yambala elementi yo! (wear your helmet!)

Photo by Catherine Nampeera

I BOUGHT a motorcycle helmet the other week, and now go with it almost everywhere these days – making a point to carry it out of the car and into coffee shops and offices.

I do NOT use boda-bodas. More accurately, I have successfully avoided using boda-bodas for a very long time now, and intend to continue doing so.
My reasons might be different from most but include, in order of importance: 1. A keen interest in living to a respectable age 2. A strong desire to keep all my body parts intact and functional while living to that respectable age 3. The internal discomfort that boda-boda rides involve, for me, because of the daredevil nature of the average boda-boda chap, and; 4. The external discomfort that they involve because of my body mass in relation to the size of an average boda-boda seat.
But I do use boda-bodas by proxy, because there are people that I work with whose nature of work makes travel by boda-boda expedient and sensible even if most of the people that operate the machines are rarely the latter.
For years, I have been asking many of these colleagues of mine to acquire and use helmets as they ride round the city. I also, whenever the opportunity arises, find it both easy and necessary to tell even the most random boda-boda riders that they must wear helmets on duty.
At one point my tactic included shouting at them as they whizzed past: “Gundi; yambala elementi yo!”, because the phrase always raises mirth in me. Like Fulampeni and Kabada and Bulekyi-Food (a bottle of which I once bought in Wandegeya just so I could say the word out loud repeatedly in conversation).
I stopped shouting out the ‘Yambala Elementi Yo!’ phrase when an easily startled fellow in Kitintale, I later learnt his name to be Muwamadi, responded by swerving almost into a perimeter wall.
Ironically, even though I was the cause of his near-death experience I engaged him in a conversation about how he would surely have spread his brains all over that nearby wall if he had not brought the bike under control quicker. He did point out, shakily, that the entire conversation would have been unnecessary if I hadn’t shouted him down.
Explaining irony to him would have been painful (less than the accident itself), so I focused on the point that the accident that didn’t happen to him was likely to one day occur because the manner in which we stop boda-boda chaps is by shouting them down as they whizz past us on the road.
I pointed out to him the inconvenience he would have introduced to the homeowner who would have had to wash blood and brain splatter off his wall, and the trauma I would have suffered having watched his skull crumple against said wall. More importantly, though, I pressed upon him the burden his wives (he has two) and children would have faced if he died that day or became crippled.
The conversation ended with him promising to wear his ‘elementi’ (by the way – that’s vernacular for ‘helmet’) rather than perch it on the handlebars of his bike – and I have spotted him doing so a couple of times since.
From our conversation I suspected Muwamadi does not have a university degree, and I would be surprised if he showed me a senior six leaver’s certificate in his name.
Unlike most of my colleagues.
So my patience with him and others of his ilk in the matter of the use of protective wear is somewhat condescending. He cannot know better, poor fellow, and has to be spoken to gently and slowly. Where possible, I believe he and people like him need to be shown pictures and have skits performed for them.
Unlike most of my colleagues.
A person with a University degree taught in a language originating in countries where the use of protective wear is almost automatic should have no excuse for not wearing a helmet.
A person whose entertainment consumption includes foreign feature films in which people ride about wearing helmets and even padded clothing should not need to be told to dress up wisely for a bike ride.
A person who reads books and magazines where items like helmets are commonplace should not need to hear the call ‘Yambala Elementi Yo!’.
One of my colleagues uses an iPhone and Macbook, and spends lots of time in trendy coffee shops and cozy bars serving pricey drinks and sumbusas that cost more than Muwamadi’s average domestic meal (both wives and all children inclusive).
Yet she neither owns her own helmet nor uses one provided by a boda-boda chap. Her reasons are illogical enough for me to hope that one day her University and secondary school uses them to withdraw her academic qualifications.
What is the cost of a helmet? Not the ones that look like a 1940s war relic or an upside down washing powder bucket (500gms). How much is a padded helmet with a visor that swings down and swishes that look trendy?
Twenty Thousand Shillings. (UPDATE: TO BUY A HELMET, CALL 0775074834
or 0703170934 – I get no commission whatsoever and the people behind those numbers do not know me at all, to the best of my own knowledge.)
About the same as the consultation fees one pays at any clinic near you. And much, much cheaper than the cost of a funeral.
I bought two – one for me, and one for the colleague who I send directly onto a boda-boda. The rest, I insist should travel by taxi or walk, because I don’t want their blood on my hands or splattered all over a roadside wall.

visa fees into Uganda lowered by 50%, making Uganda tourism the cheapest thrill in Africa…another missed opportunity

The first part of that headline above is the kind of thing we call another missed opportunity.

Today is July 21, 2016.

I am approaching the highly exciting news that Uganda has amended the cost of single entry visas payable on arrival at ports of entry from US$100 to US$50, effective today.
This piece of news is of great economic significance for the entire country at large as it makes us more attractive for tourists in general because it enables our tour operators to offer more competitive packages (especially when you consider that you get a lot more wildlife and other tourism-related experiences for your bucks when you spend in Uganda compared to other countries in the region).
It also brings to an end many months of agonising, lobbying and jostling with the government to lower these fees – which were increased in July last year from US$50 to US$100.
I am not here to talk about the tourism aspects of the announcement, but the COMMUNICATION around it – because THAT  has made the excitement of this announcement is as tasty as a soggy piece of photocopying paper.
Which WAS the ‘official communication’ around this – A BLACK AND WHITE PAGE OF PHOTOCOPYING PAPER with not even a watermark to indicate that it was a genuine and authoritative government document. If it wasn’t for the two holes that indicate that a punching machine was used to make the document appropriate for insertion into a file, one would not believe it to be official.
Here it is:
Tourism Visa Fees Lowered
See, ‘Circular 3, 2016’ is on a letterhead of the Directorate of Citizenship & Immigration Control whose email address (which I am copying this link to) is imm@africaonline.co.ug – a domain that is surprisingly ‘co.ug’ rather than ‘go.ug’ that would make you believe it is run by the government.
Maybe the ‘co.ug’ means it is businesslike? No – the email address bounces back mail!
I swear  – see:
Anyway, the sogginess of the announcement is mostly because the people announcing it have taken that annoyingly lazy and ubiquitous path of scanning a document and WhatsApping it around and claiming to have communicated.
The missed opportunity here is massive – which reminds me of the saying often attributed to Thomas Alva Edison, that inventor of things such as the lightbulb: “We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work,” he is reputed to have said!
Whoever is in charge of announcing this Single Entry Visa change was clearly afraid of doing a little bit of work around it.
This is the kind of announcement that needs:
  1. To be accompanied by images and graphics of happy, smiling tourists of all ethnicities very excitedly receiving change or balance at Entebbe airport as they pay for their entry visa, with mountain gorillas and other wildlife in the backdrop waiting to receive them.
  2. To go into funny video memes depicting the excitement at paying much less to holiday in Uganda.
  3. To be translated into as many languages as exist countrywide and then circulated to all embassies.
  4. To get posted online onto ALL government websites.
  5. To get posted online onto ALL websites of Ugandan embassies and foreign missions.
  6. To be given to ALL tour and travel and hospitality companies to share no their platforms and websites.
  7. To be made colourful and vibrant and welcoming and enticing – which even nursery schools do when they paint their walls in bright colours and use smiling cartoon characters, so that parents and children alike choose them rather than a mango tree…
  8. To be carried VERY LOUDLY AND PROMINENTLY by the Uganda Tourism Board, the Association of Uganda Tour Operators, and everybody with an interest in seeing our tourism numbers grow.
  9. To be given to the three Tourism Marketing and Public Relations Promotion Firms contracted a few months ago to promote Uganda, so that they make a big meal out of it in those markets they are covering – the UK and Northern Ireland, Germany and Europe, and the United States.
It is not too late to salvage this and do all the above.
For God and My Country.
Update: @PaulKaheru asked for a sample poster and I have to share this, below, which was released an hour or so after this blog post and would have made for a much, much, much better announcement than the letter sent by WhatsApp – so kudos to the Minister:
Hon Frank Tumwebaze Visa Fees Lowered

blessed soils in the Holy Lands of Uganda and Israels

MY story of the week to do with Israel and Uganda last week was the one The New Vision ran quoting Bishop Dr. Edward Muhima and citing his realisation that Israelis had carried soil from Uganda back to the Palestine region (I had to get that in there) to improve their own soils and make their agricultural production successful.
I still can’t believe that the headline wasn’t a play on ‘Blessed Soils in the Holy Land’.
I first visited the nation of Israel as an impressionable youth collecting many life-changing memories, one of which stands out often in my mind and has recurred again in the dust raised by the visit of Bibi Netanyahu.
It started with the excitability of the guide chaperoning our group of Africans, and the driver of the bus we were travelling in to go and visit a kibbutz.
As we drove past a mountainside, rain began to fall in amounts that did not impress most of us visitors to the Holy Land from sub-Saharan Africa.
The Israelis in the bus, however, were beside themselves at the occurrence, and launched into chatter in their native language, and then even song! They calmed down after a while to explain that they had not seen rain in about three years, hence the excitement.
In passing, our guide, an elderly fellow at the diplomatic rank of Ambassador and whose army rank I cannot recall right now, mentioned that we had to speed past the mountain in order to escape a possible avalanche because these rare rains were known to cause rivulets that brought down large chunks of mountain.
By the time we arrived at the kibbutz I was still musing over how the Israelis initially focused more on the excitement over the sudden rains than the risk of painful death from the run-off.
Those musings were swept away when we saw the size of the fruits and vegetables at the kibbutz and heard the amounts of money that Israel as a nation fetched from agricultural exports. The figures, in tens of millions of United States dollars, did not make sense to me.
My deep confusion could be well understood when considered against the fresh revelation that the country (or, at the very least, that region we were in) had not had rain for years, and the one I had come from had had an abundance of the stuff for ages without ever announcing such figures (in excess of US$20billion that year alone).
It was even more confusing that in that year we, in Uganda, reportedly had more than five million hectares of arable land available compared to Israel’s 300,000.
With no rain, the Israelis were exporting billions of dollars worth of fruits and vegetables (and animal husbandry products). How? By using Irrigation, fertilisers, mechanisation of agriculture and other things that I had heard about in school about ten years before I had made that trip.
Now, more than fifteen years since I made that trip and one week after Netanyahu and his people visited, we have headlines such as, ‘Dry spell irks Masaka farmers’ and other cries of woe regarding rain and dry spells.

Still holding memories of the massive sizes of fruits and vegetables being produced in the small gardens in the kibbutz we visited back then, I read this week about how farmers are cursing the ‘dry spell’ that we have had for a couple of months and how “hundreds of thousands of residents may face hunger if nothing is done”.
We are neither stupid nor ignorant, but it is hard to do the mathematics and arrive at a logical conclusion – harder still if you throw in stories such as the 2014 one in which the government of Israel announced that it had tripled its intake of students going to Israel to study agriculture on scholarship. That year, the students were tripled from 41 to 120 – never mind that back in 1962 Israel granted 150 scholarships to Ugandan students in medicine and agriculture, and we have been sending them in such good numbers every year since.
In fact, on my trip back then I quite randomly bumped into three Ugandans – two visiting from the Ministry of Agriculture, and a third from a hospital here (she is now a doctor practicing in the United States.)
Where are these students and why aren’t they in places like Masaka and northern Uganda warding off the threat of “hundreds of thousands facing hunger” or getting our agriculture exports from US$240million up into the billions, considering that we have thousands more tonnes of the very soil that Israel uses?
I will be asking him, shortly, to publish the full list of the students and their whereabouts so that we can consult them on our own private agricultural projects, or for the government to assign them to district programmes such as NAADS and whatnot.
There is no shortage of them, even from the last two years alone since 198 went in 2014 and 226 were going in 2015 (presumably including the 120 paid for by the Israeli government). Plus, according to Mugabo’s speech at the flag-off ceremony last year, the Ugandans always excel during the courses, meaning that we should have the best performing agricultural experts in Africa, learning from the Israel experience.

ntangawuuzi, anyone? i mean ginger – put some in that tea, lazima!

ginger web britannica.com
Ginger (Zingiber Officinale) – Photo: web.britannica.com
PLEASE join me in expressing sympathy for one Edward Kisubika, coordinator of a group of over 100 farmers who on Sunday, September 27 last year formed the Mukono Ginger Farmers Association.
Kisubika and his friends had high hopes, and he told The New Vision at the event that he could invest about Ushs5million and make over Ushs20million out of an acre. At that time, a kilogramme of ginger was going for between Ushs8,000 and Ushs10,000 each.
I sympathise quite deeply for Kisubika because, according to the story, he started out as a fisherman at Katosi landing site and got problems, then quit. He rested to vanilla “but when prices fell, I lost all my money I had invested. I kept growing vanilla and food crops but with little commercial benefit.”
Then he moved to ginger (NOT ‘ji-nga’).
And this week The New Vision reported that prices of ginger had dropped from Ushs8,000 to Ushs1,000.
With that price drop, very simplistic mathematics will tell you that Kisubika’s expectation of Ushs20million will now actually give him Ushs2,500,000 only. That is HALF of what he invested at the start of the season – hoping he didn’t spend much more supervising the crop and buying a copy of the newspaper that announced the price drop.
Let us hold a moment of silence there.
Ginger is one of the world’s most on-demand spices. It is used in EVERY Chinese meal, meaning that billions of people around the world eat it. It is also used in very many of the world’s drinks, herbal teas and medicines. In Europe, demand is rising day by day because of the growing drive for healthy eating and living.
The drop in prices is not in Uganda alone, and this being news today, at the end of June, is a sign of slow thinking and slow reactions. In May, China announced a drop in prices from 8 Yuan (and as high as 20 in early 2015) per kilo to 0.80 Yuan – and China is the world’s second biggest producer of the spice, after India.
The reason for the price drop there was the poor economic climate there, which affected the catering industry and killed commercial demand.
China’s ginger production numbers are followed by Nepal and then Nigeria.
Nigeria, meanwhile, was the world’s biggest exporter of ginger exports in 2014, followed by Ethiopia. In fact, on one list, seven of the world’s top ginger exporting countries are African.
I called up the Uganda Export Promotion Board (UEPB) about the price collapse to ask what they were doing about it, since the crop the farmers have in their fields hasn’t been harvested yet and hope shouldn’t be lost.
“Ginger prices have dropped due to increased production which has now spread outside the original producing areas of Butambala and Busoga. This increased production has also been propelled by improvement in farming techniques that are making less costly to manage,” I was told.
The good people there said we have mostly been exporting it  informally while formal statistics show that last year we only exported to Rwanda (130 tonnes), the United Kingdom (1 tonne) and Burundi (6 tonnes).
“Traders in Butambala have also indicated that many buyers (thought to be of Kenyan origin) bring in trucks and load ginger from different towns within the area,” they said.
I was heartened to hear that Uganda is also trying out dried ginger, which should help the Kisubika’s keep their crop in a form that doesn’t let it go to waste should the market stay bad.
And, “Ginger powder and ginger flavoured beverages, for example, are now a common sight in super market in key urban centres.”
The UEPB is now looking for alternative reliable market outlets that suit Uganda’s production patterns and has “initiated market research to identify these alternative markets, their requirements and how Ugandan exporters can benefit.”
All that is good, as is the internet research I quoted above, but it should all have been made use of back in September when the Kisubika’s were excitedly forming their association and increasing production outside of Butambala and Busoga.
Plus, there should have been discussions involving the processing, manufacturing and finance sectors to meet the Kisubika’s goal of setting up a processing factory in Mukono. And it is late but not too late for these discussions to begin – we have government ministries and departments in charge of finance, agriculture, trade, industry, labour and more that should have a meeting over this.
And if they are asleep then the entrepreneurs should be moving faster. This Wednesday I had a chat with Gerald Owachi, of Pamrone, who told me he and his partners are trying to put together Ushs105million to order for a dryer/drier to be fabricated and stationed on their farm.
Theirs will not be just a grain dryer/drier as normally happens, but will be principally used to dry cassava, so it will certainly be capable of drying other tubers and ginger as well.
Ushs105million is half the price of a second hand Range Rover or Land Cruiser – and there are many of those on the streets of Kampala. At the very worst, though, that amount of money is also equivalent to five second hand sedans on the streets of Kampala – again, meaning that it is an easy investment for a group of entrepreneurs to make if they got together to do the maths and talk to the likes of Gerald Owachi and Kisubika.
If the supply of ginger is so good that it is outstripping local and regional demand to bring prices down, then surely it should be enough to support manufacturing so that the fresh ginger can have value added to it and fetch more than peanuts?

kamata the opportunity to advance Ugandan innovation and creativity

LAST week I wrote about a young man who made a ‘wire excavator’ out of scrap and waste materials, and some people read the piece and took it a step further.
Within hours of the newspaper hitting the streets and the online version going up, phone calls, SMSs and WhatsApp messages came flowing, along with confirmation that Ngwedo is indeed a village in Buliisa, and the young man actually exists.
A number of people voluntarily provided information and the RDC of Buliisa, Peter Busoborwa, agreed to get onto the case. But Patrick Mbonye, a friend who runs a very serious-minded human resource operation, Q-Sourcing, moved much faster as is expected of the private sector.
Within days, he had tracked the young man down and found that his name is Patrick Onyuti and he stopped school in senior three because he had a serious epileptic condition that the school was not comfortable with!
That school could deserve to be de-registered for being so poor at education, and that’s another reason why everyone I spoke to about that boy’s story agreed that putting him into our education pipelines would be a wrong move to make.
One amusing (though unfair) argument put forward was that no Engineering Graduate had produced a wire car or excavation truck in spite of all the education they had accumulated, yet this young man had done so in his humble circumstances.
That is not entirely true, even though the sentiment behind that argument was understandable.
Professor Tickodri-Togboa once told us that getting children to play with toys was important for engineering and scientific development, and was part of the reason for the Kiira EV car and solar Kayoola bus projects.
Someone who seemed to have no idea about these projects presented another argument point: “Why don’t we task First-Year Engineering students to make wire cars and other such things as part of their projects?”
It may sound simplistic, but one Engineering graduate from Makerere University explained to me how he wished his course had gone, having observed the education process elsewhere:
After a few months of learning In the first year of their four-year course, all students should be required to pick a project they should work on for the duration of their course.
The project should be judged sensible enough to be implementable in real life, and should be managed by the Engineering Professors or Lecturers as Chief Executive Officers, supervising every step of implementation while ensuring the students are learning while making a difference to the world.
A wire excavation truck would have been a fantastic project, even for a student of Engineering, if they justified it well – recycling waste, creation of education aids by which rural children would learn engineering principles, and so on and so forth.
The projects, this student went on, would only graduate after his or her project is released into the world and accepted in one way or another.
As I said, some of the arguments about Uganda’s engineers were not really fair. For instance, just a couple of weeks ago we had a couple of Engineering graduates from Makerere University emerging as finalists in the 2016 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation.
This Prize was founded by the Royal Academy of Engineering, which is as grand as it sounds, and “celebrates engineers who have developed innovations that will benefit Africans”.
The boys were profiled in the famous Forbes magazine’s online edition, and received great applause there even though over here we are yet to recognise them appropriately.
One of them is Edmand ‘Eddie’ Aijuka, who graduated as an electrical engineer and submitted to the Royal Academy of Engineering his invention called Kamata, which is designed to prevent electricity theft (this is NOT the reason why he is not being lauded here!), and another is Edward Kiyimba.
According to the report, he stumbled upon the realisation that electricity theft was a big problem when he visited an electricity company for a research project.
“After that visit, he couldn’t stop thinking about it, and so set out to investigate where along the supply all of this electricity was being siphoned off. When he realized that most of it was stolen through the tampering of electricity meters, Eddie knew he needed to find a solution.”
That is inspiration.
He and his colleague came up with Kamata (swahili for “catch”), which is a small device installed just outside the meter box, that constantly measures the current flowing through the mains cables. If it detects an attempt to bypass or tamper with the meter, it cuts power and sends the GPS coordinates, customer name and details of the ‘interference’ to the supplier. Kamata also stops the meter owner from rebooting it, and ensures that supply can only be reconnected remotely by the provider.
His motivation for solving this problem was his childhood experiences in the village, where electricity was expensive and unaffordable as well as inaccessible, and the realisation that one of the major reasons was electricity theft.
Even in the United States, the article says, electricity theft is the third largest form of theft!
So it is possible that these young engineers from Uganda’s Makerere University might have come up with an invention that might be installed all around the world and solve a global problem.
Will the relevant government ministries, or the Private Sector Foundation or the Export Promotion Board or somebody wise enough to see the possibilities here, kindly reach out and act to make this happen? Or should you and I and another Patrick Mbonye reach out and do it for Kamata?