On December 4, 2009 I met the President of one of Uganda's oldest political parties for the first time in nearly four years. I had covered her campaigns for the 2006 presidential elections and written several articles about her party.
"Oh, yooou!" the elderly politician beamed. "I have not seen you since you won that award. Congratulations! Thank you very much. We are very proud of you."
Nearly two and a half years since I won the 2007 CNN MultiChoice African Journalist of The Year Award, I still get pleasantly surprised by people who are happy or proud to meet me in person because of that award. Although I have won at least eight other awards, this has stood out in the hearts of Ugandans because of the stature and visibility that comes with it. As a purely newspaper reporter I was literally invisible beyond the faceless by-line. The award lifted me from the relative physical obscurity to a national and international recognition. It is humbling of course, but stature does come with responsibility on you. As an African Journalist of The Year Award winner, I have received a lot of praise and respect within and outside Uganda, but I have also tried to work hard, maintain exemplary behaviour and support younger people who look up to me.
Recognition has also come with opportunities. On their own, awards like the CNN MultCchoice African Journalist of the Year do not make one a good journalist; but they recognise journalists who have done good work. And after returning from Cape Town, I had several offers, with one suitor flatteringly telling me, "we would love to work with the African Journalist of The Year". I got offers to work in radio and, after my fellowship at CNN in Atlanta, I could have ended up in television. I have never had so many options in my career.
In the end, looking back, I can confidently say my career has been lifted by my award. My newspaper promoted me from Senior Staff Writer to Projects Editor and struck up a partnership with the UK's Guardian and Observer, where I write for the latter for half of every month.
But perhaps the most enduring impact of winning the award is inner motivation, confidence and self esteem. Many journalists I know have to live with unmatched levels of self criticism, often seeing nothing but gaping holes and embarrassing errors in their work. What normally keeps them going is some genuine feed back, pointing out what was good or what could have been done better. Recognition by CNN MultiChoice awards judges is a very motivating kind of feedback. It is a constant reminder for a journalist working in challenging conditions that, 'with persistent passionate pursuit of the best possible story, these are the heights you can scale'. My self-doubt can never go away, but these awards put it in its proper place - as a source of motivation rather than frustration.
I still remember the night of July 21, 2007 after the awards gala. Back in my Cape Town hotel room, alone, as the tears rolled down my cheeks, my mind raced back to Uganda. I thought about my journalist friends back in Uganda; how I wished for each of them to be a finalist - better still, a winner - at least once in their career. It is what I wish for all colleagues on the continent; but the first step is to participate by entering your work. Thing is that by not participating, you could be missing a truly life-changing experience.