painting a new type of zebra crossing in Kampala: under the Kampala Art Biennale Banner

After this post about Zebra Crossings I was happy to find people following up keenly with suggestions and offers of involvement.

I got the phone numbers of a few people in charge of various things around the city and got to work to prepare to convince people to support it.

The school wasted no time in not only accepting the idea of re-locating the zebra crossing, but assured me the paint would be procured by them.

The Aga Khan Chief Executive Officer, Fred Tukahirwa, was quite clear about the school’s position.

“We have this in our budget, and it is for the children’s safety as well!”

A couple of weeks later, we were at the scene of the planned relocation measuring it up for the paint.

The new site would be right at a speed hump a few metres down from the entrance to the parking lot; the logic being that most cars would have already slowed down anyway at that point, making it easier for them to stop should children and parents begin crossing the road. A few metres down from the spot is another hump, which would also slow them down (see the photo immediately below this).


Fred Tukahirwa lays out masking tape ahead of commencing the painting
Fred Tukahirwa lays out masking tape ahead of commencing the painting

But before that, the Kampala Art Biennale team had jumped at the idea of helping to paint a Zebra Crossing because it would fit in perfectly with the idea behind the project: incorporating art into ordinary, every day life.

Both Daudi Karungi and Henry Zilix Mujunga were quite excited because they had an opportunity to create a zebra crossing that wasn’t the usual, plain black and white story that most people didn’t even respect.

Their planned design, though, couldn’t work because road paints are simply not manufactured in colours other than Black, Yellow and White.

“No problem,” they said on Saturday morning when we assembled at the site to plan how to do this, and then got down to work.

The rest is best told through photos, but here is an opportunity for the Kampala Capital City Authority to do two things:

1. Put a Zebra Crossing point on every other road in Kampala; to make the lives of pedestrians easier and also to get more people to learn how Zebra Crossings work

2. Change Zebra Crossing designs so that they are more colourful and attractive – maybe that will work to get people to use and respect them.

Plus, there is a message in this Zebra Crossing that should give the children, and their parents, something to think about as they walk across to school!

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And there are many more photographs on the Kampala Art Biennale Facebook Page as well!

don’t call me!

I have been hesitating to write this out but this week a polite, hard-working team of customer service agents has convinced me that it is necessary.

I have only one mobile phone number. It is 0792 800080.

I am not afraid to give it to you because I am not a slave to the phone any more. By that, I mean that your calling me does not translate into my answering the phone, and my missing your call does not constitute an agreement of any kind that I must call you back.

This works much the same way you have no guarantee that you will see me or hold a meeting with me if you suddenly show up at my front door (office or home). I might not be in; or I might be in and in an earlier meeting; or in the toilet…

In the same spirit, when you send me an SMS or any other type of text message, it is not the same as the two of us signing a contract.

You cannot demand my presence somewhere just because you have organised a wedding meeting and notified me of this achievement by SMS.

There is a protocol to all of this that, put together, one can call etiquette.

Sadly for people like me, it does not apply to every single person in one’s social circles, and so there are those people who in spite of years of deliberate conditioning will continue to break the rules.

Or they try to: they create missed call notifications on my phone before 0800hrs and after 2100hrs, send random once-in-four-to-six-months text messages asking for loose money, and insist on believing that I can actually make employment happen for people strictly on the strength of my knowing their (caller or caller’s relative) name.

It took me a while to get to this point. At one stage in my life I had four cellular numbers and walked around with five mobile phones. Plus, I spent quite a lot of energy getting my phone numbers synchronised and keeping all phones charged at all times. Bart Phone

Now I have only one number and one phone (which I still struggle to keep charged) and I try not to suffer the mobile phone anxiety that once had me operating life on the basis of how much my phone was charged or its proximity to either of my hands.

I do not answer each and every single phone call that makes it through to my phone handset, and I rarely risk life by operating the phone while driving, in the bath, lighting sigiris, etc.

And I no longer feel anything for the whining declaration: “But I called you!”

I may not respond with a snide remark, but I do spend time teaching people the use of SMS to relay the message for which the failed phone call had been made; plus stressing how much cheaper, shorter and more convenient that mode of communication is.

Most failed callers also don’t realise that they themselves are at fault when they call and don’t get through a couple of times then wait a week or a month to raise a complaint.

The polite, hard-working team of customer service agents who have brought on these revelations was doing a good job but broke a rule of mine that I had officially told their company about. When they first called me months ago I informed them that I preferred to provide customer feedback by email or SMS rather than over the phone. I asked them to note that in their system so that I would never receive another phone call – though I was grateful that they were good enough to make calls.

On Wednesday, they called me up again, and I patiently but firmly told the lady caller to please update the system to reflect my preference – and she politely agreed. Twenty minutes later, her colleague called me up and I lost all patience.

I know THEY won’t be calling me again.

This is not arrogance or haughtiness, as I’ve explained to many other friends, contacts and clients. Phone calls are appropriate for certain types of communication and should be used only on occasion.

When a very close relative (very close!) suffers a puncture by the side of a dark road in the middle of the night and can’t reach their spouse or closer relative, I can understand the need for them to call someone for help with the number of a mechanic and whatnot. To send an SMS, email or WhatsApp in that situation is plain stupid unless one is simply logging the information for later use, rather than seeking urgent, immediate intervention.

To establish whether I am happy about one’s services, an email works much better for me.

The thing with most callers, I find, is that they expect you to drop what you are doing to attend to the call – which you sometimes practically can’t. It’s the equivalent of someone stopping you on the street for a conversation as you rushing to a meeting/the toilet/your childrens school.

On my phone, I exercise the same rights I have to continue walking to the meeting/toilet/shopping mission/etc, when you bump into me on Kampala Road or Hoima Main Street.

Technically, I also prefer emails and texts because those allow me to keep a record of what I am saying or doing, much better than my memory of a phone conversation ever could – (not only because most callers are so boring the conversation is rarely memorable).

And, most of all, I can park an email or text and handle it when it’s appropriate after wrapping my mind around whatever issue needs sorting. Whereas there are phonecalls that dissipate into thin air the moment one hangs up because the next, more urgent phone call fills up the action space.

I laugh when I recall trying to concentrate scarce energy and focus to tackle complicated topics at the buzz of the phone.

Of course if Charles Mbire, Sudhir, Patrick Bitature or Theo Paphitis called me up at ANY time of night or day, I would immediately sit up and focus.

But Uncle Jackson Kewerimidde of Kabulasoke dialling to ask me “Wama how much do you think we should spend on drinks for the party in three months’ time? And do you think we should slaughter a whole cow or just buy goat’s meat by the kilo…?”

Dropped call.

Especially if I am standing at the front of a press conference at UBC or in the middle of a face-to-face conversation with *anybody* (insert any name there).

And that rule of face-to-face is extremely important – a bird in the hand is worth two on the phone.

So, short re-cap: my number is as above. My email address is as below. Use the latter, not the former – unless your conversational abilities are stronger than my preference for texts.

Hitler Phone

bruno and the Ushs100,000

The scene – my two-car parking lot at the house.
The time – late one evening last week.
Protagonists – myself and, of course, Bruno, and certainly not in that order.

The day had been long and tiring, and I was surprised to be getting home roundabout the same time as Bruno, that earnestly comedic driver currently employed to convey my wife and children around town.

“Sir!” he said, to catch my attention after walking in my direction and stopping a respectful distance away.

I stopped offloading my car and turned towards him.


He took one careful step forward, put one hand onto his wrist, and then brought the second hand forward to hand me two crisp Ushs50,000 notes.

Bruno often surprises me by the way his mind works, so I never attempt to work out the meaning of his gestures, mumbled words or even those he delivers with the right elocution.

So I took nothing for granted and, before bringing my hand out to accept the cash offering, I had to ask: “What’s this?”

Bruno did not disappoint.

He responded with such finality and purpose that for a couple of seconds I suspected he had set it all up for this one priceless moment when he would have me in front of him, about to receive two Ushs50,000 notes and asking, “What’s this?”

Because he replied with a very straight, blank, clear face: “Money.”

I almost died, and to this day thank God that this had not happened while I was drinking a glass of water or chewing on some hard bits of food, because I would have choked and died.

Again, the man was absolutely CORRECT! “This” WAS money! He was 100% correct on that count; he was handing me money.

My question had not covered the full length of the information I wanted from him – such as what the money was for, where it was from, what they excepted in return, and so on and so forth.

I had only asked, “ What is this?”

My suspicion that he had done this on purpose in order to respond, “Money” however, was short-lived. Surely, I thought, he would have first started with, “My hands, sir!” then after I had pressed on a bit, moved to “Money!”

But again, this was Bruno, and his blank face sometimes suggested that there were vacancies available behind it.

This was one of those times.

mediocre representation for mediocre societies

OulanyahJacob Oulanyah unleashed a barrage of sensibility this week, on his return from a trip round Germany and France, when he addressed a press conference at which he was reportedly so confused about the time of day that he kept saying ‘Good morning’ in the afternoon.

That is the only thing he was confused about – and as we have recently seen in public, people have made worse mistakes in this town.

Everything else he said was like the German national soccer team using words like a ball. Reading the news reports made me wish I had been there to watch him slam the volleys of points into our national mental goalmouth.

“Uganda’s liberalised sectors are dominated by foreign investors; Ugandans should not be exploited; nationals should be charged lower bank interest rates; 80% of Uganda’s time is spent discussing politics, which is too much; the media should practice responsible journalism; there are too many MPs compared to the size of the country; and most of the MPs that form that large number do not know how to debate, rarely do research, and thus the quality of their output is low.”

Just reading that paragraph there you can imagine how the Parliamentary spokespeople and many MPs felt like a team of Brazilians on a small, overcrowded pitch, considering that Oulanyah is Deputy Speaker of the House.

Getting into the defence against an attack like Oulanyah’s is not easy – but in the spirit of fair play let’s consider this without rejecting his goals, and play all the way to the end:

Our Members of Parliament are representatives of the people. From a strictly grammatical point of view, those 385 or so ladies and gentlemen that the 35million of us have sent to the House are a sample of what we are, in general as a population. If we were a nation of 35 million loquacious but eloquent individuals with an excellent train of thought every time we activated our minds, then our representatives would wax lyrically in the chambers of that House and have the world balancing off everything that dripped off their tongues.

Mathematically, game theorists and statisticians would surely bear testimony to that reality as well; even proponents of the 80/20 principle would have us expect that only 20% of the eminent ladies and gentlemen that the Rt. Hon. Oulanyah declared to be (insert appropriate interpretation of his statement) at holding forth intellectual, high quality debate, should be good at it.

In fact, however, the Rt. Hon. Oulanyah should judge from a lot of the happenings that we see in our every day lives – from the manner in which we navigate through traffic with the impatience of nursery school children suffering pressing bladders; to the way some public officers manage responsibility like conflicted adolescents whose parents leave town after misguidedly entrusting them with shopping money over a long weekend.

The quality of debate in Parliament can only be a reflection of society – the way our representatives are a reflection of ourselves.

In the spirit of a Brazilian after the third goal, I will proceed to argue that our MPs, in general, are doing the best they can in a country where Bad Black and her boyfriends whose wealth and importance cannot be easily explained without lengthy questionable narrative, continue to occupy space on the front page (or any other) of a newspaper.

And on to the other of Oulanyah’s goals, the need for responsible journalism is directly linked to the reason Bad Black and so many other characters of her kind get so much airtime – and again, that is our society.

If on an ordinary day on these streets you can find ten people capable of naming any of the people on the Kiira EV Project (including the Professor who mentored the students) then check the Constituencies of those ten people and name their MPs.

Serious MPs, reason would have it, should have constituents who could pass a test asking them to name any of the children featured in the newspapers as being the best in their national examinations.

The more serious MPs will have constituents who can even identify and even explain the importance of people like Joseph Mubiru, Ignatius Musaazi, Sir Tito Winyi, and others.

In fact, I want to meet people from Oulanyah’s Omoro County because by virtue of the fact that they produced someone so eloquent and focussed from amongst their numbers, it goes to reason that there must be many more such people left behind.

And if anyone can fix the economy in the ways Hon. Oulanyah so passionately outlined on his return from his European epiphany, it should be more people like him.

And perhaps from Omoro, and via a couple of weeks in France and Germany; because obviously none of the formal education that has been going around for these many years has had this great an impact.

yet another comedy of small errors

This week’s unnecessary chaos around the State House salaries made me angry on two levels – one because of the number of people involved in perpetuating this comedy of errors to national levels; and two because of the number of adults involved in propagating a very untenable idea that resulted in the otherwise entertaining #PayMe96Million social media chants and rants.

Starting with the second, to me it was obvious that in this country where people with second hand US$20,000 cars (liabilities) earn the label ‘tycoon’, we would have known long ago if anybody were banking a Ushs96million a month salary for even a week, without it being documented in Parliament with the media present.

As soon as I saw the offensive sheet indicating monthly salaries in State House PayMe96Mn - highlightedranging from Ushs20million to Ushs96million, I knew it was a stupid mistake but quickly moved on because I believed Members of Parliament would be more interested in addressing the close-to-100-deaths of Ugandans in western Uganda last week.

Besides, I was handling a stupid mistake in my own environment: That morning, I had concluded a transaction that should have earned about Ushs2.5million in one fell swoop, in US dollars – less than a day’s salary of that (mbu) highly-paid State House employee.

Issuing instructions for official documentation to complete the transaction, I left for a meeting and along the way made a couple of debt collection phone calls and monitored emails. One of those emails contained the invoice we were supposed to send the client for the above Ushs2.5million job card, but it read US$112 (One hundred twelve United States Dollars).

A quick glance had me frowning because the original calculation involved was ‘75,000 x 38’ (Shillings) – to me, clearly much more than the invoice read.75,000 x 38 I emailed back my accounts guy asking, “Is the mathematics correct in this?” and he responded minutes later with “Yes it is” (no punctuation marks AT ALL).

The confidence with which he had responded, underscored by the poor punctuation, shook me a little so I asked the people I was with to do a quick mental calculation to confirm that ‘75,000 x 38’ was, indeed, only US$112.

Even now, as you read this, it isn’t.

Picking up the phone, I asked someone else at the office to go over to the accountant and set him right just in case he was stuck with a really faulty calculator or computer or mobile phone or neighbours, since all these were available to him to cross-check the mathematics instead of insisting on the wrong answer.

She walked over to him, conducted an arithmetical exercise with the fellow and confirmed that, indeed: “It’s 258,000.”

I wavered.

But I refused to turn to electronic assistance because as far as I knew, 75,000 multiplied by a simple 3 (three) was already more than 210,000. I had a slight headache at the time, and thought that perhaps the problem was with my general body functions, so I asked them to check again and, indeed, their answer was still “258,000”, with a little irritation in their tone.

I hung up and moved on with what I hoped would be more understandable aspects of my work day. One of those was a meeting with a finance guy from one of my debtors, who told me the payment I was chasing after had already been remitted to my bank.

We went to and fro a few times saying “It wasn’t!” and “It was!” enough times to sound like children, then stopped to discuss the matter more seriously.

That’s when he admitted to me that months ago, when the payment had first been remitted, the bank account number had been wrongly written out, so the money had bounced back to them but they forgot about it for a couple of months till we started chasing them down for it.

“So I am sure we sent it this time!” he concluded. We had investigated jointly for a number of hours, querying both our banks at various points till, on this Tuesday, the suspicion came to me that perhaps the money had been sent to the wrong bank.

I was right.

It had gone to an old bank account we had closed over a year ago, in spite of the fact that this same client had received two sets of correspondence advising them of the change and had thereafter made several payments into the new bank account.

“Error”, they apologised, and got about fixing it. And so later on Tuesday night, after disregarding the #PayMe96Million thread a little bit, I looked up sharply remembering that we hadn’t concluded the matter of the ‘75,000 x 38’ invoice to the client – many hours later.

Luckily, the duo at the office had put their heads together after the phone call; investigated the matter further, and had written to me:  “Each item is UGX38. For 75,000 the equivalent is 285,000…”

That’s when I turned back to the #PayMe96Million thread and studied the offending offensive document a little bit; and I called someone to ask why it even existed.

“What?! But a correction was sent to Parliament…” PayMe96MnLetter

To cut a long story short, I eventually got hold of the corrected document and saw how the error had occurred, with the annual salary somehow getting pasted into the column for monthly salaries, allowing the rest of the formulae to take hold… …and to me, after my experiences and especially the one of that very morning, it was clear why the junior officer’s error had gone past the supervisor, bosses, proof-readers, printers, document signers, and so on and so forth.

All of them committed errors in NOT spotting that initial error – as would have I, if that ’75,000 x 38’ hadn’t jumped out at me. And even though the correction had arrived at Parliament DAYS before Tuesday, the loud, indignant, sensational allegation on the floor of Parliament had gone unchallenged by ALL the Members of Parliament who HAD received said correction but had not read it – another error. #PayMe96Million 1 #PayMe96Million 2

So for all of Tuesday night, ordinary people who hold loaded guns at the compound gates providing overnight security and those that mix up food in kitchens next to dangerous detergents were angrily considering that their bosses earn salaries such as Ushs96,000,000 a month.

Revolutions and wars have been triggered off by minor errors such as these.

I still can’t imagine what the people whose names appeared on that original list are telling their spouses and domestic staff, if otherwise intelligent professionals are still crying wolf over #PayMe96Million.

Presidency Minister Frank Tumwebaze was gracious in admitting that mistakes happen everywhere and refusing to consider firing the person who committed the first error – otherwise very many people elsewhere would be losing jobs for ‘errors’ – including Cecilia Ogwal et al for failing to read the correction document or even doing some arithmetic before tickling an angry revolution among common folk.Ssebaggala

In a perfect world, my accountant and all State House employees in the chain that led to that document getting to a Parliamentary Member disinclined to basic arithmetics, would be out of jobs right now and providing opportunities for more efficient people to run things with the seriousness required. We would be surrounding ourselves with people who understand that small errors sometimes have a large impact on serious matters.

And Uganda would generally be less prone to incendiary political action such as we saw in Kasese, Bundibugyo and Ntoroko, that the Members of Parliament found much less interesting than the sensational Ushs96million-a-month salary.