it’s not all luck


FROM A CONVERSATION MADE PUBLIC AT MONOT, IN BUGOLOBI, AT THE JULY #ExpertTalksUg event:
A few years ago I noticed that some young people kept telling me that I was “lucky” or had been “lucky” to have a job or whatever they perceived to be ‘okay’ aka ‘doing well’ (never wealthy or rich or successful).
The idea irritates me especially with the realisation that some people out there are relying on this so-called luck for their success at God-knows-what.
Well, it’s not all luck.
Of course, there is some luck involved in getting to where one gets to – whether successful, rich or even just happy. Even lottery winners have to spend a little bit of money buying the damn ticket, so there is some work that goes into winning.
In my case, I know there is some luck involved in getting me to where I am – I am lucky that my parents met each other at the time they did, and were people who had been raised the way they were raised, therefore passing their values on to me. I am lucky they felt strongly enough about education to send me to school and see me through academics in a manner that made me learn (don’t ask how much attention I actually paid in school or what marks I achieved – that’s besides the point).
I am also keenly aware that there is luck involved in keeping me alive till now; I recalled recently how close I came to death a couple of times. Once, I tried to short-cut a sigiri lighting process by introducing petrol into the equation, and only stopped myself short because of a little voice in my head that insisted that there would be a lot of pain involved if I tried it. Another time I had a bag of bullets and was just about to throw them into a small fire to impress my friends, and again I just didn’t do it.
That is luck playing its part.
But it’s not all luck.
It’s mostly hard work; and I speak for many, not just myself.
Some people use the adage ‘Don’t Work Hard, Work Smart’ and I have always thought that to be bollocks.
We have to work hard, even when you are working smart!
I have worked hard in various ways:
  • I work hard studying – not at academics in school, but studying everything that I come across in life. Some people tell me that I over-analyse certain things, but that is part of studying. The real reason we go to school is to learn basic principles that we can apply to life in order to do things better and, possibly, improve them. Studying the simplest of things is both smart and hard, because you apply thought to what you are doing
  • I work hard preparing – for almost bloody everything, to the point of sometimes being irritatingly non-spontaneous even for fun stuff. Preparation is not easy at all, but it is essential to getting anything done right. There are phone calls I won’t make unless I’ve written down what I am planning to say, and what I intend to achieve with the phone call. I cannot take a meeting unless I have an Agenda in mind, and meeting notes in advance of the meeting.
  • I work hard at reading – because I am a writer, and I also love reading. These days it is even harder to read because of the distractions we have around us – especially technology and the internet and the ubiquity of ‘friends’ and contacts who can reach you at the drop of a text message and demand that you respond simply because of those two blue ticks that tell them you have read what they wrote, uninvited. To hell with all that – I work hard to put the phone down and pick up a book, so that I improve my mind and cram it with more valuable texts by people who have applied some intelligence and thought into writing words in long form.
  • I work hard practising – the adage ‘Practise makes Perfect’ makes absolute sense. The more you do something, the better you are bound to perform at it; so I practise as much as possible, and I make time to practise. Which is why I write every single day, even if just to practise putting words down onto paper (or into the computer/tablet/phone).
  • I work hard training – which is different from studying and practising. Training is approaching something one hasn’t done before and learning it quite deliberately, I think (google it, someone, and make a polite comment about my ignorance if you dare). I like to train myself in things that I possibly won’t make use of in my regular life but that could come in handy somewhere some day, like when the world implodes and only those who know how to forage will survive. I will survive.
  • I work hard paying attention to detail – because too few people actually do that these days, in both the small and the big things. In my regular line of business it is the one essential quality that I bring to the table that makes the difference between a misconstrued public statement and a lucid explanation of an issue of concern to my client and the target audience they wish to address. I know for a fact that I honed my editing skills this way, and started out as a child reading EVERYTHING that came my way and noticing whenever there were errors, and the habit runs on as you may notice if you have sent me a text message, email or letter without double-checking it…twice.
And, believe me, I have worked really hard all my life. While preparing for my #ExpertTalksUG segment, I wrote down the different jobs I recall having done for money:
Jobs I've Done.001
True stories, all of them.
None of them made me rich AT ALL but each of those pieces of work was useful in teaching me something or the other that I have used in the next venture and in life, generally. Did I mention writing, by the way? That’s what I basically do even though it doesn’t pay me enough…yet.
One day, though, it will be my main source of income and I will be ready to die happy (don’t tell the kids).
The growing and selling of tomatoes taught me many things – I started out on the project because it promised me access to a pick-up truck during my senior six vacation, which I would probably use to impress girls after I had dropped off workers, tools and produce. I ended up selling the tomatoes off the back of the pick-up, at the old taxi park, because the two people my father had signed a contract with to supply tomatoes to their ketchup factory had died in an accident on Entebbe Road a week before our (bumper) crop was ready for sale.
Each of those jobs came with one story or another, so stand by for the book and save up so you can buy copies for your children.
It’s not all luck and it’s not all hard work either; I find consistency to be essential.
Did I mention writing, by the way?
I am looking forward to the day I can introduce myself as “Simon Kaheru, Writer”.
I have the business card (we’ll be calling them calling cards by then, no pun) in my mind.
Being consistent makes life easier and gets you closer to the point you want to arrive at – whether it’s wealth, happiness or even a physical point. If you’ve gone out jogging on one of those days you really don’t feel like it, you know that the formula is to simply keep putting one foot ahead of the other and head off in one direction non-stop, no breaks, no distractions. The moment you slow down to walk is the beginning of you turning back.
Be consistent and the rest shall be added unto you, the good article says, here at this point (four words ago).
Consistency speaks for itself, especially in my field – reputation (good or bad) is built on consistency. Perfection is built on consistency. Trust is built on consistency. Clients are lost if you are not consistent. Referrals are made if you are consistent. Relationships are broken if you are not consistent.
But getting to where one wants to be is not always about you and what you do – there are always other factors that act upon you in various ways, mostly those that knock you down. And it doesn’t matter who you are, you get knocked down one day. Either by losing a support or anchor (like a parent), or getting fired, or being dropped by a crucial client, or even just falling sick and losing time.
You get knocked down.
No amount of luck and hard work on its own will come to your aid at that point; you need to find ways of getting back up. You can’t KNOW, automatically, how to get back up; but you have to do so. Confusingly, THAT getting-back-up-when-life-has-knocked-you-down, on its own, involves hard work and all that other stuff.
But it’s a quality of its own that you have to develop. I only know how to do it for the things life has hit me with so far, and I sometimes worry about the time life gets a really strong punch in, since I suspect that it’s doing some training of its own in preparation to enter the ring again with me. When it does, I will go down but I’ve got to get back up again for the next round.
That  getting-back-up-when-life-has-knocked-you-down is easier if you have an actor or grounding or a root; even from the physical point of view the logic is that you will not disintegrate fully if you’re well rooted when you get knocked down (don’t over-analyse this, please?).
My own anchors/groundings/roots are: 1. My family 2. God 3. My passions (Reading and Writing) 4. The keenness to overcome what I fear 5. Avoiding what I don’t like.
And it’s easier to get back up because I focus a lot on what I DO like. On those mornings that I don’t want to get up and go, I ensure that the first task I take up is related to reading and writing, rather than doing accounts, for instance.
It’s not all luck.
Even though I am lucky that the mantras and slogans I have been exposed to and stuck with have been useful in keeping me hard at work. Our parents told us consistently as children to “Use your imagination!” and to this day, that’s my secret weapon to problem solving (aka work); our family slogan is “Be Serious” (nothing more needed there); and my personal goal of being happy is met every single day because I work hard at it, consistently.
I don’t rely on luck.
Because it’s not all luck.

the procurement of sugar cane and how people lose jobs


20160727_163132.jpg
The Bugolobi supplier – Photo by Simon Kaheru

OVER the last couple of weeks I have followed first hand how: 1. Procurement sometimes gets easily confounded and; 2. How, as a direct result, a certain cadre of persons will lose their jobs.

Starting about three weeks ago, I noticed that a police guard within my neighbourhood had developed a consistent habit of eating sugarcane at the gate near my home.
Sugar cane was my favourite childhood fruit, back when my siblings and I coined the word ‘sukali kiboko’, as we were learning our vernacular and trying to do so without being laughed at. So we went, one at a time, to our grand mother to get the words for ‘sugar’ and ‘cane’, then put them together.
We got laughed at, then learnt the correct words for bikajjo/bikaijo.
The sight of the police guard ripping away at his sugarcane triggered a nostalgic need to join in, and enquiries revealed that he regularly purchased his supply nearby at Ushs500 per cane.
I dispatched my eleven-year old with Ushs1,000 and he returned with two long sugar cane stems that quickly went into sweet tooth history.
The next day, I sent a domestic worker whose role profile includes ad hoc shopping trips within a certain radius for items valued below a set, safe limit.
I only wanted two sugar cane stems – one for me, and one for the police guard or anybody else interested. She returned and I chewed through my day’s allocation, but the next day I found the store to be empty.
Assuming that the habit had become popular within the household, I sent her on another excursion and made a loose remark about how the two stems from the day before had been so quickly decimated.
“I only bought one,” she said, and left to buy more, with another Ushs1,000.
That gave me time to think about the first Ushs1,000 I had given her and how it had resulted in the confessed singular sugar cane stem but with no change returned.
After a long while I found she had returned and gone on to other duties, unaware that my need for a sugar cane fix made me dangerously irritable. Apologising, she explained that the usual point had no sugar cane on offer, and got angrily sent on her way to accomplish the given task.
She returned with one stem and reported that it cost Ushs800.
I noted the difference in cost, but dealt with the more pressing matter of chewing cane, as I thought things over and decided to bypass her for such purchases.
The next day, I bypassed her and used another emissary who I gave Ushs2,000.
He also returned with one stem – and this one much shorter than usual. I studied it carefully and found the individual segments themselves to be no different from past stems, which meant that someone had taken a knife to either end of the sugar cane.
It is normal for the top-most segment with the leaves and the bottom-most one with roots and soil to get hacked away, but this time the knife operator had literally made enjawulo of sugar cane itself!
To make matters worse, it cost the full Ushs2,000. Mbu.
I was incensed and made it clear how inconceivable it was for the price of sugarcane to have quadrupled within a half kilometre radius over the course of four days.
I felt like telling him the fable of an unscrupulous West African President in the 1980s who would send an aide to the Central Bank Governor with a request for a briefcase of money. By the time the Governor released the cash, the amount in the request had normally been multiplied ten times over, with various other officials starting with the Governor himself and including drivers, bodyguards and messengers, all taking off a small cut before the President received the money he had initially requested.
But I was impatient for my sugar cane fix, so I struck the fellow off my list of trusted sugar cane purchasers and moved on.
I wished I had stayed close to the police guard who had introduced me to the Ushs500-a-stem supplier, but it was obvious that I had now entered another dimension, so I changed tack and the next day went to the Nakawa market myself.
And stupidly, instead of alighting from my vehicle to walk up to the fellow at the bicycle chopping up and selling the sugar canes, I accepted the offer of using the market shopping boys who make themselves available to fools such as myself.
It must have been obvious to him that I was intent on the convenience of sitting in my vehicle and unlikely to leave, with my paraphernalia, in order to cross the road and purchase sugar cane.
I saw a tell-tale look show up in his eyes as he told me, after handing me one chopped up sugar cane stem, that it cost Ushs4,000. I gave him a knowing smile, and he smiled back and I knew he was winning. I paid up and left.
Two days later, I found another fellow on a bicycle in Bugolobi and this time I crossed the road to make my purchase. Ushs3,000.
Slapping myself on the forehead, I went back to the Ushs500-a-stem point and found them fully re-stocked.
There is no turning back.
I now buy sugar cane myself – with no external assistance, all segments intact.
(And at this point, I must thank the patient reader who texted me at the end of the day to say: “Correction: Sugarcane is a grass; NOT a fruit or a vegetable!” Very correct, madame!)

yambala elementi yo! (wear your helmet!)


WhatsApp-Image-20160726
Photo by Catherine Nampeera

I BOUGHT a motorcycle helmet the other week, and now go with it almost everywhere these days – making a point to carry it out of the car and into coffee shops and offices.

I do NOT use boda-bodas. More accurately, I have successfully avoided using boda-bodas for a very long time now, and intend to continue doing so.
My reasons might be different from most but include, in order of importance: 1. A keen interest in living to a respectable age 2. A strong desire to keep all my body parts intact and functional while living to that respectable age 3. The internal discomfort that boda-boda rides involve, for me, because of the daredevil nature of the average boda-boda chap, and; 4. The external discomfort that they involve because of my body mass in relation to the size of an average boda-boda seat.
But I do use boda-bodas by proxy, because there are people that I work with whose nature of work makes travel by boda-boda expedient and sensible even if most of the people that operate the machines are rarely the latter.
For years, I have been asking many of these colleagues of mine to acquire and use helmets as they ride round the city. I also, whenever the opportunity arises, find it both easy and necessary to tell even the most random boda-boda riders that they must wear helmets on duty.
At one point my tactic included shouting at them as they whizzed past: “Gundi; yambala elementi yo!”, because the phrase always raises mirth in me. Like Fulampeni and Kabada and Bulekyi-Food (a bottle of which I once bought in Wandegeya just so I could say the word out loud repeatedly in conversation).
I stopped shouting out the ‘Yambala Elementi Yo!’ phrase when an easily startled fellow in Kitintale, I later learnt his name to be Muwamadi, responded by swerving almost into a perimeter wall.
Ironically, even though I was the cause of his near-death experience I engaged him in a conversation about how he would surely have spread his brains all over that nearby wall if he had not brought the bike under control quicker. He did point out, shakily, that the entire conversation would have been unnecessary if I hadn’t shouted him down.
Explaining irony to him would have been painful (less than the accident itself), so I focused on the point that the accident that didn’t happen to him was likely to one day occur because the manner in which we stop boda-boda chaps is by shouting them down as they whizz past us on the road.
I pointed out to him the inconvenience he would have introduced to the homeowner who would have had to wash blood and brain splatter off his wall, and the trauma I would have suffered having watched his skull crumple against said wall. More importantly, though, I pressed upon him the burden his wives (he has two) and children would have faced if he died that day or became crippled.
The conversation ended with him promising to wear his ‘elementi’ (by the way – that’s vernacular for ‘helmet’) rather than perch it on the handlebars of his bike – and I have spotted him doing so a couple of times since.
From our conversation I suspected Muwamadi does not have a university degree, and I would be surprised if he showed me a senior six leaver’s certificate in his name.
Unlike most of my colleagues.
So my patience with him and others of his ilk in the matter of the use of protective wear is somewhat condescending. He cannot know better, poor fellow, and has to be spoken to gently and slowly. Where possible, I believe he and people like him need to be shown pictures and have skits performed for them.
Unlike most of my colleagues.
A person with a University degree taught in a language originating in countries where the use of protective wear is almost automatic should have no excuse for not wearing a helmet.
A person whose entertainment consumption includes foreign feature films in which people ride about wearing helmets and even padded clothing should not need to be told to dress up wisely for a bike ride.
A person who reads books and magazines where items like helmets are commonplace should not need to hear the call ‘Yambala Elementi Yo!’.
One of my colleagues uses an iPhone and Macbook, and spends lots of time in trendy coffee shops and cozy bars serving pricey drinks and sumbusas that cost more than Muwamadi’s average domestic meal (both wives and all children inclusive).
Yet she neither owns her own helmet nor uses one provided by a boda-boda chap. Her reasons are illogical enough for me to hope that one day her University and secondary school uses them to withdraw her academic qualifications.
What is the cost of a helmet? Not the ones that look like a 1940s war relic or an upside down washing powder bucket (500gms). How much is a padded helmet with a visor that swings down and swishes that look trendy?
Twenty Thousand Shillings. (UPDATE: TO BUY A HELMET, CALL 0775074834
or 0703170934 – I get no commission whatsoever and the people behind those numbers do not know me at all, to the best of my own knowledge.)
About the same as the consultation fees one pays at any clinic near you. And much, much cheaper than the cost of a funeral.
I bought two – one for me, and one for the colleague who I send directly onto a boda-boda. The rest, I insist should travel by taxi or walk, because I don’t want their blood on my hands or splattered all over a roadside wall.

visa fees into Uganda lowered by 50%, making Uganda tourism the cheapest thrill in Africa…another missed opportunity


The first part of that headline above is the kind of thing we call another missed opportunity.

Today is July 21, 2016.

I am approaching the highly exciting news that Uganda has amended the cost of single entry visas payable on arrival at ports of entry from US$100 to US$50, effective today.
This piece of news is of great economic significance for the entire country at large as it makes us more attractive for tourists in general because it enables our tour operators to offer more competitive packages (especially when you consider that you get a lot more wildlife and other tourism-related experiences for your bucks when you spend in Uganda compared to other countries in the region).
It also brings to an end many months of agonising, lobbying and jostling with the government to lower these fees – which were increased in July last year from US$50 to US$100.
I am not here to talk about the tourism aspects of the announcement, but the COMMUNICATION around it – because THAT  has made the excitement of this announcement is as tasty as a soggy piece of photocopying paper.
Which WAS the ‘official communication’ around this – A BLACK AND WHITE PAGE OF PHOTOCOPYING PAPER with not even a watermark to indicate that it was a genuine and authoritative government document. If it wasn’t for the two holes that indicate that a punching machine was used to make the document appropriate for insertion into a file, one would not believe it to be official.
Here it is:
Tourism Visa Fees Lowered
See, ‘Circular 3, 2016’ is on a letterhead of the Directorate of Citizenship & Immigration Control whose email address (which I am copying this link to) is imm@africaonline.co.ug – a domain that is surprisingly ‘co.ug’ rather than ‘go.ug’ that would make you believe it is run by the government.
Maybe the ‘co.ug’ means it is businesslike? No – the email address bounces back mail!
I swear  – see:
Anyway, the sogginess of the announcement is mostly because the people announcing it have taken that annoyingly lazy and ubiquitous path of scanning a document and WhatsApping it around and claiming to have communicated.
The missed opportunity here is massive – which reminds me of the saying often attributed to Thomas Alva Edison, that inventor of things such as the lightbulb: “We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work,” he is reputed to have said!
Whoever is in charge of announcing this Single Entry Visa change was clearly afraid of doing a little bit of work around it.
This is the kind of announcement that needs:
  1. To be accompanied by images and graphics of happy, smiling tourists of all ethnicities very excitedly receiving change or balance at Entebbe airport as they pay for their entry visa, with mountain gorillas and other wildlife in the backdrop waiting to receive them.
  2. To go into funny video memes depicting the excitement at paying much less to holiday in Uganda.
  3. To be translated into as many languages as exist countrywide and then circulated to all embassies.
  4. To get posted online onto ALL government websites.
  5. To get posted online onto ALL websites of Ugandan embassies and foreign missions.
  6. To be given to ALL tour and travel and hospitality companies to share no their platforms and websites.
  7. To be made colourful and vibrant and welcoming and enticing – which even nursery schools do when they paint their walls in bright colours and use smiling cartoon characters, so that parents and children alike choose them rather than a mango tree…
  8. To be carried VERY LOUDLY AND PROMINENTLY by the Uganda Tourism Board, the Association of Uganda Tour Operators, and everybody with an interest in seeing our tourism numbers grow.
  9. To be given to the three Tourism Marketing and Public Relations Promotion Firms contracted a few months ago to promote Uganda, so that they make a big meal out of it in those markets they are covering – the UK and Northern Ireland, Germany and Europe, and the United States.
It is not too late to salvage this and do all the above.
For God and My Country.
Update: @PaulKaheru asked for a sample poster and I have to share this, below, which was released an hour or so after this blog post and would have made for a much, much, much better announcement than the letter sent by WhatsApp – so kudos to the Minister:
Hon Frank Tumwebaze Visa Fees Lowered
Slide1

blessed soils in the Holy Lands of Uganda and Israels


MY story of the week to do with Israel and Uganda last week was the one The New Vision ran quoting Bishop Dr. Edward Muhima and citing his realisation that Israelis had carried soil from Uganda back to the Palestine region (I had to get that in there) to improve their own soils and make their agricultural production successful.
I still can’t believe that the headline wasn’t a play on ‘Blessed Soils in the Holy Land’.
I first visited the nation of Israel as an impressionable youth collecting many life-changing memories, one of which stands out often in my mind and has recurred again in the dust raised by the visit of Bibi Netanyahu.
It started with the excitability of the guide chaperoning our group of Africans, and the driver of the bus we were travelling in to go and visit a kibbutz.
As we drove past a mountainside, rain began to fall in amounts that did not impress most of us visitors to the Holy Land from sub-Saharan Africa.
The Israelis in the bus, however, were beside themselves at the occurrence, and launched into chatter in their native language, and then even song! They calmed down after a while to explain that they had not seen rain in about three years, hence the excitement.
In passing, our guide, an elderly fellow at the diplomatic rank of Ambassador and whose army rank I cannot recall right now, mentioned that we had to speed past the mountain in order to escape a possible avalanche because these rare rains were known to cause rivulets that brought down large chunks of mountain.
By the time we arrived at the kibbutz I was still musing over how the Israelis initially focused more on the excitement over the sudden rains than the risk of painful death from the run-off.
Those musings were swept away when we saw the size of the fruits and vegetables at the kibbutz and heard the amounts of money that Israel as a nation fetched from agricultural exports. The figures, in tens of millions of United States dollars, did not make sense to me.
My deep confusion could be well understood when considered against the fresh revelation that the country (or, at the very least, that region we were in) had not had rain for years, and the one I had come from had had an abundance of the stuff for ages without ever announcing such figures (in excess of US$20billion that year alone).
It was even more confusing that in that year we, in Uganda, reportedly had more than five million hectares of arable land available compared to Israel’s 300,000.
With no rain, the Israelis were exporting billions of dollars worth of fruits and vegetables (and animal husbandry products). How? By using Irrigation, fertilisers, mechanisation of agriculture and other things that I had heard about in school about ten years before I had made that trip.
Now, more than fifteen years since I made that trip and one week after Netanyahu and his people visited, we have headlines such as, ‘Dry spell irks Masaka farmers’ and other cries of woe regarding rain and dry spells.

Still holding memories of the massive sizes of fruits and vegetables being produced in the small gardens in the kibbutz we visited back then, I read this week about how farmers are cursing the ‘dry spell’ that we have had for a couple of months and how “hundreds of thousands of residents may face hunger if nothing is done”.
We are neither stupid nor ignorant, but it is hard to do the mathematics and arrive at a logical conclusion – harder still if you throw in stories such as the 2014 one in which the government of Israel announced that it had tripled its intake of students going to Israel to study agriculture on scholarship. That year, the students were tripled from 41 to 120 – never mind that back in 1962 Israel granted 150 scholarships to Ugandan students in medicine and agriculture, and we have been sending them in such good numbers every year since.
In fact, on my trip back then I quite randomly bumped into three Ugandans – two visiting from the Ministry of Agriculture, and a third from a hospital here (she is now a doctor practicing in the United States.)
Where are these students and why aren’t they in places like Masaka and northern Uganda warding off the threat of “hundreds of thousands facing hunger” or getting our agriculture exports from US$240million up into the billions, considering that we have thousands more tonnes of the very soil that Israel uses?
I will be asking him, shortly, to publish the full list of the students and their whereabouts so that we can consult them on our own private agricultural projects, or for the government to assign them to district programmes such as NAADS and whatnot.
There is no shortage of them, even from the last two years alone since 198 went in 2014 and 226 were going in 2015 (presumably including the 120 paid for by the Israeli government). Plus, according to Mugabo’s speech at the flag-off ceremony last year, the Ugandans always excel during the courses, meaning that we should have the best performing agricultural experts in Africa, learning from the Israel experience.