A middle-aged man with a weird grin appears on the TV screen, well dressed in his Kiganda tunic.
He runs off and starts climbing a tall tree like a possessed monkey. When he gets to the top, he lets go of the branch and he comes tumbling down. Just as you cover your face to avoid seeing him die, he lands in a leafy canopy and villagers rush to the scene...
That is not a movie; it is headline news on local TV. The bulletin on Bukedde TV is called Agataliiko Nfuufu, arguably the most watched newscast in Uganda. After a long stressful day, many of us don’t want to hear another word about which government official stole more of our hard-earned taxes, or who is trading best on Wall Street; so, we unwind with the ‘dust-free’ news.
Friday was, however, different, I went home anxious to catch my favourite bulletin and this being a weekend, I had made plans to fulfill some of my midyear resolutions, where watching Choti Bahu was high on the list. All these plans came crushing down as Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) and their Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) decided to remind us that without them, our TV sets are simply boxes of snow and noise.
By going digital last week, UBC had rendered all analogue TV stations and a couple of radio stations using their mast, useless. The switch would later showcase every Ugandan’s ranting ability on Facebook.
But while many took their anger to social media, it was the salons, kiosks, restaurants and TV workshops that were hit most, and yet they did not have a Twitter account to post a rant.
“Obusajja bwansubya Sathi Sathi, batukubyeko ekibaati (those people made me miss Sathi Sathi; this is foreclosure!)” said one hairdresser.
Her disgust didn’t differ much from that of a taxi passenger I had met earlier; he couldn’t come to terms with the fact that because of a ‘stupid’ (according to him) arrangement, he ended up missing Miles Rwamiti’s Koona Ne NTV and NBS’ Ekijjulo ky’Emizannyo, his two favourite TV shows.
The girls at the TV workshops in Mpererwe mesmerized me the most; they couldn’t believe the irony that when the TV stations were off, Umeme kept its power on the entire time.
“There are some four TV stations still on air, but without Choti Bahu, Agataliiko Nfuufu, Maid in Manhattan and Miracle Moments with Pastor Kayanja, we are basically TV-less. I don’t even step in the sitting room anymore,” Esther Wamala said.
Wamala shouldn’t worry; at least Bukedde has suspended screening Choti Bahu (a Hindi, Luganda-translated soap) until August 19, in obvious empathy with its viewers, most of whom do not have decoders yet. So, you will hopefully get to see how Radhika and Vishak cried after that last episode you watched.
However, there is always a winner in every situation. On Monday morning pay TV agents in and around Kampala were kept busy as many viewers opted to get decoders.
The digital migration shake-up sent ripples through the country although the affected stations will be back on air this week; maybe UCC should apply the same technique for sim card registration.