choose wisely – ugali or posho?


Ugali
A plate of Ugali (Photo from http://jikonimagic.com)

LAST year, in two different WhatsApp groups I belong to that have nothing in common save for myself, two very disparate people sent two messages a couple of weeks apart saying exactly the same thing.

The first is an old-time friend who runs a family-owned Ugandan road construction firm that has grown consistently in leaps and bounds over the last twenty years. During the course of his work he has traversed Uganda while building roads, prospecting for more business, and playing golf.

The second is my cousin and friend, who turned his childhood passion into a line of employment and has spent his life listening to, playing and producing music for the rest of us. Again, in the process he has visited many parts of Uganda and made a wide variety of contacts who relish his company – especially on Friday nights in Guvnor nee Ange Noir.

Both these gentlemen surprised me when they expressed their angst because I could never have linked them to the issue they raised.

“Why,” they both asked, “are there so many trucks here (naming two different, distant districts they happened to be in at the time) taking out raw, unprocessed maize in bulk? Honestly speaking, can’t the government or someone else introduce a law or a rule that stops this happening? We need to make it illegal for raw maize to be exported like this!”

This discussion could even end here because the logic should speak for itself, shouldn’t it?

In ensuing rants the numerous suggestions around solving the problem were amusing, spot-on and irritating in different measure – the latter being those comments from the type of ignoramus who confidently weighs in on the politics of Donald J. Trump and Vladimir Putin over a glass of whisky from Scotland imported through Dubai and making money mostly for people who buy shares on the London Stock Exchange.

“Are you growing any maize there? Don’t disturb us!” said one in another forum where the topic grew as quickly as Ugandan maize tends to.

The sensible ones suggested measures like investing in maize processing plants in those districts where the vast quantities of maize have attracted Kenyan-managed trucks and their wealthy buyers.

That would certainly make a lot of sense, said economic-savvy types, because it would employ more Ugandans, earn the farmers more money upfront due to the ready market, and earn the government even more because those plants would make use of all this electricity we are generating now.

Another contributor took the next leg and pointed out that the logistics end would benefit as well because instead of Uganda playing host to so many old, crumbling lorries carrying sacks of raw maize thrown “anyhowly” onto their beds, our processed product would attract much better logistical handling and management.

See, the thing about processing is that you get to a different level of client who asks for things that make high-level education all the more important – warehouse management including the use of forklifts and pallets, automation of systems and processes, presentation of certificates and other documentation that forces one to adhere to international standardisation…the list is long.

Not only that, came another suggestion: If there are so many Kenyans working so hard to take Ugandan maize out to Kenya, that means we have a brand attribute that can be developed into something much, much bigger! Indeed, whereas we all know that Uganda’s maize and other crop production is mostly due to our soils being so amazingly fertile, perhaps there is a magic in our crops that would increase their value on supermarket shelves if we branded the finished product right and added the words, “Grown In Uganda”.

We smiled. It was all WhatsApp kaboozi and the intellectual daydreaming eventually evaporated like the substances that normally inspire it. But I kept my eye on the maize story in the Kenyan press, and have accumulated piles of newspaper clippings updating Kenyans on a daily basis about the price of maize – raw and processed – and the availability of the stuff.

The Kenyans eat just about as much ugali as we do posho, but they are more in number and tend to have more money overall relative to the rest of us due to their economy having grown the way it has since the 1960s, among other reasons.

Their planning methods appear to be ahead of us as well, if those stories I have read for so many months are anything to go by. The Tanzanians know this and recently banned the exportation of maize from their country because they have worked out that they might not have enough to go around for themselves if the rains don’t work out as planned.

Kenya went as far as to import some maize from Latin America last year (some of those stories are more scandalous than economically educative) but as of a few days ago they announced that the government would fund a deal to shore up their maize reserves.

It is no secret – the deal was brokered by their Ministry of Industrialization and will have the government there financing Kenyan farmers so they can buy 6.6million sacks of maize “cheaply”. The deal was signed with the Grain Council of Uganda – whose identity and purpose I will google in my spare time so we can one day have a discussion over a plate of posho…or Ugali.

Why the deal was brokered by THEIR Ministry of Industrialization should be obvious, but I am looking forward to the discussions in our WhatsApp groups when all the wise Ugandans with access to the internet and drinks start getting angry and spend that money on anything but maize processing.

Perhaps, as one person in the earlier WhatsApp discussion said, the talking and monied classes would pay more attention to all this if they ate more posho ourselves. By the time that happens, we might have Ugali on offer instead.

maputo, inspiring kampala and giving us hope off just one street


MY first visit to Maputo, in Mozambique, did not allow me to visit the entire city by much measure – certainly not fully in the manner that would allow me to analyse everything it had to offer, but the one street I visited for many days made me quite happy.

It is not a secluded corner of paradise carved out of the usual squalor but it qualified for my pleasant approval for a number of reasons I must share with the people at the Kampala Capital City Authority in whom I have a lot of faith.

My hosts, dealing with more than 200 guests for the week, thought of everything including the proclivity of some of the group to pursue health-related activities such as those said to be essential for the avoidance of cardiovascular diseases.

“Leave the hotel and turn right, then jog or walk along the pavement until the Monument,” read the directions the Coca-Cola Beverages Africa team gave us before we left our various countries across the continent.

I read them with the thought that any instruction of that nature about Kampala City would be incomplete without caveats to do with boda-bodas, mentally challenged motor vehicle operators, disenfranchised pedestrians, and street-side property owners so lacking in scruples that visible infringements on public property laws and regulations have not phased them in decades.

On my first evening, pleasantly relieved that the commercial discussions of the day had ended on time, I changed into health-oriented clothing and followed the given directions.

I was half-willing to give up the minute a boda-boda or tree showed up in my direct path, because the people of Mozambique speak Portuguese and having only learned three words in that language I was not ready to engage in arguments to secure territorial control – especially since I couldn’t sustain successful ones at home in the same scenario in languages I am proficient in.

The memory of finding a series of electricity poles in my footpath along an upmarket road in Kololo has never left my mind, and tempered my patient attitude.

See, the idea that these electricity poles could be smack in the middle of a path – not a pavement – on a street or road that hosts a major Ugandan bank, upmarket restaurants selling expensive food, and real estate properties valued at rates that compete globally with cities like New York, London and Paris, is humbling.

Maputo, though, is not any of the usual ‘developed country’ cities, yet this street I was on actually existed and gave me an experience I believe could exist in Kampala, if not Uganda.

I took off on a gentle trot keeping the ocean to my right being careful not to psychologically burden myself with the expectation that the ocean would be on my right all through. Surely I would occasionally find some blight such as a massive cement structure with a hundred stories facing the road and blotting out the sunset on the sea-side?

IMG-0935
The seaside foot and bike path in Maputo (Photo by Simon Kaheru)

Disappointing. My right hand side was clear and my trip kept getting disrupted by the sounds of the ocean waves lapping against the sands, making me turn often to watch the white rush of water breaking and going back towards the Asias.

I kept turning back quickly to the road to ensure that no boda-boda would run into my knees and create a medical emergency or, more worryingly, cause my blood to blot the otherwise clean inter-locking paving stones forming the public pavement.

I went three kilometres before realising the risk of that was absolutely zero. And, unlike places I am used to, without revealing where I live and normally operate such manouvres, even if a boda-boda had sped up towards me using the pedestrian road option we would certainly have had enough space to share the width of the pavement!

It was confusing but I kept my cool all the way and constrained myself to stop my excitement attracting attention from various onlookers. There were quite a number – people jogging, others sitting on public benches as couples in comfortable arrangements and viewing the ocean, street entrepreneurs selling coconuts and other local street snacks, and small crowds waiting for taxis they refer to as ‘My Love’ .

They call these ‘My Love’ explained Sergio Fernandes, Coca-Cola Beverages Africa Public Affairs Supremo, because passengers get squashed in the vehicle and hold onto each other so tightly that they might as well refer to each other as ‘My Love’.

Returning to the wide and clean pavements from that digression was easy because there was so much space to meander in and out of safe spaces without stepping into the road – onto the sandy beaches, into roadside tarmacked parking lots, and following curves built into the road to ease foot (not motor vehicle) traffic.

The Mozambiquans have paid so much attention to pedestrians and non-motor vehicularised activities that along a three-kilometre stretch of ocean-front road they have stopped buildings being erected and even built public metallic exercise and game machines.

IMG-0936
Seaside public exercise and play machines in Maputo (Photo by Simon Kaheru)

I have seen these before in Beijing, China – metallic exercise benches, climbing and lifting frames, swings and what not that everyone and anyone can make use of to achieve physical fitness over time – without paying a gym subscription.

Their very existence encourages residents and visitors to the city to use this circuit for their daily or periodical health routines – besides or on top of the existence of that ocean.

Because such people normally walk around with bottled water and other snacks packaged in disposable, non-degradable materials, at two specific points the Mozambiquans provided creatively designed garbage receptacles for plastics, organic waste and paper (all separate).

IMG-0947
Eye-catching and innovative waste separation bins in Maputo (Photo by Simon Kaheru)

And along the route, to cater for the weather, there were trees with canopies providing the type of shade that would have cost a hefty sum if inorganic materials and labour costs had been involved.

It didn’t take me all six kilometres of ocean front to make up my mind about spending time, and therefore money, in Maputo. That one stretch of road was so fulfilling that I would find it difficult to essay another within that city, in case of disappointment, yet it made me believe that they existed.

And that is what I trust that the Kampala Capital City Authority in whom I have a lot of faith will pay keen attention to in due course, for God and MY Country, as well as theirs.

Obrigado!

it’s not witchcraft, Uganda is blessed…gifted by nature!


Maggie, Conrad, Simon & Reynado next to the trophy
Coca-Cola officials welcome the FIFA World Cup Trophy and prepare to take it off the jet onto the tarmac at Entebbe International Airport.From Left: Maggie Kigozi, Conrad van Niekerk, Simon Kaheru & Reinaldo Padua

IF I write or speak about anything other than the FIFA World Cup Trophy this week I will be cheating an entire country – Uganda. We may not have won the actual Trophy yet, but we certainly came top when it came to displaying passion, discipline, orderliness and relating love to the sport called football.

These little victories count on their own, even though the bigger ones like winning the actual Tournament and bringing that Trophy home would weigh way more in value than its dollar equivalent on the open market.

First of all, I won’t mention Coca-Cola too much in this so that I avoid a conflict of interest around my regular employment and this apparent public service and because by now you all know for sure who is ferrying that Trophy around the World.

If I hadn’t had a link to the company I would certainly have been in the running to join the social media “influencers” who went to South Africa to ride along with the Trophy on its dedicated plane.

It wasn’t necessary – I got to bask in the glory of the trophy right here in the warm and wet tropical climes of Uganda – starting on the plane that ferried it here. More importantly, as the President happily said when he was unveiling the Trophy and sending it off on its merry tour of the Pearl of Africa, everybody in the world saw and enjoyed the beauty of Uganda because of this Trophy.

From my close proximity vantage point I can confirm that the excitement in Uganda outshone that in most other countries. At the Kampala Serena Hotel I was tickled to see a lady bringing her children in their school uniform to take photographs next to the pull-up banners set up for the evening event. She had gone through loads of traffic to do this, and had no intention of asking for tickets to the event. They took their photographs and left for home – happy and excited to have been part of this in some small way!

Felicity George, the FIFA Partnerships Manager, said this quite clearly to us when she arrived at the Company Plant in Namanve. She was quite taken aback to see so many staff wearing their Uganda Cranes t-shirts and lining up in an orderly manner to take their photographs with the Trophy.

She spoke to a few of them and they were quite clear about their love for their country and the sport we call Football. She was impressed – out of all the countries she has visited on the Trophy Tour, she said, only Ugandans turned up in their national football colours!

We did well there all through, Ugandans – right from Entebbe Airport and on the roadside.

Taking the Trophy to the Plant for the company staff to enjoy its presence was a touch apart from what happened everywhere else in the world; more heart-tingling was the procedure the Managing Director insisted on – giving priority to the staff of Plastic Recycling Industries and Rwenzori Bottling Company first, and ensuring no hierarchical methods were used to manage the queues.

All through, the FIFA Security chaps in charge of the Trophy were thoroughly excited by the traditional dancers and their varied display of dances. One of them, on the second day, asked me why the dress and dances were so different and gave me the opportunity to explain how many cultures we had in Uganda and part of our history.

The FIFA World Cup Twitter account has about six million followers, and the World Cup itself was viewed, in 2014, by more than three billion (3,000,000,000) people! Imagine if just one percent of those, following this trophy, took up an increased interest in Uganda’s cultures?

The realisation that the Trophy Tour had turned so many eyeballs onto Uganda for those two days caused one fellow at State House to quip, “Eh! How many other things can we bring to Uganda so that we do this?!”

He got the point quite quickly when he noted how excited everyone was at all levels to take photographs with the Trophy.

President Museveni himself walked into the room so early that he took most by surprise, and then gave the Trophy and its attendants so much time and prominence that there was a full photo session on the stairs of State House for the staff and media to enjoy – which HE set up on his own.

Those staff and media, and all other Ugandans who took photographs with the Trophy, number close to ten thousand or so people. Now, if each of us uploaded our photographs to the internet with a positive comment about the country and an inviting message, imagine how much support that would give to the efforts of the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) and the Uganda Investment Authority (UIA).

Even our Uganda Managing Director, Conrad van Niekerk, was taken aback at the energy levels generated by the Trophy. He was Managing Director in Ghana back in 2010 and when the Trophy visited that country he didn’t see them exhibiting such celebratory measures or turning out in national colours even if THEY WERE PARTICIPATING IN THE WORLD CUP FINALS!

“Uganda is simply amazing!” he kept remarking, at every step of the Tour.

If we all tell our tale of how marvelous Uganda was – even during those two days – believe me the benefits would be mind-blowing. The FIFA crew declared us to be blessed, for instance, because they could not understand how their plane left Cape Town an hour late but managed to land in Entebbe earlier than scheduled!

Then, every time the weather seemed set to destroy the events here, everything just went on smoothly; on one day when the trophy was at Century Bottling Company and being set up a drizzle started and clouds formed to the backdrop of climatically induced rumbling but everything changed as soon as the EmCee announced Conrad’s welcoming speech.

The clouds seemed to draw back as he walked up centre and raised the microphone to his mouth, and the EmCee laughed and accused someone there of engaging in witchcraft.

It’s not witchcraft. Uganda is blessed. We are gifted. By Nature.

perseverance: apply for everything all the time


LAST year I met a most amazing fellow who chose to settle in Uganda after getting here by way of more work, money and experience than the vast majority of us will ever know, living an existence that the vast majority of us almost cannot stand.

Paul Anderson would confuse the average Ugandan. When I met him he was dressed as casually as a backpacker and toting the type of bag and envelopes that make most be-suited, neck-tied Ugandans roll their eyes and look the other way to avert requests for jobs and other favours.

A few minutes into our conversation I began to notice that he was quite different, and probed further. His story is really, really long and fascinating – including the millions of United States dollars he has made over time versus the choice he has made to live a life that costs a couple hundred dollars a month in various parts of Uganda that many of you struggle to avoid.

His entire life story is not the subject of what triggered these particular thoughts; there was one bit of our discussion that morning that returned to me last week when a young lady I admire posted a tweet that deserves a lot of attention.

Paul Anderson is an author and philosopher, having studied life in a very deep manner. I am still on standby to get involved in one of his projects, and left him that day with many thoughts bouncing about in my head.

One of these was his astonishment at the lack of energy among some of our youth and the need to make them realise it.

In one example, he told me of an otherwise intelligent and seemingly capable young lady he met who was in despair at having failed to secure a job a couple of years after completing her university degree. She had studied a banking-related course and was eager to work in a bank at some level.

Paul asked her how many applications she had put out and her response was, something like, “About six.”

“In two years?”

She confirmed so. See, she explained, the banks she applied to were simply not responding or giving her the job(s), and the others hadn’t advertised any.

He was unsympathetic. She could have applied to three times that same number and still didn’t deserve sympathy, he said.

If she really wanted to work in a commercial bank, he told her, what she needed to do was to list all the commercial banks and financial institutions in Uganda and then apply to ALL of them. After doing so, she needed to run a time-table and visit each and every one of the banks to secure personal audience with a manager and ask for a job.

“With a degree in hand, the right attitude and the right amount of persistence, even if nobody offered her a job they wouldn’t chase her off outright,” he reasoned. After that, he said, she needed to write them a follow-up email, wait a few months, and then go back to ask again.

With all the commercial banks in Uganda, she needed to pester them consistently using her time table until one of them gave in and offered her something – anything!

That approach has stayed on my mind for a while and I believe it could work more times than fail – especially since it involves slogging until success is achieved. Just two weeks ago I wrote the big word “Perseverance” on the blackboard of a classroom of wide-eyed eight-year olds, then explained it to them.

Hence my stop-and-think-hard-then-applaud-loudly reaction last week when @Kemi_stry – full name Kemiyondo Coutinho – tweeted:

“I apply for something every week. Yup. Every week. Now think of how many things I announce that I have actually gotten. I hustle for more than I receive. As it should be. You never know which one is the door. So keep trying that key in all of them.”

No wonder, I thought to myself, she does so well.

I have only met her properly once, in circumstances I cannot go into right now and trust she won’t ever tell anyone about (Madamoiselle/Madame/Boss – PLEASE DO NOT!), but I have interacted with her online for a long, enjoyable time.

She is in the business of Creative Arts and Entrepreneurship and is on a roll right now. Last week, her short film “Kyenvu” won the Best Narrative Short Film Award at the Pan African Film & Arts Festival 2018!

She is teaching the world the meaning of the Luganda word “kyenvu” (google it!) – which puts Luganda up there on the list of languages being used globally to describe colours and emotions and milkshake flavours. I have proof – the word now exists on http://www.imdb.com, the website where all movies of note get listed.

Thanks to @Kemi_stry and her team, there is a whole cast of Ugandan names up on that site as well, together with Ugandans who produce, direct and score movies to global standards!

I haven’t yet watched “Kyenvu” but I can tell that it tackles important themes squarely – sexual harassment – and raises one’s attention to subliminal ones – such as race issues in our settings.

I am not surprised that “Kyenvu” is winning awards because @Kemi_stry is that type of go-get-em person. Once, in the past, we had a very short conversation about her joining the national broadcast system. The discussion was understandably very, very short due to the candid but positive approach we both seem to take most times.

She went her merry, determined way, persevered, and today, in the age of the “Black Panther”, she has the world at her feet and is choosing what colour to make it.