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
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 http://www.on-the-slope.com 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 delivery if I so wished.
That is a whole different story, so I’ll stick to this one.
I went to the www.on-the-slope.com 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.
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:
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.
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.