uganda: time to open the national office of event planning and fill it wisely…but urgently


Museveni Selfie
Photo from http://www.matookerepublic.com

IF you were like me and found it surprising that there was a major Commonwealth event taking place in Kampala this week, then please accept my sympathies for missing yet more opportunities for this country.

According to the official website: “The Commonwealth brings together government ministers, senior officials, young leaders, and youth workers from across the globe for the 9th Commonwealth Youth Ministers Meeting.”

The meeting involves the Youth Minister’s meeting, the Youth Forum and the Youth Stakeholder’s Forum. This meeting, I have discovered, takes place every four years in a different country each time – and the one in Uganda this week is the 9th in the series.

There are 52 countries in the Commonwealth, so a basic mathematical analysis into this means that the next time Uganda might get a chance to host such an event will be the year 2181.

These thoughts came to me because during this week I also received news of the Tokyo Olympics 2020. This news was broken to me NOT by way of a sports publication but through an ICT magazine – www.computerweekly.com.

The article in this magazine was titled, ‘How Japan is gearing up to secure the Tokyo Olympics’, and explained a non-obvious link between computers and the world’s biggest sporting event.

The story told us that the ever-efficient Japanese, hosts of the 2020 Olympics, were focused on securing electricity and communication systems THREE YEARS ahead of the event, to ensure there are no cyber attacks or system failures in 2020.

Three years to go, and they are already planning for contingencies. Some articles even state things like, “The 2020 Olympics are around the corner…

The Japanese have planned their 2020 event to such levels of detail that even the possibility of cyber interruptions is being looked into.

When I remarked on this to a youthful colleague, on the day the event opened and a photograph circulated widely of the grey-haired Kirunda Kivenjinja at a podium opening the event, he laughed.

“Even you, “ he said, “You can’t claim to be good at planning, so don’t start that kaboozi…”

He was right about one part, but we really have to stop and think a little bit.

The Permanent Secretary for Youth, Gender and Culture, Pius Bigirimana, wrote an article about the Conference and concluded with: “Let me also mention that right now and in days to come, all Commonwealth focus will be on this important event and this will further showcase Uganda to the world.”

Right.

Another youth asked me, when I mentioned the Conference to her, whether it was really trending worldwide on the social media platforms that most youth spend their time on.

Luckily, the President himself stepped forward with a selfie stick and created at least one superb image that went viral for hours on end via digital media, starting with his half million Twitter followers.

The rest of the stats of impressions and views of the hashtag @9CYMM are pathetic.

Yet we knew FOUR YEARS AGO that we would be hosting this most important event in the country with the world’s youngest population. We knew FOUR YEARS AGO that this event would make Uganda the focus of at least 52 countries for a long period in the run-up to the Conference, then during the three days of the Conference and meetings, and thereafter when they return to their homes, and update their Facebook walls and photo albums. We had FOUR YEARS to plan our hashtags, and menus, and itineraries and millions of other opportunities.

I say millions of opportunities because there are millions of youth in Uganda alone who could each have been brought on board in some small way to take advantage of this event – not necessarily by attending it, but even by tweeting it or gramming (from Instagram) elements of the meetings, or using the hashtag to promote bits of Uganda that would be highlighted to the millions following @9CYMM in the 52 Commonwealth countries.

Mind you, this opportunity is so massive that we are amazing in the way we have let it pass. From a tourism or investment point of view, for instance, the Commonwealth countries are english speaking and can communicate with us rather easily, and have certain other similarities that make it easier for them to send their nationals here to benefit us. Plus, many of them presumably don’t have stringent visa requirements and other prejudices that would keep other ordinary people from bringing their funds to Uganda.

I’m sure some segment of our millions of youth here would have appreciated the opportunity to make souvenirs for the people who came for the Conference to buy. Better still, they would have certainly been happy to take them round the country on tours, and sell them Rolexes and other home grown delicacies. Even just Re-Tweeting or Liking posts about Uganda so that the rest of the world’s seven billion people get a good impression of this country would be putting this resource to good use.

I checked the impressions of the hashtags and googled for the #CYMM and was disappointed at the numbers. Little of the above was done.

As usual, though, I took up hope. Since the Japanese are global experts at getting precision right and exact, should we not aspire to be like them? Perhaps we can take some lessons from their Tokyo 2020 Olympics planning and then apply some of them to our upcoming events. Maybe we can create an office in charge of events planning, whose first role would be to compile a list of all events coming up in future.

For instance, what are the Independence Celebrations on October 9 this year going to look like? What about the UMA Exhibition in the first week of October? These events are just two months away but try googling for the theme or other aspects around them and see. THAT is what the Office of Events Planning would concentrate on. Identify opportunities around events, publicize them so that the general public can work out more, and make them nationally profitable.

Since we have up to 2181 for the next @CYMM, we can even send a few people to Tokyo 2020 specifically to pick up ideas from the ground there, for use in 164 years’ time. We appear capable of waiting another three years, since we allow these opportunities to casually go by without batting an eye lid.

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.

let’s all become venture capitalists in our small ways


LAST week a young man called Gimei Nagimesi shared an amusing tale that tickled my hopes.

This young man is the type who always stays in the background doing groundbreaking things. I know, for instance, that he was instrumental in the creation of the ‘Golola Moses’ brand and all those statements around ripping pages out of Facebook and hanging clothes on telephone lines.

His story last week had far less of a celebrity factor. He confessed that he is the type of person who can’t walk past a volleyball court, and so during a health run along the northern by-pass one day he got stuck playing his favourite game.

Before long he was a permanent fixture on that court and being the only urban professional on the court, Gimei found himself buying rounds of drinking water and kabalagala every so often from the cycling vendors that went by the court at a certain hour every evening. It became obvious that this event was a highlight of the day and Gimei suspected that some of them turned up to play purely for that kabalagala break.

Total cost of feeding the entire court per day? Less than ten thousand shillings (Ushs10,000).

He then began to look into the other permanent fixtures on court, and as he was doing so, one of them caught his attention for being keen and earnest.

The young man in question opened up to Gimei and told him he was generally broke but played every day to expose himself to opportunities. He then proposed that Gimei funds him with Ushs1.4million so he could get going.

What’s the business?

“Counter Books.”

counter-books-250x250
From indiamart.com, NOT Uganda

Gimei found the figure intriguing, and the response even more so, and probed further till the young man outlined his plan.

Where he lives, in the swamps somewhere off the northern by-pass, there are many school-going children who use each buy a book at the start of each school term. Annoyingly, the nearest source of stationary is somewhere in Ntinda, which involves some kilometres of walking.

The young man therefore wanted to make Counter Books and sell them to the many schoolchildren in his neighbourhood, and believed a profit could be made.

Gimei gave it a brief thought and figured that it made sense. Besides, to him Ushs1.4million was not such a massive amount of money so…he invested.

The young man took up the cash and embarked on the job with gusto NOT just buying books to re-sell, but buying reams of paper, glue, hard covers, and other materials; then spending hours making Counter Books himself, which he then sold out of his home.

Profit? Ushs500,000 in total.

Gimei was nonplussed when the young fellow showed up out of the swamps to hand over his 50% of the profits, a few weeks later. They’ve continued the cycle, unless some bureaucracy steps up to investigate, in which case it ended.

But not before another young fellow approached him and asked, in Luganda, whether if ‘someone’ funded him (this new young fellow) he couldn’t set up a kaveera water business of his own right there at the court for the players, so that they buy from him instead of buying from the cyclist going past.

Gimei now finds himself to be a venture capitalist of sorts, and the experience is enjoyably uplifting.

investopedia.com defines a Venture Capitalist as “an investor who either provides capital to startup ventures or supports small companies that wish to expand but do not have access to equities markets.”

In developed economies venture capitalists are a serious factor of economic growth, because they are willing to invest in these small ventures that formal financing doesn’t trust or finds awkward.

In the United States, companies like Intel, Fedex, Apple, Google, and Microsoft started off with venture capital funding, and are now global giants. Their ideas, when they kicked off, seemed crazy or wild or simply untenable because they were different from what leading organisations like banks and financial analysts generally knew.

No bank or government agency would fund Gimei’s young Counter Book manufacturing friend, for instance, but Gimei now has the fellow earning a respectable income, while earning a profit of his own, and possibly also thinking about going to other parts of the swamp to do the same and multiply his earnings.

Besides just financing, though, venture capitalists also provide mentorship – which is probably the most important element in entrepreneurship, and what the boys at the volleyball court take from Gimei more significantly than kabalagala. See, anybody can get financing, in a manner of speaking, but the attitude and aptitude to run an enterprise are a different matter altogether.

Plus, venture capitalist funded companies and enterprises tend to introduce new solutions that regular businesses wouldn’t dare touch. That’s why we more of us use Apple products than Texas Instruments (I had a TI calculator back in the 1980s that was all the rage then!)

Venture capitalists also experience major losses when their picks fail, but these investors are typically wealthy enough that they can afford to take the risks associated with funding young, unproven companies that appear to have a great idea and a great management team – as Gimei would have exhibited if the young man hadn’t turned a neat profit.

The problem of youth unemployment keeps getting talked about with reference to government intervention and ‘support’, yet we all have the opportunity to make some market corrections and build the economy by being venture capitalists in some small way.

If we had as many entrepreneurship meetings as we do wedding, graduation and funeral fund raising meetings, I am certain things would be different. If we had gatherings at which we threw around entrepreneurship advice and funding rather than suggestions of which caterer to procure or what colour the cake should be, just imagine how many more jobs would be created in this economy.

We probably collect a hundred million shillings weekly for weddings, funerals and graduation parties, which certainly supports a certain segment of the economy, but Gimei’s story made me think more of what could happen if we collected that money to fund ventures instead.

A couple of Stanford University scholars did a study on the impact of venture capitalists on the US economy and found it to be large. Between 1979 and 2013, more than 2,600 venture capital-backed companies went public (onto the stock exchange there).

Compare that to Uganda where the Uganda Securities Exchange holds eight (8) companies – if you and I funded up a few earnest, hungry young fellows, maybe our companies might join the lonely eight on the Stock Exchange one day?

bicycles in Uganda can make you go dizzy


EVERY so often one falls upon a random story that carries no excitement until one exercises the brain a little bit.

This week it’s about ‘Fred’s Bicycles’, which has further delayed my treatise on the boda-boda mentality that plagues my people and I.

‘Fred’s Bicycles’ was started a few years ago by Jonny Coppel and Tom Freds Bicycle 2Davenport, in London, after Davenport visited Uganda on holiday one year and “…saw the ‘beautiful’ bikes used by farmers in Uganda to ferry cattle…”, at which point “he immediately saw the appeal they might have back home.”

Four years later, the story continues, “the 26-year old strategy consultant and his school friend Jonny Coppel, 25, are selling their own bicycles based on those in Uganda, as well as giving back to the place where it all started.”
I have issues with the “giving back” part of the story because it fits comfortably into the lazy narrative that Europeans have of countries like Uganda, but we will talk about that later in life.

More importantly, this story underscored to me once again the importance of a good education, rather than the instructive one-plus-one-equals-two type of schooling many of us got.

This is not to say that all British young men who visit Uganda are well educated enough to do what Davenport and Coppel did, but the fact that they came over here and identified opportunity out of an item that we actually despise as a sign of poverty and backwardness, means they are well educated.

The two young men also reminded me how much we have around us that we take for granted and yet could be very highly valued elsewhereFreds Bicycle 1 (Their bikes go for £249 each – about Ushs1.1million each).

The bicycles they talk about were not even designed or made in Uganda; from the photos on the website, these are what we used to call Hero bicycles, which eventually gave way to Roadmaster Cycles.

One other website containing a research paper by United States university Professor Jason A. Morris, even states that the Hero Bicycle was “originally built in 1913 for the British military, and it has not changed since”.

This researcher came all the way from the US to Hoima to design a bicycle for Ugandan use to replace the Hero and Roadmaster bicycles. His efforts are available in that research paper but I, personally, know nothing of the results being on the road.

Instead, I know Roadmaster Cycles started assembling bicycles here at some point at a US$6million facility (press reports say) in Nalukolongo in 1993, after seeing the opportunity in a populace that had poor roads then, lots of agricultural activity, and incomes too limited to fund car manufacturing or even assembly.
Surprisingly, to me, their website displays a wide range of products including bicycles for children! And yet, somehow, most monied people are riding mostly second hand bicycles coming in from the same England that Davenport and Coppel are selling their bikes, inspired by Uganda, or bicycles imported from South Africa and further afield.

Confusing?

What about the realisation that on the day I fell upon this story of Uganda’s inspiration, I saw three stories in one newspaper talking about sums of money being earned by Ugandans -Ushs100billion, Ushs15billion and Ushs400million – yet none of these will ever be converted into bicycle manufacture, assembly or anything similar anywhere in the country.

Wait! Wait! What is the most notable bicycle story YOU can think of…? Yes! The one in which Permanent Secretary John Kashaka was convicted over the sham importation of bicycles worth Ushs4billion, right?

You would probably have been less confused about it if the 70,000 bicycles in question there had been ordered direct from the Roadmaster Assembly Plant in Nalukolongo, wouldn’t you?

But according to the Public Procurement and Disposal Authority (PPDA) Investigation Report into the matter, Roadmaster was not even one of the bidders that successfully submitted bids – which list included names such as “Nile Fishing Company Limited and Shinyanga Emporium”.

I swear – go to this link for the full report  and see for yourself!

Yet, in March 2011, Roadmaster Cycles appeared in press reports alongside John Kashaka as he officiated at the distribution of 5,200 bicycles to Parish Chiefs (LCs). The bicycles, read the report, were worth Ushs669million (each just over Ushs128,000 – about a tenth of the cost of Fred’s Bicycles…) – and were distributed at the Roadmaster premises.
Exactly one year later, Roadmaster Cycles registered a complaint with the PPDA because the company had reportedly submitted the lowest bid of Ushs5.2billion for the supply of 30,000 bicycles, but the tender had gone to the wrongly named (for this purpose) Nile Fishing Company Limited who had won the tender to supply the bikes at Ushs6.4billion…
According to press reports, the Permanent Secretary who had replaced Kashaka, Patrick Mutabwire, said Roadmaster had no basis for complaint; see, under the winning bid: “Each bicycle would be delivered here at about US$85 (about Ushs200,000) yet on the open market they go for Ushs400,000 each…” (yet just a year prior to that, they had cost Ushs128,000 each!)
Bicycles can really make you go dizzy…

congratulations on the US$18million golf course in Kihiihi, Mr. Garuga Musinguzi


Seriously – I applaud you!

Garuga Injects 50bn In Golf Course
The New Vision, December 10, 2014- Page 52

And in case you can’t read it clearly in that photograph, that paragraph reads, “Musinguzi said he had invested over sh50b in the course designed by domestic engineers Charles Katambira and Gad Musasizi.”

That’s US$18million.

Hence the support of the Uganda Tourism Board, I’m sure, since a development of this nature would certainly bring in hordes of high spending golfer tourists.

Interestingly, the online version of the same story dropped mention of the Ushs50billion cost-tag (http://www.newvision.co.ug/news/662693-rugunda-to-officiate-at-garuga-course-opening.html).

Most likely because most golfing authorities available online put the cost of construction of an average golf course at about US$5million. And, as the more Cost of an average Golf Courseknowledgeable in these matters say, construction is one thing but maintenance of a golf course is quite the other bigger cost – http://www.asgca.org/frequently-asked-questions/175.

But back to the Ushs50billion, journalists could have asked questions such as those on https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080512184824AAnMjMg just to be sure that they had heard right. It is under this link that people with lugezi-gezi say things like, “A fair golf course can be built on a minimum of 65 acres.When brooks, rivers, bodies of water, rock ledges are present the acreage increases appreciably. You also require acreage for the clubhouse, parking facility, driving range and putting green which are additions.

Being sports journalists, however, perhaps their focus was more on the game itself rather than the stand-out facts – and I am sure that this weekend they will ALL be heading down to see this magnificent golf course being put to inaugural use.

Afterwards, they will file reports about the acreage, the features, the views, and so on and so forth to explain the Kampala-mall-sized cost-tag.

Garuga is not a novice in business, as many stories – even online – tell. In http://www.observer.ug/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=34518:-what-has-amama-mbabazi-done-for-kanungu-district you read about how he “quit politics and concentrated on his businesses. Since then, Garuga has engineered the launch of two tea factories (Bwindi and Rugyeyo), a maize mill, an FM radio station, a three-star hotel (Savannah Resort), an airfield and other developments that provide employment to several Kanungu locals.”

US$18million for a golf course, therefore, could be a feasible investment for a man of his means and wherewithal. Still, I began to wish Garuga had read the link below and saved perhaps US$10million for something additional to the Golf Course: http://www.usga.org/course_care/articles/construction/general/Building-And-Maintaining-The-Truly-Affordable-Golf-Course/

And as I was thinking of ways to approach him over his future investment plans, another newspaper broke the spell: http://www.monitor.co.ug/Sports/Golf/Garuga-to-unveil-Shs5b-Golf-Club-this-weekend/-/690278/2550494/-/ixep33z/-/index.html

So there was an additional, misplaced ‘0’ in the first story….mssssschewwww!

Garuga Quits FDCBut then again – US$1.8million for a golf course…thank God this particular fellow quit politics for business!

Congratulations, Garuga! Seriously.