Friday June 6 2014

child soldier turned scholar



Dr William Tayeebwa’s journey as a journalist has seen him go places, including covering the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in the mid-1990s.

“I started practising journalism at The Crusader in 1997 then went to New Vision in 1999. In 2000, I was offered better terms and joined The Monitor. The Monitor realised I was a multi-lingual and multi-tasked journalist, thus the assignments in places like Rwanda and Congo,” he recounts.

His career in journalism ended in 2004 when he was on the special projects desk. Dr Tayeebwa’s last project was the ‘Bush War Memories’, which was about profiling fellows who fought with President Yoweri Museveni.

“Our initial idea was to profile the forgotten heroes, such as people who were cooking for Museveni, those who drove him and his children. That was our idea to move from down ranks to the top ones. When the project was stopped by Government, the move ended my active journalism career prematurely,” the veteran journalist recollects.

He went into academia, a field in which he had already been. His academic career started immediately after graduating top of his class in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication and was retained in a teaching position at Makerere University.

The following year, he got a scholarship to Norway, at University of Oslo where he obtained a master’s degree in media studies specialising in environmental journalism. He now holds a PhD in Communication from Concordia University in Canada.

Laid out plans

His announcement as the Head of the Department of Journalism and Communication therefore comes with little surprise. He offers back what the department gave him. Dr Tayeebwa says he has many plans lined up, and top of these is having functional news outlets, particularly a university newspaper.

“We want a newspaper that is controlled by the department. We need to have a functional newspaper, functional radio station and a functional television station,” he disclosed.

Lectures and students
The journalism don says one of his first tasks is to attract senior professionals to the department; the likes of Charles Onyango Obbo, Conrad Nkuttu, David Ouma Balikowa and others.

He adds, “They may come in on a part-time basis to handle specific subjects of their interest.”
Dr Tayeebwa says he is fully aware of challenges like the big numbers and says that as a department their intake should ideally be of not more than 100 students.

“Currently in second year we have 160 students and the excuse is we are a government institution; but my argument is we should take on a number that we will be able to provide quality education for, both at undergraduate and post-graduate levels,” he argues.

Attaining school status
He adds, “In so doing, we will be able to create a school of journalism and communication. Our first task towards school status is to work towards the creation of two separate undergraduate programmes as well as two graduate ones.

We have actually received funding from the Norwegian Programme for Capacity Building in Higher Education and Research for Development (NORHED) to undertake curriculum review and create new courses at undergraduate and graduate levels.”

At graduate level, he adds, the Department plans to split the programme into two masters; one in journalism and multimedia studies and the other in Strategic and Public Relations.

“By so doing, we respond more to the needs of the industry. This is what the industry wants right now since the students will come out as professionals in their particular fields,” he says.

He also wants the department to have its own building and the architectural plans are ready. “We shall soon invite our alumni and other interested players to share ideas on this project.”

Multimedia for the students
He is unhappy that the department was forced to pay license fees by Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) for the campus radio station and yet it is just like a laboratory, which led to its closure in 2007 and its frequency given away to a commercial player.

“The university failed to pay license fees and we lost the frequency for 107 Campus FM. However, we have completed all requisite repairs of the station with funding from Unesco and have embarked on the process of applying for a new frequency.

We also have plans to partner with the industry and we want to invite in partners as a way of revamping the broadcast department. We also hope to create campus television through partnership with the private sector,” Dr Tayeebwa lays out some of his plans.

“I also want to revamp the online journalism cluster by having a multimedia laboratory. In fact we have already secured funding under the NORHED programme to establish such a multimedia laboratory to enable us to pass out students able to do all this multimedia and online journalism stuff, which is the future of the profession,” the new head of the Journalism and Communication Department adds.

He says all these changes are necessary in this age when journalism is changing a lot with mobile and online reporting.
Dr Tayeebwa notes, “New technologies and telecommunication companies have revolutionised our reporting and yet the curricula are not changing as fast. So we have to review our curricula to take care of the needs of the industry.”

“The second challenge is a generational thing. The media industry in Uganda hardly keeps older journalists in the news rooms. Seniors are moving out of the profession leaving juniors. This means we have to grapple with the challenge of lack of institutional memory,” he points out.

The family man
Dr Tayeebwa is not all defined by journalism. He has a very strict separation of professional from family duties, something he says he learnt from the family of Justice Mike Chibita and Dr Monica Chibita.

“At lunch the husband used to pick Dr Chibita, my former lecturer and later a colleague; and despite all the tight schedules they used to go home and have lunch with their children. So I try to emulate them. At lunch time I go home. Further, I do all my academic work at campus. I do not do any reading or marking of student projects from home. That is what I agreed with my wife,” he explains.

He has been married to Consolata Kyomugisha since 2000 with whom he has four children; three boys and one girl. The first-born just joined Senior One.

Dr Tayeebwa was born in Ruti, Mbarara Municipality and hails from a family of eight children; five boys and three girls.
“I went to St Joseph’s Vocational School in Mbarara before I joined Roman Catholic Major Seminary in Tanzania, Switzerland, France and by then Zaire under the Missionaries of Africa popularly known as the White Fathers,” he reveals.

His life’s journey continues at the department of Journalism and Communication, where he replaced Dr Aaron Mushengyezi, who was elected in December 2013 as dean of the School of Languages, Literature and Communication. “I believe in team work. So, it is not a burden to become Head of Department,” he concludes.


At the height of the bush war in 1985, Dr Tayeebwa and his younger brother Jackson Taremwa escaped from home and joined the NRA rebels as they matched from western Uganda to take over Kampala.

”While my mother yanked me out prematurely, my younger brother Taremwa who was more macho remained in the army and served for two decades dying in 2007, still in military uniform,” he recounts.

In his current career as a journalism and communications scholar, DrTayeebwa says he concentrates on conducting studies of how the mass media can be used as an instrument of peace.

He explains, “For my PhD research project, I investigated how Mega FM in Gulu and Radio Wa in Lira used their programming to encourage Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) combatants to renounce rebellion and come back from the bush. I studied how these radios used their programming to create communal harmony and reconciliation.

At a broader regional level, I am using what is called the “peace journalism model” to study how United Nations radio is promoting the stated values of the UN charter in Burundi, DR Congo and South Sudan.”

He explains that the “peace journalism model” proposes new journalism frames that promote cooperation and consensus as well as reconciliation and forgiveness.