we will soon have boulders thrown at us if we aren’t mindful of the disadvantaged


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The smaller rocks by the roadside. Photo by Simon Kaheru

OF recent I have taken up a new daily commute down a road that presents nostalgic value that will be the subject of another tale some day.

This marram road, going through a small trading centre whose real name I am yet to establish, helps me cut my commute by about half on most days.

Sometimes, though, the strategy is confounded by external factors such as heavy rain and truck drivers who care very little about anything five metres away from their steering wheels.

One such time a couple of weeks ago, a couple of container carrying trucks got stuck into the muddy marram and blocked progress at rush hour. We found ourselves turning around and following a fellow who knew a route that went through a village called Kireku – and I still don’t know how we knew to follow that driver.

As we navigated the narrow dirt road squeezing past houses angled randomly, we got to a group of little children chanting and waving us along. I was astounded when I got close enough to hear their chants.

“Mutuviire! Mutuviire! Mutuviire!” they repeated, all smiles as if they were singing that “You are wellokam” song. (‘Mutuviire’ means, “Depart from us” or “Leave our space”!)

There are horror movies that follow this theme – using small children doing surprisingly cold things while smiling to catch you off guard. I drove home silently pondering over who could have coached those children to gather and chant like that.

Back in the day, or in most other places (I presume) little children like that would wave smilingly at you as you drove past.

Then last week, driving through the dust in the evening behind one of many reckless drivers along that road, I noticed him swerving quickly into the centre of the road. I normally drive slowly because of visibility through that thick brown dust, and I am outnumbered by the stupid, selfish people who speed right through it from one end to the other.

Those are the drivers who don’t care at all for the residents along that road, always raising piles of dust that settles quickly onto the clothes, food and wares of the people living and operating in those shacks, kiosks and houses set admittedly too close to the road.

The idiotic driver in front of me that day, who was speeding behind an equally idiotic driver, was forced to swerve quickly into the middle of the road because of the realisation  that there was a boulder in his path. I saw that boulder, about three metres high and a couple of metres thick, in good time and calmly evaded it.

In the morning, going the other way, I noticed that there was an increasing number of such rocks and boulders in the road. They were placed specifically at points designed to force drivers to slow down and raise less dust or splash less water, depending on the weather.

That was a fair enough intervention, I thought to myself, and even though I could only imagine the discomfort of the residents from the speeding  vehicles I was worried about the malice involved in placing the rocks and boulders.

Many of the small piles were positioned, like the boulder of the evening before, in such a way as to trap cars one way or another. That malice, was borne out of those residents being fed up of the mindlessly selfish manner in which drivers speed down that road raising dust or muddy water with little regard for the little people living and working right there.

Personally, I continue to drive carefully and pledge to always be mindful of those residents so that I don’t run into one of those boulders, and I hope other drivers take this into account as well.

I have a lot to say about how mindless we are as road users, and how we will fully deserve to run into massive boulders one day. Those who speed around with convoys and sirens, the ones who skip lanes and create traffic jams, the ones who drive up on our miserable pavements and push pedestrians off…the list is long.

And I fear this is not just about roads, but soon we will hear more chants of “Mutuviire” from the most unlikely sources. And if we are not well mannered enough to think of others as we do what we do, we should be scared or threatened into being mindful of the little people by the side of the road…before they pick up those boulders and actually throw them at us.

let’s identify and use our icons to promote Uganda more


THE first time I visited South Africa (the Republic) was in 1999, and the guys at the airport were still heady with the end end of apartheid – and to be frank, so was I.

Unlike myself, they couldn’t help bringing up Idi Amin when they read my Passport, even though I felt I deserved better as a Ugandan.

That entire visit I found that most people, including some random Zambian I met atop of Table Mountain, only linked the word “Uganda” to “Idi Amin” even though on interrogation I found that the Zambian HAD been to Uganda and met with serious Ugandans in the medical profession with no link whatsoever to our former President.

This is not about Idi Amin.

For about five years I found South Africans using different icons to relate to Uganda, but this week I was met by a Customs chap who responded to my being Ugandan (seeing the t-shirt) with, “Matooke! Did you bring Matooke?!”

The excitement of his exclamation could have been linked to the expectation that he would catch me bringing in this agricultural contraband and therefore earn some commission or bonus, but after I calmly denied he slapped my suitcase and smiled.

“Matooke tastes good, braa!”

I smiled and went along my merry way since it was late in the night, but the memory came back to me the next morning.

Through the years these icons have included enseenene (delicious tasting fried grasshoppers), which a number of South Africans find entertaining even though they and their cousins in Zimbabwe eat stuff like mopane worms; and Anne Kansiime who came up last year, proving the power and reach of our continental media.

“She’s a funny one, that one! Tell her I said hi!” said the Immigration chap that night.

At one point the icon they recognised most was our President, and I was relieved when instead of “Idi Amin!” they’d go, “Museveni!” This was about the time they seemed to learn about Uganda’s contribution to the apartheid struggle in the past.

Most Ugandans don’t know about this even now. I recall meeting some young South Africans back in my much younger days in some dark place in Kyambogo. A few hours in we realised they were complicated characters when they introduced knives into an equation that involved liquids of a potent nature.

The night ended without too much mayhem, and we didn’t become friends. Years later, I woke up in a dormitory somewhere and found myself face-to-face with one of those South Africans. He was back in the country to continue receiving the type of support that eventually led to these exclamations of “Museveni!” from his compatriots when I introduce myself as Ugandan.

When I was leaving South Africa the last guy at the security checkpoint asked me about David Obua. I smiled and we chatted briefly about this Ugandan.

This week’s declaration of “Matooke!” pleased me, and along the way I asked a few other South Africans about their knowledge or liking of the foodstuff – at least three of them confirmed it.

This is not about Matooke.

It is about icons – our national icons, and how much more we can do to identify and use them for diplomacy, tourism, investment and even our individual self-esteem. An ‘icon’ is “a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration.”

The fact that we have positive sounds about ordinary things like enseenene and Matooke means we have lots more to offer the world than we realise or make use of.

Our Ambassadors and Tourism afficionados could keep us notified what these icons are so we take advantage of them at every turn and corner. If Matooke is the big thing from Uganda in South Africa in 2017 then every Ugandan flying down there could go with a recipe book and a sample packet of matooke crisps or something even more innovative, and sell more Uganda out there.

If.

meet safina namaganda – how our youth end up in tears, and how to stop this being the usual story


A COUPLE of weeks ago I met a young lady and after two hours of close interaction left her in tears.

Her name is Safina Namaganda, and I haven’t stopped mentally saluting her daily while hoping we raise more young Ugandans like her but without letting them fall back down again – as happened to her.

Safina came to me by way of a friend, James Wire Lunghabo, who did Agricultural Sciences at the University at the same time as I did Journalism, then became an ICT Entrepreneur of note and now does almost as much journalism as I do, while mentoring many Ugandan youth along the way and doing some serious farming and agricultural value addition.

One day during a casual conversation he mentioned a young lady whose bright future in agricultural value addition and processing kept coming to sudden ends because of the usual frustrations we hear youth in Uganda expressing – financing, corruption, inefficiency, bureaucracy…the list runs on and on. 

Her last venture was a fruit juice business enterprise that was promised government funding from as high as ‘State House’ but the persons involved made such awkward noises that she gave up on it. Meanwhile, Lunghabo told me, another guy who went into the same business now has his products on supermarket shelves and employs about 30 people at his factory in Nansana who earned Ushs80million last year alone (his second in business). That success story, Lunghabo said, is even exporting products to Rwanda and Kenya!

“If she had gotten the funding without those (insert bad word here) approaches from that government official, she would also be employing possibly another 30!” he declared. 

He vehemently brushed away any queries about the girl herself probably being at fault and then offered to set up the meeting so we agreed to buy her coffee in Kisementi and she turned up with a friend.

She told me her story starting with her University days when, as a student, she took an interest in jackfruit (fenne) and particularly its seeds. I remembered vaguely that as a child I had tasted roasted jackfruit seeds at various points and liked them quite some.

Her method was even more serious – she found a way of enriching the seeds with soya and spent time studying the chemical properties of the jackfruit and its seed, and tried to add value to the arrangement. Her University project was titled, “Physical Chemical Properties of Jackfruit Soybean Flour”.

She got the stage of actually making the flour and turned it into a porridge mix and started selling it as a University Student. At first, she got the seeds free of charge from fenne dealers in Kampala markets, but when they saw how interested she was they started charging her Ushs1,000 per kilo. She paid the money, made porridge, and sold it. When fenne was out of season, she suffered, but she went on for a while regardless.

Academically, she went on as well, and was supervised by Dr. Hadijah Nansikombi who appreciated her project. More to that, though – in 2010 she became Guild President at the Islamic University in Uganda (I didn’t double check that) and on one of the President’s visits there she told him about her project and he took up a keen interest in it. He offered her a State House scholarship and she happily accepted it (who wouldn’t?).

It couldn’t last without funding and lots of other support, and along the way Safina picked an interest in bananas – particularly the ‘Musa’ species (embidde). Her parents had the variety at home and she knew how to make the juice traditionally, and had seen through her childhood how popular that banana juice was.

“My interest had always been to employ myself, so I thought this would be a good idea. People used to always enjoy drinking the juice so I knew it would have market. My father used to tell me, as a child, to always work towards employing myself rather than being employed. He had only ever had one job and after that decided to employ himself – which he is doing till now,” she says, wistfully.

She is unhappily employed now, because her dreams didn’t last long enough – but she will go back.

She started making the juice and packing it in those see-through buveera, going door-to-door and selling the packs at a neat profit to eager, thirsty, nostalgic consumers.

It did quite well, which wasn’t surprising because she was a student of Food, Science and Technology, a course her father approved of because it would help her achieve self-employment. He, himself, is an Engineer, Haji Mohammed Katongole, and owns a foundry at Mawakato Technical Services, in Najjanankumbi. He insisted, she says, on all his children aiming at self-employment and studying relevant courses to achieve it.

When her door-to-door approach proved popular she decided to go bigger. She met up with a friend, Mahmoud, who was good at production and would ensure they had a quality mbidde product with no added water or sugar, and they went to the Consortium of Enhancing Responsiveness in Agricultural Development (CURAD) for funding. With Ushs3.9million (which they are about to finally pay off, thanks to her current employment which she took up in order to clear the loan when the business met a technical hurdle) they bought equipment and packaged the mbidde in 320ml bottles from a factory in Matugga and went to market.

They did well for a while, and even took part in our biggest Expos here. Her goal, while doing so, was to achieve the Uganda National Bureau of Standards Quality mark…but they couldn’t get there before they got stopped.

Along the way, though, she had met the President again and told him about her new venture – and again he offered support, to get machinery, premises and working capital of about Ushs2billion. For months, they chased that offer while working out of home to pack the juice but it didn’t come to fruit before the authorities understandably told them to stop the domestic production. In April this year someone called Musa contacted them with the offer of helping to pursue the offer if they could cover the costs of Ushs5million – which, obviously, they could not.

Shortly after that, they dropped the business and she went back to work so she could pay off the CURAD loan, while Mahmoud did the same – at a car bond.

I found it admirable that she was committed to clearing the loan for the entry-level equipment they had installed and were using, and sad that she had to drop this locally-made banana juice that could have been employing a few more of her peers, while supporting a couple more businesses such as the bottle manufacturer they bought their materials from; sadder still that they put their entrepreneurial resourcefulness aside to do fairly mundane work.

The actual funding support they need is to set up premises that will pass muster and to get the right machine to squeeze the juice out of the bananas, which is much less than Ushs2billion – but they can’t find that even though many of us spend our millions buying up Range Rovers and very many bottles of tasty whisky every weekend.

Safina and her partner even went to her father and to Musa Body and to the Tamales to get someone to make the right machine but they couldn’t do it – not yet. 

The reason she had tears in her eyes by the time our conversation ended was because she couldn’t believe ANYONE would listen to her entire story and not ask for money…and even pay for her tea while at it, giving her hope that there was a light ahead of this tunnel that she finds herself in.

where did OUR ancient, efficient medical prowess disappear to, that we need missionaries today?


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Photo from http://www.wral.com

THE year is 2017, the month October, just a couple of days ago. I opened up an emailed link to a story about a team of medical professionals from the United States of America who are performing surgeries at a hospital in Kampala.

Every day after that, I have received daily updates from and about this team of medical professionals.

It is good work, of course, whenever a life is saved, an illness cured, or a pain relieved. I can’t complain about that – ever.

But when I read lines like, ” Many people are watching as these surgeries are also meant to be training for medical staff here in Kampala, that they may continue the work after the Americans leave…” and “Some have had symptoms for years, as long as a decade and didn’t have the money to get treated, or could not find a doctor with the expertise needed.” and ” having the American surgeons from Duke come here and getting these surgeries is truly ‘a miracle.'” I get a little uncomfortable.

I can’t blame the Americans, of course, for positioning as saviours in most situations – it is a status they have enjoyed for most of my life, at least. Most of the movies and stories we have grown up on have them saving the world from Adolf Hitler to aliens from outer space.

My discomfort was at the memory of discovering some years ago that a foreign historian had recorded the fact that hundreds of years ago there were people here in Uganda conducting the equivalent of Caesarean Section operations.

One book records, “In 1884, British doctors were therefore intrigued to learn that a sophisticated abdominal procedure had taken place five years earlier in the African kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitanga, whose inhabitants had experienced minimal contact with the rest of the world until the 1860s.”

That “Bunyoro-Kitanga” was actually “Bunyoro-Kitara”, and please note already that the British doctors were surprised that even WITHOUT lots of contact with the outside world, these Africans seemed capable of doing things.

Continues the book, “In a lecture to the Edinburgh Obstetrical Society, medical missionary Robert W. Felkin (1853-1926) described a caesarean section carried out by Banyoro surgeons at Kahura, Uganda in 1879. Both mother and child had survived, and the expertise involved came as something of a surprise to those who saw Africans as a bunch of savages wandering about waiting for someone to come and civilise them.”

See, up until that point, most operations of that nature only saved the child and NOT both mother and child.

In that surgery by my long gone relatives, anaesthasia was conducted using banana wine, and had special knives for the purpose – some of which are now “part of the Wellcome Collection in London”, a museum of sorts there.

Book Extract

It is confounding to even consider how we got from there to today’s situation where troops of foreign doctors come here to conduct surgeries and everyone hopes that the lessons stay with us. To a day where we have headlines about a mother losing her child in a hospital because of “lack of supplies”, and many unwritten stories about mis-diagnosis and patient mishandling left, right and centre.

Our Makerere University is listed on www.topuniversities.com with a favourable ranking on the continent specifically for Medicine. And I know for a fact that there are many Ugandans out there being lauded for their professionalism and dexterity at medicine and science.

AND we have so many medical professionals winning awards and accolades out there for outstanding research and even life-sacrificing bravery when things like Ebola break out on the other side of the continent.

So why, oh, why, do we still have missionaries coming here to save Ugandans and show us how it is done? Why aren’t we sending missionaries from Mulago to Kaabong to do surgeries there? Or even, from that Bunyoro-Kitara university of medicine whose name I cannot find anywhere, to Puerto Rico where they don’t even have electricity right now? Why aren’t our scientists re-discovering and re-creating anaesthetic methods out of the Banana Wine as our ancestors did as recently as 1879?

What will it take for us to re-discover our belief in ourselves to actually do the professional work that we are equipped, educated and expected to do, in a manner that makes us stand out for the rest of the world? What is that missing ingredient that will make all Ugandans of all professions and walks of life – medical, military, journalism, administration, education, political even – do their utmost best so we emulate those doctors of Bunyoro-Kitara in 1879 who amazed the British by their skill and knowledge?

So many questions, yet the answers can’t come quickly enough amid this haze of politics and whatnot.

save fishermen so we strengthen our brains


Life Jackets From Bibles For Uganda

MANY of you might have missed a feature article this week about efforts to find solutions on Lake Victoria to stop islanders from drowning so much.

Not that they drown often, since once you have drowned you don’t normally get another opportunity, but the problem seems to affect so many of them it had to be addressed in a big way.

So big that the solution mentioned in the article is a recent US$25million (91billion shillings) loan:

“Last October, the African Development Bank approved a US$25million (91billion shillings) loan for the three countries bordering Lake Victoria. The money will provide regular weather reports and alerts to people on the lake (via text messages and radio broadcasts), expand cellular coverage, and build a network of 22 resource centres along the shore,” the article reads.

That’s a lot of money for text messaging and radio broadcasts. While pondering what these 22 resource centres would provide, I realised I had to dig deeper and went to the ADB website where I found the explanation:

The loan is for “a multinational project to establish a safety-of-life communications systems for Lake Victoria (which) lacks any alert or rescue systems…as many as 5,000 people die in the lake each year. The loan will finance the extension of GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) networks and the creation of 22 rescues centres in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, contributing to save lives and stimulate business for the benefit of the economy of the entire Lake Victoria basin.”

Stimulate business?

What struck me right away was the photographs accompanying the article, which depicted fishermen in their boats and NOT wearing life jackets. The first step of safety on the water, one would think, would be to wear those bright orange or yellow life jackets that help keep you afloat should your boat capsize, and also make you visible for the rescue people to find you.

Being an easily terrified coward when it comes to water travel, I pay attention to such things.

Does the US$25million (91billion shillings) ADB loan include the distribution of life jackets to the 200,000-odd fishermen operating on the lake?

Your guess is as good as mine, but there is no mention of them anywhere.

“The project will address that important gap by establishing a Maritime Communication Network (MCN), based on the existing mobile (GSM) enhanced coverage on the lake and signal location detection features. The SOS alerts will be given by SMS or phone call to the Maritime Rescue Communication Centres (MRCC) which will be established in Mwanza, Tanzania; or to two sub centers based in Kisumu (Kenya) and Entebbe (Uganda). These regional centres will then dispatch rescue boats based in one of the 22 Emergency Search and Rescue (SAR) stations distributed around the lake,” the documentation read.

So I went off to find out whether anyone else is providing them – for free or commercially – and found four companies. Having emailed them all, only Lake Cruise Logistics (Google them and buy yours directly, since they are so good at marketing) responded to my queries about whether or not they have available 1,000 life jackets, if they are made in Uganda, and at what cost they are.

They can supply large quantities (such as my 1,000 units) but only if the order is confirmed, and within six weeks. Their life jackets vary in quality, class and price, and could go over Ushs400,000 per jacket.

None of them is made in Uganda, the helpful marketing guy wrote me. All of them are made in China. Then they are imported into Uganda.

You can see my thought process. I could not blame the ADB guys, or the people who formulated this US$25million (91billion shillings) project as being the most necessary for the lives of these fishermen to be saved.

It’s now time for you and I to design a project proposal for the manufacture of life jackets here in Uganda, submit it to the ADB and then pick up a fraction of that US$25million (91billion shillings) loan to employ people and import raw materials for items that will provide a return on the investment and pay back the loan on a commercial basis.

Stimulate business?

We can make money in many ways if we manufacture the life jackets ourselves. Think of the companies that would advertise on these life jackets – starting with the ones who are really going to benefit from the US$25million (91billion shillings) expansion of the GSM Network.

Life jackets have been manufactured in other parts of the world since before 1900. The elements used in their manufacture are simple – plastic, nylon and foam. We already make plastics and foam here by way of chemical processes, and making Nylon should be just as easy, since it has been made elsewhere since the 1930s.

What seems to be difficult here is focusing on the important things and connecting the dots so we spend effort and money on phrases like ‘Stimulate business’.

Stimulate business?

Besides the factory itself, think of the energy firms that will provide electricity to our life jacket manufacturing plant; and to the homes of all the employees working there whose incomes will increase exponentially and enable them to upgrade their housing units. Think of the various other businesses that will pop up to supply the life jacket industry – on Lake Victoria and our other water bodies. Think of the businesses manufacturing foam, plastics and nylon and needles and so on and so forth for the life jacket factory to use…

Even more to the point, the US$25million (91billion shillings) project creating those 22 rescue centres will be even more successful because by the time they get to our drowning fishermen they will find them distressed but still alive and afloat the waters because of our life jackets!

Everybody wins. Plus, we will have more fish to eat and export because fewer fishermen will perish, thus boosting our fish exports and our national nutrition rates.

And, as we all know but sometimes don’t demonstrate, eating fish makes the brain grow stronger!