two journeys, one path – different destinations

TAKING a walk through Mutungo for health reasons – exercise, I must declare – I found myself at the top of a road I had ignored countless times before, and ventured down its lead.
The short walk was uneventful besides the number of people I had to prompt into responding with “Good evening!” as I walked past grey and brown walls shielding what appeared to be regular residential houses with regular grass gardens.
Then, quite suddenly, the grey and brown was broken by a burst of thick shrubbery. I believe my breathing changed before my mind had fully taken in what my eyes were seeing. The thick hedge ran for a regular distance but I slowed down my paces to take it all in, and to peer through it out of curiosity.
There was much more behind it than just grass and a house; the flowers and shrubs were not rare and in some cases not in bloom, but it was interesting to observe. So interesting, actually, that when I got to the gate and found it was wide open I took that as an invite.
Inside, the neat garden exceeded my expectations, as it came with many pots and plants,img_20160121_170250.jpg all of them obviously made (the pots) and nurtured (the plants) within the perimeter fencing. The house was obviously old, probably built when my grandparents were youths, but it was well kept. Against the front of the house, someone had carefully fashioned an archway of flowering shrubs that arrested my attention for a while before I called out, “Koodi?”
There was a stirring in the sitting room and a young man peeped out of the window to return my greeting and inform me that the person behind the pots and plants was probably in the smaller house at the back – and he left his television set on to pop out and check.
The fellow, who this young man identified as his cousin Joe of Jowy Creations, was indeed away but could be found on Facebook.
A few days later I returned, this time deliberately, to view the garden again and try to meet this Joe of Jowy Creations.
Again, the gardens were still but there was sound in the sitting room. This time I didn’t have to call out before the very same young man, possibly wearing the very same vest, stood up from his television viewing position.
His cousin was in, this time, and came out to meet me though I first summoned the TV watching youth to interrogate him a little bit. Top on my mind was the question: Had he been watching television non-stop since the last time I had been, a few days ago?
He laughed and said he hadn’t. He was on holiday, from his university course studying “IT”, and was therefore chilling. Did he have a laptop or something else to occupy his time? He chuckled a bit but became irritated at my lugezi gezi, but I made it clear to him that I had an endless supply of it and would return to him after meeting his cousin properly.
img_20160121_170421.jpgHis cousin, Daniel Joe Semakadde, listened quietly to the exchange while behind him I noticed the garage held about fifty concrete pots in formation which hadn’t been there the last time I was.
He then took me round the garden to see his plant creations, his pottery and even
ironmongery! This was their grandparents’ home, and they now live there with a sectionimg_20160121_165903.jpg of the family.
Semakadde, a graduate of Food, Science and Technology, took to interior design as a child and made his first sale at the age of fourteen by putting together some dried twigs, colouring and arranging them in a pot. He still went through school dutifully, taking a difficult professional course, but during that time img_20160121_170446.jpgtaught himself how to make pots, weld metal, grow plants and design art pieces.
He has lived off that income very comfortably ever since.
As he spoke, his cousin was back at the television, and I could not understand how the fellow had let me leave the first time without trying to sell me any of the Jowy Creations. So I cut short the visit and called the young man out of the house for some more lugezi gezi.
To begin with, he had only Ushs15,000 to his name at that point, and confessed that he didn’t know enough about pottery and plants to earn any money from me doing it.
Long story cut short, we made arrangements for his cousin to train him for the remainder of his holiday, and I offered to ease the process by paying for his transport from the television set to the garden for the training course.
Today marks the end of Week One, and I am praying I don’t find him in front of a television. I also need someone to give me lessons in understanding how these two young fellows can grow up in the very same home and take such different paths in life – one to wealth and success through sweat and hard work, and the other likely heading to a despondent declaration of a lack of opportunities.

all hail the queen of Katwe

IF you don’t know Frozen, you either have no children, no TV, a very low media appetite, or all of the above.

That makes you commercially unimportant in the global scheme that the promoters of that movie designed and implemented well enough to take over the world of entertainment and commerce so decisively that the movie is reported to have grossed more in revenue in one year than some countries do in decades.

Your irrelevance to the global economic equations of the world’s premier businesspeople aside, you must – at least – have heard of Disney. The Walt Disney Company? Again, if you haven’t, then even your ability to read (especially in the English language) is a miracle you should be proud of.
Disney has been behind the world’s biggest entertainment projects for years and years; besides their amusement parks, we can focus on only their movies to get to the point here:
Their animated movie The Lion King made US$313million in the first few years after its release, while the musical (performed on stage) made US$6.2billion (BILLION!) in three years from ticket sales alone, and was seen by 75million people! Toy Story 3 grossed US$1.063 billion in 2010. Frozen earned $398.4 million in the United States and $674 million internationally to take the title. By March 2014 it had grossed US$1.072 billion in revenue after opening in Japan – and has continued earning since.
Disney knows how to make money out of entertainment. Let’s not even talk in detail about their amusement parks and merchandising, because there is too much information out there.
One Frozen statistic that flummoxed me was to do with a dress of one of the Elsa dolls; this dress that had retailed at US$150 sold out and started going for US$1,000 on eBay…secondhand, in some cases!
Then also, in one day in 2014 in the United States, Frozen sold 3.2 Million DVD and Blu-ray Discs. In one day.
Much more importantly, they make massive amounts from franchises. One US authority reveals that: Mickey Mouse brings in $4 billion in sales a year; the Disney Princesses (Jasmine, Snow White, Cinderella, Ariel, Mulan, etc. – I name them for a reason that will become apparent shortly) $4 billion; the “Cars” and “Winnie the Pooh” each $2 billion a year; and “Toy Story” brings in $1 billion a year.
Still with me?
This is one of Disney’s releases of 2016, about Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi, who rose from Kampala’s slums to international chess stardom.
The movie will be released in April and will star Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo (that black agent in Spooks) – and also feature Madina Nalwanga playing Phiona Mutesi, Ntare Mwine, and Maurice Kirya.
You guys!
Disney is going to feature a movie about Uganda (go back up a few paragraphs and read those figures again).
That means they are likely to make good amounts of money doing so while giving us – the entire nation – free publicity to make what we will with it.
Even if we just found a way of squeezing one of our promotional phrases onto the DVD covers, we would benefit greatly.
But let’s go to Katwe, first. Not many of us – you reading this – spend time in Katwe or can identify it apart from the tarmac bit we drive through on the way from Entebbe.
Now that it is going to get Disneyfied, the people at the Kampala Capital City Authority, Uganda Tourism Board and Uganda Investment Authority need to look up quickly and do some work there.
Create some Katwe trails so tourists enthralled by the movie can come visit and walk through Mutesi’s home(s), eat the food she ate, and jump over the dirty bits of road she skipped through as a child.
Speaking of food, does the Rolex appear in the movie? Luwombo? Katogo? Spiced tea with Cassava and gnuts? All Uganda’s restaurants and hotels should introduce a ‘Katwe Option’ onto their menus. This is the time to officialise Ugandan cuisine onto the world market and sell it in a big way so we have Rolex stands in New York, London, and at Disneyland!
That same Disneyland is where a lot of the merchandising rakes in the dollars, but let’s be clever over here and create Queen of Katwe chess boards, gomesis, bags and other merchandising.
Speaking of which, remember those Disney princesses named above? I have detested having to buy them for my daughters and nieces, and seeing the adulation beaming out of their eyes, but I will LOVE doing so for a doll named Mutesi…
Kudos to that young lady for putting Uganda on the map so well by usurping great odds to excel in a field so unexpected.
Phiona Mutesi! The Presidential Awards Committee should take that name and spell it correctly.
So should the media; our biggest celebrities and heroines are in the slums and villages, not in nightclubs and cities.
Phiona Mutesi: Our Queen of Katwe – Photo from

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’.

2016: the year of increased and improved tourism in and for UGANDA, by UGANDANS

IMG_4515FOR a veteran, if I may use the word, of the National Parks with many visits going back to the difficult days when the groups driving through the animal trails very rarely consisted of indigenous Ugandans, this Christmas was both a pleasant and dismaying eye opener.
My Christmas in the Park, managed by crowned my year of tourism landmarks and promised me that 2016 would be even bigger for Uganda’s tourism sector, especially local tourism (you, me and ours being tourists) – which means that we have a lot more work to do.
The vast pleasantness of my trip lay in seeing so many Ugandans in the Parks, but ironically that also dismayed me somewhat at a few turns and corners – literally, when the car accidents occurred.
On one morning, three accidents took place within a radius of a couple of kilometres, and all appeared to be caused by the reckless driving that had my group worried from the time we entered the park and noticed a disparity between the “40kph” signs and the speed at which most vehicles were actually progressing.
On a side note, I did find it uplifting to see a young government-employed Ugandan doctor squeezing his family into one corner of their vehicle in order to accommodate a bleeding accident victim, giving the man first aid at a nearby hotel, and then putting a major break into the family holiday by driving the injured man to the nearest health centre.
This doctor’s dedication to his Hippocratic Oath and service to the public still causes me to applaud him mentally every time I recall the sight of him cleaning up that patient with his family standing round in a calm state of holiday. For a fleeting moment the thought occurred that perhaps having lost his father in a motor vehicle accident, this young man was even more invested in helping the victim that day, but I put it aside and saluted Dr. Charles Ayume once again.
His was not the only display of random kindness by Ugandans in the park; hours later, we came across a Chinese fellow whose car had lost a tyre right at the top of the Murchison (Kabalega) Falls and was frantically trying to make his way to Masindi to get it fixed.
The vast number of visitors made it easy for him to hitch a ride on a tour bus full of Ugandans – another change from our situation just a few years ago, in which one was often lonely at the top of the falls, communing closely with roaring nature – but along the way he spotted another van with a spare tyre that would work on his van.
Stopping the van, this Chinese fellow made desperate offers in exchange for the use of the spare tyre for the two or so hours it would take to get to Masindi, have it fixed, and drive back – including hard cash, the purchase of two brand new tyres for the loan of one, and handing over his tour group as hostages for as long as it took.
When the van gave him the tyre free of charge and asked that he simply leave it behind at the Shell Masindi, he failed to understand the offer. Consulting his mates, the group had an animated discussion and variously asked the van owner to clarify how, exactly, he was benefitting from this.
“I am Ugandan. You are enjoying Uganda. We are kind. I will trust you.”
The entire group was licked, and presented solemn handshakes while proclaiming in halting english about how good Ugandans are. I added them to my mental applause list.
About an hour later, I bumped into Tegrasi Ndozireho, a uniformed IMG_4554Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) Ranger with a smattering of bray hair, cradling a baby in a kangaroo pouch strapped over his military fatigues.
The sight was odd, as “Bring Your Baby To Work” is one of the last incentives I’d expect Wildlife Park Rangers to have.
He laughed and explained that he had taken the baby off a tourist so she could enjoy the experience at the top of the falls in safety and in its fullness. So he stood under the shade and rocked the little child to and fro for a while as the grateful mother traipsed about.
I couldn’t hug him, but he got signed up for mental applause as well.
There were more and more instances of these surprising bursts of Ugandan kindness and dedication to duty. Enough to make me believe that we are really ready to make tourism more than just a catchphrase by government officials.
WE must make tourism in Uganda our own, and make it work on our own as Ugandans.
2016 will be the year Ugandans realise how we ourselves can make tourism in Uganda benefit US. Iitwe. Ffe. Iife. Sisi.

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.