it’s not witchcraft, Uganda is blessed…gifted by nature!

Maggie, Conrad, Simon & Reynado next to the trophy
Coca-Cola officials welcome the FIFA World Cup Trophy and prepare to take it off the jet onto the tarmac at Entebbe International Airport.From Left: Maggie Kigozi, Conrad van Niekerk, Simon Kaheru & Reinaldo Padua

IF I write or speak about anything other than the FIFA World Cup Trophy this week I will be cheating an entire country – Uganda. We may not have won the actual Trophy yet, but we certainly came top when it came to displaying passion, discipline, orderliness and relating love to the sport called football.

These little victories count on their own, even though the bigger ones like winning the actual Tournament and bringing that Trophy home would weigh way more in value than its dollar equivalent on the open market.

First of all, I won’t mention Coca-Cola too much in this so that I avoid a conflict of interest around my regular employment and this apparent public service and because by now you all know for sure who is ferrying that Trophy around the World.

If I hadn’t had a link to the company I would certainly have been in the running to join the social media “influencers” who went to South Africa to ride along with the Trophy on its dedicated plane.

It wasn’t necessary – I got to bask in the glory of the trophy right here in the warm and wet tropical climes of Uganda – starting on the plane that ferried it here. More importantly, as the President happily said when he was unveiling the Trophy and sending it off on its merry tour of the Pearl of Africa, everybody in the world saw and enjoyed the beauty of Uganda because of this Trophy.

From my close proximity vantage point I can confirm that the excitement in Uganda outshone that in most other countries. At the Kampala Serena Hotel I was tickled to see a lady bringing her children in their school uniform to take photographs next to the pull-up banners set up for the evening event. She had gone through loads of traffic to do this, and had no intention of asking for tickets to the event. They took their photographs and left for home – happy and excited to have been part of this in some small way!

Felicity George, the FIFA Partnerships Manager, said this quite clearly to us when she arrived at the Company Plant in Namanve. She was quite taken aback to see so many staff wearing their Uganda Cranes t-shirts and lining up in an orderly manner to take their photographs with the Trophy.

She spoke to a few of them and they were quite clear about their love for their country and the sport we call Football. She was impressed – out of all the countries she has visited on the Trophy Tour, she said, only Ugandans turned up in their national football colours!

We did well there all through, Ugandans – right from Entebbe Airport and on the roadside.

Taking the Trophy to the Plant for the company staff to enjoy its presence was a touch apart from what happened everywhere else in the world; more heart-tingling was the procedure the Managing Director insisted on – giving priority to the staff of Plastic Recycling Industries and Rwenzori Bottling Company first, and ensuring no hierarchical methods were used to manage the queues.

All through, the FIFA Security chaps in charge of the Trophy were thoroughly excited by the traditional dancers and their varied display of dances. One of them, on the second day, asked me why the dress and dances were so different and gave me the opportunity to explain how many cultures we had in Uganda and part of our history.

The FIFA World Cup Twitter account has about six million followers, and the World Cup itself was viewed, in 2014, by more than three billion (3,000,000,000) people! Imagine if just one percent of those, following this trophy, took up an increased interest in Uganda’s cultures?

The realisation that the Trophy Tour had turned so many eyeballs onto Uganda for those two days caused one fellow at State House to quip, “Eh! How many other things can we bring to Uganda so that we do this?!”

He got the point quite quickly when he noted how excited everyone was at all levels to take photographs with the Trophy.

President Museveni himself walked into the room so early that he took most by surprise, and then gave the Trophy and its attendants so much time and prominence that there was a full photo session on the stairs of State House for the staff and media to enjoy – which HE set up on his own.

Those staff and media, and all other Ugandans who took photographs with the Trophy, number close to ten thousand or so people. Now, if each of us uploaded our photographs to the internet with a positive comment about the country and an inviting message, imagine how much support that would give to the efforts of the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) and the Uganda Investment Authority (UIA).

Even our Uganda Managing Director, Conrad van Niekerk, was taken aback at the energy levels generated by the Trophy. He was Managing Director in Ghana back in 2010 and when the Trophy visited that country he didn’t see them exhibiting such celebratory measures or turning out in national colours even if THEY WERE PARTICIPATING IN THE WORLD CUP FINALS!

“Uganda is simply amazing!” he kept remarking, at every step of the Tour.

If we all tell our tale of how marvelous Uganda was – even during those two days – believe me the benefits would be mind-blowing. The FIFA crew declared us to be blessed, for instance, because they could not understand how their plane left Cape Town an hour late but managed to land in Entebbe earlier than scheduled!

Then, every time the weather seemed set to destroy the events here, everything just went on smoothly; on one day when the trophy was at Century Bottling Company and being set up a drizzle started and clouds formed to the backdrop of climatically induced rumbling but everything changed as soon as the EmCee announced Conrad’s welcoming speech.

The clouds seemed to draw back as he walked up centre and raised the microphone to his mouth, and the EmCee laughed and accused someone there of engaging in witchcraft.

It’s not witchcraft. Uganda is blessed. We are gifted. By Nature.

perseverance: apply for everything all the time

LAST year I met a most amazing fellow who chose to settle in Uganda after getting here by way of more work, money and experience than the vast majority of us will ever know, living an existence that the vast majority of us almost cannot stand.

Paul Anderson would confuse the average Ugandan. When I met him he was dressed as casually as a backpacker and toting the type of bag and envelopes that make most be-suited, neck-tied Ugandans roll their eyes and look the other way to avert requests for jobs and other favours.

A few minutes into our conversation I began to notice that he was quite different, and probed further. His story is really, really long and fascinating – including the millions of United States dollars he has made over time versus the choice he has made to live a life that costs a couple hundred dollars a month in various parts of Uganda that many of you struggle to avoid.

His entire life story is not the subject of what triggered these particular thoughts; there was one bit of our discussion that morning that returned to me last week when a young lady I admire posted a tweet that deserves a lot of attention.

Paul Anderson is an author and philosopher, having studied life in a very deep manner. I am still on standby to get involved in one of his projects, and left him that day with many thoughts bouncing about in my head.

One of these was his astonishment at the lack of energy among some of our youth and the need to make them realise it.

In one example, he told me of an otherwise intelligent and seemingly capable young lady he met who was in despair at having failed to secure a job a couple of years after completing her university degree. She had studied a banking-related course and was eager to work in a bank at some level.

Paul asked her how many applications she had put out and her response was, something like, “About six.”

“In two years?”

She confirmed so. See, she explained, the banks she applied to were simply not responding or giving her the job(s), and the others hadn’t advertised any.

He was unsympathetic. She could have applied to three times that same number and still didn’t deserve sympathy, he said.

If she really wanted to work in a commercial bank, he told her, what she needed to do was to list all the commercial banks and financial institutions in Uganda and then apply to ALL of them. After doing so, she needed to run a time-table and visit each and every one of the banks to secure personal audience with a manager and ask for a job.

“With a degree in hand, the right attitude and the right amount of persistence, even if nobody offered her a job they wouldn’t chase her off outright,” he reasoned. After that, he said, she needed to write them a follow-up email, wait a few months, and then go back to ask again.

With all the commercial banks in Uganda, she needed to pester them consistently using her time table until one of them gave in and offered her something – anything!

That approach has stayed on my mind for a while and I believe it could work more times than fail – especially since it involves slogging until success is achieved. Just two weeks ago I wrote the big word “Perseverance” on the blackboard of a classroom of wide-eyed eight-year olds, then explained it to them.

Hence my stop-and-think-hard-then-applaud-loudly reaction last week when @Kemi_stry – full name Kemiyondo Coutinho – tweeted:

“I apply for something every week. Yup. Every week. Now think of how many things I announce that I have actually gotten. I hustle for more than I receive. As it should be. You never know which one is the door. So keep trying that key in all of them.”

No wonder, I thought to myself, she does so well.

I have only met her properly once, in circumstances I cannot go into right now and trust she won’t ever tell anyone about (Madamoiselle/Madame/Boss – PLEASE DO NOT!), but I have interacted with her online for a long, enjoyable time.

She is in the business of Creative Arts and Entrepreneurship and is on a roll right now. Last week, her short film “Kyenvu” won the Best Narrative Short Film Award at the Pan African Film & Arts Festival 2018!

She is teaching the world the meaning of the Luganda word “kyenvu” (google it!) – which puts Luganda up there on the list of languages being used globally to describe colours and emotions and milkshake flavours. I have proof – the word now exists on, the website where all movies of note get listed.

Thanks to @Kemi_stry and her team, there is a whole cast of Ugandan names up on that site as well, together with Ugandans who produce, direct and score movies to global standards!

I haven’t yet watched “Kyenvu” but I can tell that it tackles important themes squarely – sexual harassment – and raises one’s attention to subliminal ones – such as race issues in our settings.

I am not surprised that “Kyenvu” is winning awards because @Kemi_stry is that type of go-get-em person. Once, in the past, we had a very short conversation about her joining the national broadcast system. The discussion was understandably very, very short due to the candid but positive approach we both seem to take most times.

She went her merry, determined way, persevered, and today, in the age of the “Black Panther”, she has the world at her feet and is choosing what colour to make it.

black panther: another growth opportunity for african textiles – made in wakanda!

IT’S been a couple of weeks of me ranting about AGOA (Africa Growth Opportunities Act) and the awkwardness of the situation surrounding textiles made in Africa being stopped from entering the United States under a commercial arrangement that benefits the Africans.

I am clearly not done with this yet but providence has stepped forward, dressed up in an outfit made of irony, courtesy of the ‘Black Panther’.

This irony, I hasten to add, is not because the movie is making ordinary, Africa-bound Africans gush exuberantly and dress up in costumes to celebrate our African-ness over a movie that is really an American’s version of Africa.

No; Africa, I am happy to declare that we have another Growth Opportunity in front of us today if we choose to ACT upon it!

See, the run-up to the global non-stop conversation about the movie ‘Black Panther’ was kicked off by a movie premiere in Hollywood, Los Angeles, which the actors and actresses celebrated by turning up all decked out in “African clothing”.

That term “African clothing” is too general to be considered accurate or even sensible on its own, because #AfricaIsNotCountry. It is difficult to categorise all the clothing of all the different tribes across these 54 countries. In fact, some of these tribes have different clothing patterns that differ between CLANS!

Gwe, Africa is complicated…but therein lies the opportunity.

We saw it on the red carpet of the Premiere: Part-time Ugandan David Oyelowo, who played Robert Katende in ‘Queen of Katwe’, showed up in a kitenge shirt-and-trouser outfit that many women on this continent declared ill-advised but that drove the point home like a brilliantly coloured assegai.

One of the other Ugandans there, Daniel Kaluuya (W’kabi in the movie), turned up in a kanzu and made headlines for both the outfit and awards that will continue rolling out for months and years to come.

W'kabi Kanzu
Owaakabi (Photo from http://www.usatoday)

Around the rest of the world it was picked up by Africans of all walks of life with access to the internet, contacts among socialites or enough money to buy a ticket to ‘Black Panther’.

On Twitter the hashtag #WakandaCameToSlay kicked off and slew.

A number of African-Americans, who we (proper Africans) often accuse of being too far removed from our realities to deserve the title ‘African-American’, turned up in that outfit that Eddie Murphy’s character in ‘Coming To America’ wore – ComingtoAmerica1988MoviePoster.jpgthe one with the Mobutu hat and a dead leopard (or was it a cheetah? Come to Uganda and see for yourself what they look like in real life!) over his shoulder.

But the rest of us have the opportunity to make people the world over learn the meaning of kitenge, kanzu and busuuti (all words recognised by my computer dictionaries because I MAKE THEM LEARN).

There is more irony to how, until recently. it was mostly bazungu we saw wearing kitenge dresses and carrying kitenge bags. For years and years, we had these beautiful pieces of fabric around us but we insisted on wearing bland suits and ties like we are clueless Europeans, sweltering in the heat of the tropical sun.

Until recently, I am proud to point out, because a few years ago ordinary Ugandans like you and I started toting those kitenge bags around. Clever young Ugandans took to customising shoes, hats and bags with bits of colourful kitenge and “African print” cloth to brighten them up and make them stand out from the crowd of others.

Thanks to the ‘Black Panther’, we will now do a lot more of this. And instead of exporting denims and t-shirts made in Uganda, we might actually start making our own designs and exporting those to a global market that WANTS them.

After that, the sky is the limit. Once we have dropped the shackles of imported suits and ties, t-shirts and jeans and adopted the Wakanda attitude evidenced by our clothing, maybe next we will choose to use our own names rather than English, Hebrew and Italian ones.

I desperately hope that this is the dawn of a new age on this continent; not just another passing phase during which hundreds of millions of dollars will be banked elsewhere and our the self-esteem or validation of the African is found in relation to some new type of master channeled by Hollywood.

Uganda’s textile industry: going round seeing tri-stars until the phoenix rose via fine spinners

Shorts Label.jpg
Comments about shorts here prohibited

WHILE doing some laundry the other day I noticed that I own a pair of shorts that had been made in Sri Lanka. Then I remembered that the person behind Uganda’s ‘big-ticket’ AGOA venture, Tri-Star Apparels, is also from Sri Lanka.

That sent me right back on my current AGOA agony, and I started wondering about all those girls who were so publicly employed by Tri-Star Apparels almost twenty years ago.

The story made big news back then, and we saw photographs of hundreds (were they thousands?) of girls going through a recruitment and then training process, after which they were given those coveted jobs.

At some point I even joined delegations paying official visits to the factory in Bugolobi, at a location made famous in the 1980s for hosting our biggest export then – coffee – processed and warehoused there by the mighty Coffee Marketing Board. Twenty years after that, the location was hosting another big export – clothing made by the girls of Tri-Star Apparels.

The newspapers back then wrote stuff like: “Tri-Star Apparels was founded by Deshabandu Kumar Dewapura in 1979 with just 10 machines and 15 employees. Tri-Star is now a global employer boasting dozens of factories in Sri Lanka, Kenya, Uganda, and Botswana that employ 15,000 workers producing 15 million pieces of garment. Its corporate clients include Ralph Lauren (2002 net revenue $2.3 billion), Gap (2002 net revenue, $7.0 billion), Guess (2002 net revenue $0.8 billion) and Limited Brands which owns Victoria’s Secret line of clothing (2002 revenue, $8.4 billion). It recently signed a contract to supply two million pieces of baby and children wear every month to UK-based Grasshopper Holder, one of the largest EU garment suppliers.”

For real, those words appear here.

The news stories also reported that Vellulapai Kananathan was the man behind this venture in Uganda, having partnered with the Sri Lanka-based Tri-Star Apparels.

Kananathan is today, I believe, Sri Lanka’s Honorary Consul to Uganda. The rest of the internet reports that the Tri-Star Apparels founder, Kumar Dewapura, passed away in September 2014.

Curiosity further piqued and my mind still on the statistic I saw a couple of weeks ago that said during the whole of 2016 Uganda only exported textiles worth US$9million to the United States under AGOA arrangements, I dug a bit more.

The internet doesn’t easily reveal information about Tri-Star Apparels., normally a trustworthy reporter of financial and business news, has a record of ‘Apparels Tri-Star (Uganda) Ltd.’ whose Key Executive is Mr. Vellupi Kanathan and that “operates as a subsidiary of LAP Green Network.”

The website has no record of the Sri Lankan Tri-Star Apparels, but that didn’t worry me – I simply looked elsewhere and found it…no. Not the Sri Lankan one – apparently there is a Tri-Star Apparels in India that has a Facebook page or wall to which the persons involved post photographs of clothing they sell.

This Tri-Star Apparels claimed to be based in Bangalore, India, and listed a website that is non-functional. Since I couldn’t be bothered to dial the number provided, I went to the rest of the internet only to find them listed elsewhere (same India phone number) with a Director called Mr. Naidu, and a rickety statement in English accompanying a small photo of t-shirts that all put together seemed to spell the word “con”.

I closed those sites and found the “Sri Lanka Directory of Exporters” under the header of the Sri Lanka Export Board, which listed Tri-Star Apparels Pvt. Ltd. with nothing under “Product /Services Range” but contact details that included the website’’.

The same website is listed in a few other places, with the company contact being Ms. Samantha Gunawardena, accompanied by a legend about the work they do.

The listed website is non-functional.

Then, the “Gateway to Sri Lanka”, presented a list of players in the Textile and Garments industry that didn’t mention Tri-Star.

It was frustrating.

Until I hit pay dirt. An organisation called Industrial Restructuring Consultancy Pvt. Ltd. had an online entry from February 2016 detailing how they helped ‘Tri Star Garment Industry’ conduct a restructuring in which they gave up a 20% shareholding and downsides from 8,000 to 4,000 staff.

At this point I felt I should focus more on my Ugandan Tri-Star instead and was happy to discover that there was a recent update made along the way.

About three years ago, NTV (in Uganda, I have reason to believe), published a story titled, “Kenyan textile entrepreneur takes over Tristar Apparel”, that read quite determinedly: “Fine Spinners, a Kenyan textile company, will be injecting over Ushs108billion over the next three years in a value development of Uganda’s cotton sector.”

That was three years ago so by counting very slowly one would be correct in expecting that we have received Ushs108billion in this country from Fine Spinners, a Kenyan textile company.

Continued the story, “Fine Spinners has taken over the operations of Tristar Apparel in Uganda. Tristar Apparel was closed down after years of losses despite heavy government subsidies and assured market through the Africa Growth and Opportunities Act initiative.”

Pause for thought there and think to yourself why the Kenyan company was so ready to inject Ushs108billion into a business venture that had failed in spite of subsidies and AGOA.

I couldn’t work it out immediately myself. Especially taking the usual rudimentary action of discovery in 2018 – Googling ‘Fine Spinners Kenya’.

The internet seemed to know more about Fine Spinners Uganda than Kenya, and I learnt about Jaswinder Bedi, described as a “textile technologist” and the man behind Fine Spinners. His personal story aside, I was astounded to read, in The Independent magazine:

“The government of Uganda has leased Phenix Logistics Uganda Ltd, a garment manufacturer based in Kampala, to a Kenyan-based garment manufacturer – Fine Spinners. The deal…at un-disclosed amount of money and a 15-year period is interesting ….Phenix Logistics has been recording losses, with the government injecting in billions of shillings to keep it afloat.”

So… what does Fine Spinners know that nobody else in Uganda appears to know and why don’t we know it after all these years?

I intend to find out for myself one day, rather than read stuff about them off the internet; their website says they are located on Spring Road in Bugolobi, and their phone number is listed there as +256 414 342 716, so I will be dialing it soon.

Their story, on that website, goes: “Our cotton is predominantly grown in the West, where, assisted by leading development partners, we mentor our smallholder farmers in sustainable cotton agriculture.

At harvest, the CMiA (Cotton Made in Africa – see lint bales are transported to the Fine Spinners facilities in Kampala to be blended and spun into yarn. Our knitting and dying processes meet exacting international standards, as do our fabrics, which are subjected to rigorous retailer-specified testing regimes.”

Fine Spinners sources their cotton, says the website, from Kasese’s Western Uganda Cotton Company (WUCC) and NOT from the usual parts we have been hearing about since the days adults like myself were in primary school. This story here is further evidence of those expectations.

Fine Spinners even brought a group of European textile manufacturers to visit the place last year in April and they exclaimed that they were thoroughly impressed by Uganda’s cotton.

Said one of the textile importers: “I import 500,000 T-shirts per year, but now I want to grow it to one million pieces annually next year 2018. When you ask me why, I will tell you it is because Uganda has good cotton with production facilities.”

That was Joern Otto, the vice president for sourcing at Germany’s Bonprix Company – which actually exists, going by the internet. Either way, we should ensure that he actually doubles his purchases as planned.

It appears to be a true story, this one of Fine Spinners and Bonprix and Uganda’s cotton being so great. The Economist wrote a feature about this here:

Ugandan clothes ARE being sold in Germany and the United States IN SPITE of the lobby group SMART (Secondary Materials And Recycled Textiles Association) and their rather silly assertions about how hapless Uganda’s manufacturing future is, and how inert we sometimes are.

In an April 2016 interview, Jas Bedi stated that Fine Spinners was exporting about 50,000 t-shirts a month and was targeting 500,000 going up to 1million t-shirts a month by the end of that year.

He has done so well, going by the media reports, that just one client – Bonprix – is targeting 1million t-shirts from Uganda every month this year.

One of my favourite statements attributed to him goes: “Ugandan cotton itself is so much more superior, so it just gives you a competitive advantage right before you start. It’s handpicked, not machine picked, and because of that it’s a superior cotton. When you start with better cotton, you get a better product.”

What time and resources we wasted on those other guys long gone!
Shiyaya Coupon Book Advert FINAL.001

AFRICAN! you’re a donor to the rich, dressed up in the rags of a beggar!

LAST week I ranted a little about our national AGOA misadventure. The issue still rankles.

When the Africa Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA) was first announced, Uganda was one of the 38 countries in Africa eligible to export over 6,000 products into the United States both tariff- and quota-free. In the beginning, we could have taken in ANY AMOUNT of those 6,000 products.

We did not even come close to doing so – according to very many internet sources. The numbers from 2016 that suggest we only exported US$9million in textiles that year, next door (only terrestrially) to Kenya’s US$394million, make me tag the word “misadventure” to this.

But we did open up that factory in Bugolobi under Tri-Star Apparels and, as I have surely said before, some clothing ‘Made In Uganda’ found its way into the United States and other countries.

My rant last week was about the association called SMART (Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association), whose leader Jackie King started a petition to strike Uganda and some other countries off the list because we insist on stopping the second hand clothes trade purportedly to develop our own textile manufacturing industry.

Whereas their spurious claims were annoying in both tone and content, I found it necessary to check a few more things about this ‘industry’ they claim will suffer if countries like Uganda set up textile manufacturing industries of our own, employing Ugandans in their thousands in respectable jobs.

To show you how ridiculous the ecosystem of this second-hand clothing is, one of the SMART petition points was the claim that the second-hand clothing earns charity organisations money so that they can “help Africa”.

In short, they tell the US government, we should not MAKE our own clothes using cotton that we grow, so that we can receive second-hand underwear from them that we pay cash for, which cash will go to organisations that pay for their operations and then send us some “aid”.

Seriously, they send us second-hand underwear because they KNOW we will take it.

I saw this in a Huffington Post article:

Second Hand Underwear Justification.jpg

But read this article as well:

Some charity organisations, you will be amazed to learn, are actually collecting this money to spend in THEIR countries. So a Ugandan buying a second-hand bra is actually funding an American or a Canadian, rather than a hapless fellow Ugandan.

In one article online a Scott Ebenhardt of the ‘National Diabetes Trust’ in North America is quoted saying that the textile division of that non-governmental organisation earns Diabetes Canada US$10million a year.

Diabetes Canada is THEIR national charity, serving 11 million Canadian Diabetes sufferers IN CANADA. It runs a programme called ‘Clothesline’ that “collects gently used clothing, small household items and electronics…” and sells them to hapless Africans targeted by the likes of SMART.

On their Facebook page they proudly state that, “Every year we divert 51million kilogrammes from Canada’s landfills” – Which is 51million kilogrammes of garbage that hapless Africans wear and walk around NOT building textile manufacturing industries.

A large portion of that 51million kilogrammes of second-hand items is clothing and whereas it’s not all used underwear, just imagine how disgusting our economic stunting is.

Mind you, in 2016 we are reported to have spent US$888million (about Ushs3TRILLION) importing textiles – new and old – from other countries.

That figure came out during one of the President’s speeches, where he was urging us to spend more of this money on our own textiles and clothing here in Uganda.

The SMART people don’t want that. They want you spending your money on second-hand underwear so that Canadians with diabetes get treatment.

So as you go out to buy a second-hand piece of clothing instead of one made by a good Ugandan tailor – who are now numerous and easy to find from Kitintale to Yumbe – please remember that YOU are the donor in this case.

Your money is going to fund an NGO in a foreign country, AND your money is funding a second-hand clothing business that is a member of SMART, AND your money is treating Diabetes in Canada or some other disease in the US.

Most importantly, by buying second hand underwear and shoes, you are being a donor because you are sacrificing the opportunity to invest in a textile manufacturing industry here that would have exported hundreds of millions of dollars to the United States under AGOA, and elsewhere.

But you are clearly NOT the clever donor. That one has you believing that you are the recipient of charity – the BEGGAR dressed in smelly rags and smiling in gratitude.