HEADING out to a regional meeting in Arusha last week to discuss the importance of business over politics regardless of how related the two realms are, I sweltered in the warm air of Entebbe International Airport and wondered – as usual – why it was so hot inside the terminal building.
I always refer to this as a ‘phenomenon’ because dictionaries define the word as, variously, “a remarkable person, thing, or event” and “a fact or situation that is observed to exist or happen, especially one whose cause or explanation is in question”.
You would think that the Departure Lounge of an International Airport in a tropical country would be fitted out with functional air conditioning but the person in charge of this has been unconvinced for a while. I say unconvinced because there are some six-foot high air conditioning machines standing on the floor but they don’t get switched on.
We will return to this shortly – but at another airport.
Normally, by the time you are at the Departure Gates you will have spent time juggling toy cups in the one eatery at the airport, while trying not to buy the grossly overpriced food prepared by people whose interest in the word ‘gourmet’ cannot possibly go beyond how to score it in Scrabble.
It is confounding. The very best airports in the world, the ones that enjoy visitor numbers and positive reviews in the millions and hence boost their economies, deliberately do the opposite of this.
And they do not necessarily use government monies – inviting ten restaurant chains to set up outlets there with sensible, tasty, properly priced food seems to be easy. Plugging in air conditioning machines and fans even more easy.
During our meetings in Arusha, I didn’t broach the topic directly but most of our discussion was around how to integrate business into regional integration and how handy organisations like the East African Business Council could be in doing this.
We said all the right things – including how we would “foster sustained economic growth and prosperity in the region” and “promote the interests of the EAC business community” plus “create new business opportunities” while “enhancing global competitiveness of EAC businesses”…
On our way out through Kilimanjaro Airport I followed the directional signs to the airport restaurant and found myself on the top (first) floor, quite alone. The three tables present seemed to have been procured from someone’s 1980s dining room, so I made myself at home.
Twenty minutes later I discovered there was no interest in me or the potential outflow of cash from my wallet and laptop bag. I didn’t feel disrespected, but asked for help when two cleaners turned up nearby.
One sacrificed her precious time and sent me downstairs using halting speech while her body language sent me further away in a manner I can’t repeat in polite society.
At the cafe downstairs a waitress eventually walked over to us, most likely because we made noises in her direction, and sullenly agreed to take our orders but only if we paid in advance since their electronic systems were in limbo.
We forced her to take our money and sat back to wait for the meals as ordered. Some time later, an Asian couple walked in and took a table behind us. As the gentleman walked past us towards our sullen waitress, she hailed out a jolly: “Hi!”
I was alarmed, and turned back sharply in case she was suffering a medical emergency. My colleague, Jim Mwine Kabeho, was also quite taken aback. Our jaws dropped to the ground as we watched her miraculous transformation.
She engaged the Asian man as if they were long lost friends, offering various suggestions for the couple’s meals (she had told us: “You can have, like, Burgers but with no chips. Potatoes are finished.”) and lighting up the area with a wide smile.
The Asian wife walked up and asked her husband, “What is the woman saying?” in a manner I considered rude but who was I to protest?
Completing our dismal meal was quite an ordeal, as we had to keep asking for condiments that she brought us one by one, slapping them onto the table as if to ward us off in the future.
Eventually we left her station and went to the Departure Gate where, once again, the air conditioning phenomenon returned.
We were sweating within minutes. The two of us had chosen a spot right next to the six-foot high air conditioning units but they were simply not switched on.
Jim gave way after a while and walked past paying passengers fanning themselves with newspapers and baseball caps, till he got to the Security personnel – the only staff in view – to demand that the situation be fixed.
He was prepared for a difficult but heated discussion and stood at full height in case it escalated into a fight.
“Eh?” asked the young security officer, “Yours is not on?”
And that’s when Jim noticed that it was much cooler in that area where they make you take off your belts and shoes and unpack your underwear because the scanner saw something in your suitcase.
The security chap walked across the room and flicked a switch, then returned to give Jim a thumbs-up.
Ten minutes later, the room had cooled down.
Is that what’s missing at Entebbe Airport? Someone to flick a switch so the air conditioning can start running? Where are the switches for the improved restaurant facilities? And the ones to increase the number of sockets so we can plug in devices as we await flights?
A FEW weeks ago I met a most amazing person in Maputo, Mozambique and sat flabbergasted along with 200 other people in a large conference room as she told us her crazy, feasible and totally undesirable (to us) plan for the rest of her life.
Her plan was so unfathomable and yet so amazing that I entered into an uncomfortably nauseous mental space trying to work out whether I wanted her to meet my children and inspire them or to stay tens of thousands of miles away from them so she doesn’t spread the crazy ideas she is implementing.
She came over to a Coca-Cola Beverages Africa conference as a Guest Speaker and to be quite frank our expectations of her when she was announced were on a whole different planet from the person who jumped up onto the stage.
Most of us confessed to ourselves that when we read, “Dr. Adriana Marais” up on the electronic stage backdrop, we expected a scientific nerd-type person kitted up as Doctor-people tend to be.
In her jeans and casual shirt rolled up to expose many bangles, and a wide smile that didn’t distract us from her braids, she appeared to be the ordinary type of girl you would be happy to chat with at a bar on any evening. (There is a whole other story about THAT too!)
She stood there on stage in front of the massive screen and started talking about space travel, saying things in English that we found hard to understand for a while until we just had to accept that we didn’t want to understand or believe her.
Since her childhood (five years of age) she has been excited and enthusiastic about space and space travel. Plus, along the way, she was so disturbed by our poor resource utilisation on earth she figured we would one day run out and became determined to be part of the solution.
Hence her mission to leave Planet Earth and go to discover new life forms elsewhere.
She was not talking about a bus trip or a plane ride.
Dr. Adriana Marais is “an aspiring Martian”. She is one of six Africans who are part of a group of 100 candidates to join the ‘Mars One’ project – to establish a human colony on Planet Mars by 2025.
They will go to Mars and live there, NEVER TO RETURN.
You need to sit down to try to understand this properly – just to try – but for the longer story one has to go to the online edition of this (www.skaheru.com).
She described the trip to Mars, and their planned mission, and said many other things that made us all wonder how crazy her and her mates were – which she always considers a compliment.
“The ones crazy enough to think that they can change the world, or create a new one, are the ones who do,” she told me. In any case, she told our audience, space travel on its own spurs innovation here on earth; in the year Apollo 13 happened, so more children in the United States were inspired to do Engineering and the results govern some of our lives today – from the mobile phone and computers we use to the power of the internet.
The training for living on Mars is long and intense, and the trip there alone takes seven (7) months. As she said this, all the people in the room who had complained about the long, two-leg five-hour journey to Mozambique felt quite silly.
And on that trip, she casually told us, “your muscles degrade over the seven months, but since we are not coming back to earth so…it’s okay!”
And when they get to Mars, they will embark on creating water and food and even breathable air. Their disciplines are different – hers being Physics and then Quantum Mechanics – and the selection will be done so they can start a new life and population and world on Planet Mars from almost nothing.
They will send certain machinery and equipment months before they go, which will be assembled by robots when they land there (this is not a lie or a dream – people are seriously doing this while here we have friends who can’t scan a document straight the right way up…).
“We all have resources of life and resources of time. Be careful with them!” she told us, and got my skin tingling.
Travel, mind you, is embedded in her very DNA. Her family left France at some point hundreds of years ago and arrived at the Cape of Good Hope on Voorschuten in 1688 – a trip of very many months to a place where the availability of resources and was very uncertain.
I made the determination to one day get my children to meet her or read a lot about her, so they are as motivated by her very existence as I was.
When I asked her, later on, if she had ever disadvantaged as a girl or woman, she told me she hadn’t.
“In the morning before my first day of school, my mother told me never to let anyone tell me I couldn’t do anything because I was a girl. I remember thinking that was strange and wondering why she had said it. Then lo and behold, on the first day of school the (female) teacher asked the ‘strong boys’ to help move the desks. Remembering what my mom had said, I jumped up and said ‘I am strong’ and helped to move the desks. And this is the spirit in which I live. We need to avoid judging others or allowing ourselves to be judged on the basis of race, gender, culture or background,” she said.
This is what I want my children to be like – but I don’t want them to go all the way to Mars never to return. Not yet.
Here’s the interview in full:
Have any of the first 100 of you been taken through psychiatric tests? Most sci-fi films we watch (our experience – the majority of us lay people – with outer space) contain people who engage in terrifying criminal acts because of mental health issues, and most people would ask how sure you are this won’t happen to your group.
“Are you crazy?!” is a common question I am asked as a volunteer to move permanently to Mars. Perhaps. But I take this as a compliment. As we’ve heard, the ones crazy enough to think that they can change the world, or create a new one, are the ones who do. A good Martian settler will have showed an impressive level of sanity and purpose by having trained for decades before leaving Earth in STEM, medicine, counseling, team work, fitness, growing food, working in isolation, telling jokes when things go wrong, and much more, to ensure the survival of the team in the harsh conditions there.
When did your love for space travel and such extreme exploration actually begin? At what age or stage, considering that you made your decision as soon as you read the headline about MarsOne?
When I read in the paper for the first time about the possibility of applying to go to Mars on a one-way mission, I froze. Suddenly a strange early childhood memory rushed back to me so clearly: We were riding plastic scooters up and down the driveway where I played after school some days, and when we stopped I asked my two friends, “If you could go into space on a spaceship to see what was there, further than we’ve been before, but you knew that you wouldn’t come back, would you go? Just to see what was there…”
They wrinkled their noses and scooted off, not understanding what I meant, while I said determinedly, “I would!”. We must have been five or six.
Humans are explorers by nature and now for the first time the possibility to expand our society beyond Earth has arisen. I can think of no greater purpose than being a part of this adventure, whether going in person or creating awareness that enables future generations to go.
What did you study, exactly, and why?
I studied physics initially because of thoughts of becoming an astronaut, but soon became interested in quantum mechanics after learning about the impossibility of observing something without interacting with it, and therefore disturbing it in some way. I have been fascinated with the implication ever since – that the observer is always inextricably part of the system under observation, and that the way a question is posed can influence the answer, from the level of human interaction all the way down to measurements performed on single particles.
I began to study photosynthesis on a molecule by molecule, photon by photon level as a part of a field called quantum biology. This led me to the famous question, “What is Life?”
In my opinion, if life can exist on Earth, in an unimaginably large universe, it must also exist or have existed elsewhere. The study of living systems on Earth, and the mystery of how life emerged here, is always going to be severely limited by a lack of precise knowledge of the conditions under which it emerged around four (4) billion years ago, in a possibly singular event.
Billions of years of evolution of life on Earth have culminated in the possibility of us calling another planet home for the very first time. Untold discoveries lie in wait, including the possibility of finding evidence of life there. The reason I want to go to Mars is simple: The allure of the unknown is far more powerful than the comfort of the known. And the possibility to contribute to the first off-Earth settlement, and potentially find evidence of life on another planet, is something I would give up almost anything to do.
What did your parents say when you told them you were applying for MarsOne and would never return?
They are worried about the logistical feasibility of the mission, and that they would miss me, but they are also proud and fascinated by this proposed adventure.
They likened the mission to that of our ancestors, refugees who escaped religious persecution and all the people they had ever known in Europe to come to South Africa in the 1600s, with no idea of what challenges lay ahead and no chance of affording a return trip. I must have this inclination to explore in my blood.
They know me best of all, and have said it is totally in line with my character to have volunteered for this mission.
What did your bank and landlord (separately) say, whether you have a mortgage or not?
Well, apparently plans to leave the planet doesn’t effect one’s credit rating, so I plan to keep paying my bond in cryptocurrency from Mars if I haven’t done so by the time I leave 🙂
Did your parents support your choice of education or study course all through or did they ever try to push you in another direction?
My parents have always encouraged me in everything I have done. I wouldn’t be the courageous person I am today without my parents having always allowed me to ask an exhausting amount of questions and to make my own decisions.
Imposing your ideas on how another human should live based on your personal experiences can restrict that person from achieving their full potential. Love is accepting and supporting! I am grateful for having such wonderful parents!
When you leave Planet Earth and get to Mars never to return, what do you think (at this time) you will miss the most?
Things I won’t miss include: Inequality. Advertising. Pollution. Long queues. two-minute showers in drought-stricken Cape Town (Jokes – our showers on Mars will probably be shorter) 🙂
What I will miss is life – all the people I love who have meant so much to me, all the animals we share our habitat with, all the plants with which we have been living side-by-side for so many eras… I’ll miss being able to breathe and smell the air, the feeling of the wind, sea and sun, the feeling of the ground on bare feet. I’ll miss good steak, and good wine, which I understand after my time with several winemakers, may be hard to produce on Mars… (The oak barrel is an issue).
Did you ever feel disadvantaged as a girl or a woman at any point in your life? When was that and why? (I ask this because I am a father of girls, brother to my sisters, son to my mother(s) and husband to my wife, and I want them to emulate you but NEVER to leave me so absolutely!)
No I have not, but I do have unstoppable determination and a thick skin when I need it.
In the morning before my first day of school, my mother told me never to let anyone tell me I couldn’t do anything because I was a girl. I remember thinking that was strange and wondering why she had said it. Then lo and behold, on the first day of school the (female) teacher asked the ‘strong boys’ to help move the desks.
Remembering what my mom had said, I jumped up and said ‘I am strong’ and helped to move the desks. And this is the spirit in which I live. We need to avoid judging others or allowing ourselves to be judged on the basis of race, gender, culture or background.
In order to create a future of which we can be proud, we need all of our contributions, and for this we need to view each and every human as the unique, precious resource of intelligence and life that they are.
ON a sojourn in Nairobi and South Africa a short while ago I took along with me a newly-acquired hoodie branded ‘I’m So Uganda! #ondaba?’
Normally, I take my travels decked out in a series of busy t-shirts branded “MunyaUganda” underneath the Uganda flag and accompanied by a tag-line such as “Mpaka kuffa”, “So Life is Tye Maber Loyo” and “kandi I’m Gifted by Nature”. Some of the t-shirts also carry tag-lines taken from our National Anthem such as, “Peace and Friendship” and “Together we’ll always stand”.
The #ondaba brand, though, is clean and stands out distinct as I discovered all through my time away and in that hoodie – starting with a young lady in a Duty Free shop at Entebbe who said, “Wow!” as I walked past and smiled back, thinking it was all about me and not the #ondaba hoodie.
One particular day on that trip I walked to the Nairobi Hospital to visit an ailing friend and then walked all the way to Kenyatta Market to experience the ordinary man’s juicy nyama choma, before circling back to my hotel through the Uhuru Park.
Part of the motivation for my trek was to test the street crime system and prove that this was no longer Nairobbery as we used to know it.
It wasn’t, but I was still trepidatious for a long distance because of the number of looks that came my way until I realised they were all aimed at the hoodie – the other part of the motivation for my trek. It wasn’t the stitching or the mix of the deep blue colour with red lining and yellow lines – it was that declaration: ‘I’m So Uganda! #ondaba?’
I eventually got back to my hotel justifiably thirsty and headed for the swimming pool bar to rehydrate. There, a dapper fellow in expensive sunglasses who was facing me as I walked in turned away from his companion to declare: “Wow!” followed by, “Eh! Eh! Eh! I like that!”
I thought I had mis-heard and found that the only seat I could take was at the table next to theirs but before I could take it he waved and started up a conversation – around the hoodie.
What did the words mean? What triggered it? How could he get one? His companion, a polite and equally well-spoken young lady, readily agreed with him.
They were not Ugandan but were *this* close to changing citizenship over ‘#ondaba’. We progressed the discussion as I texted one of the architects of the campaign to hand this guy over to her, as we had arrived at a point where the Kenya version was on the table and he was ready to draft partnership documents.
Later, as I left for South Africa, the ‘#ondaba’ hoodie caused tears to well up in the eyes of an attendant at the airport lounge. As I was responding to the young man’s demand that I explain the entire campaign to him, a guest at the lounge came over for service at his station and interrupted us.
Halfway through serving her, he did the impossible and self-distracted back to me to discuss ‘#ondaba’ further – till I sent him back to keep his job. He was taken by the campaign because he had done something similar back when Kenya erupted into post-election violence.
On his own, earning a humble salary as a blue-collar worker, he designed, printed and distributed t-shirts free of charge to his fellow Kenyans to build or restore their patriotism. He wanted to join the ‘#ondaba’ campaign.
“This is so patriotic, man! I love it! You know, we Africans need to build more patriotism,” he told me in his impassioned speech.
“When that problem happened here and people were dying (the post-election violence in Kenya in 2007) I felt so bad. My people were dying but my people were the ones killing them! I decided to make t-shirts with a message telling all Kenyans that we are one. Tribe doesn’t matter more than who we are as Kenyans. And even as Africans,” he said, this young man with a humble job but very noble aspirations.
I left him after exchanging contact details and a few hours later I was in South Africa where the keen interest in the message on the hoodie was consistent.
There, in South Africa, at least three people stopped me for more about ‘#Ondaba’ on that first night – and I got to my hotel late that evening.
The story behind the campaign should be a challenge for all of us in our respective countries. The group that made ‘#ondaba’ got together under the comments section of Amos Wekesa’s Facebook posts rallying Ugandans to promote tourism on their own if they thought the government wasn’t doing enough.
Herbert Opio, Denis Mubende, Patrick Ngabirano, Prossy Munabuddu, Belinda Namutebi and a few others discussed ideas and created a powerpoint presentation that they delivered to the Minister of Tourism at the time, with a plan to go all the way to the President.
They realised very quickly they would hit a dead end after lots of talk.
So they brought it to the people instead and agreed on #Ondaba as a social media hashtag, for Ugandans to use whenever and wherever they pleased to show what they were doing having fun and enjoying Uganda.
Then they made t-shirts and hoodies to take it further and…voila! People like Muhereza Kyamutetera and Solomon Oleny joined in and now it’s a whole organisation that is poised to go continent-wide!
The rest is history in the making and you will hear or read or be part of it as it grows. All because ordinary people like you and I and the young man making coffee in the airline lounge, took action to promote their countries.
We can all play a part – we don’t need lots of money; we need lots of heart for country.
IT’S been a couple of weeks of me ranting about AGOA (Africa Growth Opportunities Act) and the awkwardness of the situation surrounding textiles made in Africa being stopped from entering the United States under a commercial arrangement that benefits the Africans.
I am clearly not done with this yet but providence has stepped forward, dressed up in an outfit made of irony, courtesy of the ‘Black Panther’.
This irony, I hasten to add, is not because the movie is making ordinary, Africa-bound Africans gush exuberantly and dress up in costumes to celebrate our African-ness over a movie that is really an American’s version of Africa.
No; Africa, I am happy to declare that we have another Growth Opportunity in front of us today if we choose to ACT upon it!
That term “African clothing” is too general to be considered accurate or even sensible on its own, because #AfricaIsNotCountry. It is difficult to categorise all the clothing of all the different tribes across these 54 countries. In fact, some of these tribes have different clothing patterns that differ between CLANS!
Gwe, Africa is complicated…but therein lies the opportunity.
We saw it on the red carpet of the Premiere: Part-time Ugandan David Oyelowo, who played Robert Katende in ‘Queen of Katwe’, showed up in a kitenge shirt-and-trouser outfit that many women on this continent declared ill-advised but that drove the point home like a brilliantly coloured assegai.
One of the other Ugandans there, Daniel Kaluuya (W’kabi in the movie), turned up in a kanzu and made headlines for both the outfit and awards that will continue rolling out for months and years to come.
Around the rest of the world it was picked up by Africans of all walks of life with access to the internet, contacts among socialites or enough money to buy a ticket to ‘Black Panther’.
But the rest of us have the opportunity to make people the world over learn the meaning of kitenge, kanzu and busuuti (all words recognised by my computer dictionaries because I MAKE THEM LEARN).
There is more irony to how, until recently. it was mostly bazungu we saw wearing kitenge dresses and carrying kitenge bags. For years and years, we had these beautiful pieces of fabric around us but we insisted on wearing bland suits and ties like we are clueless Europeans, sweltering in the heat of the tropical sun.
Until recently, I am proud to point out, because a few years ago ordinary Ugandans like you and I started toting those kitenge bags around. Clever young Ugandans took to customising shoes, hats and bags with bits of colourful kitenge and “African print” cloth to brighten them up and make them stand out from the crowd of others.
Thanks to the ‘Black Panther’, we will now do a lot more of this. And instead of exporting denims and t-shirts made in Uganda, we might actually start making our own designs and exporting those to a global market that WANTS them.
After that, the sky is the limit. Once we have dropped the shackles of imported suits and ties, t-shirts and jeans and adopted the Wakanda attitude evidenced by our clothing, maybe next we will choose to use our own names rather than English, Hebrew and Italian ones.
I desperately hope that this is the dawn of a new age on this continent; not just another passing phase during which hundreds of millions of dollars will be banked elsewhere and our the self-esteem or validation of the African is found in relation to some new type of master channeled by Hollywood.
Benard Acema* whipped up quite the storm this week with his post The Racism Behind Kampala; most of the responses being the “What? How Could I Not Have Seen This Before?!” kind that satisfied the mind of a person who yearns for social change out of consciousness.
Some of the responses, though, ranged from those stating there could NOT have been racism in Uganda to others who claimed to have read all six thousand (6,000) words and taken away just one sentence in summary.
My favourite response came from Frank Morris Matovu, an Architect whose reaction was to calmly upload onto his Facebook wall more than ninety (90) pages of a 1955 book titled, ‘Town Planning In Uganda; A Brief Description Of The Efforts Made By Government To Control Development Of Urban Areas From 1915 to 1955‘, by Henry Kendall OBE, F.R.I.B.A., M.T.P.I, Director of Town Planning, Uganda.
Benard Acema’s intellectual and literary effort has proved̀ invaluable in many respects, including possibly causing a change to our education curriculum if the noises made by some of the people in charge are anything to go by.
Benard Acema tells me he had not read Kendall’s book by the time he wrote his thesis.
Those with literal minds and short fuses should go with the first dictionary definition of the word above, when dealing with Benard Acema’s work. The young man did what few others essay (no pun), linking his observations to thought and realisation and a little bit of research and then leading the rest of us to discovery.
Benard Acema’s thesis will be further dissected, proven or contested by various others in the worlds of social media, academia and even public administration, all of which will exclude me for now.
I only came here to share a few pages from Kendall’s book to aid your reading of Benard Acema, and to tell you to get a soft copy of the same directly from Frank Matovu. (He does not sell the book, but to aid his work compiling and storing such works, please feel free to make a modest contribution by way of Mobile Money to his number – 0758 483 934.)
But before you read the book, don’t be afraid of words like racism, colonialism and imperialism. Acknowledge the fact that they were a reality back then when the colonialists first took over Uganda. Nothing about that should be surprising. What we need to do, as many of the commenters said, is get rid of those ‘isms’ and their negative impacts where they may exist which includes dealing with both the big and the small items.
Do all three ‘isms’ still exist in Kampala, or Uganda? Benard Acema had valid points to make in that regard, that led to all that debate.
And now, on to the historical facts about settlement in Kampala (and other urban centres), and the question of racism or otherwise:
Of course there was land reserved for Africans and other land for non-Africans.
Read that one again, please?
And then take these:
Mind you, the mere mention of race might not necessarily prove that there was racism afoot, but again that was the reality of those times, as stated later on in the book from the actual Minutes of a meeting of the Central Town Planning Board:
Naguru, for instance, was reserved for Africans:
And even if race was not the only consideration there was a way, for a while, of working the formulae out that kept zones racially distinct using economics – since certain professions or trades seemed to be restricted (I said ‘for a while’) to particular races. The restriction of construction styles in some residential areas meant that if you couldn’t afford to build a certain type of house you couldn’t live in a certain neighbourhood…
This planning was neither restricted to Kampala alone, nor Uganda as a country.
And, again, economic reasons were part of the equation:
The same applied elsewhere, in many different ways, but as thousands of Ugandans have declared this week: It WASN’T OBVIOUS!
Which is why I still applaud for Benard Acema, because he tells me the thought occurred to him and kept niggling till he had put his thoughts down in writing – and they appear to be quite accurate. THIS is the stuff that academic study and problem solving is made of. The man clearly did not waste his education, and my hope is that he will continue with it at the same pace while the rest of us play catch up or raise younger children to be like him.
In the time being, all history, social studies and political science teachers, please make some small changes to your teaching texts?
*Benard Acema – Note that I use his name in full so as to ensure it is never forgotten, such that we all strive to educate our children to these heights so they are known for good work such as this.