Thursday, May 19, 2011

Whirlwind In Kumi

Kumi? By the time the millennium came round, I don’t think I had ever heard of a place called Kumi. I am sure of that. The first I got to know about Kumi was when my good friend, Marion Adengo as she was called then, let it be known to me that, that is where her family comes from. And down the years I got to know a little more about the place when I went there for her kwanjula.

After that, I saw no need to go back for I had seen what there was to see of Kumi. That’s until Celtel as it was known then, invited a number of us media chaps to go there for their launch. Since I had been to a good number of upcountry launches, I wasn’t particularly keen on going until I remembered the impressive spread that Patrick and Mrs. Adengo had laid out for us during Marion’s kwanjula. So the decision to go was based on the thought of having a good Kumi feast even though this time it was not to be at the Adengo household.

Upcountry media trips can be something to write home about if you go with the right crop of people. On an MTN trip to Arua when Joseph Kony was still a threat and the road from Karuma Falls to Arua was devoid of tarmac, it was a merry trip on the bus for there was everybody from RS. Elvis of Radio One, Moses Serugo from The Monitor, Tilly Muwonge of WBS, Kalungi Kabuye from New Vision – the list was endless and over the two days that we were there, the residents of Arua never quite knew what had hit them.

The Kumi contingent though smaller, nevertheless had the right people to ignite the right kind of fires that testosterone fuelled media people require on an un-country trip. We were to spend the night in Mbale and proceed to Kumi the following morning.
The young chap who Celtel had seconded to be our media handler was so over in zealous in his job that he wanted us in Mbale first thing in the morning. “But what are we going to do the whole day and evening in Mable yet the function is the following day” we protested. But Media Handler wasn’t having anything of it that by noon we were there. Into the hotel we checked in and in the afternoon, some people slept, others went shopping and others went looking for ‘things’.

That evening after supper and laden with envelopes that contained our per diem – wads of crisp brand new 20k notes, we hit Mbale to sample the nightlife. Seeking out a bar that looked friendly enough and close to the hotel, we settled down for drinks unknown to us that trouble was round the corner.

The locals so it transpired were not overtly keen on having twenty media people from Kampala splashing around crisp 20k notes while they had to rummage through their pockets for tattered 1k notes that Bank of Uganda should have withdrawn from circulation ages ago. And they didn’t like it that all the attention was no longer on them but on us. With not so good stares and glances being thrown up and down, the stalemate eventually broke when the reporter from Capital FM accidentally spilt a drink on one of the locals.

The war of words was quickly replaced by a melee, a melee which eventually turned into a running street battle. They charged at us and we retreated. Then we re-grouped and charged back at them and into the eye of the melee. Outnumbered, we again retreated though I had the misfortune of getting my foot stuck in a broken manhole cover at which point, Locals descended upon me and plastered my butt with kiboko’s. I wailed until I was rescued and as we ran for safety, I sought to call Col. Semakula who was then the UPDF division commander of that area for assistance. Semakula, who I had met earlier on during the day had kindly given me his business card - ‘just in case you need to get me’ as he put it. But I didn’t look at the card and merely put it in my pocket. Big mistake.

Still wailing and with the need to get backup, I stopped, pulled out the card to call the Col. But there was a problem - he had eight numbers listed! The first two were off, the next I dialled the wrong number, the fourth and fifth were dropped calls and the sixth was answered by a young lady who didn’t know where he was. By the time the seventh phone went through, Locals were on me and giving me another thumping.

The following morning in Kumi as we licked our wounds, more havoc came. A whirlwind festooned of nowhere and into the stadium were the launch was being held and while the minister was giving his grand speech. The whirlwind ripped through the VIP tent uprooting it and flinging it into the bushes while the plastic chairs went flying in all directions. Meanwhile the minister was seen in a whimper crouching under a Tata truck for safety. Worse still, that grand Kumi feast I was so looking forward to was scattered all over town that we had to make do with hot soft drinks for lunch.

And the havoc was not over for when we got back to Kampala and filed our reports, everybody concentrated on the whirlwind and nothing else. The WBS reporter was reprimanded for showing the cowardly minister running for cover while I was rebuked for using a headline that read: ‘Celtel’s whirlwind Kumi launch’ and cheekily starting the story off by saying: “It lasted a mere five seconds. If only more companies could be as quick as Celtel during their product launches!”

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