leathered up – the Ugandan way in Uganda by Uganda


I AM such a leather enthusiast that I can almost recall every genuine leather product I have owned since I was a child – which explains why I tend to keep shoes for longer than some people keep friends.

One of my most prized purchases is a rawhide-cover notebook with a popular clothing brand name that still sits in my desk drawer and accompanies me on some of my outings.

At the time I bought it, in the 1990s, the only Ugandan leather I could come across was so raw it was either wrapped around live meat walking through fields of grass or in steaming stinking piles at a yard in Kampala ready for export. Technically we couldn’t even call it leather.

When I later got involved in the Jua Kali sector by virtue of my employment at the time I spent months and months sifting through products made of cloth, cowhorn, metal, beads, soapstone and very, very few that were made of leather.

In many cases the leather ones were of the synthetic variety that didn’t seem to be linked to our cows here in Uganda.

But, slowly, we started seeing genuine leather products cropping up more and more, and priced just high enough to make one believe that they were, indeed, made in Uganda.

The leather industry picked up steam quickly after that but I just couldn’t get my hands onto any of it.

Until last year, at the Nairobi International Convention Centre, where I was attending the 20th anniversary of the East African Business Council and walked down a gauntlet of stalls offering wares made in the EAC. This was a much improved arrangement from the Jua Kali exhibitions of old.

Back then we would take up space on yards in places like the UMA Showgrounds and the KCCA field, then have the artisans pitch makeshift tents (and shacks) out of which to display and sell their products.

Here, there was more method and we felt like we were walking through ‘proper’ shops. It was impressive and comfortable, and I kept stopping wherever there were leather products, and collected the flyers and business cards of the artisans that made them. Most were from Kenya, which was good because this was the EAC and I was quite ready to support all my people.

At the end of the alley, right under the hot sun, were two young ladies who looked a little bit familiar and were quite lively in their presentation. Their products stood out more than the rest so I spent a bit more time gathering up their details.

The company or brand name ‘NaRoho’ was in Kiswahili and it was only after many minutes of chatting that I noticed that the products were actually branded ‘NaRoho Uganda’.

The young ladies, to my pleasure, revealed themselves to be Ugandan – but I had to suppress that nationalism for the wider objective for which I had crossed the border – we were East African.

So I waited till I was back home before making contact with one of them – Isabel Agol – and placing orders for things made out of Ugandan leather in Uganda by a Ugandan.

Isabel surprised me even more. Within a couple of months, I was toting around a bespoke leather laptop bag, a leather-bound notebook, and a credit card wallet all priced so affordably I couldn’t believe I had to travel all the way to Nairobi before meeting her.

Here she is working on my brand new, genuine leather steering wheel cover just a couple of weeks ago – made by her right here in Kampala, Uganda!


Once again, she did a fantastic job there!

She’s on my speed dial right now, and is making more leather products for me as I wonder what other precious products made here that I am missing out on.

For now, it’s a better thought than trying to work out why we went all those years watching those steaming, stinking piles of hides and skins in the yards in Kampala being sent to other countries where they underwent processes that resulted in expensive products coming back for us to fail to afford.

we must be nuts for not seeing these nuts


BACK when I was in an overly-publicised position in the Executive of Government, I was convinced to ‘walk the talk’ and start planting things in the ground as proof that agriculture works.

Not too far away from where I settled then is where Robert Kabushenga has made a well-publicised and genuinely admirable success of his Rugyeyo Farm.

For some reason I cannot recall, I planted cashew nut seeds in a line, hoping to form an avenue of trees, and then forgot about them. They eventually grew into impressive giants and occasionally dropped some nuts that I presume are enjoyed in some form by the people and livestock in residence.

Even though I have a daily habit of snacking on a pack of mixed nuts that include the cashews as honourable members, I honestly forgot about my trees until I was in Arusha for the East African Community Heads of State Summit some days ago.

My own ‘trail mix’ made of nuts, soya, chilli and this and that (Photo by Simon Kaheru)

One morning at breakfast the conversation turned to Tanzania’s cashew nut problem. The evening before that, after checking into my hotel, I had walked to a nearby supermarket and bought up some packs of the stuff for personal consumption and was looking forward to my snacking weeks ahead.

The crop in Tanzania has been a major source of agricultural revenue for years. Towards the end of last year, President John Pombe Magufuli issued strict instructions that none of the 200,000 tonnes of cashews from the season could be bought by private players. Only the army was allowed to buy and process cashews, then store them for export at the “right” price.

Tanzania’s crop reportedly brings in about US$500million a year, making it possibly the top forex earner there.

We talked through the issue and I learnt quite a bit then tightened my tie and hopped over to the East African Business Council offices, with my fellow Board Members, to officially launch the new location.

The Chief Guest was the Rt. Hon. Al-Hajj Kirunda Kivejinja, accompanied by a suitably heavy team of Security and Trade Ministers and Permanent Secretaries.

The most important person in the room, however, turned out to be a young man who had shaken our hands and moved to the back of the room quietly along with all the other unnamed persons holding cameras and file folders.

Shortly into the meeting the young fellow was introduced to us with his raison d’etre, and when EABC Board Chairman Nick Nesbitt stood up to speak he declared, singling me out: “Simon, are we nuts?!”

See, the young fellow, Brian Mutembei, was Chief Executive of a little-known Kenyan firm called Indopower Solutions, and had just the day before signed a contract with the Tanzanian government committing to buy cashew nuts worth US$160,000!

Forget about the value for a minute here.

The issue that Nick was exclaiming about, and that hit me square in the middle of my forehead, was that this young fellow and his team of entrepreneurs had IDENTIFIED AN OPPORTUNITY where the rest of us were simply chewing nuts.

Indeed, we surely had to be nuts! Even throughout the discussion about the cashew nut problem that morning the thought hadn’t occurred that I could put together a few people and offer to buy some of those nuts for sale in Uganda, taking advantage of our EAC status.

And that was the crux of our presence in Arusha that week – how to ensure that phrases like “The EAC integration will be people-based and private-sector led” were turned into reality.

There are thousands of other such opportunities staring us right in the face in this region but, sadly, we simply aren’t taking seeing them, let along taking advantage of them to create wealth from top (entrepreneurs and processors like Mutembei) to bottom (the farmers who grow the crops, for instance).

Where are these opportunities? In the newspapers, on social media platforms, in government office notice boards and meetings, announced at public events though embedded within sometimes boring speeches….and so on and so forth.

But we don’t see them. Instead, we tend to see the sensational, seemingly-exciting and honestly time-wasting flotsam that keeps the majority of us in a state of despair, despondency and doom about the future of this country, region and continent.

We are the wrong type of nuts!

somebody please counsel, educate or investigate these three characters


THERE are three people this week that need to be counselled, educated or investigated:

One is a 74-year old American lady resident of a United States village called Hooper, in Fremont, Nebraska; the other a Ugandan Pastor called Jimmy Mwanga of a Church called ‘Glory Rescue’ in Luuka, Busoga; and the third an online journalist called Tammy Real-McKeighan, also in Hooper.

The three caught my attention because of an online story about how “Donna Kriete is putting faith and art together for a cause,” as the first sentence read, before telling us how this lady was selling artwork to fund the church activities of Pastor Mwanga.

I am a Christian myself, and have watched the new types of churches grow and multiply over the years so I am not at all surprised by the activities of Pastor Mwanga and Donna Kriete. In fact, her monies and those of others like her could count well towards our foreign exchange inflows as a country.

I also can’t hold anything against Pastor Mwanga for finding a way to earn a living or even grow his church using these funds.

From the story online and a reading of his Facebook page, this Pastor is doing God’s work. The online story says, for instance, that: “Mwanga…was told in a dream to start a church in an area where Muslims lived and a place where witchcraft is practiced.”

This is the type of stuff that some Christians like to read.

But what we don’t like to read, and where my hackles were raised, was when Donna Kriete said: “When you go to Uganda, it’s like you’re stepping into Bible times,” adding that ‘there is no electricity where Mwanga now has two churches.’

Mind you, this Ms. Kriete came to Uganda in 2014 – the same year that the Uganda National Bureau of Statistics published this 57-page report on Luuka District (alone). In this report, available online so that characters like the journalist who half-assed that story could do some fact-checking, UBOS reports that 20% of Ugandans in Luuka use electricity for lighting.

Not only that, looking through the Facebook page of Pastor Mwanga’s Glory Rescue Ministry you can see lots of microphones and loudspeakers being put to use. Using firewood, perhaps, like in Bible times?

Those simple observations made me wonder what type of Bible Ms. Kriete reads in Nebraska that made her feel like being in Uganda is like “stepping into Bible times”.

Did this woman come to Uganda on a donkey or via an aeroplane that landed at Entebbe International Airport? Is she FROM the Bible times herself and did she undergo some deja vu when she got here?

It wasn’t confusing reading that simplistically drafted article, it was annoying. Moreso because it wasn’t written up as a casual blog post by Ms. Kriete the philanthropic artist whose childhood dream, the story says, was to be a missionary in Africa. It was a report by a journalist!

Reading the article you find it obvious that it is targeting either dim-witted people who can’t use google or dim-witted people who still believe that Africa is a jungle teeming with savages in need of civilisation.

The journalist, Ms. Tammy Real-McKeighan, seems to genuinely quote Kriete without sarcasm saying: “(Mwanga) is interested in bringing the good news to people who’ve never heard it.”

In Luuka? 28 kilometres from Iganga on the highway? 118 kilometres from Kampala?

At the point where they were talking about children having asthma and malaria, I felt that someone should make an internet for people such as Kriete and Real-McKeighan and their readers in America so that the likes of me, myself and I never get to read such things again.

At Mwanga’s Church, “Kriete met a girl named Spae who had asthma and couldn’t attend school until she was healed.”

And the journalist, Ms. Real-McKeighan, actually wrote: ‘Some might wonder why miracles occur there.’ and then published Kriete’s considered opinion that: “I think they’re desperate. They don’t have the money or the medical technology that we have here. And they just believe God and heal them and many are healed.”

Putting aside your incredulous look and the feeling that someone should be slapped in the face, wouldn’t that suggest that venturing into technology and medicine being so difficult it might be better for there to be more desperate people in the world so we just pursue vast miracle healing of diseases?

How are the authorities in the United States not arresting Kriete for something? Are they off duty because of the government shutdown?

Counselled – so they get proper legal advice; Educated – so their minds are opened to the realities of 2019 in the real world; or investigated for outright fraud because nobody can be so stupid as to fly an aeroplane into a country and drive a vehicle along tarmac roads for 200kms then say it’s ‘Bible times’.

2019: new year, new plan – no resolutions

2019: new year, new plan – no resolutions

I HAVE made New Year’s Resolutions before, like an ordinary person, and broken them before, like an ordinary person.

I didn’t stop making Resolutions out of some weakness or inner strength. I just felt that too many years of these attempts needed a new approach, and so far it’s working better than the past.

My fail points, as an ordinary person, were numerous: the Resolutions themselves were difficult because they were simplistic; the process was doomed because it was scheduled yet impulsive; keeping these Resolutions was near-impossible because they were just statements with the most unrealistic timelines.

New Year’s Resolutions always reminded me of the Uganda Cranes player back in the 1990s who told my brother how their coach at the time would show up during the half-time break and tell them, while clapping one hand into the other: “Yongera mu amaanyi!” (‘Put in more energy!’)

This went on game after game and they kept losing game after game till one day they mutinied and asked him: “Naye tuwongere mu amaanyi tutya?!” (‘Exactly WTF are we supposed to do and how?!’)

See, bila mupango the ordinary person always stands little chance of getting anything done. Hence the definition of ‘implementation’ as “the process of putting a decision or plan into effect; execution.”

The ‘plan’ with New Year’s Resolutions always seemed to be: “Say words. Do things.”

Most chaps who said, “I will Drink less alcohol in the New Year” or words to that effect found themselves back down the same road.

Week One was always easy because when you are coming out of the holiday season you automatically imbibe less alcohol. There are fewer parties, there is less money, work has resumed and inconveniences alcoholic pursuits, and so on and so forth.

But if you haven’t computed how much alcohol you drank last year, you can’t tell whether the amount you are drinking in the New Year is “less”.

“I will Stop drinking alcohol” has its own issues.

I knew a guy called Daudi who pushed the envelope for about two months then found himself being sent in one general direction. Because of his new non-alcoholic schedule he started spending more time at home.

(I personally know this to be dangerous to one’s mental health if one is unprepared for it, but that’s another story that involves a meeting called by my domestic staff demanding my absence.)

See, Daudi, for instance, would find himself doing unnecessary things and getting stuck at one conclusion. One day he tackled a bouquet of flowers that had been placed in a large see-through vase of water filled only halfway.

He couldn’t walk me through the thinking process that suggested this was a problem. But eventually found he had to wipe a table and mop the floor, only to face an irate wife who couldn’t believe the flower arrangement she was taking to some bridal shower had been destroyed.

As she told him off he had one thought running through his mind: “Or I go to the bar?”

Some days later, something made him try out D-I-Y and he chose to paint part of a verandah wall. As he was buying up materials he was mentally patting himself on the back with thoughts like: “Kale, that could have been three beers.” and “Imagine! There I would have bought two Coconuts (Waragi ones)!”

Hours into the project, however, he began to appreciate the different professions that exist out there. His paint wouldn’t stick to the wall and the colour looked different from the one in the Pinterest photo. He broke down and called a painter who slapped him in the brain by asking, “Did you sand the walls?”

What was that, even?

As expected, he hung up with the thought: “Or I go to the bar?”

But he had to clean up before attempting to leave, and as he did so he found mournful thoughts in his head such as: “Kale, that could have been three beers!” and “Imagine! There I could have bought two Coconuts!”

Yeah, like any ordinary person, he was in the bar before long, appreciating the bartender’s professionalism.

If only he’d planned it, I explained, he would have stood a chance. He should have replaced his alcohol with another pursuit or set of pursuits – including flower arrangements and wall-painting, but gone at them systematically.

“See, you didn’t just go to a bar and start drinking large amounts of alcohol,” I explained to him, “It took a while for you to learn how to drink, what not to drink, how to deal with mixing alcohol and what not to mix, and dealing with the hangovers, right?”

Of course.

So, logic would have it, his plan required him to first learn the alcohol replacement activities before engaging in them – all of which would have taken enough time for him to be weaned off the alcohol consumption and being in a bar situation.

Bila mupango, nothing will happen. You need a plan in order to implement.

So all those statements that people keep making fwaaa will go nowhere and will do so very slowly because a year is LOOOONG!

And the idea behind a plan is to borrow a leaf from companies or corporate entities. None of them goes into business with the objective of “Making a profit”. <— say something like that during a job interview and you’ve failed.

Those organisations – the successful ones – go into their business year with a clear profit objective and specific targets, with plans of how to achieve them, which they employ people to carry out with frequent checks along the way to ensure they are on track.

The specificity of the targets companies set for themselves will not accept, for instance, an objective (Resolution) like: “I will Go to the Gym.” because there is no clear end result of that.

If your resolution is to go to the gym you could drive there every single day and without setting one foot out of your car, drive on to a bar nearby to find a frustrated paint-splattered Daudi.

The person who sets out to “Go to the Gym AND WORKOUT at least Two Times A Week” is more likely to attract the attention of serious people.

Companies will set targets which will be cascaded to their staff in a way that everybody gets their own individual targets that they must perform certain tasks (aka ‘work’) to achieve.

You could do the same – if your objective (again – Resolution) is to read one book from start to end every month throughout the year, in order to develop your mind and establish a book reading habit, then your spouse should be tasked with ensuring you have a fresh book every month, and the children must leave you alone for one hour every evening to do your reading as they do their homework.

These companies then ensure that they have serious managers who, in most cases, are incentivised differently from staff. The roles of the managers are many but include keeping an eye on targets, making sure the staff stay on track in the right direction so that company objectives are met, and motivating the staff.

As an individual you might not hire a manager but you could get what a close friend of mine calls an ‘Accountability Partner’ – a person who keeps you accountable, on track and somehow motivated. By the way money is not, apparently, motivation; but if you are motivated by money then give your Accountability Partner money to give you if you stay on track.

That”s like placing a bet on yourself to hit your target. I know a guy called Okello (not really but it doesn’t matter) who quit smoking because he wagered Ushs500,000 at The Junction Bar in Ntinda one night that he would do so. The guys at The Junction Bar are so widespread and have a vibrant WhatsApp group so there are few places Okello can go to and sneak a cigarette.

To make matters worse, they told his wife about the wager and added her to the supervision list. I say ‘matters worse’ because should he risk Ushs500,000 leaving their household she will kill him that day; and she has been fighting hard to make him quit smoking so…

…Okello has about 100 Accountability Partners for his no smoking objective.

The list of possibilities in implementing your New Year’s Resolutions is long and, for me, exciting because of the planning element. This year I’ve been asked to share my personal plan but my Accountability Partners (the family – who also had to do the same) are the only ones getting the actual plan in full.

The rest of you can take this as a glimpse into what someone’s 2019 could look like if they chose to plan their ‘Resolutions’. The last slide indicates some of the routines a person following this plan would have to follow.

A plan without routines makes you an aimless adult – and that’s an insult.

 

a random weekend episode with a wheel spanner in Hoima


Wheel Nut

IF you’re having a mildly bad time on any given day, call my Dad to give you a recount of any ordinary episode in his life upcountry.

Like his Saturday a couple of weekends ago, in Hoima, when he set off for an extremely important family event (we should all have been there but life being what it is, we were not) and had ordered life to ensure respectability all through.

The event was slated to begin at 1000hrs so he was in Hoima town by 0930hrs, but stopped to top up his fuel tank at the biggest fuel station there – a prudent move because the truck he was driving had been in a garage for many months and this was its maiden trip on discharge. As such, a few things were not working fine, including the fuel gauge.

Being a strict Accountant, and even more old school than myself, he kept count of the litres therein and calculated the mileage (not kilometres) mentally all the way but tended to avoid taking unnecessary risks.

As the fueling process came to an end, a fellow nearby pointed out that a tyre needed changing.

He was right.

Changing a tyre, for a man of my father’s age, experience, and intelligence, would take just a few minutes. He taught me how to do this at an early age, hence my predilection for Land Rovers over snazzy, shiny cars, even though there are Landys that fit that bill.

“Fair enough,” said the old man, suspecting correctly that the months of garage admission had probably stripped the car of essential tools.

Confirming that the unauthorised property allocation had taken place, he asked the garage fellows to oblige.

They readily agreed and shortly thereafter another fellow approached the car with the attitude of someone providing the relevant tools.

In one hand he held a car jack, the type that we used to have many years ago and still exists quite obviously in many places here. In the other hand – nothing.

“Good,” said the old man, even throwing in a “Thank you” with a wry smile while asking for the rest of the kit.

“We don’t have other things,” they said.

At this point, we can only imagine the looks being exchanged in silence all round thereafter.

I have no idea what the fellows at the fuel station look like so I can’t work out how sheepish they appeared but I know full well what my father’s facial expression was right there and then – running from irritation through incredulous and to that one where he was straining not to slap someone.

Surely, at a fuel station such as this in the major town of an oil-producing region in a country on the brink of middle-income status, this couldn’t be happening in 2018?!

It was.

Not all was lost, however; as one shamefaced fellow suggested that the old man go over to another fuel station within the town that might likely have the requisite tools.

Time check: 1000hrs.

He was late for his event.

Either way, at this point he needed to actually fix this tyre situation otherwise he would be doing this all over again in the evening at an even more remote point.

He drove over at a respectable speed and presented his problem to a fresh set of fellows at the second fuel station. They understood it well.

One fellow shuttled off and returned a couple of minutes later with a wheel spanner.

The old man took it up happily and reached out for the other pieces of the puzzle. He was not ready for the consistency of the second hand offering – nothing.

He asked where the rest of the tools required for this operation were.

“Haaa…” replied the fellow.

If you don’t know that ‘Haaa’, I’ll try to make it clear: This is where a guy says, “Ha” and keeps the “aaa” part going a bit longer while tilting his head a little bit and keeping his mouth open for a bit longer yet.

In English, it means: “I’m afraid I am speechless at your request and cannot express how screwed you are, at this point in time.”

My old man, holding up the wheel spanner, insisted on the full version. Because he is not aware of candid camera television, he had no false hopes that the comedy would end soon. And his age bracket cannot spontaneously shout out appropriate phrases like: “WTF?!?!”

The wretched fuel station fellow, nevertheless, explained that whereas they had the tool as presented, they were not in possession of a car jack to raise the motor vehicle and allow things to flow smoothly as they should.

On one side, a rather stern non-plussed look was aimed at the fellow wielding a wheel spanner. On the other side, the fellow sent back an innocent look of earnest bewilderment over the vehemence in the face of helpfulness.

A painful exchange ensued, kept barely civil by the 70 years’ experience of similarly frustrating comedy that my old man has accumulated.

Eventually, another chap with more authority showed up and said he had a solution but that it was available from a mechanic based elsewhere but quite close.

“How long will this take?” my old man asked, skeptically.

“He will be here soon…”

My old man protested the ‘soon’, but the chaps insisted it was genuine and that they believed the word to mean “in a short time to come”.

Unconvinced, the old man proposed that he take their tool over to the first fuel station where he was certain there was another piece that would provide a solution to the problem. They did not know the proverb, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” or any variant of it involving an unidentified mechanic possibly being ‘nearby’ at an undisclosed location.

They counter-insisted that their unidentified mechanic friend at the undisclosed location ‘nearby’ would be there within the indeterminate period of time they defined as ‘soon’ and even offered the old man a seat.

“But how long is this ‘soon’?” he asked, weakening and losing that small but significant battle.

“Ten minutes,” they said, with that confidence that you normally recognise after about ten minutes to be basic bollocks. Basic bollocks designed to shut you up.

It worked.

He took his seat and, in that warm, slow-moving heat, he leaned back.

Big mistake. He woke up thirty five minutes later with a jolt – probably dreaming about tyre-changing tools in the after-life complaining about being separated so illogically.

The rest of the fuel station operations were running as normal in full swing, without the tool he required and any care for his problem and presence.

Aghast, he quickly tracked down the fellow with the wheel spanner he required, and the one who had promised an unidentified mechanic was on his way with a jack.

“Haaa…”

Patience was of paramount importance here.

“The man hasn’t come. It seems he doesn’t have one,” said the chaps, with confidence.

The old man’s temperature rose, not because of the climate around him.

“Enough!” he declared, “I am taking this spanner with me to the other fuel station. I will bring it back when I am done!”

Their ability to resist had been greatly diminished but they stated their reluctance for the record, from a safe distance, and waved him on.

He sped over to the first fuel station, and impressed them with his possession of the part they didn’t have but that was essential for use with the one that they DID possess.

Eager to be done with the entertainment, he supervised the work closely. Ten minutes in, they still hadn’t managed to make a single wheel nut budge.

My old man realised that the pneumatic wheel spanner at the City Tyres bay in Kampala had tightened the nuts so much so that the raw strength and enthusiasm of these particular Banyoro offered little hope.

But they were optimistic, as usual, and called upon their ancestral strength, ingenuity, and experience. You may know that the practice, in such cases, is for the person faced with tight nuts to take up a thick metallic pipe and introduce it into the equation for greater leverage.

They did so, making the wheel spanner set longer and allowing for the solution as follows: rather than using the arm and shoulder muscles to move the wheel nuts the men took to the task by jumping up and down onto the end of the pipe inserted into the wheel spanner.

Twice.

Then the wheel spanner snapped.
Snap

Into two pieces.

The fellow who had been hopping up and down onto the pipe fell to the ground, a short distance away from the piece that had broken off the wheel spanner, and just metres below my old man’s priceless look of disbelief. Nobody laughed.

“Haaaa,” said one fellow close by.

If you don’t know that ‘Haaaa’, I’ll try to make it clear: This one sounds much like ‘Haaa’ but with a slightly longer delivery and less of the head tilting.

In English it means: “This unexpected turn of events is quite unfortunate but I can’t be blamed for it on my own and, therefore, will not offer an apology right away. Nevertheless, suffice to note that we are, at this point in time, screwed.”

Time check: 1300hrs.

Attending the event had become a remote possibility by now. Plus, the tyre was actually flat.

The old man stopped communication with the fellows around him and gave the matter some thought. Five minutes away there was a shop that sold tools. These tools included a wheel spanner.

Fifteen minutes later he was back with a new wheel spanner and a resolve not to accept any further nonsense.

Thirty minutes after that he was handing over the new wheel spanner to the flummoxed fellows at the second fuel station, along with a lecture about their need to be more sensibly equipped to provide the services expected of them.

Time check: 1500hrs.

He got to the event thirty minutes later to find it hadn’t started on time either, by luck and providence. He was just in time for a most crucial part of the ceremony, and didn’t have to explain why he was so damn late.

One thing’s for sure: he will never drive into a fuel station again and assume ANYTHING will go as planned thereafter.