things are tight


Things are Tight!
Walking through a number of malls, coffee shops and restaurants at random these three weeks past revealed them to be alarmingly empty most hours. I made it a point to drop in on at least three different popular eating places at lunch time thrice a week and the numbers were just not there.
At one restaurant I dawdled a while over a bottle of water and the free Wi-Fi and observed only two other people having a meal for lunch, and one pizza being carried out by a delivery man.
A most generous assessment would put those three meals plus my bottle of water at just over a hundred thousand shillings in revenue for that hour. During that time, the staff were in place, electricity was powering the lights, fridges and other equipment, and there were certainly other costs running in the background.
The emptiness in these places is strange because we expect the Christmas season to have started off in earnest, what with the children being on vacation. But it should not be surprising that this is happening. The economic forecasts have been telling us this for months, and whereas we have talked about it before, we need to go on talking about it and changing our habits.
Perhaps the absence of patrons means that they have read the signs and reacted wisely by adjusting their spending.
Personally, I am now packing more of my own home made meals and avoiding fuel-based travel whenever possible, besides other measures.
If many more people react this way then the malls, coffee shops and restaurants should be reading the signals and changing their methods as well. This is the time for them to look more closely at their running costs and start switching off lights,
Switching off lights is no small matter. Those small leakages – business or personal – tend to pile up. In these difficult days we all need to keep an eye on the small stuff because we cannot afford to waste anything any more. For businesses, it is now appropriate to run campaigns within the company for all staff to adopt prudent ways of utilising resources, and hope that they take a hint and carry the habits home with them, rather than the office sundries.
Also, the commercial places should start shopping wisely for their supplies, goods and sundries. in one of the hotels I passed through this week I was bemused to find they had laid out butter cubes imported from the Netherlands.
This time I didn’t whip up a froth at the manager to explain that if they had bought their butter from a local source then perhaps the owners of the cows that supplied the milk, plus the processors of the butter, plus the company that supplied it would have enough money to dine at his or her establishment.
Of course we understand that the procurement cycle might mean that they already have full stores, but now is the time to do some window shopping for cheaper stuff sourced locally just in case this dry financial spell runs on for too long.
And, finally, there is a lot of creativity needed now. The global business gurus always argue that times of difficulty call for an increase in marketing activities. This is not obvious to everyone, so it needs a little explaining because it applies both to businesses and individuals:
Right now we are competing for a small amount of money going around. The best way to increase your chances of getting any of it is to be highly visible or squarely in the way of its path. If you’re a business, advertise more, run more activities and events of a visibly creative nature and make your customers offers they cannot refuse.
If you’re just an individual seeking an income, perform harder at work so that you stand out and avoid being dropped when downsizing begins – which is very likely soon! Or network harder with the right people so that should there be any opportunity for you to earn more, you get it.
Things are tight, people, but we can work round them and do more than just survive.

security needs to be ‘gulu gulu’ from now on, but I’m grateful to these guys


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Me with the MacBook Pro that went, a few weeks before the incident, a few metres away from where it actually happened. Photo by Pius Kwesiga.

A FEW days ago I met with the inconvenience of being visited by Property Re-allocation Operatives taking advantage of an unbelievable amount of luck and surviving narrowly because of the casual ineptitude of their should-be nemeses.

I could have written, “The other day my stuff stolen by some lucky thieves who got away because the security wasn’t at its best…” but I don’t want to point fingers and sound angry at people who I cannot demand more from fwaaa like that.

The thieves made off with my Rose Nakitto bag with a Macbook Pro in it (Serial Number C02J9385DQK), a notebook with very special handwritten notes in it (please return this? A reward awaits – seriously), a pen, my wallet with cash and identity cards, a bag of medicinal drugs, and some other personal items.

It happened at an up-market shopping mall, in Kampala. The thieves were two females, whose efficiency is commendable in many ways. In all, I was away from the station for just three minutes. During those three minutes I walked to the toilet and back, killing two minutes in hurried chit chat with people I met along the way.

I never stay away from my laptop (or other) bags for long because I am afraid of them being stolen – and this is the first time it has ever happened in many years of my conveying one wherever I go.

Normally I will have my laptop out and plugged into the wall in order to make it awkward for a snatch and flee theft. But I had completed my meeting and walked away leaving the bag with a lawyer friend who was unfortunate to be on the scene this way.

As soon as I left the first female took the seat behind him, on the verandah, and tapped him on the shoulder to borrow a pen. That went too quickly, apparently, so she whipped out an identity card of sorts and struck up a conversation about crossing the border using the random card.

It didn’t get far before she quickly said her thanks, stood up, and left hurriedly.

I returned a minute later and asked after my bag, at which point his eyes lit up as the conversation finally made sense, and this is where we began dealing with the private security guards. Having made it to the most likely exists within seconds, we lost precious time trying to get them to focus on the need to trace or chase after the thieves.

During the many seconds it took to get it through to them why we were moving urgently, one of the guards thought we were simply striking up a casual conversation, and even started a story about a similar incident having taken place some time back, perhaps at a different location in a totally different country. I shut that one down quite quickly and tried to be as professional as the investigators are in all those television crime thrillers we enjoy reading and watching.

That was part of my problem, I realised, but could also become a solution because next year I will be getting some of these security guards to watch these dramas so they understand where we get our expectations from.

After a few minutes of frantic ‘preliminary enquiries’ we realised that one of the thieving females had actually used the exit we were at, and determined the direction in which she had gone – mostly thanks to a bystander who confirmed that the woman fitting our description had appeared odd (read ’suspect’) rushing about the way she had. By that time we had waded through very many unnecessary questions and comments from what eventually became a gathering of private security guards, allowing the perpetrators of the crime to get further and further away with their loot.

We arranged access to the CCTV (closed circuit television) monitoring room and retreated there to do some more scientific scrutiny and within minutes realised we had to take over the manipulation of the technology.

The poor fellow in control, another private security guard, seemed to have a limited appreciation of what the video cameras and computers were capable of doing besides forwarding and rewinding at different speeds.

By the time we identified the thieving females I knew there was no catching them that night.

In the process, though, we got told that some of the cameras covering critical parts of the Mall were in boxes right in that room where we stood, and would be installed the very next day. I was too irritated to get into the reasons why the cameras were still boxed and not being installed that very minute, let alone from the time they had been delivered!

I won’t even go into the analysis of the footage we reviewed.

As I said at the start, I found it hard to complain too much because I know that these fellows are not paid a lot of money and probably don’t get the training we believe they should have.

I actually once started drafting a “Letter to the Random Askari” but stopped halfway because not only was it condescending, it was downright escapist from their reality.

This Christmas I am tipping security guards (government and private) in a special way just to say “Thank You” to them for all the times things haven’t gone wrong, rather than blaming them for the times they did go wrong.

And next year I’ll dedicate a little bit of energy to helping them operate more efficiently where I can contribute, so that they can do even better than they already are doing.

spend sensibly this festive season – we have a crisis on our hands!


IN case you missed it, there is a food security notice out there giving us tips and guidelines at a personal level that we should pin up onto our walls, fridges, car dashboards and office desks for daily use.

The warnings came as early as April this year, when the IMF (International Monetary Fund) actually wrote: “After an extended period of strong economic growth, many sub-Saharan African countries have been hit by a multiple of shocks—the sharp decline in commodity prices, tighter financing conditions, and a severe drought in southern and eastern Africa. Growth fell in 2015 to its lowest level in some 15 years and is expected to slow further to 3 percent in 2016.”

The IMF advisories are macro-economic, and so a little too high level for non-economists such as myself, but they still make it clear that half a year ago we should have sat up and changed our ways, as the government is advising now at a micro-economic level.
The current government advisory hasn’t yet been given as much air play as it should – and isn’t available EVERYWHERE as it should be. Disappointingly, most of our government websites and notice boards – especially those that are directly responsible for this alert, are sleeping on the job.
But we can’t use that as an excuse NOT to be sensible in the face of potential disaster.
The poor rains (both in quantity and timing) and heavy sunshine since the beginning of this year, followed by prolonged drought last year have led to a massive crop failure in most parts of the country. We are therefore facing a severe food crisis across the entire country.
This is NOT a joke and it is not a lamentation either – it is an alarming FACT. Only 36 districts in Uganda are considered, today, to be “fairly food secure”.
One joker suggested that the solution would be to move to one of those districts till the crisis ends, but that could lead to conflict.
The government advisory, though, is quite clear and is aimed at us – the educated, affluent, employed, reasoning, and so on and so forth.
“Individuals and families are strongly advised to save money by spending much less over the coming festive season and avoid unnecessary feasting,” it reads.
It is awkward that we would need the government to tell us this, but it is a fact that if we didn’t receive word from above it might not come to our attention that we have a role to play in propping up the economy.
The government notice continues with: “NO NEW XMAS CLOTHES, NO BIG XMAS PARTIES, NO NEW HOUSEHOLD MATERIALS (MATRESSES ETC), NO NEW SMART PHONES, LESS DRINKING, etc., etc” (sic).
They even put this in capital letters, just so we read it properly and internalize what we need to do.
“Individuals and families are encouraged to plant leafy vegetables taking (advantage) of the little on-going rains. Vegetables such as cowpea leaves (Gobbe) should be dried and stored.”
You guys, we need to be serious about this.
Instead of buying up ANY foreign or imported stuff, buy local. Instead of spending lavishly on non-productive things, spend on stuff that will produce food or wealth in the news few months. Where you don’t need to spend money, DON’T. When traveling upcountry for Christmas as families, try to fit yourselves into as few cars as possible.
As we sit in our coffee shops and air conditioned offices, luxuriating in plush sofas at home in front of wide high definition flat screen televisions talking about Donald Trump and typing out comments on Facebook and Twitter, please let’s remember that “the total population in need of urgent relief food stands at about 1,300,000 people (the sub-regions of Karamoja, Test, Lango, Acholi, Bukedi, West Nile, parts of Basoga and some districts along the Cattle Corridor).”
Please, let’s spend time and energy being prudent, careful and wise especially during this festive season and food crisis. 
 Ladies and gentlemen, we have few excuses for NOT being sensible in the face of disaster. 

this Christmas, go to the village with a few books and start a library


uganda-libraries-off-pinterest
Photo taken off http://www.pinterest.com thanks to weareadventure.us and Simone Anne
IF you are reading this article in its full english version then you should be functionally literate to a point that enables you to do both simple arithmetics and pursue logic at an elementary level.
There are about six weeks to go till the Christmas holidays officially kick off, and this is a suggestion for you to present a gift that will keep on giving into future generations.
According to the Electoral Commission 2016 General Elections statistics, we have about 58,000 villages in Uganda. World Bank statistics in general state that 84.23% of Ugandans lived in the ‘rural areas’ by 2014, which means about 16% of us are in urban areas.
Wikipedia, which some people believe is the best source of information on the internet, lists only four (4) libraries in Uganda under ‘Libraries in Uganda‘, though one of those is the National Library of Uganda (the others are Busolwe Public Library, Kitengesa Community Library and Makerere University Library).
They are listed because they are part of a specific network of ‘Community Libraries’, but please visit them yourself to assess what is going on.
So the internet basically shows we don’t have enough libraries in this country, which gets in the way of our producing well-educated or even well-informed Ugandans (don’t count internet access).
The same internet told me that the National Library of Uganda was established by an Act of Parliament in 2003, and replaced the Public Libraries Board of 1964, and that the first public library in Uganda was established in 1927 (in Entebbe).
Where are our libraries?
At the districts, according to the Local Governments Act of 1997 which moved the management of libraries to districts, under functions and services for which district councils are responsible. The paragraph in full reads:
“Aiding and supporting the establishment and maintenance of schools, hospitals, libraries, art galleries, museums, tourist centres, homes for the aged, destitute or infirm or for the orphans, and providing bursaries to assist in the education of children of persons residing in the district, making donations to charitable and philanthropic, welfare, youth, persons with disabilities, women and sports organisations.”
Now that we are done with campaigns and elections and we know who our district leaders are, how about we help them with this function, by going back to the above mentioned arithmetics?
The National Census of November 2014 put us at 35 million – which is 5.6million Ugandans.
Let’s assume that only ten percent of those can afford to go upcountry for the Christmas break or to send gifts home to their villages – that would be 560,000 Ugandans.
If those 560,000 Ugandans are divided up equally amongst the villages we have about ten (10) Ugandans per village.
Now, if YOU went to school and can read and comprehend well enough to go beyond the simple arithmetic, identify nine other Ugandans from YOUR village and together gather up books to go and start stocking up a community library near your village home.
Make that YOUR Christmas gift to your village mates and consider that you are going to use a small and very cheap gesture to make a massive impact to the lives of the most vulnerable.
We have six weeks, so we can do A LOT and not only support the district councils responsible for this, but also challenge them. Even before we think of library buildings, let’s get books into the villages – sensible books that we believe would be good for children.
One family I know has done the calculation and realized that the cost per head of going to the village for Christmas is so high that topping it up with a couple of hundred thousand shillings for the entire family doesn’t change much – but means a whole load of books for the village children.
At various traffic jam spots there are people illegally vending or hawking books at Ushs2,000-Ushs5,000 each – same as the cost of a cup of peas also being vended, or a beer in a nearby kafunda that you will leave running down a drain after a scientific process by evening’s end.
Buy one book every week of these remaining six weeks and when you go to the village for Christmas, present them to your district council for inclusion in the district library, complete with a stamp stating who has made the donation.
If the district hasn’t yet employed a librarian, you are immediately creating over 120 jobs right there. More importantly, though, this Christmas you will be getting more Ugandans to read all over the country.
The next phase of this is for each family to write one story each and publish a book of your own – but that is another discussion, very closely related.

get rid of street vendors but by turning them into enterprises


THE conversation about street vendors somehow always ends up being political and linked to the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA).
The issue is certainly political in origin, and its management falls squarely under KCCA but those can’t be the only two focus points in dealing with the issue – and it IS a seriously disturbing issue.
Back in the early nineties when Uganda started building straight tarmac highways we heard the President complaining that residents upcountry were only using those roads to dry their cassava and maize, and it was a laughing point. His stress point then was that those roads needed to be used to transport produce to markets, rather than as pre-processing platforms.
The irony is that roads are designed to make connections that improve economics, and we – the educated elite – are clearly failing to make the right connections here, while ’those people’ have made a quick connection to improve their economic situation.
The Street Vendor problem, from the point of view of the elite chap driving home in a nice, air conditioned car having finished grocery shopping in the comfort of a large supermarket, is one of irritation and aesthetics. They make those neat pavements look shabby, and also get in the way, causing anxiety that they or their customers could stumble into the road and get knocked.
The pedestrian walking home might think the same, in addition to being worried that they might step on the wares of the vendors and get asked to pay for the damages. To avoid that risk, the more cautious pedestrian might choose to walk along the main road where there is a risk of getting hit by vehicles, but in that case the vehicle owner would be liable to pay any fines or compensation, since the congestion will make it easy to stop them should an accident occur.
The regular traders are unhappy about all this because they have to pay taxes and license fees where these street vendors don’t, and then their legitimate entranceways for which they pay rent get blocked by the very same street vendors who go ahead to ‘under-cut’ them with lower-priced items, thanks to their decreased overheads.
On the way to my home outside of the city centre, the street vendors even have night-time lighting from the solar powered installations KCCA put in as they re-did our road, so they can work late into the night.
It’s a mess of an affair, and within minutes of any discussion around it there is talk of politics a la, “Nanti those are voters…” and medioconomics a la, “How do you expect them to survive…?”
First of all, the fact that those are voters means that all parts of the government need to get involved in solving this ‘problem’, also because those elite or ‘rich’ people, the pedestrians who aren’t vending, the ‘legitimate’ or licensed traders, and so on and so forth, are also voters.
So yes – the issue is political in nature but only because it involves the management of society, not because we need to please people in order to make them vote a certain way or another.
The management of society involves administration as well as setting and managing (the right) expectations.
Each and every one of these people we casually refer to as ‘street vendors’ is a potential business unit capable of being built into a much larger enterprise. By the time they are engaged in selling whatever they are selling, they have a certain amount of enterprise, a motivation to go for profit, the mathematical skills to calculate it, and the energy to work.
So rather than deploy just the enforcement people from KCCA, what about we deploy business enterprise experts from the Private Sector Foundation of Uganda and Business Uganda Advisory Services to register and help develop these guys? Add to them a couple of business professors from the likes of the Makerere University Business School, and people from the Youth Livelihood Programme to fund their business expansion into places that are compliant with the law, and people from the Uganda Export Promotion Board to make them export.
Ridding the streets of these vendors means get them into a more formal, profitable setting and not into KCCA garbage skips.