GASHEGU MULAMIRA; Zephania Ubwani, He defied ‘greener pastures’ stories told about African journalists

“Men of words don’t die…they are immortalized on ink and paper, their writings echoing through the universe”, Poet Anishkaa once wrote. When the ink about them runs dry, the ink they leave for posterity continues to gift wisdom to future generations.

As I write this, eulogies are pouring in for my deceased former senior colleague Zephania Ubwani, and it would be unfair for me not to write something brief about him. Zeph like we used to call him, dedicated his life to reporting, and has left an indelible mark on the journalism terrain in East Africa. He is a former Correspondent of The Citizen newspaper in the Northern Tanzania city Arusha. Zeph died on Saturday, April 6, aged 71 and was buried this Wednesday at his home village at the foot of Mount Hanang’ in Manyara region. He died on his job. His relatives said he collapsed shortly after a news interview in Arusha.
The media industry has indeed lost a great man who radiated love and a high sense of humour.

A few years ago, i engaged him in a conversation. I posed a question to him, asking him why he prefers communicating to me by email, and not WhatsApp. He dodged my question and instead asked me; “Bwana niambiye….what are people in Kampala, and the whole region talking about me?”

I would reply and tell him that many appreciate and enjoy the in-depth integration news stories he writes. This response always brought a smile on his face.

Zeph ends an era of a journalist who many young reporters, including myself, referred to as a moving encyclopedia on matters of regional integration in East Africa.

He was full of life, and never spared a minute to offer help to young journalists who needed it. Unlike International media houses like CNN, Aljazerra and the BBC where the role of senior journalists in news coverage is prominent, the opposite happens in many African newsrooms. Many field reporters are young people fresh from university. Senior journalists, way younger than Zeph, prefer searching for greener pastures like venturing into the corporate communications field, which is usually more paying, and with less loads of work. At 71, Zeph beat the odds. He patiently and passionately persisted and did the field grass-root reporting until he passed on.

My first time to meet Zeph was in 2008 when Mr. Joseph Bideri, my former boss at The New Times newspaper in Rwanda, assigned me as the paper’s Bureau Chief in Arusha Tanzania reporting from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the East African Community (EAC) secretariat. Those years, 2008 and 2009 were some of the busiest years for me as a Court reporter at the ICTR and as an integration news writer at the EAC.

This is because these years had many cases which included; the historic judgments in the trial commonly known as ‘Military 1 which had four former senior Rwandan military officers. The former officers included the former Director of Cabinet in the Ministry of Defence Col. Theoneste Bagosora, who was in 2008 sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of Genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.

At the other side of the Arusha International Conference Centre (AICC) building which at the time housed both the ICTR and the EAC, there were constant regional integration meetings which were mostly about partner state negotiations on the Common Market protocol. Like they say, a journalist is only as good as his contacts. And what you know and who you know, are a reporter’s best two friends. Faced with this heavy but exciting work load in a new place, I needed some orientation from someone about Arusha my new work station, and contacts for my news stories.

Mulamira Gashegu

Zeph was always at hand to generously provide this help. Despite the huge age difference between him and many of his colleagues in the media world, he stuck to his most outstanding quality – humility.

He has passed on to the next world and left a profession he has so diligently served that it was almost impossible to speak of one without speaking of the other.

He will without a doubt leave throngs of his readers with the unpleasant task of trying to adjust to newspaper pages devoid of his articles.

Rest in Peace Zeph!

The writer is the Founder of The African Integration ThinkTank (AfITT) and The African Integration News Agency (AfINA)