ON a sojourn in Nairobi and South Africa a short while ago I took along with me a newly-acquired hoodie branded ‘I’m So Uganda! #ondaba?’
Normally, I take my travels decked out in a series of busy t-shirts branded “MunyaUganda” underneath the Uganda flag and accompanied by a tag-line such as “Mpaka kuffa”, “So Life is Tye Maber Loyo” and “kandi I’m Gifted by Nature”. Some of the t-shirts also carry tag-lines taken from our National Anthem such as, “Peace and Friendship” and “Together we’ll always stand”.
The #ondaba brand, though, is clean and stands out distinct as I discovered all through my time away and in that hoodie – starting with a young lady in a Duty Free shop at Entebbe who said, “Wow!” as I walked past and smiled back, thinking it was all about me and not the #ondaba hoodie.
One particular day on that trip I walked to the Nairobi Hospital to visit an ailing friend and then walked all the way to Kenyatta Market to experience the ordinary man’s juicy nyama choma, before circling back to my hotel through the Uhuru Park.
Part of the motivation for my trek was to test the street crime system and prove that this was no longer Nairobbery as we used to know it.
It wasn’t, but I was still trepidatious for a long distance because of the number of looks that came my way until I realised they were all aimed at the hoodie – the other part of the motivation for my trek. It wasn’t the stitching or the mix of the deep blue colour with red lining and yellow lines – it was that declaration: ‘I’m So Uganda! #ondaba?’
I eventually got back to my hotel justifiably thirsty and headed for the swimming pool bar to rehydrate. There, a dapper fellow in expensive sunglasses who was facing me as I walked in turned away from his companion to declare: “Wow!” followed by, “Eh! Eh! Eh! I like that!”
I thought I had mis-heard and found that the only seat I could take was at the table next to theirs but before I could take it he waved and started up a conversation – around the hoodie.
What did the words mean? What triggered it? How could he get one? His companion, a polite and equally well-spoken young lady, readily agreed with him.
They were not Ugandan but were *this* close to changing citizenship over ‘#ondaba’. We progressed the discussion as I texted one of the architects of the campaign to hand this guy over to her, as we had arrived at a point where the Kenya version was on the table and he was ready to draft partnership documents.
Later, as I left for South Africa, the ‘#ondaba’ hoodie caused tears to well up in the eyes of an attendant at the airport lounge. As I was responding to the young man’s demand that I explain the entire campaign to him, a guest at the lounge came over for service at his station and interrupted us.
Halfway through serving her, he did the impossible and self-distracted back to me to discuss ‘#ondaba’ further – till I sent him back to keep his job. He was taken by the campaign because he had done something similar back when Kenya erupted into post-election violence.
On his own, earning a humble salary as a blue-collar worker, he designed, printed and distributed t-shirts free of charge to his fellow Kenyans to build or restore their patriotism. He wanted to join the ‘#ondaba’ campaign.
“This is so patriotic, man! I love it! You know, we Africans need to build more patriotism,” he told me in his impassioned speech.
“When that problem happened here and people were dying (the post-election violence in Kenya in 2007) I felt so bad. My people were dying but my people were the ones killing them! I decided to make t-shirts with a message telling all Kenyans that we are one. Tribe doesn’t matter more than who we are as Kenyans. And even as Africans,” he said, this young man with a humble job but very noble aspirations.
I left him after exchanging contact details and a few hours later I was in South Africa where the keen interest in the message on the hoodie was consistent.
There, in South Africa, at least three people stopped me for more about ‘#Ondaba’ on that first night – and I got to my hotel late that evening.
The story behind the campaign should be a challenge for all of us in our respective countries. The group that made ‘#ondaba’ got together under the comments section of Amos Wekesa’s Facebook posts rallying Ugandans to promote tourism on their own if they thought the government wasn’t doing enough.
Herbert Opio, Denis Mubende, Patrick Ngabirano, Prossy Munabuddu, Belinda Namutebi and a few others discussed ideas and created a powerpoint presentation that they delivered to the Minister of Tourism at the time, with a plan to go all the way to the President.
They realised very quickly they would hit a dead end after lots of talk.
So they brought it to the people instead and agreed on #Ondaba as a social media hashtag, for Ugandans to use whenever and wherever they pleased to show what they were doing having fun and enjoying Uganda.
Then they made t-shirts and hoodies to take it further and…voila! People like Muhereza Kyamutetera and Solomon Oleny joined in and now it’s a whole organisation that is poised to go continent-wide!
The rest is history in the making and you will hear or read or be part of it as it grows. All because ordinary people like you and I and the young man making coffee in the airline lounge, took action to promote their countries.
We can all play a part – we don’t need lots of money; we need lots of heart for country.