BUWEMBO: Uganda’s MCAs aren’t county assembly types

Wednesday August 7 2019

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From 1994, when the first private radios went on air, the opportunity of becoming a media caller was only open to the capable/privileged few who had access to landline telephones in their homes and could call in on radio talk shows. ILLUSTRATION | JOHNN NYAGA | NMG 

By The EastAfrican

If someone you met at a media event told you that she is an MCA, you would be forgiven for thinking it is a high academic qualification like Masters of Communication Alternatives.

Or maybe an alumnus of some prestigious journalism college called Midland Communications Academy. Well, in Uganda MCA means Media Callers Association.

The professional media callers are always in our faces... sorry... ears, and they get more active when some critical activity, like the 2021 elections, is around the corner.

MCA members are now meeting frequently, obviously laying out strategies.

The media callers profession arose from the liberalisation of broadcasting, which freed airwaves around 1994 and blossomed with the popularisation of mobile phone after the mid-1990s.

From 1994, when the first private radios went on air, the opportunity of becoming a media caller was only open to the capable/privileged few who had access to landline telephones in their homes and could call in on radio talk shows.

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These pioneer callers, who would engage panellists, graduated into public affairs, some to the level of becoming Cabinet ministers, others Members of Parliament and some resident district commissioners (RDCs).

Then when mobile telephony flourished and as more radio stations opened, calling into radio stations to debate public affairs admitted an avalanche of ambitious young people.

And some of the second generation media callers also rose to political jobs after being noticed both by the higher- ups and the public. But there can only be so many MPs and RDCs.

However, in over-governed Uganda, we have over one million (without exaggeration) elective jobs in a population of forty million people.

And the radios scattered over the 130 districts at an average of two and a half stations per district, raise the chances of an MCA getting elected to one of the million councillorships that periodically come up for grabs.

But getting a job on the basis of being a media caller is a strategy that may or may not work. So some choose to seek their pay right away and make media calling their permanent profession.

These are the most enduring members of the MCA.

If you ever had a chance to meet an MCA at work, he will be a fellow in his late 20s, with a good number of ladies are in it as well.

He will be sitting in a cheap shelter with a battery of mobile phones and several small radio sets.

All the mobile phones are on dialling mode and the numbers they are calling are busy. Keen eyes on the phones spot one that has been picked, he lifts it and starts debating.

MCAs may appear to be doing a cheap thing, but you have to give it to them – they are sharp, bordering on genius.

They have to follow debates on several radio stations simultaneously and, once their call goes through, they must argue intelligently in favour of the client who is paying them.

Then another phone is picked up and an MCA quickly winds up the debate at hand, starts debating strongly on the other in favour of another client, on an another topic.

Such intense activity would cause a short-circuit in an average brain. But these people have dexterity. And their peak season is just beginning—again.

Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail:buwembo@gmail.com

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