He is soft-spoken. His voice has an exquisite lilt. He is keen on detail and uses the thoroughness of a combine harvester, especially when he is gathering news. This makes Solomon Kaweesi of NTV-Uganda, arguably one of the most admired Luganda news reporters.
On the day we meet, Kaweesa throws a joke here and there to spice up our conversation. We are preparing to go to Entebbe in Wakiso District to do a follow-up story about fallen singer Moses Ssekibogo, aka, Mowzey Radio.
Time check: 7.43am Kaweesa, 31, carries a tripod stand on his shoulder ahead of us as we leave the newsroom at Serena Conference Centre. Melany Atwebembeire, the day’s cameraperson drags a camera bag behind us.
“Man where is your notebook, recorder and camera?” Kaweesa asks me.
“Already in the car,” I point at the waiting car.
When we enter the car, he tells the driver to switch off the engine before he leads us in a ‘Hail Mary’ prayer for close to three minutes. Intrigued, I ask him how deep his faith is as we snake through the traffic of Jinja Road before joining Entebbe Road.
“I was in the seminary for the biggest part of my youth. I desired to be a priest but because I thought I was going to be a musician –a secular one at that, I felt it would be hard to balance priesthood and music. Thus, I settled for the latter,” he says before breaking into one of the hymns that they used to sing in the seminary.
Meanwhile, he occupies the co-driver’s seat, I am on the passenger seat alongside Atwebembeire.
Occasionally, Kaweesa teases her.
“Derrick!” Kaweesa calls out looking through the rear view mirror, “We need to be ready because it is not going to be easy getting our source on camera. We need to be smart and seize any chance she gives us.”
His breakthrough story
This is not the first story we are working on together. The first time I went with him to Mubende District where a 13-year-old boy was fending for his six siblings.
He holds fond memories of the story and still says, “I think it is one of my best stories. It got many people appreciating me.”
“What story do you call your breakthrough?” I ask.
He is pensive and later tells me about the attack on Westgate Shopping Mall by the Al-shabaab in Nairobi, Kenya story.
“I did Luganda and English reports for the time I was in Kenya. I had just gone for my first media lab training after which I was confirmed as staff at NTV-Uganda,” he recalls.
He is, however, quick to point out that he experienced his baptism by fire. When war broke out in South Sudan between President Salva Kiir and his political opponent Riek Machar.
On their way to South Sudan, rebels laid an ambush and shot into the car his team was using. Luckily, no one was injured.
“This story terrified me. I wished I had followed my mother’s dream. I cried as it rained bullets. We crept through the bushes close to the border of Uganda and South Sudan. I also had to have a shot of the whole episode and this made life even more difficult. However, the army contained the ambush,” he explains.
Arrival in Entebbe
It is about 9.15am, we are close to Abayita Ababiri, a suburb in Entebbe. We stop our car to wait for our source. When our source arrives, she says, I cannot speak to media and walks away.
Kaweesa pursues and persuades her and after about five hours of talking she accepts. Musimire sits on a plastic chair, Kaweesa on another almost askew at one of the beaches, said to be safe. I listen intently, the questions were inviting to a respondent and from a well-researched background.
From the first source, there seemed to be gaps in her responses. So, Kaweesa suggests that we pursue the second source to counter the first one.
The second source openly accuses Musimire of many things. But, the interviewer is persistent and occasionally smiles where necessary to ease any tension.
Filing the story
When we return to NTV, Kaweesa proposes that we go for lunch first. It is 3.52pm. During lunch, despite the buzz from his colleagues, he does not engage in a conversation as much.
He casts a contemplative stare in space. He is almost talking to himself on our way back to the newsroom.
After scripting his story, he starts to cut and edit his footage before voicing it. It takes him about 30 or so minutes to complete the task in Luganda and he was ready to do the English version.
“That seemed short for such a long story,” I whisper to him.
“I take all the time I have immediately I have got the story to plan and figure out how to do it in the best way possible. Since I know most of the jargons and sayings in Luganda, I neither need a dictionary nor an encyclopaedia to spice up the story. I go straight at it,” he says exuding confidence.
After his piece has been baked to completion at about 6.48pm, I leave for office in Namuwongo to wait for the final product on screen.
Away from studio
One Sunday evening, I witnessed men and women sprint to grab the nearest plastic chairs around. They frantically positioned themselves near the many gigantic screens, which had all been tuned in to the 7pm NTV Akawungeezi, Luganda news bulletin.
The revellers took action at almost the same time, engaging in animated conversation and gesturing at the hangout in Kisaasi, a Kampala suburb. I turned to cast a glance over my shoulder at the entrance just to be sure, there was no invasion.
The animated crowd had heard the voice of Kaweesa who was reconstructing the crime scene of former police spokesperson, Andrew Felix Kaweesi who was gunned down in 2017.
His articulation and poetic delivery left many glued. One could have never imagined how fluent Kaweesa is in Luganda. Just to make sure that his story was baked to perfection, he sandwiched the theme of violence with riddles and proverbs.
In fact, he ‘resurrected’ his subject, used him authentically in the narrative before taking him back to his grave.
Some of the viewers sobbed and blew their noses as they murmured. One of the women, two chairs away from me sobbed uncontrollably as she shook her head. I later also learnt that she is a close relative of the deceased.
“This man should be crowned reporter of the universe,” one of the people on the front row commented.
“Shut up!” His peers shouted at him because he was disrupting them from listening to Kaweesa.
After the news that evening, many of the viewers orally, awarded the reporter with different accolades.
Sula Kayiwa, one of the regular customers at the hangout, says he works from close by and the best he can do is come to the social gathering to listen to the voicing of Kaweesa.
“He makes Luganda, a language to reckon with. He has such command of speech and detail. He is thorough,” Kayiwa notes.
This is not the first time I see a stampede after or during Kaweesa’s reporting. In the newsroom, work literally comes to a standstill until Solomon Kaweesa’s voice dies out.
Born to Edward Ssebagala and Elizabeth Suubi from Busolo Village in Gomba District, Kaweesa spent most of his youth with his parents who worked in Kampala.
He attended Sir Apollo Primary School in Kyengera, thereafter he proceeded to Uganda Martyrs Lubaga for both his secondary education before pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Education at Makerere University.
“Growing up, I also thought I would become a musician and so did my mother. She started to groom me for celebrity life because all she saw in me was music,” he says.
In school, Kaweesa read news at the assembly and trained the school choir.
He worked for Radio Sapientia up to 2007, Edoboozi newspaper to 2012 and moved to NTV-Uganda in 2013.
He was one the pioneers of the Nazikuno programme on NTV before he went to Kenya for media lab training.
He gets inspiration from his mother who always trained him to become a celebrity because she knew that her son was destined for a music career.