uganda: let’s delete the word ‘potential’ from our national dictionary


ON Wednesday morning I jumped out of bed as a rainstorm raged on outside trying to make it difficult for the lazy-minded to leave their beds.
I could have done with a few extra minutes of sleep that morning but the night before I had said something on a radio talk show about how unjustified it was for most of us to sleep at all, given the amount of work we needed to do to develop Uganda.
The thought that someone could call me out for spending longer in bed than I had publicly said was necessary drove me to my desk, so I was watching the storm through the window over the top of my computer as I made my day’s plan, thinking how happy the farming community must be about this weather change.
Only three people these past two weeks have spoken to me about the rains having started: My primary farming advisor (who is also my loving mother) , reminding me to make the necessary adjustments; my regular supplier of tree seedlings (@GreeningUganda), making a pitch for increased sales as per our standing arrangements; and the third, a friend’s highly energetic domestic employee, in a conversation.
This robust domestic employee, at a lunch party over the weekend, had me helping him move garden furniture because it was threatening to rain. “But are you sure it’s going to rain?” I asked him, to which he responded with a vigorously confident, “The rainy season has started. It will rain.”
The confidence with which he spoke stayed on my mind all through the sumptuous luncheon, and I thought to myself that this domestic worker must have had an agricultural background – like many of us do.
The neat, sprawling gardens in which we lunched were beautiful and vivid in colour and variety, and seeing this domestic employee flit about to and fro in the foreground of the floral compound made me wonder whether, with his knowledge of agriculture and vast amounts of energy, he would be using the rainy season to grow any crops, herbs, or spices for future luncheons to be had.
The potential of it all, I thought to myself, was massive!
Potential.jpg
Immediately, I mentally slapped myself round the back of my head. ‘Potential’. I am a little fed up of that word, in our context.
It means, my dictionary says, “having or showing the capacity to become or develop into something in the future; and latent qualities or abilities that may be developed and lead to future success or usefulness.
 
An hour or so later, I read an article that underscored why I dislike that word so much these days.
 
Uganda has potential to feed 200 million people – US envoy’, read the headline, followed by: “Uganda’s fertile agricultural land produces a wide range of food products and has the potential to feed 200 million people in the region and beyond,” said (Deborah) Malac.
This figure of 200 million was published by the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations in August this year, and we have had tens of thousands other declarations of ‘Potential’ around Uganda.
We need to delete the word Potential from our national dictionary as soon as possible. If we don’t then we’re going to stay stuck at this Potentiality forever and ever.
Why does it irritate me?
Because we never seem to leave the Potential box and keep making headlines out of it instead of, ‘Uganda land deal boost for Centum’, as reported this week about Kenyan investors Centum buying up 14,000 acres of land in Uganda to grow maize and soya beans.
Those Kenyans are not dealing with just ‘Potential’ any more. Back in February 2011, a Centum official talked to a Ugandan newspaper about the Potential in Uganda, and today they are putting money onto the ground.
On the same day the newspapers were talking about that ‘Potential’ to feed 200 million people, I saw a news snippet about food relief being taken to the Kigezi region (for people affected by floods, not hunger) and sighed.
At that point, certain we won’t delete the word ‘Potential’ from our vocabularies soon, I stopped fretting over its existence.
Instead, I picked up my phone and contacted the friend who had hosted me to lunch over the weekend, to advise him to get his energetic domestic fellow to take advantage of the rainy season and plant some food-related things somewhere in the massive space surrounding his beautiful house now that the rains have started.

the Gecaga-ism in YOU revealed by Obama’s visit


Jomo Gecaga scoring a lifetime achievement
Jomo Gecaga scoring a lifetime achievement. Photo from http://www.kenyan-post.com/

OF THE numerous photographs that did the rounds on WhatsApp, email, Twitter and Facebook from Obama’s visit to Kenya, the one that made me look up and take notice of our overall focus was one of a chap with his hand on the bonnet of “The Beast”.

(“The Beast” is the motor vehicle of the United States President, and you can google the rest because I don’t have time for it here.)

I sat up because the fellow in the photo was described as the Personal Assistant (or Private Secretary) to the President of the Republic of Kenya, and named as Jomo Gecaga.

The man appeared quite foolish in that photograph as a Secret Service fellow appeared to be stopping him from putting his hand on the vehicle.

That Gecaga fellow’s excitement at being near the car that conveys the President of the United States was a little understandable until I discovered that not only is he a nephew of Kenyatta, he IS Chief of Staff of the Kenyan President and attended some of the best schools in the world – including, according to the internet, Eton.

Gecaga and The Beast 2

THAT GUY was the one having his photo taken next to the car of the US President the way those kids in your village do when you drive your second hand four wheel drive car over there for Christmas?!

I was flummoxed, which sounds like the Sheng word for the kind of punishment one would mete out to a fellow caught in his situation according to that photograph.

Even a well-heeled chap like that one could lower himself to this and get told off by askaris? America is a superpower kweli!

And I couldn’t laugh at him properly myself because over the entire period almost right up to this point, I find that most of the material being shared with me by otherwise upstanding members of society is the WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook equivalent of copping a photograph with one’s hand on “The Beast”.

Check your phone and laptop – how many people sent you links to the terms of the pacts and bilateral agreements signed between Kenya and the United States during that visit? How many of your pals engaged in insightful analysis about how Uganda (or whatever other country you are in) could benefit from the presence of the United States President and right here – right next door where we go on bus rides to see rally cars, eat nyama choma and collect cars from the port to drive them back to Kampala?

Did any of your pals talk about the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, especially since Uganda was named yet again just TWO WEEKS AGO as the world’s most entrepreneurial country?

Did Ugandans set up Rolex stands from Jomo Kenyatta airport to trap all the Secret Service men and possibly even entice Obama? Did we do anything to stress to his entourage that the single entry visa that put them in Kenya could have elicited value for money if they hopped over to Uganda quickly for a day – perhaps even using the airport parking of British Airways, since those ones are not going to be around for a while anyway?

I didn’t even hear about any serious restaurants creating an #ObamaInKenya rolex and putting the menu online so they attract Google search hits to their websites.

Obviously I might be linked to the wrong social and business networks and should therefore seek to join those in which members were invited to or made their way to the Summit in Nairobi to mingle in with globally accomplished entrepreneurs from the United States and across this continent.

Do you know anyone who went to meet with the billionaires that accompanied Obama? Maybe one of them met ex-Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg (worth US$37.5billion), Businessman Aliko Dangote (worth US$17billion), and TV Sharks Daymond Garfield John (worth US$250million), Barbara Corcoran (worth US$80million), Mark Cuban (worth US$3billion)…the list is much longer!

Luckily for my self-esteem, none of the people I have been communicating with has sent me photos of personal achievements such as standing next to the Presidential Car or a Secret Service Guard.

But sadly, none has shared with me their prospects for increased business and entrepreneurship or even personal development pursuits with the United States. All I have received so far are Gecaga-istic exclamations around Obama and the paraphernalia around his office.

Let’s see if we do different when the Pope comes over…

ugandan milk – brought to you by just about everybody else


Dairy Corporation
WHILE scouring the internet for something different to do with the sale of Dairy Corporation by Sameer Agriculture and Livestock Limited to Brookside Dairy Limited, I kept brushing away that ka-irritating feeling until I fell upon this article:
That was the truth told straight up! Uganda’s leading dairy corporation was actually owned all along by a Kenyan.
But to be strict about the situation, Uganda’s leading dairy corporation (SALL – Sameer Agriculture & Livestock Limited) was actually owned by a joint venture between the Kenyan-owned Sameer Group and the Indian owned RJ Corporation.
Kenya’s Sameer Group is a large conglomerate with operations running across the region producing and selling, besides dairy products: tyres, internet access, tea, coffee, healthcare products, cars, real estate, and some other things I don’t know. Forbes figures that it’s owner, Naushad Merali, is worth US$550million.
RJ Corporation, meanwhile, is reportedly India’s largest bottler of Pepsi products, but says it is divided into three business segments – Beverage, Food and Education. Its owner, Ravi Jaipuria, was declared to be one of India’s newest billionaires in 2013, according to Forbes.
Whereas SALL was running this Uganda operation, my internet searches don’t actually call it Ugandan anywhere.
Push that thought aside as you consider that the Kenya-owned Brookside Dairy Corporation is part-owned – 40% of it – by the French Danone, and 10% of it by a Dubai-based private equity firm called Abraaj Capital.
So Dairy Corporation milk, cheese, butter and yoghurt, and Daima juices are going to be served to us by a French-Emirati-Kenyan joint venture, as opposed to a Kenyan-Indian one.
But that’s okay, provided that the milk and raw fruits that go into these products comes from Ugandan farmers growing rich off the proceeds.
Forgive me, though, as I continue to buy products that concentrate returns locally – like JESA and Megha, for instance, but that is not to say that I won’t continue drinking Daima juice or taking up the occasional Dairy Corporation products when my favourites are unavailable.
That aside, and more importantly: WHEN and HOW do WE get our tycoons to do such things rather than import clothing and build arcades?

westgate mall: tragedy, irony and anger


The tragedy is as obvious as day; the irony, on the other hand, keeps slapping us in the face as events unfold.

I found the tweets by @HSM_Press, said to be the Twitter handle of the Al-Shabaab fellows, callous and hateful; to declare reason for killing innocent civilians just doesn’t make sense, but to hear the Al-Shabaab people and all the so-called “Islamist” terrorists when they erupt in violence of the nature attributed to them today, the free world does this all the time in Afghanistan, Iraq and nowadays, Somalia.

It is an uncomfortable position to be in, trying to weigh their reason with their irrational actions, and ours with our rational actions, and one even feels hypocritical just beginning to listen to the likes of Al-Shabaab.

Yet when their Twitter account of today was suspended (the third time they’ve had this happen to them) a little bit of irony flashed across my computer screen at the thought that “freedom of expression” and “tolerance” has its limits.

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As indeed it should – because these despicable fellows today have attacked and killed innocent civilians, traumatised children – including mine who are in another city and country but are now sleeping restlessly as I type this out sitting on the floor of their room where I have been forced to camp so they feel safe.

If God were running things like Twitter, then Al-Shabaab as a group would be suspended, what with all the comments thrown up about them that finally got them suspended after just ten or so tweets today (and about 50 in all since they opened this particular account), because they are too self-centred to be allowed to exist alongside other people. Their actions keep showing that they don’t believe anyone has a right to exist if they don’t agree with what they think, say or do. 

But then here’s irony again – if God were running things like Twitter, then even the US would probably get suspended, because then perhaps all the angry chaps wearing bomb-vests and whatnot would simply sign up numerous Twitter accounts and ‘Report User’ till the deed got done.

God (the real one in the real world) knows that I looked for a ‘report’ button when I came across the USAToday report of today’s (yesterday’s) attack in Nairobi, because I could not believe the self-centredness in it.

Read the headline, “Americans among injured in deadly Kenya mall attack“.

?

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By the time that was up, we were all lamenting that more than 30 people had been killed and 300 were injured – and none of us had talked about the nationalities of these people. Actually, we had heard reports that the attackers had singled out non-Muslims as legitimate targets for their shootings, and we had expressed a range of emotions running from anger to hatred – and then this headline flashed at me off my computer screen.

Americans among injured…

If an American had slipped and grazed his knee while fleeing the scene of the attack, it was more important than the pregnant woman reportedly shot and declared dead on arrival at one Nairobi hospital (and I don’t know her nationality yet!).

And you know why that is all the more ironic? Because that’s the kind of thing the hateful Al-Shabaab people keep saying about their mortal enemies, the “Kuffars” (to quote their earlier tweet) or kafirs, as we used to say.

We, on the other hand, are so selfless that hours into the siege at Westgate, @newvisionwire reported confidently: “Breaking News: 3 shot dead in Afghanistan…” with the usual irrelevance brought on by gobbling up ‘international’ news and forgetting what is all the more important to us here, at home in East Africa.

Up to now, 0100hrs, thirteen-plus hours after the attack began, we are wondering whether there are any Ugandans on the list of dead and wounded…or are there only Americans?

Either way, we are angry. Very ANGRY at the self-centredness of people who only care about themselves…