challenging Ugandan tourism to a game of dool


If you haven’t heard of the game ‘Mah Jong’, this is your opportunity to Google it, as we consider the potential of a local Ugandan game called Dool.

Mah Jong is a simple tile or card game, and has led to many others being created as a result – across Continents. The history of the game goes back to the 18th Century in China and the earliest surviving Mah Jong tile is said (according to Wikipedia) to date back to 1870.

That’s about the time the first White Men came to Uganda and stopped over in Buganda for a while.

White men are central to the discussion here, as the thoughts below came to me because of two tours of white men who visited Uganda briefly on business last week and took the opportunity to tour one of the oldest traditional Kingdoms in the world – the Buganda Kingdom.

I became Tour Guide for a while, for www.shiyaya.travel, taking them round various installations in Buganda, around Kampala, explaining the history of the Kingdom. I had with me a good collection of my history – personal and academic – and an official guide from the Buganda Kingdom who did a good job of keeping them engaged.

They certainly enjoyed the tour and confessed that they had learnt facts about Uganda and Buganda that they did not imagine even existed. One of them was amazed that we had so much happening here before the first White Man set foot on this soil – which is not surprising since many Ugandans, by virtue of our education, are in the same boat and yet we live here every day driving and walking past a lot of evidence of an admirable civilization that has existed for centuries.

This is not a history lesson – that will come elsewhere.

I was disturbed, at the end of the tours, that besides photographs the tourists had no mementos to carry off with them back to their homelands to remind them of what they had heard, seen and experienced.

The best option would have been for them to spend a little bit of money on items from the Kingdom cultural centers, therefore putting cash into the hands of local artisans, the Kingdom, and maybe even the Uganda Revenue Authority.

That didn’t happen – mostly because there were few opportunities to do so. The few points that offered items on sale were inside little, cramped, walled rooms where not much effort was made to entice my tourists to spend anything.

But besides that, there was zero effort at making them walk off with a small piece of Buganda – even free of charge.

Until, on the last tour, I hit on an idea. The story about the Kabak’anjagala tree (Candlenut tree – Aleurites moluccanus) being planted on both sides of the King’s Mile from the Bulange to the Lubiri always caught their interest. There are 52 trees, one for each of the Clans of Buganda, lined up on either side of that Precious Mile.

As we were leaving the Lubiri, I went off to find a fruit of the Kabak’anjagala (which, in English, means ‘the King loves me’) and, as always, found some kernels (seeds) lying around. I gathered them up and presented them, dusty and all, to my tourist.

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Photo: Simon Kaheru (using the other hand)

Before he could take them up though, I offered to demonstrate what they were for and challenged Tom Kyembe, my Buganda Guide, to a game of Dool.

I can confidently state here that in my much younger days I was a local champion at the game of Dool. This is a game once described by a prefect in my school as “a manipulation of the fingers to project small, hard stones into the distance…”

It is much more entertaining than that, and even though Tom and I squatted to play without digging up a peal (the hole) and didn’t declare whether it was a ’nothings game’ or not, and also didn’t shout out ’Teach!’ and ‘Changes!’ at points, we almost got carried away but didn’t get to the point of asking each other, “Dool?”

Our tourist was fascinated that we had had marbles played here for hundreds of years. The last time I played the game was some months ago as I taught the children how fascinating it was, as opposed to the PS2/Xbox. That effort was dismal, but the tourist last weekend was impressed.

I hope he actually took the dools home with him.

And herein lies that very simple, low-cost but high value opportunity: If that Buganda Kingdom tour can incorporate the game of Dool and have some young people on ground (literally squatting, as that is how it is played) playing that game as a demonstration, tourists will be agog.

Not only that, they will buy up kernels of kabak’anjagala to take home with them and teach their children how to play ‘African Marbles’. The possibilities are endless: Sets of 52 kabak’anjagalas – one from each of the Clan trees; books with instructions of how to play Dool; autographed photographs of dignitaries playing dool; highly decorated kabak’anjagala pieces; kabak’anjagala that the Kabaka himself (or the Katikiro or the Kiweewa) once played Dool with…

Even before all that we (or the Kingdom) could organize clan-based Dool tournaments pitting each of the 52 clans against the other, where players originate and represent only their own clans. Dools from each of the 52 trees could be marketed and sold as such, branded for each clan totem and akabbiro. Every day, each clan Dool representative could collect the dools that drop from their tree, polish them, and then put them in the Dool store for sale to visitors and tourists.

A whole crafts industry could be made to germinate from one kabak’anjagala seed if we are imaginative, raking in millions in serious currencies.

Not only that, the game of marbles is world famous across all the continents. Our own version exists in Kenya as ‘bano’ and in India as ‘kancha’; I found a photograph on the internet of boys in Mexico playing marbles some time between 1862 and 1877, and another photograph depicting American President Teddy Roosevelt with other fellow soldiers (at the time) playing a game of marbles.

We could have those nationalities streaming in to marvel at the similarities as well as run tournaments. There IS a World Marbles Federation that runs World Marbles Championships, mostly in the Czech Republic. If we got these guys to discover that we have been playing Dool going back over 700 years, then maybe we will have them coming over as curious tourists and staging tournaments here…

The possibilities are myriad, all from this simple, ubiquitous tree that grows wild, thick and fruitful – but these are only possibilities if we gather our marbles together.

Dool?

 

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.

marketing Uganda requires more common sense, imagination, preparation and seriousness


Jakob_World_Cross_Country
Photo from https://www.sportstalenthub.com

AS a child I always found the examinations titled ‘General Paper’ intriguing and useful. I don’t recall really studying for it, but had to answer questions on a wide range of things that I always found more interesting than the regular subjects we were examined on.

I recall questions like, ‘What are the advantages to a country of hosting the World Cup?’ and answering them with relish even though I had no memory of class notes to rely on in providing my answers.

When I asked around for the rationale of this paper I was told that it was designed to broaden our scope of thinking; to make us more imaginative.

Later on in life, right up till last weekend, I often ponder that particular question and feel a little flabbergasted that we don’t appear to study this subject seriously enough.

Last Sunday the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) World Cross Country Championships 2017 were held in Kampala, as most people resident here only realised on the day itself.

There was a hue and cry in most circles about the lack of publicity – with at least one newspaper article published in the same space that had carried stories about this event for a number of weeks.

I was too busy to assess why the publicity was low in Kampala or Uganda, and I wasn’t clear about the communication objectives of the organisers of this – the biggest global sporting event Uganda had ever hosted. Ever.

Most countries try to ensure that global sporting events of this nature are heavily attended so that they showcase to the world at large how fun-loving, vibrant, colourful, entertaining and high-spirited their citizens are.

Sports, in general, makes the worlds of television, tourism, investment and marketing go round.

Anyone who doesn’t understand that sentence there must be stopped from getting involved in any initiative to do with Sports, Tourism, Investment and National Marketing at ANY level. From the managers of the events themselves to the people who should have sold hundreds of Rolexes to everyone who came into Uganda to be part of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships 2017.

The complaints about lack of publicity made sense on some level but cannot be blamed on the organisers themselves. The announcement that Kampala would host these races was made back in November 2014, and it was made public in the media and on the internet.

Still, for some reason there are Ugandans who believe that we constantly need to be reminded about things that we have already been told. Those are the same ones who will tell you that when you agree to hold a business meeting with them, you must additionally send them frequent reminders about the meeting.

We need fewer of these Ugandans in existence. More importantly, we need fewer of them in positions of authority and in the private sector.

Instead, we need to culture and develop Ugandans who will read all newspaper articles carefully with a view to identifying opportunities where they lie. Serious Ugandans, on reading back in 2014 that we would be hosting the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, would have taken many sensible steps.

Besides those who would have stepped up their training, like Kiplimo, and aimed to win a Gold Medal without paying for an air ticket to participate for glory in a far off land, the rest should have locked in the contacts of the IAAF (which sent, perhaps, a hundred officials) and the individual teams – the biggest number ever at 59 teams of more than 550 athletes.

A simple internet search reveals the email addresses of most of these teams within three clicks.

After getting those contacts, any hotel or tour company or rolex stand should have sent them offers and invitations directly to take up product and service offerings. And that only if the official organisations were incapable, unwilling or unable (for reasons that cannot be stated politely) to make the necessary connections.

In organised societies, the reasons large events such as these are managed by professionals running the national organisations in charge of marketing, investment and tourism, is because every time the world is focused on one country for an event it means billions of eyes and dollars are pointed there.

It was good that the website www.visituganda.com was visible on the bibs of the runners, but after that the people in charge should have ensured that the photos of the race winners as they cross the finishing line are posted EVERYWHERE AROUND THE WORLD.

Our planning for events of a national nature needs to be more pointed and take into account the objectives for which these events are staged in the first place.

Perhaps we need more of these people to study ‘General Paper’ – common sense studies that build the imagination.

tourism is everybody’s business – on world tourism day


baby-gorillaWHOEVER in Uganda coined the phrase “Tourism is everybody’s business” meant very well and should be explained better.
Tourism IS everybody’s business, in any nation that values the business of tourism.
We, all of us and everybody, plug into tourism both as beneficiaries and contributors to the business in more ways than most people actually recognise, and if we all stopped to think about it starting this World Tourism Day then we would all be the better for it.
Follow the path of Mr. & Mrs. Joe and Mary Tourist, from a foreign country of your choosing.
Before they actually make their holiday plans and decide on a country to visit, they are most likely going to do a little bit of research on the countries on the list. Regardless of what their passion is – be it walking with gorillas, trotting alongside chimpanzees, whitewater rafting, zip-lining in the Mabira, eating muchomo and Rolleggs, or going on game-heavy drives, they will want to check which country has the best offers.
The offers they will google for will not only be activity related but the additional things as well – security, hospitality and friendliness, efficiency, the general atmosphere and so on and so forth.
They will not restrict their google search to what the governments or politicians or hotels and restaurants say, but they will also check what the bloggers post and the tweeps from the different countries say, as well as what other people say about Ugandans in general.
That’s the ‘Word of Mouth’ element.
Their source of tourism information will also include ‘everybody’, as ‘everybody’ will have operated as country marketing and public relations officer by way of what they say about the country.
After the bookings are done, Mr. & Mrs. Joe and Mary Tourist head over to the country and arrive at the airport or border crossing point. Of course the people that they interact with are principally the government and commercial officials that handle their transportation and other things, but there are other aspects of their arrival into the country that ‘everybody’ has an input into.
See, the ordinary travellers in the various queues and in the same general area as our tourists form part of the pleasurable (or otherwise) experience that the tourists enjoy. I’ve been to countries where I’ve seen people turn their faces to the side and spitting heavy amounts of disgusting material onto the floor, with no-one batting an eyelid. I mentally began preparing to cut short that particular trip right there as soon as it had began, just because of that experience.
When the officials at these various desks are polite and courteous Joe and Mary Tourist will not be surprised because they expect them to be so – they are being paid and have been trained to be this way. When the ordinary people milling about them are also polite and courteous then our tourist couple will be writing blog posts, tweets and WhatsApp messages back home saying, “This place is great!”
Meanwhile, those polite and courteous everyday people that smile at Joe and Mary Tourist with no ulterior motive have no idea that their demeanour is marketing Uganda much more than a paid television campaign probably would.
And, in most cases, they do not realise that their unintentional efforts get rewarded directly by way of Joe and Mary Tourist spending money.
First, the bookings they make always attract a certain amount of taxation that goes into the coffers that the government collects from to build roads, fund schools and hospitals, and spend on other essentials such as defence and security.
Then, when Joe and Mary Tourist buy a cup of freshly ground Ugandan coffee on arrival at Entebbe International airport, or pork ribs at a stop en route from Entebbe to Kampala, or take a taste at a roadside market of their first washed and massive fresh and organic fruits and vegetables grown right here in Uganda, the money they spend goes straight into the economy, having originated from whatever country they flew in from.
Plus, everything they consume and purchase is in most cases grown or manufactured or processed by locals who find themselves earning a living because Joe and Mary Tourist have chosen to visit Uganda,
That is very different from the money you and I spend while we go about life in Uganda, because all we are doing is re-distributing the wealth that is already within the economy. A thousand Uganda Shillings in my pocket right now at my typing desk in Kahangwe, Hoima may go to the receptionist at Shiyaya Tours & Travel to pay for something there but that doesn’t change the amount of money in circulation within the Ugandan economy. But when Joe and Mary Tourist bring in a thousand Uganda Shillings from their country of origin they are increasing the amount of money in circulation inside the Ugandan economy.
Besides the amounts that we get to keep in our pockets as direct earnings from Mr. & Mrs. Joe and Mary Tourist, a certain portion of the money they spend goes into the coffers of the government because the various bits of that money are taxed by way of VAT and other commercial taxes levied on all these items – from the drinks and eats they consume to the crafts they buy and the fuel used to convey them from place to place.
So the beneficiary of tourism is not just the commercial entities engaged in tourism and the people employed directly by the sector.
Understanding this chain of benefits from the tourist to the ordinary Ugandan is an essential part of the efforts of the Competitiveness Enterprise and Development Project (CEDP) intervention in tourism.
Creating this understanding among ordinary Ugandans will better gear us to directly identifying what opportunities are available to us as a result of increased tourism, as well as how we can directly contribute to that increased tourism.
The World Bank alongside CEDP, has invested US$1.5million in hiring three PR and Marketing firms to promote Uganda as a tourism destination – specifically in the UK and Northern Ireland, Germany and parts of Europe, and the United States of America.
The efforts of these PR and Marketing firms will result in increased numbers that must be met with increased production and servicing across the industry – right from the additional mouths to feed to the need for much higher quality products – accommodation, transport, activities and more.
The performance indicators for the CEDP initiative are an increase of tourists to 1,500,000 (one million five hundred thousand) international visitors into Uganda, up from 945,000 in 2010 and 1,206,000 in 2013.
As those PR and Marketing firms go about doing their promotion and representation of Uganda abroad, we – the private sector – should be finding out what else Joe and Mary Tourist might be interested in, so we offer it to them almost intuitively and have them saying the right things about Uganda to their friends and relatives and perpetuating the Word of Mouth cycle.
Because Joe and Mary Tourist, once they have visited Uganda, will join the team ‘Marketing Uganda.
You see, Tourism is everybody’s business – including the tourists themselves.

katwe is our land of opportunity, and phionah mutesi will be our queen


If you didn’t read this first one here about the Queen of Katwe, then start there.
THE day is finally upon us, more or less. On October 1 and 2, the movie ‘Queen of Katwe’ will premiere in Kampala, Uganda, and it will make its European debut at the BFI Film Festival in London on October 9, 2016 – Independence Day!
This is not an occasion for us to scramble for tickets to attend the event and show off our newest purchase of imported clothing and make up – NO!
 So far, with the limited time available to an individual human being such as myself, reading through the tens of thousands of positive comments about the movie and its themes, focus, content and elements reminds me of what I said on these pages back in January – let’s wake up and use the opportunity given to us by the gallant Phionah Mutesi and her supporters in this cause.
The movie premiered in Toronto, Canada at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival and will enjoy what is called a “limited release” in North America on September 23, 2016. A “limited release” in the world of entertainment means that the movie will play in selected theatres across North America (the United States of America) so that the film owners and promoters gauge exactly how well it will be received before they blitz it full on to the rest of the world.
Not only that – from the comments it is receiving, this movie might make it to the Oscars…meaning that if we play our cards right we might be mentioned at the world’s most watched movie event some time next year – watched live in more than 200 countries last year.
This is not a joke, and it is not a minor achievement either, so our involvement should not be just tweeting and posting it to Facebook, #Uganda! Start planning how to promote this country’s offerings to those 200 countries at the next Oscars, lazima.
There are some short-sighted (mentally) people who have failed to see this for what it is and have therefore not even done the most simple of tasks like even creating a Map of Katwe…
Where is Katwe, exactly? Where is the house in which Phionah Mutesi was raised? Where is the first chess board she used ever, in her now globally famous life? What did she eat as a child growing up that made her so intelligent? Was it a Rolleggs (pronounced Rolex, but no-one ever sued for trademark infringement because of pronunciation)?
Should we be tagging our Rolleggs promotion onto the movie ‘Queen of Katwe’? Of course – THAT is what this opportunity means. The forward thinking people in charge of promoting Uganda, or interested in making some money out of both global and local events will see this.
See, while some characters here were making fun of Uganda’s Rolleggs activities last month, others were launching the dish in European capitals so well that we have in the last three weeks seen organic photographs of Rolleggs vans, menu cards and billboards taken in Denmark, Washington DC and London.

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Viral photograph sent by WhatsApp

My sincere hope is that those were taken in establishments owned by Ugandans who will be sending some of that money here to invest on the Stock Exchange or in poultry farms in the village, but even if that is not the case, we still have what economists call backward linkages.

Thank God that while the majority of us sleep or gripe when these things happen, there are some who spot the smallest sliver of opportunity and turn it into massive returns. The photograph from London (I think it was) showed a menu board offering up the Rolleggs as “Ugandan street food”.
That may look like a small matter but the chain of events involves someone walking down the street and spotting this then thinking, “This ‘Uganda’ place has street food? Interesting. I should Google it…”
Which means we should be working at making sure that when someone googles “Uganda” henceforth, they find the right things to make them gather up their money and bring it over here as tourists or business people or shoppers or hungry people with a penchant for Rolleggs in their different formats.
If, on their flight down here in an aeroplane that has in-flight video options, they watch the movie that is hot off the reels (‘Queen of Katwe’), they will spot David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o and Madina Nalwanga wearing those beautiful Ugandan outfits and will figure that they should get themselves some of those while they are here.
As they think that they will be listening to the soundtrack and even though Alicia Keys has stolen the show by recording “Back to Life” spontaneously to much acclaim, she has said A LOT about Uganda. She even posted a photograph of herself wearing a gomesi, so our designers should be stitching up a storm to receive all her fans’ orders for their own editions of that beautiful dress style, along with other clothing as colourfully depicted by all the actors in the movie.
Have our Uganda Tourism Board, Uganda Export Promotion Board and Uganda National Bureau of Standards been holding meetings and workshops with the Private Sector Foundation of Uganda to actualise these possibilities?
Maybe.
Ask them. Send them emails asking them how YOU can benefit and get involved in turning this potential and possibility into actuality and profit.
The whole of Canada is now talking about Queen of Katwe and Uganda, so get in touch with the Canadian High Commission to establish what queries they are getting about Uganda so you are in position to respond and deliver whatever the Canadians find interesting in Uganda basing on what aspect of the movie excited them.
After the entire world has watched it, really, what will our excuse be? It’s bad enough that more than half of the movie was filmed in South Africa…let’s not have the same percentage of the opportunity and benefit go elsewhere as well.
YOU are a resident of Katwe. Phionah Mutesi is YOUR Queen.
PHIONA-MUTESI