what are YOU doing to bring billionaires and serious people to Uganda?


I AM not one of those Ugandans dismayed that billionaire (in United States dollar terms) Jack Ma visited Kenya and Rwanda but skipped Uganda. Dismay is a little too light a word for the feeling I got when the news broke that he was going to go right over and past us.

My bad feeling was more over the fact that he came along WITH 38 other Chinese billionaires and all of them did not stop over in Uganda or even mention the country as they flew over us.

One angry young lady this week ranted at me over the very idea that as Jack Ma made his decision to visit East Africa he must surely have looked at the map of the region and must have noticed Uganda on it.

“Not only that, he must have flown over Uganda to get to Kigali, and then he flew over us again to get from Kigali to Nairobi. It takes at least one hour to fly across Uganda. Is it possible that he did not once look out of the window and wonder what is going on down there?”

Her anger was amusing to witness, as were the comments on a few WhatsApp groups where people were indignant over Jack Ma leaving Uganda off his East African itinerary.

“Really, why is Uganda always being left out of these things? Zuckerberg, Obama, Ma…why do we only get musicians and politicians??!” wrote one aggrieved Ugandan.

I am not unhappy about the visits by musicians and politicians because they also bring a certain level of value. But the fact that these 39 billionaires swung by and didn’t stop over in Uganda was really irksome.

As the miffed young lady stated, as he was going to Kigali, Rwanda he and his 38 billionaire friends most probably flew right over Uganda. Being accomplished persons there is no way they could have ignored the entire stretch of country over which their plane flew. Then, on their way backwards to Nairobi, Kenya, they did the trip again and so must be aware of our existence.

That’s why I think it can’t be easy to be in charge of trade and investment in  Uganda right now. The people in charge of those dockets, including the foreign service staff in countries where people like Jack Ma operate, are probably being asked uncomfortable questions over why they didn’t ensure that the 39 Chinese billionaires come to Uganda. Read this: http://edition.cnn.com/2017/07/21/africa/jack-ma-kenya-visit/index.html

All employees of the Uganda Investment Authority, Uganda Export Promotion Board, Private Sector Foundation, Ministries to do with things like Finance, Investment, Trade, Tourism, Agriculture and so on and so forth, must be kicking themselves. Read this: http://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/business/China-Jack-Ma-market-Kenya-abroad/2560-4025556-hwgewfz/index.html

I genuinely sympathize with them because when people read those tens of thousands of stories on the internet about Jack Ma and 38 other billionaires visiting both countries on either side of Uganda, they must look askance at all these officials. Read this: https://ecommerceguide.com/news/jack-ma-visits-east-africa-inspire-next-generation-african-ecommerce-leaders/

Besides the fact that the Ma’s could have spent a few of their hard earned Dollars and Yuan within this economy, if the 39 billionaires had gone to the National Parks, stopped to eat a Rolex, or toured our cultural sites, they would have brought these to the attention of more than a billion Chinese people.

If Jack Ma and his 38 billionaire pals had engaged with 39 (or 390) brilliant, energetic, young Ugandan entrepreneurs, then imagine how much kickstart those kids would receive and then inject into the economy! Read this: https://www.cio.co.ke/news/on-his-first-ever-visit-to-africa-jack-ma-set-to-visit-kenya/

The fact that the speeches he has made have already gone viral on our social media and project the countries he visited in a very positive and favourable light.

Uganda should learn the value of these interactions and visits, basing on the learnings provided by the likes of Jack Ma. Every time we get these billionaires visiting or hanging around, our image out there changes significantly.

The inspiration he gave to hundreds of youths in Rwanda and Kenya will be felt in those economies in days and weeks to come – not years – while ours over here… (insert an optimistic conclusion here). Read this:  http://www.focac.org/eng/zxxx/t1479529.htm

His life story on its own is inspiring in ways that should change the tone of many of our frustrated youth here. Read this: https://www.theafricandream.net/alibaba-founder-jack-ma-asias-richest-man-visit-east-africa/

We all have a role to play in getting people like Jack Ma here, just as we have a role to play in making their visits make sense. The government official who is supposed to spend time and effort inviting the Jack Ma’s and encouraging them to visit is as important to the process as the random Ugandan posting positive comments about the country that might land in Jack Ma’s google alerts inbox.

This guy, if you are still blank as to why he is important, is currently the richest person in Asia and the 14th richest person in the world, with a net worth of US$41.8 billion, as of June 2017.

It is said that his company, Ali Baba, is worth more than Facebook and processes more transactions than eBay and Amazon combined. (I did not verify this). alibaba.com is with more than US$231billion on its own.

During his visit to Kenya, Ma announced a US$10million fund for African Young Entrepreneurs – out of his own pocket. Plus, he kick started an initiative to work with UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development), to which he is an advisor, to take 200 budding African businesspeople to China to learn hands-on from alibaba.com. Read this: http://unctad.org/en/pages/newsdetails.aspx?OriginalVersionID=1525.

PLUS, he wants “to roll out a partnership with African universities to teach internet technology, artificial intelligence and e-commerce.”

As a country we are doing business with hundreds or perhaps thousands of Chinese people, all aimed at national development and wealth creation, but whose combined wealth and influence in the world of business and entrepreneurship might not be as serious as Jack Ma’s.

Why does Uganda always get left out? Because you and I and those government officials who are responsible for bringing such people here are NOT doing out jobs right.

thanking one eva for representing Uganda so well in China – and calling on all Ugandans to wear that flag well


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The Selfie with one Yang in Beijing 

I APPLAUD a young Ugandan lady called Eva, whose second name I do not know and whose face I have never seen. All I know is that she is female, a Ugandan, and once lived in Beijing while studying something.

She now lives and works in Uganda at a location I will not reveal because I am not absolutely certain of it and have not secured her permission to do so – because I do not have her contact details.

Because she was a good Ugandan during her time in China, she saved me quite some difficulty last week by way of happenstance.

I normally go about on my travels wearing t-shirts boldly emblazoned with the Uganda flag for a number of reasons; top on the list is that this gives me an opportunity to start up a conversation about Uganda in which I get to stress the many good bits of my country.

It never fails, and during five days of travel last week I enjoyed many opportunities ranging from the hilarious to the deeply earnest.

There was the morning I was walking out of the breakfast room and a New Zealander pointed at me and shouted, “Hey! Uganda!”

He had me in a tight embrace before I could overcome my alarm, and standing together arm over shoulder he explained his excitement at seeing my tshirt with the Uganda flag right across the front.

“I am the Honorary Consul of Uganda to New Zealand!”

The odds were not high. He doesn’t spend all his time in Beijing so the opportunity to discuss Uganda with a Ugandan on a random morning in a country that was not New Zealand could not be allowed to go by.

Basil J. Morrison had many good things to say, of course, and asked about a few of his friends back home. Later in the day, atop the Great Wall of China, I bumped into Basil J. Morrison again – and with the same excitement as at breakfast, he spotted me easily in the crowd because of that t-shirt and his affinity for the Ugandan flag.

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The Selfie with Basil J. Morrison

The one involving Eva, however, was the most surprisingly pleasant.

On our way back out of the country we got a one-hour window between official events to swing by a shopping plaza. Just one hour, mind, and nothing more – including the time it took to disembark, get a meal, dislodge from the group and fight off the eager shop attendants all saying, “I give-o you good price-o, my brother! Come-o here!” The Chinese people seeking to give me merchandise in exchange for currency were ready to have me as their sibling, such is the pull of commerce in Beijing.

In the melee, one of my colleagues went off with my phone power bank. My phone being down to 2% meant I would be marooned if plans changed and nobody could reach me by phone to re-direct me to a different rendezvous point – a contingency we had agreed had to be avoided at all costs, and against which we had prepared by securing Chinese-registered SIMs.

It was on the top floor of the Plaza, at the food court, that I came across Eva’s name. Opting to pick up a quick meal to walk and eat with back to the rendezvous, I went to the food court and placed an order with the fellow there.

After taking my order, he pointed at the flag on my t-shirt and said quite confidently: “Uganda!”

I was surprised.

Some minutes before that another fellow had pointed at the very same flag and said, “Ethiopia?” I shook my head and told him, “No. Try again?”

And he went, “Ummmm…” so I said, “Read this!” pointing at the word under the flag that said ‘UGANDA’.

“Ghana?” he went, till I made him actually read it properly (vehemence without violence) and then found myself in a farcical conversation in which a Chinese man claimed all Africans looked the same and a Ugandan man informed him that all Asians looked the same, and so on and so forth till he succumbed.

Back to the food court, I later learnt the young man who so clearly identified the flag was called Yang and is from Mongolia. When I asked how he knew the Ugandan flag so well he said, “I have friend in Uganda.”

Impressed but short on time, I sent him off to complete my food purchase and picked up the conversation when he returned. His friend was Eva – and he proved it by showing me his WhatsApp conversation with her (‘Eva@Uganda’). The conversation was recent (I did NOT read the messages though!).

Sensing a window of opportunity, I asked him if he could charge my phone and he very readily said, “Yes! iPhone? I have.”

When the food arrived, I stuck around a little bit to give the phone time to charge up a bit, and eventually he joined me clearly seeking more Ugandan contact.

I asked him if Eva had been his girlfriend and he unabashedly said she wasn’t, just a good friend. They met when she was in Beijing and she was kind, helpful and generally a good friend.

“Ugandans are good people,” Yang said, and sat down with me for part of my meal, disrupting my novel-reading window somewhat and even learning a new english word (“ludicrous”) out of the first page of my Bill Bryson.

The 20% battery charge Yang gave me, because of the kindness of Eva’s gentle Ugandan heart in Beijing, went a long way in ensuring the rest of my journey went according to plan. Eva’s being a good Ugandan also made me proud to be a Ugandan wearing the Ugandan flag out in public thousands of miles away from home, and for that, I applaud her and all people like her!

See, in the early days of this t-shirt policy the first response I received was, “Idi Amin!” proclaimed proudly by people emulating half-wits recovering from a decade-long coma and doing a form of cognitive stimulation test where they had to respond to pictures. Later, the responses always followed a political path that somehow still led back to Idi Amin.

Last week, thanks to people like Eva and other good Ugandans out there, I spent five days going through Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, and in Beijing, China, and back, and not once was Idi Amin mentioned.

Even the people who couldn’t sustain a conversation in English had a way about it – like the fellow who pointed and proclaimed, “Uganda!” and responded to my, “Yeah! Beautiful country. Have you visited?” with “Kampala.”

“Er…so have you visited?” I asked, hoping this was a lead into a conversation as the lift doors opened.

It wasn’t. He pointed at himself, in his indeterminate but well-stitched suit and tie, and said, “Algeria!”

I smiled widely, knowing he didn’t have the English for this, and said, “Yeah, but we have better climate, better hospitality, and much better t-shirts! Come and visit Uganda!”

I hope when the Algerian googles the phrases he finds the last bit stands out: “Come and visit Uganda!”

Thank you, Eva!

re-starting independence with the children and their toys


WHEN you spend a few days sequestered with hundreds of people talking repeatedly about innovation, technology and education you tend to develop ideas along those lines.
My head was full of them as we emerged from a summit called ‘Innovation Africa’ and prepared to embark on Independence week. Because there was a weekend punctuation between the two, I was reclaimed by the children and eventually found myself inside bookshops that insist on selling toys.
I can understand the business imperative that makes them stock both products, so I have sympathised with them for years in spite of the irritation – I think it is unfair to distract these young ones with toys when we try to immerse them into a world of literary appreciation in order to stimulate their imaginative powers.
But there I was, trying to herd attention away from playing to reading, when I noticed one plaything priced at five million shillings (actually, it was Ushs4,999,000).

My next venture should be making these!
My next venture should be making these!
I was a little panicked because one of the children was paying more attention to this item than I was comfortable with – and if my bankers and a few other stakeholders had spotted us at that point I would have had to hold difficult conversations.
As I firmly drew her focus away from the thing, my mind was on one of the key statements people kept making at Innovation Africa – “But can’t you guys make this here (Uganda or Africa)?”
On closer inspection, the Ushs5million plaything was a creation of painted plastic or fibreglass, with a few lights here, buttons, and a motor that made it move to and fro.
I know a guy in Kampala who once did a fibreglass fabrication for me, and estimated the total cost here to be less than one million shillings. The lights and wiring involved couldn’t cost more than a couple of hundred thousand, and neither would the paint.
So I figure that if I got an artist and a technician together I could reap handsomely from toys – and the shop attendant confirmed to me that people buy these things, imported from China, quite frequently.
I looked around a bit more at hundreds of other items – all imported – including a little children’s bookshelf painted in lively colours and priced about eight times higher than a locally made one sold in most carpentries in Kampala.
The price of that bookshelf was even confusing because of the cheapness of the materials used to manufacture it – especially compared to the hardwood ones we make locally that are priced so low.
There was also a set of toys made of wooden blocks, each painted with numbers and letters and going for just over one hundred thousand shillings.
Believe it or not, every carpentry workshop in this country generates enough waste (paint inclusive) to be converted into such toys saleable at sensibly profitable amounts to a very willing foreign-toy-purchasing public.
Plus, if we start this with toys then we are doing it at a point where the next generation interacts quite closely, and the true meaning of independence will sink in better in their minds.
What do we need in order to do this?
Independence – and an understanding of the theme of Independence Day Celebrations this year: “Striving towards a prosperous people and Country: the meaning of true Independence.”
Prosperity and Independence – the two go hand in hand, if we strive at them, apparently. Importing toys from China enriches only a few of us here in Uganda, namely those who import those toys – but MANUFACTURING those toys here in Uganda will enrich many, and it IS easy.
As we made our escape from the toy bookshop, my daughter asked me the confounding question, “What is Independence?”

watching corruption: all hail the Chinese!


I DON’T find it easy expressing admiration for countries that are not Ugandan but the Chinese today receive a sounding round of applause for being extremely serious about anything that they approach. 

Generalising to include all Chinese is wrong, of course, but as we say in Ug: “Just allow!”

These guys have caught my attention today because of a chap called Yang Dacai, who has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for corruption.

The applause is not just because a thief has been jailed, it’s the manner in which the story was put into motion and followed through that had me marvelling when the story broke on BBC right there in my car (on the radio).

This despicable fellow came to public light because he was smiling at the scene of an accident in which 36 people died in August last year.

People were enraged and the photograph went down the Social Media tubes at the speed of a tweet. I didn’t see it nor hear of the outrage, mostly because at that time in Uganda we were probably engulfed in some issue or another – perhaps embezzlement charges to do with Kazinda (I can’t even remember his second name as I type this) or Christopher Obey.

But, this fellow’s wrongly implemented smile wasn’t the only issue.

Some people looked at the photographs and then at more photos of the same guy and then started asking, “How come he has so many different watches?” which question turned into, “How come that guy’s different watches are all so expensive?”

The graphic put up on the BBC website tells you how serious this is:

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The many watchfaces of Yang Dacai – BBC Photo

Brother Wristwatch, meanwhile, is not a major public figure – he was just the head of some government work safety body in Shanxi Province<— yeah, I had also never heard of this province before.

Got to the part in the story that reads, <<Yang Dacai was accused of taking bribes and “holding a huge amount of property”, state media said. He admitted taking bribes and said he could not explain how his immense family fortune worth 5m yuan ($817,000; £527,195) came about.>>?

US$817,000 = 14 years in prison.

As a percentage of China’s GDP, that’s 0.0000111643%. <—I am serious – I double checked the mathematics six different ways.

Again, US$817,000=14 years in prison.

And the evidence used to begin the investigation was simply that first photograph, followed by a careful perusal of many other photos in which the watches were clearly spotted.

And all this was started by civilians banging kaboozi.

How can you not admire this?

Next? Are you going to go back over the years of newspaper coverage and society shows on TV in Uganda to get people to explain where their cars and houses have come from?

You, yes, YOU!

I thought so.

But another thing – this week Dacai was charged, but he was first fired last year for the inane smiling he did, and after investigations had run a good course, he was also kicked out of the Communist Party.

Applause, applause! It turns out that your political party won’t protect you when you are suspected to be corrupt – they throw you out.

And NO, before you interject with the thought this this was just a lowly member of the Communist Party thrown to the fishes so that China can claim to be serious about corruption, the following are also under probe right now:

Jiang Jiemin, former head of the China National Petroleum Corporation, the country’s biggest Oil giant; Bo Xilai, Party Head in Chongqing;

Should I ask again what you are going to do?

I won’t ask, but I’ll tell you what some senior government officials in China did: they stopped wearing wristwatches. And it’s so serious that, “global luxury watch sales have seen double digit falls in demand from China and Hong Kong, two of the top markets…”

THAT story is here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-23541923.

My hands are hurting from all the applause right now, but the pain inside me from how little we are doing over here is much, much greater.