recycling, creativity, art and made in Uganda right at home


MY weekend has been quite satisfactorily artsy and hands-on, starting with Friday’s delivery of this superb pot by Christopher Bigomba, after months of saving up for it.
I met Chris about five years ago under circumstances I can’t remember right now, and got him intricately involved in producing some bespoke pieces of art for me, in his specialty style.
He is a master at painting bottles, and I was a master at collecting them. Putting the two characteristics together and lubricating it with money and patience resulted in a very colourful collection of pieces that are dotted all round our home.
img_20160228_093310.jpgI’ve always been fascinated by how easily these bottles can be turned from rubbish into art, and spend too much time worrying that there cannot be enough time in the world for Chris to paint ALL the bottles in Uganda.
Enter Ronnie Kyazze, a pal I met under other circumstances I won’t go into now either, but that involved Land Rovers.
As we were discussing the mechanics of the vehicles one day, I found out he was actually an IT guy.
While we were talking about our IT interests, I spotted a neat wooden bird house hanging out of an avocado tree in his garden. It was so much better than the plastic doll house I had taken from my daughter and tied to a disposable plastic party plate, that I had to ask him for its source.
He had made it himself.
Then he told me he even decorates and cuts used bottles – and shot into the house to get me one. The word ‘non-plussed’ popped up in my mind, and that day I left with the gift of a glass he had cut from an old wine bottle.
Many months later he came over to take us through some bottle painting and cutting lessons.
I had neglected to soak my accumulation of bottles in water the night before, which is essential for getting the labels and their adhesive to peel off neatly. So I rallied the children round to help soak the bottles, before we washed them and peeled the labels off.
After soaking them for a while the bottle labels and adhesive gave way to my pen knife scraping quite easily, and Ronnie threw in some liquid soap to quicken the process so that within a couple of hours we had an array of clean bottles in front of us ready to receive our bottled up creativity.
That reminds me – back when I was a child I once scored 22% in a fine art assignment and my teacher was appalled. Her comments made it clear that I would never amount to much as far as fine art was concerned. I intend for none of the children I interact with to EVER grow up with such an idea in their minds.
We put together spray paint cans (only five colours), string, raffia, sisal, glue (different types), jute, some sea shells, masking tape and paper (recycled).
While cleaning the bottles I got to dismantle the pouring stoppers and extracted some glass marbles as well, specifically from Johnny Walker bottles – which I later sprayed golden and added to the decorative mix as beads.
For the designs we used the masking tape round the bottles, and stencils cut out of the disused paper, and the raffia and sisal.
The results were not as great as Christopher Bigomba’s, or even Ronnie’s own, but we were proud of our work.
After that we got to cutting bottles and creating self-watering planters as well as glasses. The process is so simple that, again, it’s a wonder that so many bottles still go into dustbins in this country.
Ronnie whipped out a bottle-cutter – which basically holds the bottle in place and enables you to make an etching where you want to cut it. After that, we poured hot and cold water along the etching simultaneously until the bottle came apart quite smoothly, before we sanded the edges down.

At the end of the day, we had a good array of decorative bottles and self-watering planters being looked over by my small group of highly energised young ones with proven creative juices in full flow.

Plus, if all else fails, we can make a living out of this – selling these recycled items Made In Uganda.

 And there are certain ladies in our lives who are happy with these gifts:

we must check for the pimples on the face of our nation and deal with them carefully

THERE is no ignoring the fact that the Electoral Commission messed up in Kampala and Wakiso Districts on voting day, and this here is not in their defence.


Even as the delays were fueling the anger and frustration of voters skeptical and vocal, I put my head into the jaws of an angry social media platform and suggested possible explanations for the delays.
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I have worked in logistics before, and know first hand how a small error can snowball into a massive disaster – just the same way a short tweet can spiral into a lengthy tirade of an argument.
My guessed suggestion, such as it was, came close to the Electoral Commission’s explanation – which was valid, even though some thought it was ‘just an excuse’.
Neither was welcome under the heat of the sun and animated tempers – and I realised after a few salvos that my perspective was different from most for good reason.


See, my wife and I were the second and third in our first queue, while it was still dark. Actually, we organised the queue, when we noticed that people were bunching up behind and around us. Eventually the officials stopped aligning benches and chairs and joined in the creation of order – identifying each polling station by Register.

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At seven on the dot there was grumbling as the materials had not yet arrived, and I was pleasantly surprised that as a society we appeared to be developing a consciousness of time. It always irks me to be sitting in a meeting room minutes to the start of a meeting and finding nobody else agitated that it wasn’t going to start on time.

When the materials arrived, three minutes after the hour, they were piled atop a pick-up truck underneath a group of determined police personnel and other officials.
We went through the transparency process, opening boxes and checking everything was in order in full view of our public. By that time we were fourth and fifth in the queue, and the first two people went through having ticked their names on the FDC register rather than the EC one. The overall EC supervisor, a young lady I’ve known from childhood, quickly caught the anomaly and brought them back to the front after they had voted.


Even as I type this my thumb is thick with that indelible ink, because when I got to the end of the queue there was no-one focused on making us take the mark so I made a loud show of doing so, and some amongst the masses queued up applauded. Otherwise I would have made it past with clean fingers.
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By half past eight in the morning I had driven through eight different polling stations and was in the office following field proceedings.
An apologist for the Electoral Commission could argue their case in a number of ways: mathematically, out of the 112 districts of Uganda, two had serious problems – a failure rate of 2.24% – the same could be worked out using the number of polling stations (out of the 28,010) unserved by four o’clock.
One could even plead their case after they ‘extended’ voting till late enough for everyone to cast their ballot – but I won’t do that here.
Instead, there is a silver lining in how angrily people took the delays, all other factors aside, because we can hope that this marked the beginning of a national tidal wave of seriousness at work, if not at everything we do.


As one would tell an apologist doing the mathematics aforementioned – even 98% is not good enough! Aim for 100%, because the impact of that two percent can be VERY damaging when seen from a different perspective or if it gathers momentum and picks up other stuff along the way.

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It’s how a pimple develops from something minuscule but could turn into a pus-filled orb hanging off your face – made up of much more than what started the pimple, as Uganda is seeing now.

If you treat a pimple properly, carefully and early enough in its development, there will be no need to go into surgery or wrap your face up in bandages or to hide away from the public in shame.
But if you approach it in a random, careless manner then you could end up with a bad wound or much, much worse in the place everybody notices first about you.


Hopefully we will spend every day of the next five years in this country studying our faces carefully in the mirror every morning for pimples developing, scrutinising affairs more strictly so that we totally eliminate mediocrity and inefficiency – however small those mediocrities and inefficiencies may appear to be – so we address them properly before they turn into large, gaping, life-threatening infections.

i am going out to vote the right leadership for Uganda

TODAY we go out to vote – and not just for the position of President. Tomorrow (even tonight – Thursday) we start counting those votes. By Sunday we will know who won and be celebrating victory or mourning loss.
On Monday we should get back to work, and to existing side by side with our different political beliefs – the way we do with our different religious beliefs.
That analogy between Political Party ideology and Religion is always ideal.
We live side by side with our different religious beliefs, praying at different times on different days in different ways and we make it work so well that sometimes we intermarry.
Similarly, we should live side by side with our different political ideologies, meeting at different times, in different ways, and making it work so well that we can work together making progress happen for the entire country.
Perhaps it works better in religion than in politics because we pray and worship every day or at least weekly, while our political activity comes round every so many years?
If we were more deeply political on a more regular basis, then perhaps we would be more relaxed and understanding of what this ‘politics’ actually means.
On Saint Janani Luwum day I relaxed enough to pay attention to a personal chore a group of friends had given me – to proofread a political manifesto we drafted after our WhatsApp group had held some heated political discussions.
We are just a group of pals who grew up together doing what boys do, and recently one evening challenged ourselves to be more politically conscious, resulting in an impressive twenty-page document.
As I finished reading its final draft I was downcast that all of us had spent months talking about the Presidency rather than Leadership – because we could all make good national leaders at the different levels we will be voting today and in coming weeks.
Leadership does not mean Presidency, even if the Presidency is at the apex of Leadership in a country like Uganda. And by the way, Leadership is NOT Power; this is a word that Abed Bwanika, Amama Mbabazi and Kiiza Besigye, and various media commentators, have used repeatedly during recent months – but I am happy that my own candidate markedly avoids the word.
Today we all go to vote not just for the Presidency, but for Leadership – under the Political Party or Group we believe presents the best promise and premise for a stable future for this country.
See, the Political Party that wins it is not just the one that wins the seat of President; a President with a Parliamentary majority, for instance, gets more done easier and quicker – as even the United States showed us with the reverse when they “shut down government” for a while not too long ago.
Speaking of getting things done, it is farcical that in all these months we have talked about service delivery and paid little media attention to leadership in the districts where we know the work on the ground literally gets done.
See, we are electing into leadership – not power – the leaders under whom we will work, thrive and prosper; the leaders who will work on the policies that will enable us to work, to thrive and to prosper. The leaders themselves do not build our businesses or our homes, but they must build and implement policies under which we – Ugandans – must do these things.
We must get into our politics enough so we do not sit back and complain that ‘they’ have not done things, the way some commentators laughably yet confidently said last weekend, “There is no foreign policy in Uganda!”
Recently I have felt that the rhetoric, posturing and deceit of this political campaign period – which feels like it has run five whole years – might have blinded some of us to realities around us – echoed by candidate Yoweri Museveni at the debate last Saturday.
Today, we are voting in leaders whose work should be prescribed in a manifesto – a public document that constitutes a series of pledges and commitments. Every day of the next five years we should be calling the attention of those leaders back to that manifesto because it is the public contract to which they should be held.
Every day of the next five years, if that manifesto is ignored then the party in question imperils its chances of success at the next election.
To achieve the goals in that manifesto, however, the party must have the necessary numbers in the caucuses where the lobbying is done, in the full legislature where the laws are enacted, and in the districts where the work is implemented.
For me, that political party is the NRM, headed by Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, who is unquestionably the most capable (and by far the most likeable) of the eight potential Presidents arrayed before us.
Because I am voting in an entire swathe of leaders under the NRM – possibly more than 600,000 including councillors – on the strength of a manifesto with clear targets (which, in this case, should already be accommodated in this year’s budget – due for reading in four months’ time and in formulation as per the process cycle since August last year).
I am also voting for change in the way we do certain things because the system and manifesto I am supporting gives me leeway to make a personal contribution to changing things in Uganda for the better.
I am voting NRM not to reward anyone for work already done – but because if those 600,000 leaders and I follow that manifesto, then we will get a lot more done – for everybody – especially if we are vigilant citizens all round. The voters of northern Uganda and Kampala can testify to this quite easily – judging from their voting patterns from 2001 through 2006 and 2011, as their protest at the ballot over war and infrastructure (respectively) transformed into heavy support because of the dramatic change and response that we see today. #SteadyProgress.
And I am voting NRM because I have not been given a promise by the other parties around what they will or can do – and believe me, I’ve listened to them. For instance, anyone can complain about the negatives in Uganda today – as indeed we should – but that is not reason enough for me to vote…for the loudest complainant.
I am voting NRM because I like the ideology, believe in it and believe we can live it even when some people do make mistakes or, linking back to religion, fall short of the glory they should uphold.
Because as a country we have made progress under this same NRM, and I know we can continue this progress.
Provided WE stick to that ideology WE CAN make good. We CAN make Uganda greater than it already IS.

making up make up for the astonishingly large Ugandan market

LAST Wednesday I had two girls giggling at me over the incredulous looks on my face as they recounted tales of make up that I could not understand.

I was meeting both of them physically for the first time ever and their facial appearance had not been an issue in my mind for the first forty five minutes we were together in conversation before the topic of make-up came up.

When it did and they entered into that zone females do that is the stereotypical equivalent of some men talking about soccer or motor vehicles, I kept trying to draw them back until one mentioned that they had first met when one paid the other Ushs20,000 for some lipstick.

They were at a Blankets and Wine event and the first girl was walking past the second girl when the first girl was struck by the lipstick the second girl was wearing. She stopped to ask about it and voila! Money exchanged hands and a friendship began.

The fourth person in the conversation was a fellow man, called Primus Agaba, who made me feel inadequate because of his vast knowledge of women and make up. He readily followed their conversation and even joined in even though they kept meandering into terminology that I recognised as english but could make little sense of otherwise.

He made me re-assess my position as a former boyfriend, ongoing husband, father, uncle and brother of various girls. After hearing him talk for twenty minutes, the only females in my life I wasn’t worried I had offended over the years with my blatant obliviousness were my darling mother and grandmothers before her – because they had zero involvement with cosmetics and make up. I suspect that I am still married probably because my wife is almost the same.


The conversation went on for a while longer before it occurred to me that the Ushs20,000 mentioned earlier might not have been paid in exchange for a tube of lipstick, so I paused matters for clarification.

The first girl had paid the cash for the tube of lipstick to be unscrewed by the second girl, then applied onto her lips, after which the other screwed the cap back onto her lipstick, pocketed the money, and put both into her handbag (presumably).
I was flummoxed. I could understand the concept well enough, of course, but up till that point it had not occurred to me that such payments could be made in exchange for the mere application of make up.
First of all, the idea that a person could be walking through an event where food and drinks are being sold and would enter into an impulse expenditure of Ushs20,000 was a little jarring. That’s a double whisky in moderate places, and I don’t find it easy to fork it out fwaaaa. It is also the equivalent of four face-paintings at a children’s event, which expenditure I absolutely dread whenever I am walking into these things.
Digging deeper into the matter brought starker realisations – one of them told me that at one point in her life she spent about Ushs150,000 for a tube of imported lipstick. She has since found much more affordable (I like using that word instead of ‘cheap’) options, but of course they are all imported and some of them have names that make the eyes of the more knowledgeable female dilate when they are spoken.

And they told me that sometimes a lady you might know will spend Ushs140,000 for make up on an ordinary work day because of a job interview.




But that’s nothing if you compare it with the cost of make up for a wedding!
Apparently a bride and her entourage will pay these incredible sums for make-up to be applied sometimes during rehearsals, just to see what their different options will look like on the big day, and then again on the big day itself. That morning, make up is applied by professionals and a premium may be charged if that application is done earlier than a certain hour. Not only that; if the make up person is required to do any additional work later on in the day, then more money will be forked out – but the more frugal bridal party might pay a sum up front for a make up pack they can carry with them the rest of the day.
All of this costs hard cash that ordinary mortals such as myself have been unaware of all this time – it’s a whole separate economy.
And I realised that over the years that is one of those items on wedding budgets that I have never paid much attention to – so I called up a couple of those emailed to me and realised that in most cases it was hidden or thrown in under ‘Salon’. The Make Up expert broke down the numbers for me to my total astonishment, and the ladies laughed even more at my incredulity – while Primus smirked that smirk of a man proven superior over his neighbour.
I didn’t care for my status at that point – I had to check what components went into make up in general, and my first stop was lipstick: it’s basically waxes (beeswax, paraffin, and carnauba wax) oils and fats, emollients (the stuff that makes it soft), and pigments.


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All this can be found in Uganda – even the Carnauba wax. We CAN make lipstick. We SHOULD make lipstick.
Because if girls are ready to pay each other Ushs20,000 for a few swipes of the thing to be applied onto their lips, then there is no shortage of demand. If you do more complicated mathematics and presume that there are 1,000 weddings taking place in this country every Saturday, and that each bride (ignore the rest of the entourage for now) will spend at LEAST Ushs100,000 on base make up, then that is Ushs100,000,000 a weekend being spent on make up.
Is that not enough reason to get scientists and entrepreneurs together to mix waxes, oils and fats, emollients and pigments?


the Japanese are promoting Uganda’s organic agriculture – what about you?

The Japanese are well known the world over for being efficient, precise and so highly sensitive about integrity that legend has it they will commit suicide painfully (‘hara-kiri’, or ‘seppuku’) if their personal reputations ever come into question.

It is the first two characteristics that make them such manufacturing and logistics superheroes that they have produced more cars than any other country in the world for the last fifty years.

They even came up with, and rolled out to the rest of the world, a concept called ‘Kaizen’, described as “the practice of continuous improvement…recognised an important pillar of an organisation’s long-term competitive strategy.”

In Uganda, the vast majority of our interaction with Japan is obviously the second hard vehicles that we shuttle about in…or so we thought:

Late last year I went for an Organic Farmer’s fair at the Acacia Mall; every other Saturday the Mall opens its rooftop up to small scale or cottage industries and sectors

Photo by Simon Kaheru

in Uganda to exhibit and sell their wares – a corporate social initiative we don’t often see but that is high impact for the beneficiaries.

That day the exhibition was staged by NOGAMU – the National Organic Agricultural Movement of Uganda.

The exhibitors were mostly ladies, and their wares were exciting to see, especially for a chap like me who dabbles in backyard gardening and hopes to one day do some full-blown agriculture.

I walked through the displays of sugarcanes, paw-paws, fence, some massive cassava tubers, and even smoked fish. Weaving through the table stands I was pleasantly surprised to find that they even had packed products such as herbal teas and dried fruit snacks, all the way to soaps and oils.

The ladies (and a couple of young fellows) were all pleasant, welcoming and courteous – and they even had bits of products for us to chew on or sample, as part of their effort at enticing us to buy – “jaribu”, we used to call that, back in the day.

When we eventually got to the checkout table I was surprised to find I was being processed by a young Japanese lady – wearing one of those hats (you know the ones) but without a camera slung round her neck.

She wrote down my purchases quite neatly in a ledger, did the mental maths, then punched the numbers into a calculator to double check before writing me my receipt.

“What is this about?” I asked her, and she handed me her business card. We couldn’t engage in the type of lengthy discussion I would have wanted to, as she was at work and perhaps my enthusiasm was more than she cold bear at the time.

But I accosted one of her Ugandan colleagues, a very well-spoken young lady, who also gave me a business card and offered to make products available for home img_20160206_095851.jpg delivery if I so wished.

That is a whole different story, so I’ll stick to this one.

I went to the website and found the tab ‘Uganda Project’, and scrolled through many nice photographs of ordinary, healthy-looking Ugandans in healthy-looking upcountry rural locations holding up healthy-looking fruits and vegetables.

The quality of the photographs was not surprising since the Japanese famously make those cameras and lenses, but it was pleasing to see such positive energy about Uganda on a foreign website.

The text was in Japanese so Google translate didn’t tell me enough of what was happening, so I still don’t know much about this project besides the obvious – the Japanese are promoting Uganda’s organic produce.

The lady working with NOGAMU is part of the project, probably here short term to intern or do some skills transfers.

More importantly, to me, if the Japanese are here promoting Uganda’s organic agriculture, shouldn’t we be taking more notice ourselves?

It would appear, from that website and other links it led me to, that some organic food is already being exported to Japan! Are we exchanging this food for the second hand cars? Definitely not – but somebody else pointed out to me that we should be doing so in a big way, because:

Japan appreciates us. Japan likes organic food. Japan has no space for growing their own food. We have that space. We grow organic food quite easily. We are good enough for the reputation-sensitive Japanese to come here and identify with us.

Quod erat demonstrandum.