My time leading teams, shaping Monitor stories

Then Weekend Managing Editor, Mr Charles Bichachi, sells the Daily Monitor newspaper after the redesign in 2010. Monitor employees moved on different streets selling the paper and creating awareness. PHOTO/ABUBAKER LUBOWA 

What you need to know:

  • Just one downside of my journalism career. The near 18-hour engagement the newsroom requires, especially when you are a leader, left very little time for my family; my children.

I have had the honour and privilege of leading editorial teams at Daily Monitor or The Monitor as it was known then. As the newspaper that has had a most profound influence on the country and journalism celebrates the 30th anniversary of its founding, I look back with nostalgia at the years of my association with this great newspaper, first as a freelance writer based in Jinja from September 6, 1992 when my first article was published as a “special report” to the many years as a sub-editor, deputy chief sub-editor, deputy Sunday editor, Sunday editor, managing editor for weekend editions, managing editor for print, executive editor and now as the very first public editor not just of NMG-Uganda, but in Uganda. 

Barring the two short stints, I have had in book publishing at Fountain Publishers as managing editor for trade books, and as founding editor of The Independent magazine, the greater part of my journalism career has been at the Daily Monitor (now 17 years in total). At this historic anniversary of the paper, I shall reflect not on my tough moments as a newsroom leader, but on the triumphant moments during which Monitor’s bold journalism under my watch made a difference to ordinary people and to the country. I shall highlight only a few.

Without delving into the details to protect sources and subjects still living, my first baptism of fire as an editor came in 2002 as Sunday Editor when we published a powerful investigative story (it was actually leak journalism!) about the rampant and audacious robberies of forex bureaux and bullion vans in Kampala, usually in broad daylight!  

That story would put the army on the spot and bring respite to Kampala’s businesses, especially Asian traders, who were now wary of transporting cash to or from the banks for fear of the armed hawks that somehow always pounced on them and disappeared with the money. But it also sparked an internal backlash in the newsroom and this would be a great lesson for me on decision-making as an editor. Fortunately, my editorial bosses then [and the newspaper co-founders], Mr David Ouma Balikowa and Mr Charles Onyango-Obbo, had my back.

Years later, as Managing Editor – Print, and Executive Editor, two stories stand out. One was a series of stories about goons (sometimes hooded) that always pounced on demonstrators in the city wielding sticks and indiscriminately whipping protestors. We made a decision with my great team of reporters and photographers to put names to faces of the goons, expose them so as to place personal liability on them which in future when (if?) the politics changes, can be used to put them on trial.

Working meticulously and secretly with a small team for fear of leakage (newsrooms have been heavily infiltrated by security organs in recent times), we pulled it off! We named the goons and the pressure began from the State, specifically the police! How I navigated through this challenging period of phone calls, invitations to meetings, dangling of threats and carrots, I reserve for my memoires. Again, I thank my Group Editor-in-Chief then, Mr Tom Mshindi, for having my back. 
Regretfully, our attempt to put names to the faces of the ‘suited men’ that stormed Parliament chambers in 2017 [during debate on lifting of the presidential age limit] did not come off. Reason? It is one of those painful decisions an editor has to make on whether a story is worth the life (lives) of the journalists.

The other memorable story I chaperoned as a newsroom leader was the November 2016 Lugogo shooting by Matthew Kanyamunyu of child rights activist and NGO worker Kenneth Akena. Without our definitive story that laid out step-by-step the tragic events of that day complete with graphics and eye-witness account, the cover-up by the police and some powerful people had almost succeeded. 
Sadly, crime journalists in almost all media --- television, print, online, radio --- had unwittingly, or deliberately, fallen for the diversions and distortions to throw “investigations” off the trail!    

Because the story was simply not making sense and not moving forward, I took the decision as the newsroom leader to fold my sleeves and get into the mud of the story. That is what a leader sometimes has to do!  The result was epic, with the help of one of my old security sources, we were able to crack it; where exactly the shooting happened, the time it happened, how it happened, circumstances that triggered it, who shot, how the scene was evacuated, who witnessed, etc.

If there is any story I shall take to my grave, it is this one because it ensured that justice was served to a young man whose death could easily have passed on without consequence like many others. I thank the security guards at Game Stores building and the boda boda boys at the Shoprite stage that opened up and trusted me.

Well, journalism is not sole-proprietorship, it is teamwork and I pay tribute to the great reporters and editors over the years at Daily Monitor that as part of the team have delivered outstanding, bold, courageous and defining journalism to Uganda without fear or favour. I have only had the privilege to lead that team at various points during the 30 years of Monitor’s story.

I also pay special tribute to the founders of The Monitor – Wafula Oguttu, Charles Onyango-Obbo, David Ouma Balikowa, Kevin Ogen Aliro, Richard Tebere and James Serugo for their foresight, resilience, selflessness, teamwork, courage, and all. Without them, we would not be writing this story, nor celebrating this milestone in Uganda’s journalism.

Just one downside of my journalism career. The near 18-hour engagement the newsroom requires, especially when you are a leader, left very little time for my family; my children. In September 2018 when I got out of active newsroom work, my late son Paul would remark that “daddy, you will now have more time for us!” It still rings in my head.

Nevertheless, happy 30th anniversary Daily Monitor. Keep going strong!