By Edgar R. Batte
He is a people-person who appreciates networks he makes and strives to add value to those within his circles the best way he can.
Mike Ssegawa, a resident of Mukono, is a practicing journalist with more than 10 years to his name. He currently runs Watchdog Communications, a media strategy consultation firm, under which he runs the news website, www.watchdoguganda.com. The website, created in 2016 is one of the leading digital politics, entertainment and business news outlets in Uganda.
Ssegawa has been a journalist since 2006. He began his journalism career at The Sunrise newspaper where he worked for two and a half years.
“There, I met incredible people and many of them are still my lifelong friends. They taught me how to write good stories. We always worked closely because The Sunrise is a small organization. I was able to see how news is brainstormed, gathered, refined, published, slinked to the streets, receives feedback and goes through the same process again,” Ssegawa explains.
His dream was to join Daily Monitor, a privately owned daily newspaper.
In 2008, his dream came to life. He joined as a sub editor. He knew what the editor was supposed to do and what was expected of a reporter. And with the mentorship of his boss and friend, Carol Alyek Beyanga, he kicked off a journey that would see him rise through the ranks.
“I always took my work as helping to add value on the performance of others, be it my boss or juniors”. He adds, “What I remember is that I came to Monitor in April and in December when they were looking for the employee of the year in editorial, I was the one. I don’t know how I won and I was promoted to staff sub-editor in 2010. Shortly after, I was made senior sub-editor before I was sent to Jinja as Bureau Chief.”
Jinja gave Ssegawa firsthand experience with the actual person on the ground, including rural journalists who were part-time teachers; people who worked for passion but not necessarily for money.
The 10-months experience in Jinja which Daily Monitor’s Managing Editor at the time- Daniel Kalinaki gave him, provided what he describes as his best time in journalism because he was able to ‘smell’ real life.
“My colleagues whom I was leading in Jinja; journalists, and photojournalists living within the real trenches, ably being the only correspondent in the whole district and you are expected to know what is happening in each village, sub-county and at the district headquarter.”
Ssegawa had 10 districts under his docket. He had eight reporters to cover the areas and file a story each day.
“Whereas Kampala has over 1000 journalists, you go to a district like Buyende and there is no journalist in the whole district. Democracy is best seen on the grassroots, but also it dies in darkness and places such as these have no prying eyes to check them. The closest journalist who is overseeing Buyende, lives in Kamuli about 60kilometres away, on possibly a dusty road. Districts like Namayengo are islands. So, in terms of reporting actual stories on the ground, promoting accountability from leaders across the country, we don’t have boots as journalists across this whole country,” the journalist observes.
In a major way, Jinja was an eye opener to the realities upcountry journalists grapple with, and at large the bigger part of Uganda which is rural.
While in Jinja, an opportunity knocked. Ssegawa was picked as a professional fellow to study Agricultural Communications at Oklahoma State University in the USA. The fellowship is sponsored by the US government’s department of state.
There, he undertook an internship placement as an agricultural reporter at The Oklahoman, the biggest newspaper in the state of Oklahoma.
“What became very important for me was that on the floor where my editor sat, she oversaw about five journalists. She told me she used to supervise over 20 reporters but they kept leaving because journalism is changing faces and different platforms, including digital had come with force,” Ssegawa recounts.
As such, more journalists were becoming independent. At the state newspaper, the Ugandan journalist was able to see journalists multitask, namely shoot a video while reporting live.
On return to Uganda, he was sent to the headquarters of the Nation Media Group (NMG) to understudy the Sunday Nation, especially its digital power content.
“When I returned from Nairobi, the online news had started thriving here. There was Chimp Reports, The Investigator, Matooke Republic, Big Eye and more. As the 2016 elections approached, I booked the ‘Watchdog’ domain. I was still at Monitor before its politics ate me.”
He adds that the exit gave him a chance to concentrate on the Watchdog website which was built from one employee, a techie.
Today, he employs 10 people. “It has been a good experience running this franchise and making sure I smell the story and develop young talent in journalism. That’s my thing and I love to do it.”
An ex-seminarian, Ssegawa says that the grand principle in his life is to try to do the best. “When I was in the seminary there was one thing they refused us to say; never tell people that you’re humble. I don’t enjoy talking about my achievements. I love simplicity, being down to earth and commitment. I’m a life-long runner, and networking, including adding value to others. I like seeing things happening. I love progress. I like living today but making tomorrow better,” he further explains.
The journalist was elected a councillor in Mukono area of Ngandu. He does not consider himself a politician because the term is nowadays used as a derogatory term.
“I’m a person who believes in fairness and giving everybody an equal chance. I have always been there for young people and my community. It’s biblical that the most important person is your neighbour. If your neighbour is happy, you are also happy. I follow that rule that you do not necessarily have to be a politician to give service to your community,” he argues.
He was motivated to join elective politics in order to promote accountability. “I don’t want to live in a community where I know that the opportunities of children who go out with my children fail to break through. As a councillor in my own town, I just want to improve the livelihood of people surrounding us.”
His priority is to create an inclusive town, one which accommodates every one; the newcomers and indigenous locals.
“Mukono is one of the last towns you pass through before you reach Kampala so it absorbs many travellers so it is an inclusive town. For the development of any community, there are many things to consider, do they have food, jobs, can they access medication, can children access schools,” he adds.
He says he went into the elections to sell his ideas and was grateful that the electorate listened to him and also became his ambassadors even when he was not present.
“I drew them to what they need by asking them hard questions, like where they want to be in five years. I insisted on togetherness and I was consistent on what I believed in.
Ssegawa’s Twitter handle promotes the slogan of building nests for other birds. “I want to be that bird but build nests for other birds that cannot build nests for themselves. I spend more time understanding, brainstorming and finding solutions,” he somewhat concludes.
He was born in Mulago hospital. “My father, who passed on when I was nine years old, John Chrysostom Ssentongo (late) hailed from Masaka and my mother, Rebecca Nakagabane from Mukono. My mother raised me as a single mother, around Mukono so I call Mukono my home, naturally for my children too,” he reveals.
He attended St. Paul Primary School Banda, St Joseph’s Seminary Nyenga for O and A levels and the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (Don Bosco College).
He explains, “I am now spending more time doing community organization and doing private business. I focus on my electoral area because I want to end my term having noticeable differences in my villages. This business of leaders doing nothing and finding someone to blame is for lame ducks. If someone keeps blaming someone for not doing their job, it means they’re not fit for the job.”
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