2014: The Year That Was…

It was that great Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw who once said: “I never resist temptation because I have found that things that are bad for me do not tempt me.”

Indeed 2014 has been a year of many temptations – some good, others not so good. And like the good Christian of old (it’s fair to say I’ve become less of a believer these last two or so years), I will go ahead to spell out my biggest “temptations” of 2014.

Writing. The Blog. Weekly letter.

In February 2013, after much hesitation and persuasion from friends, I decided to start blogging. I commited myself to writing a piece or two at least once a month. Come December 2013 I had managed a blog post every month ( a total of 10 articles), except for two months when “writers’ block” got the better of me. Another thing, traffic on my blog wasn’t picking up. Weren’t people interested in what I was writing?  I pondered. Enter 2014. I decided, a few things would change: I would stick to at least an article a month (to allow myself time to come up with something good), and take a different angle from what the general public would expect – or had come to accept as ‘acceptable’ – from other bloggers. In short, I’d have to break with convention. The idea of writing for News papers also came to mind.

It worked. In one of the first blog posts this year, I took on the President for his signing of the Anti homosexuality bill. Little did I know the article would garner international attention (to date it’s the most “viewed” on the blog; with close to 300 shares on Twitter). A Washington Post reporter would later email me for an interview. The number of followers on the blog would also increase. The “temptation” had paid off!

Then came the “Weekly letter to my 202 Facebook friends”. I must confess, the idea for the letter was borne out of my earlier fascination with two exceptional New Vision columnists in the early 2000s – John(nie) Nagenda and Tom Rushedge (popularly referred to as Dr Tom “Old Fox” Rush). Their almost irreverent look at the events of the week and a knack for squeezing satire out of even the most boring of stories made my weekends reading the Saturday Vision (or Sunday magazine for Tom Rush’s column) the best days of the week!

And so the idea of a weekly letter was born. Unfortunately, mid-way through I lost the mojo for writing weekly. The letter soon became bi-monthly and then I finally resolved to shelve the idea altogether. I might resume some day. Also, the focus of my letter on the events surrounding the troubles of former Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi and the President cast me in the spotlight – attention I didn’t enjoy. Perhaps in 2015 I will put those concerns to rest and resume the letter. Maybe.

Campus. Zoology. Politics.

I always find it hard explaining to friends, even family, that I am doing Zoology at the University…and actually enjoy it more than anything. But I also have a soft spot for debate and analysing politics. The two enjoy a special place in my heart. They are not (cannot be) mutually exclusive. “So why didn’t you do Political Science, Journalism or Law?” I am always asked by folks, “you are cut out for the Arts, not Science,” they are quick to add. You don’t know how long I have had to grapple with such questions. To me, Zoology (and so you know, I do minor in Chemistry) gives me the “grounding” to understand and appreciate the world around me without bias. The subjects help me to question even my most strongly held beliefs, preconceived notions and biases. It is not surprising therefore that some of the greatest philosophers cut across the Arts and Science. Aristotle is held is high esteem in Biology as he is in Philosophy or Political science. The two “iron ladies” of Europe, Angela Merkel (she holds a doctorate in Chemistry) and Margaret Thatcher (had a B.Sc. in Chemistry), had  a strong background in the sciences.

About campus. Well, third year has been one hell of a year. The prospect of me getting out in May next year has equally been relieving. With only months left until I leave, emphasis is more on learning those skills that I think will be useful in the world; on areas of Science that interest me (Evolution, Human behaviour and Animal disease). There’s been talk about the possibility of a post-graduate (Masters) although I keep dodging the Professor’s suggestion. Maybe the academia could be my next “temptation”, who knows? I have enjoyed my small class of seven and the perks that come with it – having one-on-ones with lecturers and uninterrupted question time. I would love to teach a small class too.

Radio. Quack intellectualism. Television(?)

First, I wish to take credit for coining the acronym “QI” to mean Quack Intellectual – the term itself was coined by my friend Agaba Rugaba, in response to another friend’s (Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire) harangue that African intellectuals are not “relevant” to their communities and do nothing but parrot dead white men! In a bid to carve out a niche of our own and occupy the “intellectual” space, Agaba suggested the term Quack intellectual.

2014 saw one such attempt to capture the “space” on radio. KFM was to be the station. After years of religiously listening to the station’s (formerly Monitor FM) premier political talkshow “Hot Seat” (also formerly called the Andrew Mwenda live show), I was elated when Andrew extended an invitation for me attend the Friday show in March this year. Nine months later, am a regular on the show. Again, this underscores the vision and tenacity with which the founders of The Monitor in 1993 (Kevin Aliro, Onyango Obbo and Wafula Oguttu) set out to change the media landscape in this country. Nearly all of the best journalists in this country have cut their teeth at Monitor. It could explain why the media house has had many run-ins with the state.

With radio came the urge to try out TV. It is one of the experiences I would rather prefer not to talk about but, hey, it happened. A group of six. Five friends and I set out to record a political talkshow of our own (it had to be politics!), and armed with nothing but a camera – and some dose of naivety, you could add – set out scouting for places to host the “show”. We zeroed on the Pan-African square. The short of it is, the show was tapped; image was not that good and, like we were to find out, a lot goes into Tv program production than one person behind a camera and a “panel” sipping on mugs of coffee.

Final thoughts. Travel. New Year.

In closing, I must say lately cynicism seems to have gotten the better of me – and indeed many young folks of my age. There seems to be a lot of negativity in the country today; things don’t seem to work only here in Kaguta’s Uganda. A century after the colonialists left, outside South Africa and North of the Sahel, only Tanzania has managed to build a railway. Even then, the project was financed by China in the 1960s at the height of the cold war. Our own standard guage railway financed by China is going to be the most expensive rail way – per kilometer – in the world. Karuma dam, like its predecessor, Bujagaali has been dogged by scandal after scandal. The cost for this 600MW hydro power dam has skyrocketed from an initial $600m to about $1bn and it could go higher. Only here can a President “launch” the construction of a ghost road project. The Cranes have re-defined the meaning of “almost there”…on our 26th attempt at the continental football competition we yet again came “so close” to qualifying were it not for that red card! Or were we?

It is therefore hard not to be cynical about anything Ugandan. Black humour is the way of life. But the antidote to this negativity seems to lie with(in) Uganda itself. In its people. National parks. Villages. Wildlife. Upcountry towns. So when my department announced a trip to Kibale national park at the end of the semester, I couldn’t wait. I have passed through Kibale national park before, the last time being 2010 – it’s one of the most beautiful places on earth. An extension of the Congo rain forest, the park has the highest density of chimps in the world; has numerous species of birds and butterflies. It’s a biologist’s haven! I’ll be in Kibale from 20th to Christmas eve, after which will be yet another trip; this time to Mombasa Kenya. The Mombasa trip will be in early January. There might be a trip to Rwanda too in 2015.

Through these travels, I hope, I shall find inspiration to be optimistic about Uganda and the region. Look out for my blog posts about these journeys.

With those very few words, am tempted to wish you a happy new year. And may you be tempted to do good in 2015!