘Honourable’ Hajji Twaha Mukasa, Secretary for Sanitation, LC1, Latrine Zone.

Lubwama

But our MPs are the jealous types, and I doubt if they would be willing to share that title, so expect a very agitated ‘Honourable’ Kato Lubwama thundering on the floor of Parliament, and telling “Madame Speaker, Sir”  how they cannot let such a venerable title be used by such low lives, and how it should just be restricted to MPs. And they would attach it to a Bill raising their salaries, which would be duly passed by a unanimous vote.

To be honest, and give due where it should, we did have this debate on a Forum I belong to. After it was agreed that indeed the term ‘honourable’ should only be used in Parliament, somebody asked what the MPs should be referred to outside Parliament. There were quite a few colourful suggestions I shall not repeat here, but one declared that they are ‘traders who deal in selling Uganda at any price’.