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.

it was the Africans that built the largest man-made structure in history, and the British broke it down…


This is for you to share with your children first, and then some adults:
Which people built the largest earthworks in the history of the world? Or even: Which country built the world’s largest man-made structure? Better still: Which Continent held the world’s largest man-made structure?
Ask enough people and you will hear options such as The Great Wall of China, the Pyramids of Egypt and the Pyramids of the Aztecs, the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, the Twin Towers, Dubai’s Burj Dubai (my twelve-year old has read this and corrected me) Khalifa, and even some of the ‘Seven Wonders of the World’.
Until I caught an old edition of the British programme QI (Quite Interesting – hosted by one Stephen Fry, who has been in Kampala), I would have gotten the answer wrong as well.
So I only learnt the truth of this by way of a television programme run by the British (QI is on BBC), yet I am over forty years of age and a student of history.
Nobody told me about this in school – yet I could sing the words of a song about a bridge in London.
To make matters worse, for me, the structure that constitutes the correct answer to the questions above was destroyed very deliberately and decisively by the British Army, in what they recorded was a “punitive expedition”, in 1897.
Are your children paying attention?
The largest man-made structure lengthwise and the largest earthwork in the world was known as ’The Walls of Benin’, and existed in “the defunct Kingdom of Benin, which is present-day Benin City, the capital of present-day Edo, Nigeria.”
The people who built the world’s largest earthwork ever were Nigerians, in Africa, WITHOUT British or Chinese or any other foreign supervision or funding.
Wikipedia has it that “The Walls of Benin were a combination of ramparts and moats, called Iya in the local language, used as a defense of the Kingdom of Benin. It enclosed 2,510 sq. miles (6,500 km²) of community lands. Its length was over 9,900 miles (16,000 km). It was estimated that earliest construction began in 800 and continued into the mid-15th century.”
A Portuguese ship Captain, Lorenzo Pinto, reportedly wrote of Benin in 1674: “Great Benin, where the King resides, is larger than Lisbon; all the streets run straight as far as the eye can see. The houses are large, especially that of the King, which is richly decorated and has fine columns. The city is wealthy and industrious. It is so well organised that theft is unknown and people live in such security that they have no doors to their houses.”
Until the British came.
To make the matters worse, Wikipedia continues, “as a result, much of the country’s art, including the Benin Bronzes, were looted and relocated to Britain.”
So: not only were those Africans such good scientists that they had engineers and architects building such walls, they were also so good at art that the British stole their pieces away and burnt down an entire city to destroy all evidence.
The phrase ‘punitive expedition’ made me think of the little history we learnt about Uganda, which I am correcting on my own by gathering up material written by Ugandans as well as by people such as the British missionary Rev. John Roscoe (1861-1932).
Roscoe “compiled from information…obtained at first hand from the natives themselves…,” he wrote in his book ’The Baganda: an Account of their Native Customs and Beliefs’ and reveals a lot about us that boggles the mind of an ‘educated’ idiot like myself.
Nobody in any school I attended ever mentioned this book.
Just like nobody ever told us that ‘explorers’ and ‘historians’ recorded that “Caesarian Section” was being performed in Uganda as far back as 1879 according to travellers such as R.W. Felkin.
“The healer used banana wine to semi-intoxicate the woman and to cleanse his hands and her abdomen prior to surgery. He used a midline incision and applied cautery to minimise haemorrhaging…” reads that report. The same report says, “According to one estimate not a single woman survived cesarean section in Paris (France) between 1787 and 1876…”
There is too much to absorb here, so let’s focus on the ‘Walls of Benin’, for today. Just tell the children about that.
“The Walls of Benin extended for some 9,900 miles (16,000 kilometres) in all, in a mosaic of more than 500 interconnected settlement boundaries. They cover 2,510 sq. miles (6,500 square kilometres) and were all dug by the Edo people (Nigerians).”
They used up ONE HUNDRED TIMES MORE material than the Great Pyramid of Cheops.
They took an estimated 150 million hours of digging to construct, and are perhaps the largest single archaeological phenomenon on the planet,” Wikipedia reports.
This is now information for our children, and our Educationists to adopt and teach to the children.
We need to groom less inferior Ugandans and Africans, in general, and make this information mainstream rather than accidental by way of television and the internet.
We need to teach about Africans who CAN AND DID DO GREAT THINGS.
That’s how we will stop going to foreign capitals to spend money strutting about in foreign-made shorts and shirts, buying foreign suits and ties to wear as “official dress” back home rather than building up what we can do best over here.
Perhaps if we came to realise our true potential, we would have fewer foreign “powers” building our roads, bridges, dams and even dressing us up!