Prof Monica Chibita: From teacher of English to Professor of journalism

Sunday January 19 2020
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Prof Monica Chibita becomes the second Journalism Professor in Uganda. PHOTO | URN

Monica B Chibita, the Dean, Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication, Uganda Christian University is now a Professor. She becomes the second Professor of Journalism in Uganda, after Prof Goretti Linda Nassanga of Makerere University.

Prof Chibita delivered her inaugural professorial lecture on Friday, under the theme, “Between freedom and regulation: Reflections on Uganda’s Communication landscape.”

Late last year, as she finalised research and publications that would later contribute to her Professorial appointment, Chibita shared her journey with Clare Muhindo.

33 years ago, Chibita, was just a 23-year-old with nothing but the love for teaching to her name. After graduating from Makerere University with a Bachelor of Arts in Education, all she wanted was to teach English and Literature.

Perhaps if someone told her that she would be a Professor of Mass Communication one day, Chibita would brush it off as a joke.

“For a long time, I wanted to be a teacher. In my S.6 vacation, I taught at Mt. St. Mary’s College, Namagunga. I loved teaching and working with young people. But journalism was not on my radar at all until I was exposed to it by Dr Francis Kidubuka, who was the Head of Literature Department at Makerere University at the time,” she says.

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After her undergraduate studies, Chibita taught briefly at Namagunga, then Kings College Buddo for two years until 1988 when she quit, to work with the youth at her church.

It is here that she received a call from Dr Kidubuka, asking if she would be interested in teaching on a new journalism programme at Makerere University.

“At the time I was not really interested in mass communication, I was not even inquisitive about it. But it set me thinking and I talked to a number of colleagues and they urged me to go for it and find out what it is like,” Chibita recalls.

Since she neither had an undergraduate degree in Journalism nor practical experience in the field, Chibita was recommended to do an interview for a Fulbright Scholarship to pursue a Masters in Mass Communication.

She was then admitted to the University of Iowa.

However, Chibita admits that it was difficult to change a career path from teaching literature to mass communication.

“I was taking a step in the dark. I was not sure how it would turn out, or when I would understand journalism. I learnt on the job and it was very hard.”

But like American writer and Nobel Prize laureate William Faulkner once said, “you cannot swim for new horizons until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore,” Chibita was determined to make this happen. 

“My Masters course was very hard... I had to read much more than my colleagues, but I caught up because there was so much information available and I had very good friends. I took every opportunity I could to do interviews, write stories and so on. I also took a number of undergraduate classes in addition to my Masters, particularly in the area of writing,” she says.

Upon completion of her Masters, Chibita sought to get more practical knowledge of journalism and so she applied for jobs at several media companies in the US before she could return to Makerere University to teach.

“I had never worked with the media before. So, I thought that it would be a good idea for me to get some practical training in the media before I came to teach. I ended up at a radio station in Minnesota, which was attached to North Western College at the time. I worked there for four months and taught at the university at the same time.”

She then returned to Makerere University in 1993 as the second full-time staff, beefing up Prof Goretti Nassanga, who was the only full-time staff at the time.

Joining administration

Chibita says that since Mass Communication was still a new programme at the university, it was run by the literature department.

And so, she was made assistant course coordinator, a position she held until 1998 when the programme gained independence from the literature department.

“When we became a department of Mass Communication, Prof Nassanga was appointed Head and I, full coordinator of programmes,” she says.

Gaining independence from the literature department, according to Chibita, was a step in the right direction for the growth of the programme.

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Her husband Justice Mike Chibita (L) receives Prof Monica Chibita during her inaugural Professorial lecture at Nkoyoyo Hall at the University on Friday, as Vice Chancellor Dr John Ssenyonyi looks on. PHOTO | URN.

Though it was a tough time for them as they had created a strong bond with Literature, Chibita says it was exciting.

“My Background was in literature and I loved lit, but I knew that the mass communication department had a lot of potential. People were interested in what was going on because the media was a budding thing, a lot of partners were interested,” she says.

Many of these partners, she adds, would give up their sponsorship whenever they realised that the coordinators of the course were not the final decision-makers.

In 2000, Chibita was appointed acting Head of Department of Mass Communication and served until 2004 when she took study leave to pursue a PhD.

“When I came back from my PhD, Prof Nassanga was head of the department and then she resigned. I took over from her as HOD, until 2011 when I resigned. I had risen to the rank of Associate professor.”

Leaving Makerere

In 2011, Chibita was invited by Uganda Christian University to head the Mass Communication department, a decision, she says, was one of the toughest she has ever made.

“I got the invitation to join UCU at a very critical time. Dr George Lugalambi who was Head of Department at Makerere at the time had just resigned and I had to be HOD even though I was preparing to leave,” she says.

Asked why she accepted to move to UCU, a place whose journalism department was still in its early stages, Chibita says she realised that there was room for growth that side.

“I was not very keen on becoming dean, the next position after Head of Department. I did not appreciate the process. I realized I was going to be HOD for a very long time and I had been at Makerere for 17 years.”

Motivation

Without a mentor in life, one can easily succumb to folly, be self-centred, capricious and arrogant. Chibita believes in mentorship and attributes her success to the great mentorship of her peers and those that were before her.

“I had a lot of mentors and well-wishers. Apart from Prof Nassanga, who I worked with very closely, Prof Abass Kiyimba was very instrumental in making me understand the connection between research and academic progression. So he encouraged me to publish. He challenged me to set targets for myself and I found that very helpful,” she says.

Publications

If you are in academia, your publishing record will have a crucial impact on your career. It can profoundly affect your prospects for employment, for winning research grants and climbing the academic ladder.

Which is why Prof Chibita is keen on publishing academic papers and research. Over her 25-year career as an academic, Chibita has had 20 publications, one of those being an edited book.

“My very first publication was an annotated bibliography of the media in Uganda. Then I wrote another paper called survival for the entertainingest, which was published in a journal called the Uganda journalism review. That journal has since ceased publication. It was a paper about the liberalisation of the media in Uganda,” she says.

Chibita notes that one of the people that was very instrumental in ensuring that she publishes articles was Dr Natukunda who tipped her that if she needed to publish more, she needed to begin writing conference papers and applying to attend conferences.

Work-life balance

Today, being able to balance work and life is almost becoming an impossibility. This could be blamed on the scarcity of jobs, forcing many to dedicate their lives to work for fear of losing it.

Chibita says her biggest challenge has been balancing family with career demands.

“Children place quite a demand on you especially when they are young. My children all happened at about the same time, so it was difficult,” she says.

However, she says, to her, family comes first.

“Every day, while at Makerere University, I drove home at lunchtime to have a meal with my family. This helped us spend time with our children because sometimes you return home when they are sleeping”

Advice to women in leadership

“I will give you advice that I was given by Professor Mary Okwakol, the UNEB Chairperson. She told me: You just have to determine how to excel. One of the ways to do that is recognising that your life is not going to be one straight line. There are going to be periods when you feel completely overwhelmed and almost crazy. Accept those periods, knowing that they are temporary. Then get out of them and live normally for a while and when they come again, accept them.”

“Set targets so that you do a little bit every day so that the burden is not too heavy. If you are married, communicate openly so that they know what they are dealing with at any given time.”

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