let’s drink tea together in Uganda so that the economy stops doing badly

“THE Economy is doing badly,” a medic friend of mine told me over the weekend, over tea and eats at his verandah overlooking a colourful sunset over Lake Victoria and some lush hills in Wakiso District.

This particular medic, I always joke, gives Ugandan medical professionals a bad name because he appears far more comfortable than the legend of their profession in this country tells us.

But I personally know first hand how the appearance of comfort and the reality of being comfortable are not always the same, so I cut him some slack. He and his wife, who is also a medical doctor, built a beautiful home in a neat, organised neighbourhood in Wakiso through hard work, diligence and many hours of sweat doing numerous jobs at the same time.

Many people read the appearance of their home, their possession of two cars and the bright disposition of their children to be a sign of serious affluence.

Sitting at their meal tables would cement the idea further, as they tend to have collections of condiments, teas and coffees swept off supermarket shelves by way of a garden rake.

Which is why his statement “The Economy is doing badly” could not go past me unpackaged.

My frenetic response made use of the tray of teas that sat before us, looking more colourful in the light of the sunset.

Arranging all the imported teas to one side, I was left with one packet of tea made in Uganda, unbranded and in a ziplock bag, and two packs of coffee, branded.

“This,” I explained, “is a major part of why the economy is doing badly!”

And I then waded into a very lay explanation of the flow of money out of the economy that occurs when we buy foreign teas grown by farmers in Ceylon and India and Brazil, using hoes and tractors made in China, South Kore and America, with fertilisers made in Saudi Arabia, Germany and Russia. These foreign teas are then packaged in Europe, America and Asia, with materials made in those very same countries or those close to them, if not the usual suspect (China), which consume electricity that is generated in those countries using their waterways, their fuels or even the sunshine above them.

The electricity generation plants are built with materials that are also manufactured in those countries – so well that even the generation plants we have here make use of materials imported from those countries rather than the steel and cement that we have over here.

Then the teas are designed in a tasteful and colourful manner, and given attractive names that make them sound tasty and flavourful, above loquacious definitions of the experience you enjoy when you pour hot water over the tea bags and wait a few minutes for it to react in a manner that will make imbibing the tea worth the drive through the heavy Entebbe or Hoima Road traffic all the way to a beautiful home in Wakiso to catch the sun set.

I fear that in most cases those names and definitions printed onto the packets of tea are conjured up by teams of marketing design creatives sitting in New York and Manila and London and Johannesburg; not any of the towns from Adjumani to Zombo.

All this, I argued, is money being spent outside of Uganda every time my good doctor friends use their hard earned money to buy foreign teas off our supermarket shelves – even if a minuscule percentage of the money spent goes to the owners of the supermarket in profit margins, and some of the cost is sent to the logistics people that bring the tea over from its foreign source.

Flabbergasting ensued.

But to the credit of my medic friend, because we had had similar discussions many times before, he and his wife HAD been to supermarkets specifically to stock up on Ugandan products in anticipation of my tirade, but “We failed to find Igara Tea!”

Which is why I got in touch with the Uganda Export Promotion Board, to get a complete list of additional Ugandan teas available in our supermarkets, so that I could share it with my medic friends and help them contribute to changing the situation re: “The Economy is doing badly”.

Sadly, the good people at UEPB did not have a list handy, but sent me a list of the 18 (eighteen) members of the Uganda Tea Growers Association in 2015 and a contact there who might have a list of our brands of Ugandan tea.

He did not, but he did share a list of six members, rather than the 18 (eighteen) the UEPB had listed last year, together with their contact details but no single brand name to aid the sales of their tea to people like my medic friends.

I went over to the Uganda Tea Association website (www.utasso.com – according to their letterhead) but it was non-functional.

The additional realities of why “The Economy is doing badly” began to rankle, even though the people at the Tea Association said that only a small quantity of the teas produced are actually packaged and then sold in Uganda.

Mind you, Ugandan Tea is very highly rated globally, as sites like http://www.theteadetective.com/TeasOfUganda.html confidently state.

Persisting in my quest, I went to the Uganda Tea Development Agency and found that they had a website with a section listing “Our brands”.

Joy filled my heart, and I poured another cup of tea (Mukwano Tea, with mujaaja) as I waited for the page to load. It loaded very quickly, and I realised that this was because it only listed two brands – Kayonza Tea and Igara Tea.


Because the Uganda Tea Development Agency is a private company that runs both those tea factories.

So, in reality, we don’t have a master list of all these Ugandan teas, even though Uganda is Africa’s third largest producer of Tea and:
Popularity of Tea
Which is why I couldn’t complete my mission for my medic friends, and for now, “The Economy is doing badly.”
Still, I know how to identify these brands – even before I get inside a supermarket, because we have billboards presenting them (I took a couple of photos at random this morning):
Nevertheless, I got someone (thanks, Catherine Nampeera) to take photographs of a few more, and will be sharing these with my medic friends as well, so that we drink tea together to stop The Economy Doing Badly:
This Economy Can Do Well if we spend our money wisely.   

get yourself a rose nakitto, or a ricci everyday ASAP!

I HAVE this habit of taking some of my work to coffee shops with free wi-fi where I can have less rankling meetings than most offices provide an atmosphere for.

One of these coffee shops is Prunes Cafe, on Wampewo Avenue in Kololo, where the coffee is strong and Ugandan, and my favourite table is in a secluded place on the inside that limits the number of people who randomly walk up to say a quick hello that could last over ten minutes.

It’s a nice cafe that attracts expatriates and foreigners, as well as natives such as myself, and because of that it is the perfect location for sales of certain items. Over weekends they host a ‘Farmers Market’ in their yard at which fruits, vegetables and other local produce and wares are laid out and sold quite briskly to our mostly expatriate and muzungu (the two are not exactly the same) community.

But on the inside of the cafe is a small room that is rented out as a shop, and that has sat empty for many months as the previous occupant moved on. I have seen two people I know almost take it up as their design boutique outlet, and even thought of putting a desk in their myself and calling it an office, but the table I occupy already provides that at rents of coffee and water per sitting.

This week I dropped by to have a coffee and write about one Rose Nakitto, and during a loose phonecall found that the little shop had been taken up by ‘RICCI EVERYDAY’.

Ricci Everyday sells bags made of kitenge material, and recycled bottles wrapped tastefully in coloured barkcloth – all Ugandan made – but my special interest this week was in the bags. The two sizes of bags they have retail for close to Ushs200,000, and are no doubt good value for the money charged.

The bags are named after people we know:

There is the Akello Bag 4 Way (US$50), that can be used in four different ways; the Mini Akello (US$40), that can also be used in four different ways but is smaller; the Nawolovu Furoshiki (US$360!), which is “a mixture of Ugandan and Japanese culture using hand-painted Ugandan Batik, bark cloth, and design of Japanese traditional furoshiki”; and the Mirembe Clutch with Bark (US$103), which is just what it sounds like.

All the products, the brochures say, are hand-made in Uganda by trained single mothers at a studio right here in Uganda.

Which brings me back to Rose Nakitto.

Rose Nakitto’s teenage grandson vending her colourful wares in Kkungu, Wakiso. Photo by Simon Kaheru

I haven’t yet spoken to this lady properly, but I encountered her products over the weekend as I was driving through Kkungu, in Wakiso District. By the side of the road, walking through the dust, was a teenager carrying a number of impressive looking bags.

They caught my attention because they were colourful and appeared well-structured but very different from the usual laptop bags that we see in supermarkets and ordinary shops.

So I stopped to inspect them and found that they were made in Uganda! By Rose Nakitto.

The young man explained that Nakitto was his grandmother and lives in Mulago, where she makes the bags.

I snapped one up for Ushs35,000 – asking price, even though he was ready to haggle a little. The other bags went for Ushs20,000 and even lower.

The stitching of the bags was fine and the padding just what I expect from a laptop bag; plus, mine has a colourful kitenge design that I am not shy to use in most places I go to.

Rose Nakitto clearly has a good eye for design and has identified a niche that needs filling, and is using local materials blended with a few imported bits and pieces (like the zippers) while maintaining the look and feel of a regular laptop bag.

Now, all that is left is for her to find an outlet like Ricci Everyday to carry her pieces and increase the mark up she is making while allowing her grandson to continue with school so he eventually becomes Chief Design Officer or Global Marketing Manager of her bags.

Ricci Everyday, I saw from their marketing documentation, sells bags under the brand concept “Spoonful of African Color” and promises that every product is hand-made in their studio in Uganda, “inspired by Uganda” – just as Rose Nakitto’s products are.

“African fabric represents such attractiveness. We cannot stop feeling positive energy, passion and power coming up from each different fabric, probably coming from the people in this country,” says a Ricci Everyday brochure, which looks amusingly similar to the NOGAMU marketing materials I saw a while back.

Just like the NOGAMU materials and business cards, the Ricci Everyday ones have a link to a Japanese organisation, which has found these Ugandans so resourceful and promising that they have formed a partnership of sorts.

They are very correct about Ugandans and what we have – everywhere I go with my Rose Nakitto bag (unbranded) I get stopped and asked where they can find one similar, because of the unique colourful and energetic fabric that says “Uganda” and “Africa”.

I can’t send them to that little road in Kkungu, because her grandson is pretty mobile. Luckily, I have her number handy: it is 0777 460 854.

#UGBlogWeek Day Five – #SchoolsMadeMeNoBetter really is #SchoolsMadeMeBetter…me, the chap that i am today

#SchoolsMadeMeBetter. Yes – me.

By doing what schools are supposed to do, all my schools combined made me better. See, I was lucky because I wasn’t sent to school just to get good examination grades. Of course, those were expected as part of the return package, but that package involved much, much, much more.

That’s why I was sent in at a young, tender age and expected to emerge as an adult ready to take on the world and make a mark on it, rather than have it mark me.

I went in with very little in my mind, meagre amounts of flesh on my bones, and no worries in my soul.

I had to change, through school. Not by way of the classrooms alone, but in the field, on the schoolyard, in the dormitories, the corridors, the staff room, and on the roads walking to and from the various schools, and in the cars when they carried me across.

Even as a very young child I was a Daydreamer and fantasized every chance I got, but learnt to bring my mind back to the real world and put my feet on the ground, my hand to the pen and my pen to paper.

I was an Inattentive child yet came out having learnt to identify when it was important to pay attention, and how to do so in order to turn that importance into useful action.

I was Easily Distracted, and still am to an extent, but learnt how to turn away from my distractions when I needed to, in order to achieve clear objectives – the importance of which I had learnt to prioritise through paying attention.

I was Immature yet found maturity in many ways, from the simple ones like stretching out meagre resources and learning to survive in relative hardship, to the complicated ones like dealing with feelings – mine and others.

I was Weak – VERY weak, yet developed strength and found how to be powerful or even appear powerful in spite of my weakness. The lessons still work to this day …

I was Shy, and believe I still am yet I developed ways of overcoming that shyness to speak in public, approach complete strangers with bold requests, and to hold my own in very unfamiliar circumstances, surrounded by people I have never met before in countries I have only just walked into for my first time ever.

I wasn’t born with sportsmanship, teamwork, humility, courage, diligence, and a long list of other attributes that I possibly wouldn’t have been able to spell, let alone develop, if I hadn’t gone to school.

#SchoolsMadeMeBetter because they took hold of my little infant self and moulded me into an acceptable adult with responsibilities that include raising several other infants into acceptable adults – with the help of schools.

So that they, in turn, one day turn up with the statement #SchoolsMadeMeBetter.

#UGBlogWeek Day Four – #SchoolsMadeMeNoBetter really is #SchoolsMadeMeBetter otherwise where and how would I have made any friends?

I am better for my friends, which is why I can confidently say #SchoolsMadeMeBetter.

If I hadn’t gone to school at all – which was never an available option in my case, with my family background – then I would be a much less rounded character today because of the absence of friends.

I certainly wouldn’t be married to the superb mother of my children and the companion I am trying to keep by my side until we are really too old to walk unaided, and start to forget even the children’s names but recall each other’s nicknames.

#SchoolsMadeMeBetter because the experiences with children there helped guide the way I lived my life as a young, and now old, adult. Right from my primary school days when I grew very close and comfortable relationships with girls until some fellow young-uns convinced me that girls were generally irritating characters to be ignored, despised and deeply distrusted.

By the time I resumed talking to girls properly again I was bound to be as awkward as most of the other boys because that was who I had become. Hanging out with those boys, sharing jokes with them, telling and listening to stories, envying some of them and probably creating my own envy situations (I hope) changed me.

I picked up habits that I wouldn’t have found elsewhere. I learnt words we didn’t have at home. I saw pictures that didn’t exist in any of my relatives houses (in the open, at least). I watched movies that my parents would never have allowed my friends’ parents to watch.

Our days were different, man – we exchanged videotapes from house to house instead of downloading torrents. We didn’t have facebook, twitter and instagram to make friends with – we had to actually see people, walk up to them, and talk to them to establish whether we liked them or not and vice versa.

School was that place where you kicked around a plastic container in the absence of a ball, and after ten minutes found out who else liked soccer as much as you did. It was the place where you squatted in the dust to play dool with people whose names you didn’t know until the first time they beat you at the game, and then you asked them directly for their name.

We nicknamed our friends at school. We teased them mercilessly, many times bringing our closest friends to tears by ribbing and shelling them with abandon. But the tears rarely dropped (when everyone was watching) and before long we went back to laughter.

School was a great place to make friends because it put us together for hours on end with people whose character showed through quite clearly. There was no trolling, no loose ‘Likes’ and ‘Favourites’ and if somebody didn’t like you there was a specific place you went to punch things out.

And it also taught me that punching things out wasn’t always the best way of making friends or resolving issues between friends or even dropping friends.

#SchoolsMadeMeBetter at these relationship techniques so much so that whenever people said those “Your network is your net worth” comments I laughed out loud (using #NN).

What would my network have been without school? Nothing.


#UGBlogWeek Day Three – seriously, #SchoolsMadeMeNoBetter means #SchoolsMadeMeBetter because of my parents

THE one lesson I remember from my university Sociology classes was the one where the lecturer told us about normalisation. She told us how norms in society are formed and passed on, and I distinctly recall understanding that lesson alone and feeling quite happy that I had gone into a lecture theatre.

Children develop their norms by associating with different influences at different stages of their lives. When they’re born they get everything from their parents, then as they grow siblings and other relatives come into play. Their nannies or governesses (depending on how posh they are) also contribute along the way. When children start going to school their teachers become the main influences, and when the children develop friendships their friends take over.

#SchoolsMadeMeBetter by being a major provider of my norms, but only after my Parents had deposited theirs, and most importantly BECAUSE my parents decided so.

#SchoolsMadeMeBetter because I got thrown into the arena alongside all sorts of children (and teachers) who made me realise how different I was from them, and in some cases made me appreciate how outstanding we were in our little, humble family. And even as those new norms came upon me, the ones I had left home with were deeply embedded, thank God!

And so, #SchoolsMadeMeBetter because they made me love my parents more and more as I saw their hard work and sacrifice first hand and got to compare it with many other parents’ attributes.

It was in school that I learnt that not all parents went home in the evenings to be with their children and help with homework or supervise cleanliness and other aspects of our lives that irritated and annoyed us.

It was because of school that I discovered how hard life really was for my parents, especially on the days we would get ‘circulars’ and ‘chits’ (those two words have disappeared from our lexicography (Google it – I won’t edit it out) and should return in fact as well as usage, even for the nostalgia alone. Those circulars and chits in many cases advised that we would have to be sent back home if our school fees were not fully paid up by a certain time ‘t’.

Learning that we were on the list of students whose fees were not paid up by the first day of term made it easier to accept not having pocket money by the envelope-load. We understood why we couldn’t have as much grub as the next student, who also happened to be part of the same clique you were in and therefore ‘Birds of a Feather’.

#SchoolsMadeMeBetter because my parents were revealed to me more and more in school even if they were not present their; the way my teachers spoke of them when they had the occasion to, and the attitude the other pupils and students took towards them often made me pause and think about who they really were.

And more, because the way these same pupils and students spoke of their own parents and the parents of others amongst us made me REALLY look up with pride and say the names of my parents with the confidence that I wrote them down as my own name.

Every time the name was said out loud I saw their faces, not mine, and prayed that I was making them proud. Each and every time. When I wasn’t making them proud I was anguished, and wept, and hurt, and prayed for repentance and the chance to make it good again.

#SchoolsMadeMeBetter because they all made me understand the importance of my identity, especially the importance that my parents would place upon the family name. At school I was an extension of who they were outside of school; I had to be careful, respectful, cautious, responsible and serious – all for the sake of the people who were working so hard to afford to keep me in school, and suffered great stress to do so successfully.

#SchoolsMadeMeBetter because they taught me about parental love, care, and sacrifice.