Friday, 12 February 2016

SHAKA SSALI: From child-soldier, to PHD to Uganda Presidential debate

Shaka Ssali at a press conference in Kampala, Uganda yesterday. 
All Photos via @WhiteheadComm @SamsonKasumba and @mauricemugisha 

Just over 40 years ago, Shaka Ssali was a Lieutenant in the Uganda Army and still had childhood dreams about being a cowboy and travelling internationally - a dream to be famous.

A series of events in the early 70s saw a young Shaka Ssali head to the land of his dreams, the US, get an education, climb to the top of journalism and communication which has resulted in him returning for a special occasion in Uganda this week. 

More than the Presidential Debate, a first ever in this format, the strongest message about the potential of Ugandan youth will likely come from the "Kabale Kid" SHAKA SSALI, and not the candidates.

He is deeply passionate about Africa and its development, having lived through some of the hardest times in Ugandan history.  

He has hosted Straight Talk Africa for the last 15 years. The show is broadcast live across the world every Wednesday from 1830-1930 GMT simultaneously on radio, television and the Internet. 

VIDEO: Profile of Shaka and Straight Talk Africa

Shaka the child-soldier

His story is simply amazing.  Shaka is an Old Boy of Butobere College located in Kabale, southwestern Uganda and Kololo SS in Kampala. A high school drop-out (Senior 3 1968), with no O-Level certificate who ends up with a bachelor's degree, two masters degrees and a PhD. Shaka holds a doctorate in cross cultural communication and history from UCLA in California. 

The following quote by an interviewer, best describes his transformation. "Shaka Ssali is living proof of the transformational power of knowledge. Through education, Ssali has himself become a positive role model for others. Born in Uganda, Ssali was enlisted in the army when he 16 years old as a cadet officer. After almost five years he had risen to the rank of lieutenant. But even as a young child, he says, he had a burning desire for knowledge."

He joined the Uganda army in 1968, went through cadet training and in 1974 his name was linked to a failed coup attempt against Idi Amin. He went into business and in 1976 went to Europe then found his way to the US.

VIDEO: Who is Shaka Ssali?

In an interview, Ssali reveals all. "I grew up watching movies, we call it cinema, and it was when I was I think about 8 years old that I immediately started interacting with characters such as John Wayne, Gene Autry, Clint Eastwood. And I started imagining myself as someone that one day wouldn’t mind really being a cowboy. " 

"Having unfettered access to a pistol, which looked like a source of pride, a tool of power, something that would give me the sort of independence, the sort of power, the sort of clout that would help me to somehow look at myself as someone that had made it." 

PHOTO from the first Presidential Debate

Profiles of the three moderators of the Presidential debate February 13, 2016

The trio Shaka, Kibazo and Muwanga are expected to preside over a debate that will focus on peace and security, foreign relations, East African integration, the Great Lakes region and terrorism.

The debate, organised by the Inter Religious Council of Uganda and the Uganda Elders Forum, has however been overshadowed in the count-down by doubts about the presence of President Yoweri Museveni, and interestingly, one of the moderators Shaka Ssali.

President Museveni's camp has indicated he will attend, but reports indicate they are unhappy with the presence of Shaka Ssali, who they say would be a biased moderator. 

The three moderators and spokesman 
for the debate Samson Kasumba on Friday. 

DR. NANSOZI SUZIE MUWANGA is the current Head of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at Makerere University. She is an academic, consultant, facilitator and author holding a PhD in Political Science from the University of Toronto, Canada, specializing in International Relations. Dr. Muwanga authored the Uganda Round 2 Afrobarometer Survey Report “Insiders and Outsiders: Varying Perceptions of Democracy and Governance in Uganda.”

Kibazo and Kasumba
DR. JOEL SERUNKUMA KIBAZO is a Ugandan-born journalist and communications expert based in the UK serving as the Director of Communications and External Relations at the African Development Bank (AfDB). Dr. Kibazo formerly served as the official Spokesperson and Director of Communications and Public Affairs at the Common-wealth, and as a journalist at the Financial Times, BBC World Service and Radio 4. Dr. Kibazo is a member of the CNN Africa journalist of the year panel, a council member of the Royal Africa Society, a policy committee member of the Centre for the study of African economies at St Anthony's College at the University of Oxford, and an associate fellow at Chatham House.

Dr. SHAKA SSALI is a Ugandan-born American journalist, best known as the host of ‘Straight Talk Africa’ on Voice of America. He has interviewed a large portion of African leaders, and is deeply passionate about Africa and its development. Dr. Ssali grew up in Kabale, and joined the Ugandan Army in 1968, where he served until 1974 before going into exile in the USA. Shaka holds a doctorate in cross-cultural communications and history from UCLA in California. He is a former Ford Foundation Fellow and has received numerous honours, including a United Nations Peacekeeping Special Achievement Award in International Journalism.

Kibazo (left) and Shaka Ssali in Kampala

He has also hosted newsmakers and policy makers who interact with Africa, including: Norbert Mao, President, Uganda Democratic Party; Johnnie Carson, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs; Donald Yamamoto, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs; Donald Kaberuka, President, African Development Bank; South African jazz legend Hugh Masekela; Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai; Luis Moreno-Ocampo, Chief Prosecutor, International Criminal Court; Mo Ibrahim, Chairman Mo Ibrahim Foundation; Nobel Literature laureate Wole Soyinka; Professor Muna Ndulo, Cornell Law School; Professor Ali Mazrui, SUNY; Professor George Ayittey, American University; Professor Sulayman Nyang, Howard University; Uganda Supreme Court Justice George Kanyeihamba; Dr. Rebecca Nyandeing de Mabior, a Southern Sudan government official and widow of former SPLA leader Dr. John Garang; Jeff Sharlet, author, The Family; Bob Hunter, Associate, Fellowship Foundation; Mbulelo Rakwena, former South African Ambassador to Brazil; Baffour Ankomah, Editor, NewAfrican magazine. 

During his career, Shaka has interviewed and hosted many presidents and prime ministers. Among them: Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, General Olusegun Obasanjo, Former President, Nigeria; Levy Patrick Mwanawasa; Former President, Zambia; Tony Blair, Former Prime Minister, United Kingdom; Botswana President Seretse Khama Ian Khama; Ghana President John Evans Atta Mills; Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete; Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President, Liberia; Hifikepunye Pohamba, President, Namibia; Uganda President Yoweri Museveni; Joseph Kabila, President, DRC; Rwanda President Paul Kagame; and General Salva Kiir, First Vice President, and president of the government of Southern Sudan 

SHAKA takes no prisoners. The pleasantries end fast, and he digs in vs Mbabazi.

SHAKA takes no prisoners. The pleasantries end fast, and he digs in vs Rwakakamba below


  1. I am another Kabale Kid, who went to SINIYA for 6yrs and Later to Russia for a Master in Big Data Systems. I am the first Ugandan to have this Degree.

  2. .Well, I wonder if I will ever cross the boarders of East Africa.