In 2012, as Uganda prepared to mark 50 years of independence from colonial rule, the staff at New Vision newspaper had a light bulb moment: let us celebrate the day by reprinting the 9 October 1962 copy of Uganda Argus! Adverts were published in New Vision asking for someone, anyone to provide the much-sought after newspaper. No one did.
“We went around the country hoping we could find a copy and be able to reprint it,” says Ms Barbara Kaija, Editor-in-Chief of Vision Group. “Eventually the only copy we found was not even in the national archives and the one copy available in Africanna (a section in the Makerere University Library) was taken off the shelves because it was torn.”
After a long search Kaija and her team found a single copy in a library in Atlanta in the United States, and their dream became a reality.
On 6 October 2017 New Vision gave all buyers of the paper a complimentary copy of the Independence Day edition of Uganda Argus. The paper was in such high demand that vendors around the country soon ran out of copies.
The 72-page black and white broadsheet was painstakingly reconstructed, providing a rare glimpse into the news and events of the day. For Ugandans, many who had not even heard of Uganda Argus before it was reprinted, it also gave a unique insight into the country’s progress and media legacy.
The Lonrho East Africa-owned Uganda Argus was a leading daily of its time, noted for independent reporting on politics, economy and culture in the country and farther afield. It provided an invaluable record of Uganda’s recent history, with its group of young intrepid reporters covering everything from the 1966 crisis to Idi Amin’s coup in 1971.
When Idi Amin took power, Uganda Argus was taken over by the State and renamed Uganda Times. In the preceding decades it became a mere shadow of its former self.
“By 1985 it was called ‘Uganda Sometimes’ because it used to come out only occasionally,” says Mr Robert Kabushenga, Chief Executive Officer of Vision Group. “It was bankrupt and couldn’t operate.”
Fortuitously, in 2010 New Vision bought the premises that housed Uganda Argus and its successor, Uganda Times.
“We are not the direct descendants (of the paper), but we took over the historical role,” Kabushenga says.
The front page story of Independence Day copy of Uganda Argus boldly declared: ‘Independence! Britain hands over’. The paper published pictures of the visit of the Duke and Dutchess of Kent, who led the British delegation in handing over power to Ugandans, and the speech by then Prime Minister, Apollo Milton Obote. It also took readers behind the scenes to see how the Independence Day paper was put together.
A team of 20 editors, librarians, typesetters and journalists spent three months reconstructing the Uganda Argus.
“We literally typeset story per story, proofread story per story, and reconstructed it,” Ms Kaija says. “We had a 99% rate of success.”
Kabushenga says 36,000 complimentary copies were made available to the public. Too few, in many readers’ estimation. He says the reprint provides Ugandans an opportunity to read about what transpired 55 years ago, today.
“None of us was there at the time. This is an opportunity for millions of people to see what it looked like,” he says.
On social media, many agreed with Kabushenga. With Uganda’s national archives still an unrealised dream, national libraries under-resourced and poorly stocked, and a dearth of the country’s history online, it was a chance to grab hold of a small piece of the past.
— Otim Deo (@IOtimraff) October 6, 2017
— Segawa Salim-UH (@LostInKampala) October 6, 2017
— #WDR2018 (@SheilaKulubya) October 6, 2017
— Muhsin K. Nuwagaba (@Kaduyu_Jr) October 6, 2017
— The very particular! (@peggieluash) October 6, 2017
— France in Uganda (@FrenchEmbassyUg) October 6, 2017