Daily Monitor’s is a legacy good for Uganda’s dreamers

Author, Benjamin Rukwengye. PHOTO/FILE. 

What you need to know:

The Monitor was founded by young people with a dream, who dared to do so. It is something you notice in its staff...

My professional career started out in government communication, so as you can imagine the Daily Monitor was not viewed as an ally. If you wanted to say what you wanted to say, you knew where else to go. But it wasn’t long before I came home, where my doughty spirit belonged.

If you somewhat had a nonconformist bone, you knew where to go; where to find many others like yourself, because it was set up for exactly those kinds of people. It wasn’t hard to get an internship, freelance writing gigs or join the newsroom. It also helped that many of the journalists who are or were widely admired from the last two decades or so, were at the Monitor.

Even as university students, we knew that it was probably easier to get your opinion or story published in the Daily Monitor than in any of the other papers on the market. For some reason, the paper was set up like a typical start-up, bootstrapping its way through the stages, while also positioning itself as a home for hip social rabble-rousers.

I remember Daniel Kalinaki, once coming to our lecture room and talking to us about the importance of accuracy in reporting. The previous day, there had been a nasty road accident which had claimed several lives.

Mind you, this is more than a decade ago, yet things have only gotten worse on our roads! Anyway, the story had made the front pages of both major dailies but curiously, there was a mismatch in the reported numbers of the dead. It is common in Ugandan reportage for there to be different figures even when the reporters went to the same event or picked the numbers from the same report.

Kalinaki made sure to say that what made the Daily Monitor different is that you could be sure that their numbers were likely to be more accurate ones – because both journalist and editor are schooled to probe and not gloss over.

If you are raised in Uganda – as in most African homes – it is likely that you never really get to question things. You are Catholic or Muslim not necessarily because you believe but because that’s what your parentage has decided. You go to this or that school because that’s what is decided for you. When orders are given, you simply execute even when you know they are silly and should be defied. It is this same attitude we pick from or perfect at school, where teachers are demigods, who we even reverentially call Master or Auntie/Uncle.

It goes on to our work places where bosses aren’t colleagues with whom you confer, but fiends who must be feared and not questioned. We then carry this on to how we engage with civic and governance issues.

When our leaders choose to take us for a ride, many of us hop on and enjoy it, while a few simply grumble at every other pothole we hit, and both slight the handful who dare to face the music.

Countries like Uganda, which are steeped in tradition and conformism, need entities like Daily Monitor. A place with a haughty and disruptive spirit. A home where you are taught to dare to ask the hard questions and speak truth to power; to offend sensibilities; to be inconvenient, restless and unsatisfied; to be okay with not getting it right yet still going on.

Mostly, they offer inspiration to many others – in and outside the media industry – that it is possible to break out and actually succeed, if you aren’t satisfied with the status quo. They give validation to the idea of never-settling for what is but constantly seeking out what could be.

The Monitor was founded by young people with a dream, who dared to do so. It is something you notice in its staff and it is certainly evident in its readers. That renegade spirit exists in the brave idealistic decisions that thousands of young people take every day, when they set up businesses, leave bad jobs or marriages, fly out seeking ‘greener pastures’, or take on those in and with power.

Whether the Daily Monitor makes it to its next 30th or not, its spirit and legacy – in more ways than we know – is firmly knitted in the fabric of every young Ugandan. Uganda now knows a lot more truths because it’s told every day.

Mr Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds. @Rukwengye

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