spend sensibly this festive season – we have a crisis on our hands!


IN case you missed it, there is a food security notice out there giving us tips and guidelines at a personal level that we should pin up onto our walls, fridges, car dashboards and office desks for daily use.

The warnings came as early as April this year, when the IMF (International Monetary Fund) actually wrote: “After an extended period of strong economic growth, many sub-Saharan African countries have been hit by a multiple of shocks—the sharp decline in commodity prices, tighter financing conditions, and a severe drought in southern and eastern Africa. Growth fell in 2015 to its lowest level in some 15 years and is expected to slow further to 3 percent in 2016.”

The IMF advisories are macro-economic, and so a little too high level for non-economists such as myself, but they still make it clear that half a year ago we should have sat up and changed our ways, as the government is advising now at a micro-economic level.
The current government advisory hasn’t yet been given as much air play as it should – and isn’t available EVERYWHERE as it should be. Disappointingly, most of our government websites and notice boards – especially those that are directly responsible for this alert, are sleeping on the job.
But we can’t use that as an excuse NOT to be sensible in the face of potential disaster.
The poor rains (both in quantity and timing) and heavy sunshine since the beginning of this year, followed by prolonged drought last year have led to a massive crop failure in most parts of the country. We are therefore facing a severe food crisis across the entire country.
This is NOT a joke and it is not a lamentation either – it is an alarming FACT. Only 36 districts in Uganda are considered, today, to be “fairly food secure”.
One joker suggested that the solution would be to move to one of those districts till the crisis ends, but that could lead to conflict.
The government advisory, though, is quite clear and is aimed at us – the educated, affluent, employed, reasoning, and so on and so forth.
“Individuals and families are strongly advised to save money by spending much less over the coming festive season and avoid unnecessary feasting,” it reads.
It is awkward that we would need the government to tell us this, but it is a fact that if we didn’t receive word from above it might not come to our attention that we have a role to play in propping up the economy.
The government notice continues with: “NO NEW XMAS CLOTHES, NO BIG XMAS PARTIES, NO NEW HOUSEHOLD MATERIALS (MATRESSES ETC), NO NEW SMART PHONES, LESS DRINKING, etc., etc” (sic).
They even put this in capital letters, just so we read it properly and internalize what we need to do.
“Individuals and families are encouraged to plant leafy vegetables taking (advantage) of the little on-going rains. Vegetables such as cowpea leaves (Gobbe) should be dried and stored.”
You guys, we need to be serious about this.
Instead of buying up ANY foreign or imported stuff, buy local. Instead of spending lavishly on non-productive things, spend on stuff that will produce food or wealth in the news few months. Where you don’t need to spend money, DON’T. When traveling upcountry for Christmas as families, try to fit yourselves into as few cars as possible.
As we sit in our coffee shops and air conditioned offices, luxuriating in plush sofas at home in front of wide high definition flat screen televisions talking about Donald Trump and typing out comments on Facebook and Twitter, please let’s remember that “the total population in need of urgent relief food stands at about 1,300,000 people (the sub-regions of Karamoja, Test, Lango, Acholi, Bukedi, West Nile, parts of Basoga and some districts along the Cattle Corridor).”
Please, let’s spend time and energy being prudent, careful and wise especially during this festive season and food crisis. 
 Ladies and gentlemen, we have few excuses for NOT being sensible in the face of disaster. 

this Christmas, go to the village with a few books and start a library


uganda-libraries-off-pinterest
Photo taken off http://www.pinterest.com thanks to weareadventure.us and Simone Anne
IF you are reading this article in its full english version then you should be functionally literate to a point that enables you to do both simple arithmetics and pursue logic at an elementary level.
There are about six weeks to go till the Christmas holidays officially kick off, and this is a suggestion for you to present a gift that will keep on giving into future generations.
According to the Electoral Commission 2016 General Elections statistics, we have about 58,000 villages in Uganda. World Bank statistics in general state that 84.23% of Ugandans lived in the ‘rural areas’ by 2014, which means about 16% of us are in urban areas.
Wikipedia, which some people believe is the best source of information on the internet, lists only four (4) libraries in Uganda under ‘Libraries in Uganda‘, though one of those is the National Library of Uganda (the others are Busolwe Public Library, Kitengesa Community Library and Makerere University Library).
They are listed because they are part of a specific network of ‘Community Libraries’, but please visit them yourself to assess what is going on.
So the internet basically shows we don’t have enough libraries in this country, which gets in the way of our producing well-educated or even well-informed Ugandans (don’t count internet access).
The same internet told me that the National Library of Uganda was established by an Act of Parliament in 2003, and replaced the Public Libraries Board of 1964, and that the first public library in Uganda was established in 1927 (in Entebbe).
Where are our libraries?
At the districts, according to the Local Governments Act of 1997 which moved the management of libraries to districts, under functions and services for which district councils are responsible. The paragraph in full reads:
“Aiding and supporting the establishment and maintenance of schools, hospitals, libraries, art galleries, museums, tourist centres, homes for the aged, destitute or infirm or for the orphans, and providing bursaries to assist in the education of children of persons residing in the district, making donations to charitable and philanthropic, welfare, youth, persons with disabilities, women and sports organisations.”
Now that we are done with campaigns and elections and we know who our district leaders are, how about we help them with this function, by going back to the above mentioned arithmetics?
The National Census of November 2014 put us at 35 million – which is 5.6million Ugandans.
Let’s assume that only ten percent of those can afford to go upcountry for the Christmas break or to send gifts home to their villages – that would be 560,000 Ugandans.
If those 560,000 Ugandans are divided up equally amongst the villages we have about ten (10) Ugandans per village.
Now, if YOU went to school and can read and comprehend well enough to go beyond the simple arithmetic, identify nine other Ugandans from YOUR village and together gather up books to go and start stocking up a community library near your village home.
Make that YOUR Christmas gift to your village mates and consider that you are going to use a small and very cheap gesture to make a massive impact to the lives of the most vulnerable.
We have six weeks, so we can do A LOT and not only support the district councils responsible for this, but also challenge them. Even before we think of library buildings, let’s get books into the villages – sensible books that we believe would be good for children.
One family I know has done the calculation and realized that the cost per head of going to the village for Christmas is so high that topping it up with a couple of hundred thousand shillings for the entire family doesn’t change much – but means a whole load of books for the village children.
At various traffic jam spots there are people illegally vending or hawking books at Ushs2,000-Ushs5,000 each – same as the cost of a cup of peas also being vended, or a beer in a nearby kafunda that you will leave running down a drain after a scientific process by evening’s end.
Buy one book every week of these remaining six weeks and when you go to the village for Christmas, present them to your district council for inclusion in the district library, complete with a stamp stating who has made the donation.
If the district hasn’t yet employed a librarian, you are immediately creating over 120 jobs right there. More importantly, though, this Christmas you will be getting more Ugandans to read all over the country.
The next phase of this is for each family to write one story each and publish a book of your own – but that is another discussion, very closely related.

get rid of street vendors but by turning them into enterprises


THE conversation about street vendors somehow always ends up being political and linked to the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA).
The issue is certainly political in origin, and its management falls squarely under KCCA but those can’t be the only two focus points in dealing with the issue – and it IS a seriously disturbing issue.
Back in the early nineties when Uganda started building straight tarmac highways we heard the President complaining that residents upcountry were only using those roads to dry their cassava and maize, and it was a laughing point. His stress point then was that those roads needed to be used to transport produce to markets, rather than as pre-processing platforms.
The irony is that roads are designed to make connections that improve economics, and we – the educated elite – are clearly failing to make the right connections here, while ’those people’ have made a quick connection to improve their economic situation.
The Street Vendor problem, from the point of view of the elite chap driving home in a nice, air conditioned car having finished grocery shopping in the comfort of a large supermarket, is one of irritation and aesthetics. They make those neat pavements look shabby, and also get in the way, causing anxiety that they or their customers could stumble into the road and get knocked.
The pedestrian walking home might think the same, in addition to being worried that they might step on the wares of the vendors and get asked to pay for the damages. To avoid that risk, the more cautious pedestrian might choose to walk along the main road where there is a risk of getting hit by vehicles, but in that case the vehicle owner would be liable to pay any fines or compensation, since the congestion will make it easy to stop them should an accident occur.
The regular traders are unhappy about all this because they have to pay taxes and license fees where these street vendors don’t, and then their legitimate entranceways for which they pay rent get blocked by the very same street vendors who go ahead to ‘under-cut’ them with lower-priced items, thanks to their decreased overheads.
On the way to my home outside of the city centre, the street vendors even have night-time lighting from the solar powered installations KCCA put in as they re-did our road, so they can work late into the night.
It’s a mess of an affair, and within minutes of any discussion around it there is talk of politics a la, “Nanti those are voters…” and medioconomics a la, “How do you expect them to survive…?”
First of all, the fact that those are voters means that all parts of the government need to get involved in solving this ‘problem’, also because those elite or ‘rich’ people, the pedestrians who aren’t vending, the ‘legitimate’ or licensed traders, and so on and so forth, are also voters.
So yes – the issue is political in nature but only because it involves the management of society, not because we need to please people in order to make them vote a certain way or another.
The management of society involves administration as well as setting and managing (the right) expectations.
Each and every one of these people we casually refer to as ‘street vendors’ is a potential business unit capable of being built into a much larger enterprise. By the time they are engaged in selling whatever they are selling, they have a certain amount of enterprise, a motivation to go for profit, the mathematical skills to calculate it, and the energy to work.
So rather than deploy just the enforcement people from KCCA, what about we deploy business enterprise experts from the Private Sector Foundation of Uganda and Business Uganda Advisory Services to register and help develop these guys? Add to them a couple of business professors from the likes of the Makerere University Business School, and people from the Youth Livelihood Programme to fund their business expansion into places that are compliant with the law, and people from the Uganda Export Promotion Board to make them export.
Ridding the streets of these vendors means get them into a more formal, profitable setting and not into KCCA garbage skips.