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Uganda’s fragile celebrity circuit

By Vision Reporter

Added 22nd October 2002 03:00 AM

Celebrity culture has truly arrived in Kampala! Gossiping, a favourite pastime of many Ugandans, was once confined to the back street bifunda where, in hushed tones, people would talk about and dissect just about anybody who they thought was worth mention

Celebrity culture has truly arrived in Kampala! Gossiping, a favourite pastime of many Ugandans, was once confined to the back street bifunda where, in hushed tones, people would talk about and dissect just about anybody who they thought was worth mention

By Timothy Bukumunhe

Celebrity culture has truly arrived in Kampala! Gossiping, a favourite pastime of many Ugandans, was once confined to the back street bifunda where, in hushed tones, people would talk about and dissect just about anybody who they thought was worth mentioning.

If there was nothing to talk about on the local scene, then magazines such as Hello! and The National Enquirer which detail in great depth the lives of the famous were on hand to fuel their thirst for gossip.

Such is the power of gossip that we now have a whole tabloid and a page, dedicate to providing tit bits and sometimes scandalous information about the lives of the rich, famous and wannabes of Uganda.

But there is a twist in the tale. The very people who go out of their way to voice their disapproval of the two publications that provide gossip are the same people who, every Friday and Saturday morning, cannot wait to read about the latest happenings in town. They display this confusing attitude even further. Publish anything that is not sleazy and scandalous and they complain that the gossip pages are light! Anything sleazy and scandalous and it mounts to an invasion of privacy.

Celebrities before Museveni’s NRM took over were often classed as people who had money, sons and daughters of people who had money, and politicians to name but a few. But now, there is a new brand of celebrity and most of them have been manufactured out of the gossip and society pages of the media.

An example of a figure who sprang out of nowhere is former Uganda Crane’s footballer Magid Musisi. Previously, only people who took an active interest in football knew him. And he would have stayed that way had it not been for the gossip columns. At one point, he found that it was his exploits off the field that elevated him into the media spotlight rather than his football skills. Furthermore, he was splashed all over the pages when he knocked down and killed a man while driving.

Some people, however, take their perceived celebrity status to levels which have left them open to ridicule. The tale is told of a newscaster who was brave enough to actually read out details of her life during the evening news.

There are also reliable allegations that she has often leaked information about herself to a daily column, Inspector Lookout, feigning surprise the following day when friends call her up to let her know she is in the papers.

Singer Bebe Cool went out of his way to court the media. He successfully modelled himself as ‘the bad boy’ on the Ugandan music scene and in the process was able to pick up former Miss Uganda contestant Zuena Kirema (she too could not wait to get her fair share of the lime light once she realised she was selling) along the way. He loved the limelight and was in full flight.

However, when things got hot, his bad boy image overshadowing his music, he cried foul, accusing the media of harassment, stalking him and being jealous that he had Zuena hanging onto his arm.

But it was ex-WBS Jam Agenda presenter Nana Kagga who took the biscuit. One night she turned up at Club Silk with a posse of girlfriends in tow and expected to waltz in without paying. That is when things took a twist. First, she could not believe it that a mere bouncer had the nerve to stop her at the door and demand for payment. Such was her fury that in true celebrity fashion she shouted out, “Do you know who I am? I am Nana Kagga, presenter of Jam Agenda.” Whether she was Nana Kagga or not, the bouncer didn’t care. He promptly threw her out.

Capital FM’s Roger ‘The Shadow’ Mugisha doesn’t appear to have such qualms. Sensing his celebrity status waning, he came up with a novel scheme, full of sleaze that catapulted him into a league of his own, and the controversy that was whipped up undoubtedly kept him in the lime light for months to come. Enter the all-girl act, Shadow’s Angels. The gimmick worked.

Shadow not only became a household name, but became a thorn in the side of Ethics Minister Miria Matembe and Lady Justice Sebitunde over his exploitation of women— which he used to his advantage.

But there is a down-side to the celebrity status tag. Former Capital FM presenter Allan ‘The Cantankerous’ Mugisha has paid the highest price so far for a fallen star. Perhaps unable to cope with stardom, he started drinking heavily and began to mess up at work— a situation which saw him suspended from work on more than one occasion.

Unable to curb his drinking, he would wind up in an alcohol rehabilitation center, lose his job and even his long-term girlfriend Maggie, who had stood by his side through thick and thin.

And of course, there are a number of people whose celebrity status is dependent on how long they hold their job. Ex-WBS presenter Simon Kasiyate simply drooled over the trappings his job as a newscaster brought him and was highly visible on the social circuit. But as soon as he left the station, he faded into obscurity. Another is Edmond Kizito, former owner of Chic Magazine. He too faded into oblivion once the magazine closed and now languishes in Luzira prison.

And there is Zipper model, Nicholas Sentamu who shot to stardom by default and was featured numerous times in the society pages as boyfriend of Showtime Magazine star, Tilly Muwonge.

However, once Tilly left the show and departed for the UK, Nicholas Sentamu suddenly became ‘Nicholas who?’ And whatever happened to former Miss Uganda, Vicky Nabunya? Barely had she passed on her crown, than, she too faded into obscurity.

There are also a number of people who don’t warrant attention in the gossip and society pages but slither out of their way to get featured. They are often the campus wannabes and the pretty young girls who are trapped doing mundane jobs— the likes of Olivia Byanyima, Irene Kayonga, and Julie Mwanga. At functions, they stealthily follow the cameraman’s lens, but the moment he stops to take their picture, they will yell out and complain that their privacy has been infringed upon. Yet often, the following day they will go out of their way to reap in all the adulation and boast to their friends because they were in the papers!

Uganda’s fragile celebrity circuit

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