By Ronald Muhinda
Muyanga Lutaaya: Journalism, Politics and Truth.
I have never been owned by anybody nor any institution. We are first ourselves before we are owned by any institution. Institutions own our successes and we own our failures, just like our parents own our good discipline and we own our transgressions.
This is a life I have lived. It’s a life we all live. It’s why I was taken aback by the pretentious comments by some of our elites in regard to the unfortunate incident surrounding imprisonment of celebrated tv journalist Sir Simon Muyanga Lutaaya. I think our elites, including journalists who attacked FDC for not helping Muyanga Lutaaya- of course unaware of what had been done for him in terms of helping him- are ignorant. Ignorance may be a congenital abnormality in Africa.
Muyanga Lutaaya is lucky. But I Ronald Muhinda have been in his situation before but unlucky. I will tell my story. In Nov 2011, I was evicted from a house I was renting because I had defaulted paying rent.
First I was a practicing journalist working for a reputable media house. I was also a self sponsored student of Mass Communication at Makerere University. As a person who has never taken a bribe, I hustled a lot yet, I was earning so little to pay my bills before I could think of tuition fees. Journalists are the poorest in this country. Many journalists earn less than teachers in Uganda. Journalists who are doing well, most of them are corrupt. Fact. But there are journalists who earn fairly well and live decent lives.
That is why there is high brain drain in media houses. Poor pay is the cause. In fact, journalists are the most exploited fellows in Uganda’s work force. Fact.
So on my part, all I needed was to have money to eat. In my care were my two young brothers I had to feed. In fact, we ate mainly posho and gnut sauce. It was a tough time. Sometimes my brothers would hate the food but they had to eat it. But I am person who never gives up. You have a name (made on radio) but nothing to eat at home. Nobody will understand it.
My focus was always tuition fees. Those of you who have been to Makerere, you know without fees, you don’t enter examination rooms. Examination time can be embarrassing moment especially for showy students. I was humble and quiet. Some colleagues always wondered if I talk. Some students would get shocked if they saw me talking or cracking jokes with anyone. But I had students I talked to freely like Raymond Baguma Amooti (he used to work with New Vision), Jackson Kadumye (working with Mubende LG), Bubu Dee(I don’t know where she), Kayleigh Kata & Nakiwujjo Harriet (I don’t know what they are up to) etc. These were ever my group mates. I also had a crush on Sharon Ishimwe (now outside countries).
You see when you are in unprivileged position like mine, focus is put on how to solve your problem. My situation/state of quietness concerned some of the lecturers like Marjorie Niyetegeka and Harriet Ssebana that they always provoked me to speak in lecture room. Because I realised there intention, whenever they picked me to speak, I still kept quiet. Ssebana invited me in her office to ask why I am stubborn. To her shock, we always talked freely in office.
I have written about Prof. Abbas Kiyimba and how he helped me. God bless him. So when you are in my situation, like Simon Muyanga Lutaaya, you become humble. Even if you were stubborn, situation forces you to be humble or you crumble.
So at some point, after paying fees in Dec 2010, some which I borrowed, I completely collapsed. The whole of 2011, I failed to raise money from my job to even pay bills. Rent, water and electricity all failed me. Personally, I collapsed-emotionally, physically and mentally. All I was left with is my big head.
If I was a business in 2011, I would file for bankruptcy. I didn’t run to anybody for help. And nobody helped me. I suffered alone.
On 10th, Nov 2011, I returned home at 10pm and found my house locked. My rent arrears were over 2M, Power bill about 600,000shs and water had been disconnected. Everything locked inside. My first reaction was: ok this is it. Where do I go to sleep? I had friends, some of whom had my money they accumulated during my good times. I had a job. But I called my sister Phiona Ninsiima. Family is family. Blood is thicker. Although married, she allowed me to stay at her place. She stays far away from town, so I still went to her place reaching after mid night.
I had only 100,000shs in my life. The following day, I decided to buy second hand clothes for a new life. I continued working without anybody at work knowing that I am evicted from my house. Even if they knew, they could really not help. To reduce on transport costs, I would travel to town with my in-law.
My Land Lord was a tenant with my employers. When I first went there in 2004, I never knew where life would take me. So after three months of no pay to my land Lord, following closure of the house, one day in 2012, five Radio announcements arrive at work. They were claiming I locked the house and disappeared with the keys without paying rent. But it’s them who had locked the house. I had not disappeared. We often met inside packing at office.
I had come from reporting in the field when I was called by Administrator. He asked me about the announcements and whether they were true. I told yes, the house is closed and it’s true I have rent arrears but it’s them who locked it. He asked me if I had money to pay and I asked him how much they pay me to clear all arrears. He asked whether I could pay in instalments but I was non-committal. My focus was on how to start a new life from zero.
Really at that point, I didn’t give a damn. I had been to hell and back. I was cold. I asked him, can you help me as my employer? Answer. Sorry we can’t. I told him, it’s ok run the announcements. I walked away.
After 2pm News, where I had a report, Joyce Bagala read the first of five announcements. In my mind, I was not bothered. I didn’t care. All the five announcements were run.
Remember, announcements are paid for. I too was a paid employee. I understood their position because when I fell into shit, I wasn’t in that position by virtue of my work. After the announcements, I said to myself, what was all this about? I continued working until Nov 2016 when I voluntarily resigned from work.
But I never recovered from that point. In 2012, I went with Prime Ministers office for 5 days in Northern Uganda to assess impact of Nodding disease. We were paid 125,000shs daily. Although the contact person took 100,000shs from us, I made sure the balance was to get me a new place. I returned with about 300,000shs. From it I started a new low life.
I Ronald Muhinda slept down on the floor of house in Kamokya while working for a reputation Media house. Some of you know that.
In all this time, I was also an activist that still fought for justice and fairness. People knew me. There were attempts to get me out of supporting FDC and Kizza Besigye but I had no price tag. Semanyi Ssozi Isaac can confess. He told me about it later on. So through my troubles, my employer, my workmates never helped me. I never went to beg from politicians. Remember at the time, I was also a reporter at Parliament. I never begged from any Mp.
At parliament, one time in 2013, Dickens Okello Honeystraw, who found me at parliament and I oriented him, he got connected quickly and he was lending me money. Once he lent me 50,000shs and I spent like 3months without paying him back. I gave it to him later though. When I can, I pay back. But sometimes, I fail.
On this Media day, I have told my story in relation to Muyanga Lutaaya so that people know where we have come from. Muyanga is lucky he has been helped but we have also been friends for long. Every time we met, we always joked that we are the only journalists that openly and proudly support FDC without compromising our journalism. I have always defended this position.
We also agree that we should support the party instead of the party supporting us. By supporting the party, we are supporting the struggle against Museveni junta. We agree that the party is the vehicle to change.
So why would people expect FDC or Kizza Besigye to pay bills for Muyanga Lutaaya yet when we have talked, he feels it’s us who should support FDC and Besigye instead, because in his mind, they need us more than we need them.
Can we grow this pedestrian elitist thinking for the good of Uganda? Is it possible?
I am convinced that even if Muyanga Lutaaya was under paid in media- after all his salary cannot bail him out- his decision to join politics was a personal decision, but most importantly, I know he is passionate about governance in Uganda.
Before we blame politicians for not supporting journalists who support change, are we doing enough to fight for better pay at work to get us out of personal problems? I want journalists to earn for their incredible work for media houses than earning from politics.
Many journalists are suffering from media houses where they work. Media is the biggest threat to journalists.
Wama happy media day Sir Simon Muyanga Lutaaya. I celebrate you today.