a generation that moved the nation


Malaika Nnyanzi is an erudite and elegant, beautiful and brilliant young lady. She is smart in most respects and so well-spoken that she is often called upon to direct events of a mostly glitzy and glamorous nature.

The World Premiere of the movie 27 Guns was one such event.

The set up in the Metroplex Mall changed that nowadays-dreary venue into a glittering hall offering an array of displays all in support of the story that the movie re-created.

Malaika fitted in very well with the smartly-dressed guests, all in their black bow ties and flowing evening dresses. With her co-EmCee of the night, Dr. Mitch Egwang, she chaperoned our thoughts and kept the tempo high and befitting of a movie premiere of this nature, graced by Citizen Number One – the President himself.

She said one of the most profound things of the night – of which there was no shortage – at the end of the viewing:

“On behalf of all the millennials here and out there, I want to say thank you, thank you, thank you! I would NEVER EVER have realised what the Bush War meant, what sacrifice, pain and heriosm went into this.”

Her voice was shaking as she said this, and the hesitant microphone didn’t help either. Like most people in that cinema hall, her eyes were quite moist.

Walking out of the camera flashes of the Premiere Reception floor into that dark cinema to spend an hour under flashes of AK-47 and mortar shell fire on screen silenced us all. Going from an hour and a half of looking at three hundred people in smart formal wear into that cinema hall to watch a small band of rag-tag, unkempt men and women in assorted military fatigues was disorienting.

The juxtaposition of the two settings was probably unintended but worked quite well – as will the juxtaposition of the normal, day-to-day lives of the type of people who will be walking or driving off the streets of Kampala into cinema halls to watch 27 Guns.

The movie is not the normal, hero-based fiction that we normally go to cinemas for, but it is not a documentary, as such, either. It is based on real events and recreated according to the accounts – written and verbal – of the people who were there.

In your seat, for those more than one and a half hours, you develop a high sense of trapped anguish along with the combatants and civilians of the time – which, besides the millennials, was most of us in the hall sent back in time.

Malaika’s situation was understandable and proved the success of 27 Guns. If these couple of hours just watching that movie makes one feel this way, imagine what it was really like back then for the people who actually spent all those years in the thick of that action?

But there are two aspects to this movie, that should both be taken seriously.

The Opening Prayer at the Premiere was delivered by Lorna Magara, who captured both quite clearly, “…that this movie will specifically speak to our people, young and old – reminding us of our history and God’s grace over us all these years.” and that the movie be, “…shot out as God’s arrow, silencing every contention against Uganda, speaking not just for Uganda and it’s people but resounding across the world on behalf of all the African people!”

See, after the idea formed and grew in her mind, Natasha Karugire started putting together the elements required to make a movie of this nature but kept getting repulsed and questioned by the world outside of Uganda.

There was so much skepticism about the possibility of the story being interesting on its own and more interest in fictionalising it, that she pulled back and decided to do it herself. Using Ugandans in Uganda and keeping it authentic and realistic. Just as she promised when Isaiah 60 Productions was launched – this was an opportunity for Ugandans to tell their own stories to the world by themselves.

She packed up her crew and cast, headed for the Luwero triangle and months later her strategy had worked, just as the Bush War did 32 years ago. Malaika Nnyanzi’s little speech made that quite clear.

27 Guns Image

kamwe, kamwe, nigwo muganda…you will never get enough of this


Kamwe, Kamwe from newvision.co.ug
Photo from http://www.newvision.co.ug – thank you!

The day Rita Kenkwanzi called my number was extra busy for many reasons and ordinarily I would have left my phone at home to avoid distractions.

I took her call, having no clue who was on the other end, and she quickly introduced herself then explained that “Ralph” had given her my number. I don’t know many Ralph’s but that situation wasn’t critical. She was calling, she said, to thank me for mentioning her book in a recent article and to give me a personalised copy of ‘Kamwe, Kamwe, Nigwo Muganda…and other lessons from my father‘.

“Thank you, but you can simply autograph the copy I have,” I said, but she insisted her end.

It didn’t make sense to me because from my reading of her superb book she was young and very intelligent – surely she should be trying to make as much money off the publication as possible?

We eventually met last weekend and she confirmed my feelings – about the money objective and many other things.

Like its author, ‘Kamwe, Kamwe, Nigwo Muganda‘ is simple but brilliant, elegantly put together, pointed, positive, unconventional and difficult to get out of one’s head.

When I first started reading the book I got to the second page when I first paused to think about who and how old the author was. I was pleased that she was going to teach me about one of our cultures, and excited that the learning was going to be so eloquently put.

A few more paragraphs in and my mind had began to boggle at how rich this book actually was. I sensed a kindred at her attitude when one publisher she approached with the book asked why her father qualified to be written about.

“Who is he? Is he a politician? Musician? Is he a public figure perhaps?” asked the publisher, who Rita has asked me not to reveal at any point – a pledge I made without elevating it to a promise.

She went ahead until she got it done – which is another reason this book is so meaningful. If more of us out here were like Rita Kenkwanzi this country would reach middle-income status before the promised deadline.

That was one of the reasons I gave her to encourage her to print and sell more copies of ‘Kamwe, Kamwe, Nigwo Muganda‘.

The other, more serious one, is the reason for the book. She decided, at her father’s 65th birthday celebration, that the man meant so much to her that a speech at the dinner just wouldn’t be enough.

For about three months she combined her literary skill, remarkable energy, curiosity, some money, her old soul and a deep-rooted love of her parents and her culture, and emerged with ‘Kamwe, Kamwe, Nigwo Muganda‘.

“Friends, we are here,” she writes at the start, “I could have harnessed all my energies to writing a brilliant collection of essays about Nelson Mandela or Kwame Nkrumah but neither of these men took my face in their hands and wiped the traces of soup from the edges of my mouth, before teaching me how to hold my spoon correctly.”

Even stopping there, one would already be a better person.

Rita Kenkwanzi defeated that publisher whose thinking is deep inside an awkward box most of us reside in here in this country; the idea that we only say good things about people we care about when they have died; that we only write or talk about people when they have achieved big things; that our expression of thoughts, ideas and feelings should be verbal rather than written…

I suggested to her that ‘Kamwe, Kamwe, Nigwo Muganda‘ was the exact opposite of a Funeral Order of Service – it is much more complete; more carefully put together than most; celebrates the life of a person who is living and has therefore read it; and, most of all, it is complete in many ways funerals don’t allow us.

Her father, Christmas Benon Godfrey Kataama, ‘Chris’ for short, is the key focus of her book but Rita introduces us to a large section of her family going back generations. It is a history lesson delivered in a lively fashion by a lively spirit. And she did it so well that there are more people out there following suit!

When I finally sat down with Rita I was taken aback by how consistent she was. ‘Kamwe, Kamwe, Nigwo Muganda‘ reveals how introverted and yet cheeky she is, which she proved when she told me the Saturday plans I was interrupting.

More: when my pet dogs came frolicking around her she froze in terror – proving the bit in the book when Chris returned home during a lunch hour and she lost valuable time opening the gate for him because the dogs were loose in the compound.

He talked her through it and she let him in, and reading that episode made me warm at the thought of how many fathers raise their daughters in this way – guiding them through their fears, encouraging them to try the impossible, and never giving up on the job.

The more time you spend with her, the more you realise how old this young lady’s soul is. I shook my head when she held up her Polaroid-type instant camera and showed me the last prints she had taken because she “like(s) capturing the moment in the moment…”

Actually, one of the reasons she even read the first article in which I mentioned her book was her old soul and her love of reading. That article was my take on the superb book, ‘The Call Of The Peacock‘ by Mahendra Mehta – and it’s here: https://skaheru.com/2018/07/05/heed-the-call-of-the-peacock/

In that article I mentioned the book, ‘Dream Half Expressed: An Autobiography‘ – written by Mehta’s father, Nanji Kalidas that inspired many to venture out and chase their dreams.

One of those that was inspired by it found a very old copy of the book in his father’s library and has since read it many times over is a mutual friend – Isaac Kayonde – who turns out to be quite close to Rita. Rita herself has been eagerly waiting to get access to it.

When she turned up she had the copy, carefully enclosed in a cellophane wrapper, and presented it to me for my holding and viewing (NOT reading) pleasure. That pleasure will only be exceeded by my one day reading the words in that book.


But back to ‘Kamwe, Kamwe, Nigwo Muganda‘, I insisted to Rita that she had to print and sell more copies of the book, so that more Ugandans could enjoy and be influenced by it. She was reluctant – her introverted side in control. Her father is quite the same way, and had tried to reject the book as “Too much” when she first presented it.

We argued the point, over printing and selling more copies, till she agreed – provided the proceeds went to a charity or to funding school libraries in her home district.

She is a determined young lady, so I know that this shall come to pass – just as many more of us will be writing our own books to celebrate our loved ones while they are still with us here on earth.

Kamwe, Kamwe, Nigwo Muganda‘ may have started a revolution that many will thank Chris Kataama for. – because he raised her and enriched her life to inspire this beautiful publication.

suffer the little children…or NOT!


Children In Dangerous Situations
Modified from memegenerator.net

SATURDAY afternoon, as I was driving from a brief Daddy-chore, I got to Kintu Road in Kitintale and joined a brief queue of cars on either side whose occupants mostly had the hairs on the backs of their necks standing on horrified ends.

My view was better than that of the people in the cars behind a large truck at the head of the oncoming queue. The three cars ahead of me facing that truck were all small salon vehicles whose occupants were certainly as petrified as I was at what we saw.

Standing in the middle of the road in front of the large truck was a little boy, not more than one year old, dressed in a dark blue shirt and matching pair of shorts. Having been alive for so short a time, he had no idea how close he was to dying at that very point.

Human beings generally believe in the supernatural because of the way that truck driver managed to spot that little boy in the middle of the road and actually stop before flattening him to the tarmac.

All the cars stopped and stayed still until someone, who turned out to be a fairly random man, came from across the road and lifted the little fellow to safety. The women who formed the welcoming committee on the other side of the road received the infant without much fan-fare.

One elderly one called to a younger one who made quarrelsome noises down at him and then, fueled by the various remarks by her neighbours in the collection of houses and rooms nearby, pushed him to the ground with the instruction, in Luganda, that he should “Go back and stay there!”

The poor fellow, not comprehending why this was happening to him, burst into tears, picked himself up, and shuffled with his dust-covered back towards the area his mother had pointed to. One minute ago he was on the flat, hot tarmac dancing a baby jig with all those fantastic vehicles whizzing past while someone played loud music nearby, and the next he was covered in dust and being hit over the head.

The lugezi-gezi kicked in and I had to strike up a conversation, but not with the errant young mother – with the elderly one who I insisted should have known better and had a responsibility to guide the other.

She started by explaining that the child had followed his unknowing mother and then strayed, but I cut her short – at which point she summoned the offending mother.

No – I wasn’t going to arrest her even though she deserved it, I said, as the offending mother also tried to explain that the little one had just followed her…I lost my patience a little bit and explained that it was mostly poultry that walked around and expected their young to follow in a straight line, but that even THEY check occasionally.

It took many more minutes of conversation till they both agreed that children should be treated with a little more care. I was neither convinced that mother would change nor decided that I should go back on a daily basis to check up on the boy’s upbringing.

2018 and children are still being raised to the background tune of “Nja kukuba!”?

Yep – that phrase many people of past generations heard as they pranced around and frolicked: “Nija kuteera!/Nta kupiga!” and so on and so forth!

The offending mother, in this case, confessed to being 22 years of age and agreed that she didn’t know better. She couldn’t look me in the eye, out of what I hoped was shame but feared might be fear – which was why I had asked to speak with her elder friend, neighbour and possibly mother.

She was only raising her child the way she knew children were raised. By not being given too much attention for too long. By not being held by the hand at every step of the way. By not being repeatedly given emotional validation. By not getting any soft treatment when they make mistakes of any nature.

Because life is harsh and hard.

That cycle has to be broken – not by raising children who are spoilt and soft and won’t make a success of themselves in the harsh world. But by teaching them responsibility and the positive values that make us a positive people.

By stopping them from getting into harm’s way when they are young and tender, but teaching them how to survive should hard come to them when they are older.

used schoolbags from Japan? we aren’t really learning how to develop our country, are we?


Ashinaga

IF you missed this story last week, let’s go back a bit: ‘Japanese NGO complains about high taxes’.

The story says that this NGO, Ashinaga Uganda, “threatened to stop the importation of learning materials for children from Japan to Uganda, if the Government keeps imposing high taxes on the materials.”.

The Ashinaga Director, Yoshihiro Imamura, complained because this year they imported 400 schoolbags into Uganda and got charged Ushs17million in taxes for it.

Quick mathematics make that appear to be a tax of Ushs42,500 levied against each and every schoolbag.

I smiled when I read that because I’ve written on these very pages about a lady called Rose Nakitto, of Mulago, who makes schoolbags and rucksacks out of kitenge and other bits of cloth right here in Uganda. Her bags go for as little as Ushs35,000 each —> and the story is here again for your information: https://skaheru.com/2016/08/19/get-yourself-a-rose-nakitto-or-a-ricci-everyday-asap/.

In those articles about Rose Nakitto, I mentioned a Japanese business called ‘Ricci Everyday’ that does the EXACT OPPOSITE of this Ashinaga Uganda – they make bags IN Uganda and export them to Japan. Their bags are of a very good quality (they sell some in Uganda) and earn respectably large amounts of money for the Ugandan women who use their hands to make them.

So my sympathies for Ashinaga are zero for this particular element. According to their website they do quite a lot for orphans in different countries, which efforts started in Uganda.

Thank you, Ashinaga – don’t stop trying to do good.

But, in the process, let’s avoid the unhelpful bits and also look at ourselves as Ugandans and feel a little ashamed, while applauding the Uganda Revenue Authority for being so stringent with this tax collection.

They might have arguments backing them such as the need for a punitive tax to stop other countries using up our landfills instead of their own. Or that the Ushs17million will be used to set up factories for the manufacture of materials so that we export brand new schoolbags to export to Japan.

See, the Ashinaga explanation of what they are doing is that they collect used schoolbags from children in Japan and donate them to orphans here.

“The Japanese Ambassador to Uganda, Kazuaki Kameda, said bags in Japan were given to children as a congratulatory gift for admission into primary school,” reads the story.

That is a good tradition – and we must presume that those congratulatory gifts in Japan are brand new, ‘Made in Japan’ schoolbags and NOT second-hand ones imported from another country.

We already import second-hand cars made in Japan but mostly because we don’t manufacture them here (yet). But schoolbags? I won’t even go into what the possible costs are of collecting and loading and transporting these second-hand schoolbags is, compared to Rose Nakitto’s Ushs35,000.

And that’s why some of us have to feel shamed by this. Do we really lack 400 Ugandans who can’t buy schoolbags from Rose Nakitto and donate them to these orphans? At Ushs35,000 each, these schoolbags cost about as much as a higher-end buffet lunch or a couple of drinks at a snazzy Kampala ‘lounge’.

I know I can list 400 Ugandans whose daily fuel budget is the cost of this schoolbag – you know yourselves.

There must be 400 Ugandans, surely, who can each put a new schoolbag onto a boda-boda and send it to Nansana at an extra cost of Ushs10,000 – that’s the cost of a cheap bottle of whisky, a couple of cartons of water, a few kilos of sugar…

Let’s see – what would I choose between a programme called “the Japanese Schoolbags for Primary School Children in Uganda” in 2018 for 400 orphans in Uganda to receive second-hand bags across 365 days of the year and Ushs17million tax plus the opportunity to create a local schoolbag industry?

heed the call of the peacock!


IMG-8838

A FEW WEEKS ago as I arrived at the Pearl of Africa Hotel for the launch of ‘The Call Of The Peacock‘, I noted how gentle and professional the Special Forces Command officials were as they guided us into the celebration room.

They were markedly different from the soldiers I grew up dodging, and from the parking lot to the very entrance to the ballroom I kept thinking of the term ‘Customer Care’ and musing at how it could now be used in reference to some of the toughest soldiers on the Continent.

At the entrance, I burst into a laugh when a plainclothes officer politely asked, “Is Madame not coming?” as he inspected my card.

He knew neither “Madame” nor myself, since the card didn’t bear our actual names. But he was quite polite.

These were small signs of how things have changed in Uganda since the days in which Mahendra Mehta was born, or when his father first came to East Africa.

The bigger sign was the book launch itself. The car I drove into the hotel had five books in it – Trevor Noah’s ‘Born A Crime‘, Karen Bugingo’s ‘My Name Is Life‘, Rakesh Wahi’s ‘Be A Lion‘, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s ‘Kintu‘ and Rita Kenkwanzi’s ‘Kamwe, Kamwe, Nigwo Muganda…and other lessons from my father‘.

Three of those five books were Ugandan (I have claimed Karen because Rwanda and Uganda blah blah blah) so three out of five books were from home. Plus, it feels to me at if every week we attend or read or tweet about a book launch by a Ugandan.

That feeling makes me happy but is also unsettling a small personal challenge I created last year. See, on doing up my small home office or study space, I had a nice, solid bookshelf installed on the wall at a height designed to inspire me to fill it without braining myself often in excitement at any piece of literature.

One section of the bookshelf has been reserved for population with only books written by Ugandans or, I later decided, about Uganda.

I knew that wouldn’t be easy but I’ve been encouraging all the remarkable people I meet regardless of their vastness of age and breadth of experience to write books – swiftly brushing away any counter suggestions that I go first.

Waiting for the President to arrive and officiate at the launch, we got the opportunity to buy up our own copies and pester Mahendra Mehta to autograph them – which he graciously did.

Two gentlemen at my table told us that Mehta’s father, Nanji Kalidas Mehta, had written a book of his own about his life in Africa and India – ‘Dream Half Expressed: An Autobiography‘ – that inspired many to venture out and chase their dreams. The fellow enthusing about it said how the older Mehta fell in love with that Lugazi hill on his travels when he first saw it and swore he would one day buy it up and build a house there.

Mahendra’s book, as I read it right there in the ballroom, started for me at that very spot – the hill, the house, and the orderliness and beauty of the peacocks he brought there from Nairobi.

It is difficult to put ‘The Call Of The Peacock’ down if you are sensible. I only did so that night to walk round a little bit and was pleased to find, at the table next to Mahendra, Manu Chandaria – founder of Kenya-based Chandaria Industries.

We met in March this year when he graced the East African Business Council Anniversary ceremonies and spent the day with us at higher energy levels than most even though he was ill. He had just turned 89 and chided the rest of us for being so sedentary compared to him – which he called “the problem in East Africa”.

Age formed a large part of our discussion at the table after I read the part in the book where old man Mehta left India at age thirteen (13) and set sail for Africa, leaving behind a young wife.

The fact that a 13-year old could board a ship for another continent entirely, leave alone the idea that he had already started a family, made me resolve to buy each of my children a personal copy of this book so it would be easier for them to Uber across this city. When I told the family that my sixteen-year old was taking a job serving at a Cafe I met with protests.

Worse, I even have peers who can’t get onto a boda-boda round Kampala, they are so damn spoilt and lazy and complacent.

Mehta, however, made it across the ocean in a simple dhow and hopped from country to country till he got to Lugazi. Reading about his progress and hard work translates into the hard evidence we see in his sugar factory and other investments.

It makes sense because genuine, long-lasting wealth and success simply don’t happen overnight – and that’s another reason my children are each getting a copy of this book.

Our EmCee of the night, Patrick Zikusooka, was Senior General Manager with the Mehta Group where he has worked for 44 years – as long as I have been alive, and yet still serving steadfast in a manner many of our youth cannot possibly contemplate!

The celebrated publisher Ashok Chopra, at the event, described the book well as “immensely educative, informative and entertaining.”

Those three ingredients created an emotional recipe to pass on to generations to come regardless of race and origin. By Page 33, read that evening at the launch event itself, I was planning to bequeath copies to my as-yet-unborn grandchildren.

Apparently Mehta refused editorial guidance and structure because he insisted that this was HIS story and detailed HIS memoirs! Mind you, the book design and binding told its own story!

His son, when he took to the podium and reflected a young yet strikingly similar elderly figure of his father’s, wondered if the tradition of story telling his grandfather and father before him would continue in this age of television, internet and social media.

The books of the old men, he said, laid down the value foundations of their family – and that challenge faced him but, more importantly, face all of us in Uganda!

Reading this book reminded me why I like the culture of the Indians so much.

Jay, as he spoke, proved that even he had a book within him ready to be written, and brought to life at an hour respectfully removed from that of his father’s. He might not have known it, that night, but it was there in his speech just as it was suggested in the words of his grandfather and his father before him.

He expressed the same doubts about his fathers love for him that his own father wrote about HIS father before him, and made those of us who had arrived at that page in the book shake our heads.

President Museveni, when Jay recited excerpts from the book from memories of the 1980s, smiled widely and nodded his head as he recalled the very same events – and later in his speech re-affirmed them even though he hadn’t yet read the book.

The Call of the Peacock‘ is written evidence that Mahendra Mehta made a personal pledge to Uganda because of the kindness and trust of Ugandans – represented by the people selling vegetables by the roadside along Jinja Road who refused to take his money in spite of their destitution and misery, understanding that return of the Mehta’s would rebuild the economy.

THAT is the spirit of UGANDA! In a live sense from his actions and writings, WE are the Peacocks he speaks of, and we should be as proud of ourselves as Peacocks are of their feathers!

Nanjibhai Kalidas Mehta first came to Uganda in 1904 – earlier than some of our own grandfathers – and Mahendra Mehta has lived here 65 years. When Mahendra told the story of how he first met the Museveni’s at Nairobi airport by pestering them, the President and First Lady laughed at the memory.

From his story that night it was obvious that this old man had been keenly paying attention to politics and governance in Uganda and following closely everything that was being said by serious political leadership. He is one of those who uses political declarations to make wise business decisions – which is different from basing business on politics.

He only rejuvenated the Mehta Sugar Factory on January 25, 1988 after the government – particularly President Museveni himself as the supremo at the time – had promised there would be no bureaucratic delays.

Going back to age, Mahendra Mehta was barely in his twenties when he began to operate as a successful businessman – which should make us all think twice before we type out our next WhatsApp message, Facebook post or Tweet.

Read his book, everyone and think again about what YOU are doing about your life TODAY in relative peace, freedom and comfort.

That night, when the old man launched the US$1million Mehta Foundation focussing on disabilities and children’s health, we applauded with respect. Haters can talk, but the stories in the book and the actions of his father followed a logical flow to build up to this.

President Museveni launched the book with his usual conviviality tempered with Pan-African ideology and emphasizing the respect that many lack when they approach Indo-African relations.

“I found Indians at a Temple in London mourning about Amin kicking them out of Uganda and I told them to stop mourning because Amin only killed three (3) Asians and about 500,000 Ugandans!” he said.

“I also joked with them that the NRA/M went to the bush to fight but the only bush the Indians knew was Shepherd’s Bush!” he quipped, sending the room into the disarray we needed to get out of the deeply emotional state that Mahendra Mehta’s family story had evoked in all our minds.

The link between the Mehta’s and Uganda’s revolution is as clear in this book as it was in Museveni’s speech the night of its launch, as he recounted personal stories and confessed his appreciation of Mrs. Mehta’s bagiya.

At our table we laughed when one of us bumped into Henry Okello Oryem, Minister and Member of Parliament, who had found mention of his father in the book side-splitting. One time, when Mahendra had left the country for India during the unstable days of the 1980s, he sent his wife back home to look after things here. The day after she arrived a Colonel arrived with a note requesting her presence before General Tito Lutwa Okello himself.

She was suitably alarmed and fled the country then called her husband to complain about sending her into the lion’s den. He laughed. The General, he explained, was his friend and only seeking to make her comfortable at his behest.

The now-departed General’s son found this mirthful as his memories of his father were of the same kindly nature rather than the fearful reputation that caused Mrs. Mehta to flee in such fear.

This book TELLS one, REMINDS one, and TEACHES of A LOT!

Read it.

For Uganda.

It is ‘The Call Of The Peacock‘.