new technology in buliisa, uganda!

A FEW days ago I received a short video clip via WhatsApp that I inadvertently opened almost as soon as it arrived. Normally I let these videos pile up till I have enough time to watch and delete them in a pile.
I was very pleased with this one. In the clip, a young fellow was manipulating a ‘wire car’. I put the phrase in quotes because when we were children we had a knack for finding bits of loose metallic wires either from clothes hangers (discarded or stolen) or broken up bits of fencing material, and we made wire cars.
There was always one boy in the neighbourhood who taught the rest of us and kept making modifications every so often without explaining where he had learnt them.
The first wire cars we made used ‘chokolos’ (soda bottle tops – I still don’t know why they were called that) for wheels and we had to squat to push them along. The upgraded wheels were cut out of bits of sapatu (rubber or foam slippers), then the ones above those had chokolo rims inserted into the rubber or foam sapatu.
The next level of tyres were made of metallic wire rims and had rubber tyres made from strips cut from the rubber inners of actual car tyres, wrapped around cuttings of buveera for the off-road variety.
It took us about an hour to fashion a good car complete with steering wheels to drive it as you walked along, axles and even side mirrors and number plates if the materials were available.
In my case that was thirty years before what I saw in this WhatsApp video.
The teenager in the video was operating a ‘wire car’ that was a fully operational excavator! Standing at one end of the truck, he actually had a boom arm lifting the soil carrying bucket an the other end, and drove it round picking and dropping soil!
The amazed onlookers made various exclamations in Runyoro and Luganda, proving its authenticity, and one fellow in overalls walked round the young technician to marvel at his creation.
Eno yagikola nga tatunulidde bu lad bwo!” (He made this without looking at your instructions/manual/readings!) exclaimed one fellow.
The commentators even knew the parts of the excavator such as the “boom” and “circle drive” (I had to google to learn them).
“New technology in Ngwedo, Buliisa!” another declared, before my favourite by one who was as overwhelmed as I was: “Eh! I love Uganda, allo!”
I can only guess that the young man had probably spent time observing some road construction for a while and worked out a way of replicating the truck.
Sadly, I am not sure if there is a village called Ngwedo (thats what it sounded like) in Buliisa, and whereas I will ask people at the district to find the young fellow, I fear success may be limited.
This is the type of chap that needs to be located, nurtured and supported to take his technical prowess to a level of global commercial proportions. Not only could he set up an entire industry of local toy manufacturing, if a wise entrepreneur funded him, but perhaps he could enhance technical education by becoming a trainer (NOT a student) at our institutions.
The automatic steps some would take would be to place him into a school or university, but without proper planning there is a high chance that his creativity and innovation would be stifled there.
How else can you explain the existence of so many qualified Engineers, some with Masters Degrees and Doctorates, with so few wire truck excavators of this nature?
In fact, this chap would most likely be the type to create a host of technical solutions in agriculture, manufacturing…you name it!
Simply by observing and trying things out.
And rather than pick him up and out of his village in Buliisa, we (you, me, an entrepreneur, a university, the government…) should pick up from people like Emmanuel Angoda and implement what he is seeking Ushs65million for.
Emmanuel Angoda is a teacher of ICT who has been at work in Lira Town College for the last five years teaching, training and mentoring young people in his chosen field of ICT.
I have not spoken with him yet but find him heroic for many reasons: over the years I have noticed his name popping up quite humbly in professionally elevated circles because of his noble work. His students have won Awards at the Annual Communication Innovation Awards, they have stood out during ICT and Academic events and also Science Fairs.
This week, he sent out an email unveiling his dream of setting up an ICT innovation hub in Lira Town, called Walktrack Innovation Hub, in which his partners are some of the said students. The cost of setting up that dream is only Ushs65million. That is 1,000 times less than the cost of tarmacking one kilometre of road, which process probably spurred the innovation of the Buliisa technician.
Seriously, people, read his blogpost here:
If we had a hub like Angoda’s in every district, imagine how many times we would hear the exclamation, “I love Uganda, allo!”

the Japanese are promoting Uganda’s organic agriculture – what about you?

The Japanese are well known the world over for being efficient, precise and so highly sensitive about integrity that legend has it they will commit suicide painfully (‘hara-kiri’, or ‘seppuku’) if their personal reputations ever come into question.

It is the first two characteristics that make them such manufacturing and logistics superheroes that they have produced more cars than any other country in the world for the last fifty years.

They even came up with, and rolled out to the rest of the world, a concept called ‘Kaizen’, described as “the practice of continuous improvement…recognised an important pillar of an organisation’s long-term competitive strategy.”

In Uganda, the vast majority of our interaction with Japan is obviously the second hard vehicles that we shuttle about in…or so we thought:

Late last year I went for an Organic Farmer’s fair at the Acacia Mall; every other Saturday the Mall opens its rooftop up to small scale or cottage industries and sectors

Photo by Simon Kaheru

in Uganda to exhibit and sell their wares – a corporate social initiative we don’t often see but that is high impact for the beneficiaries.

That day the exhibition was staged by NOGAMU – the National Organic Agricultural Movement of Uganda.

The exhibitors were mostly ladies, and their wares were exciting to see, especially for a chap like me who dabbles in backyard gardening and hopes to one day do some full-blown agriculture.

I walked through the displays of sugarcanes, paw-paws, fence, some massive cassava tubers, and even smoked fish. Weaving through the table stands I was pleasantly surprised to find that they even had packed products such as herbal teas and dried fruit snacks, all the way to soaps and oils.

The ladies (and a couple of young fellows) were all pleasant, welcoming and courteous – and they even had bits of products for us to chew on or sample, as part of their effort at enticing us to buy – “jaribu”, we used to call that, back in the day.

When we eventually got to the checkout table I was surprised to find I was being processed by a young Japanese lady – wearing one of those hats (you know the ones) but without a camera slung round her neck.

She wrote down my purchases quite neatly in a ledger, did the mental maths, then punched the numbers into a calculator to double check before writing me my receipt.

“What is this about?” I asked her, and she handed me her business card. We couldn’t engage in the type of lengthy discussion I would have wanted to, as she was at work and perhaps my enthusiasm was more than she cold bear at the time.

But I accosted one of her Ugandan colleagues, a very well-spoken young lady, who also gave me a business card and offered to make products available for home img_20160206_095851.jpg delivery if I so wished.

That is a whole different story, so I’ll stick to this one.

I went to the website and found the tab ‘Uganda Project’, and scrolled through many nice photographs of ordinary, healthy-looking Ugandans in healthy-looking upcountry rural locations holding up healthy-looking fruits and vegetables.

The quality of the photographs was not surprising since the Japanese famously make those cameras and lenses, but it was pleasing to see such positive energy about Uganda on a foreign website.

The text was in Japanese so Google translate didn’t tell me enough of what was happening, so I still don’t know much about this project besides the obvious – the Japanese are promoting Uganda’s organic produce.

The lady working with NOGAMU is part of the project, probably here short term to intern or do some skills transfers.

More importantly, to me, if the Japanese are here promoting Uganda’s organic agriculture, shouldn’t we be taking more notice ourselves?

It would appear, from that website and other links it led me to, that some organic food is already being exported to Japan! Are we exchanging this food for the second hand cars? Definitely not – but somebody else pointed out to me that we should be doing so in a big way, because:

Japan appreciates us. Japan likes organic food. Japan has no space for growing their own food. We have that space. We grow organic food quite easily. We are good enough for the reputation-sensitive Japanese to come here and identify with us.

Quod erat demonstrandum.

information is power – especially in economics

IN BIGGER economies reports should start circulating at around this time with details of the Christmas and Holiday shopping spends and trends.
Theirs being consumer economies with computerised systems and strict record-keeping habits pushed by regulatory authorities such as tax collectors, the statistics are in most cases easy to gather. Where they need to make estimates the figures are fairly reliable because of the manner in which they run polls and other forms of research.
The reports will tell us what items were most popularly bought or given as gifts, what items attracted the most spend, and what categories of items was found most popular. In addition, they will tell us what one mode of shopping or spend may have superseded the other and for what reasons.
These reports on their own are not the important element – they are supposed to be read along with the forecasts issued ahead of the holidays, predicting what the trends and statistics will be.
When one reads these spend and trend reports and compares them to the forecasts, one gets a general picture of how accurate or reliable the forecasts are, and can therefore take more of an interest in them later this year.
And there, ladies and gentlemen, is where opportunity lies.
If our statisticians and economists started crunching these numbers with seriousness, then the entrepreneurs amongst us would probably do better in coming days and months.
Say, for instance, that it is discovered that it is not true that at Christmas we traditionally buy gomesis for our wives and whisky for our valued client contacts. If, instead, the reports show that we are spending more on fiction fantasy books as gifts during Christmas, then the wise entrepreneur will immediately embark on stocking up on these books for December, and will market them immensely to build on the already existing interest.
Before December, though, the statisticians and economists can help us prepare for the next holidays coming up – be it the January Liberation Day or the Easter weekend. What should we invest in? Where should we place our eggs? What should we focus on to get a piece of the season spend?
Plus, what should we manufacture or create? Did any Christmas Cards get sold in Uganda during the last season? How many and where were they distributed? Perhaps if we get this information we will start designing our own Christmas Cards for distribution this year.
Closer to home, if the statisticians and economists at the district level also put some information together then maybe we would be in a position to identify these opportunities right in our original home areas. How many people visited which districts or villages and what did they do there?
If you knew that 5,000 people retreated to your Village last Christmas and are likely to return in larger numbers this Christmas, again opportunity abounds.
There is a lot to be said about information and the way we put it to use, and not enough done about it.
Our Bureau of Statistics doesn’t do a bad job of compiling and releasing information but they do provide it in a format that the ordinary entrepreneur most certainly finds confounding.
The December 2015 Consumer Price Index, for instance, starts off with, “The Annual Headline Inflation for the year ending December 2015 rose to 9.3 per cent compared to the 9.1 per cent that was recorded for the year ended November 2015…”
Even I am not very clear what that means for my business plans, so Sula the Rolex chap who should be finding a way of increasing his Rolex sales during holiday seasons by taking advantage of the euphoria then, has no hope.
The Index Report, though, does provide a lot of detailed information that cleverer chaps than myself could and should extract and fashion into packets that can empower the ordinary person on the street, along the lines of that commonly used phrase; ‘Information Is Power’.

buying ugandan christmas gifts should set our pace for coming years

I NEED to declare that another government agency gave me a Christmas gift of the following, sent to me two days before the article below was published in The New Vision:

Gifts made in Uganda - from a government agency

I was very pleased.

BECAUSE IT is not too late to do your shopping for Christmas gifts, here is an idea – and if you have already bought all yours for tomorrow then consider this a New Year’s resolution tip-sheet:

Last week I was the gleeful recipient of a Christmas hamper, sent to me by a generous government agency office I have official dealings with.

This agency is quite efficient at what it does and is therefore useful to our national development by way of its ordinary course of business.

As I studied the hamper presented to me, I knew that the cost of all the Christmas hampers this agency distributed this year could not be so significant as to warrant the attention of any but the most nit picky amongst us.

My heart sunk as I unwrapped the cellophane, and all the good cheer left me just as lots of money had left Uganda in exchange for the honey, chocolate, wine and coffee in the basket – which basket itself also appeared to be foreign.

The agency in question here normally hosts me for meetings about once a month, and I am always loudly insistent on being served coffee and tea grown and packaged in Uganda, accompanied by biscuits of local origin.

For them to be crowning the year by presenting me with Arabian honey was a clear affront to me, and I wasted little time before calling them up to clarify the messaging intention of the gift pack. Their genuine apologies ended with a pledge that they would conduct a seminar for their procurement people and suppliers, ensuring that next year they buy Ugandan at every opportunity.

Christmas gift shopping is a major such opportunity. In a year when we have seen the shilling sinking into a quagmire that needs shoveling by increased production for export, the least we can do is buy as much as we can locally as individuals and organizations – every day.

If all of us do our Christmas shopping at the craft markets, and wrap our gifts in locally made materials, sending them across with cards made in Uganda, then spend the season feasting strictly on traditional dishes cooked out of food from the gardens closest to our kitchens, this economy would change even faster.

And if that attitude were carried on into the new year, then as we return to our offices we might introduce policies that have us serving strictly local products at our meetings, and procuring only t-shirts designed and made in Uganda, to be distributed in baskets woven by local women and youth in the countryside, and all decisions made sitting at furniture designed and made by Ugandan carpenters.

It is never too late to make these decisions and implement them; focusing strictly on Christmas shopping, if you haven’t bought gifts yet then consider avoiding the crazy last-minute city or town traffic just to buy some ‘Made In Elsewhere’ items, and go down to the closest market then buy a year’s supply of fruit or vegetables for your loved ones.

This year I bought someone some months’ subscription to The New Vision and his joy after receiving the first surprise copy and working it out still rings loud in my ears – though may not be as fulfilling as my own at having spent that money supporting the salary of someone here, and shareholders in my vicinity, while adding a small prop to an industry I care about deeply.

It is not too late – spend your money here and make a small change that may also translate into some long term change that our children’s children might benefit from, more than the children’s children of people in far off lands.

never downplay the importance of good, expensive equipment

THE visit to Uganda by Pope Francis was highly successful – possibly even more so than the other countries can say – but for those with noses to the ground there were some hard lessons to be learnt – lessons we only ignore if we do not wish to develop more.
My favourite lesson was one I have been keenly aware of for many years – NEVER downplay the importance of good, expensive equipment.
And before you bring out a tub of popcorn in anticipation of a duel over television broadcasting, let it be known that I am talking strictly about photography today.
Photography because the avaricious side of us welcomed the Pontiff’s visit due to the tourism value it brought to Uganda as a nation and East Africa as a region. See, there are more than 1.2billion Roman Catholics in the world, and one World Bank study says Uganda receives about 1.2million visitors into the country every year – which figure includes anyone dropping in for a day or staying overnight en route to somewhere else.
Now, the Pope’s visit to Uganda was full of blessings and was rather exciting for all of us who lined up to wave at him and shake his hand, but back to the avaricious side of things and my lesson:
NEVER downplay the importance of good, expensive equipment.
The night before he arrived, I fortuitously received an email notification from a service I signed up to months ago, offering me some used camera equipment that cost at least a couple of thousand pounds sterling each for the cheapest items – lenses – and more than ten thousand pounds for heavier ones – cameras.
My eyes opened wide at the costs listed there, but I took an interest anyway.
The very next day, I was surrounded by the international media following the Pope and had whipped out my own digital Single Lens Reflex camera with a ‘big’ lens to take some shots when I felt shrivelled. Some of the lenses those photographers lugged around obliterated my view of the entire Popemobile!
Now, regardless of what you are talking about, equipment is important, and our neglect of the investment required to own and run serious equipment will always hold us back.
One of my first useful steps at one government office I worked in was the acquisition of a digital camera and memory card. I misappropriated (or re-appropriated) money meant for some other mundane and very traditional purpose and bought the damn camera along with a card and a rechargeable battery.
The complaints thereafter sounded serious at first but were muted by my brutish nature, and after a couple of weeks the difference in our public visibility was so vivid – both in the quality of photography we were producing and circulating and in the speed with which we had photographs out – that I heard some colleagues in a totally unrelated department trying to take credit for the purchase.
The cost of the camera, memory card and battery, I should add, was the equivalent of a couple of meals our delegation would have signed for – thus the early complaints over my actions. But the value it gave us far superseded that of the film-roll cameras that my unit carried till then.
Now, confronted by the gigantic lenses of the international press corpsIMG_1193IMG_1195

img-20151202-wa0043.jpg following His Holiness the Pope, I had to check the prices of some of them online and found them even more daunting than the ones sent by email the night before.

But then, I thought, double checking the number of Roman Catholics that were bound to be following news of the Pope’s visit and who would possibly see the high quality photographic depiction of his presence here, that cost would have been quickly offset by 1% of them if, as a result of good photography, they chose to visit Uganda and each spent less than US$1 here!
NEVER downplay the importance of good, expensive equipment.
The massive lenses enabled those photographers to get high quality shots of whatever they wanted from tens of metres away, while our photographs had to be taken from close range.
We couldn’t compete; and if they chose to take shots of only the ugly bits of the country while we focused on the vast number of beautiful parts, their submissions would defeat ours in number and quality – just because we don’t have the right equipment. In fact the event organisers, sticking to internationally set standards, kept providing media platforms for camerapeople and positioned them at distances that inconvenienced some of us very greatly while the international press corps simply clicked their tongues and got to work shooting.
NEVER downplay the importance of good, expensive equipment – and since we always go for the best when buying jets, cars, guns and whatnot, it’s about time we started doing so when buying photographic equipment as institutions and individuals wishing to portray the best parts of Uganda.