i’m so UGANDA! #ondaba? that means…do you see me?!


Ondaba swaminarayan
Photo of Ondaba champions taken from ondaba.wordpress.com

ON a sojourn in Nairobi and South Africa a short while ago I took along with me a newly-acquired hoodie branded ‘I’m So Uganda! #ondaba?’

Normally, I take my travels decked out in a series of busy t-shirts branded “MunyaUganda” underneath the Uganda flag and accompanied by a tag-line such as “Mpaka kuffa”, “So Life is Tye Maber Loyo” and “kandi I’m Gifted by Nature”. Some of the t-shirts also carry tag-lines taken from our National Anthem such as, “Peace and Friendship” and “Together we’ll always stand”.

The #ondaba brand, though, is clean and stands out distinct as I discovered all through my time away and in that hoodie – starting with a young lady in a Duty Free shop at Entebbe who said, “Wow!” as I walked past and smiled back, thinking it was all about me and not the #ondaba hoodie.

One particular day on that trip I walked to the Nairobi Hospital to visit an ailing friend and then walked all the way to Kenyatta Market to experience the ordinary man’s juicy nyama choma, before circling back to my hotel through the Uhuru Park.

Part of the motivation for my trek was to test the street crime system and prove that this was no longer Nairobbery as we used to know it.

It wasn’t, but I was still trepidatious for a long distance because of the number of looks that came my way until I realised they were all aimed at the hoodie – the other part of the motivation for my trek. It wasn’t the stitching or the mix of the deep blue colour with red lining and yellow lines – it was that declaration: ‘I’m So Uganda! #ondaba?’

I eventually got back to my hotel justifiably thirsty and headed for the swimming pool bar to rehydrate. There, a dapper fellow in expensive sunglasses who was facing me as I walked in turned away from his companion to declare: “Wow!” followed by, “Eh! Eh! Eh! I like that!”

I thought I had mis-heard and found that the only seat I could take was at the table next to theirs but before I could take it he waved and started up a conversation – around the hoodie.

What did the words mean? What triggered it? How could he get one? His companion, a polite and equally well-spoken young lady, readily agreed with him.

They were not Ugandan but were *this* close to changing citizenship over ‘#ondaba’. We progressed the discussion as I texted one of the architects of the campaign to hand this guy over to her, as we had arrived at a point where the Kenya version was on the table and he was ready to draft partnership documents.

Later, as I left for South Africa, the ‘#ondaba’ hoodie caused tears to well up in the eyes of an attendant at the airport lounge. As I was responding to the young man’s demand that I explain the entire campaign to him, a guest at the lounge came over for service at his station and interrupted us.

Halfway through serving her, he did the impossible and self-distracted back to me to discuss ‘#ondaba’ further – till I sent him back to keep his job. He was taken by the campaign because he had done something similar back when Kenya erupted into post-election violence.

On his own, earning a humble salary as a blue-collar worker, he designed, printed and distributed t-shirts free of charge to his fellow Kenyans to build or restore their patriotism. He wanted to join the ‘#ondaba’ campaign.

“This is so patriotic, man! I love it! You know, we Africans need to build more patriotism,” he told me in his impassioned speech.

“When that problem happened here and people were dying (the post-election violence in Kenya in 2007) I felt so bad. My people were dying but my people were the ones killing them! I decided to make t-shirts with a message telling all Kenyans that we are one. Tribe doesn’t matter more than who we are as Kenyans. And even as Africans,” he said, this young man with a humble job but very noble aspirations.

I left him after exchanging contact details and a few hours later I was in South Africa where the keen interest in the message on the hoodie was consistent.

There, in South Africa, at least three people stopped me for more about ‘#Ondaba’ on that first night – and I got to my hotel late that evening.

The story behind the campaign should be a challenge for all of us in our respective countries. The group that made ‘#ondaba’ got together under the comments section of Amos Wekesa’s Facebook posts rallying Ugandans to promote tourism on their own if they thought the government wasn’t doing enough.

Herbert Opio, Denis Mubende, Patrick Ngabirano, Prossy Munabuddu, Belinda Namutebi and a few others discussed ideas and created a powerpoint presentation that they delivered to the Minister of Tourism at the time, with a plan to go all the way to the President.

They realised very quickly they would hit a dead end after lots of talk.

So they brought it to the people instead and agreed on #Ondaba as a social media hashtag, for Ugandans to use whenever and wherever they pleased to show what they were doing having fun and enjoying Uganda.

Then they made t-shirts and hoodies to take it further and…voila! People like Muhereza Kyamutetera and Solomon Oleny joined in and now it’s a whole organisation that is poised to go continent-wide!

The rest is history in the making and you will hear or read or be part of it as it grows. All because ordinary people like you and I and the young man making coffee in the airline lounge, took action to promote their countries.

That’s PATRIOTISM.

We can all play a part – we don’t need lots of money; we need lots of heart for country.

black panther: another growth opportunity for african textiles – made in wakanda!


IT’S been a couple of weeks of me ranting about AGOA (Africa Growth Opportunities Act) and the awkwardness of the situation surrounding textiles made in Africa being stopped from entering the United States under a commercial arrangement that benefits the Africans.

I am clearly not done with this yet but providence has stepped forward, dressed up in an outfit made of irony, courtesy of the ‘Black Panther’.

This irony, I hasten to add, is not because the movie is making ordinary, Africa-bound Africans gush exuberantly and dress up in costumes to celebrate our African-ness over a movie that is really an American’s version of Africa.

No; Africa, I am happy to declare that we have another Growth Opportunity in front of us today if we choose to ACT upon it!

See, the run-up to the global non-stop conversation about the movie ‘Black Panther’ was kicked off by a movie premiere in Hollywood, Los Angeles, which the actors and actresses celebrated by turning up all decked out in “African clothing”.

That term “African clothing” is too general to be considered accurate or even sensible on its own, because #AfricaIsNotCountry. It is difficult to categorise all the clothing of all the different tribes across these 54 countries. In fact, some of these tribes have different clothing patterns that differ between CLANS!

Gwe, Africa is complicated…but therein lies the opportunity.

We saw it on the red carpet of the Premiere: Part-time Ugandan David Oyelowo, who played Robert Katende in ‘Queen of Katwe’, showed up in a kitenge shirt-and-trouser outfit that many women on this continent declared ill-advised but that drove the point home like a brilliantly coloured assegai.

One of the other Ugandans there, Daniel Kaluuya (W’kabi in the movie), turned up in a kanzu and made headlines for both the outfit and awards that will continue rolling out for months and years to come.

W'kabi Kanzu
Owaakabi (Photo from http://www.usatoday)

Around the rest of the world it was picked up by Africans of all walks of life with access to the internet, contacts among socialites or enough money to buy a ticket to ‘Black Panther’.

On Twitter the hashtag #WakandaCameToSlay kicked off and slew.

A number of African-Americans, who we (proper Africans) often accuse of being too far removed from our realities to deserve the title ‘African-American’, turned up in that outfit that Eddie Murphy’s character in ‘Coming To America’ wore – ComingtoAmerica1988MoviePoster.jpgthe one with the Mobutu hat and a dead leopard (or was it a cheetah? Come to Uganda and see for yourself what they look like in real life!) over his shoulder.

But the rest of us have the opportunity to make people the world over learn the meaning of kitenge, kanzu and busuuti (all words recognised by my computer dictionaries because I MAKE THEM LEARN).

There is more irony to how, until recently. it was mostly bazungu we saw wearing kitenge dresses and carrying kitenge bags. For years and years, we had these beautiful pieces of fabric around us but we insisted on wearing bland suits and ties like we are clueless Europeans, sweltering in the heat of the tropical sun.

Until recently, I am proud to point out, because a few years ago ordinary Ugandans like you and I started toting those kitenge bags around. Clever young Ugandans took to customising shoes, hats and bags with bits of colourful kitenge and “African print” cloth to brighten them up and make them stand out from the crowd of others.

Thanks to the ‘Black Panther’, we will now do a lot more of this. And instead of exporting denims and t-shirts made in Uganda, we might actually start making our own designs and exporting those to a global market that WANTS them.

After that, the sky is the limit. Once we have dropped the shackles of imported suits and ties, t-shirts and jeans and adopted the Wakanda attitude evidenced by our clothing, maybe next we will choose to use our own names rather than English, Hebrew and Italian ones.

I desperately hope that this is the dawn of a new age on this continent; not just another passing phase during which hundreds of millions of dollars will be banked elsewhere and our the self-esteem or validation of the African is found in relation to some new type of master channeled by Hollywood.

tourism is everybody’s business – on world tourism day


baby-gorillaWHOEVER in Uganda coined the phrase “Tourism is everybody’s business” meant very well and should be explained better.
Tourism IS everybody’s business, in any nation that values the business of tourism.
We, all of us and everybody, plug into tourism both as beneficiaries and contributors to the business in more ways than most people actually recognise, and if we all stopped to think about it starting this World Tourism Day then we would all be the better for it.
Follow the path of Mr. & Mrs. Joe and Mary Tourist, from a foreign country of your choosing.
Before they actually make their holiday plans and decide on a country to visit, they are most likely going to do a little bit of research on the countries on the list. Regardless of what their passion is – be it walking with gorillas, trotting alongside chimpanzees, whitewater rafting, zip-lining in the Mabira, eating muchomo and Rolleggs, or going on game-heavy drives, they will want to check which country has the best offers.
The offers they will google for will not only be activity related but the additional things as well – security, hospitality and friendliness, efficiency, the general atmosphere and so on and so forth.
They will not restrict their google search to what the governments or politicians or hotels and restaurants say, but they will also check what the bloggers post and the tweeps from the different countries say, as well as what other people say about Ugandans in general.
That’s the ‘Word of Mouth’ element.
Their source of tourism information will also include ‘everybody’, as ‘everybody’ will have operated as country marketing and public relations officer by way of what they say about the country.
After the bookings are done, Mr. & Mrs. Joe and Mary Tourist head over to the country and arrive at the airport or border crossing point. Of course the people that they interact with are principally the government and commercial officials that handle their transportation and other things, but there are other aspects of their arrival into the country that ‘everybody’ has an input into.
See, the ordinary travellers in the various queues and in the same general area as our tourists form part of the pleasurable (or otherwise) experience that the tourists enjoy. I’ve been to countries where I’ve seen people turn their faces to the side and spitting heavy amounts of disgusting material onto the floor, with no-one batting an eyelid. I mentally began preparing to cut short that particular trip right there as soon as it had began, just because of that experience.
When the officials at these various desks are polite and courteous Joe and Mary Tourist will not be surprised because they expect them to be so – they are being paid and have been trained to be this way. When the ordinary people milling about them are also polite and courteous then our tourist couple will be writing blog posts, tweets and WhatsApp messages back home saying, “This place is great!”
Meanwhile, those polite and courteous everyday people that smile at Joe and Mary Tourist with no ulterior motive have no idea that their demeanour is marketing Uganda much more than a paid television campaign probably would.
And, in most cases, they do not realise that their unintentional efforts get rewarded directly by way of Joe and Mary Tourist spending money.
First, the bookings they make always attract a certain amount of taxation that goes into the coffers that the government collects from to build roads, fund schools and hospitals, and spend on other essentials such as defence and security.
Then, when Joe and Mary Tourist buy a cup of freshly ground Ugandan coffee on arrival at Entebbe International airport, or pork ribs at a stop en route from Entebbe to Kampala, or take a taste at a roadside market of their first washed and massive fresh and organic fruits and vegetables grown right here in Uganda, the money they spend goes straight into the economy, having originated from whatever country they flew in from.
Plus, everything they consume and purchase is in most cases grown or manufactured or processed by locals who find themselves earning a living because Joe and Mary Tourist have chosen to visit Uganda,
That is very different from the money you and I spend while we go about life in Uganda, because all we are doing is re-distributing the wealth that is already within the economy. A thousand Uganda Shillings in my pocket right now at my typing desk in Kahangwe, Hoima may go to the receptionist at Shiyaya Tours & Travel to pay for something there but that doesn’t change the amount of money in circulation within the Ugandan economy. But when Joe and Mary Tourist bring in a thousand Uganda Shillings from their country of origin they are increasing the amount of money in circulation inside the Ugandan economy.
Besides the amounts that we get to keep in our pockets as direct earnings from Mr. & Mrs. Joe and Mary Tourist, a certain portion of the money they spend goes into the coffers of the government because the various bits of that money are taxed by way of VAT and other commercial taxes levied on all these items – from the drinks and eats they consume to the crafts they buy and the fuel used to convey them from place to place.
So the beneficiary of tourism is not just the commercial entities engaged in tourism and the people employed directly by the sector.
Understanding this chain of benefits from the tourist to the ordinary Ugandan is an essential part of the efforts of the Competitiveness Enterprise and Development Project (CEDP) intervention in tourism.
Creating this understanding among ordinary Ugandans will better gear us to directly identifying what opportunities are available to us as a result of increased tourism, as well as how we can directly contribute to that increased tourism.
The World Bank alongside CEDP, has invested US$1.5million in hiring three PR and Marketing firms to promote Uganda as a tourism destination – specifically in the UK and Northern Ireland, Germany and parts of Europe, and the United States of America.
The efforts of these PR and Marketing firms will result in increased numbers that must be met with increased production and servicing across the industry – right from the additional mouths to feed to the need for much higher quality products – accommodation, transport, activities and more.
The performance indicators for the CEDP initiative are an increase of tourists to 1,500,000 (one million five hundred thousand) international visitors into Uganda, up from 945,000 in 2010 and 1,206,000 in 2013.
As those PR and Marketing firms go about doing their promotion and representation of Uganda abroad, we – the private sector – should be finding out what else Joe and Mary Tourist might be interested in, so we offer it to them almost intuitively and have them saying the right things about Uganda to their friends and relatives and perpetuating the Word of Mouth cycle.
Because Joe and Mary Tourist, once they have visited Uganda, will join the team ‘Marketing Uganda.
You see, Tourism is everybody’s business – including the tourists themselves.

keep an eye on exceptional Ugandans made in Uganda – and bring them back if they’re away


Photo by James M. Dobson for the Garden City Telegram - Isaya Kisekka
Photo by James M. Dobson for the Garden City Telegram – Isaya Kisekka
AT THE end of the first day of presidential election nominations this week I caught up with my emails and found a notification with a link to this article titled, “Ugandan engineer works to save Kansas aquifer”.
I could understand the words well but the day had been long so I took a while to unravel the confusion; the service that sent me this link normally updates me about white Americans, Australians and Britons saving Ugandan villages with shoes, compassion, brassieres, and very many other such items.
For the very same service to suddenly be declaring that a Ugandan was out there “saving” Kansas was odd – unless Kansas was short for Kansanga.
But it turned out to be a true story; a chap called Isaya Kisekka was working at Garden City, the story read, as an irrigation engineer for the Kansas State University Research and Extension’s Southwest Experiment Station.
Not Garden City in Kampala, Garden City in Kansas, the United States of America.
The entire story is a good, refreshingly surprising read. Kisekka studied agricultural engineering at Makerere University, having arrived at the course without the combination of professional career guidance and personal passion that normally helps people fashion paths to successful, enjoyable careers.
But he liked the course and eventually worked with a private company and also the Ugandan government. It was as a government employee that he opened his mind and eventually pursued further studies well enough to get employed in the United States and achieve such veritable mention online.
But now, I think it is important that Uganda keeps tabs on this guy (and others like him).
It is obvious right now that Uganda needs engineers of his kind to channel El Nino to stem the effects of drought in places like Karamoja.
But more long-term, people like Kisekka should be appointed inspirational ambassadors for Uganda to both Ugandans and the rest of the world. All government employees should strive to be as good as Kisekka at what they do, not so they get jobs in the United States, but so that they are good enough to do so.
The Kisekka’s of this world should be used to inspire other Ugandans to realise that even if you do study and live and work in Uganda, moreover in a government job, you can be good enough to stand out for doing your job well even without being submitted for an Award or a Medal.
The young man studied in Kampala and was good enough to go and work in the United States NOT doing kyeyo – that’s the type of image our children need to see.
Plus, the government needs to get such fellows back into employment over here, to sort out the aforementioned link between El Nino and droughts elsewhere.
Rather than continue being the butt of internet memes and snide remarks by people wishing to take over the management of the country, this government should attract all the efficient, useful and committed people like Kisekka into its employ and retain them there so that they save Ugandans rather than Americans.
In the article about him, he said a number of significant things, but one of my favourite quotes was:
“If you have opportunity, it’s up to you to work hard and use those opportunities. Education for me was very important. A lot of people without work look to America as this idea that you can make it regardless of your background if you just take the opportunity.”
Right now, today, we have the opportunity to be like Kisekka, to make our children follow the path Kisekka followed, to employ people like Kisekka, and to attract the Kisekka’s back to Uganda to save Ugandans rather than leave them in America saving Americans while Americans come here to save Ugandans.

the cassava chronicles – in this, the regional centre of excellence for cassava: UGANDA!


Cassava Garden
Photo taken from: http://cdn-write.demandstudios.com/ – with thanks

A CHANCE meeting at the start of this week has re-focussed my attention onto agriculture as an economic activity and one day, a few years from now, I will share stories of my successes perhaps even in in one of those newspaper pullouts that inspire us weekly to till the earth.

My chance encounter was with an old friend, Gerald Owachi, whose story shocked me on so many levels there is no way a newspaper article can do it justice.
He will write a book about it all one day, since he is a journalist by training and a well studied one at that, having attended classes at Harvard and Tufts in the United States.
After those classes, he joined various high end organisations doing public policy, conflict resolution and what not, earning money in foreign currencies, but one day dropped everything to do agriculture. Teaming up with two other friends – Harry Hakiza and J.J. Onen – they went into northern Uganda.
The story is rather long and I have since moved on from the incredulity I felt when they shared their plans many years ago, so by Monday morning I was asking for a simple update only for Gerry to tell me they had 240 acres of cassava full grown!
Cassava is one of my favourite foods right now, because my domestic arrangements have involved training people up to fry cassava sticks to a point that we are soon entering the dish into cooking competitions for local foods – another story coming soon somewhere near you.
Every time I find there is a shortage of cassava in the markets near my home I marvel at how silly our agricultural marketing is – but that is nothing compared to Gerry’s experiences in the fields of cassava.
With 240 acres, for instance, their cassava project is probably the biggest single one of that crop in Uganda but, for some reason, they are not one of the major suppliers of the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS). They are one of the suppliers, but only got listed after a hilarious story that must go into Gerry’s book.
It involved having their ‘project’ inspected by a superior, imperious NAADS fellow who had the bearing of a small god simply because he has the power to determine whether or not the results of the sweat and investment of people like Gerry, Harry, J.J. and their thousand-odd workers, should be placed onto a list of suppliers.
See, there are these well-intentioned projects that governments around the world implement but in doing so they employ small-minded chaps who take their representation of the government to such heights that if they don’t like your attitude they can reject (or frustrate) your project into oblivion.
So this big cassava project was off the supply list but they insisted their way onto it and eventually got allocated some bags – meaning they were assigned the privilege of supplying bags of cassava cuttings to the NAADS project.
Off their 240 acres they were assigned 663 bags. Or, let’s say they were assigned 6,000 bags. Cuttings are just that – you get a cassava stem then cut it into segments of about 30 centimetres.
I interrupted the conversation to call up my pal, the Executive Director of NAADS, and left him with that information to deal with – which he undoubtedly will.
Anyway, what madness had possessed these three young men to plant so much cassava?
Cassava has hundreds of uses besides being fried, salted and put on a side plate next to my cup of tea. Uganda Breweries uses cassava as a local raw material in brewing beer; CIPLA, the multinational pharmaceutical firm, is buying up 51% of Quality Chemicals and one of the major ingredients in pharmaceuticals is…cassava; it is used in making glues and one hundred other things industries rely on.
“You know Uganda is the Centre of Excellence for Cassava growing…?” Gerry began, making me choke on my coffee as I spluttered a ‘What The…?’
It is true.
The internet even says stuff like, “The Cassava Regional Centre of Excellence is based in Uganda, taking advantage of Uganda’s proven track record of success in providing leadership in cassava research, training and dissemination of technologies and information…”
Go and ask the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations for more.
Another website declares that six years ago Uganda was the sixth largest producer of cassava in Africa, and the crop is our second most important after bananas.
It would be – it basically grows anywhere under even arid conditions. Which is why the three chaps’ project was so important – because on their 240 acres they focussed on one, consistent breed or strain of cassava, rather than the very many funny ones in existence elsewhere.
As they were starting up, they tried to get the right cuttings and couldn’t find any that were consistent for a while. They went to the National Crops Resources Research Institute at Namulonge and eventually set up a partnership that ensured they had a sensible strain of cassava.
That’s another reason NAADS should be interested in them, and them in NAADS, because if one of the odd strains gets into their 240 acres they could lose their entire crop. You see, a short while ago someone said they had found Cassava Brown Streak disease in Western Uganda…
No – crisis meetings have not been called, even if Ugandan Brown Streak disease is ranked among the top seven biological threats to global food security.
All in all, their book will be an interesting read – wait for the section on ACF – the Agricultural Credit Facility under Bank of Uganda, an abbreviation few of us can recognise as quickly as TDA today, yet it’s been there since 2009. Under the ACF you and I can get up to Ushs2.1billion (or even Ushs5billion if the project is good enough), at 10% per annum.
They got one of far less than that, and because of bureaucracy found themselves paying a commercial bank loan at a much higher interest rate a couple of months into planting and…they are now in court minus the tractor they purchased with the loan, and the 80% they had paid for it in cash.
But they have their 240 acres of cassava sitting intact, for now, and they’re aiming at 3,500 planted by 2017.
As a resident of the Cassava Centre of Excellence, how many patches of your own cassava will you have by then?