Celebrating women in the Monitor @ 30 story

Emilly Comfort Maractho

If you were at the Monitor @ 30 celebration last Thursday, you were touched by the story of the good and courageous men, who had a vision to start an independent newspaper in Uganda with no money. Thirty years later, it presents a special case for inquiry in African Media Studies. Founding member Wafula Ogutu’s touching speech was telling, of how much courage was needed to keep that vision going.

Susan Nsibirwa, whose story graced the maiden edition of July 31, 1992, and panel member of the Monitor@30 dialogue, spoke of retreating to beauty stories and ultimately ‘doing other things’. Now, I have worked with Susan, and she is brilliant in the real sense of the word. So we know women retreat not for lack of brilliance, but many considerations. 

Glancing at the high table, where the Chief Justice, Alfonse Owiny-Dollo, Minister for ICT and National Guidance Chris Baryonmonsi, chairman Media Council Paulo Ekochu, and the chairman Monitor Publications Limted –Nation Media Group Uganda (NMG-U) Board, Prof Samuel Ssejjaka, sat, you would be excused to think this is a man’s world. 

Prof Ssejjaka joked about the desire to add colour in the board because until recently, there had been no female board members. 

Yet, you could not be fooled. The room was full of women. There have been many deliberate efforts at the level of the board to support women grow.  Being intentional is key. I was pleased that the panel for the dialogue constituted two men and women. 

Mr Daniel Kalinaki, the General Manager Editorial NMG-Uganda, knew the right question for the right participant, providing great context for each question, making it an enjoyable dialogue.  In this column and the next, I celebrate some of the women who have made the Daily Monitor  story rich. There are so many women, but I will focus on four, who became a part of my own journey as a woman in media and part of the Daily Monitor building bloc since 2010. 

Ms Carol Beyanga was managing editor in 2015 when we finally met. She had reached out to me in 2010, then at the Features Desk, telling me how she enjoyed my opinion piece. Perhaps that got me writing a little more.

I profiled Ms Beyanga in my doctoral thesis on mass media and women in public life in Uganda. I wrote of how she had demonstrated that female editors make a huge difference, not just in having more stories about women published, but changing the perspective of those in the newsroom about women. She told me, ‘we must be deliberate.’

Carol spoke of her doubts to lead editorial, saw her limited knowledge of politics as a deficiency, and didn’t want the politics around this job. But the Daily Monitor leadership at the time persuaded her that she was their choice. She spoke of the role her supervisor, Loy Nabeta, played in her growth. Loy, according to Carol, demanded the best, and she appreciated that.

Carol did that stint, went on to head digital and now is one of the most senior leaders at NMG-U. We have shared many platforms and I know Carol’s heart is in journalism. My heart broke when Ms Josephine Karungi at NTV and Ms Margaret Vuchiri of Daily Monitor signed out (I wish them both the very best). So I keep an eye on Carol, hoping she will stay much longer. Carol and I share a passion for mentoring female journalists. 

Ms Harriet Ayebare, the Full Woman Editor, is more than a journalist and editor. I have read Full Woman for as long as it has been around. I have watched it change, from giving largely women in politics and with power space, to allowing ordinary women doing incredible things tell their story. 

There has been increased focus on women in academia, sports, health, and other areas of public life. My favourite Saturday moment is waking up to read the Saturday Monitor, cup of coffee in hand, and listening to the women of the cover. How inspiring these stories are. Harriet is deliberate about telling women’s stories with compassion, not focusing on their past, but how they have risen above their circumstances, thus telling stories of hope and courage. 

She has given space to some of the women in NMG such as Ms Faridah Nakazibwe and Ms Mildred Pedun in the recent weeks, giving us a sense of their aspirations and work ethic, their strengths and struggles.

I have sometimes got the temptation to give up this column. Watching people like Carol and Harriet at their best, gives me energy. Marianne Williamson in her book, A Return to Love, writes that when you let our light shine, you give other people permission to do the same. 

Ms Maractho (PhD) is the director of Africa Policy Centre and senior lecturer at Uganda Christian University.