In Summary
  • At his workplace, Kirunda, types away on a computer as he tries to beat the deadline for filing the day’s stories. To a visitor, it is difficult to know he is partially blind given the speed with which he types.
  • In 2001, he joined Daily Monitor as an intern where he was retained as a reporter until 2004 before he moved to Empanga FM in Kamuli District.

Abubaker Kirunda was born normal just like any other child. He had a perfect eyesight and there was no indication he would go blind one day.
However, in around Primary Three, the 41-year-old Jinja-based Daily Monitor journalist started to have sight difficulties that required him to sit near the chalkboard to see properly.
The problem persisted throughout his student life worsening in 2012 with some doctors prescribing it as shortsightedness.
“The doctors told me it was a creeping sight problem with a low probability of finding a solution. I have visited all major hospitals and eye clinics in Uganda but with no solution,” Kirunda says.

To many, Kirunda remains a big puzzle as he has found strength in a problem that has robbed him of his eye sight.
“Kirunda is faster than many people who have a proper eyesight. The first time I met him I was awe-struck. He has great precision and delivers work with such promptness,” says Philip Wafula, the Daily Monitor Jinja Bureau chief, who is also his supervisor.
At his workplace, Kirunda, types away on a computer as he tries to beat the deadline for filing the day’s stories. To a visitor, it is difficult to know he is partially blind given the speed with which he types.

His stories are published on shared broadcast and print platforms run under the Nation Media Group.
“I have the keyboard off head. My guiding principle is locating letters J and F. The location of those letters enables me to understand the keyboard,” he says as he illustrates his near to perfect typing skills.

Kirunda, was born in 1976 in the current Iganga District. He is the sixth child in a family of seven.
He attended Mbale Primary School before joining Kiira College Butiki and later Kiira High School.
He is a graduate of Mass Communication from Islamic University in Uganda, Mbale.
In 2001, he joined Daily Monitor as an intern where he was retained as a reporter until 2004 before he moved to Empanga FM in Kamuli District.

In 2006 he was recruited by Busoga University to teach news writing but his limited sight made marking students’ scripts hard.
He quit the job and rejoined Monitor Publications to report for Daily Monitor and KFM.
As a journalist, Kirunda has had to put up with a lot of challenges including rejection from would be sources.
“A friend once proposed my name to cover a sensitisation workshop on Human Rights. But the lady in charge declined to include me on the list. My friend had to first convince her,” he says.

Beyond that, Kirunda finds it difficult to maneuver his way to news sources as well as covering chaotic news events.
In the 2016 presidential elections, while covering Amama Mbabazi’s rally in Jinja Town, Kirunda was caught between the chaos as police tried to disperse what they called an “illegal” gathering.
“I could not find my direction amid volleys of live bullets and teargas. I helplessly ran around like a headless chicken,” he says.

Dealing with rejection
However, of all the challenges, Kirunda finds rejection the most unfair as many people have failed to understand that he has to make a livelihood despite his disability.
“Some people have even suggested that I stay home since I don’t see properly. I feel bad when I come across such people. However, I find courage to ignore them and continue with my work,” he says.

Ali Mwagale, a journalist friend of Kirunda has been closer to him than many and he has seen him struggle through over the years.
“At a recent function in Mayuge District, President Museveni stretched out his hand to greet Kirunda but he had no idea what was going on. The President had to skip to another person after standing in front of him for about a minute,” he says.
Kirunda, according to Mwagale, has had many such scenarios including losing his way to functions.

Whereas his poor eyesight has given him strength, he has also had to let go of many opportunities.
“I recently omitted myself from applying for the Jinja Daily Monitor Bureau chief job because of sight problems,” he says.
Apart from that Kirunda has been reluctant to go for further studies.
However, what he misses most is seeing the faces of his children and wife.

“I can only remember the face of my first born. I still have some memories of my wife’s face but cannot draw a clear picture of how she looks like now,” he says.
His social life is also limited to a few things and it has kept him away from amusements such as night clubs and watching football.

Expert opinion
According to Edward Nkuruziza, the director of Jinja hospital, who is also an ophthalmologist, there is currently no cure for Kirunda’s surging blindness, which he says could be genetic.
Kirunda also has two other siblings who are partially blind.
Nkuruziza says, the problem is scientifically called Nycotopia [night blindness], a condition that makes the victim’s eye retina to gradually lose its ability to respond or adjust to light.

Appeal for help
Because he lacks equipment that supports his condition, Kirunda has had to adjust to using gadgets such as computers and phones that make his work relatively hard.
“I want to be the voice for the voiceless and the marginalised but it is hard to do it without required gadgets. I appeal to well-wishers to assist me with gadgets such at recorders, hearing aids and speacialised computers,” he says. Kirunda has also tried to learn how to use braille as he adjusts to the fact that he might become completely blind.

Braille is a tactile writing system used by people who are visually impaired. It affords users the luxury to read computer screens and other electronic supported system that are enabled by refreshable braille displays.

tnakato@ug.nationmedia.com