remove those mental boundaries…from the youth, mostly

LIKE most of you, whenever I think about the KCCA Facility in Nakasero opposite the Kampala Club I recall the fracas created during the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) eviction of former Mayor, Al-Hajji Nasser Ntege Sebaggala.

Back then it was the official residence of the Town Clerk, and Sebaggala had taken it over as Lord Mayor and then claimed the City Council had resolved to give it to him personally for some reason.

I sometimes confuse it with the one KCCA evicted Tinyefuza from in 2011, in Kololo (and checking up on that story I found he had previously been evicted from another house in 2002!)

So, walking into the Nakasero building last Friday I was pleased it was open for public use as the Employment Services Bureau of the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA). On the notice board were job adverts for members of the public to access – including one from Airtel.

I was there to attend a graduation ceremony for young students in their senior six vacation who had undergone a nine-week training and mentorship programme designed to make them volunteer to serve others and develop skills.

The skills they were made to develop included those they already had and some they would discover within themselves in the process.

While it was uplifting to spend time with the youth there it was also saddening to think of how many years we lost, as a nation, NOT putting this facility to its proper use.

If in my time as a child I had been given this mentorship and direction from others besides my own family, how far would I have come by now and by extension, how far would this country be?

We may hope that the selfishness of the people who denied us these opportunities will be punished one day somehow, but that’s a waste of energy.

Instead, I was propelled by the energy of the young people there and grew my own aspirations about the potential we have to make a brighter future in Uganda.

Benjamin Rukwengye addresses the youth (Photo by Simon Kaheru)

The founder, Benjamin ‘Benjy’ Rukwengye, is a relative youngster himself and has already achieved a lot of positive impact through an organisation I have talked about often before – the ’40 Days Over 40 Smiles Foundation’ where I first met him.

He has taken part in a number of mentorship initiatives as a recipient and found the impact so great that he has dedicated himself to giving back in this way – hence the organisation ‘Boundless Minds’.

From what I’ve noticed, it’s difficult for traditional educationists to comprehend at first but when they meet the children who participate in programmes of this nature they will be better convinced.

That’s not to say that traditional education isn’t useful – it certainly is, especially if it is delivered correctly and complemented by a certain method of upbringing.

The cohort I met that day – all of them under twenty (20) years of age – made this obvious in their presence and presentations that day, and I proved it by reading their application forms.

Immaculate ‘Immy’ Namuwonge, who designed the t-shirts – including the one she’s wearing here (Photo by Simon Kaheru)

One of them, Immy, designed and made the t-shirts and photo collage backdrop in the marque; another, Pearl, baked some beautiful cakes for the reception; Laban, from a previous cohort, was the event caterer; and Patricia had done the email communication leading up to the event in an impeccable fashion that made me think Benjy had hired a high-level Assistant for his office!

All of them, in their senior six vacation, had become entrepreneurs and were already suppliers of a registered company paying for professional services.

They didn’t necessarily learn how to design stuff, bake, write and cook while on the mentorship programme – they were given experiences that built their confidence to do things they already had an interest in and a passion for.

After the event I read their application forms for the programme – NOT application letters like job applicants have been made to write for decades – and was impressed by their clarity of purpose.

The forms were designed to elicit their passions, interests and latent skills, so that the programme could build on those.

Again, if all our twenty-year-olds went through this experience early on in life, imagine what they would be like at age thirty (30)?

An emotional Benjy told us, on the day that when young people are given a chance to prove themselves it gives them confidence to do what they believe they can and creates the opportunity for them to try harder to initiate more.

He revealed that these children, in their WhatsApp group, tended to hold unguided discussions about news items in a manner that not many adults
do – and don’t challenge this lest you are found guilty.

During the reception I spoke to a few of them and was blown away even more. One soft-spoken young lady told me how she makes sandals so she can earn money to support her forthcoming university tuition, while another earnestly held me in a conversation about digital media and robotics even though his next step is a complicated science degree he can’t find in Uganda.

What was I doing at nineteen years of age? A very different type of hustle. A hustle I won’t complain about now.

Still, I imagine how that hustle could have been further complemented by someone like Benjy opening my mental boundaries with the deliberate support of authorities thinking about my positive role in making the future of Uganda brighter.

here are some of the opportunities that were in this year’s State of the Nation address #EconomicsUG

Museveni State of the Nation from
Photo from

OVER the years, I’ve picked up this highly useful fact from various successful Asian and Asian-Ugandan businessmen operating happily in Uganda: EVERY time there is a political or national event, they pay close attention to what the speech-makers are saying.

When it’s the President, they pay extra-special heed to the details of what he says and they thereafter follow up by making additional inquiries and investigations with the relevant offices.

One of them told me this as he was explaining why his father had invested in the first level of successful industry back in 1988, after two years of closely following this new NRM/A government all the way from London, in the United Kingdom. The young man himself was showing me round an investment project of his own that had built on his father’s success but fed off the plans the government kept announcing and dropping hints at.

That’s why, after last year’s End of Year address by the President to the Republic of Uganda, I wrote this –

This week we listened to President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni delivering another State of the Nation address – Uganda’s Chief Executive Officer’s report to the Annual General Meeting of shareholders.

I listened carefully to the event, paying attention to possible opportunities that even the smallest-scale businessman, entrepreneur or speculator could take advantage of and plan for.

They stand out quite well – paragraph by paragraph – #OpportunityUG – and just in case you haven’t read it or seen them, here are the ones I suspect might be useful:

“…we now have tarmac roads to almost all the corners of Uganda: Nimule; Oraba; Musingo; Vurra; Lwakhakha soon; Malaba; Busia; Busuunga, beyond Bundibugyo; Mpondwe; Mutukula; Muroongo on the Kagyera river; Mirama hill; Katuna; Cyanika and Bunagana.  Radiating from Kampala, tarmac roads are now connecting all those points. The distance between Cyanika and Oraba is 1,048Kms (655miles), all of it connected by a tarmac road, from Kisoro district to Koboko…”

When a road is built with tarmac, the value of the land adjacent and in the towns that it connects tends to rise. If you check for the most recently built road you might find some land available either for sale or lease and snatch it up before its value rises.

Besides that, there are additional opportunities along such roads – such as establishing rest-stops, motels, shopping centres, fuel stations, and other enterprises that will take advantage of the increased traffic.

“farmers will use more irrigation. In the coming financial year, the Government will work on the following irrigation schemes using the government budget:

  • Doho phase II in Butalejja district;
  • Mubuku phase II in Kasese district;
  • Wadelai in Nebbi district;
  • Tochi in Oyam district;
  • Ngenge in Oyam district;
  • Atari (Bulambuli and Kween);
  • Katete in Kanungu district;
  • Kawumu in Luwero district;
  • Amagoro (Tororo district);
  • Nabigaga (Kamuli district);
  • Rwimi (Kasese and Kabarole district);
  • Nyimur (Lamwo);
  • Musamya (Kayunga);
  • Kibimba (Gomba);
  • Kabuyanda (Isingiro);
  • Matanda (Isingiro); and
  • Igogero-Naigombwa (Iganga and Bugiri).

In order to roll-out a global irrigation system for the whole country, we are encouraging industrialists to set up assembly or manufacturing plants for solar-powered water pumps. Some of these pumps and water conveyance systems, will be used in government funded irrigation schemes. Others, however, will be used by the farmers at their own cost. I encourage all the capable farmers to, at their own cost, go  into irrigation.

We shouldn’t need the President himself to “encourage capable farmers” to go into irrigation. If you were planning to go into farming or agriculture, go and check where these irrigation projects are and set up your own project right there. Check what the application processes are and go for those!

But besides the irrigation project itself, check what elements go into the irrigation and solar-powered water pump manufacturing and see if you can supply or manufacture one of those components.

At the very least, if you don’t plan to invest, go and find a quick course to do in irrigation and solar-powered systems so that when these factories set up here you are marginally more marketable than the person next to you.

“With the building of our phosphate fertilizer plant in Tororo, Uganda, which at 2.5kgs per hectare has one of the lowest rates of fertilizer use, will now stir itself up to use more fertilizers. We are looking for an additional investor to blend the phosphates with nitrogen and potassium in order to formulate NPK (Nitrogen, phosphates and potassium). With the use of NPK, production will go up by 30%.  With higher rates of agricultural growth, the overall rate of growth will go up.”

Fertilisers are going to be taken seriously next year? First of all, the factory in question is in Tororo – what will the logistics be like? Normally transport goes from Tororo to Kampala and then from there to the rest of the country – so how about investing in a route that goes from Tororo direct to Gulu via Lira and capturing all the farmers that side?

Also, there must be an opportunity in this fertiliser trade that you can explore by even studying mixes and becoming an expert or consultant in its application and use – therefore turning all the farmers seeking fertilisers into your direct clients while also taking on the Fertiliser Plant itself.

I would like to single-out the sector of construction.  This grew by 12.5% annually. This is not surprising given the respective efforts of the government and the private sector in the areas of road and houses construction.”

The construction sector is growing by 12.5% annually? What will happen this coming year? Can we go for something there as well? Even if it’s not investing in hardware, is there a component that we can replace with something cheaper and yet equally efficient? What about the real estate brokers dealing in this growing sector – can we find better methods and corner the market?

The opportunities in construction are myriad, as it were, mushrooming each day the way apartment blocks do. Think of gardening and landscaping, and interior decoration, and auxiliary products and services.

If you have no investment capital to set up something big, how about teaming up with some pals and forming a cleaning service targeting just one set of these apartment blocks that keep cropping up…? That list goes on and on and on.

“I told you how rich Ugandans and other Africans are, already. In the case of Uganda, we spend about US dollars 7 billion a year in terms of imports. Importing what? Importing the shoes, clothes, carpets, textiles, furniture units, pharmaceuticals, electronic equipments, perfumes, soaps, wines, cars, pikipikis (motorcycles), etc etc…

We import so much? How about finding some of these items and their value, then picking up local ones and improving their quality even post-manufacture and then doing some import replacement?

That might now work for the perfumes, but even nonsense like second-hand clothing could provide an opportunity. A t-shirt with the Macdonalds logo on it could be spruced up with some kitenge bits to replace Maconalds and go for a neat margin well over and above the opened-bale price.

4,525 girls have already been assisted to engage in: knitting, shoe-making, weaving, tailoring, bakery and embroidery, while 6 groups have been assisted in furniture-making and 10 in welding.

Great opportunity there! Where are all these girls? Are they employed somewhere and each running their own business? If not, how about getting the list of the very best of them and investing in an outfit that will employ their services, skills and talents?

A handful of these girls could actually implement that little idea above of getting second-hand t-shirts and refitting them so they are fresh, Ugandan designs.

They even studied baking? If you take the marketing component and find a friend to handle packaging, you can be rolling in sweet money within a very short time of embarking on a project with these girls!

In the coming days, the Minister of Finance will announce the financial support we intend to give to the groups that wish to join the manufacturing in the form of the enhanced micro-finance efforts and the Innovation in addition to the Women Fund, the Youth Fund and Operation Wealth Creation Fund.

The ‘coming days’ that H.E. the President was referring to is the June 14 Reading of the National Budget.

If you don’t pay attention as THAT is being presented, and only focus on political statements (by yourself as well as by the politicians) please don’t blame anyone for your despondency thereafter.

is #Uganda the most entrepreneurial country in the world? we can do much more…

This article was also published by the people at the Competitiveness & Enterprise Development Programme here:
UGANDA being the world’s most entrepreneurial country is NOT a myth; the most recent research cited for this is the B2B Marketplace Approved Index, which looked at 73 countries and the proportion of adults there who have started a business.
We (Uganda) scored 28% of adults who had done so or co-owned a business – almost twice as many as those in the country that came second (Thailand with 16.7%).
To be honest, we all know that if our SMEs (Small and Medium sized Enterprises) were more organised we would rank even higher in such studies, but more importantly we would be doing much, much better economically.
In private I frequently raise this fantasy in my mind of every single Rolex Stand on the side of every road in Uganda registering as a business entity, with a Board of Directors, Share Capital, a Management Team and a bank account of sorts (even Mobile Money).
Just imagine how far that fantasy could go: perhaps one day a group of our better-healed Ugandans could get into an investment arrangement that would buy into or buy up all these SMEs and create a national equivalent of KFC or McDonald’s, but of Rolexes – like ‘RolexUG’.
Today, a venture like the RolexUG food chain could easily find itself cornering the Rolex market in many amazing ways, and possibly open up branches in the United States and Japan and Russia, selling shares on the stock market and creating a worldwide revolution even bigger than Russia’s blini (which is now street food in London…)
Sadly, our SMEs mostly prefer to operate as ‘the informal sector’, mostly because of a traditional fear of regulation and the costs that come with it. Most of us are afraid that registration means paying more taxes and other statutory obligations, or facing more scrutiny from authorities.
For instance, those Rolex stands would find themselves having to file more paperwork – which would mean many changes to their current business structure that would be a little discomfiting, since we rarely see them with reams of paper or computers and other such paraphernalia normally associated with ‘office’.
Plus, they would find themselves having to report more to offices dealing with things like public health, environment, and so on and so forth. Their employees would now start talking about NSSF and Pay As You Earn…the complications are daunting.
But if we teach our entrepreneurs that the benefits outweigh those complications, and develop an environment that makes it easier (not easy – nothing good ever comes from things being easy), then perhaps we will reap more from this officialdom.
That officialdom is much less daunting these days, with the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) on hand.
In the past, we struggled to get companies registered and off the ground, and many times found the idea of the companies registry daunting; whereas now we work with the Services Bureau as just that – a Services Bureau.
Registered businesses, for instance, will attract funding easier than loose, informal arrangements do. Even that Rolex stand would make for a good investment, but only if the investor – be it a massive global bank or just the uncle of Sula the Rolex Guy – would be more comfortable if Sula had an official business under which agreements would be signed and guarantees placed.
Entrepreneurship support funding also goes easier to organised business, than to informal, mobile stands. Registration, for instance, gives you a presence that is reliable and easy to find – which is essential when anyone’s giving you money; so essential that some people aren’t comfortable buying newspapers at traffic lights in case they turn green and your newspaper guy goes in the opposite direction before giving you back your change…
Add more benefits to capital injection – sales, for instance, will increase organically to a point that makes sense of business registration and the officialdom that comes with it.
Ideally (key word) an SME that enters the formal sector (business registration being the entry point) opens the doors to such benefits as research and development and scientific marketing.
Sticking to the Rolex stands, if we had clear visibility as a nation of how many Rolex stands exist and are operational, perhaps we would do research into and develop a certain type of healthy and resource-saving cooking oil or frying pan to support this business. Or maybe we would come up with a better design for the Rolex stand, like the guys at Musana Carts have done. The opportunities are limitless.
And those opportunities stretch to marketing as well – we have an entire sector of marketing researchers and creatives out there who are focussed on the ‘Big Guys’ simply because that’s who they can find out there, engage with, and create concepts for that they can get paid to execute.
I can see, in my fantasy, a few marketing professionals applying themselves to concepts for the Rolex stand when they realise exactly how many of them are potential clients who can apply for external funding support to pay for these concepts with an eye on the global market as customers.
Speaking of that global market, sympathise with our Export Promotion Board and how hard their work is right now simply because too many SMEs are not registered as businesses. If they had this well-built directory of all SMEs then they would, perhaps, find or develop foreign markets easier for us.
These registered businesses would also find it easier to engage both the government and their other stakeholder groups, because they would exist officially as entities with identities, locations and strength of presence.
And it is that engagement that advises and develops government policy such that it supports the SME – creating that very environment that makes business registration make sense for an SME.
It’s a fantasy, but dreams could come true.

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

Cassava Garden
Photo taken from: – 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?

stretching Uganda’s good name across the globe

LAST WEEK a Ugandan called David Egesa was quoted in an online publication asking,
“Why should I be crazy and stay in Canada where it’s cold?“
This was the closing sentence in a report on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Radio Canada website about how a team of Ugandan Kayakers had fought their way through piles of red tape to get to the International Canoe Federation (ICF) 2015 Freestyle World Kayaking Championships.
Their story is much like the She-Cranes – with very little support of an official and unofficial nature, a small group of very hopeful, resilient and positive thinking Ugandans fought against all odds to get to the world stage and have held the country’s flag high in the sky.
The She-Cranes did it on the extreme bottom right hand side of the map of the world, and the Kayakers have done it on the extreme top left hand side – stretching Uganda’s good name across the globe thanks to these young, voluntary, patriotic and passionate citizens working in their private capacity!
At this rate, the people who select candidates for national medals will find the coming ceremonies much easier to handle, because the reports from Ontario, Canada where the team of three is making waves make them heroes of serious note.
Besides Egesa, the team in full is made up of Sadat Kawawa (23), Amina Tayona (23), Yusuf Basalirwa (23) and… Sam Ward, whose name gives you a hint what tribe he belongs to, and who deserves applause for that very reason.
As usual, their local exposure is still quite dismal, even as they rack up such valuable international points for all Ugandans that we should honestly be made to line up from Entebbe Airport all the way to their base in Jinja, handing them hard cash as they drive through.
Their official Facebook page at the start of this week had just over 950 likes – much, much fewer than the number of people in Canada who gave the team a standing ovation at the opening ceremony a few days ago!
We’re going to take a while to understand what people like these actually do for this country when they go out there flying our flag and showing off how we are nationally muscular, energetic, cheerful, patient, jovial, good-looking, cooperative…and gifted by nature.
To summarise the value that these four Ugandans gave to the country, one photograph on their Facebook page depicts a menu chalkboard in

Kayak Kudos
From the Facebook Group

a Canadian Bar & Restaurant, with the Ugandan flag, complete with Crested Crane, drawn and coloured in at the top, and:

“Tonight’s Dinner: …Ugandan cabbage salad…BBQ Chicken…roasted sweet potatoes…Ugandan beans & BANANA CAKE!”
Just imagine how much excitement is being made in that corner of the world about Ugandan food right now? Tear-jerking!
THIS, now, would be the perfect opportunity for the Uganda Tourism Board to attack Canada with all they have in order to bring Canadian tourists here, to the source of this amazing Ugandan food and superb Kayakers such as Egesa’s team.
If anything would advertise to the world that Uganda is a great place to come and brave rapids in a Kayak, it is THIS team participating in this one event!
Obviously, they should go with the Uganda Export Promotion Board to convince the Canadians to import more of our fresh food, and other stuff besides, into their country.
Reading the story of the Kayakers and what they went through to get to Canada to represent you, me and forty million others, made me hope that one day we will expend our tourism and investment promotion dollars on funding such teams rather than government officials wearing European suits.
The four Kayakers applied for visas numerous times and rejected the rejections by applying again and again until they had Canadians writing to their Parliamentarians (NOT Ugandans writing to OUR Parliamentarians!) to let them in.
When they did get their visas, they needed to find the money to go – and, again, (mostly) non-Ugandans pooled resources and efforts together to fund the team
…to go and put Uganda on yet another map of international acclaim and celebration.
And for most of us, by the way, until this group of youngsters fought their way to Canada the only thing we knew about that country was that it was a favoured location for people wishing to relocate to a place where they could start a new life.
Which made Egesa’s comment even more powerful, especially when read in full:
“It’s really beautiful (in Canada); I like it. But I like Uganda the most. It’s where my family is, it’s where I work…Canada is good, but Uganda is good!”