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.

focus on the lower tier employees in the tourism, hospitality and investment sectors


Toilet Paper
Photo from: http://cache.emirates247.com/

WALKING into the washrooms at the Dubai International Airport late in the night a couple of weeks ago, I was surprised to be greeted by a fellow wearing a wide smile above his uniform and declaring, “Nice to see you again, sir!”

I was taken in for a few seconds and marvelled slightly at how he could remember one person among the millions that go through that airport. Was it my t-shirt with the Ugandan flag? The way I smile engagingly and project an electric personality when I am under pressure?

As I was calculating it, he stretched his hand out and pointed me to a specific toilet cubicle at the end. Since achieving adulthood, being chaperoned to the toilet has not been an option open to me, so I went to a nearby cubicle that I could see was available and clean.

“No!” the fellow shouted, “Here! Here!” and he gestured majestically with his entire arm held straight, pointing me to a specific one at the far end, lighting it up with his wide toothy smile.

Intimidated and unclear on the etiquette, I complied hesitantly, and the fellow actually went in before me and cleaned the clean toilet once again before exiting and, once again, presenting the cubicle grandly for me to use with another grand hand gesture.

It was like having my own toilet butler, and the anxiety that followed was intense to a point that I won’t go into details over, but suffice to say that my most urgent need became the need to tip the obsequious fellow, rather than biology. I succeeded at neither till much, much later.

I did spend my time in the cubicle well, though, working out that his politeness and claim that he had seen me before was all an act. His well-practiced performance was designed to keep tourism and hospitality flowing smoothly in Dubai. There was no way this guy could have recognised me so many, many months since I was last at that airport terminal – however prolific my attendance to toilet matters might have been then.

He was simply performing a duty that would keep customers (visitors, tourists, travellers) happy to be in any corner of the Dubai airport. Even in his lowly position of toilet cleaner, he was doing his utmost best to service everyone that he came into contact with so that even their toilet experience was rated five-star.

I sat unsuccessfully on that toilet seat thinking and waiting for him to stop being available for that disappointing moment when I shrugged to indicate that I hadn’t carried my wallet with me to give him a tip.

During that time, I remembered a porter at the Cape Town airport last year who insisted on pushing my trolley even after I told him I wasn’t in much need of the help.

“It’s okay, braah! I do this for free, don’t worry,” he replied, taking up a trolley, testing it for firmness, then lugging my bags onto it and leading me through the tax refund process.

This porter engaged me in conversation and told me how his role was to keep as many people as possible happy so that the three million tourists going through the Cape Town airport would double or even triple.

“Then we get more money as a country and things will be better!” he declared.

In his lowly position, he understood this quite well, and he knew that at the end of this process I would certainly give him a tip even if he had declared he didn’t want one. I did.

That Cape Town porter and the Dubai toilet guy are key players in the tourism sectors of both cities raking in five million (5million) and fifteen million (15million) overnight tourists respectively last year.

Those are the people that make the experience of a tourist or investor worth remembering; along with the clerks and secretaries who do the paperwork that determine how long it takes to go through a business process; and the waiters and waitresses who smile and speak politely and serve efficiently; and a whole range of other low cadre employees that we never really celebrate in this country.

Might our economic numbers improve if we focus more on this tier of employees in our service industry? Should we make efforts to professionalise this cadre of staff so that our tourists and investors flock to Uganda for more and more of what we have to offer?

Over to the people in charge – both public and private sector.

thanking one eva for representing Uganda so well in China – and calling on all Ugandans to wear that flag well


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The Selfie with one Yang in Beijing 

I APPLAUD a young Ugandan lady called Eva, whose second name I do not know and whose face I have never seen. All I know is that she is female, a Ugandan, and once lived in Beijing while studying something.

She now lives and works in Uganda at a location I will not reveal because I am not absolutely certain of it and have not secured her permission to do so – because I do not have her contact details.

Because she was a good Ugandan during her time in China, she saved me quite some difficulty last week by way of happenstance.

I normally go about on my travels wearing t-shirts boldly emblazoned with the Uganda flag for a number of reasons; top on the list is that this gives me an opportunity to start up a conversation about Uganda in which I get to stress the many good bits of my country.

It never fails, and during five days of travel last week I enjoyed many opportunities ranging from the hilarious to the deeply earnest.

There was the morning I was walking out of the breakfast room and a New Zealander pointed at me and shouted, “Hey! Uganda!”

He had me in a tight embrace before I could overcome my alarm, and standing together arm over shoulder he explained his excitement at seeing my tshirt with the Uganda flag right across the front.

“I am the Honorary Consul of Uganda to New Zealand!”

The odds were not high. He doesn’t spend all his time in Beijing so the opportunity to discuss Uganda with a Ugandan on a random morning in a country that was not New Zealand could not be allowed to go by.

Basil J. Morrison had many good things to say, of course, and asked about a few of his friends back home. Later in the day, atop the Great Wall of China, I bumped into Basil J. Morrison again – and with the same excitement as at breakfast, he spotted me easily in the crowd because of that t-shirt and his affinity for the Ugandan flag.

IMG_6323
The Selfie with Basil J. Morrison

The one involving Eva, however, was the most surprisingly pleasant.

On our way back out of the country we got a one-hour window between official events to swing by a shopping plaza. Just one hour, mind, and nothing more – including the time it took to disembark, get a meal, dislodge from the group and fight off the eager shop attendants all saying, “I give-o you good price-o, my brother! Come-o here!” The Chinese people seeking to give me merchandise in exchange for currency were ready to have me as their sibling, such is the pull of commerce in Beijing.

In the melee, one of my colleagues went off with my phone power bank. My phone being down to 2% meant I would be marooned if plans changed and nobody could reach me by phone to re-direct me to a different rendezvous point – a contingency we had agreed had to be avoided at all costs, and against which we had prepared by securing Chinese-registered SIMs.

It was on the top floor of the Plaza, at the food court, that I came across Eva’s name. Opting to pick up a quick meal to walk and eat with back to the rendezvous, I went to the food court and placed an order with the fellow there.

After taking my order, he pointed at the flag on my t-shirt and said quite confidently: “Uganda!”

I was surprised.

Some minutes before that another fellow had pointed at the very same flag and said, “Ethiopia?” I shook my head and told him, “No. Try again?”

And he went, “Ummmm…” so I said, “Read this!” pointing at the word under the flag that said ‘UGANDA’.

“Ghana?” he went, till I made him actually read it properly (vehemence without violence) and then found myself in a farcical conversation in which a Chinese man claimed all Africans looked the same and a Ugandan man informed him that all Asians looked the same, and so on and so forth till he succumbed.

Back to the food court, I later learnt the young man who so clearly identified the flag was called Yang and is from Mongolia. When I asked how he knew the Ugandan flag so well he said, “I have friend in Uganda.”

Impressed but short on time, I sent him off to complete my food purchase and picked up the conversation when he returned. His friend was Eva – and he proved it by showing me his WhatsApp conversation with her (‘Eva@Uganda’). The conversation was recent (I did NOT read the messages though!).

Sensing a window of opportunity, I asked him if he could charge my phone and he very readily said, “Yes! iPhone? I have.”

When the food arrived, I stuck around a little bit to give the phone time to charge up a bit, and eventually he joined me clearly seeking more Ugandan contact.

I asked him if Eva had been his girlfriend and he unabashedly said she wasn’t, just a good friend. They met when she was in Beijing and she was kind, helpful and generally a good friend.

“Ugandans are good people,” Yang said, and sat down with me for part of my meal, disrupting my novel-reading window somewhat and even learning a new english word (“ludicrous”) out of the first page of my Bill Bryson.

The 20% battery charge Yang gave me, because of the kindness of Eva’s gentle Ugandan heart in Beijing, went a long way in ensuring the rest of my journey went according to plan. Eva’s being a good Ugandan also made me proud to be a Ugandan wearing the Ugandan flag out in public thousands of miles away from home, and for that, I applaud her and all people like her!

See, in the early days of this t-shirt policy the first response I received was, “Idi Amin!” proclaimed proudly by people emulating half-wits recovering from a decade-long coma and doing a form of cognitive stimulation test where they had to respond to pictures. Later, the responses always followed a political path that somehow still led back to Idi Amin.

Last week, thanks to people like Eva and other good Ugandans out there, I spent five days going through Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, and in Beijing, China, and back, and not once was Idi Amin mentioned.

Even the people who couldn’t sustain a conversation in English had a way about it – like the fellow who pointed and proclaimed, “Uganda!” and responded to my, “Yeah! Beautiful country. Have you visited?” with “Kampala.”

“Er…so have you visited?” I asked, hoping this was a lead into a conversation as the lift doors opened.

It wasn’t. He pointed at himself, in his indeterminate but well-stitched suit and tie, and said, “Algeria!”

I smiled widely, knowing he didn’t have the English for this, and said, “Yeah, but we have better climate, better hospitality, and much better t-shirts! Come and visit Uganda!”

I hope when the Algerian googles the phrases he finds the last bit stands out: “Come and visit Uganda!”

Thank you, Eva!

uganda needs to stop missing events and meetings…employ some smarter thinking to really bag the benefits


LAST week we had the superb fortune of hosting, as a nation, an ICT summit called the Innovation Africa Digital Summit, themed “Smarter Thinking“.

I had to personally attend it for a number of reasons, chief among which was the fact that when the event was first planned it was set for Abuja, Nigeria in March, and I declined the invitation to spend large amounts travelling to attend it.

That first announcement said the Summit would “represent the future direction of ICT growth and development in Africa…” and went on to promise “an intimate gathering of 350 key decision makers including policy makers, Regulators, Communication Service Providers and Major End Users of ICT from across Africa along with a carefully selected portfolio of International Solution Providers…”

It was an important event by all accounts, but I wasn’t in a position, then, to afford the air ticket to and accommodation in Nigeria, regardless of which hat I used. I made it clear, though, that I could have benefitted but… (dot, dot, dot.) I communicated this and stated how Uganda was a much better venue for such an event, for various reasons.

Believe it or not, the Abuja plan was cancelled after Nigeria decided to do some repair works on their runway that diverted flights to Kaduna city – 160 kilometres away from the Abuja capital. Nigeria offered to escort travellers on guarded buses to avert fears of insecurity but the gesture wasn’t helpful.

The Summit was moved to a new location – Kampala, Uganda! Within a short time a new date was chosen and the venue negotiated to the Speke Resort Munyonyo.

We had no excuses to present any more for not attending – especially after being told which people from which companies in ICT and Development would be attending.

The event happened, officially opened by the Minister of ICT and National Guidance, who elucidated quite well Uganda’s aspirations for the sector and innovation. A number of delegates were markedly impressed by his remarks, and the organisers were happy that he stayed on longer than initially planned, taking a keen interest in the event itself.

And then we went into the meat of things. I began to worry when I noticed, during the coffee breaks, that a number of name tags remained uncollected at the entrance. Name tags are provided at these events so that people can quickly identify each other and start talking business with little delay.

The objective of these expos and summits is just that – putting people together so they can trade: buyers meet sellers; people who need solutions, products and services meet people who supply solutions, products and services.

Inside the official meeting rooms presentations are made introducing or explaining these solutions, products and services, and the people in the room get to ask questions or interact with the providers. The providers take note of the queries and comments so they make changes to suit their (potential) customers, and world trade flows.

The summit last week attracted about 200 delegates (including the Ugandans) with very impressive profiles. Large companies supplying telecom and satellite solutions sent their Board Chairpersons, Managing Directors, Sales Directors and other decision-makers here to meet with other decision makers from across Africa.

When I checked through the uncollected name tags, I noticed that ALL OF THEM were of Ugandans. The people closest to the event had failed to make it over – in spite of free access, proximity, and massive amounts of opportunity.

At one point, I found myself soothing two participants who had flown in from Dubai and were disappointed to have met, from Uganda, a couple of secretaries and junior officers with neither decision-making powers nor technical appreciation of the solutions they were offering.

One of them represented a company with a US$900million sales portfolio, the other US$700million (I googled, to be sure).

They reminded me of a similar event a couple of years ago, again at Munyonyo and called ‘Innovation Africa’, at which I heard similar complaints. At that event there were set Business-to-Business meetings where buyers and sellers were put together for thirty minutes each to do speed-dating.

Most tables were extremely busy except for one that I will not name. It was deeply disappointing.

That event had drawn in cabinet ministers and other senior officials from across Africa. The same event a year before had been held in Rwanda and led to the establishment of a laptop assembly plant there. (Which laptops are now being used by children in Rwanda).

Two of the groups had hoped to hold discussions with high level officials to exploit innovation and manufacturing opportunities here. When we held discussions in the evenings over drinks and during coffee breaks, there was great promise; but when the officialdom started, nobody turned up.

It is confounding.

One of the delegates wrote me a couple of months later to say he had chosen to pursue an opportunity in a southern African country instead of Uganda, because that country had shown serious interest and followed up their discussions.

After the event, the country’s Diplomatic Mission had made contact with the headquarters of the company this delegate hailed from, and sent their Commercial Attache to do more groundwork. Then, at a subsequent event, that country had another different official meet with a representative of the company and took them out to dinner.

To cut a long story short, they bagged the deal.

This delegate outlined to me how Uganda was losing out simply because we appear not to understand how to complete the chain that links marketing and sales, or activity to results.

He had spoken with different officials here during the Innovation Africa event, but his follow up emails had gone unreplied for months. Eventually, he got through to the Ministry on phone but couldn’t get transferred to the person whose card he had.

“You don’t have his mobile? Please call him on his office line,” he got told. Having gotten up at a very inconvenient hour to make the phone call because of the time difference, he was quite irritated and dropped Uganda.

The southern African country he chose speaks a different language from his own, is further to reach by air than Uganda is, and doesn’t have quite the same climate and other attractions that we offer. But he made the decision to channel business there because he had tried quite hard and failed to bring it here.

He was complaining to me because he really felt that we could have done better. He was right.

Well, later this year, in September, Uganda will be hosting another massive gathering of ICT people, at ‘Capacity Africa 2017‘. They were here last year and loved it so much they chose to return instead of rotate to another African country.

If we don’t plan ahead, send the right people, say the right things, follow up with the right intent and seriousness, employing ‘Smarter Thinking’, then we have only ourselves to blame for failing Uganda.

my uber guy is going to parliament


uber-redesign-russellwarwickJUST before Janani Luwum Day I took a short Uber to my last meeting of the day and chose not to plug in my earphones. I do that, sometimes, to listen from somebody fresh and, in this case, certainly more interesting than most people in the meeting I had just been discharged from.

Public transport operators fit in this category just as bartenders in movies do, and my chap that evening did not disappoint. I can’t recall why he got to musing over who pays for our national holidays and celebrations, but he was quite disturbed.

He wasn’t too bothered by the loss of revenue facing him because of the public holiday, he said. His concern was that somewhere, somehow, the money he spends on taxes was not being utilised properly. Every time he tuned into the news and saw government officials making speeches, he said, in front of crowds under marquees and tents, he felt he was losing money.

He reeled off a few random days in his recent past that had him thinking this, including Tarehe Sita Day.

Besides, he pondered, was he really expected to go to Church the next day to celebrate the late Archbishop Janani Luwum?

I was impressed by his thought process and pleased that I hadn’t plugged those earphones in. We had a brief discussion in which I told him he should take charge of his affairs and deal with his concerns as a good citizen should.

Voicing these concerns was a good beginning. Next, he needed to go straight to the people who determine how his taxes get spent. Luckily I didn’t need to detail for him how he and I actually fund the government; he struck me as being a university graduate with some enterprise that allowed him to also drive an Uber.

Nevertheless, like most of us he didn’t know which government office paid for all these events – but I had a clue and explained the allocation ministry by ministry for the most obvious events. Then I advised him to occasionally visit websites like www.budget.go.ug to see in real-time where the government is spending money and how.

Then, I suggested, he needed to find his Member of Parliament and tell him what he – the tax-paying citizen driving the Uber by which the government collects from fuel, airtime and corporation taxes – preferred for the money to be spent on.

This was the perfect time to engage in that exercise, I explained, as the national budget for the next financial year was in the process of being finalised. The key was to get to his MP, which detail he wasn’t sure of to start with, prompting a little more discussion of elementary civics. (This subject should be taught right from nursery school in this country.)

By then we had arrived at my destination and I feared it would be too complex for me to go into the nitty gritty of the process without losing my shirt to Uber waiting fees, so I suggested he follow the first step and establish exactly who his Member of Parliament is through www.parliament.go.ug.

I was pleasantly surprised when he emailed me a week later (for real!) to say he had discovered his MP was Paul Kato Lubwama (Independent). I was also saddened that the exercise had come to a seemingly abrupt end because the gentleman’s email address was not listed. His phone number was, though, so I hope my Uber guy invested in the airtime necessary to follow his concerns through to some end and prove that the citizen’s duty was carried out.

Even if he did stop at failing to send an email, this time round, my Uber guy had learnt something new quite at random and worked at it to make a difference to his society and his country.

shiyaya-easter-2017-flyer