I have fond memories of a time, back in the 1980s, when we children would spend weeks at my grandfather’s residence in Bulindi, Hoima doing all sorts of work – especially mowing the compound using a mechanical mower, then sweeping up the grass.
To convey the cut grass into the nearby garden for use as mulch, we used an old iron sheet that had two holes punched into it for a long wire to be inserted and used as a handle. In those days of scarcity we made do with what we had, and invention was born of necessity.
At around the same time in my life, one day in school we were taught about simple and compound machines, including the wheelbarrow. We learnt to draw the wheelbarrow and found it was made up of basically the two items in its name – a wheel and a barrow. Its function was to allow one to convey things carried in a barrow, using the convenience of a wheel.
All this came back to me last week at the end of a day spent hobby gardening in Wakiso, with a couple of chaps, one of whom had a ‘Citizen’s’ identity card (not the National ID ones) that described him as a “Peasant”.
I had insisted, as part of the gardening plan, that we divide the different agricultural plots with paths and walkways for various reasons – including enabling the workers to use wheelbarrows to do their basic duties.
They were convinced, and at the end of the day one of the items on the list of requirements was a wheelbarrow – which they assumed would go for about Ushs90,000 each in Kampala. I eventually found one at Ushs50,000 being sold online, but of course it was imported from China.
Dissatisfied with the idea that we still don’t make wheelbarrows here, I went off to the internet as usual, and found leads on alibaba.com for wheelbarrows going for as low as US$10 a piece – but only if you place a minimum order for 200 pieces. Then I called up my preferred metal worker who offered to make one for me at Ushs180,000.
But before closing that discussion, a memory hit me from a month ago: while doing some work at home, we dug up quite a lot of soil that needed to be relocated elsewhere, but the wheelbarrow I bought years ago while doing the construction had since been stolen.
Just as I was about to approve the hiring of fifteen casual labourers to use their muscle power, one of the workers told us we could hire a wheelbarrow from Mbuya, and provided a phone number. About Ushs1,200 of my phone airtime later, they had confirmed that hiring the wheelbarrow for the day would be Ushs3,000. But we also had to use a boda boda to fetch it, at Ushs5,000 one way.
By the evening, I had spent Ushs14,200 for the use of a wheelbarrow for a day.
And now, with my situation in Wakiso, I feel we need to make more wheelbarrows in Uganda – and not the wooden ones used to carry fruit. All the construction and farming work we are doing should certainly support a local wheelbarrow industry even if we do not produce the steel for it.
In fact, while pondering the issue that weekend I spotted a dis-used satellite dish in the corner of my backyard and immediately called my preferred local metal worker with the suggestion that he buys a wheel and fabricates a local wheelbarrow for me using this dish as a barrow – I will report progress on that later. (UPDATE on October 9, 2015 – I actually did it, and the brief report is here – https://skaheru.wordpress.com/2015/10/09/following-up-the-wheelbarrow-full-of-ideas-with-real-life-implementation/)
But before that, would you believe this story from a Canadian on Facebook in 2011? After visiting Uganda and doing some voluntary work building things, he noticed work was being done too manually. So this person bought a wheelbarrow all the way from Canada, flew it to Uganda on an aeroplane, then put it in a minibus to Gulu for use on a construction project, and the people there were fascinated by the contraption. In fact, after he had assembled it, with the entire village gathered round, they were all afraid to use it “until one young man was brave enough to try it”.
To declare a young man in Gulu, the centre of war in northern Uganda for over two decades, “brave” for using a wheelbarrow, is what we call in local vernacular, “okujooga”.
I blame our being kujooga’d for so long by so many people on our stupidity in not adopting simple technology for developmental use, in spite of our education and the availability of the basics we need to fashion our own wheelbarrows and make use of them to ease work.