looking at bonang power, #SaveMurchisonFalls might be a storm in a teacup

JUST two weeks ago, the Supervisor of the Security Company that serves us decided to suspend our guard, and then a day later dismissed him from employment.

I was surprised because we have suffered with worse guards that the Supervisor hadn’t addressed himself to, but pleased because this particular fellow really had it coming from the day he arrived.

Not many of the guards turn out dressed sharp and to the nines, but this one always had his uniform dishevelled and crumpled as if he had packed it in an A4-size envelope then sat upon the envelope for a ten-kilometre ride after a heavy meal of boiled beans and cabbage.

I asked him about it once and he mumbled something I couldn’t understand even after I had made him repeat it thrice.

He tended to roll up to work and go straight to sleep, which wasn’t the cause of his dishevelled appearance, because he’d blackout slumped in a garden chair.

He also had no inkling of any etiquette whatsoever, and didn’t find it awkward to be woken up to tend to his duties, and with no apologetic punctuation shuffle off to another corner to fall asleep again within minutes.

His unsuitability for the job was so incredible that the Supervisor withdrew him from work; the same Supervisor who had ignored the fellow’s violently drunken and dull, dim-witted predecessors who tended to get tricked by even the house puppies.

So when the departed guard started hounding me with phone calls and SMS texts I was astonished. He was asking me to employ him directly to do “any work” round the homestead.

This was not a situation I needed to consult anyone over or escalate to the spouse; so I rejected his proposal firmly the minute I heard it.

That lousy guard came to mind this week when the #SaveMurchisonFalls outrage exploded on our socialmedia-sphere in Uganda.

I had to re-read the news story that ignited the outrage and picked out two main points. One – the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) was announcing that it had received an application from “a South African energy firm” for the generation and sale of power; Two – the company was called Bonang Power Energy Limited.

Taking this in reverse order from bottom up, I went straight to the internet to find out more about this Bonang Power Energy Limited. I was certain that only the most serious of companies could court a feature as globally important and rare as the Kabalega (or Murchison) Falls.

All the options on the first page Google brought up were of a South African celebrity called Bonang Matheba, who I had never heard of before in my life.

I went on till I found bonangpower.co.za and was alarmed within minutes.

Few companies with the resources to build a hydropower dam would spend so little money or energy (no pun) on their official online presence.

Another person would have laughed at the way Bonang boldly proclaimed on its home page: “2014 – Year Established; 2 – Projects Completed; 80 Partners Yrs Experience.”, but I couldn’t.

Their address, listed as ‘195 Jan Smuts Avenue, Randburg, 2196’ in South Africa, showed up on Google Maps with the image of ‘The Business Exchange, Rosebank’ https://www.tbeafrica.com/ – a commercial property that also offers co-working and virtual office space.

I did not dare imagine that a large energy company in South Africa might be based in a co-working or virtual space to build and run massive dams in places like Murchison Falls.

And I even thought I had seen the address wrong but:

I’m still checking what I did wrong here…

Their other page is the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Hydropowerinfrastructure/ and, again, perhaps large energy companies in South Africa generally don’t aim for many social media contacts.

More importantly, I noticed that Bonang Power already boasts on their website – when you click on this superb photograph of a Dam (below) about “Uhuru Hydro Power in Uganda”, https://www.bonangpower.co.za/project-3?fbclid=IwAR3X2L7SbtgtMP3DteHxMiyooksqFMVSeznqpHq-HmTekS-kg5GrrKZsi1o and talks about new hydro power stations that “will be built at Ayago, Uhuru, Kiba and Murchison Falls…” but without saying that Bonang will build them.

Then I spotted the link ‘Company Profile’ (in font ‘Times New Roman’) and had to download it https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/9b31a5_24628ee6192d414eaf424b98ea728833.pdf hoping that the #SaveMurchisonFalls battle was worth all the vitriol.

What a waste of time. Besides the type of spelling errors one finds on the packaging of cheap Chinese-made toys or in Nigerian fraudster emails, Bonang Power and Energy (Pty) Ltd.’s Company Profile was a sad affair.

The space under the title ‘Team Snap Shot’ was blank – which is probably very accurate because this is clearly a briefcase company!

And they can’t deny it because the mugshot of a smiling chap in a hard hat is the same one on their Facebook page (with three – 3 Likes), and the photo of the Company Chairman, Ernest Moloi, is the same on used in his interview with Forbes Magazine.

The guy in a hard hat on their Facebook page and website is a model you find on Shutterstock when you search for ‘construction worker african american black’.

I won’t even bother going into the profiles of the two people listed as staff because neither has anything to do with hydropower or construction.

In that interview by Forbes Magazine, by the way, is the sentence: “(Moloi) has managed to convince the Ugandan government to build a toll road from Kampala to the corridor of Kenya, and preparations are underway” followed by a claim that he was going to build shopping malls in Uganda.

So he’s already here?

I stopped there to go and do more important things.

Moving up to the first issue I had with this #SaveMurchisonFalls story made me ponder ERA’s wisdom in making their announcement about Bonang Power.

The cursory online check I did on the ‘Company’ was barely due diligence but did not give me confidence to take them seriously. Much the same way that fired guard’s unkempt uniform and poor attitude at work made him too unserious a candidate for me to even tell the spouse about his request for work.

let’s identify and use our icons to promote Uganda more

THE first time I visited South Africa (the Republic) was in 1999, and the guys at the airport were still heady with the end end of apartheid – and to be frank, so was I.

Unlike myself, they couldn’t help bringing up Idi Amin when they read my Passport, even though I felt I deserved better as a Ugandan.

That entire visit I found that most people, including some random Zambian I met atop of Table Mountain, only linked the word “Uganda” to “Idi Amin” even though on interrogation I found that the Zambian HAD been to Uganda and met with serious Ugandans in the medical profession with no link whatsoever to our former President.

This is not about Idi Amin.

For about five years I found South Africans using different icons to relate to Uganda, but this week I was met by a Customs chap who responded to my being Ugandan (seeing the t-shirt) with, “Matooke! Did you bring Matooke?!”

The excitement of his exclamation could have been linked to the expectation that he would catch me bringing in this agricultural contraband and therefore earn some commission or bonus, but after I calmly denied he slapped my suitcase and smiled.

“Matooke tastes good, braa!”

I smiled and went along my merry way since it was late in the night, but the memory came back to me the next morning.

Through the years these icons have included enseenene (delicious tasting fried grasshoppers), which a number of South Africans find entertaining even though they and their cousins in Zimbabwe eat stuff like mopane worms; and Anne Kansiime who came up last year, proving the power and reach of our continental media.

“She’s a funny one, that one! Tell her I said hi!” said the Immigration chap that night.

At one point the icon they recognised most was our President, and I was relieved when instead of “Idi Amin!” they’d go, “Museveni!” This was about the time they seemed to learn about Uganda’s contribution to the apartheid struggle in the past.

Most Ugandans don’t know about this even now. I recall meeting some young South Africans back in my much younger days in some dark place in Kyambogo. A few hours in we realised they were complicated characters when they introduced knives into an equation that involved liquids of a potent nature.

The night ended without too much mayhem, and we didn’t become friends. Years later, I woke up in a dormitory somewhere and found myself face-to-face with one of those South Africans. He was back in the country to continue receiving the type of support that eventually led to these exclamations of “Museveni!” from his compatriots when I introduce myself as Ugandan.

When I was leaving South Africa the last guy at the security checkpoint asked me about David Obua. I smiled and we chatted briefly about this Ugandan.

This week’s declaration of “Matooke!” pleased me, and along the way I asked a few other South Africans about their knowledge or liking of the foodstuff – at least three of them confirmed it.

This is not about Matooke.

It is about icons – our national icons, and how much more we can do to identify and use them for diplomacy, tourism, investment and even our individual self-esteem. An ‘icon’ is “a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration.”

The fact that we have positive sounds about ordinary things like enseenene and Matooke means we have lots more to offer the world than we realise or make use of.

Our Ambassadors and Tourism afficionados could keep us notified what these icons are so we take advantage of them at every turn and corner. If Matooke is the big thing from Uganda in South Africa in 2017 then every Ugandan flying down there could go with a recipe book and a sample packet of matooke crisps or something even more innovative, and sell more Uganda out there.


it is you – Uganda – so take what is yours!

MY neighbourhood in Kampala is quite active when it comes to community issues. In recent months, the range of issues has included road safety and personal security, both of which featured groups of skaters that nobody could readily identify as either residents or friends of residents.

We have had varied views about the skaters for a while – some more vehement than others.

And this week, immersed in a totally unrelated conversation many kilometres away from my neighbourhood and the skaters, I was relieved that no drastic action had been taken against the skaters.

The kaboozi took place within the KFM studios as I was waiting for a talk show to commence. One of the producers there, Sean Oseku, mentioned a skating ramp in Kitintale and went on with what he was saying but I failed to follow him.

“What do you mean ‘a skating ramp in Kitintale’?” I asked, incredulous. 

The skaters in my neighbourhood do not use a ramp; their high nuisance rating by some neighbours was partly because they were skating right on the road itself and presenting accident risks for motorists.

“There is a skating ramp in Kitintale…” Sean told me, and then gave me directions that really surprised me. He was talking about my neighbourhood skaters! They had a ramp?!

I normally see skating ramps in movies and countries like the United States where youths are encouraged to participate in such sports especially in communities where deliberate efforts are required to stop children being idle, because the adage says that gets the devil working.

The last time I saw one, though was at an event in Kololo, Kampala, when the Mega Dairy people erected a movable ramp as part of their stand next to mine, complete with child skaters. That had impressed me, and excited all the children in attendance.

And as Sean continued his tale he mentioned that Moses Byaruhanga, Presidential Political Assistant and proprietor of Mega Dairy, was one of the benefactors of the skaters – the Uganda Skateboard Union.
Marvelling at how small the world was turning out to be, I flicked open my tablet and sought out the actual topic of conversation.

Out there in the big, wide world is a musical hit doing quite well on the global charts that has garnered more than 1.8million YouTube views so far. The song is “Should’ve Been Me” by Naughty Boy, Kyla and Popcaan.

Right from the opening shot of the video I knew Uganda was involved. The little boy in the frame made me think immediately of Madina Nalwanga, of ‘Queen Of Katwe‘ fame. The rest of the video just finished me – including the bits shot in my neighbourhood!

There is something happening around and about Uganda that is giving us global prominence in a way we are almost not ready for. We need to wake up to what it all means.

The entire video is a cinematographic feel-good, dreams-can-come-true, triumph-amid-tribulation four and a half minutes that hits the mark dead-centre. It is Disney-ish yet not Disney. We have dust but also tarmac. We have poverty but hope and energy. Big boys give way to small boys, and encourage them. Even signs of menace turn out to be caring protection, as the Uganda Police characters in the shot are kindly guarding skateboards overnight.

There is something about Uganda, that would make these musicians choose to focus their entire music video on this place. We need to wake up to what it means.

Our conversation that evening traipsed around how Uganda keeps getting these big and small bits of admiration, acknowledgement, accolade and affirmation.

We need to do more of it ourselves, and celebrate the good stuff we have. And when others do it for us, we need to learn how to take the advantage they so readily give us.

Wondering about the value of this small opportunity? To advertise on YouTube for 1.8million viewers would cost a minimum of US $180,000 (Ushs630million). The song was only released in November 2016, and the video in December, so these are early days yet. In European charts alone the song has reached popularity in Belgium (35 on the singles charts), Hungary (33), Ireland (95), Scotland (47) and the UK (97).

Let’s not wait a few more seconds, minutes, days or years then start crying “Should’ve Been Me”. It is YOU, Uganda! Take the advantage!

how to celebrate being appointed minister

Uganda Flag Waving

AS you make your way to the swearing-in ceremony today, you might be poised for an appointment to a Cabinet position – either as Minister or Minister of State.
If you do get onto that list, first and foremost, do NOT do things in the usual manner – so the first thing you should do is AVOID thanksgiving parties.
By all means, do go ahead and hold prayers at your church or mosque of choice, but don’t do the reception.
Consider all the angry comments that have been loudly made these last six months alone about service delivery and the need for efficiency, and resist the urge to throw a lavish set of parties (one at your Kampala home for friends and relatives, and another in the village constituency for ‘voters’).
Instead, compute the cost of those parties, and divert that money towards something nobly long-lasting like equipment or furniture and fittings at your local schools or hospitals.
An average party could cost up to thirty million shillings (yes – Ushs30million!). THAT sum should not be spent on perishables such as scholastic materials and medicines. Instead, make a lasting mark that will even come in handy when you are next heading out on the campaign trail.
Then, after announcing to all and sundry that you consciously and deliberately dropped the idea of throwing a one-day fete for the option of filling schools and hospitals with life-changing, long-lasting equipment, bid them farewell and head off into a retreat.
The retreat is with the officials of your Ministry – whether you’re just joining a new one or you’ve been re-appointed to the one you were in before. Take them into an inexpensive location and spend serious thinking time establishing three things from the last term of office: 1. What has gone well 2. What could have been done better 3. What did you (the ministry officials) or we (if you were a Minister before) learn.
On the way back from the retreat, your first salary should have landed onto your account. I strongly suspect that most Ugandans would appreciate it if you spent a little of that money and invested it in learning learning about the field in which you have been appointed Minister. Don’t apply for a university degree or anything so drastic (yet); buy a couple of books and take a short course from a very good set of professionals.
It should be helpful if a member of cabinet is given advice and guidance by the most proficient people in the field whose national policy they are going to take charge of.
Thereafter, make it firmly clear that you will NOT make any public statement for at lest a month. That will give you enough time to study the situation in your ministry and confirm that things are actually as they might seem or should be.
During that month you will identify the right staff to work with and establish the procedures that will ensure you are actually as efficient as Ugandans want the government to be. From spelling mistakes through time keeping to the big things like handling procurement sensibly and without corruption or the wastage of tax payers money, you will spend the first month laying down terms of engagement and making them all sign the dotted line.
Do it right and your administrative experts will ensure that you never get to any event late, therefore avoiding that murmuring audiences do when they insult guests of honour arriving late at events. Plus, your speech writers will be subject experts who ensure everything you say is on point, and not so verbose that you sound like a character out of a movie made by people who think that African politicians are mostly variants of Idi Amin at his most comical.
That first month is crucial because the whole of Uganda will be watching you closely and some of them might be spitting anger and vitriol just because you have been appointed to a position of authority instead of them, we of little faith.
Use that first month wisely to convince us that you, as an individual, will make a serious difference on the Board of National leadership called the Cabinet. Use that first month carefully to set the expectations amongst your staff that Ugandans have of you, and of this government.
And recite to yourself every day the mantra against which you have been appointed to that job: For God and My Country.

i know an American Ugandan lady who did a really good job for YOU

A few weeks ago I was getting rid of email entropy – that condition that inexplicably leads to the accumulation of material such as happens in hand bags, drawers, glove boxes and in this case, email inboxes.
I was surprised to find an email from one Cathy Kreutter, making comments about an article I had written about two years ago. Horrified that her email had gone unattended, I worked out that she had sent it at a time I was dealing with a personal tragedy.
Quickly, I belated corrected the situation and was so happy that she forgave me that I offered to buy her coffee some time if she was still in Uganda (her surname suggested that she wasn’t Ugandan), and did so promptly to make up for the two-year gap.
Over that coffee (tea and water, actually) my mind exploded in various ways.
First of all, to the content of her email: she was responding to an article because she needed to re-inforce something I had said about how Ugandans CAN deliver high quality products when we put our minds to it.
Cathy Kreutter is an author. Right now she is not ready to write her full story, and has chosen to write children’s books but the quality of those books is such that she has won international recognition for both her content AND the production.
By occupation, she is a Librarian, so her association with books is not to be taken lightly. Paraphrasing a lot of what she said, I worked out that when she decided to write her first book she was irritated that everyone thought she had to send it off to Dubai or India and further afield in order to get a serious job done.
Like a good Ugandan would, she chose to write her book with the determination that it would be stitched and bound in Uganda by Ugandans, and then sold anywhere in the world as her evidence that we, over here in the Pearl of Africa, can do just as well as anybody else in the rest of the world.
Painstakingly, she cajoled the people in the printing section of the ambitious Vision Group to be even more ambitious and aim for the very best work possible – and even if they did balk at it in the beginning, they eventually rallied round and – voila!
I Know An Old Mzee Who Swallowed A Fly” – a book written by a Ugandan, illustrated by Ugandans, produced by Ugandans and published by Ugandans went ahead and won a Moonbeam Award!
This was no mean feat. The Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards go to the very best books found “appropriate for the North American market”. The book is good enough to feature properly (at full rates) on Amazon.com, which platform will reject poor products or price them at massive discounts.
I shot an email over to Jim Barnes, the Editor and Awards Director of the Jenkins Group, which is behind the Moonbeam Awards, and he said this was the first from Uganda.
“That may be our only Ugandan entry. We get some from South Africa, but that’s about it,” he told me.ac59a078-ee13-438c-bb3e-b06f239665e3
So Cathy Kreutter had put Uganda on that map through her sheer insistence that it could be done – and kudos to the guys at Vision Group for working so hard to achieve that.
Now, that wasn’t all that tickled me when I met her. This lady, it turned out, has been in Uganda since 1981 and is now a Ugandan citizen. Her book, should she write it, will be a captivating read even if she doesn’t believe so right now.
Her story involves so many near misses that it could even be turned into a movie; yet in spite of those near misses her and her husband still came and lived in Uganda through the difficult days and are now localised investors (not missionaries) in the fabric of the country.
I could have been skeptical about this but the day after I met her I went out to the Katosi fishing village for an event with a firm called RTI International, which was doing a very low key handover ceremony of a school building. As I took photos of the excited schoolchildren, one of them caught my eye because his t-shirt bore the words, “CornerStone Development”.
I had seen that written on the back of Cathy’s book, and she had told me it was a foundation her husband Tim was heavily involved in (put modestly).
But they had nothing going on in Katosi – which meant that the child wearing that t-shirt was one of those far-reaching effects of intervention that proves it is a success – and THAT is what the proceeds from her book go to fund. Not the t-shirts, but the schools that Cornerstone builds – in Rwanda, Tanzania and South Sudan as well.
Well there is more, apparently, as we will discover this weekend when we all flock to the Protea Hotel to launch her next book – “Tendo’s Wish”.
The stories about the books themselves are different, and need more column space. This weekend, though, we will applaud this American Ugandan who, like her life story, took an American folk tale and Ugandanised it to great acclaim, putting the two countries at par on that level.