the procurement of sugar cane and how people lose jobs

The Bugolobi supplier – Photo by Simon Kaheru

OVER the last couple of weeks I have followed first hand how: 1. Procurement sometimes gets easily confounded and; 2. How, as a direct result, a certain cadre of persons will lose their jobs.

Starting about three weeks ago, I noticed that a police guard within my neighbourhood had developed a consistent habit of eating sugarcane at the gate near my home.
Sugar cane was my favourite childhood fruit, back when my siblings and I coined the word ‘sukali kiboko’, as we were learning our vernacular and trying to do so without being laughed at. So we went, one at a time, to our grand mother to get the words for ‘sugar’ and ‘cane’, then put them together.
We got laughed at, then learnt the correct words for bikajjo/bikaijo.
The sight of the police guard ripping away at his sugarcane triggered a nostalgic need to join in, and enquiries revealed that he regularly purchased his supply nearby at Ushs500 per cane.
I dispatched my eleven-year old with Ushs1,000 and he returned with two long sugar cane stems that quickly went into sweet tooth history.
The next day, I sent a domestic worker whose role profile includes ad hoc shopping trips within a certain radius for items valued below a set, safe limit.
I only wanted two sugar cane stems – one for me, and one for the police guard or anybody else interested. She returned and I chewed through my day’s allocation, but the next day I found the store to be empty.
Assuming that the habit had become popular within the household, I sent her on another excursion and made a loose remark about how the two stems from the day before had been so quickly decimated.
“I only bought one,” she said, and left to buy more, with another Ushs1,000.
That gave me time to think about the first Ushs1,000 I had given her and how it had resulted in the confessed singular sugar cane stem but with no change returned.
After a long while I found she had returned and gone on to other duties, unaware that my need for a sugar cane fix made me dangerously irritable. Apologising, she explained that the usual point had no sugar cane on offer, and got angrily sent on her way to accomplish the given task.
She returned with one stem and reported that it cost Ushs800.
I noted the difference in cost, but dealt with the more pressing matter of chewing cane, as I thought things over and decided to bypass her for such purchases.
The next day, I bypassed her and used another emissary who I gave Ushs2,000.
He also returned with one stem – and this one much shorter than usual. I studied it carefully and found the individual segments themselves to be no different from past stems, which meant that someone had taken a knife to either end of the sugar cane.
It is normal for the top-most segment with the leaves and the bottom-most one with roots and soil to get hacked away, but this time the knife operator had literally made enjawulo of sugar cane itself!
To make matters worse, it cost the full Ushs2,000. Mbu.
I was incensed and made it clear how inconceivable it was for the price of sugarcane to have quadrupled within a half kilometre radius over the course of four days.
I felt like telling him the fable of an unscrupulous West African President in the 1980s who would send an aide to the Central Bank Governor with a request for a briefcase of money. By the time the Governor released the cash, the amount in the request had normally been multiplied ten times over, with various other officials starting with the Governor himself and including drivers, bodyguards and messengers, all taking off a small cut before the President received the money he had initially requested.
But I was impatient for my sugar cane fix, so I struck the fellow off my list of trusted sugar cane purchasers and moved on.
I wished I had stayed close to the police guard who had introduced me to the Ushs500-a-stem supplier, but it was obvious that I had now entered another dimension, so I changed tack and the next day went to the Nakawa market myself.
And stupidly, instead of alighting from my vehicle to walk up to the fellow at the bicycle chopping up and selling the sugar canes, I accepted the offer of using the market shopping boys who make themselves available to fools such as myself.
It must have been obvious to him that I was intent on the convenience of sitting in my vehicle and unlikely to leave, with my paraphernalia, in order to cross the road and purchase sugar cane.
I saw a tell-tale look show up in his eyes as he told me, after handing me one chopped up sugar cane stem, that it cost Ushs4,000. I gave him a knowing smile, and he smiled back and I knew he was winning. I paid up and left.
Two days later, I found another fellow on a bicycle in Bugolobi and this time I crossed the road to make my purchase. Ushs3,000.
Slapping myself on the forehead, I went back to the Ushs500-a-stem point and found them fully re-stocked.
There is no turning back.
I now buy sugar cane myself – with no external assistance, all segments intact.
(And at this point, I must thank the patient reader who texted me at the end of the day to say: “Correction: Sugarcane is a grass; NOT a fruit or a vegetable!” Very correct, madame!)

i’ll be spring cleaning before making any new year resolutions

I DON’T disdain New Year Resolutions, but over the years I have relegated them to lower than ’Spring Cleaning’ or whatever term we will use in our Ugandan climate for this.
Subconsciously, I believed ‘Spring Cleaning’ to be the heavy cleaning that people did in their homes during that season of the year, having come out of Winter and the entropic accumulations at the end of the year.
The way it worked, as the season turned from the bleak, grey, cold Winter to the bright, warm, flowery time of Spring, people opened up their windows and doors and took the opportunity to clean out their homes and let fresh air in once again.
The idea that it was linked to European seasons that we don’t have down here rankled me a little bit until I checked my trusted internet for more on the origins of this Spring Cleaning that I was going to rename and then promote over New Year Resolutions, and found that it didn’t actually originate in Europe. The practice originated possibly somewhere in Bible times when the Jews took it up as part of the observance of the Passover, or even earlier in Persia of the 2nd Century CE.
We don’t have our seasons ordered in the European manner, in spite of what the nursery rhymes and our primary school teachers kept reciting; nevertheless, the term ‘Spring Cleaning’ appropriately accommodates what we should generally be doing at around this time.
Well, New Year Resolutions are supposed to work more or less the same way, but for the mind and soul. So during an eclectic late night discussion over the matter during the holidays, a couple of us arrived at the idea that we could premise any Resolutions we needed to make on physical cleaning and make them more realistic.
Rather than just cleaning, we agreed, we could take the opportunity to do renovations and rehabilitations around our homes during this holiday season so we start the year off in cleaner, fitter, more organised environments. This was the time to tighten all the loose screws, replace faulty bulbs, oil doors, check and clean out plumbing, fumigate, paint, fix furniture and fittings…
All the things that most New Year Resolutions claim to do for the body and soul, but more visible.
The day after that discussion, I started summoning my usual supplier of these services and set them to work as I pulled on my own gloves and went round on an enhanced Do-It-Yourself session.
One of my relations realised that the party they traditionally host during the holiday gave them the perfect opportunity to put this cleaning exercise onto their calendar, and will this year be adding cleaning and repairs onto their party budget.
Re-organising, cleaning up and doing general repairs in our homes, it turns out, is even more appropriate during the Christmas and New Year’s break because many of us can take time off to stay at home and supervise the work being done so it is free of the comedic drama that many tradesmen bring along as part of their service (which is the subject of many other stories I am posting online).
This week, though, I am happy to be proclaiming NO verbal New Year Resolutions but enjoying a much more meaningful and long-lasting physical clean up exercise around me that will make it easier to make those life changes that I can refer to as Resolutions.
I suspect that the discovery of gym bags and exercise apparel while cleaning out certain corners of the house, for instance, might trigger off some guilt that will cause me to exercise a little bit more. And if a few of those diet books that some (rude) people insist on giving me as gifts fall off bookshelves as we arrange libraries in alphabetical order by author, then maybe they will find themselves in the kitchen and open before meals are cooked.
My cleaning exercises, therefore, will take precedence over making New Year Resolutions now and in the future, so that the resolutions themselves are more logical, orderly and implementable.


John Pombe MagufuliIT’S been two mirthful weeks since John Pombe Magufuli’s actions in Tanzania inspired the hashtag #WhatWouldMagufuliDo on Twitter.
Under that hashtag, thousands of Africans on social media came up with hilarious memes (humorous images poking fun at an idea) on the concept of frugality that Magufuli’s actions represented.
See, the newly elected President of Tanzania took up his job with a zeal rarely seen amongst politicians on this continent and went around firing inefficient officials on the basis of visual evidence, blasted his countrymen in positions of leadership and authority, and most of all, started cutting costs of extremely important things.
For instance, the man stopped civil servants from undertaking international travel and urged them instead “to spend more time traveling to rural areas to fix the country’s problems there”, according to one report. Another report says he cancelled Independence Day celebrations due this week and diverted the money to buying medical equipment or something, as well as directing that the time be spent cleaning the streets.
All these noble moves appealed to most of us as extremely sensible and quite the tonic we need to see in all our societies across the continent, and the reaction on social media by way of those #WhatWouldMagufuliDo memes seemed to be evidence of our overall support.
But after two weeks of spreading those memes around and pointing fingers at our own Presidents and political leaders, there is very little evidence around us that even those who’ve been saying the #WhatWouldMagufuliDo phrase are actually asking ourselves that question.
We’re treating it just like the WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) badge – which many years ago some people wore as wristbands or pinned to their shirts or onto their cars as stickers. It was surprising, at first, to be rudely and recklessly overtaken by a car with the WWJD sticker on the back, but then we got used to that.
And now, we’re moving on from #WhatWouldMagufuliDo without really doing anything like Magufuli would.
One young fellow on Twitter who shared round the memes also circulated a wedding budget last week and I was tempted to reply with #WhatWouldMagufuliDo but held back a little bit as I, myself, have not yet sold my car and opted for public transport to take my children to school even if I could make serious cuts to my domestic budget that way.
When I made a wisecrack about this to a dispassionate political observer currently researching our election campaigns, she retorted with one about politicians standing atop expensive four wheel drive vehicles upcountry and promising to cut government costs when voted into ‘power’, and applauded the single lady presidential candidate for making a small show by riding a boda boda at some point in her campaign.
On another forum one evening last week, a group of us sat round some bottles of dearly priced imported drinks and marvelled at Magufuli and his hard actions, our voiced support for him growing more heated as the night grew more cold. Not one of us suggested a menu change to something less pricey or locally made, even if most of us at that table belong to an ‘investment club’ that could have made great strides if we had ‘Magulufied’ our expenditure into savings for investment.
The next morning I raised the idea with a couple of pals that had been seated round that table and their response made it clear why the actions of His Excellency John Pombe Magufuli had gone straight from being presidential news to a humorous twitter hashtag with nothing in between.
Rather than take up lessons from him and actually change the way we do things in our individual lives as Africans, East Africans, or Ugandans doing whatever we do on a daily basis, we’re safer pointing fingers at ‘those people up there’ or turning it all into a joke that we can laugh at and ‘leave it here for a while’ (that, by the way, is another meme reference we like to use.)
On that note, I’m just going to leave this here myself – stop asking #WhatWouldMagufuliDo – #AreYOUDoingWhatMagufuliWouldDo?

village soccer thinking; chasing the ball without coordination

I JUBILATED along with the rest of you the other week as the Uganda Cranes thrashed Togo into bits, but this is not about soccer.
During the game, I kept noting an exciting aspect of the game – the coordination of the team members that kept leading to the desired result in the opponent’s goal net.
It was beautiful to watch, especially for those of us who recall the days long ago when we (not the Uganda Cranes, I must clarify) played what I will call ‘village soccer’. In ‘village soccer’ we generally split the field into two with no regard for numbers, so it was possible to have teams of about twenty people per side.
As such, there was no allocation of roles and responsibilities besides that of the goal-keeper – and even that position could undergo rotation during the game if the team generally felt the need.
Of course, we had no team managers and therefore no game plan.
One specific play was called “Diimula” – where one person on one end of the pitch (or field) kicked the ball into the air as far as possible in the direction of the opponent’s goal. The other side, when they got the ball, would kick it back in the same way.
Presumably the person kicking the ball had hope in his (we were mostly males) mind that somehow it would end up going through the goal posts.
Because we generally had no game plan, wherever the ball landed, the entire team would converge around it and try to make it go towards the goal posts. The opposing team, meanwhile, would also converge at the very same point in order to try to stop the attacking team, while at the same time trying to get the ball to the other goal posts.
It was always messy, and you almost had no choice but to engage in “engwarra” (rough tackling that involved tripping up your opponent) because of the size of the melee.
As we became more organised people began to emerge as team managers and coaches, but I remember hearing a high level (maybe even national, but don’t quote me) player complaining that their Coach did not give them guidance:
“This man just shouts at us things like, ‘Play harder!’ Yoongera mu amaanyi!’ But HOW are we supposed to play harder or kwoongera mu amaanyi?!”
As I said, this is not about soccer.
I only recalled all of this during a couple of discussions this week of a political and economic nature in which it occurred to me that some people were engaged in intellectual ‘diimula’.
In fact, I laughed to myself, there are issues that crop up like the ball dropping on one side of the field and attracting a throng of rather uncoordinated mental activity, thoughts entangled in a muddy mess and erupting in non-stop verbal “engwarra”.
Be it floods in the city or the supply of hoes, one feels that the discussion would have as smooth a flow as a Uganda Cranes game if one’s thoughts are guided by a thought coach or manager who shows you how to guide them from one idea to the next until the point goes through the goal posts.
It doesn’t work for only discussions and arguments; reading a blog post by my brother Paul the other day about City floods and the planning of our infrastructure, I had to share it with a City manager and point him to a small pile of garbage accumulated by the side of the newly constructed Kintu Road, near a mini-slum in my neighbourhood.
That pile of garbage, I pointed out, was bound to end up in the drainage trench and would eventually be part-cause of flooding one day, which would cause part of the road surface to be eroded, but also more likely to drown the slum-residents who had dumped the garbage by the roadside.
Constructing the tarmac road, therefore, needed to go along with a provision for a garbage collection spot in the neighbourhood, and sensitisation of the residents so they carry their garbage just fifty metres to the collection centre, which should have a truck parking provision for the garbage collection trucks assigned.
Instead, it’s messy – like the spot where the ball lands after a shot of “diimula”.

#UgBlogWeek – customer service builds and defends brands more than talk and marketing

I had threatened to post something about MTN Uganda this week, then by sheer co-incidence this morning @jmakumbi tweeted about @albertmuc and @mtnug out of a totally unrelated incident to the one that stoked my ire last week.

@jmakumbi First Tweet

I am still not sure why @jmakumbi kicked this off, but the co-incidence drew my attention.

A few weeks ago I advised someone close to me to take up a specific product and service from MTN Uganda in the belief that it would be good for her business. After she had paid for the product and service, the set up process was a nightmare that made me regret having suggested it in the first place.

Within a couple of weeks after the eventual set up had been concluded, we were back at square one as the service had stopped for some reason we were not clear about.

By the time I sent @mtnug the tweet last night notifying them that they had presented me the opportunity to meet my daily #UgBlogWeek quota, I was smarting from a story that involved an MTN Uganda technician shouting down the phone at their (my) customer in full hearing of his supervisors…

See, as @jmakumbi suggested, people like @albertmuc will do anything to defend their brand – which is not just talking the talk, by my experience with him, yet their brand suffers greatly from characters such as that rude, inefficient technician and many other ‘Customer Service’ characters.

@skaheru First Tweet on @albertmuc

So in spite of the torrid experience my friend (and myself by extension because I had made the recommendation) had had with some of those staff of @mtnug these last couple of weeks, we appreciate the existence of people like @albertmuc and @stkirenga (who are consistently useful and helpful) and three other technicians and supervisors that we have interacted with during this period.

The issue with most companies – whether small companies like my own or the massive ones like MTN Uganda or every MTN operating company – is that they don’t have enough employees who care enough about the brand to defend and build it by focussing on pleasing the Customer.

The first technician who visited my friend’s office to do the set up was quite impatient and tut-tutting at the inconvenience he was undergoing by having to come out to do this installation. The lucky (because I was not physically present to witness his attitude and set him straight for life ever after) fellow even had the audacity to run a loud phone call with a friend about the inconvenience and bother he was suffering, sitting in that office to do the set up.

And he left without finishing it.

Another technician took money to fix the problem (presumably, we later worked out, by loading a data bundle) without explaining how he was going to do the fix – like those medical professionals who pull your trousers down and slam a needle into your bum without a word of courtesy.

Only one of the ten or so people we spoke to on the phone during the period told us their name – the rest simply did not, which was frustrating because we kept getting asked by subsequent callers who had NOT given us their own names, “What was the name of (the person who had called earlier)?”

At one point the comedy even appeared scripted, and my friend glanced up into corners to check whether there was a candid camera hidden there.

These days, this rarely happens with providers like @nwscug (National Water & Sewerage Corporation), who not only respond immediately to queries once they are raised, but actively work at resolving them – and in the process demonstrate quite vividly that they are doing so.

I suspect that the reason is because @nwscug has taken on more of the @albertmuc and @stkirenga types than @mtnug has, so it has more opportunities to present its brand positively than @mtnug does.

In the past I believed that numbers were a major factor – since @mtnug deals with millions of subscribers and @nwscug deals with (hundreds of thousands?) but over time I have had the opportunity to observe the quality of their handling and consider it differently.

Of the two providers, one would expect the Water guy to be a little more complacent than the Phone guy because there is basically one water service provider and if he isn’t meeting your needs as a customer you are screwed, whereas there are so many phone service providers that when your phone is down for a day you simply go out and buy another (as some provider close to me is going to realise shortly).

Surprisingly, we see the reverse at play and now hope that one day the opportunity will arise for the teams at NWSC to take over the MTN Customer Service department, just so we test the DNA of both organisations.

The most serious lesson to pick up, though, is that if you’re a business owner then place A LOT of focus on the people that deal directly with your customers and clients because THAT’S where the bottom line is.

Not on the marketing and public relations that so much effort goes into – because I don’t care how many concerts you sponsor, billboards you erect and colourful flyers get strewn across my path; the experiences I suffer (or enjoy) make a much stronger mark on me.

So in those very important jobs – Customer Service – hire people who are genuinely passionate about solving problems, serving people, representing and building a brand, adding value by their own presence, and protecting the business.

@jmakumbi's Last Tweet On @albertmuc