OF THE numerous photographs that did the rounds on WhatsApp, email, Twitter and Facebook from Obama’s visit to Kenya, the one that made me look up and take notice of our overall focus was one of a chap with his hand on the bonnet of “The Beast”.
(“The Beast” is the motor vehicle of the United States President, and you can google the rest because I don’t have time for it here.)
I sat up because the fellow in the photo was described as the Personal Assistant (or Private Secretary) to the President of the Republic of Kenya, and named as Jomo Gecaga.
The man appeared quite foolish in that photograph as a Secret Service fellow appeared to be stopping him from putting his hand on the vehicle.
That Gecaga fellow’s excitement at being near the car that conveys the President of the United States was a little understandable until I discovered that not only is he a nephew of Kenyatta, he IS Chief of Staff of the Kenyan President and attended some of the best schools in the world – including, according to the internet, Eton.
THAT GUY was the one having his photo taken next to the car of the US President the way those kids in your village do when you drive your second hand four wheel drive car over there for Christmas?!
I was flummoxed, which sounds like the Sheng word for the kind of punishment one would mete out to a fellow caught in his situation according to that photograph.
Even a well-heeled chap like that one could lower himself to this and get told off by askaris? America is a superpower kweli!
And I couldn’t laugh at him properly myself because over the entire period almost right up to this point, I find that most of the material being shared with me by otherwise upstanding members of society is the WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook equivalent of copping a photograph with one’s hand on “The Beast”.
Check your phone and laptop – how many people sent you links to the terms of the pacts and bilateral agreements signed between Kenya and the United States during that visit? How many of your pals engaged in insightful analysis about how Uganda (or whatever other country you are in) could benefit from the presence of the United States President and right here – right next door where we go on bus rides to see rally cars, eat nyama choma and collect cars from the port to drive them back to Kampala?
Did any of your pals talk about the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, especially since Uganda was named yet again just TWO WEEKS AGO as the world’s most entrepreneurial country?
Did Ugandans set up Rolex stands from Jomo Kenyatta airport to trap all the Secret Service men and possibly even entice Obama? Did we do anything to stress to his entourage that the single entry visa that put them in Kenya could have elicited value for money if they hopped over to Uganda quickly for a day – perhaps even using the airport parking of British Airways, since those ones are not going to be around for a while anyway?
I didn’t even hear about any serious restaurants creating an #ObamaInKenya rolex and putting the menu online so they attract Google search hits to their websites.
Obviously I might be linked to the wrong social and business networks and should therefore seek to join those in which members were invited to or made their way to the Summit in Nairobi to mingle in with globally accomplished entrepreneurs from the United States and across this continent.
Do you know anyone who went to meet with the billionaires that accompanied Obama? Maybe one of them met ex-Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg (worth US$37.5billion), Businessman Aliko Dangote (worth US$17billion), and TV Sharks Daymond Garfield John (worth US$250million), Barbara Corcoran (worth US$80million), Mark Cuban (worth US$3billion)…the list is much longer!
Luckily for my self-esteem, none of the people I have been communicating with has sent me photos of personal achievements such as standing next to the Presidential Car or a Secret Service Guard.
But sadly, none has shared with me their prospects for increased business and entrepreneurship or even personal development pursuits with the United States. All I have received so far are Gecaga-istic exclamations around Obama and the paraphernalia around his office.
Let’s see if we do different when the Pope comes over…
Jo put this post up onto his Facebook page last night and my first response (and it’s rare that I respond to Facebook posts) was to copy the link to this article I wrote in September 2013 and paste it in.
But the article was NOT online!
Potentially long story cut short, here it is online:
My dislike for boda-bodas and their operators should be common knowledge by now, but I am learning to live with them and mourn people who die falling off them.
Now there is one specific aspect of the boda-boda business that presents an irony which I implore our economists and managers of this society to spend energies on.
A couple of months ago, at a gathering of mobile phone enthusiasts we call ‘Mobile Monday’, I met Michael Wilkerson, a young American fellow running a company called Tugende, whose primary focus is financing for boda-boda operators to own their own motor bikes.
I was surprised to find this Stanford- and Oxford-educated American had relocated to Uganda to apply himself to this issue.
“Imagine if the laptop you did all your work on…,” he said, to the group of mostly IT, nerdy types, “…if that laptop were owned by somebody else. Imagine if at the end of every day you had to pay that person some money as rent? Suppose at any time that person could take your laptop away and leave you with no income for the day or week?”
That is the reality for many boda-boda owners, and which Wilkerson’s company seeks to change through a funding programme that transfers ownership of the wretched mopeds to those irritating road-users.
It’s a noble initiative.
But I also know a guy called Patrick Omare whose closest encounter with Stanford University education has been leaning against Andrew Mwenda’s vehicle for a photograph when it’s occasionally parked outside The Independent offices. This Patrick is an entertaining fellow when observed at work because he earnestly indulges in occupational buffoonery that I classify under a file titled, “Office Clowns”.
But this Patrick has bought up a couple of pieces of land in his Eastern Ugandan village and near Kampala City itself by way of his version of the Tugende concept.
It started with him asking his employer for a loan to buy land. His employer, not clear on the collateral Patrick presented, instead bought a boda-boda and put it under Patrick’s management. He explained that Patrick would get a rider, have the fellow operate the machine and pay back 50% of profits or a minimum amount of money every single day till the original cost was paid back, plus an extra two months, and the rider could take the machine as his very own.
All money would be put into a second boda-boda, and so on and so forth.
The concept eventually sunk in, and Patrick bought his piece of land a year and a half later, and now runs a fleet of boda-bodas. He isn’t stinking rich by ordinary standards, and has had a couple of the things stolen from him, but he is doing alright.
So, at this point, an American with the world’s best education and the humbly-schooled Patrick from Eastern Uganda have figured this out and are operating more-or-less at par.
Which is why I’m seeking an economist to figure out why this can’t be replicated for other stuff that would make more sense for us as a country overall and cause less death and disorder. Why, for instance, aren’t we buying our cars in this manner the way the rest of the world does, which enables them to afford brand new cars and provides the capital to invest in manufacturing or assembly? Why can’t the Pioneer or UTODA buses be funded in this way so that our transport system gets cleaned up?
More importantly, can’t the same philosophy be used for tractor purchases countrywide to change the lives of millions of farmers…and the country? What about somebody funding agricultural pre-processing plants in every district using this very same formula?
What’s the missing element? Or, what’s that magic element in boda-bodas that draws in the Stanford and Oxford educated American and my man from Eastern Uganda?
Over to the economists and managers of society.
IN the midst of all the excitable politicking that has engulfed most of Uganda today and will probably fill our every thought for the rest of the year, a big story has been unfolding on the global stage with the realisation that Greece is flat broke.
- Is it possible that beef over here would taste better if we had abattoirs positioned in upcountry Uganda where the bulk of the cows are produced?
- And what is so complicated about abattoirs that we cannot have some set up in locations closer to where cows are herded?
- Are refrigerated trucks very hard to create?
- Can’t engineering students design some and modify things to make them?
- What do our food, science and technology students study and why can’t they give us ways of turning all our cows into superb steaks that we can use to attract dollars to Uganda the way Argentina took mine the other week?
- Where do all those hides and skins go after the abbatoir, and why isn’t Basajjabalaba a producer of leather belts, jackets, wallets, luggage and furniture the way so many Argentinians are?
- What simple item can we pay enough attention to all through the process from inception to the time we serve it up, so that we make Uganda world renowned for it the way Argentina is for their beef steaks?
- And where, in Kampala, can I find as juicy a steak as the ones in Buenos Aires? (This is NOT a rhetorical question. Email me, please.)