we need to become serious – on a national level. all of us.


Child in front seat
NOT Uganda – but an ignorant parent doing that daft thing of having a child sit on their lap in the front seat as they drive. (Photo from quora.com)

Forgive me because I am angry about the Lake Victoria Boat Tragedy that has consumed us in many ways for over a week. My anger is as justified as yours, having lost a close relative in the tragedy, besides other people I knew.

But I am not as angry at how unnecessary this tragedy was, as I am irritated by how many bright ideas everyone suddenly seems to have about how it could have been avoided yet we risk life and limb daily in so many ways.

Too many people in this country do not take life seriously – or, said differently, too many people in this country don’t take the avoidance of death seriously.

Among the people rightly and loudly declaring that the boat operators should have provided life jackets and the victims should have worn them, for instance, are people who we see every single day driving round without seat belts even if these seat belts are provided in their motor vehicles.

Some of these people, in spite of their education levels, often drive around with their infant children seated in the front seat of their cars – highly discouraged by all safety experts and even casual observers who might not be educated but can think critically. To make matters worse, most of these children wouldn’t be wearing seat belts in the back seats of those vehicles either!

Many other Ugandans hop onto boda-bodas in Kampala’s stiff traffic and flatly refuse to wear helmets. Some will use flimsy reasons like the lack of hairnets to presumably protect them from lice as if lice is a bigger problem than the effect of slamming one’s head against the ground at a high rate of progress.

The number of stupid things we do that put our lives at risk every single day are confounding and probably cause more deaths on a daily basis than the highly visible tragedy that hit us so hard this weekend.

Few of the people on that boat appear to have lacked a university degree, meaning that they knew – from primary school lessons – about the need for life jackets, and other safety measures. Too few of us think about this every day.

Because we tend to think more of what is on the surface than the foundation of things, too few of us are ready change our behavior so that we save more lives – including our own.

Some people have said the capsized boat was poorly maintained – which is highly likely to be true, judging from reports I heard more than a year ago about the same vessel. So, how many of us are maintaining our personal vehicles properly every single day – equipping them with all the right protective equipment including fire extinguishers and even first aid boxes?

When we buy our second-hand, twenty-year old vehicles, discarded from other countries mostly for reasons of the personal safety of their original owners and the environment of their countries of origin, do we first clean them out and tool them for roadworthiness in Uganda, for our own personal safety and the environment of this country?

Yes – go and check, then come back to finish reading this.

Vehicles aside, our disregard for preservation for life in spite of all the schooling we undergo is a sign of the concept of education in this country not being translated to life in the real world.

That’s the only explanation that can work for any educated person to entrust the lives and upbringing of their children to a person whose wage value per month is LESS THAN the equivalent of the cost of one week’s groceries in the very same home.

Look, we educated people employ domestic staff whose pay is so low that they wear second-hand underwear and in most cases live unhygienic personal lives of their own, but we expect them to handle our food and our children without passing on a single germ.

During the burial ceremony of Isaac Kayondo, one of the young victims of the Black Weekend, one speaker who went to help with rescue efforts narrated his interaction with askaris at the Marina where boats launched from. It was clear what the caliber of the Askari he spoke to was, and that there was no way the fellow could have stopped a vessel unworthy for travel.

The harrowing stories from the rescue efforts, also, made me think – how many friends do I (read YOU) have who can perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation should the need arise? Or any other form of First Aid? Can I (read YOU) do it myself, if a friend is in trouble?

I have even more questions but the right answers to all of them is a change in the way we behave and apply our education to ensuring we live long, healthy, productive lives.

sometimes we don’t deserve these #StaffWoes – domestic or in the office


IMG_1250
Can YOU make the connection above? (Photo by a slightly distraught Simon Kaheru)

I HAD to interrupt my Saturday morning to post this:

I am responsible for a section of Domestic Administration that had me, a long time ago, decreeing that the domestic official in charge of duties involving outdoor dirt should not be assigned any food-related tasks such as sundry shopping.

This, after I had decided that his overall carelessness meant he could not be trusted to always wash and disinfect his hands before heading out to handle even raw food-related materials. He understood this and agreed to the rule.

So this morning I walked over to him as he was cleaning up and asked him to go and buy a saw-blade, handing him a Ushs10,000 note.

“A blade – for the musumenyi,” I said, handing him the money. I thought about reminding him that the one we were using for a gardening project was worn out but felt it unnecessary.

My wife, flanking me, quickly suggested: “With the balance, please buy bread.”

“No,” I interjected quickly, “I bought lots of bread yesterday evening.”

The fellow was standing there for all this, and put down his cleaning materials to take the money from me and go off for the blade as the rest of us took off on an early morning jog round the neighbourhood.

Or, at least, that’s what I thought he was going to do.

We returned, freshened up, and on my way to the garden I went to load up a mug of coffee (grown, roasted and ground in Uganda).

I noticed a Ushs5,000 note on the kitchen counter, on top of a receipt.

Being well aware that the hardware shops nearby NEVER issue printed receipts and that nobody else had sent any other domestic officers on errands since middle and top management had all gone out on the morning jog, my heart sunk right to my considerable belly.

I live on a tight budget, and did not need unnecessary departures by way of random errors.

The receipt, on inspection, declared that someone had procured a loaf of bread during the time we had gone off on our little run. The time lapse suggested that there was little possibility of fighting that “goods once sold” rule.

Still, I rushed over to the fellow who should have been handing me my blade, this time interrupting his car washing duties, and asked: “What did you buy?”

He thought a little bit in silence as these fellows often do, hoping that you just go away with your question. I have never seen that strategy working.

I asked again: “What did you buy?”

After a few more seconds of mental mathematics he responded with: “From ‘Jesus Saves'”

?

That’s the name of a nearby supermarket. I know they don’t sell saw-blades.

“Okay,” I conceded, to save time, “What did you buy at ‘Jesus Saves’?”

“Brown!”

“Brown what?” I asked, controlling my irritation, anger and fear as I tried to work out how to stretch all that bread, since I wasn’t going to use it to cut anything at anytime.

“Bread…”

“But I said ‘blade’. Do you know what a ‘blade’ is?”

He didn’t. And I realised that I should have learnt this about him long ago – I have thirty other stories such as this, all of which I have today decided to compile into a management book.

It doesn’t end there.

I gathered up some savings money and went down to the hardware shop nearby to buy my own damn saw-blade.

On getting there, I found the tools up on display included the largest saw-blades but not the little one I needed for my domestic D-I-Y use.

“Do you have small blades? For the small musumenyi? Smaller than that one?” I asked the fellow manning the shop, pointing at the massive one on display.

He looked up at the big ones I was pointing at, thought a little bit, and then said: “No.”

This could not be. The small blades I wanted were the most common and there was no way this little hardware shop had stocked up for lumberjacks in the city…

“But…surely you have the small ones somewhere?” I pleaded, looking round the shop to find them for myself.

He joined me half-heartedly and then I saw him visibly making a realisation.

“Aaaah!” he went, and then said in a tone of voice that suggested I was to blame for his misunderstanding, “We only have these ones – for metal…” and whipped out a pack of the exact blades I was asking for.

“Aren’t those smaller than these ones?” I asked, somewhat indignantly.

“Yes, but these ones are for metal.”

Silence.

More silence.

My Christian side took charge.

“My friend, just admit you made an error and sell me that blasted blade so I can go and work.”

He apologised. We both smiled. And here I am.

With bread and a blade.

 

 

appreciating your taxes – but without the ‘bosses’ whose salaries you pay


SHORTLY after I started walking around the Independence Grounds at Kololo attending the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) Tax Payers Appreciation week, I felt the urge to ask a few people there for their motivation to attend.

The responses didn’t surprise me until I got to a tent being manned by a friend, Andrew Mwandha, whose company – Tata Motors Uganda – manufactures and supplies large and small motor vehicles.

He was surprised when the crew that he had hired to erect banners and other merchandising materials asked him for a favour – they needed a little personal time so they could go round the stands.

“In Uganda we have a problem!” Andrew told me, “People are desperate for health services! My guys are here running from corner to corner to get free dental treatment, blood tests and yellow fever injections! We need more health services!”

Most of the people I had struck up conversations when I got there told me they had come for the free government services. But, I argued with Andrew, that didn’t necessarily mean that these services were scarce round the country.

“Some of these people told me they hadn’t tried to get the services at the regular government offices or departments near them because they didn’t believe they would get the services,” I explained, suggesting that these services might be available on ordinary days but these people don’t try accessing them.

But I had no back-up for that thought (I can’t call it a position). After talking it over for a while we walked around a little bit and found my target – URA Assistant Commissioner for Public and Corporate Affairs (therefore, Head of that department), Vincent Seruma.

Andrew left Vincent and I talking about various observations and opportunities in a manner that seemed anguished.

I had enjoyed my visit except for one missed experience – the opportunity to meet with the Chief Executives or Senior Officials of the government organisations present. Vincent was also irked by that but other things as well, as the last paragraph here will hint at.

My logic was that the leadership of the government agencies should have taken the opportunity of the event to present themselves to the taxpayers – Ugandans – who pay their salaries and fund these organisations.

Earlier on, Economist Ramathan Ggoobi had challenged the government (URA, to be honest) to conduct an ‘Accountability Week’ instead of an ‘Appreciation Week’ and we variously explained that accountability was officially presented annually during the State of the Nation and Budget Addresses.

Nevertheless, he had a point and the leaders of these organisations could have done a lot better that week by being the ‘Accounting Officers’ they are paid to be, in more than financial terms.

I had hoped they would be manning their tents and stands alongside their mid-level managers and hired ushers, interfacing personally with Ugandans of the more ordinary walks of life than they do at those large events with tents and statements like, “All Protocol observed…”

If the Chiefs of these government agencies had been there they would have seen the long queues of people eagerly seeking services even though they pay taxes daily to receive these services – again daily – without much hassle.

Then the leaders would have had the opportunity to explain to their employers – those Ugandans – where they could go for these services in their districts and villages without having to wait for a once-in-a-year event like the URA Tax Payers Appreciation Week.

If these ‘Bosses’ lacked the necessary directions, though, they would be challenged – as leaders should be – to create solutions for these people who pay their salaries and fund the purchase of their large four-wheel drive vehicles, comfortable offices, and all the perks that go with being called Executive Director, Managing Director or Chief Executive.

We would surely appreciate that.

business should lead government in east african integration


Entebbe from newvision.co.ug
Photo from http://www.newvision.co.ug

HEADING out to a regional meeting in Arusha last week to discuss the importance of business over politics regardless of how related the two realms are, I sweltered in the warm air of Entebbe International Airport and wondered – as usual – why it was so hot inside the terminal building.

I always refer to this as a ‘phenomenon’ because dictionaries define the word as, variously, “a remarkable person, thing, or event” and “a fact or situation that is observed to exist or happen, especially one whose cause or explanation is in question”.

You would think that the Departure Lounge of an International Airport in a tropical country would be fitted out with functional air conditioning but the person in charge of this has been unconvinced for a while. I say unconvinced because there are some six-foot high air conditioning machines standing on the floor but they don’t get switched on.

We will return to this shortly – but at another airport.

Normally, by the time you are at the Departure Gates you will have spent time juggling toy cups in the one eatery at the airport, while trying not to buy the grossly overpriced food prepared by people whose interest in the word ‘gourmet’ cannot possibly go beyond how to score it in Scrabble.

It is confounding. The very best airports in the world, the ones that enjoy visitor numbers and positive reviews in the millions and hence boost their economies, deliberately do the opposite of this.

And they do not necessarily use government monies – inviting ten restaurant chains to set up outlets there with sensible, tasty, properly priced food seems to be easy. Plugging in air conditioning machines and fans even more easy.

During our meetings in Arusha, I didn’t broach the topic directly but most of our discussion was around how to integrate business into regional integration and how handy organisations like the East African Business Council could be in doing this.

We said all the right things – including how we would “foster sustained economic growth and prosperity in the region” and “promote the interests of the EAC business community” plus “create new business opportunities” while “enhancing global competitiveness of EAC businesses”…

On our way out through Kilimanjaro Airport I followed the directional signs to the airport restaurant and found myself on the top (first) floor, quite alone. The three tables present seemed to have been procured from someone’s 1980s dining room, so I made myself at home.

Twenty minutes later I discovered there was no interest in me or the potential outflow of cash from my wallet and laptop bag. I didn’t feel disrespected, but asked for help when two cleaners turned up nearby.

One sacrificed her precious time and sent me downstairs using halting speech while her body language sent me further away in a manner I can’t repeat in polite society.

At the cafe downstairs a waitress eventually walked over to us, most likely because we made noises in her direction, and sullenly agreed to take our orders but only if we paid in advance since their electronic systems were in limbo.

We forced her to take our money and sat back to wait for the meals as ordered. Some time later, an Asian couple walked in and took a table behind us. As the gentleman walked past us towards our sullen waitress, she hailed out a jolly: “Hi!”

I was alarmed, and turned back sharply in case she was suffering a medical emergency. My colleague, Jim Mwine Kabeho, was also quite taken aback. Our jaws dropped to the ground as we watched her miraculous transformation.

She engaged the Asian man as if they were long lost friends, offering various suggestions for the couple’s meals (she had told us: “You can have, like, Burgers but with no chips. Potatoes are finished.”) and lighting up the area with a wide smile.

The Asian wife walked up and asked her husband, “What is the woman saying?” in a manner I considered rude but who was I to protest?

Completing our dismal meal was quite an ordeal, as we had to keep asking for condiments that she brought us one by one, slapping them onto the table as if to ward us off in the future.

Eventually we left her station and went to the Departure Gate where, once again, the air conditioning phenomenon returned.

We were sweating within minutes. The two of us had chosen a spot right next to the six-foot high air conditioning units but they were simply not switched on.

Jim gave way after a while and walked past paying passengers fanning themselves with newspapers and baseball caps, till he got to the Security personnel – the only staff in view – to demand that the situation be fixed.

He was prepared for a difficult but heated discussion and stood at full height in case it escalated into a fight.

“Eh?” asked the young security officer, “Yours is not on?”

And that’s when Jim noticed that it was much cooler in that area where they make you take off your belts and shoes and unpack your underwear because the scanner saw something in your suitcase.

The security chap walked across the room and flicked a switch, then returned to give Jim a thumbs-up.

Ten minutes later, the room had cooled down.

Is that what’s missing at Entebbe Airport? Someone to flick a switch so the air conditioning can start running? Where are the switches for the improved restaurant facilities? And the ones to increase the number of sockets so we can plug in devices as we await flights?

Why are these things off, anyway?

a generation that moved the nation


Malaika Nnyanzi is an erudite and elegant, beautiful and brilliant young lady. She is smart in most respects and so well-spoken that she is often called upon to direct events of a mostly glitzy and glamorous nature.

The World Premiere of the movie 27 Guns was one such event.

The set up in the Metroplex Mall changed that nowadays-dreary venue into a glittering hall offering an array of displays all in support of the story that the movie re-created.

Malaika fitted in very well with the smartly-dressed guests, all in their black bow ties and flowing evening dresses. With her co-EmCee of the night, Dr. Mitch Egwang, she chaperoned our thoughts and kept the tempo high and befitting of a movie premiere of this nature, graced by Citizen Number One – the President himself.

She said one of the most profound things of the night – of which there was no shortage – at the end of the viewing:

“On behalf of all the millennials here and out there, I want to say thank you, thank you, thank you! I would NEVER EVER have realised what the Bush War meant, what sacrifice, pain and heriosm went into this.”

Her voice was shaking as she said this, and the hesitant microphone didn’t help either. Like most people in that cinema hall, her eyes were quite moist.

Walking out of the camera flashes of the Premiere Reception floor into that dark cinema to spend an hour under flashes of AK-47 and mortar shell fire on screen silenced us all. Going from an hour and a half of looking at three hundred people in smart formal wear into that cinema hall to watch a small band of rag-tag, unkempt men and women in assorted military fatigues was disorienting.

The juxtaposition of the two settings was probably unintended but worked quite well – as will the juxtaposition of the normal, day-to-day lives of the type of people who will be walking or driving off the streets of Kampala into cinema halls to watch 27 Guns.

The movie is not the normal, hero-based fiction that we normally go to cinemas for, but it is not a documentary, as such, either. It is based on real events and recreated according to the accounts – written and verbal – of the people who were there.

In your seat, for those more than one and a half hours, you develop a high sense of trapped anguish along with the combatants and civilians of the time – which, besides the millennials, was most of us in the hall sent back in time.

Malaika’s situation was understandable and proved the success of 27 Guns. If these couple of hours just watching that movie makes one feel this way, imagine what it was really like back then for the people who actually spent all those years in the thick of that action?

But there are two aspects to this movie, that should both be taken seriously.

The Opening Prayer at the Premiere was delivered by Lorna Magara, who captured both quite clearly, “…that this movie will specifically speak to our people, young and old – reminding us of our history and God’s grace over us all these years.” and that the movie be, “…shot out as God’s arrow, silencing every contention against Uganda, speaking not just for Uganda and it’s people but resounding across the world on behalf of all the African people!”

See, after the idea formed and grew in her mind, Natasha Karugire started putting together the elements required to make a movie of this nature but kept getting repulsed and questioned by the world outside of Uganda.

There was so much skepticism about the possibility of the story being interesting on its own and more interest in fictionalising it, that she pulled back and decided to do it herself. Using Ugandans in Uganda and keeping it authentic and realistic. Just as she promised when Isaiah 60 Productions was launched – this was an opportunity for Ugandans to tell their own stories to the world by themselves.

She packed up her crew and cast, headed for the Luwero triangle and months later her strategy had worked, just as the Bush War did 32 years ago. Malaika Nnyanzi’s little speech made that quite clear.

27 Guns Image