One would wish that it were not just political events we toasted to as a nation. Ruling party anniversaries, days marking dodgy national heroes and our Independence Day anniversary that still shows little by way of national self-actualisation, are all marked with timely precision. Yet certain commemorations would probably make better sense than those yellow-tinged televised political yawns. Take 1993, a year most will remember more for World Bank Structural Adjustment Programmes (that bitter pill so-called third world nations were forced to swallow en masse) and maybe the failed Musevenomics which marked the genesis of what now passes for the “Fundamental Fraud” (whatever happened to the fundamental change that was promised at that Parliament terrace speech back in January 1986).
Yet 1993 remains remarkable regardless if anything because of three major social events that make toasting to 20 years of each milestone worthwhile. That year marked the end of Buganda emasculation and the stranglehold Radio Uganda had on the MW and SW listening masses. It also unleashed, by way of the small screen, our own celebrities.
Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II’s Coronation
Word is there were protracted negotiations in the bush during the Museveni-led NRA struggle to oust the President Milton Apollo Obote, between the rebels and the Buganda monarch in waiting. The latter was vital in enlisting the support of the locals, a vital ingredient in any guerrilla warfare. Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi’s father King Fred Muteesa had died in exile in 1969 in the UK following a fall-out with the same protagonist Dr. Apollo Milton Obote in 1966. It would, however, take another seven years of backroom negotiations after the NRA took power in 1986 for kingdoms to be restored in 1993. This may have come with trimmed powers that reduced the Kabaka to a cultural figurehead thereby clipping the political wings of the Sabasajja (his late dad was President at the time of Independence in 1962). But the pomp at the Naggalabi Coronation Grounds on July 31st 1993 was a hybrid eclipse-like event that had last occurred in 1942. So 20 years on, one of the biggest monarchies on the continent can still toast majestically even with the uneasy relationship with the Central Government that gets pessimists worried about a 1966 sequel. The optimists on the other hand continue to ulululate; “Awangale ayi Sabasajja”.
That’s Life Mwattu
June 1993. An ambitious and bold attempt to put a TV serial on the small screen is made by The Ebonies, one of the nation’s leading entertainment outfits desperate to reinvent itself after the exodus of its singing crop. A brain wave leads to the creation of a TV series that mirrors Ugandan life albeit in a resigned c’est la vie way. But the excitement is palpable and Sunday nights are prime time nights with the previous night’s episode of That’s Life, Mwattu providing conversation not just at the office water cooler conversation. Even the gossiping women at the city’s downtown market and idling taxi conductors and touts are in on the conversation about Nakawunde’s maalo.
The plot did bordered on the preposterous sometimes; Upwardly mobile city doctor (Dick) ditches bitchy girlfriend (Vicky) for village nymph (Nakawunde). And yet in all that was the Kiboga subtext of the have-nots living side by side with those that had just “arrived” and become instant millionaires, the ones driving Pajeros and throwing it on everyone’s faces about how they had “fought”. Mwattu also gave us our own celebrities; Dr. Bbosa, Kakinda (the hunchback native healer aide), “Okitegera” (the clowning lawyer grooming Dr. Bbosa to contest for political office). It offered probably the biggest potential of the audio-visual industry at the time enough to compete head-to-head with the aesthetically superior television import Riviera. It’s a pity the apparent Golden Age didn’t last. Mwattu got into a creative rut and the nation sold out to the opium that is now the cheesy telenovela.
The tail end of 1993 created what could easily pass as the biggest social revolution of recent times. For the most part, the Frequency Modulation section of the radio dial had been redundant restricting one’s listening experience to husky Medium Wave and squeaky Short Wave. Enter FM radio on December 18th, 1993 with the advent of industry pioneer Radio Sanyu broadcasting on 88.2FM and it was time to ditch those trips to Seggico Disco. Of course there is a generation out there that has no recollection of Radio Uganda and its Tower of Babel programming that included shows in as many of Uganda’s 65 ethnicities. But for those that were attuning their ears to a CD quality crisp sound, there was everything to celebrate even as radio morphed into providing a vital alternative political space to the clampdown of dissent at the time. Capital Gang and Ebimeeza come to mind. The bulk of the FM radio playlists may come off as extensions of the American music industry but there’s no missing the emergence of the radio celebrity and attendant consumerism that came with certain advertising campaigns like the overly capitalistic (and maybe demeaning) Hands Off My Hyundai competition.
Text: MOSES SERUGO (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com)