In Part XII of Project Success, we track down Mr Richard Tusiime, the Red Pepper managing director, who was Uganda’s fifth best UACE arts student of 1992. He tells his story.
Richard Tusiime brushes off – almost with disdain – questions about the impact his performance in the A-Level exams of 1992, where he emerged Uganda’s fifth best student, had on his life. “These things don’t mean much,” he said. “At the end of the day, it is like waking up without a headache; it does not change anything. You only say to God, ‘thank you that I don’t have a head-ache or a stomach-ache’, and life goes on.”
According to Mr Tusiime, excelling in examinations “is nothing but a gift from God.” “These people who brag, ‘you see I read. Who doesn’t read? You see I prayed. Who doesn’t pray?’ Everybody prays and reads, except that of course God gives us different gifts. It is not that people who excel in exams are unique,” he said.
Mr Tusiime, who spent six years at Kitabi Seminary in Bushenyi District, says his own situation in the run up to his A-Level exams somewhat bears out his view. A little over two weeks to his final exams, Mr Tusiime says he developed an eye problem. “I could not see,” he said. “When I went to the hospital… you see that time if you went to complain about your eyes to an eye care centre, you either had a long sight or short sight. If you had none of these two, you were not sick; your eyes were normal. Yet my problem was very acute but it could not be diagnosed in the village so I ended up being bed ridden.”
When Mr Tusiime’s condition worsened, the then Kitabi Seminary Rector, Fr. Kanyandago, transported him to Mulago Hospital. Because of fears that his nervous system had developed a problem, Mr Tusiime was admitted at Mulago for two weeks as he waited to be examined by a neuro-surgeon. “A day before my first paper, I was still in Mulago. That afternoon I said, ‘since I can’t see the neuro-surgeon, let me go to Rubaga’. Mbarara Diocese has a house at the Cathedral so I went there. While there, a priest called Fr. Betunga came and said he was going to Mbarara. I decided to abandon Mulago, go back to school and see what I could do,” he narrated.
They left Kampala at 7pm and arrived in Mbarara around 1pm. The next day, he left Mbarara at 8pm and arrived at Kitabi at around 10am – just in time to find the examiner packing his bags. “When I arrived, the examiner had finished examining my colleague; we were only two French students. I said don’t go. I am supposed to be examined but I fell sick,” he said.
The examiner relented; he sat the paper and scored a distinction. Mr Tusiime eventually passed all his papers, scoring AABB in French, Economics, Divinity and History respectively. “That is what makes me think passing exams is a gift,” he said. “It is not something you can say you worked for. I went ahead and beat all the other people [despite the ailment].” Yet, unlike other top performers, Mr Tusiime did not get to know that he had excelled until he reported to Makerere University and was called to the Vice Chancellor’s office. “Unlike now,” he explained, “there was no funfair when the results were released. Besides, I was in the village [in Ntungamo District] for my vacation so there was no way I would have known.”
One of the few immediate benefits Mr Tusiime says his excellent performance earned him was an allowance of $300 (about Shs600,000 today) that the government gave to the best performers every year, on top of the benefits offered to all the other students who qualified for government sponsorship at University.
In his first year at Makerere, Mr Tusiime says he started working with The People newspaper and was soon promoted to sub editor. A year later, he moved to The Topic newspaper up to 1993. In 1994, Mr Tusiime moved to The Monitor for his internship. He worked at The Monitor up to November 1995 when he left with other journalists to start The Crusader newspaper. When The Crusader folded up in 1999, Mr Tusiime was taken on by the New Vision as editor of Orumuri – a paper that he worked with until 2001 when he returned to Kampala to help start the Red Pepper.
For a man who dreamt of becoming a priest for most of his early life, the decision to venture into journalism put paid to his chances of serving the Catholic Church. “When I finished my senior six, I applied to go to the Major Seminary in Katigondo in Masaka District and I was called,” he said. “But when the results came out, I thought it was better to first go to Makerere and then go to the seminary later. So I wrote to my Bishop saying, ‘although I had agreed to continue, let me break off for three years and then we shall talk later’. He wrote back, actually, saying it is fine.
“Then after Makerere I did not find time to go back because during my internship at The Monitor, I was offered a job so it took my time. But I am a very good Christian. In fact, here they call me Archbishop, and they call the Red Pepper a Church. My colleagues are called Bishops and we are priests in that way. So the dream did not die. It still lives on. Now I am Bishop, but of a different nature,” he said, with a chuckle. Behind Mr Tusiime’s office chair, there is portrait of Pope Benedict XVI.
Turning to look at that portrait, Mr Tusiime says the Red Pepper is run under the philosophy of the Church. “You realise that a Church is one of the most enduring institutions in history and so, in running Red Pepper, we want it to be as enduring as the Church. The Church has now lived 2010 years.”
Mr Tusiime is not the only Red Pepper founder whose initial dream was to serve the Catholic Church. Four of the five directors are former students of Kitabi Seminary – a school that Mr Tusiime talks of fondly. Having scored 10 aggregates in primary seven at Kishariro Primary School in Ntungamo District, Mr Tusiime qualified to join his dream school.
Dream come true
“Going to Kitabi Seminary was my dream come true,” he said. “It was the best thing that happened to me at that time. I had always wanted to become a priest. At that time, the role models available to us in the village would be priests. These are the people we looked up to as the cream of the cream; they lived the best life in society so that is what we looked forward to becoming.”
At Kitabi, where he scored 15 aggregates in the best eight subjects, Mr Tusiime became the dining hall prefect in A-Level. “I was the Quarter Master in charge of the kitchen,” he said. “In Kitabi, the Quarter Master is the biggest leader because he is in charge of food; he decides which students should eat a special dish and which students should drink milk. So you are bigger than the head prefect.” Over the years, Mr Tusiime has also taught journalism at different institutions in the country but says he retired in 2004 “to concentrate on writing news”.
A few years ago, he says he tried to enroll for a masters programme at Makerere University but failed to complete it. “I tried to go back to school but, you know, like you are driving to Makerere and then you get a phone call; ‘They say there is no newsprint.’ Then you go back. I was distracted. I attended for one month or two and I couldn’t cope so I left; I dropped out of school,” he said. “I am done with studying. I don’t intend to go back to school. I think I have studied enough.”