AWAY from the positive and negative excitement around the Kampala Mayorship, I have always contended that a person equipped with education can become wealthy doing anything – even selling tomatoes, mangoes and entula – if the people who set up roadside tables along upcountry roads selling this stuff make any sort of living.
Say a peasant woman in the village can eke out a living in her mud-and-wattle house, with her children under Universal Primary and Secondary Education, and no worries buying fuel for cars or paying DSTV; if you added just a bit of mathematics, a few history essays, and some knowledge of geography to her equation, she could turn the stall into a thriving chain of two stalls covering both sides of the road.
In practice, she sits by the roadside waiting for our convoys to slow down and purchase her wares en route back from weddings, burials and weekend visits, us believing they’re cheaper than we find on Saturday morning market visits to Nakasero, Nakawa, Kalerwe or even supermarket vegetable stands. Our education doesn’t seem to stretch enough to make us calculate the cost of driving our vehicles 200 kilometres down the road for a day, with two people per vehicle, vis-a-vis the saving we make buying these tomatoes, entula and mangoes.
It’s as confounding as a Ushs36billion parking lot for 300 people. Sorry – this is an unfair juxtaposition of conundrums; also because the parking lot one is QED if you consider that it caters for staff of the House as well as the MPs – and maybe visitors, too, so it’s not as ridiculous as it first sounds (but is still quite ridiculous).
While the Ushs36billion angst was growing this week, I bumped into the Rolex for three days straight.
Day One: an unnamed but highly placed government official confessed her puzzlement to me over the Rolex, having never eaten one. She knew about the general excitement around the things, the recipe involved, and their ubiquity in Kampala and beyond. She even knew that anyone’s political survival in the city is linked to their not disrupting, or being seen to disrupt any element of the Rolex business.
“I don’t think they will start riots now…” part of our discussion went, but we were wrong – even though I later realised that the running battles between the rioters and police were not in Rolex-heavy locations.
Day Two: I came across a fellow promoting The Sound Cup, a new eatery run by musician Maurice Kirya (disclaimer: he is my cousin, Maurice is, but that’s not why this is here), and in particular it’s Rolex edition.
As far as this chap was concerned, this is the first upmarket place in Kampala with the Rolex. It is not – I’ve met them at Endiro Coffee, the Sheraton, the Hub at Nakumatt, and some other place – but Maurice reportedly adds panache (no pun, surprisingly, as the other one is spelt with a ‘k’!) to it, as to everything else. He talks it up like it is a romantic tryst you don’t want people to know about yet that feels so good you can’t help but take it public. He has a theory about how a Rolex is eaten: not with knife and fork, but with bare hands; looking it straight in the eye with an intimacy only a Ugandan dish can share with its devourer, giving up large, moist, decisive bites at a time.
Day Three: Over lunch with banker Mark Bitarabeho, he had me speechless with his tales of poultry farming and its successes and potential. I’ve heard many people tell me about this poultry business and how it has flared up in recent years, and this week I put a finger on it.
Mark told me about a mutual acquaintance who works in a telecom firm who drops off about 100 trays of eggs every morning by 7:00am to a different customer each day on her way to work.
They all pay her hard cash and she goes about her day with about Ushs700,000 in her handbag. Every day. And those customers want 300 trays a day!
Then I remembered seeing a number of Noah’s and other ordinary vehicles clogged up with eggs in the morning traffic, being driven by city-employee type people.
Where do those eggs go?
And why did the price of eggs go up?
Again – Rolex.
But that’s not all.
Have you noticed the boiled eggs? No? People walking around with plastic tubs or baskets full of eggs and a small canister of salt? Each egg is Ushs500 – which immediately makes a tray Ushs15,000 – more than 100% profit!
And there are more people selling boiled eggs in Kampala than there are Rolex stands.
(Pause for thought here – especially if you are with the Private Sector Foundation of Uganda, Enterprise Uganda, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, Kampala Capital City Authority, the Uganda Revenue Authority, the Uganda Investment Authority, the Uganda National Farmers Federation…ah! the Republic of Uganda!)
The people making money from the Rolex and the boiled egg include the Rolex seller, the likes of Maurice Kirya and Endiro, the flour and cooking oil suppliers, the manufacturers of the flat Rolex frying pans and sigiris, the charcoal sellers, the corporate people hatching eggs in their compounds, and the chicken suppliers like Biyinzika, et al.
But the senior government official above and some more like her don’t spend their money on Rolex – they eat at Fang Fang, the Serena and…I don’t know where else;
that’s why Ushs36billion doesn’t get spent on getting more eggs rolled out onto the market (pun on Roll-eggs?) and maybe into Rwanda, Congo and Southern Sudan…and money is not put into branding the Rolex concept and sell franchises into those territories and beyond (was there a Rolex stand at the UNAA Convention?)
It all sounds so simple that it seemed to me that if a political party were set up with a manifesto that involved getting more people to eat more eggs, it would quickly mop up both massive support and funding; and using the benefit of education, spend more on hatcheries and better chicken rearing methods than on parking lots, and less time mobilising rioters and more mobilising chickens.
And it would work on developing Uganda one rolex at a time.