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Rwagweri Stephen talks about preserving African culture, writing books

PART 1

Stephen Rwagweri is a social worker, book writer, broadcaster and currently working on a very ambitious project to build a museum for the people of Rwenzori region. He is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Engabu Za Tooro or Tooro Youth Platform for Action ,a development organization, which operates in the Rwenzori region which includes the western Uganda districts of Kasese, Bundibugyo, Kabarole, Kyenjojo and Kamwenge. Solomon Akugizibwe talked to him about his writing and development works in Tooro kingdom and Rwenzori region in general.

Writing books, starting with The Invasion exploring HIV/AIDS
I wrote my first book while still a student at the university. It is called The Invasion and tells about the struggles against HIV/AIDS. Llater, I researched on the subject of culture among the tribes of western Uganda mainly Batooro and the neighboring tribes and wrote another book titled Tooro and her peoples, past, present and future. These are the two books published so far although I have many more not yet published.

The invasion book was a creative piece on the HIV/AIDS pandemic. It was inspired by how the scourge of HIV/AIDS was threatening society and putting the hopes of many people in jeopardy. As a person, I got touched because I saw our generation under very serious threats and decided to put my reflections into this book. It was welcomed by many organizations fighting the HIV/AIDS scourge like AIDS control program, Uganda Aids Commission and UNDP which, contributed resources for the development and final publication. It was distributed through schools, institutions and book centers all over Uganda.

Where he got the writing skills
Writing skills or spirit is a talent in born and people need to catalyze or develop it. At secondary level, I was a student of literature and it was my favorite subject which, exposed me to reflecting on the skills and inspirations of the writers and after S.6, I studied philosophy at philosophical centre in Jinja which strengthened my imaginative capacities and reflective qualities but much more is the will power, the encouragement and the interest to write.

Rwagweri (Right) with other dignitaries at a cultural function organised by Engabu Za Tooro

My education background influenced my writing abilities and other courses I did later like social work, my work experience later also influenced the subjects to write on.

I wrote the first manuscript of my first book (the invasion), when I was in my S.6 vacation, at that stage many people could not believe that I had written a book, when I told my parents they said I had run mad/ My uncle too declared me mad. They thought books are written by professors and that was one of the challenges I faced because I was convinced that I had done my best, but it was so difficult to share with anybody since they couldn’t believe me writing a book based on my experience and education.

I was helped by a friend who helped me to type the manuscript; I sent it to a publishing firm in Nairobi. The person reading my manuscript in Nairobi asked whether the author of the book is a professor at Makerere University by the name of Rwagweri Stephen. He thought I was a lecturer to think of writing a book, by then and it was more shocking to tell them that I was a first year student for the first degree in the institution. Of course they developed some biases and carried on the biases while looking on my manuscript. These two issues show the biases communities have on who should do what at what stage.

Copies distributed so far for The Invasion book
If you think in terms of copies, you have distributed as a writer you will get disappointed. What is important is putting your ideas and experience in specialized form whereby, it will live on even generations after you. I had a lot of imaginations and this is a lesson to upcoming writers that books after writing and publishing will go on marketing themselves endlessly.

In the field of writing, the real experience is different. I can’t recall he number of copies I managed to distribute or my publishers or distributors put out there. I recall a number of times we did a re-print, the books were distributed in the first months and year after the launch and after the pace of its distribution becomes very limited unless it’s a directly academic or educational book.

Ugandan society has a very serious problem of lacking a strong reading culture which discourages the writers and its one of the reasons I have slowed down in my writing. It isn’t so much that one is moved by the urge to get money from writing but moved by the urge to communicate a message and you get satisfaction when you get feedback, generate debate and reflections from people receiving your message.

We have more of a listening population because if I went on radio and started discussing a topic, the following day will get a feedback especially if the topic is well handled, controversial and brings out challenging issues which generate debate and discussions. I have used both methods of communication in my life experience. I have written and been a regular panelist on many radio programs and radio has been more effective in terms of reaching out to the targeted audience.

I see my first book quoted in academic books and papers because it was distributed well in secondary schools. Once in a while, I hear people telling me that they have read my book.

The writer Solomon Akugizibwe is a graduate journalist and also works for Tooro Center for Development and Peace (TOCEDEP)

Related links
Kabarole’s Bigwigs Daily Monitor 2006
Rwagweri Stephen mentioned among Kabarole’s notable people

Harnessing Culture to make a living Daily Monitor September 6, 2008

Story about Rwagweri’s Engabu Za Tooro cultural programs and exhibition

Multiple faced Rwagweri Edirisa.org

Rooting for Culture’s Role in Development Ultimate Media

Engabu Za Tooro website

See PART 2

Using Africa indigenous knowledge in development programs

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