things are tight


Things are Tight!
Walking through a number of malls, coffee shops and restaurants at random these three weeks past revealed them to be alarmingly empty most hours. I made it a point to drop in on at least three different popular eating places at lunch time thrice a week and the numbers were just not there.
At one restaurant I dawdled a while over a bottle of water and the free Wi-Fi and observed only two other people having a meal for lunch, and one pizza being carried out by a delivery man.
A most generous assessment would put those three meals plus my bottle of water at just over a hundred thousand shillings in revenue for that hour. During that time, the staff were in place, electricity was powering the lights, fridges and other equipment, and there were certainly other costs running in the background.
The emptiness in these places is strange because we expect the Christmas season to have started off in earnest, what with the children being on vacation. But it should not be surprising that this is happening. The economic forecasts have been telling us this for months, and whereas we have talked about it before, we need to go on talking about it and changing our habits.
Perhaps the absence of patrons means that they have read the signs and reacted wisely by adjusting their spending.
Personally, I am now packing more of my own home made meals and avoiding fuel-based travel whenever possible, besides other measures.
If many more people react this way then the malls, coffee shops and restaurants should be reading the signals and changing their methods as well. This is the time for them to look more closely at their running costs and start switching off lights,
Switching off lights is no small matter. Those small leakages – business or personal – tend to pile up. In these difficult days we all need to keep an eye on the small stuff because we cannot afford to waste anything any more. For businesses, it is now appropriate to run campaigns within the company for all staff to adopt prudent ways of utilising resources, and hope that they take a hint and carry the habits home with them, rather than the office sundries.
Also, the commercial places should start shopping wisely for their supplies, goods and sundries. in one of the hotels I passed through this week I was bemused to find they had laid out butter cubes imported from the Netherlands.
This time I didn’t whip up a froth at the manager to explain that if they had bought their butter from a local source then perhaps the owners of the cows that supplied the milk, plus the processors of the butter, plus the company that supplied it would have enough money to dine at his or her establishment.
Of course we understand that the procurement cycle might mean that they already have full stores, but now is the time to do some window shopping for cheaper stuff sourced locally just in case this dry financial spell runs on for too long.
And, finally, there is a lot of creativity needed now. The global business gurus always argue that times of difficulty call for an increase in marketing activities. This is not obvious to everyone, so it needs a little explaining because it applies both to businesses and individuals:
Right now we are competing for a small amount of money going around. The best way to increase your chances of getting any of it is to be highly visible or squarely in the way of its path. If you’re a business, advertise more, run more activities and events of a visibly creative nature and make your customers offers they cannot refuse.
If you’re just an individual seeking an income, perform harder at work so that you stand out and avoid being dropped when downsizing begins – which is very likely soon! Or network harder with the right people so that should there be any opportunity for you to earn more, you get it.
Things are tight, people, but we can work round them and do more than just survive.

2016: the year of increased and improved tourism in and for UGANDA, by UGANDANS


IMG_4515FOR a veteran, if I may use the word, of the National Parks with many visits going back to the difficult days when the groups driving through the animal trails very rarely consisted of indigenous Ugandans, this Christmas was both a pleasant and dismaying eye opener.
My Christmas in the Park, managed by www.shiyaya.travel crowned my year of tourism landmarks and promised me that 2016 would be even bigger for Uganda’s tourism sector, especially local tourism (you, me and ours being tourists) – which means that we have a lot more work to do.
The vast pleasantness of my trip lay in seeing so many Ugandans in the Parks, but ironically that also dismayed me somewhat at a few turns and corners – literally, when the car accidents occurred.
On one morning, three accidents took place within a radius of a couple of kilometres, and all appeared to be caused by the reckless driving that had my group worried from the time we entered the park and noticed a disparity between the “40kph” signs and the speed at which most vehicles were actually progressing.
On a side note, I did find it uplifting to see a young government-employed Ugandan doctor squeezing his family into one corner of their vehicle in order to accommodate a bleeding accident victim, giving the man first aid at a nearby hotel, and then putting a major break into the family holiday by driving the injured man to the nearest health centre.
This doctor’s dedication to his Hippocratic Oath and service to the public still causes me to applaud him mentally every time I recall the sight of him cleaning up that patient with his family standing round in a calm state of holiday. For a fleeting moment the thought occurred that perhaps having lost his father in a motor vehicle accident, this young man was even more invested in helping the victim that day, but I put it aside and saluted Dr. Charles Ayume once again.
His was not the only display of random kindness by Ugandans in the park; hours later, we came across a Chinese fellow whose car had lost a tyre right at the top of the Murchison (Kabalega) Falls and was frantically trying to make his way to Masindi to get it fixed.
The vast number of visitors made it easy for him to hitch a ride on a tour bus full of Ugandans – another change from our situation just a few years ago, in which one was often lonely at the top of the falls, communing closely with roaring nature – but along the way he spotted another van with a spare tyre that would work on his van.
Stopping the van, this Chinese fellow made desperate offers in exchange for the use of the spare tyre for the two or so hours it would take to get to Masindi, have it fixed, and drive back – including hard cash, the purchase of two brand new tyres for the loan of one, and handing over his tour group as hostages for as long as it took.
When the van gave him the tyre free of charge and asked that he simply leave it behind at the Shell Masindi, he failed to understand the offer. Consulting his mates, the group had an animated discussion and variously asked the van owner to clarify how, exactly, he was benefitting from this.
“I am Ugandan. You are enjoying Uganda. We are kind. I will trust you.”
The entire group was licked, and presented solemn handshakes while proclaiming in halting english about how good Ugandans are. I added them to my mental applause list.
About an hour later, I bumped into Tegrasi Ndozireho, a uniformed IMG_4554Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) Ranger with a smattering of bray hair, cradling a baby in a kangaroo pouch strapped over his military fatigues.
The sight was odd, as “Bring Your Baby To Work” is one of the last incentives I’d expect Wildlife Park Rangers to have.
He laughed and explained that he had taken the baby off a tourist so she could enjoy the experience at the top of the falls in safety and in its fullness. So he stood under the shade and rocked the little child to and fro for a while as the grateful mother traipsed about.
I couldn’t hug him, but he got signed up for mental applause as well.
There were more and more instances of these surprising bursts of Ugandan kindness and dedication to duty. Enough to make me believe that we are really ready to make tourism more than just a catchphrase by government officials.
WE must make tourism in Uganda our own, and make it work on our own as Ugandans.
2016 will be the year Ugandans realise how we ourselves can make tourism in Uganda benefit US. Iitwe. Ffe. Iife. Sisi.

buying ugandan christmas gifts should set our pace for coming years


I NEED to declare that another government agency gave me a Christmas gift of the following, sent to me two days before the article below was published in The New Vision:

image
Gifts made in Uganda - from a government agency

I was very pleased.

BECAUSE IT is not too late to do your shopping for Christmas gifts, here is an idea – and if you have already bought all yours for tomorrow then consider this a New Year’s resolution tip-sheet:

Last week I was the gleeful recipient of a Christmas hamper, sent to me by a generous government agency office I have official dealings with.

This agency is quite efficient at what it does and is therefore useful to our national development by way of its ordinary course of business.

As I studied the hamper presented to me, I knew that the cost of all the Christmas hampers this agency distributed this year could not be so significant as to warrant the attention of any but the most nit picky amongst us.

My heart sunk as I unwrapped the cellophane, and all the good cheer left me just as lots of money had left Uganda in exchange for the honey, chocolate, wine and coffee in the basket – which basket itself also appeared to be foreign.

The agency in question here normally hosts me for meetings about once a month, and I am always loudly insistent on being served coffee and tea grown and packaged in Uganda, accompanied by biscuits of local origin.

For them to be crowning the year by presenting me with Arabian honey was a clear affront to me, and I wasted little time before calling them up to clarify the messaging intention of the gift pack. Their genuine apologies ended with a pledge that they would conduct a seminar for their procurement people and suppliers, ensuring that next year they buy Ugandan at every opportunity.

Christmas gift shopping is a major such opportunity. In a year when we have seen the shilling sinking into a quagmire that needs shoveling by increased production for export, the least we can do is buy as much as we can locally as individuals and organizations – every day.

If all of us do our Christmas shopping at the craft markets, and wrap our gifts in locally made materials, sending them across with cards made in Uganda, then spend the season feasting strictly on traditional dishes cooked out of food from the gardens closest to our kitchens, this economy would change even faster.

And if that attitude were carried on into the new year, then as we return to our offices we might introduce policies that have us serving strictly local products at our meetings, and procuring only t-shirts designed and made in Uganda, to be distributed in baskets woven by local women and youth in the countryside, and all decisions made sitting at furniture designed and made by Ugandan carpenters.

It is never too late to make these decisions and implement them; focusing strictly on Christmas shopping, if you haven’t bought gifts yet then consider avoiding the crazy last-minute city or town traffic just to buy some ‘Made In Elsewhere’ items, and go down to the closest market then buy a year’s supply of fruit or vegetables for your loved ones.

This year I bought someone some months’ subscription to The New Vision and his joy after receiving the first surprise copy and working it out still rings loud in my ears – though may not be as fulfilling as my own at having spent that money supporting the salary of someone here, and shareholders in my vicinity, while adding a small prop to an industry I care about deeply.

It is not too late – spend your money here and make a small change that may also translate into some long term change that our children’s children might benefit from, more than the children’s children of people in far off lands.

a wheelbarrow full of ideas


I have fond memories of a time, back in the 1980s, when we children would spend weeks at my grandfather’s residence in Bulindi, Hoima doing all sorts of work – especially mowing the compound using a mechanical mower, then sweeping up the grass.
To convey the cut grass into the nearby garden for use as mulch, we used an old iron sheet that had two holes punched into it for a long wire to be inserted and used as a handle. In those days of scarcity we made do with what we had, and invention was born of necessity.
At around the same time in my life, one day in school we were taught about simple and compound machines, including the wheelbarrow. We learnt to draw the wheelbarrow and found it was made up of basically the two items in its name – a wheel and a barrow. Its function was to allow one to convey things carried in a barrow, using the convenience of a wheel.
All this came back to me last week at the end of a day spent hobby gardening in Wakiso, with a couple of chaps, one of whom had a ‘Citizen’s’ identity card (not the National ID ones) that described him as a “Peasant”.
I had insisted, as part of the gardening plan, that we divide the different agricultural plots with paths and walkways for various reasons – including enabling the workers to use wheelbarrows to do their basic duties.
They were convinced, and at the end of the day one of the items on the list of requirements was a wheelbarrow – which they assumed would go for about Ushs90,000 each in Kampala. I eventually found one at Ushs50,000 being sold online, but of course it was imported from China.Wheelbarrow Kaymu
Dissatisfied with the idea that we still don’t make wheelbarrows here, I went off to the internet as usual, and found leads on alibaba.com for wheelbarrows going for as low as US$10 a piece – but only if you place a minimum order for 200 pieces. Then I called up my preferred metal worker who offered to make one for me at Ushs180,000.
But before closing that discussion, a memory hit me from a month ago: while doing some work at home, we dug up quite a lot of soil that needed to be relocated elsewhere, but the wheelbarrow I bought years ago while doing the construction had since been stolen.
Just as I was about to approve the hiring of fifteen casual labourers to use their muscle power, one of the workers told us we could hire a wheelbarrow from Mbuya, and provided a phone number. About Ushs1,200 of my phone airtime later, they had confirmed that hiring the wheelbarrow for the day would be Ushs3,000. But we also had to use a boda boda to fetch it, at Ushs5,000 one way.
By the evening, I had spent Ushs14,200 for the use of a wheelbarrow for a day.
And now, with my situation in Wakiso, I feel we need to make more wheelbarrows in Uganda – and not the wooden ones used to carry fruit. All the construction and farming work we are doing should certainly support a local wheelbarrow industry even if we do not produce the steel for it.
In fact, while pondering the issue that weekend I spotted a dis-used satellite dish in the corner of my backyard and immediately called my preferred local metal worker with the suggestion that he buys a wheel and fabricates a local wheelbarrow for me using this dish as a barrow – I will report progress on that later. (UPDATE on October 9, 2015 – I actually did it, and the brief report is here – https://skaheru.wordpress.com/2015/10/09/following-up-the-wheelbarrow-full-of-ideas-with-real-life-implementation/)
But before that, would you believe this story from a Canadian on Facebook in 2011? After visiting Uganda and doing some voluntary work building things, he noticed work was being done too manually. So this person bought a wheelbarrow all the way from Canada, flew it to Uganda on an aeroplane, then put it in a minibus to Gulu for use on a construction project, and the people there were fascinated by the contraption. In fact, after he had assembled it, with the entire village gathered round, they were all afraid to use it “until one young man was brave enough to try it”.
To declare a young man in Gulu, the centre of war in northern Uganda for over two decades, “brave” for using a wheelbarrow, is what we call in local vernacular, “okujooga”.
I blame our being kujooga’d for so long by so many people on our stupidity in not adopting simple technology for developmental use, in spite of our education and the availability of the basics we need to fashion our own wheelbarrows and make use of them to ease work.
Wheelbarrow in Uganda

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:

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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.

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