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!)