Monday April 17 2017

Dr Peter Mwesige: The restless pilgrim journalist

Dr Peter Mwesige, co-founder and executive

Dr Peter Mwesige, co-founder and executive director of the African Centre for Media Excellence.  

By Otim Lucima

Dr Peter Mwesige is an intense man with a restless journeying spirit.
From The Monitor to The Crusader and onto American University in Cairo, Egypt, then onto The New Vision, and Indiana University, USA, and back to his alma mater Makerere University, Dr Mwesige has never settled in any one place for more than two years.
Starting out in 1993 as a stringer in his second year at Makerere, by his third year, Mwesige had secured his foothold at The Monitor on Dewinton Road. Soon, Mwesige’s sketches from Parliament, Barbs Bouquets, became one of the most refreshing reads in The Monitor.
But before long, Mwesige, a big dreamer together with other young and restless journos, broke camp in December 1995 to found The Crusader, a weekly. Among the runaways were current Nile Breweries corporate affairs manager Onapito Ekomoloit, media doctoral scholar Vukoni Lupa Lasaga, Red Pepper boss Richard Tumusiime, and Uneb spokesman Hamis Kaheru. They were soon shored up by George Lugalambi, then an MA student from University of Leicester, UK.
But shortly after, Mwesige was again on his way to the American University in Cairo, for a Master in Journalism and Mass Communication, completing in 1998.
Upon return from Cairo in April 1999, Mwesige found a new home at The New Vision. Soon, Mwesige was named Political Editor over senior colleagues; among them Ofwono Opondo. This ‘ungracious’ pass over soon burst into an open newsroom brawl with Ofwono Opondo, who soon after moved on to Uganda Human Rights Commission Desk in Gulu.
But Mwesige’s combative persona never mellowed. Once, his Parliament page had typos, Mwesige pushed to have ejected a senior sub-editor; who he directed never to touch the political page, which was passed on to me, a junior sub-editor.
Easily excitable by a cause, Mwesige as boss of National Institute of Journalists of Uganda once led a demo by scribes against restrictive regulations against press freedom. This move shocked veteran journalist and then New Vision training editor Ilakut Ben Bella, who described it as radical and without parallel across his long tenure in journalism.
Not even age and experience would wind down Mwesige’s radical viewpoints.
With less than a year on his docket at The New Vision, Mwesige was literally forced out. His crime was penning a mockery of President Museveni’s national address as stale with nothing new except tired slogans after 10 years in power!
This was not what the NRM regime was ready to let citizens, neither let government agency employees openly say. And it fell upon Mr John Nagenda, then senior press advisor to President Museveni, to rebuke Mwesige and dictate that he be forced to drop his bread supplied by the State on the watch of President Museveni. Such apparent daredevil attitude also clouds the amiable side of Dr Mwesige.
But on first encounter, Vukoni Lupa Lasaga, an old acquaintance, fears one might quickly judge Peter G, as his friends fondly call him, as too loud, overly opinionated and a potential trouble maker.

‘Militant side’
While Vukoni remembers Peter G by his alias of chairman, I recall an overconfident and joyous student saluted as Field Marshal of the Northcote (Hall) State. He would don the green military fatigues, walk on his toes, and hold his head higher than where it should be off his shoulders. He would walk about the campus soccer pitch with a proud, stiff, and pompous gait; escorted by twice bigger or taller bodyguards, including one fearsome Mawa. On this soccer pitch, the ‘soldiers’ cowed opponents with intimidating noise and crushing slogan of ‘we win or they lose’.
After The New Vision, Lady Luck would again smile at Mwesige who soon headed to Indiana University, USA, for a PhD in Mass Communication. Dr Mwesige then returned to Makerere as a lecturer and before long assumed the mantle as head of Mass Communication.
In his own words, Dr Mwesige loved Makerere but soon found it rather drab and too slow for his adventurous spirit. And things soon came to a head when Makerere slighted Dr Mwesige’s bid to have the Department of Mass Communication upgraded to an independent media and policy centre.
Dr Mwesige promptly jumped ship in February 2005, but with his foothold secure as Executive Editor at Monitor Publications Ltd for the next two years. But even this trap could not hold down the restless spirit in Dr Mwesige.
It soon emerged that Dr Mwesige was again tempted by another bigger offer from the Nairobi-based Nation Media Group (NMG). He was named Group Training Editor in December 2007. The region’s biggest multimedia company sweetened Dr Mwesige’s bait with ambitious promises to expand its operations to West Africa in a year or two.
The training option across the group’s print and electronic media tickled the academic in Dr Mwesige. He reckoned he would “…still get to keep a close tab on academe, including conducting research and writing academic/professional papers.”
But even this sweetener could not hold down the restless spirit in Dr Mwesige.
And true to his journeying spirit, Dr Mwesige was off again; only this time to co-found with Bernard Tabaire, something of their own – ACME.
The African Centre for Media Excellence has since held down Dr Mwesige for seven unbroken years.
But old habits die hard and so has it been with Dr Mwesige’s militant code. Even at ACME, the old fighter in Dr Mwesige hasn’t died. His wife –Jackie Asiimwe, says Dr Mwesige still agonises about the state of journalism in Uganda, and stands up to and pushes ACME’s key financiers.
But it has been at ACME that Dr Mwesige has marked most time; the longest unbroken stretch in his career in journalism. So could ACME finally provide for Dr Mwesige, the restless pilgrim journalist, the ideal foothold to rest his should-have-been dog-tired yet itchy and restless feet?
Only time will judge.

A friend’s opinion of Dr Mwesige

Vukoni Lupa Lasaga, an old acquaintance, says Mwesige carries a natural charisma although his intensity can get in the way of knowing him. Mr Vukoni remembers Peter G, as his friends fondly call him, as one who loves merrymaking; drinking, smoking, singing, and arguing. He has since dropped the cigarette.
“One of the most fascinating sights for me was …visiting my brother [Mwesige] at Northcote (now Nsibirwa) hall and finding Mwesige beating the drums, hopping on one leg and shifting to the other; all the while kicking the leg suspended mid-air back and forth, all in perfect rhythm. This was before he became [Northcote] hall chairman.”
“That was Peter G; first the hard work then the hard play. I believe that’s the secret of his success in life,” opines Vukoni.
Yet to him, Peter G remained “the most serious student in our class and brutally honest. The kind of character I gravitated towards in my life.”