the Gecaga-ism in YOU revealed by Obama’s visit


Jomo Gecaga scoring a lifetime achievement
Jomo Gecaga scoring a lifetime achievement. Photo from http://www.kenyan-post.com/

OF THE numerous photographs that did the rounds on WhatsApp, email, Twitter and Facebook from Obama’s visit to Kenya, the one that made me look up and take notice of our overall focus was one of a chap with his hand on the bonnet of “The Beast”.

(“The Beast” is the motor vehicle of the United States President, and you can google the rest because I don’t have time for it here.)

I sat up because the fellow in the photo was described as the Personal Assistant (or Private Secretary) to the President of the Republic of Kenya, and named as Jomo Gecaga.

The man appeared quite foolish in that photograph as a Secret Service fellow appeared to be stopping him from putting his hand on the vehicle.

That Gecaga fellow’s excitement at being near the car that conveys the President of the United States was a little understandable until I discovered that not only is he a nephew of Kenyatta, he IS Chief of Staff of the Kenyan President and attended some of the best schools in the world – including, according to the internet, Eton.

Gecaga and The Beast 2

THAT GUY was the one having his photo taken next to the car of the US President the way those kids in your village do when you drive your second hand four wheel drive car over there for Christmas?!

I was flummoxed, which sounds like the Sheng word for the kind of punishment one would mete out to a fellow caught in his situation according to that photograph.

Even a well-heeled chap like that one could lower himself to this and get told off by askaris? America is a superpower kweli!

And I couldn’t laugh at him properly myself because over the entire period almost right up to this point, I find that most of the material being shared with me by otherwise upstanding members of society is the WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook equivalent of copping a photograph with one’s hand on “The Beast”.

Check your phone and laptop – how many people sent you links to the terms of the pacts and bilateral agreements signed between Kenya and the United States during that visit? How many of your pals engaged in insightful analysis about how Uganda (or whatever other country you are in) could benefit from the presence of the United States President and right here – right next door where we go on bus rides to see rally cars, eat nyama choma and collect cars from the port to drive them back to Kampala?

Did any of your pals talk about the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, especially since Uganda was named yet again just TWO WEEKS AGO as the world’s most entrepreneurial country?

Did Ugandans set up Rolex stands from Jomo Kenyatta airport to trap all the Secret Service men and possibly even entice Obama? Did we do anything to stress to his entourage that the single entry visa that put them in Kenya could have elicited value for money if they hopped over to Uganda quickly for a day – perhaps even using the airport parking of British Airways, since those ones are not going to be around for a while anyway?

I didn’t even hear about any serious restaurants creating an #ObamaInKenya rolex and putting the menu online so they attract Google search hits to their websites.

Obviously I might be linked to the wrong social and business networks and should therefore seek to join those in which members were invited to or made their way to the Summit in Nairobi to mingle in with globally accomplished entrepreneurs from the United States and across this continent.

Do you know anyone who went to meet with the billionaires that accompanied Obama? Maybe one of them met ex-Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg (worth US$37.5billion), Businessman Aliko Dangote (worth US$17billion), and TV Sharks Daymond Garfield John (worth US$250million), Barbara Corcoran (worth US$80million), Mark Cuban (worth US$3billion)…the list is much longer!

Luckily for my self-esteem, none of the people I have been communicating with has sent me photos of personal achievements such as standing next to the Presidential Car or a Secret Service Guard.

But sadly, none has shared with me their prospects for increased business and entrepreneurship or even personal development pursuits with the United States. All I have received so far are Gecaga-istic exclamations around Obama and the paraphernalia around his office.

Let’s see if we do different when the Pope comes over…

old blog, current topic – an educated american and my man from tororo think alike on bodas


Jo Buwembo Post

Jo put this post up onto his Facebook page last night and my first response (and it’s rare that I respond to Facebook posts) was to copy the link to this article I wrote in September 2013 and paste it in.

But the article was NOT online!

Potentially long story cut short, here it is online:

***

My dislike for boda-bodas and their operators should be common knowledge by now, but I am learning to live with them and mourn people who die falling off them.

Now there is one specific aspect of the boda-boda business that presents an irony which I implore our economists and managers of this society to spend energies on.

A couple of months ago, at a gathering of mobile phone enthusiasts we call ‘Mobile Monday’, I met Michael Wilkerson, a young American fellow running a company called Tugende, whose primary focus is financing for boda-boda operators to own their own motor bikes.

I was surprised to find this Stanford- and Oxford-educated American had relocated to Uganda to apply himself to this issue.

“Imagine if the laptop you did all your work on…,” he said, to the group of mostly IT, nerdy types, “…if that laptop were owned by somebody else. Imagine if at the end of every day you had to pay that person some money as rent? Suppose at any time that person could take your laptop away and leave you with no income for the day or week?”

That is the reality for many boda-boda owners, and which Wilkerson’s company seeks to change through a funding programme that transfers ownership of the wretched mopeds to those irritating road-users.

It’s a noble initiative.

But I also know a guy called Patrick Omare whose closest encounter with Stanford University education has been leaning against Andrew Mwenda’s vehicle for a photograph when it’s occasionally parked outside The Independent offices. This Patrick is an entertaining fellow when observed at work because he earnestly indulges in occupational buffoonery that I classify under a file titled, “Office Clowns”.

But this Patrick has bought up a couple of pieces of land in his Eastern Ugandan village and near Kampala City itself by way of his version of the Tugende concept.

It started with him asking his employer for a loan to buy land. His employer, not clear on the collateral Patrick presented, instead bought a boda-boda and put it under Patrick’s management. He explained that Patrick would get a rider, have the fellow operate the machine and pay back 50% of profits or a minimum amount of money every single day till the original cost was paid back, plus an extra two months, and the rider could take the machine as his very own.

All money would be put into a second boda-boda, and so on and so forth.

The concept eventually sunk in, and Patrick bought his piece of land a year and a half later, and now runs a fleet of boda-bodas. He isn’t stinking rich by ordinary standards, and has had a couple of the things stolen from him, but he is doing alright.

So, at this point, an American with the world’s best education and the humbly-schooled Patrick from Eastern Uganda have figured this out and are operating more-or-less at par.

Which is why I’m seeking an economist to figure out why this can’t be replicated for other stuff that would make more sense for us as a country overall and cause less death and disorder. Why, for instance, aren’t we buying our cars in this manner the way the rest of the world does, which enables them to afford brand new cars and provides the capital to invest in manufacturing or assembly? Why can’t the Pioneer or UTODA buses be funded in this way so that our transport system gets cleaned up?

More importantly, can’t the same philosophy be used for tractor purchases countrywide to change the lives of millions of farmers…and the country? What about somebody funding agricultural pre-processing plants in every district using this very same formula?

What’s the missing element? Or, what’s that magic element in boda-bodas that draws in the Stanford and Oxford educated American and my man from Eastern Uganda?

Over to the economists and managers of society.

***

how do you like your eggs – stupid or AGOA?


ON Monday morning most of the urban elite that crowd my visual space started their week off with the usual excitability around our national politics, while griping in passing about the rise in fuel prices and the strength of the United States dollar.
I picked up my copy of The New Vision with my mind on a story that I read a couple of weeks ago about a poultry incubator in Iganga that was lying idle and unused for inane reasons presented by adults of severely diminished intellect.
I gauged their intellect from the comments reported in that story – a cutout of which I have kept with me.
One farmer, for instance, said, “There is nothing we can do apart from abandoning it for now.” because the incubator, he said, could only work if it had 500 trays of eggs but “most birds that had been kept in the 23 chicken houses for purposes of supplying the hatchery, died…”
The “multi-million shilling” incubator was donated to the farmers in Iganga three years ago and has NEVER been used.
I went to google for the real cost of an Egg Incubator and found that a

Big Incubator
A Big Incubator – downloaded from some site Google sent me to

48-Egg incubator (forget that idea of 500 trays) costs between US$40-70!

And I even remembered something about poultry and incubators from my past – we used to MAKE OUR OWN INCUBATORS! They were fitted with lightbulbs and other ordinary things that were available even back in Obote II.Small Incubator
Can we get some youths to manufacture them so we address the unemployment issue, even as we convince Iganga farmers to use the bloody things?
I think so – but first, let’s run around politicking.
But then, on the day that story ran in the news and even the day after, there was not much of a hue and cry in my circles about how ridiculous this was.
20150706_102707
Jump to this Monday morning where, on Page Two of my newspaper, I found a small article stating that the United States President had signed the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) last week, renewing it for another ten (10) years!
The key changes to the Act are found here (http://agoa.info/images/documents/5659/agoa-extension-and-enhancement-act-of-2015-2.pdf), but the full text has not yet been released – not that any of you would read it if it were.
There is a long list of products – 6,000 in total – that countries in sub-Saharan Africa can send to the United States without quotas and tariff free under AGOA.
Uganda is one of 40 countries eligible for the AGOA benefits, and has been on the list from the start in October 2000. We even set up a factory and recruited people who actually made clothing (apparel) that made its way to the United States – and I saw some with my very own eyes in a store over there.
Today, though, as you drive past the Bugolobi factory where this project was established you will see samples of imported tiles positioned to indicate that they are being sold inside there somewhere.
Countries like Ghana get good mention as suppliers of apparel to the United States markets, while we don’t even make our yellow or blue campaign t-shirts here on the ground!
And the irony gets thicker when you consider that the United States dollar is now at its strongest worldwide, and we should therefore be doing our damnest to earn in THAT currency by exporting TO them.
But when did YOU last hear about AGOA, if you didn’t notice that little story on Page Two Monday? Have you seen any follow up story yet, or been invited by anyone hurriedly setting up a project to take advantage of the AGOA extension?
No?
More importantly, though, egg and chicken products form part of the AGOA list, ladies and gentlemen, so…
…should we go to Iganga and retrieve that incubator so we use it to produce eggs that can be exported tariff free to the United States in exchange for that very strong dollar?
It is important that you look at this table: http://agoa.info/profiles/uganda.html

approach the global media narrative on your African country with caution


I AM writing this in a bit of an angry state, after more than thirty hours of flight time and one hour’s taxi time travel, because once again I have been starkly shown the difference between the narrative our imaginations see in the world of media and entertainment, and the reality on the ground in this world of ‘us’ versus ‘them’.
During the lengthy flight time, quite at random, two movies stood out on my mind – the first was titled, “Hector and the Search For Happiness” and took us through the whimsical, fictional journey of the British psychiatrist Hector seeking for the meaning of happiness on an impulsive journey through Asia, Africa and North America.
Leaving, according to the movie, a very orderly and organised life in the centre of Britain, the hero Hector goes to Asia which is depicted as full of colour, whimsical and modernistic night-time fun, svelte and well-dressed men and women, tasty food and drink both on the streets and in expensive hotels, and simple but good living.
And of course, he goes through a Buddhist monastery and meets a white-haired mysterious and wise old monk with a satellite dish and worldly views on top of a snow-capped mountain where the sun shines bright and colourful flags somehow show up.
When leaving Asia, however, the ‘pretty’, well-dressed female Chinese staff at the airport verbally prepare Hector for his ongoing flight to ‘Africa’ by detailing the different levels of flight comfort from a level where the hand is held up high in the air (First Class) to a level where the hand is held near the floor and her expression causes her eyes to disappear in her face (even I was licked by this level).
Indeed, in the next shot, Hector is in an aeroplane that can only exist in the minds of a movie designer whose understanding of science is as warped as his knowledge of reality.
The aeroplane to Africa is practically held together by cellotape and occupied by livestock-cradling Africans, except for the lady Hector is Hector in Africaseated next to, who is well-spoken and has even read a book which she readily donates to Hector – a refreshing departure from the usual narrative.
But then he gets to Africa and the narrative is back so all we see is pestilence, dust, thuggery and warlordism and crime, interspersed with dancing ululating African families in shanty towns and villages.
Hector gets carjacked and abducted by rough, ugly, dirty criminals but is saved because he had earlier met, in the same ‘Africa’, a suave European criminal whose home, in the very same ‘Africa’ is a well-lined mansion tastefully decorated!
After he ‘escapes’ from Africa, he goes to Los Angeles in the United States where, I swear, he only meets white people in clean settings (even the beach does not raise any sandy dust on-screen) and generally spends time only in university theatres and medical labs.
By co-incidence, the next movie I caught was Will Smith’s “Focus”, because of a scene I spotted as my neighbour was watching it.
In this movie, Will Smith is a thief, but the glorified type of thief who, again, is suave and debonair and touted as clever in the way he runs his pickpocketing gangs of nice-looking Americans, including his newest recruit – a ‘beautiful’ white lady.
The scene that caught my attention was a shot labelled ‘Buenos Aires’, where my flight was heading to.
In the movie Buenos Aires we see Formula One tracks and cars, beautiful houses, cafes and mansions, filled with glamorous people hosting rich parties,  and bright, shiny supercars whizzing about.Scene From Focus
But the reality was very different from the minutes the airport doors opened up to me, and I was amused to see that the taxi service that picked me up had had their car radio stolen!
20150620_043220
And as we drove through the city to my very nice hotel, I could clearly see the signs of this ‘emerging market’, being very, very different from what the movie label made it out to be.
The number of garbage bags standing on the roadside just metres 20150625_114226from the doorway to the Sheraton Buenos Aires, next to cracked pavements and streams of questionable looking fluids reminded me starkly of some spots I have seen in Hector’s Africa.
There were spots I drove through in Buenos Aires that revealed the type of Argentinian you never see when you are watching movies or following the news. The probability of spotting a poor, dirty, struggling Argentinian is extremely high on most streets in their capital city, but quite rare in the media – more rare than the equivalent from any African nation.
Overall, the experience reminded me once again how we must approach global media and entertainment with caution – especially those of us from these nations in Africa…the real Africa, not Hector’s idea of it.

the rolex and the pizza


I HAVE never really liked pizza, in spite of what American television claims it represents. I do like cheese, though, in some of its various forms and presentation formats, but I generally would not choose pizza ahead of most other meals available to me.
For years, the pizza in Kampala has been presented as special in some way, as if only capable of being produced by persons of a sacred training and anointment, using rare equipment that the ordinary Ugandan would find hard to own, let alone manufacture.
When it was brought to my attention, therefore, that a Pizzeria had in recent months opened up across the road from one of the small, ordinary offices I occupy, I was surprised because I hadn’t realised that pizzas had become so easily available in Kampala.
I need to stress, at this point, that I am not politically against the pizza as a form of nourishment. I just don’t rate them highly over other forms of food in which I have a culinary and economic interest.
So when two weeks ago I was trapped by hunger at a crucial hour of the day and had to place an order at the Pizzeria across the road, I was a bit sceptical. An hour later, I was surprisingly pleased with the experience so much so that I was a repeat customer within the week.
I even mentioned this to my children, later that first evening, since they are prone to suggest pizza as an option when we approach dining out in a democratic manner. Luckily for me, our domestic democracy only gives them nomination rights until they have jobs of their own even if they accumulate wealth through savings, so pizzas are not a frequent hazard in my home.
Even as I notified them of the new development up my office street, I was mindful that I had not yet made them queue up at any roadside rolex guy’s stand, for obvious reasons – and I was to blame for something there.
chapati_Rolex_nkoza_nankya_01
Photo courtesy of http://www.nkozaandnankya.com/

My office neighbourhood had a couple of roadside Rolex stands whose popularity was disturbing for the distraction they caused when the hunger of their customers overcame their fear of irresponsible drivers speeding up our narrow street.

Then last week as I was whizzing past my favourite pork joint, that also serves up a traditional buffet on working days, I was flabbergasted to see that they, too, had opened up a Pizzeria and were advertising it heavily with very specific branding!
For a few seconds, my mind linked the rise of Italian food places in my part of Africa to the recent rise in disastrous incidents of African migrants in the Mediterranean Sea near Italy.
It was discombobulating!
Worse, it is a little sad that we have more pizza joints cropping up, with their own branding and advertising, instead of Rolex (or Rolleggs) stands upgrading to that next level. (Again, I feel a little guilty here, as I will tell you shortly.)
Sadder still, the Rolex guy on my street is no more, which I coincidentally noticed after ordering the first few slices from the pizza place across the road.
Perhaps he didn’t secure the right licensing, or premises, but he sure had the clientele wrapped up from what I saw over the months he was in operation.
Thus my guilt, because I have had the opportunity before of branding this product properly and professionalising this food product to rival the Pizza of Italian origin so efficiently that we could have been opening up Rolex joints in Venice rather than Pizzerias in Kampala – but I haven’t grasped it.
On a related side-note, I suspect that the origin of the Ugandan Rolex as a street food offering dates back to a hungover weekend morning at work when I – yes, me – walked across to the chapati guy near my then-office and bought two eggs from a kiosk nearby to liven up my breakfast meal.
I didn’t pay much attention to what I was doing then, and every time I see a Rolex stand I see lost opportunity for myself; but today, every time I see a Pizzeria in Kampala I see an economy heading the way of those Mediterranean migrant boats!
Pizzas are even made in ovens apparently imported from some other country, whereas Rolex are made on pans fabricated locally from materials recycled here. Even the ingredients that go into the Pizza are reportedly imported, for some reason!
This coming week you guys have an event happening in Kampala called the ‘Kampala Restaurant Week’ – let’s see how many Rolexes are on menus over there, as opposed to Pizzas and other foreign dishes, and then we’ll have a discussion about food, tourism and building local economy.