we must be nuts for not seeing these nuts


BACK when I was in an overly-publicised position in the Executive of Government, I was convinced to ‘walk the talk’ and start planting things in the ground as proof that agriculture works.

Not too far away from where I settled then is where Robert Kabushenga has made a well-publicised and genuinely admirable success of his Rugyeyo Farm.

For some reason I cannot recall, I planted cashew nut seeds in a line, hoping to form an avenue of trees, and then forgot about them. They eventually grew into impressive giants and occasionally dropped some nuts that I presume are enjoyed in some form by the people and livestock in residence.

Even though I have a daily habit of snacking on a pack of mixed nuts that include the cashews as honourable members, I honestly forgot about my trees until I was in Arusha for the East African Community Heads of State Summit some days ago.

My own ‘trail mix’ made of nuts, soya, chilli and this and that (Photo by Simon Kaheru)

One morning at breakfast the conversation turned to Tanzania’s cashew nut problem. The evening before that, after checking into my hotel, I had walked to a nearby supermarket and bought up some packs of the stuff for personal consumption and was looking forward to my snacking weeks ahead.

The crop in Tanzania has been a major source of agricultural revenue for years. Towards the end of last year, President John Pombe Magufuli issued strict instructions that none of the 200,000 tonnes of cashews from the season could be bought by private players. Only the army was allowed to buy and process cashews, then store them for export at the “right” price.

Tanzania’s crop reportedly brings in about US$500million a year, making it possibly the top forex earner there.

We talked through the issue and I learnt quite a bit then tightened my tie and hopped over to the East African Business Council offices, with my fellow Board Members, to officially launch the new location.

The Chief Guest was the Rt. Hon. Al-Hajj Kirunda Kivejinja, accompanied by a suitably heavy team of Security and Trade Ministers and Permanent Secretaries.

The most important person in the room, however, turned out to be a young man who had shaken our hands and moved to the back of the room quietly along with all the other unnamed persons holding cameras and file folders.

Shortly into the meeting the young fellow was introduced to us with his raison d’etre, and when EABC Board Chairman Nick Nesbitt stood up to speak he declared, singling me out: “Simon, are we nuts?!”

See, the young fellow, Brian Mutembei, was Chief Executive of a little-known Kenyan firm called Indopower Solutions, and had just the day before signed a contract with the Tanzanian government committing to buy cashew nuts worth US$160,000!

Forget about the value for a minute here.

The issue that Nick was exclaiming about, and that hit me square in the middle of my forehead, was that this young fellow and his team of entrepreneurs had IDENTIFIED AN OPPORTUNITY where the rest of us were simply chewing nuts.

Indeed, we surely had to be nuts! Even throughout the discussion about the cashew nut problem that morning the thought hadn’t occurred that I could put together a few people and offer to buy some of those nuts for sale in Uganda, taking advantage of our EAC status.

And that was the crux of our presence in Arusha that week – how to ensure that phrases like “The EAC integration will be people-based and private-sector led” were turned into reality.

There are thousands of other such opportunities staring us right in the face in this region but, sadly, we simply aren’t taking seeing them, let along taking advantage of them to create wealth from top (entrepreneurs and processors like Mutembei) to bottom (the farmers who grow the crops, for instance).

Where are these opportunities? In the newspapers, on social media platforms, in government office notice boards and meetings, announced at public events though embedded within sometimes boring speeches….and so on and so forth.

But we don’t see them. Instead, we tend to see the sensational, seemingly-exciting and honestly time-wasting flotsam that keeps the majority of us in a state of despair, despondency and doom about the future of this country, region and continent.

We are the wrong type of nuts!

finding opportunity in ebyangwe (loofahs, for the non-Ugandans) without having to bathe

finding opportunity in ebyangwe (loofahs, for the non-Ugandans) without having to bathe

Ebyangwe (Loofahs) in real, vivid colour. (Photo by Simon Kaheru)

On the dashboard of my regular vehicle is a bathing sponge – the type I was raised on, made out of the cucumber-type plant that back in the day was staple in most of our homes.

It’s called a Loofah (Luffa) and originates from somewhere in Asia – in fact, the original name for it is Arabic – ‘luf’. But in Uganda we call it ‘Ekyangwe‘.

The one in my car will join about eight others placed in various spots round my home. I don’t actually use them – the details around which will be best kept private – but started gathering them up recently because of an interesting twist to a trend Kampala dwellers should have certainly noticed by now.

At various roundabouts, road junctions and traffic-heavy spots there are groups of little children vending these loofahs in categories. Some of them (the loofahs, not the roadside children) are as bare as the one in my car, but others have a cloth piping round the edges to make them look nicer.

These children, in the beginning, appeared to be urchins begging for change. But someone somewhere hit upon this interesting idea of conscripting them into a sales team. When I first started noticing them and declined to make the purchase I was being enticed to, they tended to ask for some bottled Rwenzori Water or, in rare cases, money to buy a snack.

But one day my wife and I were taken aback when two of these children, little girls, handed us two loofahs and insisted that we take them both free of charge. I couldn’t understand how this would work in their favour, and quizzed them briefly.

“So that next time when you come you will buy,” said one little girl.

It was nonplussing, should the word exist. Did these little girls have a marketing budget that provided for free sampling? By the way, how come they are so many in number? And they all appear to be the same size and age…?

Actually, wait! This appears to be a rather lucrative and well-organised industry going on here right before our very eyes! Whoever is behind the business is so orderly that they have recruited a sales force, trained them, probably put them in some sort of uniform, and deployed them strategically at points of vantage.

The one problem, besides the possible lack of the relevant licensing for this trade to continue uninterrupted, is the use of children in situations that put them at risk.

The people behind this Loofah trade, though, are more sophisticated than many other businesses I know that have not gone so far as to open branches anywhere!

But that’s not all that this clever entrepreneur, or even one better than them, could do.

It is a very easy plant to cultivate, so making excuses about it not growing would be difficult. The internet presents a myriad of recipes from almost every country in Asia, that involve this plant – including its young fruit, its rind and all!

Besides food it also gets to be used as medicine for a long list of ailments (administered carefully).

Back when we were little children every home in our neighbourhood had one of these vines climbing up trees and little homestead buildings so I imagine we would be at middle income status by now if we had continued this practice with focus.

The first use of the ‘ekyangwe‘ we all know as the Bath sponge, though some of us also used bits to wash dishes through the 80s and 90s, before the imported scrubbers became normal.

In Paraguay, however, they make furniture and house construction materials out of the loofah by combining it with other vegetable matter and recycled plastic – a point I am going to raise with my colleagues at Coca-Cola who do plastic waste recycling.

In Japan it is grown over buildings to shield windows from harsh sunshine, while many other countries use it as a decorative creeper the way we did when my grandmother was still alive, complete with those bright yellow flowers.

In the United States it is also used as a bath sponge.

Note that the ones that the little children sell by Kampala street-sides go for Ushs1,000-2,000 each if they don’t have a piped border, and Ushs2,000-2,500 with the piping. The ones in the US go for US$10 a piece…

The Kampala roadside children don’t have internet access to establish that last fact alone and establish contact with the people who could buy their sponges and put them on Amazon – but YOU do.

Even if you can’t work out how to turn ‘ekyangwe‘ into food or furniture, lazima you can go down to those children and buy up their stock, liberate them from the street, then make a very neat profit selling them on Amazon!

Opportunity is spelt ‘Ekyangwe‘.

take initiative with everyone else’s New Year’s Resolutions


Itā€™s that time of the year again, when ā€˜clever’ people clean out their homes, habits and hearts to make a clean, fresh start at life.
The calendar is a highly successful way of guiding behaviour this way, so I applaud the people who created this method of making us periodicallyĀ refresh everything around us.
There is not much new about New Yearā€™s Resolutions except that they need to be followed by a little initiative. The people who make them are not the issue here, because they will be dropping them soon enough, as usual.
Itā€™s the rest ofĀ us who can benefit from this Resolution-mania who should sit up and therefore take quick, profitable advantage.
The most popular resolutions, for instance, are to do with quitting drinking and smoking; both vices that we globally acknowledge form unhealthy addictions but are so essential as to be legalised.
The people in alcohol-based businesses such as bars and nightclubs should therefore be busy creating non-alcoholic cocktails and marketing them vigorously to these quit-drinking resolvers – at least for this one month when the resolution will likelyĀ hold.
I would be impressed if the breweries quickly replaced Christmas billboards with advertising for their non-alcoholic beverages, but I have no suggestions for the cigarette companies.
The next most common resolution should be the one around doing more exercise and losing weight – well justified by the amount of holiday gluttony we are emerging from.

I havenā€™t yet seen any gyms or exercise businesses stepping up their advertising to drive all these willing and highly potential customers through their doors, but perhaps they will begin tomorrow. UPDATE!

Sheraton Fitness Hour - Flier
Call that number to REALLY get fit

I got this flier in my email exactly 36 hours after sending this article in for publication, and I can swear that the guy behind this had no idea that this is what I was writing about this week; kudos to Bob Ssebugwawo!

They might be planning to coincide their marketing drive with that of the companies that sell light t-shirts and other gym-appropriate clothing,Ā which should be on demand in generalĀ because most clothing has certainly shrunk in size over the holidays.
Next resolution: get a better job. The people on the lower rungs of the employment ladder normally make this one easily and quickly; your domestic staff, especially, take time off to think about their lives and implement their career-changing decision in an irritatingly abrupt manner. We have all suffered that return to the home, tired after the holiday travels, to find that these essential staffers havenā€™t done the same.
The employment agencies that provide these domestic staff should be charging a premium for January hires. AĀ distressed couple faced with an absconding domestic staff the day before they are supposed to return to work themselves will pay handsomely for a quick replacement.
Then cleaning companies, meanwhile, could mop up millions addressing peopleā€™s homes after all their Christmas and New Year partying, and even just the prolonged presenceĀ of children from morning till night as they holiday.
Set up a post-holiday package for us and see if we donā€™t take theĀ bait!
Speaking of bait, there is that one resolution that the vast majority make especially on the night of the crossover, after reflecting on their year past and being awed by the power behind it.
Religious bodies should be in overdrive right now – so much that THEY should be the ones replacing the Christmas billboards as the Breweries delay to make the switch to non-alcoholic beverages.
What are churches doing NOT setting up fireworks displays of their own?
Most people would be enthralled by those particular fireworks and looking out for the possibility of a message from on high amidst the display.
If there is anybody letting an opportunity goĀ by, itā€™s religious people not designing a fireworks display that spells out something like, ā€œGet Saved Now!ā€
If people respond to billboards and newspaper adverts and SMS messages telling them to buy stuff mbu ā€œitā€™s the bestā€, how will they ignore a message written in the sky in fire on New Yearā€™s night when they are all high charged?
And fireworks displays donā€™t really cost that much, so any ordinary church could put one on as easily as they piece together the money for the Pastorā€™s car and other stuff like that.
Opportunity, opportunity, opportunity.
May we take better advantage of it in 2015.

Ugandans, re-arrange Ebola to spell opportunity


Please bear withĀ the ebolised focus; this disease is like that. It takes over your mind, your every waking thought, and you eventually succumb.

But before it kills us all, you guys need to get up and smell the handwash detergents. Ebola can beĀ spelt O.P.P.O.R.T.U.N.I.T.Y.!

Seriously, guys, stop whining and dying and pay a little bit of attention here because there is serious money to be made doing the following:

1. For Ugandans, start with the fact that we kicked Ebola soundly out of the country many years ago and proved that we are the most bad-ass at kicking Ebola’s ass (you need to use Americanisms like that because the main target market for what we are about to start selling will be the Americans). Get the entire world talking about how seriously we handled the disease the first-time round so that the world looks at us with a seriously newfound respect as they try to handle the disease and realise that it is actually harder than HIV/AIDS by FAR! If we can spinĀ that story carefully with the Kony one, we could become the targets of all manner of efforts ranging from being asked to identify someone faster than Usain Bolt, to providing a supply of X-Men and Women.

But this is NOT the real opportunity, it’s just a foundation.

2. Ugandans,Ā Start selling soap and hand sanitiser.Ā I mean, World, Start buying Ugandan soap and hand sanitiser. It works best!

We need to get the worldĀ to understand that we didn’t get rid of Ebola by using dainty hand sanitisers in little teeny weeny bottles ensconced within feminine clasps and handbags, or using silly little bits of hand washing soap a la miserly hotel bathrooms. We used Sabuuni!

Sabuuni
Adapted from http://www.globalsoap.org

We used hardcore, proper, germ and virus decimating Ugandan made Sabuuni. It doesn’t smell unnecessarily sweet or fragrant; it doesn’t disintegrate for days and days even if you forget it in the basin when you delay to wash clothes for a little while; if it goes into the drain then the entire neighbourhood complains about a certain smell due to the blockage to the soak pit.

Sabuuni! The hardest soap ever made, only available in Uganda. If the rest of the world does not begin importing Ugandan made soap then they should import HazMat suits against Ebola and coffins.

All these so-called ‘lapses in protocols’ while handling ebola are just a result of an ill-advised reliance on soaps NOT made in Uganda.

Be like us, the people who beat ebola hands down back in the day when it was fresh and unknown and at its deadliest since there was so little research done into the damn disease and so little was known about it.

Use our Sabuuni. Or our JIK hand sanitiser solution, in canisters used from State House right up to my own home. In fact, dispatch it to the Ugandan candidates in the Big Brother House right now (mpozi who are they?)

3.Ā Make videos about how to handle Ebola: ParkĀ all those Ugandan music videos I hear Sitya Loss ndi Boss and Panadol…keep the names and replace them with ‘Sitya Ebola ndi Boss’ done by the same Eddie Kenzo or Chameleone/Bobi Wine/Bebe Cool/Isaiah Katumwa/Maurice Kirya/Juliana Kanyomozi/The Afrigo Band/Rema/etc. In fact, let’s do a Ugandan All Stars Ebola song the way those other guys did We Are The World – call it We Beat Ebola!Ā and fill it with the same catchy, dancy, rompy Ugandan beats that the world loves so much.

Do that and we will beat Naija music hands down. We won’t have Nollywood renamedĀ Ebolaville because that is just scary, but if we multiply the popularity of Nollywood with the notoriety of Ebola and turn it into prosperity, then China will probably create a virus of their own called Ebolq just to get in on the action!

From www.mediaanalyst.co.ug
From www.mediaanalyst.co.ug

4. Ā Why are we not all international consultants on Ebola eradication? How are you a Ugandan sitting in your home or office just reading about this on the internet or watching CNN reports instead of being consulted, yet even random characters in the world of science,Ā like Chris Brown, are making headlines talking about Ebola even though the most he has ever had is that disease that makes men slap their spouses black and blue?

Be serious!

Any one of you can release a book titled, ‘I Survived Ebola’ or a documentary about ‘How To Wash Ebola Out Of Your Life’ and this week you will be guaranteed more sales than that woman’s Anaconda video.

5. There are also hiddenĀ opportunities such as one chap posted onto Facebook, when he said he had walked to the end of a longĀ supermarket queue in the United States, then taken a phone call inĀ Luganda only for the entire supermarket to clear out on hearing the language because they realised he “was African” and therefore likely to be carrying the disease.

#Eish! That opportunity means you can open up an entire retail shopping business provided you have a white guy to help you with deliveries; or, on the dark side, you could rob banks by simply standing akimbo in the banking hall and shouting out stuff in your local vernacular while looking African – nobody will shoot, they will just flee till someone finds HazMat suits, by which time you will have emptied the vaults.

What you do, though, is don’t say “Gunigugu” –Ā they’ve worked that one out already thanks to Eddie Murphy being so popular for so long.

I’ve told you – Ebola can beĀ spelt O.P.P.O.R.T.U.N.I.T.Y.