we need more heroes doing some self-sacrifice to save other people’s lives in Uganda


 

UCI Building
Photo from http://socialjusticeblog.kweeta.com/

OVER the last couple of weeks Uganda has talked a lot about the deaths of two celebrities, and the sensationalism around their passing.

Over coffee with the BBCs Alan Kasujja and Kinetic’s Cedric Ndilima this week, they pointed at the front page of Daily Monitor that day and their lead story about the death of Simon Ekongo (22).

My eyes were first drawn to the part of the caption that read, “Simon died at the weekend…” which caused me some mild anxiety for obvious reasons. 

Then I imagined the acute anxiety of the people who are actually related to Simon, and changed perspective because of the reality they were facing.

I have said a prayer for Simon Ekongo, and hope his soul Rests In Peace, and that his family finds solace at this trying time.

The comment about Simon Ekongo that caught me was: “See how this story is going to end here. Not like (those ‘celebrities’ earlier alluded to)…”

I was angry at that realisation because of how true it is, and reserved the newspaper story till later in the day so I could read it in private and grieve silently.

That grief is painful – even for me who didn’t know Simon Ekongo in life

Simon Ekongo was diagnosed with leukaemia (a malignant progressive disease in which the bone marrow and other blood-forming organs produce increased numbers of immature or abnormal leukocytes. These suppress the production of normal blood cells, leading to anemia and other symptoms.) and was referred from Soroti Regional Hospital to Mulago Hospital, which is under renovation and so takes patients to Kiruddu Hospital in Munyonyo. 

He was taken to Kiruddu where, the story says, “…they tested the blood and confirmed that it was acute leukaemia…” so he was sent to the Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) which is BACK at Mulago, in Kampala.

The meaning of the word “acute” in the English language should have made everybody involved a lot more sensitive to Simon Ekongo’s situation. 

But, the story continues, he was transported by an ambulance manned only by a driver. There were no medical professionals in the ambulance to tend to Simon Ekongo, and he eventually got dropped off at a patient’s tent at the Cancer Institute on Friday.

A patient’s tent is a tent pitched on the grounds in which patients – in this case people who are suffering from Cancer and its related pains and symptoms – are admitted and kept for a while.

Because it was a public holiday, the story says, Simon Ekongo had to wait till Monday for admission to be done – with his acute leukaemia. 

He died in the tent, in the UCI compound, on Sunday at 2:00am. 

The story can be told and refuted and corrected but it still hurts to think about. Nobody is going to name a ward or even a patch of the garden at the Cancer Institute after Simon Ekongo, to remind all the medical workers of their responsibilities and duty of care.

For years to come we will hear lots of references to money being thrown into coffins and headteachers fiddling with young girls, but how often will we remember Simon Ekongo and how he reportedly died? 

Or, more importantly, how often will we hear ways in which we can save the life of the next Simon Ekongo, or provide a decent way to exit this earth?

There is no saying he would have lived or was destined to die anyway, but the manner in which he did cannot (should not) be ignored.

I am guilty of not having visited the Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) of recent, but reading that there is a tent for patients in the compound made me ask uncomfortable questions. 

Why is there a tent for patients in the compound of a sizeable, new building such as that of the Uganda Cancer Institute? How many of the rooms in that building are being used as offices and kitchens and pantries storing brooms, mops and other sundries?

Might there be any merit in assessing the facility and how it is being put to use so that patients with acute ailments don’t die in the cold at 2:00am under a tent canopy while the shiny building stays locked and the people with the keys are off on their public holiday activities?

What happens in the ‘Patient’s Tent’ during the times when we go through heavy rains such as those we have seen in recent months?

How do Cancer patients get protection from the elements during the very hot days such as the ones we will be facing soon? Will there be electric fans and air conditioning units installed in the ‘Patient’s tent’ for them?

I’ve seen (physically, with my own eyes) a large Mercedes Benz Sports Utility Vehicle that is reported to have been purchased at somewhere between Ushs428million and Ushs763million for a Minister in the Health Ministry, under whose tenure Simon Ekongo died in that tent.

I refuse to believe that story to be true because nobody can be that callous in this economy where I am running around with my bankers over late mortgage payments and also my landlady over late rent payments, and so on and so forth…

Expensive Car
Photo from https://thespearnews.com

Perhaps that Ushs428million-763million Mercedes Benz was a more urgently required purchase than the erection of a small, comfortable building in the compound of the Uganda Cancer Institute for Cancer Patients like Simon Ekongo to die in with some more care and dignity.

Could the Minister, perhaps, sell off the old vehicle that the Minister was using and use the proceeds to put up a small building for patients at the Uganda Cancer Institute so that people like Simon Ekongo don’t die under a tent at 2:00am (0200hrs) every other Sunday?

Or should we be focusing, as a country, on the people who lock up already existing buildings and leave Simon Ekongo and others out in the cold with acute illnesses, while they go to celebrate public holidays?

The public holiday in question, by the way, was Heroes Day.

The official theme of the day was announced as, “SELF SACRIFICE IS THE SINGULAR HEROIC PILLAR IN NATION BUILDING.”

Self-sacrifice – ‘the giving up of one’s own interests or wishes in order to help others or to advance a cause.’

It would be unfair to ask the Ministers and other senior officials to sacrifice their rights to shiny new cars and offices just so people like Simon Ekongo stop dying in tents in the compound. Let’s not do that. It might be considered self-sacrifice on the part of those officials but, hey – we need new four-wheel drive cars to drive over to attend Public Holiday activities…

As we pray for the soul of Simon Ekongo, departed from a ‘Patient’s tent’ in the compound of the Uganda Cancer Institute, let’s hope that the people who should have done a better job with him and others like him adjust the way they ‘work’, because we need more Heroes and more Self-Sacrifice in this country.

and this is how my weight loss almost changed my immigration status last week


The most unexpected side effects of this weight loss and lifestyle change programme keep cropping up at awkward points.

This last one came at the end of a couple of lengthy but comfortable flights and quite a lot of anxiety beating traffic, security checks and immigration people across three countries.

On arriving at the Immigration counter in Beijing I engaged my reliable tactic of being bright, chirpy and polite all rolled into one. Most other people at this point are in a bad mood, tired, hungry, dying to use a toilet, or hungover.

Some immigration officers have been known to be exactly the same. So when the two meet, sparks either fly and rejection stamps are slammed down or a series of sullen questions ensues, causing heavier amounts of anxiety.

My bright, chirpy but polite approach is mostly a refreshing punctuation to an otherwise dull career choice on the part of the average Immigration Officer (outside of Uganda – ours are the very best Immigration Personnel the world over. Absolute Saints and the Royalty of Border Control customer care. May they all live long and their enemies prosper down the generations. <—surely, that should secure me an easier life of travelling in future.)

At the desk in Beijing, the Immigration Police officer greeted back less chirpily than I had kicked off, and took my papers pronto. With my smile illuminating his desktop, he did his job right up to the point where he had to scrutinise my passport page against my face.

Normally they take a look at the photo, glance at me, stamp and then we go. He looked at the photo, glanced at me, looked at the photo again, then looked at me properly.

He kind of signalled for me to turn to the left a bit, so I gave him the right hand side profile. He then signalled to the right and I gave him my left.

He looked back at the photo and wasn’t satisfied.

“You from Uganda?” he said.

This was obviously a delaying tactic, since the Passport in his hand stated so, my yellow Uganda Cranes t-shirt said so, and my black Ugandan face with that smile all Ugandans wear must have given him a further clue, if he read that article about Uganda being the most friendly country in the world.

Besides that, I had just been listening to Bobi Wine & Nubian Li’s “Ndi MunaUganda” (but had moved to Mose & Weasel’s “Omukisa Mpewo“). He didn’t know any of this and it would have confused him further if I went into it, so I kept it brief.

At that point in my life, I didn’t need a sudden huddle amongst Chinese Immigration Officers over this. So I resisted the smart-ass type of response that would have been totally appropriate but only exists in the more liberal comedies: “Yes. Me flom Uganda.”

Instead, I offered the brief and to-the-point: “Yes. Uganda.” while nodding with eyes wide open.

He looked to and fro again, then shook his head. It took me a minute to figure out what the problem was. Many people on the street also do this at times – look, look again, shake head a bit, then either confront or move on.

“But…” the Immigration Police chap said, halting.

I held up my hand to stop him short, and whipped out my phone.

Luckily, I have sent a couple of people my Before and After photographs before, and know how to readily pick them out of my gallery.

Within seconds I had the phone held up to his face and as he screwed up his eyes I was worried for a second that he couldn’t actually see anything, then remembered that was probably a racist thought.

Before And After.001

A few seconds later, he smiled in understanding.

Giving me the thumbs up, he turned to his pals and said something in the language that his people use (I keep saying it’s not Chinese, but I don’t find them committal on this Mandarin-Cantonese thing).

They all burst into hearty laughter and my passport was stamped for me to go through.

“Welcome. Uganda!” Not the entire country, mind you, just me.

Had I been stopped, the people at The Wellness Project (www.thewellness-project.com) would certainly have heard from me on all their platforms (The Wellness Project Africa on Facebook, @twpafrica on Twitter and thewellness.project on Instagram). If they had stopped me because of my actual face looking much less chunky than the photograph in my passport, I would have blown up Lucy Ocitti’s phone (+256 753 471 034) narrating how drastically successful the programme had been.

Because of that Wellness Project, and Lucy in particular, I also suffered various instances of trepidation every time I had to unfasten my belt at the security checkpoints.

See, it’s not easy to adjust one’s mindset from a Size 42 trouser waist fitting to a Size 36 within a matter of months, and costs money as well. So instead of doing the regular thing and changing my entire wardrobe, I have been taking loose risks with decorum every time the security people tell me to put my belt through the scanner.

Luckily, I have mastered the art of bunching up the trouser waistbands in one fist as I shuffle through the sentinel, and have a technique for letting go for just long enough to raise my hands suspect-style so I can twaddle through to the other side without flashing underclothing.

A few days later, as “Uganda” was leaving China, I had my phone on the ready for the immigration officer. I suspected that he was the very same one but then, again, that could have been a racist suspicion so I acted cool and oblivious, and handed over my passport.

The guy, again, was puzzled by the disparity between the photograph in there and my physical appearance. I was ready with the photograph and held it up on my phone, resisting the temptation of saying, “Don’t you remember me showing you this as I was coming in?”

He smiled and said something to his mates, to which they all laughed. I graciously avoided insulting them in Runyoro, which my travel mate would certainly have found entertaining, and made my merry way back home.

the rise of the shareholder activist versus capital markets trade


Activism adapted from adweek.com
(Pic adapted from http://www.adweek.com)

I BUMPED into the phrase ‘Shareholder Activist’ last week with some irritation; more accurately, it found its way into my phone via WhatsApp, which, these days, is my main source of intellectual garbage, high-strung emotion, low-level drama and occasional amusements.

After reading the term I headed to Google to confirm that the conversation we were having in that Group made sense, and found that there is an official term with quite a different meaning from the way everyone was talking about this particular ‘Shareholder Activist’.

The recognised term is ‘Activist Shareholders’, defined as “one using an equity stake in a corporation to put public pressure on its management.

The conversation came about because three of our pitifully few listed companies in this country were holding AGMs (‘Annual General Meetings’ to you, if you’re the kind that crammed your way through school) last week.

Company shareholders (of listed companies or private ones) are supposed to be active, especially during this most important meeting when they get to hold the company Board and Management Team to account.

Unlike what happens for about eleven months and twenty nine days of the year, the shareholder gets to attend the AGM one day and in a structured manner address the Board of the organisation.

By that time, the accounts and Annual Report would have been circulated so the shareholders read through them in detail and then raise issues, observations and suggestions while attending the meeting itself.

During the rest of the year, the Shareholder is represented by the Board of Directors which on a monthly or other periodical basis keeps tabs on the Management Team and ensures they are sticking to their approved strategy – approved, that is, by the Board of Directors on behalf of the shareholders.

See, the shareholders entrust the Board with approving and supervising that strategy, and it is this trust that they vote on during AGMs when they select their respective Board Members. The shareholders, normally by voting publicly during the AGM but sometimes following prescribed methodologies built into the company registration documents, get to choose who will be Director of a Company. The Director, “directs” – showing the management team where, in general, they should set their sights or in which direction they should go.

The Management Team or Executive Management, “manages” the company or “executes” the strategies as approved by the Directors.

It is a system that works beautifully if followed carefully and, as the phrase goes, to the letter.

Sometimes, though, there will be incidents such as those occasioned by the Activist Shareholder who, rather than walk within the marked lines, will take up as many other tools as possible and rocks the boat – or tries to.

Sometimes they take legal action – which is respectable and even, in some instances, admirable.

Other times they will rally shareholder troops and attempt a mutiny during the AGM – also admirable for the mobilisation skills on display, if successful.

Then there are the times the ‘Activist Shareholder’ does the despicable and goes after the very entity that, in essence, feeds him or her.

Until they have dug deeper, the ordinary onlooker will be confounded by those times the ‘Activist Shareholder’ attacks the very same company whose share value would ensure him or her (the ‘Activist Shareholder’) a return on the shareholding investment they made when they bought shares.

See, people buy shares in public (and private) companies in the hope that they will perform well, increase in value, make a profit, and pay them (the people who have bought shares) dividends every year until such a time as the initial investment has been paid back and then the shareholder is earning a profit.

Many of us don’t realise quite how this works, and how important it is for the company in which we have shares to perform well so that it pays back our investment in those shares, while also providing the service or product it was principally set up to provide.

A few weeks ago, ahead of last week’s AGMs, someone in a WhatsApp Group identified three people who they claimed would be at the centre of controversy during the meetings. Their shareholding in the companies involved, the WhatsApp Group stated, was so small that the only reason they had invested was to gain notoriety from their controversial actions during the public, much-publicised AGMs.

It didn’t happen the way this person predicted or feared, but this time round we still saw Activism but of a more despicable kind. A very lengthy and elaborate missive did the rounds with well-stated accusations that would obviously be difficult for the ordinary person to authenticate or verify.

On cutting through a few of them, however, by the second page it was pretty obvious where the piece was heading, but one read on (past tense) hoping to be disappointed by finding it to be hard hitting and factual in that way that would turn a shareholder’s fortunes for the better.

Sadly, it didn’t. It could have probably done quite the reverse in a market with few listed companies and a rather jittery, uninformed, impressionable public.

Luckily, instead, I saw WhatsApp Groups erupting in unflattering commentary that somebody quite recently labelled “intellectual garbage, high-strung emotion, low-level drama and occasional amusements”.

In real life, share prices stayed the way they were and shareholders queued up for their dividends then retired home to wait for next year. The Activists are at bay for now, till the next opportunity arises…

Follow the occasional Twitter hashtag #EconomicsUG. 

the coffee stain on the neat, snazzy shirt of the village mall


If you’ve seen me on an ordinary morning you will notice one of many coffee thermos mugs I leave home with. One day last week I realised late in the morning that the thermos mug had leaked a little bit and stained my shirt.

The shirt in question is a neat number I bought at far less than it would appear to cost, and therefore gets special attention when I open the wardrobe door. I had an important meeting to attend that day and that shirt had therefore left its hanger.

On noticing the coffee stain my spirits fell momentarily, but the meeting was nigh so I soldiered on, adopting an awkward posture with my elbow on the table for the duration. For the rest of that day I ensured all interaction with serious but impressionable people ranged from strictly unavoidable to none at all.

See, if the coffee stain had appeared on one of my ordinary shirts then I would probably not have noticed it at all, let alone adjusted posture or schedule to hide the fact. I only felt squarely uncomfortable because the shirt in question was the type even a moderate Sapeur would more than glance at, immediately thinking of ways to add colourful accessories.

To a serious person that day, spotting a coffee stain on that shirt would have made them think me to be quite careless, shabby and even immature. What kind of adult fails to control a coffee mug for the short distance between the table and his lips?

The stain came to mind this week when, for about the fourth week running, I walked to the Luthuli Avenue entrance of the Village Mall in Bugolobi and found that it was STILL not fully operational because of a small flood of unnatural water from a burst pipe or clogged sewer nearby.

IMG_4281.JPG
The open drain as seen on May 11, 2017 (Photo: Simon Kaheru)

When I first saw this mini-flood there was a line of cars trying to get into the Mall and being re-routed to other entrances. A few days later some authorities had dug up the neat paving blocks at that point, to check what was happening.

IMG_4278.JPG
The pavers neatly stacked by the side, thanks to the neat-minded authorities in charge of this (Photo: Simon Kaheru)

Weeks later, the dug-up paving stones were still piled up to one side, and there was a gaping hole in the ground filled up with water and revealing the innards of the road. Confounded drivers were still rolling up to gain access, and puzzled security guards were still routing them to other entrances with that “What can’t you see?” attitude.

I stopped and asked the askaris how it was possible for this to be happening here, at an upmarket Mall in the capital city, in an otherwise wealthy neighbourhood. Undeveloped land in Bugolobi goes for about US$1million an acre. You pay Ushs10,000 for 300mls of coffee at that Mall, and meals are an average of Ushs25,000 a plate and their french fries travel on aeroplanes to get here. They even have shoes that cost Ushs2million a pair (two shoes only) and their pizzas were endorsed by a Cabinet Minister, no less!

And yet for more than a month this Mall can suffer a gaping hole in the ground filling up with extremely unhygienic water and other substances. The thought that a housefly taking an afternoon dip in the dark pool of water swilling about in that hole could thereafter alight onto the edge of my coffee mug at the nearby cafes, or onto the fork conveying food into my mouth was discouraging.

IMG_4290
The swimming pool used by houseflies and other germs en route to your plate or coffee mug (Photo: Simon Kaheru)

Of course the people leaving the Mall after buying Ushs2million pairs of shoes would be doing so in while driving sleek cars but even splashing through the muddy seepage should certainly make them feel awkward.

But the askaris reported that there had been no angry gatherings of proponents of tourism, health, environmental management, urban management or even mere customers of the Mall, all protesting this ongoing state of affairs.

They couldn’t confirm which officials were responsible for fixing the problem but said “they” had visited and taken the pavers apart after the flooding had started, but had not been back since. I established from elsewhere that the people at the KCCA had taken responsibility and had promised to fix it.

The problem, it would appear, is mostly to do with storm waters and a clogged drainage system. But instead of fixing the problem urgently, for some reason we are all waiting for the heavy rains to come to an end first.

This is what is causing the stain on the neat shirt of Bugolobi’s most prime commercial location, making you think: “What kind of careless, shabby, immature adult fails to control a coffee mug for the short distance between the table and his lips?”

pearls from pigs; the pork fest in June should be more than just a BBQ


Like most Ugandans, my affinity for the cooked flesh of a pig can take on legendary proportions if dieticians and medical professionals look the other way.

Whether it is roasted, fried, stewed or even stood in the sun for just long enough to kill off all possibility of disease, pork is a welcome item on any menu I come into contact with.

In December last year the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) announced that Uganda is the biggest consumer of pork on the continent. Most weekends in most of our towns will appear to confirm this – both in domestic and commercial settings.

The news stories covering this most important issue quoted ILRI Country Representative Dr. Ben Lukuyu saying that Uganda came second to China in global pork consumption numbers at 3.5kilogrammes per capita.

But sites like www.pork.org list the top ten pork producing countries as China, the European Union (which is clearly a cheat entry), the United States, Brazil, Russia, Vietnam, Canada, the Philippines, Mexico and Japan. China leads with 53,500 metric tonnes and Japan trails with 1,280 metric tonnes last year.

The same site lists 42 of the world’s top pork consuming countries, starting with China, and does not mention Uganda at all, which made Dr. Lukuyu’s quote appear questionable.

Eventually, I found on the internet an article from 2014 that read, “Correction 21 July 2014: This story originally incorrectly said that Uganda is Africa’s number one pork-consuming nation. It has now been corrected to clarify that Uganda is East Africa’s top pork-consuming nation.”

Either all the journalists left out the “East” or the good doctor himself made that error – TWO YEARS LATER.

In 2014 various reports said Uganda slaughters about 3.5million pigs every year from about 1.3million households.

The stupid thing, though, is that there are reports that Uganda actually imports pork from other countries as well. Of course, we all know that there is a brand of sausages that is made in another country that is found to be popular here, so those reports are certainly true. Plus, we have cans of processed pork on supermarket shelves.

Even more incredible was the statistic that in 2012 alone Africa imported US$295million worth of pork and pork products from other continents!

I am not writing this just to work up an appetite.

See, last week I learnt that China has introduced its first ‘Pork Price Index’. This is a tool of economic analysis that they say will help farmers understand the market better and therefore serve it to their benefit and those of the world’s majority of pork eaters.

They are worried about both the availability of pork and the price at which it sells, those Chinese.

They are so serious about their pork that they have the government managing the sector, established a ‘strategic pork reserve’, and have the equivalent of the Uganda Securities Exchange (NOT in dollar or Yuan terms, of course) monitoring its trade as part of a government ministry.

So what are we doing importing pork, if we are the biggest consumers of the stuff on the continent? This is one of our niches in East Africa, so where is the Uganda Pork Authority? The business of pork isn’t just about the delicious plated end of the sector, there are many ebigenderako as well – in the real sense as presented on the lusaniya, as well as the feeds pigs consume, the by-products, and a MASSIVE market on the continent.

So, again, what are we doing importing pork? Why are there so few Ugandan-made pork sausages of a quality that we can export rather than laud imports?

I’ll be asking more of these questions in about two month’s time at the Mandela National Stadium in Namboole, during the Uganda Pork Expo (June 24-25th).

Pork Festival

And in between sampling various types of pork products, I will be looking out for people mobilising Ugandans to produce more pigs in larger numbers. One day we will stop finding embarrassing statistics on the internet that say the biggest pig farm in Uganda holds 60 pigs; but only if people spend more on rearing the livestock than they do in second hand Japanese cars.

I also hope to meet economists and business development planners who will do the maths around getting at least one million Ugandans to rear one pig each so that we instantly double our national pig production.

And finally some logical people who will work out that sausages, because of their constitution and cost of production, should not be such ridiculously expensive food items. Or perhaps an academic to explain to me why in most organised countries these are the cheapest meats in the supermarket yet in Uganda they are considered prestigious.

If all these elements come together and logic reigns supreme then we will be gathering pearls from pigs.