my soap dish says happy new year!

my soap dish says happy new year!

AS the old year ended a focus point to aid one of my personal actions in 2019 – what some people refer to as a ‘New Year’s Resolution’ – showed up in my soap dish.

I won’t go into the reasons why I make use of a lot of soap, but believe me when I say it is a crucial item for me wherever I go and I tend to develop near-personal relationships with these inanimate objects.

I have learnt how to stick to a brand for years on end.

A long time ago I made a decision to drop the brand of soap I had gotten stuck to and opted for any Ugandan soap. I went from brand to brand and just couldn’t find the right one for my ablutions.

One day I even found myself placing an order for a regular supply of some green cakes from Katosi Primary School, where the pupils had been taught how to manufacture it using avocado and herbs. Their offerings were so smooth and aromatic that I bought up way too many pieces and two months later was regretfully throwing them out as they had disintegrated into an indescribable mush.

That’s one thing about making this life-changing (for others, not oneself) decision to steadfastly support Ugandan-made products – I have learnt to insist on high quality products that can replace the imported ones that take the money we spend to other countries.

So imagine my pleasure, some months ago, at discovering the ‘Body Milk’ product by Movit! The very next day I was back at the supermarket stocking up on this soap and I have never looked back – even when the cost went up from Ushs2,200 to Ushs2,500.

Image from http://www.movit.co.ug (which I am sure they will NOT complain about!)

It got to the point that I always bought an extra cake during any supermarket visit even if I’d walked in to buy a pack of breath mints, just to ensure that I had a reliable domestic supply should a sudden shortage occur.

Which brings me to the soap dish that startled me into what one could call a ‘Resolution’.

At one point late last year I stopped finding Movit Body Milk on the shelves of the supermarkets I visited. After many trips I started noticing a foreign brand of soap – bigger in size than my favourite Movit Body Milk – was suddenly available at a discounted price of Ushs6,500 for a pack of three.

I succumbed and bought up a pack, then got so taken by it that whenever I went searching for Movit Body MIlk I emerged with this new brand of soap. This went on for a couple of weeks till I checked my values and rebuked myself.

I went further and further until, in a district very far removed from my normal operating zone, I found the right soap and picked up enough to last most of this month.

The allure and shine of the intruder brand is still with me, as is its scent since it sits wet next to my Movit Body Milk, but my resolve is stronger.

It might have been a coincidence that my Made-In-Uganda Movit went scarce just as this foreign soap made it’s promotional appearance, but suppose there was a sinister plan afoot here? Wouldn’t that be plain economic sabotage on a national scale? I think so.

How many Movit employees’ jobs would be at risk if we all stopped buying their products? How much would the government lose in PAYE and other Taxes? What would our future look like if all these employees’ pension fund savings suddenly stopped?

If we let the likes of Movit disappear from the supermarket shelves, and our soap dishes, how will our children ever know that Ugandans can make good quality products? If we don’t create, develop, support and buy more and more Ugandan products than the imported ones, how will we motivate our children and grandchildren to invent and innovate?

Hence my 2019 action plan entry this year – to further promote Ugandan products and Uganda at every turn and corner, with a specific objective of giving at least fifty (50) products some good visibility within these borders and abroad.

If we all do this and also put our money where our mouths are, I honestly believe we will have a bigger, more promising economy to hand down to the next generation, and much more reason to declare things like: Happy New Year!

2019: new year, new plan – no resolutions

2019: new year, new plan – no resolutions

I HAVE made New Year’s Resolutions before, like an ordinary person, and broken them before, like an ordinary person.

I didn’t stop making Resolutions out of some weakness or inner strength. I just felt that too many years of these attempts needed a new approach, and so far it’s working better than the past.

My fail points, as an ordinary person, were numerous: the Resolutions themselves were difficult because they were simplistic; the process was doomed because it was scheduled yet impulsive; keeping these Resolutions was near-impossible because they were just statements with the most unrealistic timelines.

New Year’s Resolutions always reminded me of the Uganda Cranes player back in the 1990s who told my brother how their coach at the time would show up during the half-time break and tell them, while clapping one hand into the other: “Yongera mu amaanyi!” (‘Put in more energy!’)

This went on game after game and they kept losing game after game till one day they mutinied and asked him: “Naye tuwongere mu amaanyi tutya?!” (‘Exactly WTF are we supposed to do and how?!’)

See, bila mupango the ordinary person always stands little chance of getting anything done. Hence the definition of ‘implementation’ as “the process of putting a decision or plan into effect; execution.”

The ‘plan’ with New Year’s Resolutions always seemed to be: “Say words. Do things.”

Most chaps who said, “I will Drink less alcohol in the New Year” or words to that effect found themselves back down the same road.

Week One was always easy because when you are coming out of the holiday season you automatically imbibe less alcohol. There are fewer parties, there is less money, work has resumed and inconveniences alcoholic pursuits, and so on and so forth.

But if you haven’t computed how much alcohol you drank last year, you can’t tell whether the amount you are drinking in the New Year is “less”.

“I will Stop drinking alcohol” has its own issues.

I knew a guy called Daudi who pushed the envelope for about two months then found himself being sent in one general direction. Because of his new non-alcoholic schedule he started spending more time at home.

(I personally know this to be dangerous to one’s mental health if one is unprepared for it, but that’s another story that involves a meeting called by my domestic staff demanding my absence.)

See, Daudi, for instance, would find himself doing unnecessary things and getting stuck at one conclusion. One day he tackled a bouquet of flowers that had been placed in a large see-through vase of water filled only halfway.

He couldn’t walk me through the thinking process that suggested this was a problem. But eventually found he had to wipe a table and mop the floor, only to face an irate wife who couldn’t believe the flower arrangement she was taking to some bridal shower had been destroyed.

As she told him off he had one thought running through his mind: “Or I go to the bar?”

Some days later, something made him try out D-I-Y and he chose to paint part of a verandah wall. As he was buying up materials he was mentally patting himself on the back with thoughts like: “Kale, that could have been three beers.” and “Imagine! There I would have bought two Coconuts (Waragi ones)!”

Hours into the project, however, he began to appreciate the different professions that exist out there. His paint wouldn’t stick to the wall and the colour looked different from the one in the Pinterest photo. He broke down and called a painter who slapped him in the brain by asking, “Did you sand the walls?”

What was that, even?

As expected, he hung up with the thought: “Or I go to the bar?”

But he had to clean up before attempting to leave, and as he did so he found mournful thoughts in his head such as: “Kale, that could have been three beers!” and “Imagine! There I could have bought two Coconuts!”

Yeah, like any ordinary person, he was in the bar before long, appreciating the bartender’s professionalism.

If only he’d planned it, I explained, he would have stood a chance. He should have replaced his alcohol with another pursuit or set of pursuits – including flower arrangements and wall-painting, but gone at them systematically.

“See, you didn’t just go to a bar and start drinking large amounts of alcohol,” I explained to him, “It took a while for you to learn how to drink, what not to drink, how to deal with mixing alcohol and what not to mix, and dealing with the hangovers, right?”

Of course.

So, logic would have it, his plan required him to first learn the alcohol replacement activities before engaging in them – all of which would have taken enough time for him to be weaned off the alcohol consumption and being in a bar situation.

Bila mupango, nothing will happen. You need a plan in order to implement.

So all those statements that people keep making fwaaa will go nowhere and will do so very slowly because a year is LOOOONG!

And the idea behind a plan is to borrow a leaf from companies or corporate entities. None of them goes into business with the objective of “Making a profit”. <— say something like that during a job interview and you’ve failed.

Those organisations – the successful ones – go into their business year with a clear profit objective and specific targets, with plans of how to achieve them, which they employ people to carry out with frequent checks along the way to ensure they are on track.

The specificity of the targets companies set for themselves will not accept, for instance, an objective (Resolution) like: “I will Go to the Gym.” because there is no clear end result of that.

If your resolution is to go to the gym you could drive there every single day and without setting one foot out of your car, drive on to a bar nearby to find a frustrated paint-splattered Daudi.

The person who sets out to “Go to the Gym AND WORKOUT at least Two Times A Week” is more likely to attract the attention of serious people.

Companies will set targets which will be cascaded to their staff in a way that everybody gets their own individual targets that they must perform certain tasks (aka ‘work’) to achieve.

You could do the same – if your objective (again – Resolution) is to read one book from start to end every month throughout the year, in order to develop your mind and establish a book reading habit, then your spouse should be tasked with ensuring you have a fresh book every month, and the children must leave you alone for one hour every evening to do your reading as they do their homework.

These companies then ensure that they have serious managers who, in most cases, are incentivised differently from staff. The roles of the managers are many but include keeping an eye on targets, making sure the staff stay on track in the right direction so that company objectives are met, and motivating the staff.

As an individual you might not hire a manager but you could get what a close friend of mine calls an ‘Accountability Partner’ – a person who keeps you accountable, on track and somehow motivated. By the way money is not, apparently, motivation; but if you are motivated by money then give your Accountability Partner money to give you if you stay on track.

That”s like placing a bet on yourself to hit your target. I know a guy called Okello (not really but it doesn’t matter) who quit smoking because he wagered Ushs500,000 at The Junction Bar in Ntinda one night that he would do so. The guys at The Junction Bar are so widespread and have a vibrant WhatsApp group so there are few places Okello can go to and sneak a cigarette.

To make matters worse, they told his wife about the wager and added her to the supervision list. I say ‘matters worse’ because should he risk Ushs500,000 leaving their household she will kill him that day; and she has been fighting hard to make him quit smoking so…

…Okello has about 100 Accountability Partners for his no smoking objective.

The list of possibilities in implementing your New Year’s Resolutions is long and, for me, exciting because of the planning element. This year I’ve been asked to share my personal plan but my Accountability Partners (the family – who also had to do the same) are the only ones getting the actual plan in full.

The rest of you can take this as a glimpse into what someone’s 2019 could look like if they chose to plan their ‘Resolutions’. The last slide indicates some of the routines a person following this plan would have to follow.

A plan without routines makes you an aimless adult – and that’s an insult.

we need to become serious – on a national level. all of us.


Child in front seat
NOT Uganda – but an ignorant parent doing that daft thing of having a child sit on their lap in the front seat as they drive. (Photo from quora.com)

Forgive me because I am angry about the Lake Victoria Boat Tragedy that has consumed us in many ways for over a week. My anger is as justified as yours, having lost a close relative in the tragedy, besides other people I knew.

But I am not as angry at how unnecessary this tragedy was, as I am irritated by how many bright ideas everyone suddenly seems to have about how it could have been avoided yet we risk life and limb daily in so many ways.

Too many people in this country do not take life seriously – or, said differently, too many people in this country don’t take the avoidance of death seriously.

Among the people rightly and loudly declaring that the boat operators should have provided life jackets and the victims should have worn them, for instance, are people who we see every single day driving round without seat belts even if these seat belts are provided in their motor vehicles.

Some of these people, in spite of their education levels, often drive around with their infant children seated in the front seat of their cars – highly discouraged by all safety experts and even casual observers who might not be educated but can think critically. To make matters worse, most of these children wouldn’t be wearing seat belts in the back seats of those vehicles either!

Many other Ugandans hop onto boda-bodas in Kampala’s stiff traffic and flatly refuse to wear helmets. Some will use flimsy reasons like the lack of hairnets to presumably protect them from lice as if lice is a bigger problem than the effect of slamming one’s head against the ground at a high rate of progress.

The number of stupid things we do that put our lives at risk every single day are confounding and probably cause more deaths on a daily basis than the highly visible tragedy that hit us so hard this weekend.

Few of the people on that boat appear to have lacked a university degree, meaning that they knew – from primary school lessons – about the need for life jackets, and other safety measures. Too few of us think about this every day.

Because we tend to think more of what is on the surface than the foundation of things, too few of us are ready change our behavior so that we save more lives – including our own.

Some people have said the capsized boat was poorly maintained – which is highly likely to be true, judging from reports I heard more than a year ago about the same vessel. So, how many of us are maintaining our personal vehicles properly every single day – equipping them with all the right protective equipment including fire extinguishers and even first aid boxes?

When we buy our second-hand, twenty-year old vehicles, discarded from other countries mostly for reasons of the personal safety of their original owners and the environment of their countries of origin, do we first clean them out and tool them for roadworthiness in Uganda, for our own personal safety and the environment of this country?

Yes – go and check, then come back to finish reading this.

Vehicles aside, our disregard for preservation for life in spite of all the schooling we undergo is a sign of the concept of education in this country not being translated to life in the real world.

That’s the only explanation that can work for any educated person to entrust the lives and upbringing of their children to a person whose wage value per month is LESS THAN the equivalent of the cost of one week’s groceries in the very same home.

Look, we educated people employ domestic staff whose pay is so low that they wear second-hand underwear and in most cases live unhygienic personal lives of their own, but we expect them to handle our food and our children without passing on a single germ.

During the burial ceremony of Isaac Kayondo, one of the young victims of the Black Weekend, one speaker who went to help with rescue efforts narrated his interaction with askaris at the Marina where boats launched from. It was clear what the caliber of the Askari he spoke to was, and that there was no way the fellow could have stopped a vessel unworthy for travel.

The harrowing stories from the rescue efforts, also, made me think – how many friends do I (read YOU) have who can perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation should the need arise? Or any other form of First Aid? Can I (read YOU) do it myself, if a friend is in trouble?

I have even more questions but the right answers to all of them is a change in the way we behave and apply our education to ensuring we live long, healthy, productive lives.

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


IMG_1250
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.