Friday July 4 2014

Habari Gani: ‘darkness’ PUT AN END TO my career

Habari Gani in studio at Radio Uganda

Habari Gani in studio at Radio Uganda. He hosted a popular programme on Sunday evenings called Listeners’ Favourite and played mostly South African music. 

By Abdulaziizi K. Tumusiime

“My brother, I am here in darkness,” Lochode says as he urges this writer to take a seat. “These Umeme people are not fair. Why do they...” this writer replies before Lochode clarifies, “No I am blind. I cannot see.”
Before getting into the details of how he became blind, Lochode shares his life story.

Lochode’s name may not ring a bell to anyone who started listening to radio years after government liberalised the airwaves in 1993 or to many a radio listener who were not enthusiasts of Radio Uganda.

The 56-year-old is lanky, grey haired and has a husky voice. His was the voice behind Listeners’ Favourite, a programme that aired on Sunday evenings on Radio Uganda from as far back as 1988. One of the memorable aspects about Lochode’s show was his opening phrase; “All Ugandans from A to Z habari gani. All radios should face Karamoja. All cockroaches out...”

“That is how I got the ‘Habari Gani’ moniker,” he explains how he got the name most people know him by, smiling ear to ear. “If you are tracing my home, it is easier to locate by asking for Habari Gani. Few people call me Lochode.”

The programme involved reading listeners’ greetings off postcards and playing their music requests. Habari gani attributes its popularity to his multi lingual ability. “I would send greetings to someone in Karamoja in Karimojong, someone in Kampala in Luganda and do the same for someone in Kabale in Rukiiga,” he narrates. Listeners were impressed that a man from Karamoja spoke Bantu dialects.

Congolese music was the hip choice to play on radio at the time. Not so on Habari Gani’s show. Instead, he played more South African music.
“Every week I would hit town to get the freshest and hottest South African music. Chaka Chaka was the listeners’ favourite,” he says. “I used my money to buy these tapes. To me, it was not about the salary, it was about having a good show. Making people happy,” he says.

In 1993 when Capital FM opened, Lochode was one of the star radio personalities alongside Richard Mulondo, the late Elly Wamala and Peter Sematimba who were hired to do the test broadcasts. He would later reject an offer from Capital because it was challenging to juggle it with his show on Radio Uganda and another job as an accounts officer at Intraship Limited – a logistics company.

For 24 years (from 1988 to 2012) he only did the two jobs. Intraship later collapsed and Spedag was formed. Spedag merged with Interfreight to form Spedag Interfreight. Habari gani stayed with the company during all these evolutions.

Illness strikes
One day, in 2012, he went to deposit a company cheque at a bank in Katwe. On his way back, he suddenly suffered slight visual loss. “It felt like someone was covering my eyes with his hands. But there was no one when I turned,” he recalls. “The predicament persisted to the next day. Soon reading became a problem.”

He went to a clinic for treatment. But, he says, the situation instead worsened. He, in turn, went to Mulago hospital. He was informed that the problem was at the back of his eyes. They termed it as a cataract. An operation was recommended but his friend, a doctor, advised him not to go for one. However, he took the medication he was given. He visited another hospital in Tororo. There, he was also given eye drops and tablets. The situation was not getting better.

When aksed whether he can place a finger on what caused the loss of his sight, the 56- year speculates; “In early 2012, I was coughing a lot because of TB. I was on medication from Mulago. A friend recommended that I switch to Chinese medicine.” I visited their facility at Container Village in Kampala.

They gave me a lot of tablets and said I should take them together with those I got from Mulago. I was healed of the bad cough. But six months later my journey to becoming blind started. I think [mixing the two] could be the reason for this “darkness” I now live in,” he says in a somber tone.

Today, Habari Gani spends his days in his two – roomed house in a squalid neighbourhood in Namuwongo. He stopped work at Radio Uganda and Spedag Interfreight. The new and unfortunate life in “darkness” stood resolutely in the way of his will to earn a living from the two work stations.
“Life is hard,” he says, quickly running his fingers over his eyes to stem tears, “But in such a situation you have to be a man; be patient and hopeful that one day God will come to your rescue.”

When he had just taken ill, Lochode was receiving salary from the companies that he worked for in the hope that he would have quick recovery and return to work. However, this did not come to pass and thus his salary was halted early this year. “I have no bad blood with anyone. I have no inkling of bitterness,” he states. “I am full of hope that one day I will get my sight back and be able to put bread on my table, again.”

Early life
Lochode was born in 1954 in present-day Kabong District. He went to Loik Primary School and Kotido Secondary School – where he dropped out in Senior Three.

Before his radio career, he worked in Mbale, Arua, Kyotera and Kabale as a security guard. This enabled him to interact with people from different tribes and learn various local languages.

As a young man, he had dreamt of being a radio presenter. He was inspired by a one Akorokoto Agundwa who hosted Calling Forces on Radio Uganda in the 1970s. Habari Gani realised his dream when a friend, Richard Opuli who worked at the radio at the time, got him a slot with the station.
Lately, his favourite radio personalities are KFM’s D’ Mighty Breakfast crew; Roger Mugisha, Chris Obore and Mable. He also likes Freddie Sakura.

He has three children –two boys and a girl. The oldest is 23 years old and the youngest, who is 18 years old and was supposed to start secondary school this year didn’t since his father could not afford school fees.

Additional reporting by Henry Lubega