“I don’t know how I accepted to do this interview after such a long time,” Wafula Oguttu wondered aloud as he settled down to talk about his retirement.
Oguttu has been out of the limelight for quite some time after active involvement in politics and the media. The soft spoken and intelligent media guru enjoys his private life.
“When we were building The Monitor newspaper, fame was good but it had a negative part to it. People who live a quiet life are happier than those who are celebs. The latter are attached to too many demands,” Oguttu explains why he has settled into a quiet, private life.
A retired journalist and politician, born in Busia District in 1952, Oguttu went into exile in Dar es Salaam during Idi Amin’s rule. He returned in 1979 and joined journalism, working with the Weekly Topic for about two years before it was banned in February 1981.
“The paper had tried to stop Dr Milton Obote from becoming president because we thought he had made many mistakes [in his first term] and shouldn’t be given another chance. Nevertheless, he got through the elections once again.
In February 1981, the paper was banned,” Oguttu recalls. Thereafter Oguttu joined Makerere University under the leadership of Prof Mahmood Mamdani to teach political economy. During his four years of teaching, he also worked as an editor both at Uganda Times and Uganda News Agency.
“After Obote’s government was overthrown, the founders of Weekly Topic looked for me on the day of swearing in Tito Lutwa [Okello], to go and restart the publication. I once again resumed work with the Weekly Topic as editor from 1985 up to 1992,” he narrates.
“In 1992, I published some articles which annoyed the owners of the paper and they kicked me upstairs to a post of a product development editor, which didn’t exist. When I told my colleagues of my next plan to start up a newspaper, some of them agreed to leave with me. After one month in office, we left,” Oguttu continues.
In July, 1992, a team led by Oguttu founded The Monitor newspaper. “There was so much to do. I would leave home at 6am and retire at midnight daily, including Sundays. I put in my all; had 16 hours of work, six hours for sleeping and two for family. It was breaking for 12 years; I was aging and stressed,” he recalls.
“I would have loved to retire at 55 years. However, we sold shares to Nation Media Group (NMG). NMG wanted to see a transformation of leadership in the paper since it [the newspaper] wasn’t doing very well at the time. NMG decided that the founders step aside and bring in new people to accommodate the new changes,” Oguttu says on his departure from the newspaper.
In 2004, Oguttu joined politics.
“I was a founding member of Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) together with Dr Kizza Besigye. As chief of communication, I was building a brand which I am happy did. I later joined elective politics where I became a member of parliament for Bukhooli County Central in 2011. Later, I was selected as the Leader of Opposition in 2014 to 2016,” Oguttu shares. Currently, Oguttu is FDC party representative in Bugiri District.
The father of eight grins at his decision to take early retirement at 52 years: “I don’t regret retiring at the time. First, it relieved me of stress, enabled me to do more community work under Rotary club and opened opportunities for me to seat on several boards of non-government organisations.”
Oguttu’s day starts at 9am and browsing the Internet occupies a lot of his time even during the night.
“I plod through and comment on a few funny things. I do little and rest more. I want to spend the last years on earth a happy man,” Oguttu reveals. He hopes to engage in farming bamboo, passion fruits, yams and water melon.
Married to Alice Oguttu, he speaks out on his love for children: “It’s nice to have young people in the home although parents of these days want to stay with their children as opposed to the good old days when we would stay with our grannies.”
He oversees two primary schools in Kampala and Bugiri via phone because he does what pleases him, as opposed to stressing about the work.
Oguttu regrets having supported the NRM government: “I was very supportive of the NRM government right from the 1970s. However, I feel so bad that I was politically conned since he [Museveni] wasn’t truthful with us. I thought he would live by his word.” He continues, “I was convinced he would never change the constitution and that he would work for the two terms. However, when he changed it, I was angry.”
In 1996, Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki officiated the launch of a daily paper, Daily Monitor. “I was very happy to see something that started without any money, the first independent paper had produced its first premises, printing press with support from Uganda Development Bank and become a daily in just three years,” Oguttu says.
He has thought about starting an online publication but for fear of persecution, he does not want it to be associated with him.