how to celebrate being appointed minister


Uganda Flag Waving

AS you make your way to the swearing-in ceremony today, you might be poised for an appointment to a Cabinet position – either as Minister or Minister of State.
If you do get onto that list, first and foremost, do NOT do things in the usual manner – so the first thing you should do is AVOID thanksgiving parties.
By all means, do go ahead and hold prayers at your church or mosque of choice, but don’t do the reception.
Consider all the angry comments that have been loudly made these last six months alone about service delivery and the need for efficiency, and resist the urge to throw a lavish set of parties (one at your Kampala home for friends and relatives, and another in the village constituency for ‘voters’).
Instead, compute the cost of those parties, and divert that money towards something nobly long-lasting like equipment or furniture and fittings at your local schools or hospitals.
An average party could cost up to thirty million shillings (yes – Ushs30million!). THAT sum should not be spent on perishables such as scholastic materials and medicines. Instead, make a lasting mark that will even come in handy when you are next heading out on the campaign trail.
Then, after announcing to all and sundry that you consciously and deliberately dropped the idea of throwing a one-day fete for the option of filling schools and hospitals with life-changing, long-lasting equipment, bid them farewell and head off into a retreat.
The retreat is with the officials of your Ministry – whether you’re just joining a new one or you’ve been re-appointed to the one you were in before. Take them into an inexpensive location and spend serious thinking time establishing three things from the last term of office: 1. What has gone well 2. What could have been done better 3. What did you (the ministry officials) or we (if you were a Minister before) learn.
On the way back from the retreat, your first salary should have landed onto your account. I strongly suspect that most Ugandans would appreciate it if you spent a little of that money and invested it in learning learning about the field in which you have been appointed Minister. Don’t apply for a university degree or anything so drastic (yet); buy a couple of books and take a short course from a very good set of professionals.
It should be helpful if a member of cabinet is given advice and guidance by the most proficient people in the field whose national policy they are going to take charge of.
Thereafter, make it firmly clear that you will NOT make any public statement for at lest a month. That will give you enough time to study the situation in your ministry and confirm that things are actually as they might seem or should be.
During that month you will identify the right staff to work with and establish the procedures that will ensure you are actually as efficient as Ugandans want the government to be. From spelling mistakes through time keeping to the big things like handling procurement sensibly and without corruption or the wastage of tax payers money, you will spend the first month laying down terms of engagement and making them all sign the dotted line.
Do it right and your administrative experts will ensure that you never get to any event late, therefore avoiding that murmuring audiences do when they insult guests of honour arriving late at events. Plus, your speech writers will be subject experts who ensure everything you say is on point, and not so verbose that you sound like a character out of a movie made by people who think that African politicians are mostly variants of Idi Amin at his most comical.
That first month is crucial because the whole of Uganda will be watching you closely and some of them might be spitting anger and vitriol just because you have been appointed to a position of authority instead of them, we of little faith.
Use that first month wisely to convince us that you, as an individual, will make a serious difference on the Board of National leadership called the Cabinet. Use that first month carefully to set the expectations amongst your staff that Ugandans have of you, and of this government.
And recite to yourself every day the mantra against which you have been appointed to that job: For God and My Country.

i am going out to vote the right leadership for Uganda


TODAY we go out to vote – and not just for the position of President. Tomorrow (even tonight – Thursday) we start counting those votes. By Sunday we will know who won and be celebrating victory or mourning loss.
On Monday we should get back to work, and to existing side by side with our different political beliefs – the way we do with our different religious beliefs.
That analogy between Political Party ideology and Religion is always ideal.
We live side by side with our different religious beliefs, praying at different times on different days in different ways and we make it work so well that sometimes we intermarry.
Similarly, we should live side by side with our different political ideologies, meeting at different times, in different ways, and making it work so well that we can work together making progress happen for the entire country.
Perhaps it works better in religion than in politics because we pray and worship every day or at least weekly, while our political activity comes round every so many years?
If we were more deeply political on a more regular basis, then perhaps we would be more relaxed and understanding of what this ‘politics’ actually means.
On Saint Janani Luwum day I relaxed enough to pay attention to a personal chore a group of friends had given me – to proofread a political manifesto we drafted after our WhatsApp group had held some heated political discussions.
We are just a group of pals who grew up together doing what boys do, and recently one evening challenged ourselves to be more politically conscious, resulting in an impressive twenty-page document.
As I finished reading its final draft I was downcast that all of us had spent months talking about the Presidency rather than Leadership – because we could all make good national leaders at the different levels we will be voting today and in coming weeks.
Leadership does not mean Presidency, even if the Presidency is at the apex of Leadership in a country like Uganda. And by the way, Leadership is NOT Power; this is a word that Abed Bwanika, Amama Mbabazi and Kiiza Besigye, and various media commentators, have used repeatedly during recent months – but I am happy that my own candidate markedly avoids the word.
Today we all go to vote not just for the Presidency, but for Leadership – under the Political Party or Group we believe presents the best promise and premise for a stable future for this country.
See, the Political Party that wins it is not just the one that wins the seat of President; a President with a Parliamentary majority, for instance, gets more done easier and quicker – as even the United States showed us with the reverse when they “shut down government” for a while not too long ago.
Speaking of getting things done, it is farcical that in all these months we have talked about service delivery and paid little media attention to leadership in the districts where we know the work on the ground literally gets done.
See, we are electing into leadership – not power – the leaders under whom we will work, thrive and prosper; the leaders who will work on the policies that will enable us to work, to thrive and to prosper. The leaders themselves do not build our businesses or our homes, but they must build and implement policies under which we – Ugandans – must do these things.
We must get into our politics enough so we do not sit back and complain that ‘they’ have not done things, the way some commentators laughably yet confidently said last weekend, “There is no foreign policy in Uganda!”
Recently I have felt that the rhetoric, posturing and deceit of this political campaign period – which feels like it has run five whole years – might have blinded some of us to realities around us – echoed by candidate Yoweri Museveni at the debate last Saturday.
Today, we are voting in leaders whose work should be prescribed in a manifesto – a public document that constitutes a series of pledges and commitments. Every day of the next five years we should be calling the attention of those leaders back to that manifesto because it is the public contract to which they should be held.
Every day of the next five years, if that manifesto is ignored then the party in question imperils its chances of success at the next election.
To achieve the goals in that manifesto, however, the party must have the necessary numbers in the caucuses where the lobbying is done, in the full legislature where the laws are enacted, and in the districts where the work is implemented.
For me, that political party is the NRM, headed by Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, who is unquestionably the most capable (and by far the most likeable) of the eight potential Presidents arrayed before us.
Because I am voting in an entire swathe of leaders under the NRM – possibly more than 600,000 including councillors – on the strength of a manifesto with clear targets (which, in this case, should already be accommodated in this year’s budget – due for reading in four months’ time and in formulation as per the process cycle since August last year).
I am also voting for change in the way we do certain things because the system and manifesto I am supporting gives me leeway to make a personal contribution to changing things in Uganda for the better.
I am voting NRM not to reward anyone for work already done – but because if those 600,000 leaders and I follow that manifesto, then we will get a lot more done – for everybody – especially if we are vigilant citizens all round. The voters of northern Uganda and Kampala can testify to this quite easily – judging from their voting patterns from 2001 through 2006 and 2011, as their protest at the ballot over war and infrastructure (respectively) transformed into heavy support because of the dramatic change and response that we see today. #SteadyProgress.
And I am voting NRM because I have not been given a promise by the other parties around what they will or can do – and believe me, I’ve listened to them. For instance, anyone can complain about the negatives in Uganda today – as indeed we should – but that is not reason enough for me to vote…for the loudest complainant.
No.
I am voting NRM because I like the ideology, believe in it and believe we can live it even when some people do make mistakes or, linking back to religion, fall short of the glory they should uphold.
Because as a country we have made progress under this same NRM, and I know we can continue this progress.
Provided WE stick to that ideology WE CAN make good. We CAN make Uganda greater than it already IS.

it’s never rocket science


Since we have now officially began the season of political campaigns, we must brace ourselves for even more political commentary and discussion within our homes, other social settings and in the media.
All the commentary is going to be made with serious looks on our faces and delivered in deep, quasi-intellectual tones wrapping collections of words into phrases presented as wise gifts from all directions, not just the East. And this is just the political commentary, hovering above all the promises the actual politicians are making.
Sadly, a lot of it will be nonsense and if we swallow it down without thinking then we will deserve the intellectual indigestion later on.
In the past two weeks alone, for instance, I have heard and read the phrase, “It’s not rocket science…” from more than six different and unrelated people on different platforms.
This phrase is presumed to mean that rocket science is very difficult and that therefore any issue that is rocket science would confound the ordinary person such as myself.
It is true, but in reality I have never come across anything to do with rocket science.
The only people who actually attempt rocket science are people who have studied it in school at an advanced level. Those are people who are so intelligent that they actually apply for the courses required to get into rocket science classrooms and lecture theatres, and learn well enough to advance to become rocket scientists.
A rocket scientist does not find rocket science to be difficult; which means that just before you (if you’re an ordinary non-scientist like me) walked into a room full of rocket scientists the general consensus in the room would be that rocket science is easy, straightforward stuff.
For most of us ordinary people, an ordinary car engine is even more confounding than rocket science, because we have no idea what all those cables, pipes, rubber bits and canisters represent or do yet we have to deal with them regularly.
Instead of saying, “It’s not rocket science”, therefore, we could say, “It’s not a car engine” and achieve the very same meaning.
But also, two brilliant rocket scientists might be equally confounded if they were placed in front of a pile of matooke, banana leaves and bits of firewood, then told to make matooke.
See, because it’s not rocket science.
Phrases like those that go over our heads and are easily accepted but have much less of an impact than the political statements themselves do, even though they deprive us of the more in-depth analysis that sensible political commentary should give us.
The politicians may and can say just about anything they want to – since they say all’s fair in love and war, but the political analysts owe us much more.
Political analysts should dissect the promises that the candidates are making, the viability of their statements and the veracity of the claims spoken at podiums. Political analysts should use the luxury they have of conducting research into the issues and topics that the candidates address, to present to us well-filtered views and opinions.
Unlike the politicians who operate in conditions of campaign heat and excitement, political analysts should think and speak in the calmness of their rooms, offices, libraries and studios, then clarify matters for the general public.
And the media houses that host these analysts, also known as commentators, should begin to apply some standards that spare us rocket scientists trying to make matooke, just as we ourselves should do as we hold these discussions within our homes and other social settings.

re-starting independence with the children and their toys


WHEN you spend a few days sequestered with hundreds of people talking repeatedly about innovation, technology and education you tend to develop ideas along those lines.
My head was full of them as we emerged from a summit called ‘Innovation Africa’ and prepared to embark on Independence week. Because there was a weekend punctuation between the two, I was reclaimed by the children and eventually found myself inside bookshops that insist on selling toys.
I can understand the business imperative that makes them stock both products, so I have sympathised with them for years in spite of the irritation – I think it is unfair to distract these young ones with toys when we try to immerse them into a world of literary appreciation in order to stimulate their imaginative powers.
But there I was, trying to herd attention away from playing to reading, when I noticed one plaything priced at five million shillings (actually, it was Ushs4,999,000).

My next venture should be making these!
My next venture should be making these!
I was a little panicked because one of the children was paying more attention to this item than I was comfortable with – and if my bankers and a few other stakeholders had spotted us at that point I would have had to hold difficult conversations.
As I firmly drew her focus away from the thing, my mind was on one of the key statements people kept making at Innovation Africa – “But can’t you guys make this here (Uganda or Africa)?”
On closer inspection, the Ushs5million plaything was a creation of painted plastic or fibreglass, with a few lights here, buttons, and a motor that made it move to and fro.
I know a guy in Kampala who once did a fibreglass fabrication for me, and estimated the total cost here to be less than one million shillings. The lights and wiring involved couldn’t cost more than a couple of hundred thousand, and neither would the paint.
So I figure that if I got an artist and a technician together I could reap handsomely from toys – and the shop attendant confirmed to me that people buy these things, imported from China, quite frequently.
I looked around a bit more at hundreds of other items – all imported – including a little children’s bookshelf painted in lively colours and priced about eight times higher than a locally made one sold in most carpentries in Kampala.
The price of that bookshelf was even confusing because of the cheapness of the materials used to manufacture it – especially compared to the hardwood ones we make locally that are priced so low.
There was also a set of toys made of wooden blocks, each painted with numbers and letters and going for just over one hundred thousand shillings.
Believe it or not, every carpentry workshop in this country generates enough waste (paint inclusive) to be converted into such toys saleable at sensibly profitable amounts to a very willing foreign-toy-purchasing public.
Plus, if we start this with toys then we are doing it at a point where the next generation interacts quite closely, and the true meaning of independence will sink in better in their minds.
What do we need in order to do this?
Independence – and an understanding of the theme of Independence Day Celebrations this year: “Striving towards a prosperous people and Country: the meaning of true Independence.”
Prosperity and Independence – the two go hand in hand, if we strive at them, apparently. Importing toys from China enriches only a few of us here in Uganda, namely those who import those toys – but MANUFACTURING those toys here in Uganda will enrich many, and it IS easy.
As we made our escape from the toy bookshop, my daughter asked me the confounding question, “What is Independence?”

Pierre Nkurunziza: the man of ironies could learn something from Yoweri Museveni


Nkurunziza from Afrik.com

BURUNDI’S Pierre Nkurunziza is a man of ironies.
His political party is called the National Council for the Defense of Democracy, but he is right now caught in the headlights of accusations that his election to a third term of office is most undemocratic – even though Burundi’s Constitutional Court ruled that he was within his legal rights to stand for another term.
Before being appointed President he was even Minister for Good Governance in the transitional government there, but today his adherence to governance principles is being held questionable.
For a sports enthusiast who normally shows up on public kitted out in colourful track suits and who’s a common figure on public soccer pitches playing footie, it was weird last year to hear that Nkurunziza had banned jogging because of security risks associated to the exercise.
Indeed, after the announcement, opposition members from the Movement for Solidarity and Democracy (MSD) were jailed for jogging, as their run had reportedly turned into a political demonstration.
And the chatter in Kampala when it was announced that the mediation over Nkurunziza’s third term deadlock would be run by Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, was that it most most ironic because of the number of terms Museveni himself has served as President.
For Museveni, though, Burundi presents more nostalgia than irony, and as he arrived in Bujumbura for the talks, he might have either felt a small twinge of it or triggered some in Burundians.
The nostalgia of the Barundi must lie in the number of Presidents they’ve received at Bujumbura airport since the mid-90s to mediate in political conflict there. Counting from the top, they’ve hosted Presidents Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Nelson Mandela and Jacob Zuma of South Africa, and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda (all more than once).
Museveni’s own nostalgia, on the other hand, is not over the political battle he faced when he stood for the Presidency in 2006 and in 2011, as all indications are that he will be on the ballot paper again in Uganda come 2016.
Instead, it must be linked to the number of times he has been at the helm of mediations for peace in Burundi – which goes back about twenty years when, at the behest of Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere, Museveni got Burundi’s Sylvestre Ntibantunganya to reach a settlement with his opposition that settled tensions for a few weeks before it fell apart again.
In the years following that, Museveni featured starkly in the negotiations, pushing a hard line that eventually swept away the more radical players accused of genodical tendencies, and those labelled coup plotters.
Back then the Tanzanians took lead in managing the peace process mostly because they found themselves hosting heavy flows of refugees that had crossed the border, as well as funding a large deployment of Tanzanian military personnel to secure said borders so the violence didn’t follow the refugees.
Museveni, though, always at Nyerere’s side in the mediation continuously spoke of the need for Burundi to be settled in order for regional cooperation to become a reality, since Rwanda had been sorted out – cutting his teeth further as a regional leader.
The opportunity was the first in which African leaders took full charge of resolving a conflict on the continent, which also gave Museveni a further boost to his anti-imperial ideologies.
Since then, he has been central in conflict resolution in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Somalia and now, again, in Burundi.
This time round, though, the concerns Museveni faces are much greater in number and scope.
To start with, the reasons for the conflict in Burundi are too close to home – just months to national elections in Uganda, political upheaval over a tussle for the presidency is the last thing Museveni and many other Ugandans  would want to see, after all these years of relative calm.
The closest to civil upheaval Uganda has seen in the capital city came in 2011 after the national elections, when opposition politicians launched a volley of demonstrations veiled as attempts to “walk to work” because, they argued, economic conditions were so bad they couldn’t afford fuel. Ironically, like Nkurunziza, the protests threatened to make the economy worse by paralysing business in the city centre.
The government clamped down hard on the “walks”, deploying squads of anti-riot police with water cannons and tear gas canisters, while frequently jailing demonstration leaders. The message was clear – the sight of demonstrators on the streets was unwelcome, especially so soon after North Africa had hosted so many to the detriment of the countries themselves.
When Nkurunziza left Burundi in May for crisis talks in Tanzania demonstrations broke out on Bujumbura’s streets leading to the attempted coup or coup announcement.
The glee with which the opposition in Uganda received the news of his toppling was worrying enough for any sitting President to be concerned.
Allowing any opposition leaders or groups of youths to casually exhibit a sustained defiance to leadership would be highly problematic for Uganda, where the population of the youth is a sometimes scary 70%.
If Nkurunziza needed to be removed, it had to be through peaceful, regularised means otherwise there was a chance that the ghosts of the Arab Spring would return to wreak havoc.
Luckily, Nkurunziza returned and restored himself into the seat but shortly thereafter noises were made about Rwanda possibly being involved in the attempt to remove him.
Museveni was keen to put a stop to those noises as a priority, otherwise East African Cooperation would suffer.
Besides the political worries, Museveni is also keenly aware of the dominoes of instability caused by the combination of conflict and refugees from Burundi through Rwanda and Tanzania into Uganda, which even now probably hosts the largest number of refugees in East and Central Africa – close to 500,000 of them from every other country.
And, most importantly, Burundi is a good opportunity for Museveni to emphasize the importance of his philosophy that African countries must first settle security issues before tackling democracy and their economies – quite distinct from some views that democracy should always come first.
As he quipped about Somalia a few weeks ago: “If you say defence is not connected to agriculture, then I invite you to start a coffee farm in Somalia.”
Whereas Museveni’s mediation in Burundi was focussed on a political solution, the defence and security angle was so central that when he left Bujumbura his assigned placeholder was Uganda’s Defence Minister, Crispus Kiyonga.
Nkurunziza did not need a veiled message from Uganda about what would happen if war broke out afresh today. He knows first hand how adept Uganda is at deploying troops and holding ground more than two borders away from their own, as Burundi has run peacekeeping operations side by side with Uganda under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
The disputed election has taken place and the expected result has been achieved.
But what Nkurunziza now needs to learn from Museveni is how to hold his Presidential seat and his country together two terms away from the peace accord that first brought him into power, as the old man has managed quite comfortably these many years hence.
– a version of this article ran in the Sunday Independent of South Africa on July 26.