BOOK REVIEW: ‘Eyes of a Journalist’ relives the Rwandan War

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by David Tumusiime

Former journalist Justus Kampe has penned Eyes of a Journalist

Former journalist Justus Kampe has penned Eyes of a Journalist

This reviewer will make a confession. I did not know who Justus Muhanguzi Kampe was before I read Eyes of a Journalist. I believe many people share my ignorance. News readers do not tend to read the news for the byline of the writer. They read a “hot story” for the value of the information the story carries. The messenger is never very important.

This indifference to the byline of our news messengers has been encouraged as long as journalism has been a recognised profession and taught as a trade. A pithy journalism saying that encourages journalists to be anonymous goes, “Bring the news, don’t be the news.” One of the unfortunate effects of this belief is that few journalists ever believe their own stories are interesting enough to tell.

So few Ugandans know the name of the journalist who first reported Kabaka Frederick Muteesa II’s palace in Lubiri had been stormed in 1966, that President Milton Obote had survived an assassination attempt in 1969. Who was the first Ugandan journalist to report the fall of Kampala January 25, 1986 to the National Resistance Army rebels? All those stories are lost. Or those who know them only share them as dinner anecdotes to the lucky few who are in their circles.

Justus Muhanguzi Kampe has ensured with Eyes of a Journalist, his story is not lost. Muhanguzi was one of the first Ugandan journalists to report on the Rwandan invasion that led to the overthrow of President Juvenal Habyarimana in 1994. Muhanguzi followed the story from its beginning in October 01, 1990 as the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) invaded Rwanda from Uganda.

Eyes of a Journalist resurrects the Rwandan Invasion 1990 to 1994 with the thrilling immediacy of first-hand account. Muhanguzi’s book brings back to life names we have not heard from for a long time that played important roles in the RPF struggle to dislodge President Habyarimana and the Hutu majority regime in Rwanda.

In his report on the Rwanda War, Muhanguzi would come to rely on people like Lt Alphone Furuma, Lt. Geoffrey Byegyeka, and Shaban Ruta also known as Wilson Rutayisire. He would also meet and get to know the more instrumental leaders of the RPF like Major Dr. Sam Bayingana and Major Chris Bunyenyezi and Paul Kagame. Kagame, however, proved very elusive and nowhere does Muhanguzi record an interview with the leader of the RPF after the death of the top three commanders by November 1990.

In Eyes of a Journalist, the author shares his impatience that turns into frustration after trying in vain to meet the overall RPF commander, Major-General Fred Rwigyema. Weeks later he gets to know that the charismatic rebel leader had died within hours after the invasion of Rwanda.

It is impossible to read Muhanguzi’s account of the Rwandan War without smiling wryly at the later fate of some of its chief protagonists. Muhanguzi mentions in passing how some who hoped to benefit from the RPF victory in July 1994 like Silas Majambare, Col Alex Kanyarengwe, Major Lizinde and many others ended up bitterly disappointed. Some even murdered allegedly by their former comrades after seeking refuge in other African capitals.

Eyes of a Journalist is mostly but not only a war memoir. It is also a memoir of Muhanguzi’s own journalistic journey from Bushenyi to Kampala. Although he is discreet, Muhanguzi does not conceal too much the odds journalists based outside Kampala have to battle to “earn respect.” Eyes of a Journalist is a must read for those interested in Great Lakes history and the future of journalism.

Eyes of a Journalist will be launched on Thursday, April 6, 2017 at 6pm at Hotel Africana in Kampala. The Chief Guest will be General Katumba Wamala, the Minister of State for Works.

Copies of the book will be on sale at the venue at 50,000 Uganda Shillings.


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