non-Ugandans are out here loving uganda more than YOU

A while back I spotted a little boy vending colourful cloth rucksacks and shoulder bags in the environs of Kkungu, in Kira District and I bought one up with glee. I used it so hard that it got stolen at the Village Mall in Bugolobi but not before I had spread the word about his grandmother Rose Nakitto, who makes the bags (she was on 0777 460 854).

In the same breath I mentioned another discovery – a little shop called Ricci Everyday operating out of Prunes Cafe on Wampewo Avenue.

Ricci Everyday sells the same type of Kitenge or ‘African cloth’ bags of varying styles and quality levels, at vastly different prices. Nakitto’s were going for about Ushs35,000 a bag while Ricci Everyday sold theirs ranging from Ushs200,000 to more than Ushs1million!

Two weeks ago I chanced upon an article online about Ricci Everyday in Japan, and my heart applauded them. This outfit had taken Uganda to the first world whole sale and was bringing money here to pay the people, presumably women, who do the actual work stitching the bags!

And they’ve been doing so for YEARS! In 2016 they exhibited these Ugandan-made bags at a premier fashion show in London and have done so consistently ever since.

Three weeks ago the Ricci Everyday proprieter, Chizu Nakamoto, was featured in the Business section of The Japan Times in a story titled, “Startup’s colorful Ugandan bags take off in Japan, lifting the women who make them”. In Japan the popular Akello bag goes for about US$93 – and the entire range is doing extremely well.

I haven’t yet stopped Chizu or her mother, Ritsue, to thank them for the great work they are doing for this country. Even when I do, my word of appreciation won’t be as valuable as a medal from a national authority or some big incentive from the Uganda Export Promotion Board, Uganda Investment Authority or one of our Ministries of Trade, Investment and so on and so forth.

I was full of wist over this many days later when an email came to me promoting a Mother’s Day online purchase.

The day I signed up for updates from ‘Rose & Fitzgerald (Est. 2013)’ has long faded out of my memory, so when I saw their offer I had to stop and think.

“Win the Ultimate Mother’s Day Ethical Gift Pack – valued at more than US$1,000!” read the banner.

I love my mother more than US$1,000 but I don’t normally have that amount of money on hand to prove the point, so who were these Rose & Fitzgerald who believed this kind of email warranted an exclamation mark?

Besides, I wondered, what kind of “Ethical Gift Pack” was this and how did it link to my beloved mother?

I read the email further, past the pretty images, and one word stood out: “Mugave”. One of the gifts was described as a “Mugave Geometric Bottle Stopper from Rose & Fitzgerald”.

This isn’t the one, but I found that they have made and sold many other such pieces in the years they have been in business:

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Those two are not Ugandan names but it was difficult to imagine that Mugave was a word in common use outside of Uganda.

So I headed to their base site and found that their main outfit is called ‘Thirty One Bits’ (, offering many nice-looking items that I couldn’t recognise from my many years in Uganda.

So I went to read their story under ‘About Us’.

These three white women, from the photograph, included one Kallie Dovel who came to Uganda for a bit as a university student and went back with stories that blew her friends away.

“She met women who grew up in a war and had nothing. They were single moms with no education and no job, and they were our age. OUR AGE. Our lives couldn’t look more different,” they write.

And then, they continue writing with a perspective totally lacking among US – the Ugandans who live right here with and amongst our fellow Ugandans:

“The women may not have had an education, but their skills and resourcefulness were astounding. They were making incredible jewelry out of old posters. Kallie brought a box of jewelry back, and we fell in love instantly!”

These were Caucasian women from America who met Acholi women in Gulu and created an enterprise.

They sold out within a short time and voila! There a business was born selling small pieces of jewelry and decor at pops of anywhere from US$15 upwards of US$80.

The girls came to Uganda and spent time with six ladies developing products and living together in their homes as they built up Thirty One Bits. Today, they are in “hundreds of stores across the United States” and have endorsements from names such as Sophia Bush, Candace Cameron Bure, Jessica Alba, and magazines like Forbes, Harper’s Bazaar and Elle.

PLUS, they built an entrepreneurship training element into their business so that the ladies creating these jewelry and art pieces don’t rely on just being suppliers, but develop their own businesses.

The girls of Thirty One Bits have graduated 100 artisans over five years, says their website, who have started additional businesses doing poultry, tailoring, agriculture and “One woman even opened her very own restaurant, called none other than ’31 Bits’!”

Not only that – using this experience they found themselves doing the same in Indonesia (which is why I couldn’t recognise many of the items on their online store).

That Indonesia bit is what worries me now. If we don’t have more and more Chizu Nakamoto’s and Kallie Dovel’s coming in from Japan and the United States to discover highly creative and hard working women in Uganda like Rose Nakitto and those unnamed jewelry designers in Northern Uganda, are we ever going to have more superb, high quality products than the Indonesians filling up shelves in foreign countries?

Besides that, how many of us in our twenties (that’s how old Chizu and Kallie were when they started) and thirties and forties are out there creating businesses like this or, at the very least, supporting them by buying their products?

Sadly, not enough to change an entire economy just yet; even more sadly, so few that the Nakamoto’s and Dovel’s will deservedly continue standing out. Thankfully, they do so while putting quality Ugandan products on international shelves to great acclaim, and for that they will be greatly applauded.

give me azulato over blankets & wine any day…for the children and the future

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I HAD three tickets to last weekend’s Blankets & Wine festival but let them go to other people who were bound to find the entertainment there more to their weekend arrangements than I could – what with three charges all below the age of eighteen and their mother all being in charge of my schedule on such days.

Instead, I chose to walk my heavy luncheon off by accompanying the crew to the ‘Azulato Children’s Festival’, organised by the Goethe-Zentrum Kampala (the Ugandan German Cultural Society).

Anne Whitehead sent me the flyer earlier in the week after we had recorded a podcast at Skyz Hotel and it agreed with me – not just because entry was free.

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She described it as “a bunch of fun arts and science activities for the kids”, which she knew would make me bite.

My larger family had questions, led by my little sister Freda Agaba who was born to be an Auditor and grew into the role at a level that terrorises many.

“But what is it supposed to be?!” she asked.

I was happy to discover what it presented, even though the definition for ‘Azulato’ didn’t show up anywhere at the venue or on the internet, though @BigEyeUG on Twitter defined it for me as “an amalgamation of two words…kuzuula and abato” – which Anne explains in detail and Luganda at the Meeting In The Skies podcast.

The website read: “Expect a wide range of fun and interactive workshops and performances, hands-on activities, such as mural painting, 3-d-printing, dance and music workshops, learning about robotics, science experiments and digital animation among others. The festival aims to promote the arts and sciences as a learning experience for children to develop their talents and grow their self-confidence, meet and make new friends and have fun. Azulato Children’s Festival is an inclusive festival for all children regardless of background and differences in abilities.”

I generally say things like ‘each to his or her own’. But by the time I got to the last tent of the Azulato festival I was questioning why so many of us are more willing, eager and likely to spend vast amounts of time and money at certain other types of events and not even swing by a free-to-enter high impact one like this.

The array of amazingness (accept that word as one that now exists in your life) was stunning even though the selection seemed scant and almost random. I knew some of the offerings – like the 40 Days over 40 Smiles Foundation people (Esther Kalenzi is still upset with me but we will clear issues up soon so I get back into her good books) and Alex Twinokwesiga’s (Turn The Page Africa).

The two young organisations work together to grow a reading culture in Uganda and Africa – 4040 raising funds to build literacy (and libraries) countrywide, while promotes reading – Ugandan authors – by way of an online library that served me up two books at Azulato itself.

Alex Twinokwesiga also has another project – – and when I spotted him I thought he was there for that. is an online shop promoting Ugandan-made products across the board to the rest of the world.

Azulato had a large array of these – many of the kitenge and fabric type of products that people call “African” but of a markedly distinct quality. 

Nzuri Afrik had me gawking and gasping for their shoes but they don’t make them in my size.


Still, the young fellow there offered, I could take any of my own shoes and for a small fee they’d decorate them colourfully with bright fabrics to add a spring to my step and light up every path I walk on. I am selecting fabrics this week and have already put aside the items they will be sprucing up for me.

The children would have impoverished me if I let them linger at that particular stand, so I moved them along quickly but I know what they’ll be wanting for their birthdays, Christmas and any incentive to come.

If I had anyone to turn to for such treats I would have chosen the seats made out of used tyres – not just tyres stacked together and painted as I have done before; a young lady, Allen Nabukenya, operating under the name Njola made these extremely comfortable, wide rubber seats that go for Ushs500,000 a pop.

Besides those, she presented some handy and chunky bags that caught everybody’s eye.

What we didn’t see but you would have to probe for is her vision of training 100 young girls per month this year in how to make products out of waste materials, giving them a livelihood and cleaning up Uganda at the same time!

Like I said, we have amazing Ugandans out there but we seem not to focus on them at all.

Next to her stand was another Nabukenya – Hellen, this time – whose fabrics I will be wearing soon in their mixes of denim, cotton and kitenge. She was humble and soft-spoken maybe because her pieces spoke loudly on their own.

She was also being distracted by a little child and almost missed my astonishment at her products – which increased when I found the articles about her having exhibited her art in Denmark, France and Uganda.

She has flown Uganda’s flag with success but guess how many times she has been on page one or the podium for a national medal?

Perhaps as many as the animation and graphics designers behind the Crossroads Digital projects who told me their newest project, a TV series with an edutainment objective, was targeting the continent and globe and not just Uganda.

David Masanso is the farthest one can get from being arrogant while evoking an air of self-confidence that clearly relies on the quality of his team’s animations.

Next to him were ‘A Kalabanda Ate My Homework’, a short film by Raymond and Robin Malinga that would make you think Pixel or Disney if you saw it unprepared.

The voices behind the animation, though, are all too familiar, and when you read the credits you will stop to ask yourself why there is still so much foreign media inside our TV sets.

Martha Kay Kagimba, Daniel Omara, Salvadore Patrick Idringi, Patience Logose…all IMG-8911household Ugandan names and all listed up on glitzy websites declaring that this Ugandan production will be at the world’s most prestigious film festival, the Festival de Cannes from May 8 to May 19, 2018!

They said nothing about this world class status they had achieved, and focused on giving the children a good time.

I couldn’t begin to compare them to the braggarts that fill up our social space in this country over ‘achievements’ like buying cars and bottles of drinks in dim lighting.

There was more to be seen and enjoyed at Azulato, by adults and children alike, including the robotics display and getting the chance to print something off a 3D printer for the first time ever!

IMG-8902Discovering the Social Innovation Academy and their plastic bottle recycling that includes building entire houses was even more exciting when I found that they package roasted coffee called “Kyaffe” – grown by women farmers groups.

By this time the children had dispersed to take part in activities such as art and crafts, clay pot moulding, robotics and science experiments, so I had time enough to gather contacts for later use until we all converged at the Breakdance and Rap/Lugaflow workshop.

There, the mind was blown afresh at the sights and sounds of children ad-libbing rap and lugaflow that would make you cry at how well the dedication and hard work of Abramz Tekya is paying off.

His Breakdance Project, targeting vulnerable children, has built such a confidence in his young charges that if a Kalabanda ate their homework they’d challenge their teachers to a rap-off and win deservedly!

At the end of the day, my choice of a festival that spoke to children learning and developing over one that suggested alcohol and slumber was well made.

good Ugandans are orderly…can be more orderly and organised

SOME people consider the compulsion to keep things orderly to be a personal disorder and they use that connotation to intimidate people within our society who insist on having things done properly.

Wikipedia confirms this by saying of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), “In English, the phrase obsessive–compulsive is often used in an informal manner unrelated to OCD to describe someone who is excessively meticulous, perfectionistic, absorbed, or otherwise fixated.”

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I don’t encourage the intimidation and often find reasons to highlight the value of ordering things a certain way. My children now being old enough to get sent to my wallet, for instance, approach it with repeated warnings that the privilege will be withdrawn if they don’t order the notes therein following the pre-set rules.

Whereas we are used to seeing that predilection for disorder in ordinary places, it is particularly disturbing when it shows up where people are educated and carrying out activities for which they are paid serious money.

For instance, when the person in a shop is handing me back my change (or balance) and places the notes in any order facing different directions and upside down and with some of them folded two ways, one folded three ways and the fourth with an ear bit bent back, I show little surprise.

The habit I have of then slowly making a show of unfolding and flattening the notes, then re-organising them so they are in order from the largest to the smallest note could be considered to be “Passive Aggressiveness” but I take it to be a brief practical demonstration or orderliness the shop attendant might benefit from.

There are other instances where I can’t do this because it is impractical and because I freeze up in horror – like when a financial institution or an educational one pays tens of millions of shillings for newspaper advertising to publish lists of names and numbers.

I share this pet peeve with, among others, Paul Bagyenda, an ICT Guru with a penchant for orderliness that he hides from the general public. There was a time when we’d act as a support group for each other on the days such publications interfered with an otherwise good tropical day in the sun, because he is as avid a reader as I am.

We once called up a Kampala bank that kept doing this – publishing pages upon pages of names arranged in no specific manner even though they had the option of alphabetically using Surnames (most logical), Forenames (harder but do-able), or numerically using Account Numbers (well…).

Our wrath once got directed to another financial institution for listing defaulters alphabetically by district, but then using some randomly illogical method underneath the district title – not even attempting to list them using an ascending or descending order based on the amount by which they had defaulted.

This week I found a lesson in patience when I experienced first-hand in person the time-wasting result of this lack of orderliness.

Back in November last year I made a decision to quit using the Gaz petrol station nearest to my home because the attendants refused to discourage people from driving in using the ‘Out’ side of the station – which always caused exit angst when one wanted to drive out having entered through the ‘In’ side in an orderly manner.

The Gaz at Seeta – taken from

Worse, they had no problem using the first pump when a single car drove in, even though that blocked access to the second pump ahead – causing delays in the fueling process as one had to wait while two pumps with pump attendants in front of you stood idle.

By the time I quit I had signed up for their loyalty card service using a phone app and was accumulating points as I awaited the card itself. So for months now I’ve been getting notification messages that my card was ready for pick-up but was too pre-occupied and disinterested.

Until I had ten minutes to spare this week and had a Christian urge to forgive and forget.

I was asked to park my car and go into the office for a few minutes to sign for my card, which was fair enough so I complied knowing I would be telling a manager that day about how to improve their service.

The young man in the office had clearly had a long day and didn’t mind making this obvious to me but I kept my cool and watched as he commandeered a lackey to sift through a box of plastic cards wrapped up in bundles of 200 each.

At the start of this process I hoped to myself that these were thousands of people who had also quit the station on the same premises or principles as I had.

After many minutes of observing the process my optimism gave way to despair. They had identified my card number using the details I gave them and now needed to physically go through each stack of cards to find the individual one assigned to me.

A third person had been added to the list and, because the office was too small to hold many more people than the four of us and six other people doing similarly tiresome paper-laden tasks, nobody else could join the assignment.

To make matters worse, the fellows were ripping the rubber bands off the stacks, shuffling through the cards to identify my number, and then putting the rubber band back and placing the stack in another box – without placing the cards in better order, following their numbering.

“They are all mixed!” complained the manager, which the other two fellows echoed verbatim.

“They are all mixed!” they said.

I could believe that, watching them mixing the cards up even further as they sought my single card, and had to take matters into my own hands.

Sifting quickly through two batches of cards told me the numbering sequence of each batch of 200 within two minutes and I tested two others to confirm it, then simply checked the top card in two other batches to find the one that most probably held my own.

I found it.

The manager was somewhat astonished, because at first he had watched me and seemed to roll his eyes at how I was too lazy to go through each and every card in each batch I had held up.

By that time I didn’t feel generous enough to launch into a session of lugezi-gezi and just signed documents in a couple of places but insisted on walking him out to the forecourt to explain the reason I had left the station in November last year – hoping that at least that simple level of orderliness would one day be enforced.

He politely appreciated my issue, and promised to effect change. Right there and then, the fellow who should have taken up my first fuel purchase using the loyalty card attempted to exhibit his deep-seated disorganisation but the manager was on hand to set him right.

For the next five minutes, at least, I observed utmost organisation at play, and I kept hope alive.

One day, we will all be organised, orderly and we will all stop thinking that it is a disorder. ‘We’ being Good Ugandans!