never downplay the importance of good, expensive equipment

THE visit to Uganda by Pope Francis was highly successful – possibly even more so than the other countries can say – but for those with noses to the ground there were some hard lessons to be learnt – lessons we only ignore if we do not wish to develop more.
My favourite lesson was one I have been keenly aware of for many years – NEVER downplay the importance of good, expensive equipment.
And before you bring out a tub of popcorn in anticipation of a duel over television broadcasting, let it be known that I am talking strictly about photography today.
Photography because the avaricious side of us welcomed the Pontiff’s visit due to the tourism value it brought to Uganda as a nation and East Africa as a region. See, there are more than 1.2billion Roman Catholics in the world, and one World Bank study says Uganda receives about 1.2million visitors into the country every year – which figure includes anyone dropping in for a day or staying overnight en route to somewhere else.
Now, the Pope’s visit to Uganda was full of blessings and was rather exciting for all of us who lined up to wave at him and shake his hand, but back to the avaricious side of things and my lesson:
NEVER downplay the importance of good, expensive equipment.
The night before he arrived, I fortuitously received an email notification from a service I signed up to months ago, offering me some used camera equipment that cost at least a couple of thousand pounds sterling each for the cheapest items – lenses – and more than ten thousand pounds for heavier ones – cameras.
My eyes opened wide at the costs listed there, but I took an interest anyway.
The very next day, I was surrounded by the international media following the Pope and had whipped out my own digital Single Lens Reflex camera with a ‘big’ lens to take some shots when I felt shrivelled. Some of the lenses those photographers lugged around obliterated my view of the entire Popemobile!
Now, regardless of what you are talking about, equipment is important, and our neglect of the investment required to own and run serious equipment will always hold us back.
One of my first useful steps at one government office I worked in was the acquisition of a digital camera and memory card. I misappropriated (or re-appropriated) money meant for some other mundane and very traditional purpose and bought the damn camera along with a card and a rechargeable battery.
The complaints thereafter sounded serious at first but were muted by my brutish nature, and after a couple of weeks the difference in our public visibility was so vivid – both in the quality of photography we were producing and circulating and in the speed with which we had photographs out – that I heard some colleagues in a totally unrelated department trying to take credit for the purchase.
The cost of the camera, memory card and battery, I should add, was the equivalent of a couple of meals our delegation would have signed for – thus the early complaints over my actions. But the value it gave us far superseded that of the film-roll cameras that my unit carried till then.
Now, confronted by the gigantic lenses of the international press corpsIMG_1193IMG_1195

img-20151202-wa0043.jpg following His Holiness the Pope, I had to check the prices of some of them online and found them even more daunting than the ones sent by email the night before.

But then, I thought, double checking the number of Roman Catholics that were bound to be following news of the Pope’s visit and who would possibly see the high quality photographic depiction of his presence here, that cost would have been quickly offset by 1% of them if, as a result of good photography, they chose to visit Uganda and each spent less than US$1 here!
NEVER downplay the importance of good, expensive equipment.
The massive lenses enabled those photographers to get high quality shots of whatever they wanted from tens of metres away, while our photographs had to be taken from close range.
We couldn’t compete; and if they chose to take shots of only the ugly bits of the country while we focused on the vast number of beautiful parts, their submissions would defeat ours in number and quality – just because we don’t have the right equipment. In fact the event organisers, sticking to internationally set standards, kept providing media platforms for camerapeople and positioned them at distances that inconvenienced some of us very greatly while the international press corps simply clicked their tongues and got to work shooting.
NEVER downplay the importance of good, expensive equipment – and since we always go for the best when buying jets, cars, guns and whatnot, it’s about time we started doing so when buying photographic equipment as institutions and individuals wishing to portray the best parts of Uganda.

it’s never rocket science

Since we have now officially began the season of political campaigns, we must brace ourselves for even more political commentary and discussion within our homes, other social settings and in the media.
All the commentary is going to be made with serious looks on our faces and delivered in deep, quasi-intellectual tones wrapping collections of words into phrases presented as wise gifts from all directions, not just the East. And this is just the political commentary, hovering above all the promises the actual politicians are making.
Sadly, a lot of it will be nonsense and if we swallow it down without thinking then we will deserve the intellectual indigestion later on.
In the past two weeks alone, for instance, I have heard and read the phrase, “It’s not rocket science…” from more than six different and unrelated people on different platforms.
This phrase is presumed to mean that rocket science is very difficult and that therefore any issue that is rocket science would confound the ordinary person such as myself.
It is true, but in reality I have never come across anything to do with rocket science.
The only people who actually attempt rocket science are people who have studied it in school at an advanced level. Those are people who are so intelligent that they actually apply for the courses required to get into rocket science classrooms and lecture theatres, and learn well enough to advance to become rocket scientists.
A rocket scientist does not find rocket science to be difficult; which means that just before you (if you’re an ordinary non-scientist like me) walked into a room full of rocket scientists the general consensus in the room would be that rocket science is easy, straightforward stuff.
For most of us ordinary people, an ordinary car engine is even more confounding than rocket science, because we have no idea what all those cables, pipes, rubber bits and canisters represent or do yet we have to deal with them regularly.
Instead of saying, “It’s not rocket science”, therefore, we could say, “It’s not a car engine” and achieve the very same meaning.
But also, two brilliant rocket scientists might be equally confounded if they were placed in front of a pile of matooke, banana leaves and bits of firewood, then told to make matooke.
See, because it’s not rocket science.
Phrases like those that go over our heads and are easily accepted but have much less of an impact than the political statements themselves do, even though they deprive us of the more in-depth analysis that sensible political commentary should give us.
The politicians may and can say just about anything they want to – since they say all’s fair in love and war, but the political analysts owe us much more.
Political analysts should dissect the promises that the candidates are making, the viability of their statements and the veracity of the claims spoken at podiums. Political analysts should use the luxury they have of conducting research into the issues and topics that the candidates address, to present to us well-filtered views and opinions.
Unlike the politicians who operate in conditions of campaign heat and excitement, political analysts should think and speak in the calmness of their rooms, offices, libraries and studios, then clarify matters for the general public.
And the media houses that host these analysts, also known as commentators, should begin to apply some standards that spare us rocket scientists trying to make matooke, just as we ourselves should do as we hold these discussions within our homes and other social settings.

to two gentle giants, who showed us what good leaders can be in Uganda


Gen. Aronda Small

The evening of the day I heard that General Aronda Nyakairima had passed on my eyes were wet as I joined family and friends to pray for the soul of an angelic boy called Daniel Babara.
There is not enough space for us to delve fully into the thoughts I had as I thought about the lives of both the General and the young man I had known so well for the short time he lived.
Besides their early, regrettable passing, both men made me think deeply about humility and gentleness.
Humility because Danielson (that’s what we called him) was a superstar within his peers and yet carried himself quite ordinarily amongst them and within the family.
The same humility has been used in every eulogy and message about General Aronda, with as much consistency as we remarked about this quality in him when he was alive.
All through his army and official life he held various positions of serious responsibility and high authority but never did you hear tales of arrogance, high handedness or bullying linked to him.
Most recently, when he took office at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and asked staff to put in extra time at work in order to create a much-needed acceleration of their duties, very few responded positively.
It was amazing how defiant some people could be in the face of such power and authority, as presented by an Army General, former Army Commander, and substantive, sworn-in Cabinet Minister in charge.
But what was more amazing was his response – which was to turn up at work every day and on Saturdays and on Sundays, with the few who did show up.
On many mornings, he would smile in amusement and kick aside the odd bits of witchcraft charms that some characters would litter about his office, and then go about his work as normal – and the results were unquestionably impactful across the entire country.
After bumping into him one day at the Kampala Serena and watching him petting a bevy of frolicking children as we chatted briefly, the words ‘gentle giant’ came to mind as I considered that this man had overseen an Army that pacified the North, changed our view of the Karimojong warrior, and gave new meaning to the processes governing our Internal Affairs.
That gentleness of manner made me look up the word ‘gentility’, defined quickly as ‘social superiority as demonstrated by polite and respectable manners, behaviour, or appearances’.
One more lengthy definition, though, contained the phrase, “gentility is that rare kind of graciousness that is handed down from one elegant generation to the next.” which made me look more closely at the other gentle giant I was mourning last Saturday.
Danielson, a tall, noble prince, was Captain of his basketball team, the UMU Flames, by the time his life was snuffed out by an errant security guard firing off his gun during a scuffle.
Danielson was not part of that scuffle – ever the leader amongst his peers, he had stepped in to try and break up the fracas but took a bullet in the process – which is painful to think about right to this day, but in a twisted way made him even more respected amongst his friends. See, he took a bullet for them.
So respected was he that all through this past year, his team has continued to honour his memory; his mother, Phyllis, is now called ‘Mama Flames’, and is invited to grace their games as oft she can.
His friends have stuck together for him so tightly that on his birthday, they turned up at his home to cut cake with her.
The boy clearly had a strong impact as a leader!
At one point in his short life, young Danielson thought about joining the armed forces, which but for God’s plans would have certainly led to his being a General some day rather than the Angel in heaven that his family tearfully but gladly knows him to be today.
I honestly think that if he had taken up the uniform, he would have led with the same gentle but efficient strength that General Aronda displayed through his service.
In his short life and General Aronda’s longer one we see evidence that we don’t have to be brash and confrontational to get things done, as many so-called leaders around us seem to think.
Sadly, both gentle giants left us in questionable ways that will have us looking to God alone for answers. Till we meet again. May their Souls Rest In Peace.

#Uganda! go and make your contribution upcountry…as well

STIC Call for Grant Header

A FEW weeks ago I received an email from an acquaintance in Uganda’s ICT world, seeking help.

Reading through the appeal confused me for a while, and I put it aside till I was fresh in the morning so I could understand it properly. You see, it was too simple to make sense to me and the amounts involved seemed to be missing a few commas and zeroes – or other digits.

The letterhead (as you see from the above) read “Lira Town College” and the appeal was for a grant to assist the school’s Science and Technology Innovations Club (STIC) activities.

I remembered this organisation clearly as I read the letter detailing that the Club had participated in various ICT events, including the Annual Communications Innovations Awards (ACIA).

Their need, as I stated, was simple – a new Robotics Kit for the club, which would enable them to participate in another challenge event this month.

What further bamboozled me was the cost of the kit they needed – Ushs602,000 only (sent to 0783125905 by Mobile Money).

I did my part and also sent word round even further, and was only mildly surprised after a few weeks to discover that there had been only one (1 – emu – moja) contribution to their cause.

This, meanwhile, during a time where we participate in marathons and runs, wedding fundraisers, political fundraisers and the like, that raise billions at a pop.

Our ongoing fundraisers take place mostly in Kampala for the benefit of causes and activities that are mostly visible in Kampala.

Not only that, most of the money we collect here in the capital city gets spent in the capital city – which concentrates economic and development activity further here in the capital city rather than spreading it out nationwide.

Of course, it makes sense to pursue the fundraising activities in Kampala because most of the big money is in Kampala. But if we could do that and send the funds outside of the city then we would certainly see a lot more development taking place out there in places like Lira.

Six hundred thousand shillings, for instance, could be the difference between those eager, intelligent, high potential children in Lira developing some ground breaking innovation that could change the world in one way or another.

If we (the people reading this and resident in Kampala) got together in groups of twenty (20) and each contributed Ushs1,000 a day for a month, then we could probably equip every high school in the country with a Robotics kit and enhance innovative science in the minds of all our children.

The amounts involved in upcountry locations are always surprisingly low – which defies economics, since the point of logistics entry and clearance into Uganda is normally through Kampala, and therefore things going upcountry should be more expensive.

Let’s not correct that anomaly yet; instead, perhaps we should fund raise less for things happening in Kampala and more for things taking place in remote, upcountry places.

The impact will certainly be much larger, and the story even more compelling when scientists emerge on the global scene and tell of their humble beginnings from Lira Town College.

And for you, the benefactor in small amounts, the fulfilment will be even that much greater when you find that a humble contribution of Ushs1,000 a day over a couple of months has resulted in nationally – even globally – acknowledged innovations.

Ushs1,000 a day – less than the cost of an average Rolex; perhaps two breakfast sumbusas; a bottle of water; airtime spent downloading WhatsApp photographs every hour…

Meanwhile, the Lira Town College Science and Innovations Club has an event to participate in next month and needs this Robotics kit of Ushs602,000.

Think about that as you buy your next drink, or a concert ticket, or that additional toy for your rather over-indulged infant.

Rwanda is not all Kigali, but it still appears quite orderly all over

Moto Rider from

LIKE the rest of you I have heard and even experienced the neatness and orderliness of Kigali before, which is why I unreservedly support the people at Kampala Capital City Authority in all they do, and hope all our local governments follow suit.
But of course not every corner of Rwanda is as neat and orderly as Kigali, just as not every bit of the United States is as slummy as some parts of Washington DC (yes – they have slums there too). Nevertheless, last week I was surprised by evidence of that famed orderliness even in the extreme corner of the country.
I found occasion to hop into a taxi running from Cyanika to Musanze and even as I approached the jalopy I was put out by its appearance, the crazy-eyed hand-on-the-horn driver and his filthy tout shouting at us.
Still, I boarded it because my options were limited at that point, and just as it set off I was firmly but politely instructed by the driver, the conductor sitting behind me, and the tout standing outside of the vehicle, to fasten my seat belt.
They didn’t do it the way air hostesses do, but because they could tell I was a stranger they accompanied their words with gestures and finger pointing. My neighbour, a Congolese fellow (he said, “Mimi mni mu-Congo-man”) even reached across and tugged at the seat belt.
The taxi hurtled into the road as we jointly struggled with the worn, highly ineffective seatbelt, which eventually relented and went into its clasp but thereafter presented absolutely none of the tension that provides its safety component.
They obviously knew it was useless, but were all steadfast in ensuring I wore it – which I found odd.
We bumped and rumbled down the road at an unhealthy speed as I generally affirmed to myself that I was in the usual rural, upcountry setting on my beloved continent, going by the sights outside, and wondered why we didn’t generally go further faster, in development.
Then, after a few kilometres, I noticed an unusual element before me – and it wasn’t the vegetation, the buildings, the roads, or the clothing of the people we whizzed past – it was the boda bodas.
I had to concentrate a little before I understood why they looked different – and it was their helmets.
Over here, I am quite accustomed to seeing boda boda riders with helmets loosely perched on their handlebars as they whizz past cars to the left or to the right, nudging life expectancy limits.
Over there, however, not only did they have the helmets on their heads, EVERY boda boda had TWO helmets on it – one on the rider’s head and the other on the head of the passenger or lodged on the handlebars.
All the way from Cyanika and through Kigali, the helmets appeared in doubles.
And, confounding me even more, almost ALL OF THEM had helmets of matching colour – either both blue or both green or both red…
And yet, as incongruous as the non-functional but mandatory seatbelt, not a single bicycle rider – and there were very many of them – from Cyanika to Kigali wore a helmet even if they carried passengers and rode along the main roads…
Strangely inconsistent, yet somehow fitting with the way we do things on this, my beloved continent.