let’s all become venture capitalists in our small ways


LAST week a young man called Gimei Nagimesi shared an amusing tale that tickled my hopes.

This young man is the type who always stays in the background doing groundbreaking things. I know, for instance, that he was instrumental in the creation of the ‘Golola Moses’ brand and all those statements around ripping pages out of Facebook and hanging clothes on telephone lines.

His story last week had far less of a celebrity factor. He confessed that he is the type of person who can’t walk past a volleyball court, and so during a health run along the northern by-pass one day he got stuck playing his favourite game.

Before long he was a permanent fixture on that court and being the only urban professional on the court, Gimei found himself buying rounds of drinking water and kabalagala every so often from the cycling vendors that went by the court at a certain hour every evening. It became obvious that this event was a highlight of the day and Gimei suspected that some of them turned up to play purely for that kabalagala break.

Total cost of feeding the entire court per day? Less than ten thousand shillings (Ushs10,000).

He then began to look into the other permanent fixtures on court, and as he was doing so, one of them caught his attention for being keen and earnest.

The young man in question opened up to Gimei and told him he was generally broke but played every day to expose himself to opportunities. He then proposed that Gimei funds him with Ushs1.4million so he could get going.

What’s the business?

“Counter Books.”

counter-books-250x250
From indiamart.com, NOT Uganda

Gimei found the figure intriguing, and the response even more so, and probed further till the young man outlined his plan.

Where he lives, in the swamps somewhere off the northern by-pass, there are many school-going children who use each buy a book at the start of each school term. Annoyingly, the nearest source of stationary is somewhere in Ntinda, which involves some kilometres of walking.

The young man therefore wanted to make Counter Books and sell them to the many schoolchildren in his neighbourhood, and believed a profit could be made.

Gimei gave it a brief thought and figured that it made sense. Besides, to him Ushs1.4million was not such a massive amount of money so…he invested.

The young man took up the cash and embarked on the job with gusto NOT just buying books to re-sell, but buying reams of paper, glue, hard covers, and other materials; then spending hours making Counter Books himself, which he then sold out of his home.

Profit? Ushs500,000 in total.

Gimei was nonplussed when the young fellow showed up out of the swamps to hand over his 50% of the profits, a few weeks later. They’ve continued the cycle, unless some bureaucracy steps up to investigate, in which case it ended.

But not before another young fellow approached him and asked, in Luganda, whether if ‘someone’ funded him (this new young fellow) he couldn’t set up a kaveera water business of his own right there at the court for the players, so that they buy from him instead of buying from the cyclist going past.

Gimei now finds himself to be a venture capitalist of sorts, and the experience is enjoyably uplifting.

investopedia.com defines a Venture Capitalist as “an investor who either provides capital to startup ventures or supports small companies that wish to expand but do not have access to equities markets.”

In developed economies venture capitalists are a serious factor of economic growth, because they are willing to invest in these small ventures that formal financing doesn’t trust or finds awkward.

In the United States, companies like Intel, Fedex, Apple, Google, and Microsoft started off with venture capital funding, and are now global giants. Their ideas, when they kicked off, seemed crazy or wild or simply untenable because they were different from what leading organisations like banks and financial analysts generally knew.

No bank or government agency would fund Gimei’s young Counter Book manufacturing friend, for instance, but Gimei now has the fellow earning a respectable income, while earning a profit of his own, and possibly also thinking about going to other parts of the swamp to do the same and multiply his earnings.

Besides just financing, though, venture capitalists also provide mentorship – which is probably the most important element in entrepreneurship, and what the boys at the volleyball court take from Gimei more significantly than kabalagala. See, anybody can get financing, in a manner of speaking, but the attitude and aptitude to run an enterprise are a different matter altogether.

Plus, venture capitalist funded companies and enterprises tend to introduce new solutions that regular businesses wouldn’t dare touch. That’s why we more of us use Apple products than Texas Instruments (I had a TI calculator back in the 1980s that was all the rage then!)

Venture capitalists also experience major losses when their picks fail, but these investors are typically wealthy enough that they can afford to take the risks associated with funding young, unproven companies that appear to have a great idea and a great management team – as Gimei would have exhibited if the young man hadn’t turned a neat profit.

The problem of youth unemployment keeps getting talked about with reference to government intervention and ‘support’, yet we all have the opportunity to make some market corrections and build the economy by being venture capitalists in some small way.

If we had as many entrepreneurship meetings as we do wedding, graduation and funeral fund raising meetings, I am certain things would be different. If we had gatherings at which we threw around entrepreneurship advice and funding rather than suggestions of which caterer to procure or what colour the cake should be, just imagine how many more jobs would be created in this economy.

We probably collect a hundred million shillings weekly for weddings, funerals and graduation parties, which certainly supports a certain segment of the economy, but Gimei’s story made me think more of what could happen if we collected that money to fund ventures instead.

A couple of Stanford University scholars did a study on the impact of venture capitalists on the US economy and found it to be large. Between 1979 and 2013, more than 2,600 venture capital-backed companies went public (onto the stock exchange there).

Compare that to Uganda where the Uganda Securities Exchange holds eight (8) companies – if you and I funded up a few earnest, hungry young fellows, maybe our companies might join the lonely eight on the Stock Exchange one day?

the return of term eggenda…or tamweggenda


Tamwegenda
Student kavuyo from way before my time (Photo from http://www.kingscollections.org)

DO you remember, back in the day, a concept called “Term Eggenda” (pronounced ’Tamweggenda’)?

In my primary school days it referred to the very last day or night of the school term. It was a terrible time for some, and a terrific time for others.

That last day was euphoric, hysterical, and irrational just because the term was ending and everybody was going home – some for good, since they were changing schools or school levels or had been expelled, and others just for the break.

But that break, in those days, was long and disruptive for many reasons – since many of us left school and went long distances to our homes. Besides, we had neither phones (not even landlines, most of us) nor email, and were basically incommunicado till we got back during the next term.

That absence of what in Luganda we call ‘ensonyi‘ made us less likely to be abashed about our antics during ‘Term Eggenda’.

What a time!

Even ordinarily normal students appeared to lose their minds and went on rampage, beating up the young ones, destroying property and raiding suitcases for loot, to finish off every bit of grub left.

The term had ended, and there was no reason to go back home with any perishables – neither sugar nor soap – so we tried to quaff the lot.

There was no reason to go back home with grudges outstanding either, so the debts got paid off that day or night – in blows, kicks and various other forms of beatings.

‘Term Eggenda’.

You see, accompanying the euphoria of this being the last day of term we had additional motivation: even as primary school children we had worked out that the school administration was too distracted on that night trying to finalise our report cards, close the school, plan their own holidays, and so on and so forth.

The teachers and school administrators were always right there as the mayhem of ‘Term Eggenda’ took place, but they had other things on their minds. So they basically turned a blind eye on ‘Term Eggenda’.

Just like we appear to have had other things on OUR minds these past couple of weeks, and months.

That’s how we all missed that spot of ‘Term Eggenda’ that wiped billions (I am not certain of the actual figure) off the annual tax register, and kept it in the pockets of parliamentarians.

We are quite distracted with our non-ending political campaigning, public undressing protests, and also things that are most irrelevant to the general scheme of things.

Which is why that Bill got passed which, in effect, stops members of parliament from paying taxes on the allowances that constitute the bulk of their ‘earnings’, since their actual salaries ‘only’ amount to Ushs2.5million (it is said).

In the past I have seen it calculated that their earnings, in total, come to more than Ushs19million a month – if you add up a subsistence allowance of Ushs4.5million, extra constituency mileage of up to Ushs2.5m per month, town running Ushs1million, Ushs200,000 medical allowance, gratuity of Ushs3.5million, and around Ushs7.7million in an allowance that replaced the Constituency Development Fund.

Their argument for the tax exemption might sound sensible but we should find it hard to balance off the removal of what some claim is Ushs40billion (but still sounds bad even if it is Ushs4billion) in annual taxes just a week after the astonishing revelations at the Uganda Cancer Institute.

Luckily, even if the rest of us were too enthralled by nudes of varying presentation and excitement to intervene before the Bill was passed, it now goes to the President to either assent to or reject.

If we were not so distracted ourselves, we would find it hard to assent to the removal of taxes on the allowances of Members of Parliament while retaining the very same taxes on the allowances of the public in general.

But we ARE distracted, and the MPs who passed the Bill are going off on holiday, for a long, long, long time.

‘Term Eggenda’, quite literally.

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join in on saving Lagutu village – or at least get to know where it is!


People, please help me find Lagutu Village in northern Uganda so that we upload its actual location to Google Maps?

See, when I googled them earlier all I found was this:

Can't Find Lagutu

I am not saying that Lagutu village does NOT exist, because my life is not ordered by or around Google and the internet.

What got me was the fact that the first time I had heard of this village it was because of a string of American (of the United States) charities trying to keep the village together with phrases on the internet such as, “This village was reeling from war and on the verge of extinction. But with support from Sports Outreach & Lifepoint Church, this village has been reborn. Wells for fresh water were dug; a school and church were built; and most importantly, children were fed.”

It started with this story titled, ‘Lifepoint Church preps for Uganda Mission Trip’ which stated that, “…in 2010. The Lagutu Village, at that point in time, was on the verge of collapse.”

I can almost imagine how a village can ‘collapse’ – like if all its young men left to ride boda-bodas in towns elsewhere, and the young women followed them then wedded people from other villages, and all the old people died of grief and buried each other till the last old person found himself alone at the last lumbe of the village.

How does a village “collapse”? Especially a village that went through the twenty years of the Lord’s Resistance Army war and survived till 2010?

So I googled it, since we’ve just come out of these massive elections during which we documented A LOT about the villages of Uganda and various categories of people with statistics that have been the talk of the country for MONTHS.

Of course the village exists, since the story quotes a Pastor at Lifepoint Mission of Wilmington, North Carolina, USA who has visited it and dug wells, built huts and distributed medicine there since 2010. There is even video evidence of the village school, church, fields, and people.

They even … well, read this for yourself:

Lagutu Got Goals

Yes – Lagutu didn’t even have goalposts, they were so wretched!

Thank God for all the Americans doing stuff to keep this village alive.

The other event I noticed was this one:

Lifepoint Uganda 5k

From that event, “100% of the proceeds from this race will go to supporting the 30 member team traveling to Uganda on June 20, 2016.”

And by the way, 123 people ran that fund-raising race.

Of course, these Americans are neither victims nor perpetrators of some elaborate scam – that cannot be possible.

It would just be useful to know where, exactly, Lagutu is. We need to hold people to account for the existence of lack of existence of this village that was about to disappear until the Americans came to its rescue.

How are we drinking single malt whisky, watching Superman Vs. Batman and eating gourmet food here oblivious that an entire village is collapsing to the point that there are people in the United States of America running kilometres so they can raise the funds to come here and save the village?

We (in Kampala, at least) are just 400kilometres from where Lagutu presumably is.

Yye, where exactly is Lagutu? Who are the Local Council and District officials there? Who is the Resident District Commissioner?

I checked the Electoral Commission list of Polling Stations and Voter Registers and failed to find mention of it in Abim, Amudat, Amuru, Arua, Gulu, Kitgum, Kumi, Lamwo, Lira, Moroto, Moyo, Nebbi Ngora, Nwoya, Otuke, Oyam, Pader and even Zombo!

Maybe the Americans have it right?

I went to budget.go.ug to see whether it had been allocated money in recent national budgets but that was too much work over a mere curiosity, especially considering that there are Americans coming to save the village if enough money is collected during the fund raising.

On gofundme.com is a video that labels the village “Lugutu”, but I was too tired to go check for THAT name instead of the more commonly used Lagutu.

This gofundme video also says that Lagutu was “on the verge of extinction”. At 2:19 of that video a Ugandan gives testimony about sports and it’s importance, and another Ugandan after him, and you Ugandans out there can tell that these people are NOT from northern Uganda but that’s alright since it should not be an issue.

It is not likely that the people in that video are scamming the Americans, with their Kiganda accents…

The fundraiser is for US$3,200 to enable one Melody to come to Uganda to help Lagutu village by doing some social work.

When I was almost pulling my hair out I appealed to Twitter and some friends there told me of Laguti, not Lagutu:

And @samagona gave me clear directions: “Abt 15 mins drive to Awach Sub County. Lagutu is a village in Awach. From Gulu approx 28 kms LOS shd take you 30-40 mins.”

But I am not driving there just yet – I am still marvelling at how I got to hear of this village through the Americans and that it is not even on Google Maps!

Yet this Lagutu Village gets a lot of attention – I found another project that has been there, the ‘Amazzi Project’, whose online existence is now compromised – http://theamazziproject.org/, but which had tweeted about Lagutu before:

Amazzi Project
“Water to all of Uganda”

Amazzi Project Tweets

“Water to all of Uganda”.

I am currently reading ‘Uganda and the Mill Hill Fathers’, which tells the story of how the missionaries and colonialists came over here. There are some things that simply won’t change if more of us don’t change the way we think and do things…

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i know an American Ugandan lady who did a really good job for YOU


A few weeks ago I was getting rid of email entropy – that condition that inexplicably leads to the accumulation of material such as happens in hand bags, drawers, glove boxes and in this case, email inboxes.
I was surprised to find an email from one Cathy Kreutter, making comments about an article I had written about two years ago. Horrified that her email had gone unattended, I worked out that she had sent it at a time I was dealing with a personal tragedy.
Quickly, I belated corrected the situation and was so happy that she forgave me that I offered to buy her coffee some time if she was still in Uganda (her surname suggested that she wasn’t Ugandan), and did so promptly to make up for the two-year gap.
Over that coffee (tea and water, actually) my mind exploded in various ways.
First of all, to the content of her email: she was responding to an article because she needed to re-inforce something I had said about how Ugandans CAN deliver high quality products when we put our minds to it.
Cathy Kreutter is an author. Right now she is not ready to write her full story, and has chosen to write children’s books but the quality of those books is such that she has won international recognition for both her content AND the production.
By occupation, she is a Librarian, so her association with books is not to be taken lightly. Paraphrasing a lot of what she said, I worked out that when she decided to write her first book she was irritated that everyone thought she had to send it off to Dubai or India and further afield in order to get a serious job done.
Like a good Ugandan would, she chose to write her book with the determination that it would be stitched and bound in Uganda by Ugandans, and then sold anywhere in the world as her evidence that we, over here in the Pearl of Africa, can do just as well as anybody else in the rest of the world.
Painstakingly, she cajoled the people in the printing section of the ambitious Vision Group to be even more ambitious and aim for the very best work possible – and even if they did balk at it in the beginning, they eventually rallied round and – voila!
I Know An Old Mzee Who Swallowed A Fly” – a book written by a Ugandan, illustrated by Ugandans, produced by Ugandans and published by Ugandans went ahead and won a Moonbeam Award!
This was no mean feat. The Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards go to the very best books found “appropriate for the North American market”. The book is good enough to feature properly (at full rates) on Amazon.com, which platform will reject poor products or price them at massive discounts.
I shot an email over to Jim Barnes, the Editor and Awards Director of the Jenkins Group, which is behind the Moonbeam Awards, and he said this was the first from Uganda.
“That may be our only Ugandan entry. We get some from South Africa, but that’s about it,” he told me.ac59a078-ee13-438c-bb3e-b06f239665e3
So Cathy Kreutter had put Uganda on that map through her sheer insistence that it could be done – and kudos to the guys at Vision Group for working so hard to achieve that.
Now, that wasn’t all that tickled me when I met her. This lady, it turned out, has been in Uganda since 1981 and is now a Ugandan citizen. Her book, should she write it, will be a captivating read even if she doesn’t believe so right now.
Her story involves so many near misses that it could even be turned into a movie; yet in spite of those near misses her and her husband still came and lived in Uganda through the difficult days and are now localised investors (not missionaries) in the fabric of the country.
I could have been skeptical about this but the day after I met her I went out to the Katosi fishing village for an event with a firm called RTI International, which was doing a very low key handover ceremony of a school building. As I took photos of the excited schoolchildren, one of them caught my eye because his t-shirt bore the words, “CornerStone Development”.
I had seen that written on the back of Cathy’s book, and she had told me it was a foundation her husband Tim was heavily involved in (put modestly).
But they had nothing going on in Katosi – which meant that the child wearing that t-shirt was one of those far-reaching effects of intervention that proves it is a success – and THAT is what the proceeds from her book go to fund. Not the t-shirts, but the schools that Cornerstone builds – in Rwanda, Tanzania and South Sudan as well.
Well there is more, apparently, as we will discover this weekend when we all flock to the Protea Hotel to launch her next book – “Tendo’s Wish”.
4e546c9f-b109-4e67-a346-0235a59c5870
The stories about the books themselves are different, and need more column space. This weekend, though, we will applaud this American Ugandan who, like her life story, took an American folk tale and Ugandanised it to great acclaim, putting the two countries at par on that level.

#RainsAreHere – so wake up and go plant something in your tropical garden!


ONE morning last year I astonished @spartakussug, a marketing and creative design fellow, when I changed the location of our meeting appointment from a popular cafe to a sedate office location. The caveat, I told him, was that he would have to spend the equivalent of our coffee bills on buying mango tree seedlings.
He did, and I eventually planted five mango trees, after explaining to him that city people like us were spending too much time and money “living life” to stop and take the reality of our potential into account. He promised to secure land and start planting his own trees, vegetables and what not, and I will this week be following up on that.
I started on this journey a long time ago, thanks to an actively agricultural family background, so for more than a month now I have been anxious over when the rains will

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MY matooke. All MINE.

finally fall.

And when this week the skies opened up with more promise than the tickling it did a couple of weeks ago, I jumped out of bed with an enthusiasm I did not have when I was still in school.
I wasn’t surprised to read tweets and facebook posts about burrowing deeper into bed on account of the morning rains, because our city lifestyle is influenced by the movies, novels and internet posts – where most of the content is created and published by people who live in harsh climates that cannot grow crops left, right, centre, and all food comes from supermarkets.
Because we ‘live’ in a culture that is based in other countries that don’t have the climate, soils, seeds, and traditional agricultural knowledge that exists in tropical Africa, we tend to think like people who do. That’s why, for instance, I can spend one thousand shillings on one avocado fruit every day for years and years, even though one avocado seedling will cost me two thousand shillings and within one and a half years will serve up thousands of fruits. That same avocado, if converted into ebigenderako at a joint selling roast meat, will fetch a value of Ushs4,000!
See, over the weekend I had paid my parents a visit and returned with a sack of avocados collected quite casually within minutes from one of the trees in their garden (the real one – olusuku), and as usual I calculated very carefully how much money I had saved on my market shopping for the next couple of weeks, with adjustments to my diet plan.
My own avocado tree, where I live, is going to be serving up large numbers of the fruits again in a short while and I am adopting a new policy for the benefit of my children, based on what I told Collin last year: for every fruit we consume from that one tree in my front garden I will put aside one thousand shillings in cash.
All the money I collect in this way will be spent buying avocado tree seedlings for planting on a farm patch – and the possession of that land, of course, is a pre-requisite for this approach to work, though even that land could be acquired quite easily by many of these city people using their spare change or if they buy fewer buffet meals and less whisky.
So it was that on Monday, before some people had ordered for their office snacks using online and mobile apps, I had used the very same technology to place orders for a range of tree seedlings to add to my last planting – and I will do that every chance I get, till I have

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Ordered from @GreeningUganda

these fruits and vegetables pouring out in piles.

And let’s not worry that if you all join in and we all have piles and piles of fruits and vegetables that nobody will buy them – at the very least, all those people out there in that wide world who are snuggling in their beds in the bad weather will buy up our produce.  On another level, other people will start up business ventures to transport, refrigerate, package, process, brand and export our stuff.
Just make sure that when it rains in the mornings you aren’t the one holding the blanket tighter to your chin – lazima you should get up and call the guys at the farm to find out if it’s raining there and they are at work in the fields.