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.