we need to stop this national surface cutting

WE had a concept at the school I went to, that described the careless use of pit latrines.

Some people were new to pit latrines, having grown up in the city such as it was in those days, where the toilet facilities involved sitting rather than squatting. Others simply mis-aimed their efforts and left their smelly evidence on the surface for all to see. 

This was called ‘Surface Cutting’.

It is generally impolite to talk about toilets or what goes on inside them, and sometimes it is downright offensive. But bear with me, please, because some days in my part of the world it is too easy to make smelly comparisons of this nature.

The term came to mind this week not because I was in a latrine, but after I observed too much of Kampala and had come to the conclusion that too many of us are ‘Surface Thinkers’ because we do not think much deeper than we can see, and the offensive evidence of this poor aim is there for all to see. 

I happened to drive through three places where road works were being done two weeks ago – in Kitintale, in Kiwatule, and on Kanjokya Street – and I noticed that there was ZERO effort being put into the drainage system.

About four months ago I attended a meeting where Works State Minister John Byabagambi explained to us that, “the biggest enemies of roads are water and soil” because soil clogs drains and forces water to wash road surfaces away. 

None of the contractors I drove past two weeks ago seem to know this – so long as they patch up the road on the surface, their work is done. And it’s been like this for years almost countrywide! Nobody seems to know what goes on below the surface of the road, where ideally there should be a massive, filtered drainage system into some swamps or water treatment centres. 

Then, I was astounded on Thursday morning to find that even at the Serena Kampala Hotel, Uganda’s only five-star luxury hotel (say, “Mbu”) this Surface Thinking is in evidence at the main gate! I hadn’t been there in weeks, but remembered that some months ago somebody had dug up the road to do something – maybe just to dig up the road 

Believe it or not, up to now, April 2013, the front of the Serena Kampala Hotel is a pile of mud! It is here that we host potential investors and visiting heads of state, and where the wealthy go to relax and make merry. They all park their cars in a pile of mud for a smiling security guard to check for bombs before letting them into what their website says is, “an inspirational blend of 5-star polish, pan-African panache, social style and business reliability…in the heart of Kampala.”

I hope the Uganda Investment Authority conference the other week at the Sheraton Kampala was held there instead of the Serena because of this pile of mud.

The Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) has lots of work to do. On the letters page of Sunday Vision some weeks ago was a photo of a fellow washing his shoes in what the paper called a “pothole”, but which was actually a clogged roadside drain. The fellow washing his shoes was clad in a pair of brown overalls with the words ‘KCCA Maintenance…(something)’ on the back. The irony was as stark as a fresh case of Surface Cutting.

Then on Tuesday The New Vision ran two stories side by side as if to prod the heads of KCCA so they think below the garbage: ‘KCCA choking on garbage as disposal site fills to brim’ read one, containing lamentations by Lubaga Town Clerk Abel Asiimwe Bimbona and ‘Residents make briquettes out of garbage’ read the other, about Kawempe residents using garbage to make charcoal briquettes. The very next day, they ran another story titled, ‘KCCA collecting 31,000 tonnes of garbage monthly’. 

Meanwhile, the National Planning Authority, just after launching ‘Vision 2040’, discovered that it had not made sufficient arrangements to pay 170 district planners and drivers who drove down to Kampala for the launch ceremony. What more can one say about that?

Then Isaac Musumba and Parliamentarian Michael Mawanda got arrested in India under odd circumstances to do with US$37million (Ushs96billion) allegedly owed to Musumba’s client. That’s just under 10% of Uganda’s entire GDP as per 2012 figures (CIA Factbook) yet I have never heard of this gentleman Musumba represents. The money is from some minerals deal nobody talks about yet government statistics say ALL our minerals combined in 2011 were valued at UShs178billion.


Meanwhile the MP, Mawanda, says he was just hanging about in India when Musumba and his client bumped into him and asked him to escort them as they were going about their business. The mind boggles to hear an adult man costing the Ugandan tax-payer tens of millions of shillings every month to do work in Uganda, confessing that he was loitering in India!

This Surface Thinking is the mental equivalent of Surface Cutting because we leave behind piles of evidence of our failing to aim our efforts correctly.

And it smells.

Really bad.

simon lokodo’s miniskirts vs. amos wekesa’s solar eclipse in uganda

WHILE Ethics and Integrity Minister, Father Simon Lokodo, was making loose comments about mini skirts the other week and getting Uganda priceless negative global headlines associating us with Idi Amin, Amos Wekesa was posting on his Facebook page about the solar eclipse of November 3rd, six months away. 

ImageFather Lokodo’s unfortunate, uncalculated and unstructured comment condemning the wearing of mini skirts by members of the Ugandan public was paid for by the Ugandan tax-payer in two ways: a) Directly – salary, cost of his position and his parliamentary seat, etc) b) Indirectly – via the investments and other business interactions lost because people suspect we are a nation of barbaric puritans.

Amos’ post, on the other hand, might earn us tourism revenues as a nation, through individuals and companies (Amos’ inclusive) from people that might come to Uganda on November 3 just to view this solar eclipse.

Disclaimer: Amos Wekesa is my friend, and I admire him for being a steadfast patriot who consistently looks out for the positives that Uganda has to offer.


I have found that Australia last year on November 14 attracted 40,000 visitors who spent US$45million, Zambia attracted 20,000 tourists, the UK attracted 400,000 in 1999…earning over UK£4billion…this (eclipse) is an opportunity for us to open up the North for tourism!” Amos wrote.

Obviously, if we give this solar eclipse even a tenth of the attention we have given to the Marriage and Divorce Bill, Uganda will be rolling in foreign revenues.

The numbers he hopes we can get could be more than we hosted during CHOGM (mpozi what year was that?) yet we don’t have to fork out billions of dollars to build hotels, deploy government ushers, hold planning meetings and, later on, Public Accounts Committee investigations.

It may be a bit unfair to compare Amos Wekesa and Fr. Lokodo directly without context, but Fr. Lokodo’s Anti Pornography Bill will cost you more money – if you’re a tax-payer – for instance to facilitate the Anti Pornography Committee and whatnot.

Meanwhile, Amos told us, (and I checked on the internet to re-confirm) the best viewing areas for the total eclipse are in Arua, Soroti, Gulu, Masindi and Pakwach. All accommodations in Pakwach are fully booked and now the clever entrepreneurs are setting up camp sites.

Sadly, Amos’ post has not received as much media attention as Fr. Lokodo’s attack on the mini-skirt, but I hope Fr. Lokodo gets to hear of it today. His constituency, Dodoth County in Kaabong District, is just below the eclipse viewing line, but can still benefit should tens or hundreds of thousands tourists come to Uganda in November.

This lesson I remember from my primary school days, which section of education both Fr. Lokodo and Amos must have gone through, though one is a Master’s Degree holder and the other is of humble education.

The highlyeducated yet casual-talking Fr. Lokodo represents 500,000 people from Kaabong, while my friend Amos services thousands of clients on tours across Uganda . He has thousands of friends on Facebook and Twitter, and gets tens of thousands of visits to his websites leading to millions of dollars flowing into Uganda each year.

Both gentlemen are important to Uganda.

But the efforts of many private sector people such as Amos would go much further if we didn’t have blundering people in positions of responsibility grabbing opportunities to make this country look stupid. Luckily, many people think its a joke that we have a minister of ‘ethics and integrity’, moreover one who is a priest-turned-politician…

I don’t know where exactly the Ministry of Ethics and Integrity is located these days. But I do know that the road right next to Fr. Lokodo’s first base in Kampala, Parliament House, hosts street-side sex workers in public view.
 He could take seriously the saying that charity begins at home and either sort out dress code issues there (forgive the below-the-belt swipe <–and excuse pun), or attack the highly visible breach of the penal code by sex workersright outside his office (see 167 (a)).

And he can leave the promotion of our national public image to the likes of Amos Wekesa.

Mark the date and sieze the opportunity: November 3, 2013.

here’s launching the sweet potato revolution!

SERIOUSLY, this is about Sweet Potatoes, but don’t give up reading.

Let history record that the Sweet Potato Revolution of 2013, which will change the way Uganda manages its natural resources, and henceforth contribute significantly to our propulsion into the realm of developed nations, began on March 29, 2013.

On that day, Edwin, an intellectual fellow with a sense of humour, sent an email to a friend at The New Vision in response to a story on Page 4 titled, ‘Ugandans Prefer Sweet Potatoes To Yams – Study ‘.

The placement on Page 4, a primary news page normally reserved for the more important or groundbreaking items of the day, made one look at the headline again in case it held a double meaning. But they were not wasting time – the story literally said that “a group of agricultural researchers and scientists” had “revealed that the consumption and supply of sweet potatoes in the country has increased, while attitudes of Ugandans towards yam consumption and production (are) still poor.”

Edwin‘s attitude to the entire story was poorer than our national attitude towards yams: “I realise that this remarkable story might be breaking news in Kigezi, but your audience might not share your fascination with sweet potatoes…” he complained.

Human Being fuel, on the way from Kabale - photo by Alfred Kabuchu
Human Being fuel, on the way from Kabale – photo by Alfred Kabuchu

I laughed and was tempted to compare our page four focus on yams and sweet potatoes with what Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, and the BRICS countries had run on page four of their own national newspapers that day. Instead, I went for the silver lining.

If this story warranted prime positioning in a newspaper then it had to be important. A whole ‘group’ of researchers and scientists had dedicated time and money to find this information, and had likely published a report launched at an event of sorts (I hope they served sweet potatoes there). Journalists attended and wrote stories. Sub-editors laid the stories on pages (as high as four) and we paid Ushs1,500 for the newspaper in order to find this “revelation”.

Even now you are reading about sweet potatoes.

This is important.

Conflict of interest declaration: As a child, I hated sweet potatoes. In Obote II we resided close to the bus park in Kampala, and whenever a relative turned up from Hoima they deposited a sack of the tubers with us. Back then they were a delicacy but I had my fill of them. Plus, I preferred the taste of yams (I wasn’t surveyed by the scientists).

But keeping an open mind last week, in ensuing discussions with some Kampala intellectuals, at which we did not consume sweet potatoes, we discovered that Uganda is the world’s second largest producer of the stuff!

We are second only to China in growing and consuming sweet potatoes. <== Read that sentence again. Now, China produces 90% of all the world’s sweet potatoes, and Uganda produces 2.4%.<== Read that one again as well.

But that’s okay – we are still second in the world. We are surrounded by wealth but most of us don’t seem to know it!

50% of China’s sweet potatoesare used as animal feeds. I believe that if we check statistics for China’s animal production we will be thoroughly impressed, and we all know about their human production (in all respects!)

This is directly linked to sweet potatoes.

In Uganda, Alfred, an economist, says sweet potatoes contribute to Uganda’s Gross Domestic Product by keeping us fuelled – linked to the belief that people from the Kigezi sub-region are energetic and hard working.

So, the opportunities for Uganda that spring to mind are myriad: a) Put all lazy workers – especially civil service types – on strict sweet potato diets b) Focus more on sweet potatoesand less on oil, since we have more sweet potato producing areas than oil producing areas c)Increase foreign exchange earnings by sending expatriates from Kabale and Hoima to lower-rung sweet potato growing nations d)Introduce Sweet Potato celebrations – like they have in the United States, where for example in Mississippi the 150 farmers (!) growing sweet potatoes (on about 8,200 acres – 30 km2) contribute $19 million dollars to the state’s (Mississippi) economy!

THIS is how to make developmental use of our resources.

And I believe it’s called Comparative Advantage.