new technology in buliisa, uganda!

A FEW days ago I received a short video clip via WhatsApp that I inadvertently opened almost as soon as it arrived. Normally I let these videos pile up till I have enough time to watch and delete them in a pile.
I was very pleased with this one. In the clip, a young fellow was manipulating a ‘wire car’. I put the phrase in quotes because when we were children we had a knack for finding bits of loose metallic wires either from clothes hangers (discarded or stolen) or broken up bits of fencing material, and we made wire cars.
There was always one boy in the neighbourhood who taught the rest of us and kept making modifications every so often without explaining where he had learnt them.
The first wire cars we made used ‘chokolos’ (soda bottle tops – I still don’t know why they were called that) for wheels and we had to squat to push them along. The upgraded wheels were cut out of bits of sapatu (rubber or foam slippers), then the ones above those had chokolo rims inserted into the rubber or foam sapatu.
The next level of tyres were made of metallic wire rims and had rubber tyres made from strips cut from the rubber inners of actual car tyres, wrapped around cuttings of buveera for the off-road variety.
It took us about an hour to fashion a good car complete with steering wheels to drive it as you walked along, axles and even side mirrors and number plates if the materials were available.
In my case that was thirty years before what I saw in this WhatsApp video.
The teenager in the video was operating a ‘wire car’ that was a fully operational excavator! Standing at one end of the truck, he actually had a boom arm lifting the soil carrying bucket an the other end, and drove it round picking and dropping soil!
The amazed onlookers made various exclamations in Runyoro and Luganda, proving its authenticity, and one fellow in overalls walked round the young technician to marvel at his creation.
Eno yagikola nga tatunulidde bu lad bwo!” (He made this without looking at your instructions/manual/readings!) exclaimed one fellow.
The commentators even knew the parts of the excavator such as the “boom” and “circle drive” (I had to google to learn them).
“New technology in Ngwedo, Buliisa!” another declared, before my favourite by one who was as overwhelmed as I was: “Eh! I love Uganda, allo!”
I can only guess that the young man had probably spent time observing some road construction for a while and worked out a way of replicating the truck.
Sadly, I am not sure if there is a village called Ngwedo (thats what it sounded like) in Buliisa, and whereas I will ask people at the district to find the young fellow, I fear success may be limited.
This is the type of chap that needs to be located, nurtured and supported to take his technical prowess to a level of global commercial proportions. Not only could he set up an entire industry of local toy manufacturing, if a wise entrepreneur funded him, but perhaps he could enhance technical education by becoming a trainer (NOT a student) at our institutions.
The automatic steps some would take would be to place him into a school or university, but without proper planning there is a high chance that his creativity and innovation would be stifled there.
How else can you explain the existence of so many qualified Engineers, some with Masters Degrees and Doctorates, with so few wire truck excavators of this nature?
In fact, this chap would most likely be the type to create a host of technical solutions in agriculture, manufacturing…you name it!
Simply by observing and trying things out.
And rather than pick him up and out of his village in Buliisa, we (you, me, an entrepreneur, a university, the government…) should pick up from people like Emmanuel Angoda and implement what he is seeking Ushs65million for.
Emmanuel Angoda is a teacher of ICT who has been at work in Lira Town College for the last five years teaching, training and mentoring young people in his chosen field of ICT.
I have not spoken with him yet but find him heroic for many reasons: over the years I have noticed his name popping up quite humbly in professionally elevated circles because of his noble work. His students have won Awards at the Annual Communication Innovation Awards, they have stood out during ICT and Academic events and also Science Fairs.
This week, he sent out an email unveiling his dream of setting up an ICT innovation hub in Lira Town, called Walktrack Innovation Hub, in which his partners are some of the said students. The cost of setting up that dream is only Ushs65million. That is 1,000 times less than the cost of tarmacking one kilometre of road, which process probably spurred the innovation of the Buliisa technician.
Seriously, people, read his blogpost here:
If we had a hub like Angoda’s in every district, imagine how many times we would hear the exclamation, “I love Uganda, allo!”

the old lady vs. three lousy men

Farewell Mama

International Women’s Day had us saying farewell to a grand old lady who lived 102 years and left behind a humble yet powerful legacy as a good mother, devoted wife, committed Christian and one of the most hardworking people in her community. 

One story that stuck about the industrious nature of Tezira Rwabuhungu went back to her time as a young girl in Rwanda, where they used to go out in groups to do communal digging. Because she had a tendency of literally digging from dawn till dusk, people started avoiding her and her group diminished in numbers but she went on tilling the soil. 

One day, a eulogist recounted, she complained that nightfall had come too quickly yet she had been tilling non-stop from early that morning! Another told us how she made the determination after getting married and acknowledging the humble nature of the salary of her Reverand husband, that her family would never want for anything.  

This made her work doubly hard at making handicrafts to increase their domestic income – which she did well into her eighties! 

Her final journey took us to Namutamba, in Mityana, where right at church I met her anti-theses – all three of them men, of varying education levels but similarly humble beginnings.

The first had a kiosk selling fruit right across from the church we were at, which caught my attention because of a recent dietary shift on my part. His prices were half what I meet in Kampala, so I was eager to stock up for the week, but he wasn’t ready to suffer the inconvenience of searching for change. 

After a few minutes of bargaining with him to take more of my money, I realised how ridiculous I sounded and stepped back. But the pull of the fruit was strong, and I felt a duty to change his attitude as well.

So I invited him to cross the road with me to explain that if he created a branch of his kiosk using a table set up in the compound of the church just metres away, he would make enough money for change to not be a problem, since there were hundreds of people from Kampala present. 

He gave me that, “I’ll get back to you” look, walked back to his banana-laden kiosk, and only returned when I sent for him much later on as I was engaged in a one-sided conversation with the second antithesis, a chap called Something Sebuturo. 

Sebuturo burst in on a conversation I was having with Capt. Gad Gasatura about Namutamba’s vast potential for tourism since it contains a wealth of history right in the homes of the people there. Just as we were warming up our theme to package it for the newly-formed Uganda Tourism Board team, Sebuturo arrived, preceded by thick fumes of alcohol. 

Before long we were in stitches as he engaged us in witty Kinyarwanda mixed with Luganda and some Runyoro, and he was so busy chatting he missed out on the bananas being distributed. That’s when I sent for the Kiosk entrepreneur, and the third antithesis to the hard working old lady entered the picture. 

This fellow was called Magango, and joined with the offer to hold the kaveera I was using to gather litter. Out of respect for his obvious age, and with one eye on his neat batik shirt, I protested a little but he brushed aside my protests with the declaration: “Nze njagal’akaveera kano. Tekinzibuwalila ‘kugikwaata!” (‘What I want is the plastic bag; it’s not hard for me to hold.’) 

His breath gave off no alcohol, so I paid him a little more attention and was surprised at the eloquence of his conversation, which included some english words. 

“I did Cambridge exams, you know!” he said at one point, referring to the question papers sent to Uganda by post from Canterbury between the 1960s and 1980s. All this he did while swinging the kaveera of litter, even as he revealed that his father had been a well-respected carpenter in the area.

This was shortly before Sebuturo walked off haughtily after announcing to me, “Alright, I am off – Ushs500 is all I need right now!” and throwing me a disdainful gesture after I dilly-dallied at providing him with said funds.

I was flummoxed.

What had happened to Magango to make a random kaveera such a valuable possession that he would gather up our rubbish? At least Sebuturo’s breath was a pointer to his general disposition, even though he did strike a funny pose standing in the foreground of his brother’s four wheel drive vehicle driving off back to Kampala.

And most of all, I couldn’t understand why was the kiosk seller was NOT selling off all his wares at the funeral of a woman whose work ethic, industry and dedication to service was legendary, at least as a gesture to say: May her soul Rest In Peace.

just as the solar eclipse has done; focus on Uganda

If you are not excited about this then you’re generally disinterested in science, your understanding of mathematics is rudimentary and your economics is poor – as poor as your country would be if you were in charge of things.

 This eclipse is exciting because it is going to make us RICH! And FILTHY RICH at that, in just a matter of days!

The clever ones amongst us have already reaped the benefits since we first started talking about this back when Father Simon Lokodo was addressing himself to Uganda’s skirt lengths. This rare natural phenomenon presented Uganda with an opportunity, and today, this weekend and this week, we collect! 

Some people, for instance, are paying UK£2,300 for a seven-day trip to Uganda. That’s just over Ushs9million (NINE MILLION SHILLINGS) for seven days; Ushs1.3million each day. This money is paid to tour operators who naturally make a profit off it – let’s assume it’s a profit of Ushs500,000 per person per day so that more of you are encouraged to go into this line of business and start selling Uganda better. 

The tour operator spends the rest on flights, accommodation, transport and food for the visitors.

That is money into the pockets of people who grow the raw food, the ones who buy and sell it forward, and the ones who eventually cook it; also earnings for food transporters; and dealers in the energy used to cook (from firewood to Umeme)…the list is long but the money is also a lot. 

Especially if you believe that there will be at least 30,000 people coming in through the borders for this weekend. 

And it doesn’t stop with those monies either – they also carry extra money to pay for things like booze, souvenirs, snacks, more booze, like that, like that. If these 30,000 people are each going to spend Ushs1.3million a day, deduct Ushs500,000 as the tour operator’s profit and that leaves Ushs800,000 per visitor/tourist – which equals a total of Ushs24billion (TWENTY FOUR BILLION SHILLINGS)! That, in case you aren’t paying attention, is Ushs24billion EVERY DAY! 

Catch your breath. 

That’s almost enough to build another parking lot for MPs, if you already have Ushs12billion. Sorry. That was an unnecessary suggestion, since we finished with the parking lot.

But there is more money coming in by way of this eclipse; YOUR money. I am already in Masindi as you read this, transferring money that I would otherwise have spent in Kampala and spending it here instead. On top of those 30,000 tourists we anticipated last week, we could easily top up with another 30,000 Ugandans from other parts of the country, all driving up to Masindi, Pakwach and Nebbi to catch the eclipse. 

I don’t know how much we will be spending right now, but this is the time for all those people who live and operate along the road from Entebbe Airport all the way to Pakwach to activate themselves. I know the aptly-named Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Industry might have already sent out these advisories so I am just re-enforcing the message with: 

a) It’s not too late: Print t-shirts with the words ‘I love Uganda’ t-shirts or ‘I Watched The Eclipse In Uganda’ or even, for those who don’t heed the warnings, ‘I Was Struck Blind Watching The Eclipse in Uganda’ and sell them everywhere up to the airport

b) Build Sunglass Huts especially close to Masindi, and stock them with proper UV sunglasses instead of those knock-offs sold in Kampala traffic that will one day make eye-omelettes on our faces if the Bureau of Standards doesn’t wake up

c) All the people who live in those places just off the road from Maganjo to the top of Pakwach, dig up your raw food that’s ready to sell and sell it, dammit! Don’t let any potato, tomato or mango stay behind – you won’t regret this!

d) set up kiosks selling soft drinks at various points along the road, all the way

e) Caterers, please introduce some travel snacks on the Masindi-Gulu road to replace those roast sweet potatoes and cassava, and those suspect bits of meat we’ve seen since the ‘80s. In fact, all Rolex stands should relocate to that road and line up neatly a polite distance from the road.

Speaking of politeness, all of us must be at our most polite this week because these tourists might enjoy their stay here so much that they choose to come back every year on anniversary visits; plus, when they go back they will tell everyone they meet what Churchill said: ‘Focus on Uganda’. 

Even Ugandans: Focus on Uganda.