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Shaka Ssali: Tribute to an Iconic African Journalist


After over 20 years of service to the Voice of America (VOA), Ugandan-born journalist Shaka Ssali has finally decided to call it quits, retiring from a profession he has so diligently served that it was almost impossible to speak of one without speaking of the other.
Ssali hosted the popular weekly show Straight talk Africa and doubled as the editor-in-chief of the VOA television and radio show.

He will without a doubt leave throngs of listeners and viewers with the unenviable task of trying to adjust to a show devoid of his voice and calm demeanour.

I remember when I was growing up and starting to align my political and intellectual beliefs, I became influenced by students in higher classes, who we considered the elite and they happened to be ardent followers of Straight Talk Africa.

As I began picking interest in the show, I couldn’t help but admire his line of interviewing, with his calm and level-headed approach always managing to quell the fire that always simmered below the surface, as proponents and opponents of particular viewpoints traded barbs. 

Shaka, who hails from Kabale district in Southern Western Uganda, hosted guests on the show to discuss topics of interest to Africans and the African diaspora including politics, good governance, rule of law, economic development, press freedom, health, social issues and conflict resolution.

“I often say that information is the oxygen of democracy. When I left my country in 1976, I left behind a corrupt regime. Information was manipulated, human rights were abused, justice did not exist,” he once wrote in a blog for the Young Africans Leadership Initiative (YALI) website.

“Fast forward a few decades later and I find myself in a position to ask tough questions of people who play a leading role in shaping the future of the African continent. But I also open the microphone to concerned African citizens who also want to ask questions and get answers that affect their lives directly,” he added in the same blog.

Since the first broadcast of Straight Talk Africa in 2000, Ssali has interviewed leaders from around the world across the political divide. 

He holds a doctorate in cross-cultural communication and history from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and is a former Ford Foundation Fellow and has also received a number of awards including a United Nations Peacekeeping Special Achievement Award in International Journalism and VOA’s Best Journalist Award.

Ssali will be replaced by South African journalist Hayde Williams and word on the grapevine is that he could be headed back to Uganda to continue infecting the young generation with his vast knowledge of journalism.

Kampala International University wishes you a very satisfying retirement Shaka!

Photo: US Agency for Global Media