It was an early morning in August and I had to find my way to the Cotton House in Kampala, along Hannington Road. My assignment was to find out the current status of cotton growing in Uganda and write a story.
“You are shaping up into a good journalist and should enjoy this assignment. Do your research very well,” my supervisor, William Odinga, had said earlier in the week as we discussed how I was to go about the assignment.
I was at the Cotton House by midday, having braved the morning heavy Kampala traffic. The security guards were easy. The receptionist was approachable and willing to send me to the office where he knew that I could find help. But there came this annoying man I never knew which office he was holding.
“Let me see your identity card?” He asked and I pulled it out of my bag for him. He laughed and asked: “Are you a student?” to which I said yes. “What do you want from us?” He asked and I then explained myself.
The man looked at me from head to toe before telling me that they do not just give out their information to anyone. He later told me that if I wanted to get information from them I had to go back to our office and ask them to write me an introduction letter.
I secured the letter of introduction and returned to the Cotton House the following day with a lot of confidence. I believed that I was about to get valuable information about cotton from Uganda’s Cotton Development Organisation.
The receptionist recognized me quickly and sent me to an office which, apparently, was in charge of handling issues like mine. He advised me to use the lift and get to Level Two. No one asked for the introduction letter they had sent me for and to me that was shocking.
I found a gentleman in that office and explained myself. “I cannot help you with anything,” he told me. He said he could only give me information if his boss had instructed him to. “Contact my boss via our official email address,” he advised me.
I got their official email address and I left for home, quite frustrated but calm. I sent them over ten emails but there was never any response. Time was flying, my supervisor was asking for the story, two weeks and no response to my emails, pressure was mounting.
On Monday, August 23, 2015, I woke up with just one thing on my mind, the cotton story. I did not even go to the office first. I just headed straight to the Cotton House to find out why they were not responding to my emails.
On entering that office, the gentleman looked shocked to see me. Before he said anything I asked him why they were not replying to my emails. “Did you really send an email to us and you did not get a reply?” I said yes! “Not only one but ten”! I emphasized.
The “why” seemed to put him in an awkward situation and he said: “I can only do one thing for you. I am going to send you to the office above me,” he said.
I had to go to another place that looked like another reception. The attendant asked for my details and requested me to show her anything to verify my identity. I gave her my letter of introduction. She looked at me and gave me a piece of paper containing what looked like a telephone number.
I asked her what that was and she said: “It is a phone number.” She then told me to go back home and call them later. This is when I realized that these people were not taking me seriously.
I went back to the office that sent me to this attendant and bluntly told them: “The previous time I went back with an email address and I received no response. Now you want me to go home with a phone number. Are you serious?” I sat down.
After some time the person, whom I had been told was out of office, turned up and told me to follow her. In her office she already had my letter of introduction but this did not stop her from asking me what I wanted. I looked at her and wondered how the world could be so ironic. None-the-less I told her what I wanted.
She asked me this annoying question that I will never forget in my life: “How do you expect us to give a student information concerning our organization?” This was shocking!
For anyone to be something they have to start somewhere. In academics everyone is expected to do internship. Why was this lady treating me like she had never gone to school? I wondered!
“If they wanted information why didn’t they send someone else instead of sending an intern?” She continued. I replied that by the time my editor gave me that assignment he trusted I could deliver the results he expected. She then asked me what I was going to do with the information.
The lady had my letter of introduction in her hands which clearly stated that I had been assigned by The Sunrise newspaper to write a story. She later told me that she thought that I was going to take that information to school or even for my personal use. She then asked me what questions I had and I started to mention them. Then I came to a question about Bt cotton preliminary experiments in Uganda which seems to have taken her by surprise.
“I have not heard about Bt cotton. What is Bt cotton? Where did you get that?” She asked. “Research,” I replied.
She looked me in the eyes and told me “that does not exist” and I told her I could not write anything in my questionnaire if it did not exist. I told her that the reason I wrote it there was because I wanted to know more about it.
She checked on their website and she could not find there anything about Bt cotton. After a while I pulled out my phone and I decided to surf the internet then I showed it to her. “You see Bt cotton does exist,” I said. Then she started to give me excuses: “Maybe you got it from a different website that is not ours; maybe it took place in the previous years.”
So the organization responsible for cotton development in the country does not have anything about the newest projects on cotton, I wondered! After a bit of silence the lady stepped out. When she returned she said: “I am sorry we cannot give you any information. When we need to give out information we will contact you.”
I stood and walked out, disappointed that they did not give me the information I wanted, proud that the lady had learnt something from me, and resolute that their actions would only make me a better journalist!
PS; Bt cotton is a genetically modified organism (GMO) cotton variety. Cotton is modified by the insertion of one or more genes from a soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis. The variety is safe of
attacks from bollworms.