Agnes Nandutu, in her 40s, is a senior reporter at NTV, known for her popular Friday Point Blank segment. She is also a moderator for the syndicated The People’s Parliament. Quick Talk caught up with her at the NTV offices.
Wow, good morning Quick Talk!
Looking really good!
Well, thank you!
You are finally joining politics…
I have served as a journalist for 20 years and appreciate everyone’s support. The passion I have for my people and leadership has made me take this route. I am going to use the journalism experience to serve the people of Bududa [sadly, Nandutu lost in the NRM primaries last Friday].
Should we see this as the end of your journalism journey?
[Takes a deep breath] Once a journalist [always a journalist]. It is passion and a calling.
Who was Agnes Nandutu before the Kampala lights?
It is really a long story. You know I went back to Bududa as a journalist and reported stories about the difficulties of children who go to school walking a number of kilometres… I also reported about the bad schools that didn’t have structures, toilets and facilities, and people were shocked. I told them I was not shocked, because this is the environment I studied in as a school-going girl.
I am born in a very poor family with a humble background, where we did not have that much money but had to work for everything. It was not a silver plate or smooth way but it is by God’s purpose that I am here.
We always walked to school without shoes; I wore my first pair of shoes in P7. It was also my first time to move from the village to Mbale town. It was also my first time to travel in a car. We were going for drama competitions. I was a very good dramatist [Laughs loud]. I was going to town and could not go without shoes. I didn’t sleep that night!
Would that explain why you sign out dramatically with: Aaagnes Nadutuuuu?
[Laughs] That is not drama. I was born in the mountains of Bududa and the operation there is up and down. When I am calling a person [downhill], the voice will go slowly and reach someone down there; so, it started way back and that’s my brand.
How was school time?
I would walk to school, but had to first go to the garden and then from the garden put on my uniform and run to the river to wash my legs. I would carry Vaseline in a small [piece of] paper so I could [apply it to my legs after washing], then proceed to school.
We never used to have breakfast or lunch at school. We had to wait to go home and have something to eat. Meanwhile at home, the cows and goats are waiting for you in the grazing ground.
But I am never ashamed of that kind of life and I don’t regret it, because it made me a strong woman and taught me to work, something I have done independently. I don’t look to people to facilitate my life.
Which schools did you attend?
I went to Bumwali primary school, then Bbulo Girls and on to Bulucheke secondary school. I ambushed Kampala for survival, where I did my training in journalism at Uganda Institute of Business and Media Studies. Before, that I first worked at Radio Uganda as a freelancer.
I found there good people like Andrew Muziba and Mike Bwayo, who trained me and saw I was good. That is how I got the urge to go and train in journalism.
How did you survive in Kampala, did you have relatives?
Heee, survival for the fittest, my dear! I was at first staying at a relative’s place, which I left due to some challenges. I had to sustain myself, because my parents were not in Kampala. I rented a small single room which I had to pay for; so, I was [freelancing for] a number of media houses like Impact Radio, Daily Monitor, Radio Uganda, and Open Gate Radio in Mbale so that I could pay rent and sustain myself.
That’s stressful! Why do you always report about sad stories?
I am passionate about how people live. I move around the country and see the poverty, I get hurt but because I have no authority to change things, I just report about it so that somebody can come to their rescue. And I think I have achieved much.
What has been the most touching so far?
There are very many stories, but the story I remember was about a boy called Silas Wakinya from Mbale district. This boy got sick and disabled and he was crawling five kilometres to and from school every day. He was from a very poor family. When I did that story, the boy got a scholarship to go to a better school in town.
That’s beautiful. What are your achievements, so far?
I think I have got a name and when I stand for presidency, I can win more votes than Amama Mbabazi [she laughs loudly]. I have known people and people have known me.
What has been the worst moment in the profession?
One time, I travelled on a tipper truck carrying concrete to Bukwo district to report about FGM. There were no vehicles, the roads were bad from Kapchorwa to Bukwo. When we reached, we got only one room to sleep; the good thing is that there were two beds.
So, I told [my male colleague] not to face my way while sleeping and I too looked the other way and we slept till morning. That was so challenging and difficult for me; sharing a room with a man who is not your relative in a foreign place.
But he was a good man; we slept and then got to work the following morning. I actually won an award for the story, because I went and looked for those girls, found them doing the rituals and circumcision, it was a very intense story and difficult to get, but I disguised myself and even got the photos.
You talk about your parents and children, I don’t hear about the one and only…
[With an angry, flippant tone:] Those are the things I don’t want to talk about, but I am a mother of seven.
Whew! Are you planning to add more?
Shaaa, after the campaigns, I might have twins, you never know.
Yeah. You know Bududa is now de-populated due to the landslides; so, for us who have the chance, we will populate it. And I love children and being in a large family.