sometimes we don’t deserve these #StaffWoes – domestic or in the office


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Can YOU make the connection above? (Photo by a slightly distraught Simon Kaheru)

I HAD to interrupt my Saturday morning to post this:

I am responsible for a section of Domestic Administration that had me, a long time ago, decreeing that the domestic official in charge of duties involving outdoor dirt should not be assigned any food-related tasks such as sundry shopping.

This, after I had decided that his overall carelessness meant he could not be trusted to always wash and disinfect his hands before heading out to handle even raw food-related materials. He understood this and agreed to the rule.

So this morning I walked over to him as he was cleaning up and asked him to go and buy a saw-blade, handing him a Ushs10,000 note.

“A blade – for the musumenyi,” I said, handing him the money. I thought about reminding him that the one we were using for a gardening project was worn out but felt it unnecessary.

My wife, flanking me, quickly suggested: “With the balance, please buy bread.”

“No,” I interjected quickly, “I bought lots of bread yesterday evening.”

The fellow was standing there for all this, and put down his cleaning materials to take the money from me and go off for the blade as the rest of us took off on an early morning jog round the neighbourhood.

Or, at least, that’s what I thought he was going to do.

We returned, freshened up, and on my way to the garden I went to load up a mug of coffee (grown, roasted and ground in Uganda).

I noticed a Ushs5,000 note on the kitchen counter, on top of a receipt.

Being well aware that the hardware shops nearby NEVER issue printed receipts and that nobody else had sent any other domestic officers on errands since middle and top management had all gone out on the morning jog, my heart sunk right to my considerable belly.

I live on a tight budget, and did not need unnecessary departures by way of random errors.

The receipt, on inspection, declared that someone had procured a loaf of bread during the time we had gone off on our little run. The time lapse suggested that there was little possibility of fighting that “goods once sold” rule.

Still, I rushed over to the fellow who should have been handing me my blade, this time interrupting his car washing duties, and asked: “What did you buy?”

He thought a little bit in silence as these fellows often do, hoping that you just go away with your question. I have never seen that strategy working.

I asked again: “What did you buy?”

After a few more seconds of mental mathematics he responded with: “From ‘Jesus Saves'”

?

That’s the name of a nearby supermarket. I know they don’t sell saw-blades.

“Okay,” I conceded, to save time, “What did you buy at ‘Jesus Saves’?”

“Brown!”

“Brown what?” I asked, controlling my irritation, anger and fear as I tried to work out how to stretch all that bread, since I wasn’t going to use it to cut anything at anytime.

“Bread…”

“But I said ‘blade’. Do you know what a ‘blade’ is?”

He didn’t. And I realised that I should have learnt this about him long ago – I have thirty other stories such as this, all of which I have today decided to compile into a management book.

It doesn’t end there.

I gathered up some savings money and went down to the hardware shop nearby to buy my own damn saw-blade.

On getting there, I found the tools up on display included the largest saw-blades but not the little one I needed for my domestic D-I-Y use.

“Do you have small blades? For the small musumenyi? Smaller than that one?” I asked the fellow manning the shop, pointing at the massive one on display.

He looked up at the big ones I was pointing at, thought a little bit, and then said: “No.”

This could not be. The small blades I wanted were the most common and there was no way this little hardware shop had stocked up for lumberjacks in the city…

“But…surely you have the small ones somewhere?” I pleaded, looking round the shop to find them for myself.

He joined me half-heartedly and then I saw him visibly making a realisation.

“Aaaah!” he went, and then said in a tone of voice that suggested I was to blame for his misunderstanding, “We only have these ones – for metal…” and whipped out a pack of the exact blades I was asking for.

“Aren’t those smaller than these ones?” I asked, somewhat indignantly.

“Yes, but these ones are for metal.”

Silence.

More silence.

My Christian side took charge.

“My friend, just admit you made an error and sell me that blasted blade so I can go and work.”

He apologised. We both smiled. And here I am.

With bread and a blade.

 

 

appreciating your taxes – but without the ‘bosses’ whose salaries you pay


SHORTLY after I started walking around the Independence Grounds at Kololo attending the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) Tax Payers Appreciation week, I felt the urge to ask a few people there for their motivation to attend.

The responses didn’t surprise me until I got to a tent being manned by a friend, Andrew Mwandha, whose company – Tata Motors Uganda – manufactures and supplies large and small motor vehicles.

He was surprised when the crew that he had hired to erect banners and other merchandising materials asked him for a favour – they needed a little personal time so they could go round the stands.

“In Uganda we have a problem!” Andrew told me, “People are desperate for health services! My guys are here running from corner to corner to get free dental treatment, blood tests and yellow fever injections! We need more health services!”

Most of the people I had struck up conversations when I got there told me they had come for the free government services. But, I argued with Andrew, that didn’t necessarily mean that these services were scarce round the country.

“Some of these people told me they hadn’t tried to get the services at the regular government offices or departments near them because they didn’t believe they would get the services,” I explained, suggesting that these services might be available on ordinary days but these people don’t try accessing them.

But I had no back-up for that thought (I can’t call it a position). After talking it over for a while we walked around a little bit and found my target – URA Assistant Commissioner for Public and Corporate Affairs (therefore, Head of that department), Vincent Seruma.

Andrew left Vincent and I talking about various observations and opportunities in a manner that seemed anguished.

I had enjoyed my visit except for one missed experience – the opportunity to meet with the Chief Executives or Senior Officials of the government organisations present. Vincent was also irked by that but other things as well, as the last paragraph here will hint at.

My logic was that the leadership of the government agencies should have taken the opportunity of the event to present themselves to the taxpayers – Ugandans – who pay their salaries and fund these organisations.

Earlier on, Economist Ramathan Ggoobi had challenged the government (URA, to be honest) to conduct an ‘Accountability Week’ instead of an ‘Appreciation Week’ and we variously explained that accountability was officially presented annually during the State of the Nation and Budget Addresses.

Nevertheless, he had a point and the leaders of these organisations could have done a lot better that week by being the ‘Accounting Officers’ they are paid to be, in more than financial terms.

I had hoped they would be manning their tents and stands alongside their mid-level managers and hired ushers, interfacing personally with Ugandans of the more ordinary walks of life than they do at those large events with tents and statements like, “All Protocol observed…”

If the Chiefs of these government agencies had been there they would have seen the long queues of people eagerly seeking services even though they pay taxes daily to receive these services – again daily – without much hassle.

Then the leaders would have had the opportunity to explain to their employers – those Ugandans – where they could go for these services in their districts and villages without having to wait for a once-in-a-year event like the URA Tax Payers Appreciation Week.

If these ‘Bosses’ lacked the necessary directions, though, they would be challenged – as leaders should be – to create solutions for these people who pay their salaries and fund the purchase of their large four-wheel drive vehicles, comfortable offices, and all the perks that go with being called Executive Director, Managing Director or Chief Executive.

We would surely appreciate that.

business should lead government in east african integration


Entebbe from newvision.co.ug
Photo from http://www.newvision.co.ug

HEADING out to a regional meeting in Arusha last week to discuss the importance of business over politics regardless of how related the two realms are, I sweltered in the warm air of Entebbe International Airport and wondered – as usual – why it was so hot inside the terminal building.

I always refer to this as a ‘phenomenon’ because dictionaries define the word as, variously, “a remarkable person, thing, or event” and “a fact or situation that is observed to exist or happen, especially one whose cause or explanation is in question”.

You would think that the Departure Lounge of an International Airport in a tropical country would be fitted out with functional air conditioning but the person in charge of this has been unconvinced for a while. I say unconvinced because there are some six-foot high air conditioning machines standing on the floor but they don’t get switched on.

We will return to this shortly – but at another airport.

Normally, by the time you are at the Departure Gates you will have spent time juggling toy cups in the one eatery at the airport, while trying not to buy the grossly overpriced food prepared by people whose interest in the word ‘gourmet’ cannot possibly go beyond how to score it in Scrabble.

It is confounding. The very best airports in the world, the ones that enjoy visitor numbers and positive reviews in the millions and hence boost their economies, deliberately do the opposite of this.

And they do not necessarily use government monies – inviting ten restaurant chains to set up outlets there with sensible, tasty, properly priced food seems to be easy. Plugging in air conditioning machines and fans even more easy.

During our meetings in Arusha, I didn’t broach the topic directly but most of our discussion was around how to integrate business into regional integration and how handy organisations like the East African Business Council could be in doing this.

We said all the right things – including how we would “foster sustained economic growth and prosperity in the region” and “promote the interests of the EAC business community” plus “create new business opportunities” while “enhancing global competitiveness of EAC businesses”…

On our way out through Kilimanjaro Airport I followed the directional signs to the airport restaurant and found myself on the top (first) floor, quite alone. The three tables present seemed to have been procured from someone’s 1980s dining room, so I made myself at home.

Twenty minutes later I discovered there was no interest in me or the potential outflow of cash from my wallet and laptop bag. I didn’t feel disrespected, but asked for help when two cleaners turned up nearby.

One sacrificed her precious time and sent me downstairs using halting speech while her body language sent me further away in a manner I can’t repeat in polite society.

At the cafe downstairs a waitress eventually walked over to us, most likely because we made noises in her direction, and sullenly agreed to take our orders but only if we paid in advance since their electronic systems were in limbo.

We forced her to take our money and sat back to wait for the meals as ordered. Some time later, an Asian couple walked in and took a table behind us. As the gentleman walked past us towards our sullen waitress, she hailed out a jolly: “Hi!”

I was alarmed, and turned back sharply in case she was suffering a medical emergency. My colleague, Jim Mwine Kabeho, was also quite taken aback. Our jaws dropped to the ground as we watched her miraculous transformation.

She engaged the Asian man as if they were long lost friends, offering various suggestions for the couple’s meals (she had told us: “You can have, like, Burgers but with no chips. Potatoes are finished.”) and lighting up the area with a wide smile.

The Asian wife walked up and asked her husband, “What is the woman saying?” in a manner I considered rude but who was I to protest?

Completing our dismal meal was quite an ordeal, as we had to keep asking for condiments that she brought us one by one, slapping them onto the table as if to ward us off in the future.

Eventually we left her station and went to the Departure Gate where, once again, the air conditioning phenomenon returned.

We were sweating within minutes. The two of us had chosen a spot right next to the six-foot high air conditioning units but they were simply not switched on.

Jim gave way after a while and walked past paying passengers fanning themselves with newspapers and baseball caps, till he got to the Security personnel – the only staff in view – to demand that the situation be fixed.

He was prepared for a difficult but heated discussion and stood at full height in case it escalated into a fight.

“Eh?” asked the young security officer, “Yours is not on?”

And that’s when Jim noticed that it was much cooler in that area where they make you take off your belts and shoes and unpack your underwear because the scanner saw something in your suitcase.

The security chap walked across the room and flicked a switch, then returned to give Jim a thumbs-up.

Ten minutes later, the room had cooled down.

Is that what’s missing at Entebbe Airport? Someone to flick a switch so the air conditioning can start running? Where are the switches for the improved restaurant facilities? And the ones to increase the number of sockets so we can plug in devices as we await flights?

Why are these things off, anyway?

a generation that moved the nation


Malaika Nnyanzi is an erudite and elegant, beautiful and brilliant young lady. She is smart in most respects and so well-spoken that she is often called upon to direct events of a mostly glitzy and glamorous nature.

The World Premiere of the movie 27 Guns was one such event.

The set up in the Metroplex Mall changed that nowadays-dreary venue into a glittering hall offering an array of displays all in support of the story that the movie re-created.

Malaika fitted in very well with the smartly-dressed guests, all in their black bow ties and flowing evening dresses. With her co-EmCee of the night, Dr. Mitch Egwang, she chaperoned our thoughts and kept the tempo high and befitting of a movie premiere of this nature, graced by Citizen Number One – the President himself.

She said one of the most profound things of the night – of which there was no shortage – at the end of the viewing:

“On behalf of all the millennials here and out there, I want to say thank you, thank you, thank you! I would NEVER EVER have realised what the Bush War meant, what sacrifice, pain and heriosm went into this.”

Her voice was shaking as she said this, and the hesitant microphone didn’t help either. Like most people in that cinema hall, her eyes were quite moist.

Walking out of the camera flashes of the Premiere Reception floor into that dark cinema to spend an hour under flashes of AK-47 and mortar shell fire on screen silenced us all. Going from an hour and a half of looking at three hundred people in smart formal wear into that cinema hall to watch a small band of rag-tag, unkempt men and women in assorted military fatigues was disorienting.

The juxtaposition of the two settings was probably unintended but worked quite well – as will the juxtaposition of the normal, day-to-day lives of the type of people who will be walking or driving off the streets of Kampala into cinema halls to watch 27 Guns.

The movie is not the normal, hero-based fiction that we normally go to cinemas for, but it is not a documentary, as such, either. It is based on real events and recreated according to the accounts – written and verbal – of the people who were there.

In your seat, for those more than one and a half hours, you develop a high sense of trapped anguish along with the combatants and civilians of the time – which, besides the millennials, was most of us in the hall sent back in time.

Malaika’s situation was understandable and proved the success of 27 Guns. If these couple of hours just watching that movie makes one feel this way, imagine what it was really like back then for the people who actually spent all those years in the thick of that action?

But there are two aspects to this movie, that should both be taken seriously.

The Opening Prayer at the Premiere was delivered by Lorna Magara, who captured both quite clearly, “…that this movie will specifically speak to our people, young and old – reminding us of our history and God’s grace over us all these years.” and that the movie be, “…shot out as God’s arrow, silencing every contention against Uganda, speaking not just for Uganda and it’s people but resounding across the world on behalf of all the African people!”

See, after the idea formed and grew in her mind, Natasha Karugire started putting together the elements required to make a movie of this nature but kept getting repulsed and questioned by the world outside of Uganda.

There was so much skepticism about the possibility of the story being interesting on its own and more interest in fictionalising it, that she pulled back and decided to do it herself. Using Ugandans in Uganda and keeping it authentic and realistic. Just as she promised when Isaiah 60 Productions was launched – this was an opportunity for Ugandans to tell their own stories to the world by themselves.

She packed up her crew and cast, headed for the Luwero triangle and months later her strategy had worked, just as the Bush War did 32 years ago. Malaika Nnyanzi’s little speech made that quite clear.

27 Guns Image

finding opportunity in ebyangwe (loofahs, for the non-Ugandans) without having to bathe

finding opportunity in ebyangwe (loofahs, for the non-Ugandans) without having to bathe

Ebyangwe (Loofahs) in real, vivid colour. (Photo by Simon Kaheru)

On the dashboard of my regular vehicle is a bathing sponge – the type I was raised on, made out of the cucumber-type plant that back in the day was staple in most of our homes.

It’s called a Loofah (Luffa) and originates from somewhere in Asia – in fact, the original name for it is Arabic – ‘luf’. But in Uganda we call it ‘Ekyangwe‘.

The one in my car will join about eight others placed in various spots round my home. I don’t actually use them – the details around which will be best kept private – but started gathering them up recently because of an interesting twist to a trend Kampala dwellers should have certainly noticed by now.

At various roundabouts, road junctions and traffic-heavy spots there are groups of little children vending these loofahs in categories. Some of them (the loofahs, not the roadside children) are as bare as the one in my car, but others have a cloth piping round the edges to make them look nicer.

These children, in the beginning, appeared to be urchins begging for change. But someone somewhere hit upon this interesting idea of conscripting them into a sales team. When I first started noticing them and declined to make the purchase I was being enticed to, they tended to ask for some bottled Rwenzori Water or, in rare cases, money to buy a snack.

But one day my wife and I were taken aback when two of these children, little girls, handed us two loofahs and insisted that we take them both free of charge. I couldn’t understand how this would work in their favour, and quizzed them briefly.

“So that next time when you come you will buy,” said one little girl.

It was nonplussing, should the word exist. Did these little girls have a marketing budget that provided for free sampling? By the way, how come they are so many in number? And they all appear to be the same size and age…?

Actually, wait! This appears to be a rather lucrative and well-organised industry going on here right before our very eyes! Whoever is behind the business is so orderly that they have recruited a sales force, trained them, probably put them in some sort of uniform, and deployed them strategically at points of vantage.

The one problem, besides the possible lack of the relevant licensing for this trade to continue uninterrupted, is the use of children in situations that put them at risk.

The people behind this Loofah trade, though, are more sophisticated than many other businesses I know that have not gone so far as to open branches anywhere!

But that’s not all that this clever entrepreneur, or even one better than them, could do.

It is a very easy plant to cultivate, so making excuses about it not growing would be difficult. The internet presents a myriad of recipes from almost every country in Asia, that involve this plant – including its young fruit, its rind and all!

Besides food it also gets to be used as medicine for a long list of ailments (administered carefully).

Back when we were little children every home in our neighbourhood had one of these vines climbing up trees and little homestead buildings so I imagine we would be at middle income status by now if we had continued this practice with focus.

The first use of the ‘ekyangwe‘ we all know as the Bath sponge, though some of us also used bits to wash dishes through the 80s and 90s, before the imported scrubbers became normal.

In Paraguay, however, they make furniture and house construction materials out of the loofah by combining it with other vegetable matter and recycled plastic – a point I am going to raise with my colleagues at Coca-Cola who do plastic waste recycling.

In Japan it is grown over buildings to shield windows from harsh sunshine, while many other countries use it as a decorative creeper the way we did when my grandmother was still alive, complete with those bright yellow flowers.

In the United States it is also used as a bath sponge.

Note that the ones that the little children sell by Kampala street-sides go for Ushs1,000-2,000 each if they don’t have a piped border, and Ushs2,000-2,500 with the piping. The ones in the US go for US$10 a piece…

The Kampala roadside children don’t have internet access to establish that last fact alone and establish contact with the people who could buy their sponges and put them on Amazon – but YOU do.

Even if you can’t work out how to turn ‘ekyangwe‘ into food or furniture, lazima you can go down to those children and buy up their stock, liberate them from the street, then make a very neat profit selling them on Amazon!

Opportunity is spelt ‘Ekyangwe‘.