When you meet Dr Sam Kazibwe Keewaza for the first time, you will be ‘disappointed’; very disappointed.
When you hear him speak on radio about history and contemporary issues, you might think in terms of age, he is in the leagues of CBS’ late Bassajjakkambwe, or at least in that of NBS’ Dr Anas Kaliisa. When you hear him talk about the history of Uganda, former presidents Idi Amin and Apollo Milton Obote, among others, you might think he was a participant in those events.
But he was born just 34 years ago. He will discuss the politics of South Africa, Kenya, Ivory Coast, United States of America and Russia with the same ease and flow as though he was talking about the feud between Asuman Basalirwa and the opposition FDC over who should stand on the joint opposition ticket in the upcoming Bugiri municipality elections.
“That’s why I had second thoughts about this interview; I don’t want to disappoint my listeners who hold me in very high regard on the basis of my age; they think I’m an old man and you want to blow my cover,” a smiling Kazibwe tells me as we settle down for an interview at Hotel Sojovalo in Mengo, not far away from his station of duty at Bulange, the seat of the Central Broadcasting Services (CBS).
WHO IS SAM KAZIBWE?
Last month Sam Kazibwe entered the exclusive club of Ugandan media scholars with a Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) degree, the highest academic accomplishment in this field; there are less than 10 others of his ilk.
His case is even more salient because he is now the only active journalist in Uganda with a PhD. Others like Dr Peter Mwesige, George Lugalambi and William Tayeebwa among others, have long abandoned the newsroom.
Kazibwe is the first born of four children of Reverend Canon Steven Ssenyonjo Keewaza and Joyce Keewaza, born in 1984. His ancestral origins are in Mubende district but he was born in Kooki, Rakai district where his mother hails from. Towards his birth, his mother moved back to her parents’ home in Kateerere, where she could be given the needed attention for her first child.
“That’s how I ended up being born in a banana plantation,” Kazibwe says with a grin.
Kazibwe went to Makonzi primary school, Kako Secondary School for O-level, Lubiri Secondary School for A-level, Uganda Christian University Mukono for a bachelor’s degree in mass communication, Makerere University for his master’s degree in the same field, before continuing to the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa for his PhD in media studies, which he got last month.
Kazibwe’s parents are his and his siblings’ source of inspiration for academic excellence. His mother grew from being a grade II primary teacher to holding a master’s degree.
Likewise, his father grew from having a diploma in theology to now holding a master’s degree in the same discipline. Despite their meagre resources – the father was a rural priest and the mother a primary teacher – Kazibwe’s parents never settled for less when it came to their children’s education.
“I can tell you for my PLE, I was in Makonzi Boarding primary school in Mubende. Those who are old enough know that in the 1970s to the early 1990s it was one of the top ten primary schools in this country,” Kazibwe says. Two of his siblings are still at university, one pursuing a bachelor’s degree in commerce and the other in economics, while the third one is a surveyor.
Other than his parents, Kazibwe has also been inspired by great African academicians such as Professor Ali Mazrui, Walter Rodney and Mahmood Mamdani, among others.
BECOMING AN ENCYCLOPAEDIA
“I’m not your ordinary student, right from primary school. When I was at Kako SS, I would go to the section of the library where books that were off the syllabus [were kept] and I was reading those books to widen my knowledge and understanding of things. I came face-to-face with great African and international scholars at quite an early age. We had been fed on Eurocentric views for many years but these scholars tried to give issues an African perspective,” Kazibwe says.
Reading such material widened his understanding so much that many of his listeners on CBS fm referred to him as professor way before he got the PhD.
For his desire to share knowledge, Kazibwe ended up as a lecturer at Uganda Christian University and before that he was an instructor at Datamine Technical Business Institute in Wandegeya, where he taught journalism.
“Before I started teaching, people would come to me and ask, which book did you read to become this knowledgeable? Certainly I couldn’t point at any single one, but teaching helps me inspire people to even be better than me; it’s the most rewarding thing,” Kazibwe says.
LIVING IN SOUTH AFRICA
Kazibwe went to South Africa in 2015 at the peak of the xenophobic attacks against blacks from outside South Africa. Several people from countries including Zambia and Mozambique were attacked, hacked or immolated by black South Africans accusing them of stealing their jobs.
“Black South Africans would rather stay with a Pakistani, Indian or a White from another country, but not a black African from another country. Their thinking is that you’re in South Africa to take their jobs. Even when you have been admitted to their universities to do a PhD, they think probably that opportunity should have gone to one of their own because there are not so many black Africans that are admitted to do PhDs,” Kazibwe says.
It was also during Kazibwe’s three-year stay at KwaZulu-Natal that countrywide demonstrations known as Fees Must Fall Campaign by students against the exorbitant university fees were taking place.
Kazibwe was left aghast by the level of activism and aggressiveness of the South African population that he says cannot be compared to Uganda in any way. Because of their history of fighting against oppression by the minority white rule, the people of South Africa have developed genes that resist anything in form of discrimination.
“When you see them starting a procession, you will be amazed by the way they are organized, the way they sing, the way they dance, the way one leads them from one building to the other; it’s like it’s choreographed,” Kazibwe says.
He particularly remembers one demonstration that surprised him the most in his first year at the University of KwaZulu-Natal; a group of students came and demonstrated outside the university because they had not been admitted to the institution.
“They were saying, this is a government university; why didn’t you admit us yet we all need to study?”
During such demonstrations, the external office responsible for foreign students advises them to stay in a secure place, and not get involved in the demonstrations. Kazibwe says in the middle of their demonstrations, the moment they realize that you cannot speak their local languages, they can turn against you.
“You live always with an existential threat as a foreigner in South Africa,” he says.
Since 2005 when he started out as a political reporter at Radio Simba, Kazibwe has interviewed the who-is-who in this country; ministers, members of parliament, politicians, religious leaders, and civil society leaders.
With his wide knowledge on Africa and developing counties, Kazibwe is convinced Uganda is headed for a cliff if President Yoweri Museveni continues hanging on as president.
“He has done a number of good things for this country but longevity in the office of the president in Africa has always had disastrous consequences. We can’t claim that if we continue on this path, it will be different from countries like Ivory Coast. Many people don’t know that there was a time when that country was the superpower of West Africa under the dictatorship of Felix Houphouet Boigny. His dictatorship created artificial stability for over 30 years; everybody had to go to Ivory Coast for greener pastures. It didn’t occur to him that he was an ordinary mortal like anybody; it’s coming to 30 years but Ivory Coast is a laughing stock,” Kazibwe says.
When asked about his best politician in the ruling NRM party, Kazibwe thinks for a moment before answering that it is a tough question. He says at a point when you think that someone is really good, they do something that erodes everything.
But Kazibwe is all praises for FDC former president Gen Gregory Mugisha Muntu. He says Muntu is a very good leader and compares him to the Democratic Party founding leader, Benedicto Kiwanuka, who was killed in 1972 on the orders of then president Idi Amin.
“The ideals Kiwanuka stood for, people in the 1960s couldn’t understand them but those of us who have lived today have understood him. He was so principled that it affected his political career and eventually led to his death. Likewise, when you speak with people who have worked with Muntu in the UPDF, East African Legislative Assembly and the FDC, they will tell you he is a systems person, and for me that is the best leader,” Kazibwe says.
“The trouble in countries like Uganda where the majority of voters are peasants who settle for less, politicians can lie day-in day-out and get away with it. When you host a politician, he/she will lie with impunity; they don’t give a damn. Even topics they don’t understand, they want to discuss them. It’s only Mugisha Muntu that I have met and he says, ‘please I don’t think I have the competency to discuss that topic’,” he says.
Kazibwe says his best talk show host is Peter Kibazo who hosts Olutindo and Gasimbagane ne Bannamawulire on Radio Simba and formerly host of Issues at Hand on the defunct WBS TV. He says he had an opportunity to be part of a program hosted by Kibazo and found him very knowledgeable.
“He is not the type that you would appear before and distort facts,” he says.
Outside Uganda, Kazibwe loves CNN’s Christiane Amanpour and Al Jazeera’s Fareed Zakaria. Kazibwe left Radio Simba in 2010 when together with Abby Mukiibi and Martin Oscar Kintu he went to start Baba FM in Jinja, owned by Moses Grace Balyeku, the MP for Jinja Municipality West.
He was there for one year then joined CBS in 2011 as head of research. He says joining CBS fm, a dream for every radio reporter he knows in this country, opened horizons for him in terms of people he associates with both professionally and politically.
“What you do is the most important thing; many people have cursed this profession but I’m not one of them. I have never had any second thoughts that I should have pursued another profession. If you gave me another chance, I would still choose journalism because it has many opportunities but the difference is that it’s proactive; it rewards only those who are aggressive.”
“I also believe that merit works; every place that I have been to, I didn’t have to know anybody. Once you do some good piece of work, it sells you and I think that is what has helped me.”
Kazibwe is the host of Londoola Ensonga, a political talk show that airs between 8-9pm every week day on 88.8 Cbs FM Ey’obujjajja. He is also the producer and presenter of Kalabalaba, a program that airs between 11-12noon every Sunday on 89.2 CBS FM Emmanduso.
The programme focuses on global politics and its implications on world peace and stability. For now, Kazibwe says he is going to focus his efforts on his programs and teaching.