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From ghetto to spotlight: Olot Bonny Olem’s remarkable journey

 Olot Bonny Olem

Olot Bonny Olem

OLOT BONNY OLEM has made remarkable steps in Uganda’s music, TV and film industries, considering his roots. He talked to Nathan Atiluk about his long walk to the spotlight and raising his siblings, among other issues.

Who is Olot Bonny Olem?

Olot Bonny Olem is a Ugandan actor born in Oyam district to Sgt Vincent Olem (RIP) and Jacinta Akullu (RIP). I come from Ngut Cati, Minakulu, Oyam district. Much of my life has been in the ghetto of Kireka where I grew up with four siblings and three cousins.

I lost my father at the age of 10 and my mother moved with us to the village where I completed P5, before returning to Jinja Army boarding primary school where I had started my education from.

My uncle, who was also our guardian, passed on a few years before my mother’s death while I was in S4 at Nakasongola Army Secondary School; so, I became the mother and father to my siblings.

How did you juggle education with ‘parenting’?

Well, after S6 I chose to stay out of school in order to raise and educate my siblings and cousins. I did this for 14 years. In fact, Daniel Olal, my cousin whom I started taking care of from his S2, got his master’s degree in statistics before I enrolled in university. I joined Makerere University in 2016 for a bachelor’s degree in Social Work and Social Administration.

Yet here you are, in the arts.

Yes! I began as a dancer in 2002 with a group called Xposure that used to meet at Namulondo theater in Bweyogerere. Our highlights included working with The Obsessions and TCK dancers, and curtain raising for TOK, the Jamaican dancehall group, among other remarkable stage appearances.

Appearing on the same stage with TOK inspired us to begin doing our own music. Our first song Afrigal was produced by Benon Mugumbya and, Pato and Aydee (Ngoni) at Good Enuff studios in Muswangali, Makindye.

It is from this video that Sadique Mugisha, then known as Don, spotted me. A friend, Hadijah Nankanja Mukasa, introduced me to him and he in turn introduced me to Bobi Wine and the Fire Base crew, with whom we made our first feature film, Divizionz, shot between 2006 and 2007.

It had its world premiere at the Berlinale Film Festival in 2008. When Xposure split up. I continued doing music. I have participated in several projects as a writer, actor and director. My first project as a songwriter, was on Sweet Lady, Mowzey Radio’s first hit song. I’ve worked with Navio, Blu 3, Irene Namubiru, Bebe Cool, Chameleone, Coco Finger, Jamal, and Crazy GK from Tanzania, among others.

What happened later?

I crossed from Fenon Records where I was part of the events production team in 2014 to join MTN Uganda customer service. My intention was to be able to join the university, and it worked.

For the seven years that I was at MTN Uganda, I did the graveyard shift and during the day I would be at university. When I graduated in 2020, it was time for me to resign from MTN and focus on acting and filmmaking. I am also a minister with Shammy’s Zion Ministry, a Christian fellowship in Najjeera.

Who inspired you in the movie industry?

I look up to Denzel Washington, Djimon Hounsou, Peter Mensah and Will Smith, among others. Sadique Mugisha (Don) played a huge role in consolidating my desire to shine my film star beyond Africa.

Among your projects, which one stands out?

I love all the movies I’ve appeared in, but Divizionz made the way for me. The Passenger, the latest movie that I played a supporting role in, got 11 nominations at this year’s Uganda Film Festival awards, and it took home five.

What else are you working on?

Currently I work with Atonga Media, where I manage one of the projects being done by the team. We are also working on a feature film called Adui, which is the biggest project I’ve been a part of. I’m the main star in it and I am more than convinced that it is going to make Uganda and Africa proud.


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