dear uganda tourism…#eish! from a local tourist and his children


Below is a copy and paste job I am particularly proud of. Not because of the quality of my copy and paste skills, but because of the content therein.

Alex Twinomugisha is a resident of East Africa, living in Nairobi and Kampala and working right across the region.

He is one of my favourite Ugandans for a long list of reasons, some of which will be evident to you shortly if you pay attention all through the article he has written below and shared with the Uganda Tourism Board.

Please don’t let your anger, reading his piece, distract you from the content, ideas and possibilities around what YOU could do to improve things in Uganda. 

Sadly, some people are going to go on the defensive and engage in some whataboutism instead of applying soap, water and polish to those antique limousines and doing other childishly simple things they are paid salaries to do.

***

By Alex Twinomugisha

Dear Management of  Uganda Tourism Board,

I write to you to share my recent experiences as a local tourist and offer my humble suggestions for promoting tourism in Uganda. In August of this year, I traveled with my family (kids aged 6-15 years old) to Jinja and to Kabale. We also visited the Uganda Museum. The travel and visits were aimed primarily at showing my kids the richness of our great country. We were in short, local tourists.

Our family experience and my kids’ feedback led me to wonder what we, as a country and specifically the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) and the Ministry of Tourism is doing to effectively promote Tourism both local and international in Uganda.

I have lived or worked and traveled extensively within East Africa (limiting my comparison to our neighbors only) and I believe that no country in the region has better tourism potential than Uganda. We are indeed gifted by nature. Unfortunately, I can also unequivocally state that Uganda has some of the worst tourist infrastructure, support structures and information services of any of our neighbors, in spite of our better ranking in our tourism sector. We have so much potential.

We can do better, with limited resources, just by applying common sense and better planning. Now to specific observations during our trip. This is fairly long because I want to capture my observation in detail.

  1. Visit to Uganda Museum

This was a long planned visit and the kids were excited to visit. However, by the time we left, the kids were disappointed with the state of affairs of our museum. Yes the kids! As for me, I was left speechless and seething with rage that we can allow our cultural and social heritage to rot. The first shocker was the state of past presidential cars. In any serious museum, these would be kept immaculate and even visitors allowed to sit in the car and/or take a peep inside to see how the cars’ interior looks. At the Uganda Museum, the cars are kept in an open shed in a dilapidated state (see picture). How on earth is this allowed to happen? What is so difficult with building a simple concrete floored shed to house these cars with a regular wash and polish? My daughter (14) asked why the cars can’t be kept in storage away from the public if we can’t afford to display them properly!

Uganda museum

We moved on past the cars to the cultural village. At the first “hut” we visited (the Hima hut), my son (9) excitedly started exploring the construction design (he took a course on human housing a year ago) while I prattled away telling the youngsters how our grandparents lived in these types of houses. A few minutes later, he interrupts my guided talk, points at the reed walls and says “Dad, this is a big scam!” I ask him what he means and he says “Dad, the walls behind the grass are made of concrete. You just told us that grandpa’s house was made of mud.” As I confirm that indeed the reed is covering a brick and mortar wall, he proceeds with this bombshell… “Dad you mean there is no one in Uganda who can still build a real old house that grandpa grew up in?” He added…” This is a total scam!” I was left speechless. That was the end of his and his brother’s excitement. As we walked around the cultural village, we found rotting huts, huts with rubbish strewn around and inside the hut, half built or most crumbling huts etc. At some point, my youngest (6) asked why “they” can’t cut the grass around the village to have a nice lawn. Yes, why not indeed?

But wait, we were not done yet: As we were leaving the cultural village, things got worse: the kids visited the bathrooms. In their own words ”this is the stinkiest (sic) toilet in the whole world”. I concur.

Really, what is difficult about keeping our Museum in decent shape? What do the tourists who visit think of Uganda? What’s wrong with us? What will we tell future generations about our past and culture? Why can’t we keep public toilets clean? Why not privatize them at this rate? And what the heck is UTB and the Ministry of Tourism doing?

  1. Visit to Source of the Nile at Jinja and my search for Ugandan Coffee

Here, we generally enjoyed the experience with Brian, our excellent guide. Until it started raining. And we entered one of the restaurants. And I asked for a coffee. Remembering my friend, Simon Kaheru’s insistent lectures on BUBU, I asked for Ugandan Coffee. The waitress looked at me blankly and responded (in Luganda), “what is that sir?”

I proceeded to tell her that I wanted a hot coffee preferably with milk made from Ugandan grown coffee. Still – blank face.

I asked her to call her manager (turns out the lady behind the counter who all along was listening to our conversation was the manager). She pointed at the manager lady and walked away.

I thought ‘Welcome to customer service Uganda-style.’

I got up and walked to the manager-lady-behind-the-counter and told her I wanted a coffee, for example “African Coffee” (some establishments I have been in call coffee with milk African Coffee) or a Cappuccino (thinking with all the foreign tourists that visit surely this should be familiar) provided it is made with Ugandan grown coffee.

Same blank look and an amused, “I don’t know what you are talking about sir.” At this point, I call Simon and rant.

But this is about UTB.

Really? At a major tourist attraction such as the Source of the Nile, we can’t promote Ugandan grown coffee and tea?

I will not get into the quality of the restaurant infrastructure.

coffee uganda

By the way, I ended up having a Cappuccino at The Source Café in Jinja since Brian, the guide at the Source of the Nile, told me that was “where all the Bazungu have coffee.”

Suffice it to say, at the Source Café, the waiter didn’t know whether the coffee was Ugandan but he did make me a great Cappuccino.

The source cafe

What does serving Ugandan coffee at a tourist attraction have to do with UTB? Everything sirs! The reason we (should) attract tourists to Uganda is not only to admire our beautiful country (that too is important) but spend their hard earned cash in Uganda on Ugandan products!

If they spend on Nescafe, then most of that money goes back to Europe! So much for the lost revenue to Uganda’s toiling coffee farmers and processors.

  1. Stop over at Namawojjolo (and Lukaya) for “Lolipop Chicken”

One of the truly unique foodie experiences (aside from Rolex and the good old roast pork joint) in Uganda is the chicken or meat on a stick at our highway stop overs.

I travel a lot and often marvel at how my colleagues (mostly Muzungus) want to experience unique local cuisines and specifically street food.  It’s a global trend (tune in to CNN or BBC Lifestyle for numerous programs on street food). I think our Rolex and Chicken-on-a-stick-on-the-highway are authentic Ugandan street food.

And I have made sure my kids partake of this experience (these things are not for Muzungus only). And they love it!  We should be promoting these foodie experiences in a big way. My Kenyan colleagues always ask me to bring back some “Chicken Lolipops”. I give them credit for this name.

Now to my gripes: why don’t we have a proper rest stop with sitting areas, proper parking (and Ugandan coffee plus Ugandan tea with Lemon Grass plus Ugandan made fruit juice) developed at Namawojjolo, Lukaya and other stop overs across our highways?

Incidentally, I have never seen a tourist van stopped over at any of these stops. Perhaps because there are virtually no facilities or the guides don’t want them to fall sick eating in a dingy place.

And incidentally (again) there are no public bathrooms at either Namawojjolo or, Lukaya (except the bush as someone pointed out to me). And before you say “its not our job to develop high-way rest stops”, I checked.

In many countries around the World, high-way rest stops are public projects typically developed by governments to promote local jobs.

May I request that UTB plan to develop proper, safe (no people running around on a highway), high-way rest stops at Namawojjolo, Lukaya etc with proper parking, bathroom facilities, sitting places to enjoy the local cuisine and proceed to promote these unique dining experiences in Uganda. If you Sirs, think it is not your job to develop and promote roadside stop areas, may you coordinate with the appropriate local and national governments.

And attract local entrepreneurs/ local investors to develop the facilities while protecting local jobs and livelihoods.

  1. Stop over at the Equator and my continuing quest for Ugandan Coffee

On my way to Kabale, we made the obligatory stop over at the Equator along Masaka Road. First observation- every tourist probably stops here. Not a single one (in all my stops over the years) seems to spend a shilling here. Local travelers stop over at the “katogo place” off the Masaka town bypass. Anyhow, I again asked for coffee made from Ugandan grown coffee. Same as for Jinja- no idea what I was talking about.

Interestingly, they had a sign outside one of the restaurants listed “Americano” and “African Coffee” (see photo). I didn’t bother ask what coffee they used for these coffee (in hindsight, I should have asked!). But I wondered why the sign appears to promote Coca Cola (who probably paid for it) and not UTB!

Well, there goes BUBU I thought!

Equator menu

So what’s the point of this (long) article? It is not to lay blame. It is to highlight some of the short-comings in our Tourism Promotion Strategy.

It is seemingly “small” things like investing in preserving our heritage at the Uganda Museum, clean bathrooms, promotion of unique Uganda food and drink and smart decent rest stops that will linger in the minds of tourist and lead them to spread the word. Instead, we probably have negative word of mouth such as “I couldn’t find a clean bathroom in Uganda!” that dent our image. Exhibit A- Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear.

Ask Simon, and no let’s not get into the Top Gear Uganda debate.  The Source of the Nile is a major tourist attraction- a unique attraction in the whole of Africa. But the facilities around the Source are a disgrace frankly. Give it a face lift.

Moreover, promoting things like Uganda coffee also has an impact on our export potential. Focus on the small things.

Before I sign off, one last thing: our planned trip to visit the Queen Elizabeth national park was postponed. The rates are simply crazy- even when I inquire for local/ resident rates (a concept that sounds strange to the proprietors of these establishments). Shouldn’t UTB be heavily promoting local tourism and educating local hotels on the strategic role of local tourism?.

As for me, I will take up an offer I have for the Mara in Kenya to the Hemingway Ol Seki open only to East Africa Residents. Offers me better value for money. Look it up on the web too.

Regards,

Alex

tell us – what is an anti-pornography machine or a pornography detection machine?


WHENEVER you Google something using the English language and find that Uganda is on top of the list, you are either extremely pleased or deeply concerned.

The most basic explanation of the way search engines like Google work indicates that the top site listed would be the one most visited by internet users or referred to by other sites.

As at June 30, 2017, the site http://www.internetworldstats.com did not list Uganda among the the top twenty countries in internet usage or penetration. The top four are China (738 million users), India (462 million), the United States of America (326 million) and Brazil (211 million).

Uganda is said to have 13 million users (March 2017) though we used to have 19 million users (March 2015), forming part of the 1.2 billion users on the African continent.

So for Uganda to come top when one searches for ‘Anti Pornography Machine’ or ‘Pornography Detection Machine’ makes the ordinary mind believe that we might be the only country in the world that have ever used those words in that specific combination.

Until recently, pornography was the biggest activity on the internet; it is a multibillion dollar industry where, one site reckons, “every second over US$3,000 dollars are spent online alone and almost 30,000 people log in” – per second. None of those 30,000 people appears to have ever heard of this ‘Anti Pornography Machine’ or ‘Pornography Detection Machine’ before before Uganda mentioned it some time last year.

That first time we heard the words put together, laughter and ridicule ensued but mostly from within these borders of ours. Many online Ugandans took up digital whips and flayed the honourable Minister for Ethics and Integrity, Fr. Simon Lokodo.

So this week when the Pornography Control Committee was launched along with assurances that the ‘Anti Pornography Machine’ or ‘Pornography Detection Machine’ would soon be brought into the country to “detect pornography”, I knew we would be nationally distracted. 

No – Watch This Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mTmolw6QDvU

I am sad to have joined the fray, but glad that my issue is not to do with the cost of the said ‘Anti-Pornography/Porn-Detection Machine’, or even Pornography itself. I am not even questioning our national seriousness, considering that in August LAST YEAR (2016) the media quoted Fr. Simon Lokodo promising that the ‘Anti Pornography/Pornography Detection Machine’ would be in the country by September LAST YEAR (2016). SERIOUSLY! READ THIS: 

http://www.newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1431545/pornography-detection-machine-arrives-august-lokodo.

OR THIS:

http://www.dignited.com/20320/ugandas-anti-pornography-act-2014/

Sure, if the machine costs Ushs2billion then we must certainly re-assess our national priorities and justify expenditure accordingly. If the cost of running the ‘machine’ additionally involves increasing the number of employees in public service then, again, perhaps we could think about increasing the number of employees who are going to increase national production first, after which the increased production would pay for anti-pornography activities.

And of course pornography as an issue needs to be tackled.

I simply got stuck at the lack of reference anywhere else in the world to this ‘Anti-Pornography/Porn-Detection Machine’. 

Going back online to keep Uganda’s numbers up, I checked again and again for what this machine might be, and found that it is still only mentioned in reference to Uganda and Fr. Simon Lokodo’s announcements.

I asked some well-placed people at a couple of agencies about this machine and they were nonplussed, amid laughter.

But I won’t join them in laughter or dismay at the Ministerial pronouncement; instead, I wonder about all the journalists who went ahead and wrote out the phrases above without questioning, and all the educated people who have been chattering about an ‘Anti-Pornography/Porn-Detection Machine’.

What would a machine of this nature look like? Where would it be installed – in the centre of Uganda where it would emit or suck in pornography waves then report to the main Anti-Pornography office? Or on the back of a truck or a bus which would then be driven round the country?

Is it like a mounted gun turret that the Anti-Pornography Controller will swivel round the country? Does it hover overhead and scan onto the rest of the country like a drone would?

Does it run on solar power or ordinary electricity? Does it get plugged into computers and laptops or get mounted onto transmission masts?

Will it ping all 18 million mobile phones periodically and alert the nearest policeman when an item of pornography leaves or lands onto a phone or computer? 

You know how WhatsApp shows two blue ticks when you open and read a message? Will the machine do the same or will your receipt of pornographic material be criminal on its own? And if the latter, will the machine be capable of telling when a malicious person sends you pornography to set you up or will that come after you go through the legal processes and are standing before the judicial officers involved?

So many questions, yet there is so little time. See, like many of you out there I use WhatsApp and belong to a number of WhatsApp groups where the regulation of material shared is not often tight enough.

I am off to delete everything that the ‘Anti-Pornography/Porn-Detection Machine’ might find there, should it arrive soon. That may or may not include images from the recent regional Miss Tourism events or those from a site promoting eco-tourism in Karamoja.

Uganda! don’t let the sun go down on another opportunity at the next eclipse


THIS week people in the United States enjoyed a solar eclipse so much that even I got a notification on Monday evening that I needed to prepare to look up into the sky right here in Kampala.

I thought it incredulous that we could be expected to see a solar eclipse in the middle of the night, and straight away forgot to look up at the appointed hour. Americans, including those Ugandans who have changed citizenship and location, created surprisingly excited chatter that made me focus on more important things than my WhatsApp groups.

Having survived the experience without a hitch, I was slightly irritated on Wednesday morning to receive a link to a story advising Americans not to throw away their solar eclipse viewing glasses, but to collect them for Uganda.

The impression the headline created in my mind was that I belong to a country of hand-me-downs for almost anything and everything. Considering that we had our solar eclipse before America did, surely we should be counted as being more advanced at least in that one respect? (please calm down – my tongue is stuck fast within cheek there).

I mean, we made our own solar eclipse viewing devices back then without anyone handing stuff down to us!

The cloud of resentment under which I approached the story was quickly eclipsed by a bright spark of hope at the news that we, in Uganda, would soon be having ANOTHER eclipse viewing event, but not of the solar kind.

Next year, Uganda will enjoy a Total Lunar Eclipse!

Uganda Eclipse

Now, this is not exciting news simply for the scientific value or for meteorological enthusiasm, if that’s the phrase an educated person would choose.

That story I read told me about a group of enthusiasts called Astronomers Without Borders, who are excited about such things. It is a global community with membership in most countries round the world. Uganda has two (2) members listed there, and bigger economies have hundreds of them.

Opportunity? But of course!

Not to hire tents and chairs and drive them to locations for speeches to be held starting with an LC 1 Chairman granting permission for the gathering to happen – NO!

This is a direct, automatic opportunity for our Tourism marketing people to go directly to everybody who might be interested in viewing the Total Lunar Eclipse in Uganda and invite them here with special packages and privileges. 

Restaurants and hotels must immediately begin designing special offers for all these people – who are even listed by name, if you choose to find them using the internet.

And we don’t even have to work hard at it. We can copy directly from what the Americans have just done – within seconds of checking I found a website that predicted that millions would be traveling to and around the country just to catch their solar eclipse.

One fellow suggested that, “The sum estimate from (his) analysis is that between 1.85 and 7.4 million people will visit the path of totality on eclipse day.” – that’s on https://www.greatamericaneclipse.com/.

A couple of other websites detailed many different ways in which they marketed or could market merchandising and experiences and hundreds of other economy-boosting things that made the eclipse a money-making activity for hundreds of Americans and their businesses!

What are we doing, ladies and gentlemen?  

We have had these conversations before, and it is scary to imagine that we still might not get it right.

There are few excuses – especially when the internet tells you that the Lunar Eclipse will happen on Friday, July 27, 2018 at exactly 11:21pm.

“This total lunar eclipse is fully visible in Kampala. The total lunar eclipse is sometimes called a blood moon, as the Moon turns red,” reads on website – basically writing out our Tourism Marketing copy for us!

We have a one-year head start, organisations like the Uganda Tourism Board and Astronomers Without Borders, and lessons from other countries that have just done this. 

Surely – what more do we need?

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the economy is leaking at the rate of many foreign-manufactured $100 pens


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Some of the Pens AND Writing Implements (Photo: Simon Kaheru)

The journalist who did a story on the expenditure of the Central Bank of Uganda (BOU) buying Writing Implements as gift items costing about US$100 each, made one of my days this week.

We refer to them as ‘Writing Implements’ rather than just pens because at US$100 each we need to introduce some grandeur into the conversation.

The journalist in question, bless him, will receive from my personal account a box of pens (not ‘Writing Implements’) made in Uganda. That’s a modest gift in monetary terms, but quite meaningful because I value pens quite highly.

Those who have sat close to me during meetings where pens are placed on the table before you walk in must have noticed how quickly I latch onto any available and carry them off with me at the end.

My collection of pens is mentioned in my Last Will and Testament, though I won’t reveal here who is destined to receive them after I place my last full-stop.

The journalist picked up on an issue raised elsewhere and highlighted a niggling matter that keeps coming up whenever we discuss this economy and how difficult things seem to be.

On one of our online professional discussion forums populated by marketing and merchandising people, the story created a healthy discussion.

Some explained that high value pens of that nature were justified under certain circumstances, others simply declared it a waste of money, and elsewhere there was suspicion of foul play.

My joy with the story was because it was another wake up call to our economists – which is not to say that I am accusing the Bank of Uganda people of being economists.

I went to read the Bank of Uganda Act of 1993 and found it’s description saying, “An Act…for promoting the stability of the currency and a sound financial structure conducive to a balanced and sustained rate of growth of the economy and for other purposes…”

Among other things, that BOU Act says the functions of the bank shall be to formulate and implement monetary policy directed to economic objectives of achieving and maintaining economic stability, including: “act as financial adviser to the Government and manager of public debt”.

The journalist who did this story of BOU and the US$100 pens brought it to the fore on many fronts – my point of focus being the purchase of foreign items as corporate gifts; more importantly, that purchase of foreign-manufactured gifts by a body that should be mindful of how this economy is doing.

One argument on our forums was that the pens were probably Mont Blanc (Yes – I own one of those as well, valued at over US$300 at purchase and given to me as a gift from a foreign Multi-national company some years ago).

Another person even pointed out that the total cost of the Procurement was too low to merit so much chatter – something in the region of Ushs125million.

I chose not to focus on those points.

Again: the purchase of foreign-manufactured gifts by anyone in Uganda will continue to be our downfall. If the BOU people can’t calculate how many jobs can be created or sustained by an order of manufacturing merchandising items at Ushs125million, then we need more Ugandans to do courses in Economics and PAY ATTENTION IN CLASS.

The BOU people know how much money we have in circulation and, probably, where exactly it might be at any given time ’t’. If anyone knows the impact of sending Ushs125million out of the country, it should be them.

Yes – the pens were supplied by a Ugandan-owned firm or company, and money was earned from logistics et al; but surely an economist somewhere can extrapolate (those words studied people use with ease, that people like me borrow every so often when facing a US$100 writing implement) the economic impact of keeping that money in circulation here.

Even if the gifts were going to the highest ranking Central Bank Governors from the richest countries in the world, would they not appreciate a well-made item crafted by the hands of the legendary wood carvers from Bunyoro, using some of our high grade Mivule or Musambiya trees?

That’s just an example – probably not a realistic one. But if the extrapolating economists got that Ushs125million and put it through their intellectual machines, they would find ways of making us DEVELOP an industry producing merchandising items that eventually the countries where US$100 pens are made would buy for THEIR friends using THEIR equivalent of Ushs125million.

That way, the BOU Ushs125million would be used to make Uganda earn many different rounds of Ushs125million coming in from OTHER ECONOMIES.

Afraid of popping a vein in my head at all these thoughts, I went searching for a copy of a Local Content Bill that I have heard about, so I could contribute by sharing it with the BOU people for the next time they have Ushs125million on their massive account slated for the purchase of Writing Implements.

The internet couldn’t find it readily. I tweeted, called and WhatsApped a few people who I felt should have the Local Content Bill 2017 at their fingertips – not one of them responded well enough within the first few hours.

But eventually, I found a helpful Ugandan who works with the Parliament of Uganda (not a Member of Parliament) and the person shared a version of the relevant document.

Actually, the person shared the ‘Motion Seeking Leave of Parliament To Introduce A Private Member’s Bill Entitled “The Local Content Bill, 2017”’.

I applaud the Parliamentarian who is moving this Bill, for noting that “whereas the Government of Uganda formulated the ‘Buy Uganda Build Uganda (BUBU) policy…(it) has not been fully implemented.” and expressing concern that “Uganda currently does not have legislation aimed at promoting Ugandan manufacturers or service providers to compete favorably with international goods and service providers.”

You have to read the rest of it on your own, and then give it the support it needs (coming soon to a blog post near you).

I pondered over why this required a private member rather than a front bencher. A front bencher who was involved in the NRM Manifesto.

The vein in the brain started throbbing again.

I am one of those Ugandans who finds it hard to pay bills and obligations on time because of slow, non-existent or absent payments from clients (government inclusive), besides my own inefficiencies. Still, I surely have a right to be miffed by the procurement of foreign-manufactured gifts by a government body, and thankfully, I can put it in writing using an ordinary pen procured by myself in Uganda, made in Uganda, employing a Ugandan somewhere.

raise those hawkers respectfully to major economic heights


street-hawkers-in-kampala-ityafrica-net
Photo from http://www.emmasadventuresinuganda.wordpress.com/tag/icye/

SINCE I was much younger I have found engagements with street hawkers entertaining in many ways. Along the way I have graduated from comical time-wasting banter to what I hope is a more useful sort of interaction.

I distinctly recall one incident in about 1993 at a place called Hakuna Matata in Bukoto, when one of us – Gary Samuel, we called him, called a hawker over and asked: “Olina…bino?” (‘Do you have…these?’) and gestured with his palm held out flat and slicing into the air sharply.

The hawker, arms full of plastics and mostly light kitchen utensils, had no clue what Gary was asking about but tried guessing. Knives? No. Spoons? No. Brushes? No. Brooms? No.

Everything he was vending was in full view, in his hands and slung over his shoulder and back.

And with each guess, Gary insisted with more animation and sharper gestures shooting higher into he air: “Bino! Bino! (Luganda for ‘These’) Things that go like this (Shooting gesture high into the air). Bino!

We all joined in on the guessing game but none of us could get it right. I could see the hawker losing hope of making a sale, and felt sorry for him when I realized how much direct sunshine he was absorbing. If he had started his journey somewhere in Kikuubo and had his time wasted like this at every bar and pork joint he stopped at but in exchange for a small tip, he would be a millionaire.

He was still guessing in the hope that he would make a sale, while the rest of us who were seated in the shade and having a drink were already fed up with the game. We insisted that Gary put a stop to it and he finally stated what he was asking for:

Olina…amabaati (‘Do you have IRON ROOFING SHEETS?!’)”

Laughter ensued, and the crestfallen hawker sauntered off. Some of us felt bad about it, and I can’t lose the memory of that, and other times when hawkers got asked for DSTV dishes, tractor tyres and other such ridiculous items.

I have tried to make amends over the years in various ways, mostly by showing this cadre of Ugandan entrepreneur a lot more respect and courtesy than they usually receive; for instance, I don’t swat them off when they approach me at traffic lights or in heavy traffic. Instead, I politely smile and mouth a “No, thank you.”

Their stigma is hard to appreciate – imagine being a hawker and finding the sign “Hawkers Not Permitted Here” on every door you walk past even when you are not vending your wares.

Recently, my change of policy towards hawkers has led to interventions of a different kind.

I am keenly aware that the Kampala Capital City Authority Act (2010) Section 3 of Part A, gives KCCA the responsibility to “Prohibit, restrict, regulate or license (a) the sale or hawking of wares or the erection of stalls on any street…”

Because of that, I am rarely eager to exchange money for wares from hawkers, but there is some other support they can benefit from, as one Robert Mwesize reminded me last Friday.

He was vending soft cuddly toys, normally called Teddy Bears, in Ntinda. He hesitated at us because he didn’t think a random group of men fitted in his categorization of sure-deal clients.

We called him over anyway and quickly bought a couple of his second-hand Bears so we could have a conversation with him.

At first, he was reluctant to give us his second name, which gave us the opportunity to explain to him why he needed to do so to increase his sales over time. Then we told him that since he only sold Teddy Bears, as he confessed, he had chosen to specialise and now needed to brand himself as the Teddy Bear guy.

So we took his number (0751266921) and saved it as Robert Mwesize Teddy Bear. I offered him my number but he didn’t see the relevance till I explained that if he built up a customer database he could make regular sales to repeat clients by direct marketing.

All the men in the group, we told him, had wives, girlfriends, daughters and other female interactions that they needed Teddy Bears for. Besides, we explained, if you vended these wares and told these customers that they would make good gifts to hand in as they got home late that night…

His eyes lit up as the brief conversation developed. We even suggested to him that he should spend more time studying the soft, cuddly toys and figuring out a way of making some of his own.

Surely that is possible, isn’t it? Yes, he responded in a low tone of voice as he studied his wares more closely.

We left it there, but I have his number if you are in the market for a Teddy Bear, and high hopes that one day Robert Mwesize will be the owner of a factory manufacturing Teddy Bears somewhere in Kampala, or at least operating a slick distribution system of soft toys to a growing customer base.

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