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?”

happy independence week, only IF you are fully independent


independence-monument
Photo downloaded from www.thepearlguide.co.ug

The felicitation “Happy Independence!” this week did not apply to you if you’re not yet fully independent.

Full independence is hard to define on a national level but my simple mind associates it with breaking away from colonial ties, ceasing to be dependent on foreigners for ordinary, everyday stuff that we should surely be able to do for ourselves, and projecting Uganda with a positive confidence that puts us level with the best the world has to offer, where we can.

Ironically, this Tuesday (Yes! THIS past week!) the Princess Royal – NOT Ssangalyambogo of Buganda – launched a charity hospital ship on Lake Victoria, but on the Tanzania side. I heard it on BBC (again, Yes! That’s the British Broadcasting Corporation…smile) and listened to the commentator say how the ship was “bringing medical care to residents of the area’s 3,000 islands.

For real – it’s here: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-29516911

The “first ever ship of its kind on the lake”, said the enthusiastic reporter, will run for about 25 years to come…since it is second hand, having been put to work for decades in the UK – like many of your cars, electronics, furniture, clothes and even underclothes!

“I feel good,” said one of the shiny-faced residents after the calm Princess Royal had said some things about the gift, and after comments by a British gentleman with a white beard who was actually a Reverand and ticked all the stereotypical boxes required to make the scenario look exactly as expected.

It was as if the British monarchy had timed this gift because the thousands of examples here called Non-Governmental Organisations, and the percentage of our national budget that is funded by ‘development partners’ are not enough to illustrate our situation.

Full independence means being able to look that gift carefully in the eye and work out whether the ship wasn’t just being dumped cleverly onto Lake Victoria as wrapping around some admittedly much-needed medical equipment.

It also means being capable of providing medical services for all our people rather than having to rely on handouts of this nature, especially on the same lake that hundreds of tycoons spend weekends whizzing across in luxury boats loaded with fine whiskies, imported salmon, cream cheese and crackers, and leaving expensive whiffs of eau de toilette in the wind behind them.

Full independence means not thinking like the colonialists wanted us to think; it means breaking away from the education system that has made us the way we are, and it means being more than the native Africans they came to liberate with religion and basic education. This education point requires a long treatise that will be handled later, but that tackles the colonial idea that the African brain was limited and could therefore only be trained to do simple things following clear instructions.

Full independence means understanding economics well enough to harness our resources from production to consumption. It means knowing well enough to produce well enough to supply our own market, and those larger ones elsewhere; it means adding value to what we produce by way of simple and complex processing.

And full independence means, on the consumption end, NOT buying foreign products where local ones exist and in good comparison and competition. It means government procurement officers, or even private ones, buying Star Cafe and Good African Coffee BEFORE Nescafe.

Full independence is when you buy more locally manufactured products thanimported ones because they are of good, if not better, quality and because the money you spend doing so stays within this economy and is used to grow it. It’s realising that hardwood floors made in Uganda by Ugandans can actually be much smoother, warmer and more beautiful than ceramic tiles imported from China or Spain (and #SpainIsNotUganda); and that furniture made in Uganda Uganda Flagcan actually be steady, nice and durable – (the carpenters themselves should realise this first).

And it’s not being so daft as to walk through shopping centres and believing the phrase ‘Made in England’ is proof of good quality, “China” means ‘fake’ and Uganda doesn’t even exist. 

Going back to ceramic tiles versus wooden floors, being fully independent means defining ourselves by our situation rather than that of foreigners; our houses are constructed based on foreign concepts and considerations – brick and mortar as if we are prone to wintry weather requiring such insulation, instead of our natural materials suited for tropical Africa.

It goes back to our colonial education, which is still being rolled out till today – just check your children’s schoolwork or ask them a simple questions such as ’How many seasons do we have?’

I was pleased when my own gave a lengthy explanation that included the four usual suspects from Spring to Winter, and then our equator-based dry and wet seasons as separate, but I know they still suffer some vestiges of colonialism – and I will do my best to free them of these by the time they get to adulthood.

They will NOT be like the middle class pretenders highlighted in my favourite read this week – a blog post (http://thisisafrica.me/decolonising-mind-eddy-kenzos-success-irks-ugandas-middle-class/) that explained why Eddie Kenzo is so disliked by a mentally colonised middle class that believes his inability to speak english is reason for ridicule.

(I am a grammar nazi myself, but I only police those who have studied the full thirteen years from primary one to senior six, and those employed in professions that require them to be grammatically astute – such as journalism.)

The ridicule instead, should be aimed at those who didn’t realise that this week they should have mourned, reflected and re-adjusted themselves. Don’t get me wrong – we HAVE made some good strides, but we still have very long way to go before we can really celebrate mbu Happy Independence!

seriously – are we just fools?


Image

 

On Twitter today a discussion arose that had us agreeing to call ourselves fools.

 
It all started with a small story in the papers quoting the entire Chairman of Nakawa Division, one Benjamin Kalumba, saying that we, his people, are at high risk of contracting cholera now that the rainy season has set in, because there are no public toilets in the Division.
 
“We don’t have a public toilet from Jinja Road roundabout up to Banda, but thousands of people use this road. On Kinawataka–Mbuya Road, people have resorted to using the railway line as their toilet. We are at risk of cholera any time if the government and donor community don’t come for our rescue,” Mr Kalumba said.
 
The message in general was well-put and would have gone past me right until he asked “the donor community” to get in and build for us a toilet.
 
Immediately, I tweeted: “Another fool asks donors to build us toilets”, then after a few minutes and a couple of responses by people joining me in calling Kalumba a fool, I felt it was a little unfair for all of us to be pointing fingers at him when he is our leader, so I amended my statement and suggested that “we are fools” for not having toilets there already.
 
“Not everyone,” one Lauben wrote back, “the people entrusted to do that are the fools. Why wait for the situation to get that bad? Looks like poor planning…”
 
But no, I insisted, WE are the fools, because those people we entrusted to do that are supposedly the best of the lot. They represent us, and if they are foolish, then they are simply reflecting our foolishness and are so high up that it is easier to see that foolishness.
 
If we are so clever, why are we sitting here in our air-conditioned offices and carpeted homes (yeah, this is a cliche but I feel more comfortable thinking that we are like this, we elite fellows in Uganda) just metres away from the next available outbreak of cholera while we use the internet to communicate almost at the same pace as and with people whose closest link to cholera is when they google it?
 
Why aren’t we the leaders so that we mobilise ourselves to build toilets and make our country a better place?
 
Why are the leaders people like Kalumba, who believe that their role is to make speeches saying just about anything regardless of how terribly stupid and servile it sounds (“Muzungu, please come and help make for me a place where I can pupu?“)?
 
Paul Busharizi raised this a while back in an article after Iganga Municipality commissioned a new toilet block and maybe Kalumba’s out-take from reading that was that we need more bazungu building toilets for these bloody Africans; so why aren’t we, the witty, clever fellows who understood what Busharizi was writing about and tweeted and re-tweeted it in indignation, and discussed it over coffee at Java’s, why aren’t we the ones holding drives to build public toilets in Nakawa Division?
 
Or why isn’t any of us identifying this as an investment opportunity and sinking a couple of million shillings into a project providing toilet facilities in Nakawa Division?
 
Are we too clever to do this, and therefore spending our time coming up with some fantastic mobile-phone based apps to transfer money from place to place, or to identify malaria parasites in each other? Are we too locked down in crowd-sourcing projects, doing loads of social networking and doing oil and gas courses so we take advantages of the opportunities coming our way?
 
Or are we just fools?