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July 12, 2024
Kampala Daily

Shaka Ssali dismisses death rumours

Legendary journalist Shaka Ssali has dismissed as exaggerated, reports that he is dead.

In a video recording issued on Friday evening, Shaka Ssali said he was alive and kicking.

“Reports regarding my demise have been hugely exaggerated…..The messages that came from the audience, relatives and friends, among others clearly demonstrates that I have not occupied space in life but I have lived. Let’s keep human hope alive.”

Rumours of Shaka’s death started spreading on Friday.

Shaka Ssali is revered in Africa and beyond for his masterful way of bringing the African agenda to the world stage through his high-profile interviews on Voice of America (VOA).

Fleeing Uganda in 1976, “the Kabale kid” born Mike Mushakamba Ssali to Joyce and John Wilson Mushakamba started out as a co-host of Africa World Tonight, before VOA entrusted him with Straight Talk Africa in August 2000, a platform that has made him a legend in journalism.

His signature “I’m profoundly-honoured and exceedingly-humbled” at the beginning of each program was a mantra he reportedly picked from former Zambian president Dr Kenneth Kaunda.

He started his humble journey in the hills of Kabale as a pupil at Kikungiri primary school, before joining Kigezi High School and later dropping out of school, only to bounce back and high. His is a story of hope and humility despite the great heights he has achieved, as one of his friends and protégés, Julius Mucunguzi, writes: “sometime in 2010, I was in a fresh produce market outside Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to buy some avocadoes, when I received a telephone call from Shaka Ssali, the really retired Ugandan-American broadcaster at the Voice of America.

When the call came through, I stepped to the side of one of the market stalls to pick it and responded loudly by mentioning his name: “Ndugu Shaka, how are you today?”

“I am terrific,” he responded. Because I was near the owner of the stall, he could hear the echoes of Shaka’s booming voice.

“Are you speaking to Shaka Ssali of VOA?” the man interrupted me.

“Yes, it is him I am talking to,” I replied. Wow. The man got too excited

I paused and requested Shaka to say hello to this unlikely fan of his. Shaka obliged. The two spoke in Kiswahili, and I could see the man literally glowing with joy and happiness. When he handed the phone back to me and we completed the conversation, the man in the market offered to give me two additional avocados, for free, because of my knowledge of Shaka.

“You have made my day,” the man told me. “You have enabled me to speak to my icon, I will never forget this day!”

Such is the effect of this humble journalist from the rolling hills of Kabale, on the rest of the world. On another occasion, I was checking into a hotel in Abuja, Nigeria and negotiating for a discount without success. Then Shaka Ssali came on the TV screen in the lobby to introduce his Straight Talk Africa program. The entire hotel lobby turned their eyes to the TV screen. Even the guys at the check-in desk glued their eyes to the TV.

I then told them: “That is my friend. I know him personally.” They did not believe me.

I brought out my phone and showed them a photo of myself and Shaka, taken many years ago when I was an intern in Washington DC. On seeing the photo, the conversation changed and I ended up with a good discount, a better location of the room, for my stay at the iconic Transcorp Hilton hotel in Abuja.

These are just two examples that demonstrate Shaka Ssali’s reach and admiration across the African continent, thanks to the reputation he has built during his last 29 years as a journalist and talk show host on Voice of America.

After close to three decades, the Ugandan-born American citizen, who prefers to call himself ‘the Kabale kid’, recently announced he was hanging up his boots and microphone at the studios and going into retirement at the end of May 2021.

In his years as a broadcaster, Shaka Ssali, often says that he dropped out of secondary school in the 1960s and ended up in the Uganda Army as a paratrooper, before fleeing Idi Amin’s regime in 1976. That is how he ended up in the USA, where he has mentored many journalists in Uganda and the continent at large.

When he arrived in the USA, he went back to school, studied for a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and crowned it with a PhD in Cross-Cultural Communications at the prestigious University of California in Los Angeles.

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