CBS: One year after closure

Rioters burn tyres during the September 11 riots.

Buganda radio, CBS, was switched off air a year ago and its licence revoked by Broadcasting Council on allegations of violation of minimum broadcasting standards. This preceded riots that engulfed central Uganda, with the station being accused by the council of promoting violence and civil unrest.

The development rendered 130 workers jobless and as the General Manager of CBS, Michael Kawooya Mwebe says, it has been a painful year, one where workers and third party beneficiaries of arguably the most popular local station, suffered both physical and emotional losses. But he re-emphasises that even in such trying times, the station is not about to budge from the truth, no matter the price. “We are strong and must get to the bottom of the truth,” Kawooya said, in a telephone interview.

Management tried to support workers financially but it was only for a few months. “We’ve encouraged the workers to remain firm and resilient and have advised them to find some temporary employment,” Kawooya says, adding that many of the workers are unemployed.

A visit to CBS reveals an uncomfortable calm at the once lively station. It is the mid-morning hour and Programmes Director Abby Mukiibi is in office as he has been since September last year. By midday more “ex-workers” arrive. Many are still hanging onto the hope that the station will one day be re-opened and it will be business as usual.

It is indeed an exhibition of their loyalty. But even with the optimism, stories they share are of despair. Many miss the solidarity CBS had created among them and for them, the after-effects of its closure could have a permanent change in their lifestyles. Many have begun experiencing the changes especially where tomorrow is uncertain. The closure has led many to try a hand at self-employment while others have found their way to former trades.

Heart-breaking life
Yunia Namuleme, a former office assistant at the Bulange-based radio station says the closure of the station was unfortunate and caught her unawares. “I have school-going children and they will look at me expectant that I will still accord them the same lifestyle. It is a heart-breaking life we are living,” she says.

Mukiibi says as days, weeks and months passed by, workers began to panic and many found it hard to comprehend the closure itself. “We had to call in counsellors to talk to them, otherwise if we had not done that, we were heading in a direction of suicides. People could not believe the closure,” he recollects.

For him, the challenge was not about adapting to the change but dealing with the e-mails and calls from fans of Kalisoliso. Kalisoliso was a programme that aired Monday to Friday between 7.30am and 8am, packed with humour, thanks to leading theatre personalities Kato Lubwama and Mukiibi. “Very many people send emails, telling of how much they miss Kalisoliso. Everybody misses it. We miss it too. We miss it a lot. I can’t deny that I don’t miss radio, I do. It had become part of me and a radio like CBS had gone down to become an integral part of people’s lives,” Mukiibi said.

Kalisoliso was one show that redefined morning shows. It had appeal across all sorts of people and was one of the reasons CBS had a comfortable lead among the Luganda radio stations.
For CBS fans’ club national chairman, Sam Mpagi, the closure of the radio station is like losing someone. “It is simply hard to find a replacement. There was a unique way through which CBS touched peoples’ lives in different spheres. Some of us have lost morale. We thought it would be a couple of months but it’s now a year,” Mpagi says.

As Mukiibi adds, CBS’ programmes in rural central Uganda like Nsindika Njake, and business kimezas among others, were geared towards changing lives of people through sensitising them towards community development. But now that is no more. As it stands, the station is still closed and signs of it re-opening soon are not forthcoming.

Former CBS workers speak out

Paul Kato Lubwama
I am still loyal to the cause of fighting for democracy. I am committed to fighting for the truth, however bitter it might be. Even if the government did not open CBS for another five years we will still be loyal to the cause. If it really fought for freedom, then as a government it has understand the people’s will - people want CBS to be reopened.

Abby Mukiibi
One year down the road, we are coping. I hope that things will work out. I am back in mainstream acting and movie-making. During this time, we have lost four colleagues. The public has been very supportive. The Buganda Kingdom and the Kabaka have been very supportive. After CBS, I am done with radio, maybe I will move into television. Nabbumba Kaweesa
I was an announcement assessor and reader but after the closure, I have experienced many difficulties and the general situation is bad. I look after my siblings which I cannot do now because of the financial difficulties. I am doing my Masters but I am not sure I will complete it. I am surviving by the will of God.

Patrick Lubwama
Life became extremely difficult. I just did not know where to. At the time of the closure I was a cleaner at the station. I now wash cars.

Moses Ssebunya
I was an office assistant. My hopes were high that the station would be re-opened soon but as time went on, we stopped receiving salaries. CBS was my second home. Sometimes well-wishers help but every time I return home, the look my family member's faces are not encouraging.

Madinah Nakabuye
I was a chief cashier. Without money, you almost cease to be a person. Today my husband is the sole breadwinner. At the time of closure I had just got a salary loan from Barclays Bank and to this day they call me. CBS was a unifying factor for us. We pray that God can soften the heart of President Museveni to re-open the radio.
Yunia Namuleme
I was an office assistant. The closure of CBS was very unfortunate. Today friends will think twice before receiving my calls, thinking I am going to ask them for money. I have not yet gone out to look for a job. I hope one day CBS will re-open.

Ann Ssebunya
I was a senior presenter. We thought it would take a few months and we would be back on air but it has taken longer. I am now in events management. The closure has taught us to think out of the box unlike before when we were used to a monthly pay. People who used to be friends have deserted. I miss my job. I miss the CBS family- it was a great family.

Michael Mukiibi
Things have really been tight. I worked in accounts department. By the time we closed, management tried its best to give us some upkeep but that was not for long. My family has tried to help me because they know the kind of situation I am in. I miss the atmosphere we used to share with workmates.

Abu Kawenja
We are actually struggling. Currently I am a lecturer at Radio Training and Film Centre, Mutesa 1 Royal University and Buganda Royal Institute. If CBS is put back on air, it will be different.