promoting and buying Ugandan: we need to walk our talk

Ladies and gentlemen, we have to start walking our talk.

The Friday before last, the Uganda Communications Commission hosted us to the Annual Communications Innovation Awards (ACIA) 2014 themed ‘ICT Innovation for National Development’.

I skipped lunch that day, for an unrelated reason, eventually changed into one of my nice Ugandan-made shirts, and made my way to the exhibition preceding the main event. I was full of hope because an innovation I was involved in had been nominated for an award.

A sharp kick of hunger stopped me short at a supermarket where I proceeded to implement this difficult personal policy of buying Ugandan if the item available is of a quality approaching close-to the imported equivalent I needed. My pals laugh at me but I always explain that, for instance, Uganda does not make Land Rovers so my choice of car is left untouched.

This time all I wanted was a small packet of crisps to tide me by till dinner. I was clearly not going to buy the ones in see-through kaveera because while walking through a slum with a well-meaning Pastor some years ago, I found out how those are made. He was showing me round his labour of love slum project when we turned a sharp corner and almost fell over a little boy engaged in some public toilet activity. This, a few metres from a woman, presumably his mother, deep frying crisps in a pan on a sigiri next to a small table with the buveera awaiting to be filled. 

Health and safety issues aside, I generally don’t eat too many crisps but on this day found a brand called Emondi, that stood as proudly on those shelves as the Tropical Heat and Pringles ranges did. I swiped them and drove to the exhibition, and by the time I had arrived had only managed to chew through a couple of handfuls and to this day cannot understand why they were so tasteless in packaging so promising.

Walking through the exhibition, however, lifted my spirits and distracted me from the hunger as I quickly browsed the Ugandan offerings of innovation in ICT and gained hope once again that not all is lost. Sticking with the theme, the keynote speaker was not some imported talent or celebrity, but a Ugandan working at Microsoft in a senior capacity – Ivan Lumala.

I pulled at my Ugandan-made collar a little bit and applauded the fellow for being what he was and representing me wherever he goes. All seemed to flow smoothly – except for some flies in the honey: Ignoring the suggestion at my table that the Serena Kampala had imported waiting staff from Kenya for the night, I applauded lead entertainer Myko Ouma for his fantastic guitar work but stopped short when I realised that his repertoire consisted of Sade, Jonathan Butler, Phil Collins…WHY? 

ImageBut that was not as bad as the performance of a one Eddie Kenzo (pictured being a pain on the stage elsewhere) whose Sitya Loss presented some infants gyrating on-stage in a disturbingly adult manner. As I said, go Ugandan only if the item is of a quality good enough.   

Someone at my table laughed at my murmuring and asked me if the menu was even Ugandan; and I made a resolution there and then to suggest that all government events when I am ever put in charge would promote strictly national offerings!

As-if to goad the ire within us at that point, the award nomination call-ups began and the music played when nominations were called up was…South African. Pan Africa, you say?

Okay, a quick Google search using the phrase ‘buy South African procurement rules’ returns the top result “General Procurement Guidelines -2 from the Republic of South Africa Treasury Department ” which contained the simply written paragraph:

“The government has implemented the Preferential Procurement Policy Framework Act as the foundation on which all procurement activities are to be based. Its aim is to:   (a) advance development of SMMEs and HDIs; …(d) promote local enterprises in specific provinces, in a particular region, in a specific local authority, or in rural areas; and (e) support the local product.

I don’t expect Eddie Kenzo’s music to ever play at a South African national or government event.

Another quick Google search with the phrase ‘buy Ugandan procurement rules’ got me to the Public Procurement Disposal of Public Assets Act two clicks later where the twelve (12) mentions of “local” referred to ‘Local Government’ except for three occasions in 59B. (Reservation schemes) that read ‘local expertise’,’local communities’ and ‘local organisations’.

Reservation schemes? Read the Act and work it out – but obviously it’s easier for the South Africans to buy and promote local. 

mwe abagagga, give us back our pavements!

The other day on Twitter a discussion kicked off around container-carrying trucks being inappropriate for the middle of the city or residential areas such as Nakasero and Kololo. 

And one tweep (it’s not impolite – that’s what we call people on twitter) jumped in accusing us of being elitist because there are floods in Bwaise that need attention. But his problem was speed of wit.

So even if you are from Bwaise and other such areas, the following should be of much interest, but stand warned that it is elitist. Before moving on, however, I think the elitism of this matter is well-placed here based on the assumption that this publication is bought mostly by the elite.

It’s just an assumption because I am keenly aware that there are more high-priced residences on hills such as Kololo, Nakasero, Bugolobi, Muyenga, Naguru, Ntinda et al, than the copies of newspapers sold on Sundays. You see, people like me assume that those residences are occupied by people whose status in life should have them buying and reading newspapers on a regular basis – not just when they go to their offices and find the company or organisation has made the purchase.

We’re not always correct; so back to my elitist issue: 

Some of us have taken to jogging or walking the streets for health reasons – especially many who live in the areas abovementioned.

While doing so, we face threats to life from open manholes and insensitive drivers, for which a group of us initially blamed the Kampala City Council (and now Kampala Capital City Authority). It was their fault, we said, that manholes weren’t covered, and that we don’t have pavements or sidewalks.

Jog-walking round part of Kololo this week I dodged a couple of open, surprisingly-placed manholes but spent more time and effort dodging cars as even in this most expensive part of Kampala there are no pavements.

Additionally irritating is a section of Prince Charles Avenue (very posh name but…) that is living in Amin’s regime or Obote II or the early days of the NRA/M when soldiers and senior government officials hadn’t yet grasped the concept of power belonging to the people.


Half the road section has been cordoned off for more than a year with soil-filled drums and concrete pipe sections. KCCA’s twitter handle (@KCCAUG) explained this week that, “Work is set to start on the retaining wall on this road. Half closure was done for safeguard.” Whatever that meant, even when the road is cleared, there will still be insufficient pavements or sidewalk space.

The fault, however, is not KCCA’s. Not directly. We selfish property owners have confiscated public land by erecting walls close to the kerb and planting what we sometimes call “the Imageoutside compound”. (The KCCA should reign us in one of these days and demand that homeowners re-create common spaces and respect them – but that’s another call to action altogether, and very soon we will have to join hands in making the call and also helping the people at KCCA take the necessary action.)

It definitely started in the days when people with strong peasant mentalities suddenly found themselves to be ‘landed’, moreover in the city. Plus, the same mentalities made us/them drive cars to wherever they went so there was never a thought given to theImage need for comfortable perambulation (love that word!). 

Have you ever seen a mugagga walking down the road to buy sugar or toilet paper? See, we send the maid or drive to the supermarket!

And mind you, the concept of relaxation by taking an evening walk…that was stuff we saw when we were children. 

And as a child I also walked from home to my city primary schools and most times had reasonable pavement space for my little feet, but have noticed over the years that this kept steadily decreasing to today when most of my walking or jogging has me competing with cars and boda-bodas all being operated by insensitive, crazy people whose mentality is still very close to their villages or days long-gone. 

Today’s children are more at risk as they walk to school, than we were. As are maids, gardeners and other non-resident domestic workers employed by the same house-owners who have taken over pavement and road reserve spaces.

Unless this health-exercise trend grows quicker.Image

You see, if more and more residents of these houses in Kololo, Nakasero, Bugolobi, Muyenga, Naguru, Ntinda et al begin jogging or taking strolls in the evenings, they will realise the need for pavements and sidewalks. 

(And by now, I trust you will be in agreement with me that even this elitist issue has an impact or reach on people in Bwaise and other such places…)

where did that mould that produced this fantastic generation go?

Metusera Tibigambwa Katuramu

MANY eloquent and free-flowing eulogies flowed last week from the time Owekitinisa Metusera Amooti Tibigambwa Katuramu passed on till after he was laid to rest.

For a man of his stature and longevity, it was not surprising that everything said was full of praise and acclaim.

Katuramu’s grandchildren read out a poem in memory of the old man, titled ‘Paradoxes of a man of God’ (Philip C. Brewer) that in full described him well, and I especially liked: 

“Strong enough to be weak, wise enough to say I don’t know!…, Important enough to be last…, Great enough to be anonymous…, Leading enough to serve.”

ImageThe nobility in him stood out because of his humility. His poise, even in his sick bed, made us stand firm whenever we left him with his beloved wife Atwooki fussing dutifully and maintaining the tidiest of homes.

The Hoima LC5 Chairman, George Bagonza Tinkasiimire, delivered a short but pointed speech the crux of which went (in Runyoro): “Akacuba k’abantu mulingo gunno, kabuulirra nkaha?” which, loosely translated, meant: “Where did the mould that was used to make people like this disappear to?”

And he narrated how some years ago this noble old man had shown him his tax certificates going back fifty (50) years. Tinkasiimire marvelled not only at the steadfast nature of this senior citizen, but at how meticulous he had been in keeping a full, clean and clear record as evidence of what we already knew about him.

Later, Katuramu’s daughter, Amooti Deborah, told us how her father took her to task when she co-owned a government vehicle. The man found it hard to believe that his adult daughter, whose salary he estimated he knew, could afford the car. She had to present to him all her documentation before he let her keep it – such was his consistency in integrity.

But during the farewell ceremonies, there were five almost-surreal minutes that disrupted that semblance of tidiness, assaulted my sensibility, and made Tinkasiimire’s question stick out.

About six minutes before Tinkasiimire’s eulogy, Vincent Makumbi Nyanzi, Minister of State in the Office of the Vice President, had arrived at the funeral ceremony.

Even as his official Mitsubishi Pajero drove up the neat driveway, in Kaitira, Hoima, I hesitated to believe the ministerial flag waving off the vehicle pole on the left hand side was at half mast out of respect for the old man we were bidding farewell.

That respect, I felt, would have been better communicated by an earlier arrival at the ceremony and a much less conspicuous entry; but his driver came right up the house as is the propensity of ‘big’ men’s vehicles, and the thought occurred that if this had been Katuramu, he would never have attracted so much attention.  

Even as I was making a mental comparison, the doors were flung open and I was startled to see a yellow jerry-can right there amid passengers in the back seat. Not in the boot, but next to where the Minister of State was seated, right up against his leg.

My breath caught at the back of my throat much as yours has, reading this; I watched the bodyguard step out of the car and took my time studying the jerry-can long enough to arrive at the suspicion that it held either a) honey or, b) locally brewed alcohol, or c) fuel. The people seated around me did the same and started murmuring about the same jerry-can.

It looked like all the other yellow jerry-cans of that nature – grubby, suspect, and being in the back seat area of a Mitsubishi Pajero: very misplaced.

Quite unsettled, I went up to one of the State Minister’s entourage to confirm that the jerry-can didn’t hold Petrol, the worst of the three bad options in mind, and he smilingly responded to allay my fears:

“No, sir. It’s diesel!”

His back was to the ceremony, and his boss walked down the middle as he said this, across the well-manicured lawn in the shadow of a very neatly-planted copse of Pine trees providing a lovely backdrop for the ceremony in front of the home.

I was faced with a mountain of flabbergast.

The fellow lost his smile when I pointed out that he was in charge of the Minister’s well-being and should not have allowed the jerry-can to be in that place, and I cannot confirm that the offending receptacle was later relocated. I also have no idea about the boot of the Pajero – maybe there was a cow back there…or a brood of chickens…a fish pond, perhaps?

Minister Nyanzi, meanwhile, was once Minister of State for Industry and Technology and also Minister of State for Economic Monitoring.

If I continue with this I will lose my mind…

We need help. We need to work out: “Where did the mould that was used to make people like Metusera Katuramu disappear to?”


the yellow card of life…and how many years have I got left in me?

This week I consider the reality that I could have only two years left to live.

Do not panic (I haven’t yet); the statistics actually say, according to the World Health Organisation Life Expectancy figures, that Ugandan men are generally expected to live to about 49 (50 for women, which isn’t the issue today). Even better, has us living up to 54 years – and they are even quoted by the CIA World Factbook! 

But the science around it is so complicated that even after two hours on these websites all I have is the assurance that I have about nine to fifteen years to go instead of the two (2) some chap had confidently declared to be the official figure (on a Saturday night and I couldn’t account for what he had been drinking earlier in the day).

The point is, I stopped a little bit to think about what exactly I would do if I had only a guaranteed two years left to live. Or nine. Or fifteen.

Reading about life expectancy was the equivalent of a life referee holding up a big, bright yellow card, blowing the whistle and announcing: “Two/Nine/Fifteen years like this and you’re out!”

Either way, first I’d prop two massive thumbs up for my parents, because my longevity is really their achievement, in spite of all the neglect I have shown for my own well being; indeed, recently my old man adopted the practice of sending congratulatory birthday wishes to the parents of the birthday boy or girl rather than to the subjects themselves. 

So this week I start taking an ongoing opportunity to thank these two old but youthful people for their hard work over the years, and hoping that their sacrifice and dedication and efforts continue well into the future beyond the calculations of the life expectancy scientists. But I will give them some help along the way.

I would expect that the life expectancy scientists actually factor in stuff like your parenting, giving lower chances of survival to children whose parents are ill-educated, or challenged in other ways.

Speaking of children, I wouldn’t, regardless of what’s left on my life-meter, sit my children down to tell them to use the years left with me to their best advantage – that creates too much anxiety for all involved.

Rather, I’d just take action so that by the time I succumb to statistics, I leave them with as few ‘what-if’s’ as possible. Homework together, impromptu walks, chats and school drop-ins, solutions to all sorts of problems big and small, life lessons at every turn and corner, non-stop invasion of their privacy…the list is long and I am on it. 

But even as I was writing this list I realised that fifteen years is still quite a short time – and I went back to the reliable internet where I found a life expectancy calculator!

Within minutes, I had taken the quiz, clicked a button and apparently I’ll live to…94 years! Image

Immediately, I replaced the WHO and CIA with this website, and began adjusting my list for the next 54 years. Two hours later I gave up: their idea of stress, for instance, does not take into account the harsh irrationality of a certain breed of workers, or Kampala taxi drivers and definitely NOT boda-bodas.

In general, whereas the scenario is easier to contemplate with the highest figures possible, I realised I’m better off trying to tip the odds in my favour.

I presume those statistics take into account the way we live life in Uganda, including stuff like drinking more alcohol than necessary (besides holy communion – in church, that is, administered by an ordained member of the clergy); eating whimsically rather than wisely (my favourite waiters and waitresses, reading this, will now understand why I am ‘lost’); and physical exercise or the lack of it.

So there are life-extending action points there.

In addition, there are tactics such as climbing onto fewer boda bodas, or investing in a solid helmet if I must do so; using seat belts everywhere (sometimes the office chair could do with one); shaking fewer hands of people whose office messengers are likely mates with garbage collectors…that’s another long list. Even otherwise ordinary pursuits such as upcountry travel are now going to be undertaken with the objective in mind to extend my life expectancy just a little bit more. 

And most of all: handling stress! Stress is defined in different ways (my favourite: “pressure you can’t withstand”) and comes from many different corners, so I’m not taking any more. If you’re irrational and stupid with me, I’ll be smiling and moving past you and the two-year or nine-year mark. Or I’ll try to.

Meanwhile, someone needs to create a tool for a Ugandan like me or Lozio Cheptai in Kaberamaido to calculate our life expectancy using real-life indexes that pertain to us, so I’m now seeking health professionals to team up with ICT professionals for this.

We might even win an award – and that uplift to self-esteem might extend our life expectancy figures further!