designing the link between our university education and the real world

LAST week I received this electronic flyer (above) for the Makerere University Endowment Fund Run set for Sunday, May 14, 2017. That flyer didn’t make me lace up my running shoes or unfurl my thin wallet.

Instead, I checked carefully to make sure that this wasn’t a flyer from 1999 as its two-dimensional presentation was very dated and, to me, uninspiring. I do not mean to put down the person who designed it, because they were probably doing their best in circumstances I neither know nor can describe.

My disappointment was that the University, the seat of higher learning ranked number four on the continent of Africa, could produce work of this quality. Again – the work was not terrible, but it was a clear sign that the potential of the students of higher learning at this university was being wasted.

A few years ago one of my kid brothers, Paul, ranted about the education format at the university, and this flyer reminded me of that rant with some pain.

See, the Universities ideally take up the best brains from secondary schools countrywide and then give them a platform to develop their knowledge and demonstrate it in various ways even as they learn.

My brother’s rant was to do with the Engineering department. He outlined what he felt should be the system: when a student joins the university Engineering or technology department they should pick a project within their first year that they will do over the duration of their course.

The projects the students would be encouraged to choose, he said, would be projects that could be applicably put to real-life use. At the end of their four-year course, the students should leave the university with their projects and, as much as possible, deploy them in real-life.

That approach, he said, would have the Engineering lecturers spend more time supervising students closely and using their vast knowledge to nurture and develop the intelligence, curiosity and innovative capacity of the students.

When I was at the Makerere University we had a newspaper called The Makererean that students of journalism were expected to produce as part of our hands-on experience and learning.

I even edited it – or carried the title ‘Editor’ even though we didn’t produce more than two editions of it for “budgetary” reasons. I once got involved in a short discussion about diverting faculty allowances (given to individual students) to producing this newspapers, but it was a very short discussion.

The Agriculture students at the university should be producing food crops, not necessarily by digging it up using hoes, but producing them anyway; leading up to the School of Food Technology, Nutrition and Bio-Engineering which would develop or package that produce and send it straight to the market.

The story should go on and on in that way.

Coming back to the Flyer that disturbed me last week, I figured that Makerere University offers (that’s what we say) courses in Economics, Business, Computing and Information Science, Fine Art, Visual Communication, Design and Multimedia, Industrial Art and Applied Design, Liberal and Performing Arts and Film, Languages, Literature and Communication, Journalism and Communication… the list is long.

Any and every one of these departments should have students that can be made to apply themselves to simple tasks such as designing flyers and advertisements, that would count towards their learning experiences and build their portfolios for the future.

If all projects at the University gave these students the opportunity to apply their design skills, then there would be thousands, if not tens of thousands, of entries of various designs. This free platform that the University can give to the students to apply themselves is invaluable, and would make a massive difference to their entry into the real world.

Many of the people that we employ in design and creative firms actually come from this same university and do a superb job, in instances.

While thinking this through I went by the Makerere University website ( and got to a page that had a snazzy countdown to the Endowment Fund Run, which was impressive – at least THAT was being done right, but still didn’t work well enough to make me tie up my shoe laces or unfurl my thin wallet to contribute to the cause.

It did, however, make me feel like contributing to a strategy that will harness these bright, hopeful minds at the University so that their potential is converted!

the rise of the shareholder activist versus capital markets trade

Activism adapted from
(Pic adapted from

I BUMPED into the phrase ‘Shareholder Activist’ last week with some irritation; more accurately, it found its way into my phone via WhatsApp, which, these days, is my main source of intellectual garbage, high-strung emotion, low-level drama and occasional amusements.

After reading the term I headed to Google to confirm that the conversation we were having in that Group made sense, and found that there is an official term with quite a different meaning from the way everyone was talking about this particular ‘Shareholder Activist’.

The recognised term is ‘Activist Shareholders’, defined as “one using an equity stake in a corporation to put public pressure on its management.

The conversation came about because three of our pitifully few listed companies in this country were holding AGMs (‘Annual General Meetings’ to you, if you’re the kind that crammed your way through school) last week.

Company shareholders (of listed companies or private ones) are supposed to be active, especially during this most important meeting when they get to hold the company Board and Management Team to account.

Unlike what happens for about eleven months and twenty nine days of the year, the shareholder gets to attend the AGM one day and in a structured manner address the Board of the organisation.

By that time, the accounts and Annual Report would have been circulated so the shareholders read through them in detail and then raise issues, observations and suggestions while attending the meeting itself.

During the rest of the year, the Shareholder is represented by the Board of Directors which on a monthly or other periodical basis keeps tabs on the Management Team and ensures they are sticking to their approved strategy – approved, that is, by the Board of Directors on behalf of the shareholders.

See, the shareholders entrust the Board with approving and supervising that strategy, and it is this trust that they vote on during AGMs when they select their respective Board Members. The shareholders, normally by voting publicly during the AGM but sometimes following prescribed methodologies built into the company registration documents, get to choose who will be Director of a Company. The Director, “directs” – showing the management team where, in general, they should set their sights or in which direction they should go.

The Management Team or Executive Management, “manages” the company or “executes” the strategies as approved by the Directors.

It is a system that works beautifully if followed carefully and, as the phrase goes, to the letter.

Sometimes, though, there will be incidents such as those occasioned by the Activist Shareholder who, rather than walk within the marked lines, will take up as many other tools as possible and rocks the boat – or tries to.

Sometimes they take legal action – which is respectable and even, in some instances, admirable.

Other times they will rally shareholder troops and attempt a mutiny during the AGM – also admirable for the mobilisation skills on display, if successful.

Then there are the times the ‘Activist Shareholder’ does the despicable and goes after the very entity that, in essence, feeds him or her.

Until they have dug deeper, the ordinary onlooker will be confounded by those times the ‘Activist Shareholder’ attacks the very same company whose share value would ensure him or her (the ‘Activist Shareholder’) a return on the shareholding investment they made when they bought shares.

See, people buy shares in public (and private) companies in the hope that they will perform well, increase in value, make a profit, and pay them (the people who have bought shares) dividends every year until such a time as the initial investment has been paid back and then the shareholder is earning a profit.

Many of us don’t realise quite how this works, and how important it is for the company in which we have shares to perform well so that it pays back our investment in those shares, while also providing the service or product it was principally set up to provide.

A few weeks ago, ahead of last week’s AGMs, someone in a WhatsApp Group identified three people who they claimed would be at the centre of controversy during the meetings. Their shareholding in the companies involved, the WhatsApp Group stated, was so small that the only reason they had invested was to gain notoriety from their controversial actions during the public, much-publicised AGMs.

It didn’t happen the way this person predicted or feared, but this time round we still saw Activism but of a more despicable kind. A very lengthy and elaborate missive did the rounds with well-stated accusations that would obviously be difficult for the ordinary person to authenticate or verify.

On cutting through a few of them, however, by the second page it was pretty obvious where the piece was heading, but one read on (past tense) hoping to be disappointed by finding it to be hard hitting and factual in that way that would turn a shareholder’s fortunes for the better.

Sadly, it didn’t. It could have probably done quite the reverse in a market with few listed companies and a rather jittery, uninformed, impressionable public.

Luckily, instead, I saw WhatsApp Groups erupting in unflattering commentary that somebody quite recently labelled “intellectual garbage, high-strung emotion, low-level drama and occasional amusements”.

In real life, share prices stayed the way they were and shareholders queued up for their dividends then retired home to wait for next year. The Activists are at bay for now, till the next opportunity arises…

Follow the occasional Twitter hashtag #EconomicsUG. 

the coffee stain on the neat, snazzy shirt of the village mall

If you’ve seen me on an ordinary morning you will notice one of many coffee thermos mugs I leave home with. One day last week I realised late in the morning that the thermos mug had leaked a little bit and stained my shirt.

The shirt in question is a neat number I bought at far less than it would appear to cost, and therefore gets special attention when I open the wardrobe door. I had an important meeting to attend that day and that shirt had therefore left its hanger.

On noticing the coffee stain my spirits fell momentarily, but the meeting was nigh so I soldiered on, adopting an awkward posture with my elbow on the table for the duration. For the rest of that day I ensured all interaction with serious but impressionable people ranged from strictly unavoidable to none at all.

See, if the coffee stain had appeared on one of my ordinary shirts then I would probably not have noticed it at all, let alone adjusted posture or schedule to hide the fact. I only felt squarely uncomfortable because the shirt in question was the type even a moderate Sapeur would more than glance at, immediately thinking of ways to add colourful accessories.

To a serious person that day, spotting a coffee stain on that shirt would have made them think me to be quite careless, shabby and even immature. What kind of adult fails to control a coffee mug for the short distance between the table and his lips?

The stain came to mind this week when, for about the fourth week running, I walked to the Luthuli Avenue entrance of the Village Mall in Bugolobi and found that it was STILL not fully operational because of a small flood of unnatural water from a burst pipe or clogged sewer nearby.

The open drain as seen on May 11, 2017 (Photo: Simon Kaheru)

When I first saw this mini-flood there was a line of cars trying to get into the Mall and being re-routed to other entrances. A few days later some authorities had dug up the neat paving blocks at that point, to check what was happening.

The pavers neatly stacked by the side, thanks to the neat-minded authorities in charge of this (Photo: Simon Kaheru)

Weeks later, the dug-up paving stones were still piled up to one side, and there was a gaping hole in the ground filled up with water and revealing the innards of the road. Confounded drivers were still rolling up to gain access, and puzzled security guards were still routing them to other entrances with that “What can’t you see?” attitude.

I stopped and asked the askaris how it was possible for this to be happening here, at an upmarket Mall in the capital city, in an otherwise wealthy neighbourhood. Undeveloped land in Bugolobi goes for about US$1million an acre. You pay Ushs10,000 for 300mls of coffee at that Mall, and meals are an average of Ushs25,000 a plate and their french fries travel on aeroplanes to get here. They even have shoes that cost Ushs2million a pair (two shoes only) and their pizzas were endorsed by a Cabinet Minister, no less!

And yet for more than a month this Mall can suffer a gaping hole in the ground filling up with extremely unhygienic water and other substances. The thought that a housefly taking an afternoon dip in the dark pool of water swilling about in that hole could thereafter alight onto the edge of my coffee mug at the nearby cafes, or onto the fork conveying food into my mouth was discouraging.

The swimming pool used by houseflies and other germs en route to your plate or coffee mug (Photo: Simon Kaheru)

Of course the people leaving the Mall after buying Ushs2million pairs of shoes would be doing so in while driving sleek cars but even splashing through the muddy seepage should certainly make them feel awkward.

But the askaris reported that there had been no angry gatherings of proponents of tourism, health, environmental management, urban management or even mere customers of the Mall, all protesting this ongoing state of affairs.

They couldn’t confirm which officials were responsible for fixing the problem but said “they” had visited and taken the pavers apart after the flooding had started, but had not been back since. I established from elsewhere that the people at the KCCA had taken responsibility and had promised to fix it.

The problem, it would appear, is mostly to do with storm waters and a clogged drainage system. But instead of fixing the problem urgently, for some reason we are all waiting for the heavy rains to come to an end first.

This is what is causing the stain on the neat shirt of Bugolobi’s most prime commercial location, making you think: “What kind of careless, shabby, immature adult fails to control a coffee mug for the short distance between the table and his lips?”

uganda needs to stop missing events and meetings…employ some smarter thinking to really bag the benefits

LAST week we had the superb fortune of hosting, as a nation, an ICT summit called the Innovation Africa Digital Summit, themed “Smarter Thinking“.

I had to personally attend it for a number of reasons, chief among which was the fact that when the event was first planned it was set for Abuja, Nigeria in March, and I declined the invitation to spend large amounts travelling to attend it.

That first announcement said the Summit would “represent the future direction of ICT growth and development in Africa…” and went on to promise “an intimate gathering of 350 key decision makers including policy makers, Regulators, Communication Service Providers and Major End Users of ICT from across Africa along with a carefully selected portfolio of International Solution Providers…”

It was an important event by all accounts, but I wasn’t in a position, then, to afford the air ticket to and accommodation in Nigeria, regardless of which hat I used. I made it clear, though, that I could have benefitted but… (dot, dot, dot.) I communicated this and stated how Uganda was a much better venue for such an event, for various reasons.

Believe it or not, the Abuja plan was cancelled after Nigeria decided to do some repair works on their runway that diverted flights to Kaduna city – 160 kilometres away from the Abuja capital. Nigeria offered to escort travellers on guarded buses to avert fears of insecurity but the gesture wasn’t helpful.

The Summit was moved to a new location – Kampala, Uganda! Within a short time a new date was chosen and the venue negotiated to the Speke Resort Munyonyo.

We had no excuses to present any more for not attending – especially after being told which people from which companies in ICT and Development would be attending.

The event happened, officially opened by the Minister of ICT and National Guidance, who elucidated quite well Uganda’s aspirations for the sector and innovation. A number of delegates were markedly impressed by his remarks, and the organisers were happy that he stayed on longer than initially planned, taking a keen interest in the event itself.

And then we went into the meat of things. I began to worry when I noticed, during the coffee breaks, that a number of name tags remained uncollected at the entrance. Name tags are provided at these events so that people can quickly identify each other and start talking business with little delay.

The objective of these expos and summits is just that – putting people together so they can trade: buyers meet sellers; people who need solutions, products and services meet people who supply solutions, products and services.

Inside the official meeting rooms presentations are made introducing or explaining these solutions, products and services, and the people in the room get to ask questions or interact with the providers. The providers take note of the queries and comments so they make changes to suit their (potential) customers, and world trade flows.

The summit last week attracted about 200 delegates (including the Ugandans) with very impressive profiles. Large companies supplying telecom and satellite solutions sent their Board Chairpersons, Managing Directors, Sales Directors and other decision-makers here to meet with other decision makers from across Africa.

When I checked through the uncollected name tags, I noticed that ALL OF THEM were of Ugandans. The people closest to the event had failed to make it over – in spite of free access, proximity, and massive amounts of opportunity.

At one point, I found myself soothing two participants who had flown in from Dubai and were disappointed to have met, from Uganda, a couple of secretaries and junior officers with neither decision-making powers nor technical appreciation of the solutions they were offering.

One of them represented a company with a US$900million sales portfolio, the other US$700million (I googled, to be sure).

They reminded me of a similar event a couple of years ago, again at Munyonyo and called ‘Innovation Africa’, at which I heard similar complaints. At that event there were set Business-to-Business meetings where buyers and sellers were put together for thirty minutes each to do speed-dating.

Most tables were extremely busy except for one that I will not name. It was deeply disappointing.

That event had drawn in cabinet ministers and other senior officials from across Africa. The same event a year before had been held in Rwanda and led to the establishment of a laptop assembly plant there. (Which laptops are now being used by children in Rwanda).

Two of the groups had hoped to hold discussions with high level officials to exploit innovation and manufacturing opportunities here. When we held discussions in the evenings over drinks and during coffee breaks, there was great promise; but when the officialdom started, nobody turned up.

It is confounding.

One of the delegates wrote me a couple of months later to say he had chosen to pursue an opportunity in a southern African country instead of Uganda, because that country had shown serious interest and followed up their discussions.

After the event, the country’s Diplomatic Mission had made contact with the headquarters of the company this delegate hailed from, and sent their Commercial Attache to do more groundwork. Then, at a subsequent event, that country had another different official meet with a representative of the company and took them out to dinner.

To cut a long story short, they bagged the deal.

This delegate outlined to me how Uganda was losing out simply because we appear not to understand how to complete the chain that links marketing and sales, or activity to results.

He had spoken with different officials here during the Innovation Africa event, but his follow up emails had gone unreplied for months. Eventually, he got through to the Ministry on phone but couldn’t get transferred to the person whose card he had.

“You don’t have his mobile? Please call him on his office line,” he got told. Having gotten up at a very inconvenient hour to make the phone call because of the time difference, he was quite irritated and dropped Uganda.

The southern African country he chose speaks a different language from his own, is further to reach by air than Uganda is, and doesn’t have quite the same climate and other attractions that we offer. But he made the decision to channel business there because he had tried quite hard and failed to bring it here.

He was complaining to me because he really felt that we could have done better. He was right.

Well, later this year, in September, Uganda will be hosting another massive gathering of ICT people, at ‘Capacity Africa 2017‘. They were here last year and loved it so much they chose to return instead of rotate to another African country.

If we don’t plan ahead, send the right people, say the right things, follow up with the right intent and seriousness, employing ‘Smarter Thinking’, then we have only ourselves to blame for failing Uganda.