remove those mental boundaries…from the youth, mostly


LIKE most of you, whenever I think about the KCCA Facility in Nakasero opposite the Kampala Club I recall the fracas created during the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) eviction of former Mayor, Al-Hajji Nasser Ntege Sebaggala.

Back then it was the official residence of the Town Clerk, and Sebaggala had taken it over as Lord Mayor and then claimed the City Council had resolved to give it to him personally for some reason.

I sometimes confuse it with the one KCCA evicted Tinyefuza from in 2011, in Kololo (and checking up on that story I found he had previously been evicted from another house in 2002!)

So, walking into the Nakasero building last Friday I was pleased it was open for public use as the Employment Services Bureau of the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA). On the notice board were job adverts for members of the public to access – including one from Airtel.

I was there to attend a graduation ceremony for young students in their senior six vacation who had undergone a nine-week training and mentorship programme designed to make them volunteer to serve others and develop skills.

The skills they were made to develop included those they already had and some they would discover within themselves in the process.

While it was uplifting to spend time with the youth there it was also saddening to think of how many years we lost, as a nation, NOT putting this facility to its proper use.

If in my time as a child I had been given this mentorship and direction from others besides my own family, how far would I have come by now and by extension, how far would this country be?

We may hope that the selfishness of the people who denied us these opportunities will be punished one day somehow, but that’s a waste of energy.

Instead, I was propelled by the energy of the young people there and grew my own aspirations about the potential we have to make a brighter future in Uganda.

Benjamin Rukwengye addresses the youth (Photo by Simon Kaheru)

The founder, Benjamin ‘Benjy’ Rukwengye, is a relative youngster himself and has already achieved a lot of positive impact through an organisation I have talked about often before – the ’40 Days Over 40 Smiles Foundation’ where I first met him.

He has taken part in a number of mentorship initiatives as a recipient and found the impact so great that he has dedicated himself to giving back in this way – hence the organisation ‘Boundless Minds’.

From what I’ve noticed, it’s difficult for traditional educationists to comprehend at first but when they meet the children who participate in programmes of this nature they will be better convinced.

That’s not to say that traditional education isn’t useful – it certainly is, especially if it is delivered correctly and complemented by a certain method of upbringing.

The cohort I met that day – all of them under twenty (20) years of age – made this obvious in their presence and presentations that day, and I proved it by reading their application forms.

Immaculate ‘Immy’ Namuwonge, who designed the t-shirts – including the one she’s wearing here (Photo by Simon Kaheru)

One of them, Immy, designed and made the t-shirts and photo collage backdrop in the marque; another, Pearl, baked some beautiful cakes for the reception; Laban, from a previous cohort, was the event caterer; and Patricia had done the email communication leading up to the event in an impeccable fashion that made me think Benjy had hired a high-level Assistant for his office!

All of them, in their senior six vacation, had become entrepreneurs and were already suppliers of a registered company paying for professional services.

They didn’t necessarily learn how to design stuff, bake, write and cook while on the mentorship programme – they were given experiences that built their confidence to do things they already had an interest in and a passion for.

After the event I read their application forms for the programme – NOT application letters like job applicants have been made to write for decades – and was impressed by their clarity of purpose.

The forms were designed to elicit their passions, interests and latent skills, so that the programme could build on those.

Again, if all our twenty-year-olds went through this experience early on in life, imagine what they would be like at age thirty (30)?

An emotional Benjy told us, on the day that when young people are given a chance to prove themselves it gives them confidence to do what they believe they can and creates the opportunity for them to try harder to initiate more.

He revealed that these children, in their WhatsApp group, tended to hold unguided discussions about news items in a manner that not many adults
do – and don’t challenge this lest you are found guilty.

During the reception I spoke to a few of them and was blown away even more. One soft-spoken young lady told me how she makes sandals so she can earn money to support her forthcoming university tuition, while another earnestly held me in a conversation about digital media and robotics even though his next step is a complicated science degree he can’t find in Uganda.

What was I doing at nineteen years of age? A very different type of hustle. A hustle I won’t complain about now.

Still, I imagine how that hustle could have been further complemented by someone like Benjy opening my mental boundaries with the deliberate support of authorities thinking about my positive role in making the future of Uganda brighter.

the saudis are very clever people – growing hay in the united states to feed their cows. what are YOU doing, though?


OVER the years you get used to hearing incredible stories about Saudi Arabia and the pursuits undertaken by that country and its neighbours in the Emirates.

At some point if you’re fortunate you might even see for yourself the wonders they have achieved in the deserts of the Middle East and understandably declare them to be very clever people.

Some of the stories we hear are downright incredible but turn out to be true.

One of my favourite is around Prince Mohammed al-Faisal, who was Saudi Deputy Minister of Water and Agriculture – a sensible combination of departments in that part of the world.

In 1977 he proposed a US$100million plan to tug a 100 million-tonne iceberg for eight months from the Antarctica to the Arabian peninsula for desalination into drinking water for his people.

Can you imagine that?

The plan was seriously considered and got to the point where calculations showed the iceberg would get to Cape Town but not much further, so they did more scientific calculations to fix that. It hasn’t happened yet but was certainly very clever.

A short while ago, seated in a whole different desert, I heard about the Saudis again but this time pursuing something different from icebergs and water.

Discussing fields of corn we had driven past in the desert, my friend – Jether Lubandi – mentioned that agriculture was so heavy in Arizona that there were even foreign countries involved.

“Man!” he declared in his Texan drawl, “We even have a controversy brewing here because of the Saudis taking hay from Arizona!”

What?! Hay?! Dried grass?!

I initially thought we had a communication problem because of the blistering heat and our attention to thirst-quenching activities which could have reasonably meant he wasn’t talking clearly and I wasn’t hearing properly.

Later on, I checked up on the story and shook my head.

The clever Saudis were at it again, and their level of strategic thinking had me applauding.

Some large Saudi-owned food companies have been quietly but steadily buying up farmland in both Arizona and California, and planting alfalfa hay there which they export to their countries to feed their cows.

Huh? Yes.

Pause for a minute and think about that in some detail.

While doing so, please remember that Arizona and California are not only dry – they have in recent years been struck by severe drought.

One story in 2016 told how a Saudi-based company, Fondomonte Farms, had bought up 1,790 acres of farmland in California for US$32million – that’s (today) US$17,900 per acre or Ushs68million an acre. Try and compare that with prices of land from Arua to Zirobwe, then return to the main point here.

Their strategy, the Americans complained after working it out, was to use American water sources to grow hay which they export to feed Saudi cows in their own desert. That way, they are preserving their own water for use on other things while using American water to grow the hay to feed their cows.

Clever. VERY clever.

The Saudis had clearly worked it out. Go out there and buy land but ensure it is good for agriculture, and then use up the water growing stuff that you need. Then transport it back to your home using fuel whose most likely origin means YOU are earning from the transportation – while preserving your own water for other things you will need into the long term.

The internet says the company leading the onslaught is Almarai (the Arabic word for ‘green pastures’) which is the mother company of Fondomonte.

As far back as 2012 Almarai bought 30,000 acres of land in Argentina for the same purpose and this year is said to own more than 15,000 acres in California and Arizona – all under alfalfa.

Almarai, says the reports, has 93,000 cows that eat all this alfalfa to produce milk that goes into products sold in the Middle East, Africa (check your local supermarket and duuka) and…in the United States of America!

Yo! These guys understand business!

Now, where could we come in here and why should we care?

It takes Fondomonte about a month to move containers of alfalfa from the United States to the Gulf of Arabia. So, let’s ask ourselves – how long would it take that alfalfa to go from Uganda to the feeding troughs in the Arabian desert, if the alfalfa were grown here instead?

If all that hay can grow in the deserts of California and Arizona, how much would grow in lush, tropical Uganda kweli? Don’t we have land that’s cheaper than Ushs68million per acre that we can avail to our Saudi friends, and access to more water than the people in American deserts?

If lush, tropical Uganda is being used to grow even more high value things then perhaps we should irrigate the dry parts of the country and immediately bring the value of that land up to Ushs68million per acre (four years ago) or grow alfalfa there.

Should we be averse to exporting grass for foreign cows then lazima we should study their model and make it work here.

93,000 cows? I know of WhatsApp groups where ten percent of the members claim to have more than that combined.

Why are they not becoming Africa’s largest dairy and food processing company to match Almarai in the Middle East so we keep the alfalfa for ourselves?

The Saudis are very clever. That’s not to highlight other people who, clearly, ARE NOT!

irrigation and technology in the desert vs. tropical non-productivity back home


I’VE SPENT two weeks in the desert and I am still unsure how to be useful to Uganda with what I’ve learnt here.

This isn’t the first time I’ve made these observations or put them down in writing to share them. I’m certainly not as influential as a Lee Kwan Yew or Yoweri Kaguta Museveni but even these gentlemen have told us sensible things that we simply have refused to do.

The first time I visited a desert country – not just an arid area of a country, but a Country or State that consists entirely of desert land and that hot, hard weather that defines the desert – was more than twenty years ago.

I was in Israel and didn’t realise it was a proper desert till late in the first week when I started paying full attention during the excursions we went on every day and some nights.

Towards the end of our time there we were driving to a kibbutz and as we were weaving up a mountain road a light patter of rain started dropping onto our bus.

Our guide – an old, friendly Colonel – broke into excited chatter with the driver and they sang a song and said a prayer. They were excited because this was the first sign of rain they had seen in three years! (And besides thanking God they were also praying that the rain wouldn’t cause a landslide to sweep us off the side of that hill they called a mountain!)

I was confused and we discussed it a little bit. And then quite a lot. See, we had heard how Israel had exported something like US$70m (it was more than that) worth of agricultural crops that year. Uganda, tropical, lush and “80% agricultural” hadn’t even recorded a tenth of that in exports.

How were they doing it without rain?!

I was even more beaten when we got to the kibbutz and found vegetables sized more than ten times their cousins I had left back home.

“Irrigation and technology,” said the kibbutz guide, taking us around and showing us everything without bragging.

A few years later I chanced upon an energetic Israeli fellow who had just set up an operation in Kampala establishing greenhouses for people while also exporting tomatoes, bell peppers and other vegetables.

One day, in the middle of a casual discussion, he expressed his dismay at how little agriculture we were doing in Kampala with our fantastic soils and weather. He just stopped short of confessing that the greenhouses he was selling might be unnecessary.

Fast forward to a few days ago when I ventured into the back garden of my host in the desert of Arizona and was stopped short by it.

It’s hard to believe that THIS is a desert, right? Photo by Simon Kaheru

I spent some time complimenting my host, Jether Lubandi, on his gardening skills. But he protested vehemently because he believes he hasn’t put lots of effort into it.

In fact, he said he had put no effort into it besides buying seedlings, putting them into the ground and then installing a fairly regular irrigation system.

At the sight of bright orange fruits hanging off a small shrub I was nonplussed!

If I hadn’t seen this, I wouldn’t have believed it – in the desert! Photo by Simon Kaheru

I went right up to them and checked to ensure they weren’t made of rubber.

Even as I was inspecting them I saw different fruits on the other shrubs.

It didn’t make a lot of sense, yet the irrigation piping was clearly visible to my naked eyes. The desert heat delayed my reasoning and suggested it was all a mirage but the next day I went back out and this time plucked one of the fruits then ate right through it. In the desert.

I ate BOTH of these and many, many more! Photo and Subsequent Eating by Simon Kaheru

I have not eaten tangerines like that in a very long time.

The other trees presented green lemons that would be fat and yellow within three weeks, pomegranates bulging like mine at home in Kampala, and oranges preparing to flourish. Besides that my hosts have a small patch of biringannya and tomatoes. In the desert.

No – for real!

Pomegranates in the desert. Photo by Simon Kaheru

In another home we visited there was even a thick patch of lemongrass! In the desert.

Lemongrass thriving almost more than YOURS…if you even have any! Photo by Simon Kaheru

We have talked about this for years, and here we still are – waiting for the President himself, no less, to tell us about simple drip irrigation yet we have purportedly gone to school and STILL don’t implement that.

It is embarrassing in many ways. My face was burning thinking about it – more than from the harsh desert heat.

To think that my plumber just two months ago was pushing me to instal a “booster pump” at Ushs500,000 so that I could take showers under water at a higher pressure…

I hesitated over his suggestion and then refused flat out, but wasn’t sure why the idea didn’t sit comfortably with me besides the cost. Thinking about that decision while in the desert surrounded by flourishing fruit trees made me ashamed of myself.

I should have rejected his suggestion for the right reasons – that I’d rather spend that money on a booster pump on a farm somewhere so I could get more crops out of it during the hot season.

Which makes me certain that there are people doing this in Uganda – spending money on pumps so they can have stronger showers and NOT spending it on pumps to irrigate gardens so we can make us of our oft-spoken about agricultural potential.

I AM guilty, I confess, of running a small irrigation project in my compound to keep it green and flowery but have also taken advantage of it so I decrease on my vegetable, herb and spice expenses.

But that’s not compensation for what I could and should have done long ago in tropical, lush Uganda where we boast about being agricultural and holding more arable land than any other country in East Africa.

Arizona, the desert I was eating tangerine out of a few days ago, has an agricultural industry worth US$23.2billion, accounting for 138,000 jobs. That desert State is the 3rd largest producer of fresh market vegetables in the United States and the 4th in the country in acres of organic vegetables. In the desert.

What about you and I and this beloved, lush, tropical Uganda?

let’s all go out and wikipedia about Uganda henceforth


I WAS at a clinical laboratory doing my medicals a month ago and, waiting around for somebody to do something about a process, I ran out of things to do with my book and gadget.

During that break, my eyes were drawn to the floor whose tiling I felt was poorly chosen. Surely, I thought, the designers should have used tiles less prone to turning oil-slippery with any fluid spill – especially in a medical facility.

Then I noticed something more annoying: the tile-layers had driven nails into the floor while working, at points chipping the edges and corners of the porcelain and at others not bothering to drive the nails all the way in.

“We need a law to deal with all the people who make this #workmanship happen,” I tweeted.

Stephen Ssenkomago Musoke responded with, “This was the forte of vocational training colleges like Kyambogo (blue collar jobs) which were all changed to white collar universities. To break this cycle we need to go back to the basics grow brick and tile laying, painting, electrical wiring, plumbing, tailoring skills, etc.”

Somebody challenged him with the claim that Kyambogo had been a teacher training college and not a vocational institute, so Stephen sent the link to Kyambogo’s wikipedia page as “a little Saturday history reading.”

Always keen on such history, I read it. Stephen might have been sending us the page as another example of poor workmanship, besides educating the fellow who had challenged him!

Whereas the scantiness of information on the site was irritating, I realised this wasn’t the Kyambogo University website and that I could have gone there for more in this regard.

But a Wikipedia page is an important source of information because it is, presumably, an independent source put together by different well-meaning individuals whose information is filtered through editors who check it for accuracy and non-bias. It’s a fairly accurate crowd-sourced encyclopaedia.

Even if it’s free, to have a Wikipedia page and then not make sensible use of it is as bad as paying large amounts of money for porcelain tiles and then driving nails into them while flooring.

My bother intensified when I found the rather thin list of Kyambogo alumni on there. The only two people under ‘Business’, for instance, are Anatoli Kamugisha of Akright Projects, and Richard Musani, Marketing Manager of Movit Products.

Perhaps it’s just the two of them because they are the only ones with their own Wikipedia listings (as far as the contributor could establish with two clicks)?

Either way, this is the one job of the Kyambogo University information or public relations people – to update their Wikipedia page.

The Makerere University Wikipedia entry fares much better but is also not recently updated – which you can tell from the sentence about the Makerere University Commission of 2016: “The commission’s report is due in late February 2017.” This, meanwhile, is underneath the seemingly unnecessary sub-heading “Unrest in the 2000s”.

Why is that necessary? “Unrest in the 2000s”?! I don’t know – maybe Makerere presents more unrest than most other universities worldwide? What I do know is that this sub-heading is as annoying to me as “Other academics” on the same page, that lists just five (5) ‘other academics’.

On the University of Oxford & University of Cambridge Wikipedia pages there is no mention of unrest and certainly no listing of a couple of academics. Neither do those references exist on the University of Nairobi Wiki page.

There is a chance that the focus of the private individuals who updated the Makerere and Kyambogo pages limited their creativity to these less relevant items of information or, in the case of the ‘other academics’, they simply lost interest along the way.

And this is where we now have the chance to contribute. See, any of us with internet access can log in to Wikipedia and make edits to these pages so we enrich them and attract more scholars to our educational institutes of higher learning.

Both those pages would be massively improved if, for instance, they listed ground-breaking research and publications that have emerged from the said institutions over the years.

We could list all the Conferences hosted there and even highlight the intellectual results thereof or therefrom. The books written by all the First Class students and their later publications would make the Wikipedia entries of both institutions much more useful to internet surfers, the two Universities, Uganda and anyone anywhere at any time!

What about finding the work that the alumni or academia have done in their respective and relevant fields of study and specialisation that has stood out nationally in Uganda, on the Continent of Africa or, even better,in the world at large?

For years now, some of us have highlighted, profiled, tweeted and Re-Tweeted about various innovative and celebrated achievements in agriculture, technology, health and even the military…all originating from Uganda. Surely a few of those could have been put onto the Wikipedia pages of these two academic institutions of higher learning?

Of course.

Even now, I could go on and on but I won’t. Instead, I will hope the nail has been driven home here, but without chipping at the tiles while trying to ensuring they don’t stick out to potentially cause harm to those walking through.

have YOU written your last will and testament yet? what are you waiting for?


Taken from http://www.thebalance.com

THE conversation has come up often since I first decided to write my Last Will and Testament.

Early this year it has come up more as my lugezi-gezi made me share my year’s plan around, and some have been taken aback at the entry regarding updating my Last Will and Testament.

At first, after getting the WTH’s out of the way I would explain my process and people rarely bought it, but agreed to write their own in a way that told me they needed the conversation to end quickly.

So it would.

And after many such endings I developed a different method that has worked well so far this year.

First, I stopped telling people that writing one’s Last Will and Testament was expected of anyone who had attended school for long enough to write full sentences in English.

So far, I have found that it is not yet realistic to hold the expectation for everybody to understand that acknowledging one’s mortality does not necessarily invite terminal proof.

So I dropped all indications of that in my approach.

Instead, I have started telling people to consider the Last Will and Testament as a challenge to focus them on achieving their annual objectives.

See, in your Last Will and Testament you are forced to consider everything that you own and can bequeath to your loved ones. From a strictly material point of view, therefore, you will have to list all the property and assets that you have against your name.

One friend, who will remain unnamed for now, squinted almost in pain when I said this.

“But…but…” he sputtered a little bit: “I have NOTHING!”

“There you go!” I said, triumphantly, “THAT’S why you have to check that document every single year.”

I explained that point a little further:

Starting the year out by realising that at your ripe old adult age you have accumulated less than you would want to leave behind for your children could make you spend less on pork and whisky and more on chunks of soil identified by land titles.

Computing your official net worth should you suddenly stop being productive, and working out how long your dependants would survive in material comfort thereafter could lower the priority you accord to leisurely frolics over weekends.

Away from the worldly possessions themselves, you will find it interesting to evaluate which of your friends and relatives you actually trust enough to raise your children and keep your home running in comfort without breaking sensitive barriers.

Should your analysis be difficult, you have a whole year ahead to culture, cultivate and create meaningful relationships that will not fade into dust on your departure.

Your Last Will and Testament, ladies and gentlemen, is a serious document.

In fact, just contemplating it and knowing that you haven’t yet written one should also guide some of your actions. If you haven’t written one, for instance, you would be even more stupid than normal to take a boda-boda without a helmet.

The thought of you dying without having deposited a Will with your trusted compadres should horrify you – what will they say at your funeral? Do you want your children to forever think you were so intellectually challenged as to neglect leaving behind a plan for them?

There are more worries than can fit into one article in one day. To short-cut the rest of it just write your Last Will and Testament as an essential part of your 2019 life plan.

When it kicks into effect you won’t be alive to regret doing so, but your loved ones will be alive to not regret your having failed to write one.