raise those hawkers respectfully to major economic heights


street-hawkers-in-kampala-ityafrica-net
Photo from http://www.emmasadventuresinuganda.wordpress.com/tag/icye/

SINCE I was much younger I have found engagements with street hawkers entertaining in many ways. Along the way I have graduated from comical time-wasting banter to what I hope is a more useful sort of interaction.

I distinctly recall one incident in about 1993 at a place called Hakuna Matata in Bukoto, when one of us – Gary Samuel, we called him, called a hawker over and asked: “Olina…bino?” (‘Do you have…these?’) and gestured with his palm held out flat and slicing into the air sharply.

The hawker, arms full of plastics and mostly light kitchen utensils, had no clue what Gary was asking about but tried guessing. Knives? No. Spoons? No. Brushes? No. Brooms? No.

Everything he was vending was in full view, in his hands and slung over his shoulder and back.

And with each guess, Gary insisted with more animation and sharper gestures shooting higher into he air: “Bino! Bino! (Luganda for ‘These’) Things that go like this (Shooting gesture high into the air). Bino!

We all joined in on the guessing game but none of us could get it right. I could see the hawker losing hope of making a sale, and felt sorry for him when I realized how much direct sunshine he was absorbing. If he had started his journey somewhere in Kikuubo and had his time wasted like this at every bar and pork joint he stopped at but in exchange for a small tip, he would be a millionaire.

He was still guessing in the hope that he would make a sale, while the rest of us who were seated in the shade and having a drink were already fed up with the game. We insisted that Gary put a stop to it and he finally stated what he was asking for:

Olina…amabaati (‘Do you have IRON ROOFING SHEETS?!’)”

Laughter ensued, and the crestfallen hawker sauntered off. Some of us felt bad about it, and I can’t lose the memory of that, and other times when hawkers got asked for DSTV dishes, tractor tyres and other such ridiculous items.

I have tried to make amends over the years in various ways, mostly by showing this cadre of Ugandan entrepreneur a lot more respect and courtesy than they usually receive; for instance, I don’t swat them off when they approach me at traffic lights or in heavy traffic. Instead, I politely smile and mouth a “No, thank you.”

Their stigma is hard to appreciate – imagine being a hawker and finding the sign “Hawkers Not Permitted Here” on every door you walk past even when you are not vending your wares.

Recently, my change of policy towards hawkers has led to interventions of a different kind.

I am keenly aware that the Kampala Capital City Authority Act (2010) Section 3 of Part A, gives KCCA the responsibility to “Prohibit, restrict, regulate or license (a) the sale or hawking of wares or the erection of stalls on any street…”

Because of that, I am rarely eager to exchange money for wares from hawkers, but there is some other support they can benefit from, as one Robert Mwesize reminded me last Friday.

He was vending soft cuddly toys, normally called Teddy Bears, in Ntinda. He hesitated at us because he didn’t think a random group of men fitted in his categorization of sure-deal clients.

We called him over anyway and quickly bought a couple of his second-hand Bears so we could have a conversation with him.

At first, he was reluctant to give us his second name, which gave us the opportunity to explain to him why he needed to do so to increase his sales over time. Then we told him that since he only sold Teddy Bears, as he confessed, he had chosen to specialise and now needed to brand himself as the Teddy Bear guy.

So we took his number (0751266921) and saved it as Robert Mwesize Teddy Bear. I offered him my number but he didn’t see the relevance till I explained that if he built up a customer database he could make regular sales to repeat clients by direct marketing.

All the men in the group, we told him, had wives, girlfriends, daughters and other female interactions that they needed Teddy Bears for. Besides, we explained, if you vended these wares and told these customers that they would make good gifts to hand in as they got home late that night…

His eyes lit up as the brief conversation developed. We even suggested to him that he should spend more time studying the soft, cuddly toys and figuring out a way of making some of his own.

Surely that is possible, isn’t it? Yes, he responded in a low tone of voice as he studied his wares more closely.

We left it there, but I have his number if you are in the market for a Teddy Bear, and high hopes that one day Robert Mwesize will be the owner of a factory manufacturing Teddy Bears somewhere in Kampala, or at least operating a slick distribution system of soft toys to a growing customer base.

Shiyaya Coupon Book Advert FINAL.001

from outer space to your rolex stand – there are many ways to open the mind


Kiira EV car
A Kiira EV Car (Photo from http://kiiramotors.com)

BACK in 2012, Ghana launched it’s Ghana Space Science and Technology Centre and Ghana Space Agency. Two weeks ago the West African nation launched its first satellite into outer space.

In Uganda, it’s been a few years since the Kiira EV solar-powered car project was first started, and I have never had any doubts over its necessity for us.

I know we are not going to be selling cars in competition with the Japanese or the other usual suspects any time soon. But there is a logic behind such projects and ventures that glues other bits of the economy together.

Those of us who scoff at the Kiira vehicles as White Elephants before retiring to our cubicles by way of little white second hand Japanese imports could do with a jolt.

I got one watching a television programme last week that was explaining how Pizza ovens are made.

Disclaimer: I don’t like pizzas as much as I do the Rolex, for obvious reasons (yes – taste, as well as the Uganda factor). The programme just happened to roll up as I was immobile in my seat sans remote control.

I discovered that Americans in the United States eat approximately 100 acres of pizza each day, which is about 3billion Pizzas a year, or 350 slices of them per second. Pizza, as a food is a $32 billion per year industry. Across the United States there are about 70,000 pizzerias – not to mention restaurants and hotels that also make and serve the stuff.

With that in mind, the TV documentary told me, some oven manufacturing people realized that if they developed ovens that cooked pizzas faster, they would sell more ovens to more pizzerias. 

Somebody in the industry asked how the people who go to outer space manage to cook their food under those conditions, and then realized that NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United States) had a solution. NASA kept sending people into outer space for long periods in spaceships with small, confined spaces and little time to cook. 

How did they do it?

NASA had developed some form of cooking using a hot air system (“impingement”) that speed-cooks food – four times faster than normal. The oven manufacturer took that technology and applied it to their ovens on the ground and…voila!

There are other technologies that came from NASA to the catering industry in the United States; one of them arose because one of NASA’s suppliers of natural gas realized he worked late hours and didn’t have time to get home to cook dinner.

He decided to create an oven that would allow you to cook dinner while driving home. How? Using the internet and the remote control technology that runs space equipment, and starting up the oven using using a cell phone or other device over the internet.

The reasons the United States goes into outer space are many, just as are the benefits.

The Kiira EV solar project can provide this very trigger, if we pay more attention to it than the light-headed assumption that we are going to be exporting cars to Japan.

Last week I spoke with an old man I deeply revere who told me about an assembly plant he intends to invest in. Among the benefits of this assembly plant, he explained, would be providing employment for people manufacturing seat belts, seats, seat covers, and other bits that we already make in Uganda to a certain extent. The list included the fabrication of exhaust pipes – a product we actually CAN make even using recycled materials that normally go as ‘scrap’.

As he was talking my mind was on the pizza cooking technology and another product that we have paid little attention to and yet has arisen in this very market we are in.

On the road where my main office is located I smile every day when I spot a ‘Musana Cart’. The ‘Musana Cart’ is a Rolex stand but with a big difference. It is powered by solar energy employed quite simply – a couple of panels on top of the stand that provides the energy needed to fry the chapati and eggs.

That solar energy replaces the need for charcoal, which is an additional operational cost and comes with health risks, storage issues and so on and so forth. The story about the Musana Carts needs to be told fully on its own – it is very uplifting.

But the fact that projects like Kiira EV Solar can lead to so many other applications and innovations spurs the imagination. And that’s why we need to welcome and celebrate all initiatives of this nature.

Next stop – outer space.

these kids are unfor-ghetto-ble! the triplets ghetto kids from uganda raised our flag high while we slept…


Unforgettable

THE Ghetto is normally defined as “a part of a city, especially a slum, occupied by (a) minority group(s).”

The people who live in the Ghetto are normally downtrodden, poor, vulnerable and disadvantaged.

In the days when we started switching things round, turning paradigms on their heads, and rebellions started being considered heroic, the ghetto became the ashes from which the Phoenix rose.

It was the pile of waste from which arose the dazzling bird flying in the distant skies into the brilliant sunshine.

You’ve probably guessed what’s causing my gushiness right now. It’s those fantastic Triplets Ghetto Kids and what they have done for you, Uganda, for the last so many years.

Most probably like you, I first noticed them because of Eddie Kenzo’s ‘Sitya Loss’ – which I saw on stage being inappropriately presented at a ceremony, but fell for in a big way and joined about 30million other viewers who have watched them dance it on YouTube.

Eventually, that song garnered the 30million YouTube hits purely because of the way those children were dancing.

Two years ago, at a friend’s wedding party deep in South Africa, I noticed that the DeeJay there elected to play ‘Sitya Loss’ at a high point of the evening and the locals knew the dance! I wasn’t taking the challenge sitting down and showed them where I was from, to their utter amazement as I didn’t look as agile as the children did in their video.

That night I mentioned to my wife how those little children and their jolly, frolic dance steps were ultimate Ambassadors for the Republic of Uganda, because just by twisting about like them I identified my true origins to the South Africans and was pleasantly accepted.

At the heart of my comment then was the memory of their main benefactor in Uganda trying hard to find a sponsor for the children’s group. A few years before that they had fallen on difficult times, living in conditions none of us would wish for our own children, and being hired out to entertain at pitiful rates.

I couldn’t help much, besides raving about them at Event Planning meetings so they could get hired more often.

Then some months ago my own children started talking about international musicians being in Kampala at two different occasions. The names were people I had never paid attention to, and when I investigated further I found them to be massive in music stature – but amongst the youth rather than my own age group.

The man behind that video explained later that he “stumbled upon” the Ghetto Kids on YouTube and just because of that he made the decision to come to Uganda to find them: http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/hip-hop/7752560/french-montana-uganda-unforgettable-video-twitter-interview.

This week, that big name, French Montana (who has 2.74MILLIION followers on Twitter and was worth US$8million by April this year), was bursting with pride on social media – international social media, not just a casual WhatsApp group here in Kampala – about having taken these Ghetto Kids to Hollywood to perform for the first time ever at the world famous BET Awards ceremony.

French Montana actually spent WEEKS in Kampala shooting the video for that song ‘Unforgettable’, which has so far logged about 120million plays on YouTube alone. The song featured Swae Lee (whose partnership with his brother has a net worth of US$6million and on his own has 314,000 Twitter followers).

Did any promoter of Uganda make use of him or acknowledge him while he was here? Was he offered any freebies in national parks or eating Rolexes or touring cultural sites or hitting nightclubs or drinking Coconut Waragi? Somebody, share photographs, please? Did we go out of our way to get them to spend a bit of their millions on this economy?

The Ghetto Kids’ performance with French Montana and Swae Lee at the BET Awards was unquestionably the highlight of the night! Every Twitter feed on the internet lit up with bright, enthusiastic, teary, adoring, loving, exciting comments about the Ghetto Kids. This isn’t the first time they have performed in the United States, mind you, and one of their past performances where they are dressed in the Uganda flag is approaching 1million YouTube views from less than a year ago. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7Gd0ekTTyQ).

And, a short while later, an equally ecstatic French Montana took up his phone and Re-Tweeted – in the middle of the world’s biggest music event – most every tweet about the Ghetto Kids. He paid to take them there – using his own money to promote Uganda, on top of using his 120million view video (except for the last seconds of it).

People like DJ Khaled took photo opportunities with the Ghetto Kids. This guy, who is worth US$20million and has 3.42MILLION Twitter followers, stopped his life to take a photograph with the Ghetto Kids. In that photograph, and almost significant, was Chance The Rapper (who has 4.49MILLION Twitter followers), a highly popular Hip Hop start and BET nominee this year – also squeezing into the photograph.

DJ Khaled Ghetto Kids

And now we are hearing reports that DJ Khaled PAID US$10,000 to take that photograph with the Ghetto Kids! #Dammit! Why do we sleep so much and laud the WRONG people in this country?!

DJ Khaled is known as the KING of snapchat – a more popularly used social media platform than Twitter, and gets more than two million (2,000,000) views PER SNAP/STORY he posts!

When the Media Centre lauded the Ghetto Kids on Twitter this week and used #UgandaTourism, I couldn’t help asking how much “we” are promoting these kids.

See, I wasn’t just talking about the government and the Uganda Tourism Board, because how many times have I personally hired them to do an event?

Of course the uppercut aimed at the Tourism marketing people will not end here. A promoter of Uganda, on realizing how many YouTube hits those Ghetto Kids have collected over the years, would have snapped them up long ago!

After visiting Uganda and falling in love with the Pearl of Africa, this French Montana launched a campaign that gave US$100,000 to the Mama Hope Initiative, and Ssuubi Health Centre in Budondo, Uganda. More than that, he rallied various other global celebrity musicians to get involved and they did so. One of them, The Weeknd, donated his own US$100,000 to the Suubi Health Centre.

Among the other celebrities who have joined in on the #UnforgettableDanceChallenge and now know where Uganda is because of the Triplets Ghetto Kids are Travis Scott, Drake, Juelz Santana, Chris Brown and P. Diddy.

French Montana as an individual is so amazing that the stories being told about him and his time in Uganda sound like fantasy. One tale has it that he bought dinner after one of the video shoots for about 500 people who had shown up to participate and watch the filming. Most celebrities of his stature DEMAND that they are feted, rather than spend their own money on the people around them!

Actually the whole country should stop and think. If we had given those children the equivalent of what one “big person” in politics gets when they travel abroad…

….how much more these Triplets Ghetto Kids from Uganda would be ‘Unforgettable’! May God bless them abundantly, and wake the rest of us up out of our annoying ignorance!

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.