Taking A Day Off – QED


Anyone who has ever employed or supervised anybody in Uganda will find the first bit of this tale familiar:

An employee of mine stopped me on Tuesday morning with the announcement: “Sir, I have lost a Jjajja.”

I must have shot him a look of: ‘You shouldn’t be so careless,  but do I look like the manager of your ‘Lost and Found’ department?’, because he quickly updated it to: “They told me yesterday that my Jjajja has died.”
Nothing spectacular there; and those with experience must have spotted the flaw already…Got it?
Yes? Go to the front of the class.
You see, if it had really been one of his grandparents who had died he would have: a) beeped me the night before on getting the news, even using his neighbour’s phone if he didn’t have airtime b) tearfully broken the news to me saying “Jjajja has died! ” in a manner designed to make me think for a few seconds that we are related.

The deceased was therefore probably an old man in his village or one of his father’s aunts, and was only referred to as “a Jjajja” but still warranted burial.

I wasn’t going to stop him, made the relevant noises of commiseration and then asked when he was going to return.

“I think Saturday.”

Again – this is stuff you must have encountered before; he had casually inserted that ‘I think’ as a safeguard so that he could saunter back to his duty station on Monday and claim he hadn’t actually said Saturday.

Now this is where genius came into play – so sit up.

“Alright,” I responded, casually but still in condolences mode, “travel safely. I won’t be paying you for these days off, though. See you around Saturday.”

Yeah! The way his head suddenly jerked up was priceless, and his eyes locked into mine with a sharp focus. We looked at each other for a few seconds during which I did not waver, and eventually he faltered and emitted a faint sound.

“Pardon?” I asked, getting into the car and beginning to turn the key.

“But, Sir!” he panicked a bit, and was totally unprepared for my speedy follow-up.

All these years, I don’t know why I hadn’t implemented this measure much, much earlier. Unlike a corporate organisation that can hire an employee to install and run systems that keep count of staff personal details such as how many children are born, relatives die and illnesses attack, as an individual I have had to rely on memory alone.

I recall being suspicious that one former employee had had one too many scenarios of “My wife gave birth last night, can I go…?” one year, but I had capitulated and contributed to his bus fare since it was likely that he had more than one wife.

One other former maid, for sure, had lost more parents than normal in one year and luckily didn’t return after seeing off the last one. But a lot of money was wasted with all these characters – in wages paid for no work done, contributions to bus fares and even mabugo or gifts for the newborn baby.

It’s not going to be that easy any more – any day off work, I explained to this week’s victim of the new policy, simply won’t be paid for because all money is given in exchange for something of value. If I didn’t show up at work and did nothing of value, I wouldn’t get paid money either. 

His incredulous frown made me give him another example: If a soft drinks company handed you an empty bottle, would you pay the price of a full soda for it?

“No.”

“Exactly!”

And I left him there to plan his burial arrangements.

He was still there the next morning, and the next, and the next after that – earning his wages. May his ‘jjajja’ rest in peace.

the seriousness of Kategaya


ImageRIGHT Hon. Brig. Eriya Kategaya has been on my mind lately and soon we will be celebrating a year since he went on to the next world.

I remember him occasionally for many reasons but at this time two stand out: one, an anecdote he told us as children, and the second an excerpt from his book that .

The anecdote was simple: there were two kings somewhere inconsequential to the moral of the story, and one sent his messenger with an envelope to the other king. The messenger went three days across hills and valleys and delivered his message, and the second king sent him with another envelope back to the first king.

Days later, he delivered that message as well and after a night’s rest was sent back with another envelope. This went on for weeks until on one trip the messenger stopped half way and reasoned with himself that surely there was no sense in him carrying this envelope to and fro over such long distances.

Feeling clever at his sudden realisation, the messenger stopped halfway one trip, turned around, went back with the envelope and handed it back to the king.

‘He will never know,’ the chap thought to himself, and must have been a bit surprised during his sentencing and eventual execution, that the king had worked it out mostly because of the time it had taken him to return and the content of the envelope being the same.

The moral of the story for us as children at that time was twofold: a) we needed to avoid making uninformed assumptions and decisions, and b) everybody has a role to play that is only part of the whole, and if we perform our duties well, with focus, everything else will work just fine.

Every so often I am tempted to quote this small anecdote to various people I work with or employ to do simple tasks but who veer off into odd directions that, bless their simple minds, many times result in disaster.

The excerpt from his book is quite simple: “In the government, a bad habit has developed of having unscheduled meetings which take a long time and almost 90% of them never starting on time even when they are scheduled!”

This was back in the 1990s, and if the situation has improved it hasn’t been across the broad board of the government – and my first reaction on reading this phrase was that if he couldn’t make a change at his level then what hope did we have?

But then, linking to the story of the lazy (or fatigued) messenger, perhaps the role of the Minister wasn’t to whip people into line. Thinking too much about it is giving me a headache, and my role seems to be just picking out a couple of stories and highlighting them.

So I’ll do that – for now.

Kategaya played a bigger role, in many ways, and thankfully he wrote at least one book about his work, times and impressions. Sadly, that book, Impassioned For Freedom, is not on every bookshelf in every bookshop in every town in Uganda. Perhaps it is available as course reading material at the National Leadership Institute  in Kyankwanzi?

It certainly isn’t quoted much at Makerere University, according to a few students of political science I’ve asked, but maybe they aren’t serious scholars or it’s being used in a whole different department.

One day, though, a publisher might pick it up and press out a couple of thousand more copies for distribution to as many people as possible – especially employees of the government and those hoping to get into the management of society.

A really clever publisher might time the publication to coincide with his memorial events in a few weeks’ time – and what a fitting way that would be to remember an intellectual ideologue whose political correctness has had such an influence on Uganda for at least the last 35 years!

juice, electronics & space programmes – the answers are right here!


AFTER spending an hour talking to a small group of youth in Wandegeya this week about how amazing Ugandans can be as individuals, a couple of stories presented themselves to me: 

The first was online, about a Ugandan couple whose two-year old range of fruit and vegetable juices, branded Vegesentials, is already so successful that it’s been taken onto the shelves of Waitrose, Booths and Whole Foods – which are major supermarkets in Britain.

That is no small feat even by global standards. 

The couple, Dr. Andrew and Patience Mugadu, simply built on their experience of making fruit and vegetable cocktails for their children and friends but, more importantly, used their education properly.

Anyone of us can make juice – even I do so on rare occasions, but the Mugadu’s took their innovation through a logical process that commercialised their juice to the extent that it is basically competing with Coca-Cola. It helped, of course, that their upbringing involved very educated parents (Architect Mafigiri and his wife, and Doctors Mugadu and Mugadu); and, what I believe was a more essential ingredient – they paid good attention in school, and for a while Andrew was my classmate. All that is good education.

Plus: the Mugadu’s live in Britain, whose environment supports entrepreneurship well in many ways.

Back home, my office fridge is full of fruit juice supplied by an equally innovative and also diligent young Christian lady, Eunice, whose actual customer is my partner. I tried to get onto her customer list and also recommended a couple of other people. She supplied us a couple of litres for a few weeks but stopped because it was too complicated for her to divert from her usual route, even though it included the near-daily drop-off right at my office.

So considering that she couldn’t get her juice into my section of the fridge, forgive me for thinking she will never get onto the shelves of Capital Shoppers, Quality Supermarket or Shoprite. In fact, one day I might be drinking Vegesentials right here in Kampala under her very nose.

Another story ran in Daily Monitor, about a young inventor called Julius Twine from “the village” in South Western Uganda who reportedly created a gun that could fire a missile two kilometres, made radio transmission equipment from ordinary bits and wires, and has now assembled an actual radio that runs on solar power and uses controls from a modified mobile phone – all without the use of the internet.

Besides a two-page spread in the newspapers this week, he has won a couple of terms of free schooling, and a trophy with some free water bottles from the sponsor of a science competition.

Whereas he will most likely fade into oblivion, at least for now he won’t go as notoriously as an unnamed ’suspect’ in Hoima a couple of years ago who was arrested for fabricating a “missile”

Back then, the hapless ‘inventor’ said memorably, “I have been researching on internet how missiles are made in countries like USA, China and North Korea. My intention is to show the world that Africans can also make such weapons.”

He was forwarded to the Criminal Investigations Department (then) for processing and there was talk of a serious mental imbalance motivating him.

I found his handling odd because just months later, senior government officials entertained one “Captain” Chris Nsamba and his “space programme” titled the ‘Africa Space Research Programme’ – which I hope we will hear about again one day.

The approach we (whatever the government does is on my behalf) took with Nsamba was partly the correct one – we gave him audience. The better thing, however, would be to put him in an incubation programme of sorts so that his ingenuity and ambition can be turned into something as serious as the Hoima fellow’s stated intentions.

We should have done the same with that wretched Hoima fellow, and right now we should be swooping down on Julius Twine just in case this might lead to much greater things for the country.

As evidenced in another story online, about Simon Lule, who has made a solar lamp right here in Kampala, using some parts imported from China. He saw the need for the lamps, didn’t agree with the cost of the ones on sale, and solved the problem.

Now, he is fund-raising globally for capital to fund his cottage industry assembly.

So if space programmes are a bit too ambitious for us as a country to pursue, then we can throw a sack of cash at him; and if that’s still too hard, perhaps we should let’s get the likes of Eunice and turn them into Mugadus right in Uganda, with their own brands of juice sitting on supermarket shelves instead of imported juice from Egypt and South Africa.

We can do this.