When I ask her to introduce herself, she breaks out into a girly laughter. With a smile, she tells me no one has ever asked her to introduce herself because she is in people’s faces and therefore needs no introduction. Nonetheless, she obliges.
“Of course I’m Agnes Nandutu. Some people sometimes tell me I don’t need to introduce myself,” she says, smiling. She says journalism is a calling from God.
She started reporting and writing before she trained in journalism. As a child, Nandutu shares that she always reported to authorities, any wrong-doing she witnessed. As a teenager discovering herself, she started contemplating working on television. Her motivation emanated from seeing veteran reporters such as the late Toya Kilama working on Uganda Television (UTV) –now UBC.
The early years
In 1997, she joined Radio Uganda and when she was cutting her teeth as a reporter, Robert Bwayo taught her the basics of journalism. It was after a while that she pursued a diploma at Uganda Institute of Journalism and Media studies, shortly after which she joined Daily Monitor as a freelance reporter.
In 2002, she was offered a job at Impact FM as a staff reporter. She was there until 2008, when NTV Uganda hired her.
Over the years, she has niched out as a Parliament reporter and subsequently her Friday segment of Point Blank gained her more fame. Lately, she is the face behind People’s Parliament, which runs on NTV Uganda. She is the speaker of that parliament where locals are hosted to express their views on different issues.
Nandutu explains that this is an idea she developed as a result of her day-to-day observations from the Parliament of Uganda, which has been her work station for over a decade. She started working there during the seventh Parliament.
“I have watched Members of Parliament debate issues that affect the people who voted them to Parliament but over the years, I have also realised many times when they are given money to go back to the electorate to find out about issues, many don’t go back. This motivated me to start People’s Parliament, to represent issues that affect people, so that their voices could be heard,” she says.
The programme started last year. She works with two producers, Diana Betta and Bernad Opwonya. The two handle content of the show as well as research.
In Kampala, the audience is hosted at Royal Suites in Bugolobi. Otherwise, it is hosted at the district headquarters of the different areas where people or issues are situated.
The impact so far
The programme has had impact in community. For example, the day they talked about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Kapchorwa and the international community was touched.
Nandutu further explains that she got calls from researchers from the USA and Netherlands to find out more about the subject and find ways of helping the people on ground to fight the practice.
Another issue was to do with embezzlement of funds in Kisoro District on a tea plantation project, which had divided the local leadership in the district.
“We reconciled the Local Council (LC) 5 chairman and the Member of Parliament called Kamara [John Nizeyimana] in front of the People’s Parliament.
“We have also helped resolve issues in Ntungamo District about the health services, so this gives me confidence that government watches the show and goes on to act on matters raised,” the speaker of the show spells out some of the achievements of the programme.
But the NTV reporter sights challenges that come with her job. Being a mother, it is challenging balancing career and parenting. She misses her children while away, traversing the country.
“I have to make sure that in all mix, I do Point Blank, reporting in parliament and People’s Parliament,” she adds. She has seven children and she enjoys cooking for them at least thrice a week, and attending church with them.
Nandutu is a born-again Christian who loves Jesus and God. She says some people don’t take her serious owing to her style of reporting that borders on hilarity.
She observes, “People like every bit of me. Some like my reporting, others like Point Blank and take me as a comedian.” We chat about politics a bit and I ask her if she harbours intentions of standing for a political office. She doesn’t and adds that it is not something she has considered.
When she opens up about herself, she tells me that she hails from Bududa, eastern Uganda, emphasising the bit about the fact that it is a district of landslides. It is where she was raised and attended her early life school there.
“My father is a peasant and mother is a housewife. My elder brother is a teacher but I am thankful to God for bringing me up from the humble background to where I have managed to reach with all I have achieved. I have dined with the President, ministers and other high profile people,” a light-hearted Nandutu reveals.
“Initially it was financed by NTV but with time, different sponsors came up. The first sponsor of the programme was the American Embassy. Over time more sponsors have come up,” she reveals.
When I ask her if she gets any commercial returns as brainchild of the show, she says she doesn’t and only earns her salary as an NTV employee. She adds that when she came up with the idea, she did not look at profiteering from it.
She states that she doesn’t mind about money because her heart is satisfied. Most of the issues on the show are those that are driving public debate and resultantly affecting people. The speaker of the show says Ugandans appreciate it and reveals that it has attracted her a lot of attention.
“Whenever I arrive at a venue, people say ‘the Rebecca Kadaga of NTV has arrived’. I feel I have contributed to the development of this country. It has made me more popular than before,” the Parliament reporter observes.
She is also glad that government officials and policy makers watch the show, act on the issues presented, and so for different stakeholders and support groups or Non-Government Organisations (NGOs).