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Straight talker Shaka

Ssali retires from VOA

| THE INDEPENDENT | Shaka Ssali, the Ugandan-born longtime anchor of the Voice of America (VOA) programnme ` Straight Talk Africa’ has officially retired.

The 69-year old Shaka Ssali aka Kabale Kid who has been listed among Uganda’s leading intellectual exports signed out on May 19 with an interview conducted by his colleague Vincent Makori, the anchor of VOA’s live news magazine programme, Africa 54.

VOA has named South African-born journalist Haydé Adams to replace Shaka Ssali as the anchor of the hour-long Pan-African news and talk show. Adams is one of the original co-anchors of VOA’s `Our Voices’ program; the VOA’s first continent-wide TV show by and for women.

`Straight Talk Africa’ covers topics ranging from politics and economic development to social issues, press freedom and conflict resolution. World leaders and local newsmakers alike regularly appear on the program.

It is available on single market and national broadcast affiliates across Africa – 53 television affiliates in 18 countries and 54 radio affiliates in 12 countries.

Ssali launched the weekly `Straight Talk Africa’ in August 2000 as the VOA’s first TV offering on the continent. He was 48-years old at the time and that was just eight years after he joined the VOA team in 1992 and about 24 years after arriving in the U.S. as a half-baked former lieutenant in the Uganda Army of the President Obote I and early Idi Amin days.

He had only his Primary Leaving Certificate and the Junior Leaving Certificate.  He had joined Kigezi College for his secondary education but was expelled when he was in Senior Two. He then went to Kololo Secondary School where he dropped out in Senior Three to join the Uganda Army in 1968 aged 16.

He went through cadet training and was commissioned as a lieutenant. But in 1974 his name was linked to a failed coup attempt against Idi Amin and he fled to Kenya. He returned to Uganda and went into what he jokingly refers to as “international business” but was actually smuggling ivory.  In 1976 he arrived in the U.S.

In what many have described as amazing achievement, Shaka today is the proud holder of a doctorate in Cross-cultural Communications and History from the University of California, Los Angeles 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.

An interviewer reportedly once described him as “living proof of the transformational power of knowledge”.

“Through education, Ssali has himself become a positive role model for others.”

He has been described as someone deeply passionate about Africa and its development. Many attribute his mission to having lived through hard times.

According to an article by another Ugandan intellectual export, Muniini Mulera, who has known Shaka since he was a child in Kabale, western Uganda, Shaka Ssali is the son of the late John Mushakamba, who was a well-known and respected businessman of Mwanjari in Kabale. His father operated a bar, a stone/sand quarry, and owned a big lorry.

Muniini says Shaka was a very famous athlete and most people who grew up in Kabale in the 1960s knew him as one of those athletically gifted boys on the soccer and track fields.

Muniini says Shaka Ssali was partly named after Ezera Ssali, the son of the then Archdeacon of the Native Anglican Church in the area, Rev. Ezekiel Balaba. Muniini says it was “fashionable to give children names that were considered exotic, or belonged to important people.

“Just like people named their children Charles after the British monarch’s son, Mushakamba, named his son after his hero’s son, Ssali.

Muniini says his own father, who worked in Balaba’s home to raise his own school fees, was baptised Ezera, copying Balaba’s son’s name.

He explained that the other name “Shaka” is derived from his father’s name, and not from the Zulu king’s.

Muniini says Shaka was from his childhood until the late 1980s called Mike, a version of Michael. According to Muniini, records at Kinkungiri Primary School, Kigezi High School (Primary), Kigezi High School (Junior), Kigezi College, Butobere and Kololo Secondary School show that there was a boy called Michael Ssali.

“Shaka chose to discard his “European name”, (slave name to be exact) and adopted an African name, a meaningful African name, derived from his father’s last name,” says Muniini.

For about 21 years of Straight Talk Africa, Shaka Ssali has interviewed and hosted many presidents and prime ministers. Among them: President Yoweri Museveni,  former DR Congo President Joseph Kabila, who he regards as a friend,  former Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, Rwanda President Paul Kagame, South Sudan’s Gen. Salva Kiir, the late Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, former Nigerian president Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo,  former president Levy Patrick Mwanawasa of Zambia; and Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of the UK.

Others are the former Presidents Seretse Khama Ian Khama of Botswana; John Evans Atta Mills of Ghana, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia and many others.

He has also hosted newsmakers, policy makers, diplomats, judges, musicians, scholars, authors and fellow journalists from Africa or closely linked to Africa.

Economist Donald Kaberuka, South African jazz legend Hugh Masekela, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai, the ICC’s Luis Moreno-Ocampo, Mo Ibrahim, Wole Soyinka, Ali Mazrui, George Ayittey, Sulayman Nyang, George Kanyeihamba,  Norbert Mao, Rebecca Nyandeing de Mabior, John Garang; Jeff Sharlet, author, The Family, and many more.

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