what are YOU doing to bring billionaires and serious people to Uganda?


I AM not one of those Ugandans dismayed that billionaire (in United States dollar terms) Jack Ma visited Kenya and Rwanda but skipped Uganda. Dismay is a little too light a word for the feeling I got when the news broke that he was going to go right over and past us.

My bad feeling was more over the fact that he came along WITH 38 other Chinese billionaires and all of them did not stop over in Uganda or even mention the country as they flew over us.

One angry young lady this week ranted at me over the very idea that as Jack Ma made his decision to visit East Africa he must surely have looked at the map of the region and must have noticed Uganda on it.

“Not only that, he must have flown over Uganda to get to Kigali, and then he flew over us again to get from Kigali to Nairobi. It takes at least one hour to fly across Uganda. Is it possible that he did not once look out of the window and wonder what is going on down there?”

Her anger was amusing to witness, as were the comments on a few WhatsApp groups where people were indignant over Jack Ma leaving Uganda off his East African itinerary.

“Really, why is Uganda always being left out of these things? Zuckerberg, Obama, Ma…why do we only get musicians and politicians??!” wrote one aggrieved Ugandan.

I am not unhappy about the visits by musicians and politicians because they also bring a certain level of value. But the fact that these 39 billionaires swung by and didn’t stop over in Uganda was really irksome.

As the miffed young lady stated, as he was going to Kigali, Rwanda he and his 38 billionaire friends most probably flew right over Uganda. Being accomplished persons there is no way they could have ignored the entire stretch of country over which their plane flew. Then, on their way backwards to Nairobi, Kenya, they did the trip again and so must be aware of our existence.

That’s why I think it can’t be easy to be in charge of trade and investment in  Uganda right now. The people in charge of those dockets, including the foreign service staff in countries where people like Jack Ma operate, are probably being asked uncomfortable questions over why they didn’t ensure that the 39 Chinese billionaires come to Uganda. Read this: http://edition.cnn.com/2017/07/21/africa/jack-ma-kenya-visit/index.html

All employees of the Uganda Investment Authority, Uganda Export Promotion Board, Private Sector Foundation, Ministries to do with things like Finance, Investment, Trade, Tourism, Agriculture and so on and so forth, must be kicking themselves. Read this: http://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/business/China-Jack-Ma-market-Kenya-abroad/2560-4025556-hwgewfz/index.html

I genuinely sympathize with them because when people read those tens of thousands of stories on the internet about Jack Ma and 38 other billionaires visiting both countries on either side of Uganda, they must look askance at all these officials. Read this: https://ecommerceguide.com/news/jack-ma-visits-east-africa-inspire-next-generation-african-ecommerce-leaders/

Besides the fact that the Ma’s could have spent a few of their hard earned Dollars and Yuan within this economy, if the 39 billionaires had gone to the National Parks, stopped to eat a Rolex, or toured our cultural sites, they would have brought these to the attention of more than a billion Chinese people.

If Jack Ma and his 38 billionaire pals had engaged with 39 (or 390) brilliant, energetic, young Ugandan entrepreneurs, then imagine how much kickstart those kids would receive and then inject into the economy! Read this: https://www.cio.co.ke/news/on-his-first-ever-visit-to-africa-jack-ma-set-to-visit-kenya/

The fact that the speeches he has made have already gone viral on our social media and project the countries he visited in a very positive and favourable light.

Uganda should learn the value of these interactions and visits, basing on the learnings provided by the likes of Jack Ma. Every time we get these billionaires visiting or hanging around, our image out there changes significantly.

The inspiration he gave to hundreds of youths in Rwanda and Kenya will be felt in those economies in days and weeks to come – not years – while ours over here… (insert an optimistic conclusion here). Read this:  http://www.focac.org/eng/zxxx/t1479529.htm

His life story on its own is inspiring in ways that should change the tone of many of our frustrated youth here. Read this: https://www.theafricandream.net/alibaba-founder-jack-ma-asias-richest-man-visit-east-africa/

We all have a role to play in getting people like Jack Ma here, just as we have a role to play in making their visits make sense. The government official who is supposed to spend time and effort inviting the Jack Ma’s and encouraging them to visit is as important to the process as the random Ugandan posting positive comments about the country that might land in Jack Ma’s google alerts inbox.

This guy, if you are still blank as to why he is important, is currently the richest person in Asia and the 14th richest person in the world, with a net worth of US$41.8 billion, as of June 2017.

It is said that his company, Ali Baba, is worth more than Facebook and processes more transactions than eBay and Amazon combined. (I did not verify this). alibaba.com is with more than US$231billion on its own.

During his visit to Kenya, Ma announced a US$10million fund for African Young Entrepreneurs – out of his own pocket. Plus, he kick started an initiative to work with UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development), to which he is an advisor, to take 200 budding African businesspeople to China to learn hands-on from alibaba.com. Read this: http://unctad.org/en/pages/newsdetails.aspx?OriginalVersionID=1525.

PLUS, he wants “to roll out a partnership with African universities to teach internet technology, artificial intelligence and e-commerce.”

As a country we are doing business with hundreds or perhaps thousands of Chinese people, all aimed at national development and wealth creation, but whose combined wealth and influence in the world of business and entrepreneurship might not be as serious as Jack Ma’s.

Why does Uganda always get left out? Because you and I and those government officials who are responsible for bringing such people here are NOT doing out jobs right.

from outer space to your rolex stand – there are many ways to open the mind


Kiira EV car
A Kiira EV Car (Photo from http://kiiramotors.com)

BACK in 2012, Ghana launched it’s Ghana Space Science and Technology Centre and Ghana Space Agency. Two weeks ago the West African nation launched its first satellite into outer space.

In Uganda, it’s been a few years since the Kiira EV solar-powered car project was first started, and I have never had any doubts over its necessity for us.

I know we are not going to be selling cars in competition with the Japanese or the other usual suspects any time soon. But there is a logic behind such projects and ventures that glues other bits of the economy together.

Those of us who scoff at the Kiira vehicles as White Elephants before retiring to our cubicles by way of little white second hand Japanese imports could do with a jolt.

I got one watching a television programme last week that was explaining how Pizza ovens are made.

Disclaimer: I don’t like pizzas as much as I do the Rolex, for obvious reasons (yes – taste, as well as the Uganda factor). The programme just happened to roll up as I was immobile in my seat sans remote control.

I discovered that Americans in the United States eat approximately 100 acres of pizza each day, which is about 3billion Pizzas a year, or 350 slices of them per second. Pizza, as a food is a $32 billion per year industry. Across the United States there are about 70,000 pizzerias – not to mention restaurants and hotels that also make and serve the stuff.

With that in mind, the TV documentary told me, some oven manufacturing people realized that if they developed ovens that cooked pizzas faster, they would sell more ovens to more pizzerias. 

Somebody in the industry asked how the people who go to outer space manage to cook their food under those conditions, and then realized that NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United States) had a solution. NASA kept sending people into outer space for long periods in spaceships with small, confined spaces and little time to cook. 

How did they do it?

NASA had developed some form of cooking using a hot air system (“impingement”) that speed-cooks food – four times faster than normal. The oven manufacturer took that technology and applied it to their ovens on the ground and…voila!

There are other technologies that came from NASA to the catering industry in the United States; one of them arose because one of NASA’s suppliers of natural gas realized he worked late hours and didn’t have time to get home to cook dinner.

He decided to create an oven that would allow you to cook dinner while driving home. How? Using the internet and the remote control technology that runs space equipment, and starting up the oven using using a cell phone or other device over the internet.

The reasons the United States goes into outer space are many, just as are the benefits.

The Kiira EV solar project can provide this very trigger, if we pay more attention to it than the light-headed assumption that we are going to be exporting cars to Japan.

Last week I spoke with an old man I deeply revere who told me about an assembly plant he intends to invest in. Among the benefits of this assembly plant, he explained, would be providing employment for people manufacturing seat belts, seats, seat covers, and other bits that we already make in Uganda to a certain extent. The list included the fabrication of exhaust pipes – a product we actually CAN make even using recycled materials that normally go as ‘scrap’.

As he was talking my mind was on the pizza cooking technology and another product that we have paid little attention to and yet has arisen in this very market we are in.

On the road where my main office is located I smile every day when I spot a ‘Musana Cart’. The ‘Musana Cart’ is a Rolex stand but with a big difference. It is powered by solar energy employed quite simply – a couple of panels on top of the stand that provides the energy needed to fry the chapati and eggs.

That solar energy replaces the need for charcoal, which is an additional operational cost and comes with health risks, storage issues and so on and so forth. The story about the Musana Carts needs to be told fully on its own – it is very uplifting.

But the fact that projects like Kiira EV Solar can lead to so many other applications and innovations spurs the imagination. And that’s why we need to welcome and celebrate all initiatives of this nature.

Next stop – outer space.

let’s make Entebbe great again!


1-EntebbeAirport.jpg
Photo from: entebbe-airport.com

HEARING the lamentations of travelers to Uganda these past few weeks as they come through Entebbe International Airport is disheartening.

Especially in light of the talk we engage in about how Tourism will be Uganda’s economic savior the way it has worked for South Africa, Dubai and all those other markets with sensible tourism-fueled budgets, strategies and plans.

My first memory of the airport at Entebbe goes back to 1983 when, walking through the crowded terminal with piles of suitcases, we kept getting stopped by an ugly breed of armed men. I took serious issue with one of them when he depressed a button on the belly of my little sister’s doll that made it recite phrases designed to amuse infants her age.

The fellow was startled and turned his rifle up, then demanded that a full inspection be conducted by half the armed Company present. It was scary but we went through the steps safely and were let through while absorbing many unpleasant smells and a rancid atmosphere.

We have come a long way since then – but we haven’t gone far enough. It is difficult to explain why we should be so desperately lousy at something so obviously simple.

I honestly believe that the most basic Customer Care and Marketing people could swing the airport experience around to the advantage of the entire country within hours if given the opportunity.

If the Civil Aviation Authority people unleashed some young students in these disciplines and gave them three hours to change Entebbe for the better, I am certain they would do a better job of it than we currently endure.

At some point last year I found myself there a few hours before my scheduled flight, as usual, and ran my device batteries down. As I was way too early for access to the check-in counters, I was sequestered in the cafe on the departures level.

I was already in a bad mood because of the ridiculous prices that string of cafes charge for their annoyingly small cups of hot drinks and pitifully limited range of weakly-imagined snacks.

Again, what kind of ‘Tourism’ are we selling to the world if our airport snacks cannot spell and say and communicate ‘Uganda’? Sausage rolls and meat pies? We sometimes appear to be in need of intellectual support to deal with some of these matters.

That day, walking around the hall with my plugs in hand flabbergasted me when I failed to find a functional socket across the floor. It was strange – especially in 2016. I took the issue up with people right up to somebody educated and was told the sockets had been removed because “people were charging mobile phones here” and it was a security concern.

I was flummoxed because in this information age the availability of sockets for electricity to power gadgets that get you online is sometimes more valuable than the availability of food (even food as bad as the one in the Cafe’s there).

What kind of terrorists are we dealing with that can walk in with their mobile phones and chargers and power banks but would be deterred by the lack of sockets?

It was angering, but then eventually I got to the more difficult aspect of travel through the airport – the final gate of the departure lounge. For some reason, after going through all the belt dropping and shoe removals, at Entebbe you enter into a mini-sauna without air conditioning or sufficient air flow.

Why is that room is so hot and stuffy?

I have never had the opportunity to properly fight that battle, but here is a new one introduced in the last two weeks:

A furore has arisen over an annoying process change at the Entebbe International Airport Arrivals hall that is described in detail by many people, but best of all by Amos Wekesa, Tourism Prince.

His recount of the process makes one’s blood boil even more than the departure gate upstairs.

Early this week he returned and found he and his fellow passengers had to take their bags up and lift them onto the luggage scanner, then lift them off again after going through the security check point. The queue is very, very, very long because everybody has to take each and every one of their bags through this process. Amos was miffed this week to see elderly ladies, tourists visiting Uganda, struggling to lug her bags up and down.

He jumped in and offered to help her and a number of others, and during the process got thanked profusely by one of the Section Managers, who was tired of being abused by angry travelers.

To his credit, this manager told Amos that one of the measures they had decided to take was to stop any government official from trying to skip to the front of the queue claiming that they were “VIPs”.

“These travelers suffering here are paying money to come to Uganda to enjoy themselves, and they are being made to line up and carry suitcases after flying long hours. Then some government people who are using our money to travel try to jump the queue?!” the fellow said, livid.

I applauded.

And I also regretted not having been there to suggest that we could do small things in that uncomfortable hall to ease the pain that travelers are facing as they enter into Uganda. For instance, how about distributing some free bottles of water or banana juice? Or installing some nice fans to keep the air cool? Or playing some nice Ugandan music in the background to keep the soul calm?

Surely there are very many things we could have running in that space to keep tempers calm and the spirits uplifted as people come into the country?

I certainly don’t know everything but I know first hand how difficult running a public institution can be. Nevertheless, my sympathies are limited over the lack of these small actions and over exaggeration of others (such as the need to search every corner of every bag) that rub everyone the wrong way.