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”.
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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.

#RainsAreHere – so wake up and go plant something in your tropical garden!


ONE morning last year I astonished @spartakussug, a marketing and creative design fellow, when I changed the location of our meeting appointment from a popular cafe to a sedate office location. The caveat, I told him, was that he would have to spend the equivalent of our coffee bills on buying mango tree seedlings.
He did, and I eventually planted five mango trees, after explaining to him that city people like us were spending too much time and money “living life” to stop and take the reality of our potential into account. He promised to secure land and start planting his own trees, vegetables and what not, and I will this week be following up on that.
I started on this journey a long time ago, thanks to an actively agricultural family background, so for more than a month now I have been anxious over when the rains will

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MY matooke. All MINE.

finally fall.

And when this week the skies opened up with more promise than the tickling it did a couple of weeks ago, I jumped out of bed with an enthusiasm I did not have when I was still in school.
I wasn’t surprised to read tweets and facebook posts about burrowing deeper into bed on account of the morning rains, because our city lifestyle is influenced by the movies, novels and internet posts – where most of the content is created and published by people who live in harsh climates that cannot grow crops left, right, centre, and all food comes from supermarkets.
Because we ‘live’ in a culture that is based in other countries that don’t have the climate, soils, seeds, and traditional agricultural knowledge that exists in tropical Africa, we tend to think like people who do. That’s why, for instance, I can spend one thousand shillings on one avocado fruit every day for years and years, even though one avocado seedling will cost me two thousand shillings and within one and a half years will serve up thousands of fruits. That same avocado, if converted into ebigenderako at a joint selling roast meat, will fetch a value of Ushs4,000!
See, over the weekend I had paid my parents a visit and returned with a sack of avocados collected quite casually within minutes from one of the trees in their garden (the real one – olusuku), and as usual I calculated very carefully how much money I had saved on my market shopping for the next couple of weeks, with adjustments to my diet plan.
My own avocado tree, where I live, is going to be serving up large numbers of the fruits again in a short while and I am adopting a new policy for the benefit of my children, based on what I told Collin last year: for every fruit we consume from that one tree in my front garden I will put aside one thousand shillings in cash.
All the money I collect in this way will be spent buying avocado tree seedlings for planting on a farm patch – and the possession of that land, of course, is a pre-requisite for this approach to work, though even that land could be acquired quite easily by many of these city people using their spare change or if they buy fewer buffet meals and less whisky.
So it was that on Monday, before some people had ordered for their office snacks using online and mobile apps, I had used the very same technology to place orders for a range of tree seedlings to add to my last planting – and I will do that every chance I get, till I have

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Ordered from @GreeningUganda

these fruits and vegetables pouring out in piles.

And let’s not worry that if you all join in and we all have piles and piles of fruits and vegetables that nobody will buy them – at the very least, all those people out there in that wide world who are snuggling in their beds in the bad weather will buy up our produce.  On another level, other people will start up business ventures to transport, refrigerate, package, process, brand and export our stuff.
Just make sure that when it rains in the mornings you aren’t the one holding the blanket tighter to your chin – lazima you should get up and call the guys at the farm to find out if it’s raining there and they are at work in the fields.

dazed, directionless and unable to think clearly


FuelIS IT possible that there Airtimeis a massive conspiracy out there between the telecommunication and fuel companies that has dazed us and stopped us from thinking clearly about certain things?
Surely there must be a link between the fumes from the fuel that powers our vehicles, the electromagnetic waves that run our cellular networks, and our stunned approach to certain matters?
The suspicion has been marinating in my mind for a long time till Tuesday morning when I found myself blowing through thirty minutes of precious time within a small urban village in Ntinda.
I wasn’t being foolish – I was following directions drawn onto a map that was downloaded from Google and that named the roads quite clearly. The map was clear and uncluttered, and the words written thereon equally so. The attachment was not handwritten – it had been generated by a computer and, most certainly, input by a human being.
It even had a red toggle symbol indicating where we were supposed to end up – two of us in two different vehicles – and we circled around a two kilometre radius without arriving at our destination.
Along the way we were even accosted by a well-dressed, light-skinned woman who asked us for a pint of milk. It was inconceivable that she had a car robbery scam going on, and she appeared so well-spoken that we both parked our cars and paid her some attention.
Because of our need for information, we stopped and listened to her story that involved her own car (mbu) having been stolen the evening before. She did not know the directions to the location we were trying to find, but we each gave her money for a litre of milk as she talked around in circles worse than the way we had been driving.
After hearing her story and finding that it meandered far more treacherously than the Ntinda roads we had gotten lost in, we interjected with specific queries about the location we were trying to get to.
She had no idea where it was.
That was when we realised there was no logic linking her allegedly stolen car to her need for so much milk in the morning, and her composure gave way to a harsh reality that had nothing to do with sobriety.
By the time we actually found our desired location my suspicion over the conspiracy between telecommunication and fuel firms was concrete.
They have connived in certain ways that we must find a way of revealing to the world so that we join efforts to end it.
This conspiracy is the only way one can explain the absence of road signs in neighbourhoods such as Ntinda.
Now, pause for a minute and consider that a few weeks ago I got into a small fracas with some friends after someone alleged that in Kampala we can only give directions by way of the positioning of our fenne trees.
During the argument I protested heartily and hotly, because I long ago rejected the notion that we were too mentally deficient to put up our own road signs. In any case, I had moved into a neighbourhood where the residents were so aware of their personal responsibilities that some had gone ahead and laid tarmac on their roads, let alone erect road signs, without waiting for the government to do so.
When I got tired of telling visitors to count how many gates stood before mine in order to find my place, I checked with a metal worker nearby and found that a sign post at my little house would cost me only Ushs25,000.
I promptly made four – one for me and three for my neighbours. (Only one has so far erected his, besides my own for which I mixed concrete and dug the hole with my bare hands and those of a few of the children visiting that weekend).
All these thoughts raised my temperature, in Ntinda that morning, as I could not understand for the life of me why roads were so clearly named up in the world of Google Maps but not labelled on the ground at a cost of Ushs25,000 per label!
Why?
The answer must lie in the existence of a very large profit motive on the part of people or companies that benefit from this.
And my two biggest suspects, I insist, are the telecommunication and fuel companies – obviously because of the amount of time we spend on the phone giving and taking directions, and the amount of fuel we burn driving up and down looking for indeterminate landmarks.
We, ourselves, have been so dazed by the acquisition of mobile phones and motor vehicles that we cannot remember how we used to get from place to place without the help of either.
We are now thinking so unclearly that the cycle will not be broken, and we remain directionless not just by way of the lack of signposts, but mentally as well.