irrigation and technology in the desert vs. tropical non-productivity back home


I’VE SPENT two weeks in the desert and I am still unsure how to be useful to Uganda with what I’ve learnt here.

This isn’t the first time I’ve made these observations or put them down in writing to share them. I’m certainly not as influential as a Lee Kwan Yew or Yoweri Kaguta Museveni but even these gentlemen have told us sensible things that we simply have refused to do.

The first time I visited a desert country – not just an arid area of a country, but a Country or State that consists entirely of desert land and that hot, hard weather that defines the desert – was more than twenty years ago.

I was in Israel and didn’t realise it was a proper desert till late in the first week when I started paying full attention during the excursions we went on every day and some nights.

Towards the end of our time there we were driving to a kibbutz and as we were weaving up a mountain road a light patter of rain started dropping onto our bus.

Our guide – an old, friendly Colonel – broke into excited chatter with the driver and they sang a song and said a prayer. They were excited because this was the first sign of rain they had seen in three years! (And besides thanking God they were also praying that the rain wouldn’t cause a landslide to sweep us off the side of that hill they called a mountain!)

I was confused and we discussed it a little bit. And then quite a lot. See, we had heard how Israel had exported something like US$70m (it was more than that) worth of agricultural crops that year. Uganda, tropical, lush and “80% agricultural” hadn’t even recorded a tenth of that in exports.

How were they doing it without rain?!

I was even more beaten when we got to the kibbutz and found vegetables sized more than ten times their cousins I had left back home.

“Irrigation and technology,” said the kibbutz guide, taking us around and showing us everything without bragging.

A few years later I chanced upon an energetic Israeli fellow who had just set up an operation in Kampala establishing greenhouses for people while also exporting tomatoes, bell peppers and other vegetables.

One day, in the middle of a casual discussion, he expressed his dismay at how little agriculture we were doing in Kampala with our fantastic soils and weather. He just stopped short of confessing that the greenhouses he was selling might be unnecessary.

Fast forward to a few days ago when I ventured into the back garden of my host in the desert of Arizona and was stopped short by it.

It’s hard to believe that THIS is a desert, right? Photo by Simon Kaheru

I spent some time complimenting my host, Jether Lubandi, on his gardening skills. But he protested vehemently because he believes he hasn’t put lots of effort into it.

In fact, he said he had put no effort into it besides buying seedlings, putting them into the ground and then installing a fairly regular irrigation system.

At the sight of bright orange fruits hanging off a small shrub I was nonplussed!

If I hadn’t seen this, I wouldn’t have believed it – in the desert! Photo by Simon Kaheru

I went right up to them and checked to ensure they weren’t made of rubber.

Even as I was inspecting them I saw different fruits on the other shrubs.

It didn’t make a lot of sense, yet the irrigation piping was clearly visible to my naked eyes. The desert heat delayed my reasoning and suggested it was all a mirage but the next day I went back out and this time plucked one of the fruits then ate right through it. In the desert.

I ate BOTH of these and many, many more! Photo and Subsequent Eating by Simon Kaheru

I have not eaten tangerines like that in a very long time.

The other trees presented green lemons that would be fat and yellow within three weeks, pomegranates bulging like mine at home in Kampala, and oranges preparing to flourish. Besides that my hosts have a small patch of biringannya and tomatoes. In the desert.

No – for real!

Pomegranates in the desert. Photo by Simon Kaheru

In another home we visited there was even a thick patch of lemongrass! In the desert.

Lemongrass thriving almost more than YOURS…if you even have any! Photo by Simon Kaheru

We have talked about this for years, and here we still are – waiting for the President himself, no less, to tell us about simple drip irrigation yet we have purportedly gone to school and STILL don’t implement that.

It is embarrassing in many ways. My face was burning thinking about it – more than from the harsh desert heat.

To think that my plumber just two months ago was pushing me to instal a “booster pump” at Ushs500,000 so that I could take showers under water at a higher pressure…

I hesitated over his suggestion and then refused flat out, but wasn’t sure why the idea didn’t sit comfortably with me besides the cost. Thinking about that decision while in the desert surrounded by flourishing fruit trees made me ashamed of myself.

I should have rejected his suggestion for the right reasons – that I’d rather spend that money on a booster pump on a farm somewhere so I could get more crops out of it during the hot season.

Which makes me certain that there are people doing this in Uganda – spending money on pumps so they can have stronger showers and NOT spending it on pumps to irrigate gardens so we can make us of our oft-spoken about agricultural potential.

I AM guilty, I confess, of running a small irrigation project in my compound to keep it green and flowery but have also taken advantage of it so I decrease on my vegetable, herb and spice expenses.

But that’s not compensation for what I could and should have done long ago in tropical, lush Uganda where we boast about being agricultural and holding more arable land than any other country in East Africa.

Arizona, the desert I was eating tangerine out of a few days ago, has an agricultural industry worth US$23.2billion, accounting for 138,000 jobs. That desert State is the 3rd largest producer of fresh market vegetables in the United States and the 4th in the country in acres of organic vegetables. In the desert.

What about you and I and this beloved, lush, tropical Uganda?

let’s all go out and wikipedia about Uganda henceforth


I WAS at a clinical laboratory doing my medicals a month ago and, waiting around for somebody to do something about a process, I ran out of things to do with my book and gadget.

During that break, my eyes were drawn to the floor whose tiling I felt was poorly chosen. Surely, I thought, the designers should have used tiles less prone to turning oil-slippery with any fluid spill – especially in a medical facility.

Then I noticed something more annoying: the tile-layers had driven nails into the floor while working, at points chipping the edges and corners of the porcelain and at others not bothering to drive the nails all the way in.

“We need a law to deal with all the people who make this #workmanship happen,” I tweeted.

Stephen Ssenkomago Musoke responded with, “This was the forte of vocational training colleges like Kyambogo (blue collar jobs) which were all changed to white collar universities. To break this cycle we need to go back to the basics grow brick and tile laying, painting, electrical wiring, plumbing, tailoring skills, etc.”

Somebody challenged him with the claim that Kyambogo had been a teacher training college and not a vocational institute, so Stephen sent the link to Kyambogo’s wikipedia page as “a little Saturday history reading.”

Always keen on such history, I read it. Stephen might have been sending us the page as another example of poor workmanship, besides educating the fellow who had challenged him!

Whereas the scantiness of information on the site was irritating, I realised this wasn’t the Kyambogo University website and that I could have gone there for more in this regard.

But a Wikipedia page is an important source of information because it is, presumably, an independent source put together by different well-meaning individuals whose information is filtered through editors who check it for accuracy and non-bias. It’s a fairly accurate crowd-sourced encyclopaedia.

Even if it’s free, to have a Wikipedia page and then not make sensible use of it is as bad as paying large amounts of money for porcelain tiles and then driving nails into them while flooring.

My bother intensified when I found the rather thin list of Kyambogo alumni on there. The only two people under ‘Business’, for instance, are Anatoli Kamugisha of Akright Projects, and Richard Musani, Marketing Manager of Movit Products.

Perhaps it’s just the two of them because they are the only ones with their own Wikipedia listings (as far as the contributor could establish with two clicks)?

Either way, this is the one job of the Kyambogo University information or public relations people – to update their Wikipedia page.

The Makerere University Wikipedia entry fares much better but is also not recently updated – which you can tell from the sentence about the Makerere University Commission of 2016: “The commission’s report is due in late February 2017.” This, meanwhile, is underneath the seemingly unnecessary sub-heading “Unrest in the 2000s”.

Why is that necessary? “Unrest in the 2000s”?! I don’t know – maybe Makerere presents more unrest than most other universities worldwide? What I do know is that this sub-heading is as annoying to me as “Other academics” on the same page, that lists just five (5) ‘other academics’.

On the University of Oxford & University of Cambridge Wikipedia pages there is no mention of unrest and certainly no listing of a couple of academics. Neither do those references exist on the University of Nairobi Wiki page.

There is a chance that the focus of the private individuals who updated the Makerere and Kyambogo pages limited their creativity to these less relevant items of information or, in the case of the ‘other academics’, they simply lost interest along the way.

And this is where we now have the chance to contribute. See, any of us with internet access can log in to Wikipedia and make edits to these pages so we enrich them and attract more scholars to our educational institutes of higher learning.

Both those pages would be massively improved if, for instance, they listed ground-breaking research and publications that have emerged from the said institutions over the years.

We could list all the Conferences hosted there and even highlight the intellectual results thereof or therefrom. The books written by all the First Class students and their later publications would make the Wikipedia entries of both institutions much more useful to internet surfers, the two Universities, Uganda and anyone anywhere at any time!

What about finding the work that the alumni or academia have done in their respective and relevant fields of study and specialisation that has stood out nationally in Uganda, on the Continent of Africa or, even better,in the world at large?

For years now, some of us have highlighted, profiled, tweeted and Re-Tweeted about various innovative and celebrated achievements in agriculture, technology, health and even the military…all originating from Uganda. Surely a few of those could have been put onto the Wikipedia pages of these two academic institutions of higher learning?

Of course.

Even now, I could go on and on but I won’t. Instead, I will hope the nail has been driven home here, but without chipping at the tiles while trying to ensuring they don’t stick out to potentially cause harm to those walking through.

looking at bonang power, #SaveMurchisonFalls might be a storm in a teacup


JUST two weeks ago, the Supervisor of the Security Company that serves us decided to suspend our guard, and then a day later dismissed him from employment.

I was surprised because we have suffered with worse guards that the Supervisor hadn’t addressed himself to, but pleased because this particular fellow really had it coming from the day he arrived.

Not many of the guards turn out dressed sharp and to the nines, but this one always had his uniform dishevelled and crumpled as if he had packed it in an A4-size envelope then sat upon the envelope for a ten-kilometre ride after a heavy meal of boiled beans and cabbage.

I asked him about it once and he mumbled something I couldn’t understand even after I had made him repeat it thrice.

He tended to roll up to work and go straight to sleep, which wasn’t the cause of his dishevelled appearance, because he’d blackout slumped in a garden chair.

He also had no inkling of any etiquette whatsoever, and didn’t find it awkward to be woken up to tend to his duties, and with no apologetic punctuation shuffle off to another corner to fall asleep again within minutes.

His unsuitability for the job was so incredible that the Supervisor withdrew him from work; the same Supervisor who had ignored the fellow’s violently drunken and dull, dim-witted predecessors who tended to get tricked by even the house puppies.

So when the departed guard started hounding me with phone calls and SMS texts I was astonished. He was asking me to employ him directly to do “any work” round the homestead.

This was not a situation I needed to consult anyone over or escalate to the spouse; so I rejected his proposal firmly the minute I heard it.

That lousy guard came to mind this week when the #SaveMurchisonFalls outrage exploded on our socialmedia-sphere in Uganda.

I had to re-read the news story that ignited the outrage and picked out two main points. One – the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) was announcing that it had received an application from “a South African energy firm” for the generation and sale of power; Two – the company was called Bonang Power Energy Limited.

Taking this in reverse order from bottom up, I went straight to the internet to find out more about this Bonang Power Energy Limited. I was certain that only the most serious of companies could court a feature as globally important and rare as the Kabalega (or Murchison) Falls.

All the options on the first page Google brought up were of a South African celebrity called Bonang Matheba, who I had never heard of before in my life.

I went on till I found bonangpower.co.za and was alarmed within minutes.

Few companies with the resources to build a hydropower dam would spend so little money or energy (no pun) on their official online presence.

Another person would have laughed at the way Bonang boldly proclaimed on its home page: “2014 – Year Established; 2 – Projects Completed; 80 Partners Yrs Experience.”, but I couldn’t.

Their address, listed as ‘195 Jan Smuts Avenue, Randburg, 2196’ in South Africa, showed up on Google Maps with the image of ‘The Business Exchange, Rosebank’ https://www.tbeafrica.com/ – a commercial property that also offers co-working and virtual office space.

I did not dare imagine that a large energy company in South Africa might be based in a co-working or virtual space to build and run massive dams in places like Murchison Falls.

And I even thought I had seen the address wrong but:

I’m still checking what I did wrong here…

Their other page is the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Hydropowerinfrastructure/ and, again, perhaps large energy companies in South Africa generally don’t aim for many social media contacts.

More importantly, I noticed that Bonang Power already boasts on their website – when you click on this superb photograph of a Dam (below) about “Uhuru Hydro Power in Uganda”, https://www.bonangpower.co.za/project-3?fbclid=IwAR3X2L7SbtgtMP3DteHxMiyooksqFMVSeznqpHq-HmTekS-kg5GrrKZsi1o and talks about new hydro power stations that “will be built at Ayago, Uhuru, Kiba and Murchison Falls…” but without saying that Bonang will build them.

Then I spotted the link ‘Company Profile’ (in font ‘Times New Roman’) and had to download it https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/9b31a5_24628ee6192d414eaf424b98ea728833.pdf hoping that the #SaveMurchisonFalls battle was worth all the vitriol.

What a waste of time. Besides the type of spelling errors one finds on the packaging of cheap Chinese-made toys or in Nigerian fraudster emails, Bonang Power and Energy (Pty) Ltd.’s Company Profile was a sad affair.

The space under the title ‘Team Snap Shot’ was blank – which is probably very accurate because this is clearly a briefcase company!

And they can’t deny it because the mugshot of a smiling chap in a hard hat is the same one on their Facebook page (with three – 3 Likes), and the photo of the Company Chairman, Ernest Moloi, is the same on used in his interview with Forbes Magazine.

The guy in a hard hat on their Facebook page and website is a model you find on Shutterstock when you search for ‘construction worker african american black’.

I won’t even bother going into the profiles of the two people listed as staff because neither has anything to do with hydropower or construction.

In that interview by Forbes Magazine, by the way, is the sentence: “(Moloi) has managed to convince the Ugandan government to build a toll road from Kampala to the corridor of Kenya, and preparations are underway” followed by a claim that he was going to build shopping malls in Uganda.

So he’s already here?

I stopped there to go and do more important things.

Moving up to the first issue I had with this #SaveMurchisonFalls story made me ponder ERA’s wisdom in making their announcement about Bonang Power.

The cursory online check I did on the ‘Company’ was barely due diligence but did not give me confidence to take them seriously. Much the same way that fired guard’s unkempt uniform and poor attitude at work made him too unserious a candidate for me to even tell the spouse about his request for work.

background to the national budget of Uganda 2019-2020 – released june 2019


The Honourable Minister of Finance on Budget Day in the past (Photograph from monitor.co.ug)

THE National Budgets of the East African countries are going to be read out tomorrow in front of tens of millions of eager nationals.

This isn’t the 1980s when we’d sit before television stations and wait for news of the changing cost of sugar, paraffin, maize and petrol.

It is a MUST-READ even now so that you get ahead of everyone else in amending your expectations and plans for the year ahead.

In the meantime, on Twitter, keep your eyes glued for #BudgetUG19 and #UGbudget19, and follow people like @CSBAGUGANDA and @mofpedU and, of course, @skaheru for more.

managing domestic costs and children – the iPhone and pocket money deduction method


OUR CHILDREN are not infants any more.

They therefore have a much closer association today with the real world than they did ten years ago, which has a direct impact on the personal finances of their parents.

But their parents operate on a tight domestic budget, what with mortgages and school fees and groceries and whatnot.

So, thinking like all sensible people out there, we spent the first part of their childhood keeping them distracted by easily affordable childish things. But now that they won’t be distracted by ice cream and screechy toys, we have to keep devising means of lowering the operational costs of having children.

Taking a leaf from years of observing companies and the way they do things, we started picking off one item after another to cut down on, while motivating the children to perform well, to provide us with shareholder value.

First, we got the kids to learn the value of money to each of them personally – the way employees do when they start buying things like nice dinners, furniture and then maybe even cars and houses.

At some point they – the children – started earning pocket money allowances for good deeds or behaviour including attending school. That school attendance allowance was really free money because they honestly had no other choice and were eager to go anyway; but if they ever got tempted to lie in because of heavy morning rains, for instance, we didn’t have to remind them about their account balances.

Plus, our system was so clear that even if a child got admitted to hospital they had no such thing as as sympathy allowance – but they didn’t get a school attendance allowance either.

But they don’t receive cash daily. Instead, they are required to maintain a pocket money allowance record in a book against which we both sign and update almost weekly.

So every weekend, if the children wanted to spend money on treats like snacks, trinkets, toys and fast food, it came out of their own personal money. If ever they find a need to spend any money, they have to whip out their records and make a withdrawal from the parents.

That’s a lesson we learnt early on in our own lives, and when we departed from it as young adults and kept cash on our persons we suffered for it shortly into the month – mostly on Mondays.

This arrangement for the children, with time, became precarious for us: one day the eldest walked up with a large sheet of paper on which she had written mathematical workings to back her case for me to place an order for an iPhone she had seen online.

I audited her records and she passed the audit.

I didn’t have all that money handy and used only one delaying tactic – she hadn’t factored in the shipping costs. She went back and returned with a notification of how many school days she was going to attend in order to reach the desired amount.

We’ve never looked back.

Sometimes they’ll do extra bits of work that doesn’t involve domestic chores but to earn extra money so they can hit personal targets that require said money.

And then there are the penalties. If any of them misbehaved they got fined on the spot, losing some of their allowances. And, again taking a leaf from some companies observed, some domestic fixes have been tied to these allowances.

A couple of weeks ago I was pleased to hear them having a major argument over who had left the lights on in one room.

See, to cut down on electricity costs I used to run patrols around the house switching lights off while shouting about it. Somehow they’d get switched back on again.

So I started a Ushs500 deduction for every time I find a room empty but with lights on – Ushs500 off each of their allowances for the day, to create some group responsibility.

That worked perfectly. Where before they stampede off to school leaving every lightbulb burning, today the house is in quiet darkness as they go.

Most sensible companies do this.

You earn a monthly salary for doing your job. Sometimes even when you don’t do your job you still earn your monthly salary – just like the kids going to school and getting their daily allowance for just showing up.

When your eyes are set on a target you work even harder, if you’re sensible, and avoid getting into any shenanigans that could lose you any earnings.

Some companies will even arrange for furniture and electronics suppliers to come to the offices to make a pitch so you work harder to earn the money required. Like the internet does to make the iPhone so attractive to the children that they stay on their best behaviour all through.

And companies offer incentives based on targets that also include cost-cutting initiatives and adherence to budgets and plans – just like my energy saving one at home.

Next…? Perhaps it’s time to move the incentives upwards to mid-management level. Don’t tell them till we’ve finalised the strategy, but the domestic staff are getting in on this soon.