focus on the elephant, not the birds

dsc_2871-1TOO much has been said on social media platforms in response to the one negative “review” (quote marks very deliberate) about the uplifting movie ‘Queen of Katwe‘.
Most of the vitriol and anger poured onto the unfortunate author of the negative review was based on his confession that he only watched 20 minutes of the movie before forming his opinion.
The fact that his twenty minutes was slamming down a two-hour movie that took more than two years to script and produce should have made us all pull our punches a little bit, even before paying attention to his credentials as a film critic.
I didn’t know, when I met him at the entrance of the movie theatre that night, that the reviewer had gone through so much anguish inside there, and greeted him brightly as he took photographs of the area and those of us hanging about.
By that time my focus wasn’t on going in to watch the movie or take photographs with the stars both Ugandan and foreign. There was finally rumbling in some quarters of Uganda, with people indignantly decrying the fact that a large part of ‘Queen Of Katwe’ was shot in another country. The fact that this rumbling was coming two years too late was as amusing as an intellectual addressing mere minutes of a movie and not even once ever mentioning the three-year old book on which the movie was based.
And as soon as the negative “review” landed I knew there was going to be a digression into the non-essential – against that Ugandan proverb that warns the hunter in pursuit of an elephant to avoid stopping on the way to throw stones at birds.
Let’s focus on the elephant instead: The ‘Queen Of Katwe’ has set a major stone rolling for Uganda and we must keep it going. First, we should focus on the Ugandan giants who got that stone rolling, rather than those that stick toes out in its path. Those giants are Robert Katende, Phionah Mutesi, Tendo Nagenda and Mira Nair.
Phionah Mutesi embodies the true spirit of a good Ugandan, fighting all odds to rise up and excel in her chosen field. Robert Katende is a superb Ugandan, selflessly committing all his energy to helping vulnerable others overcome struggle and realise their potential, and gives Phionah reason to be such a big global story. Tendo Nagenda is a patriotic Ugandan, moving mountains to get a moving Ugandan story told to the rest of the world by Ugandans in Uganda representing Phionah, Robert and many of us. Mira Nair is an enterprising, energetic Ugandan (yes – Ugandan!) who executes the emotional stories of all these Ugandans with such cinematic excellence that even the most negative people acknowledge the brilliance there.
Even a month from now we probably won’t be talking about Phionah, Robert, Tendo or Mira on the mainstream pages of our newspapers, and by the time the roll of Medals is being read out in Kololo next year their names might not be on it – in spite of the tens, perhaps hundreds, of millions of dollars worth of positive publicity Uganda will have raked in from ‘Queen of Katwe’.
I was quite concerned when I saw more officials of other countries trying to hobnob with the film people from Hollywood, and even alarmed when some of them let slip their plans to benefit from our ‘Queen of Katwe’. Luckily for Uganda, we have a very responsive Prime Minister, who didn’t hesitate to swing over to spend a couple of hours with the industry people to seriously discuss what else Uganda can do – both government and the private sector – to get more movies filmed here within our borders.
Within a matter of hours the good Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda had focussed the discussion and assigned a team to put together plans that would focus the various parts of the government so that our national efforts are effective at making it easier for both local and foreign film producers to make use of our amazing range of scenery for location shoots, our vast amount of acting and other performing arts talent, and to develop our infrastructure so that the Disney’s of this world choose us first every single time.
“The hunter in pursuit of an elephant does not stop to throw stones at birds,” reads that Ugandan proverb. Focus on the elephant, all. The birds will always flitter off whether you throw stones at them or not, but every step you lose in your pursuit of the elephant lets it get further and further away; elephants move very, very fast but once you’ve caught one very many people will eat for many, many days (*Ignore the poaching allusion).

katwe is our land of opportunity, and phionah mutesi will be our queen

If you didn’t read this first one here about the Queen of Katwe, then start there.
THE day is finally upon us, more or less. On October 1 and 2, the movie ‘Queen of Katwe’ will premiere in Kampala, Uganda, and it will make its European debut at the BFI Film Festival in London on October 9, 2016 – Independence Day!
This is not an occasion for us to scramble for tickets to attend the event and show off our newest purchase of imported clothing and make up – NO!
 So far, with the limited time available to an individual human being such as myself, reading through the tens of thousands of positive comments about the movie and its themes, focus, content and elements reminds me of what I said on these pages back in January – let’s wake up and use the opportunity given to us by the gallant Phionah Mutesi and her supporters in this cause.
The movie premiered in Toronto, Canada at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival and will enjoy what is called a “limited release” in North America on September 23, 2016. A “limited release” in the world of entertainment means that the movie will play in selected theatres across North America (the United States of America) so that the film owners and promoters gauge exactly how well it will be received before they blitz it full on to the rest of the world.
Not only that – from the comments it is receiving, this movie might make it to the Oscars…meaning that if we play our cards right we might be mentioned at the world’s most watched movie event some time next year – watched live in more than 200 countries last year.
This is not a joke, and it is not a minor achievement either, so our involvement should not be just tweeting and posting it to Facebook, #Uganda! Start planning how to promote this country’s offerings to those 200 countries at the next Oscars, lazima.
There are some short-sighted (mentally) people who have failed to see this for what it is and have therefore not even done the most simple of tasks like even creating a Map of Katwe…
Where is Katwe, exactly? Where is the house in which Phionah Mutesi was raised? Where is the first chess board she used ever, in her now globally famous life? What did she eat as a child growing up that made her so intelligent? Was it a Rolleggs (pronounced Rolex, but no-one ever sued for trademark infringement because of pronunciation)?
Should we be tagging our Rolleggs promotion onto the movie ‘Queen of Katwe’? Of course – THAT is what this opportunity means. The forward thinking people in charge of promoting Uganda, or interested in making some money out of both global and local events will see this.
See, while some characters here were making fun of Uganda’s Rolleggs activities last month, others were launching the dish in European capitals so well that we have in the last three weeks seen organic photographs of Rolleggs vans, menu cards and billboards taken in Denmark, Washington DC and London.

Viral photograph sent by WhatsApp

My sincere hope is that those were taken in establishments owned by Ugandans who will be sending some of that money here to invest on the Stock Exchange or in poultry farms in the village, but even if that is not the case, we still have what economists call backward linkages.

Thank God that while the majority of us sleep or gripe when these things happen, there are some who spot the smallest sliver of opportunity and turn it into massive returns. The photograph from London (I think it was) showed a menu board offering up the Rolleggs as “Ugandan street food”.
That may look like a small matter but the chain of events involves someone walking down the street and spotting this then thinking, “This ‘Uganda’ place has street food? Interesting. I should Google it…”
Which means we should be working at making sure that when someone googles “Uganda” henceforth, they find the right things to make them gather up their money and bring it over here as tourists or business people or shoppers or hungry people with a penchant for Rolleggs in their different formats.
If, on their flight down here in an aeroplane that has in-flight video options, they watch the movie that is hot off the reels (‘Queen of Katwe’), they will spot David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o and Madina Nalwanga wearing those beautiful Ugandan outfits and will figure that they should get themselves some of those while they are here.
As they think that they will be listening to the soundtrack and even though Alicia Keys has stolen the show by recording “Back to Life” spontaneously to much acclaim, she has said A LOT about Uganda. She even posted a photograph of herself wearing a gomesi, so our designers should be stitching up a storm to receive all her fans’ orders for their own editions of that beautiful dress style, along with other clothing as colourfully depicted by all the actors in the movie.
Have our Uganda Tourism Board, Uganda Export Promotion Board and Uganda National Bureau of Standards been holding meetings and workshops with the Private Sector Foundation of Uganda to actualise these possibilities?
Ask them. Send them emails asking them how YOU can benefit and get involved in turning this potential and possibility into actuality and profit.
The whole of Canada is now talking about Queen of Katwe and Uganda, so get in touch with the Canadian High Commission to establish what queries they are getting about Uganda so you are in position to respond and deliver whatever the Canadians find interesting in Uganda basing on what aspect of the movie excited them.
After the entire world has watched it, really, what will our excuse be? It’s bad enough that more than half of the movie was filmed in South Africa…let’s not have the same percentage of the opportunity and benefit go elsewhere as well.
YOU are a resident of Katwe. Phionah Mutesi is YOUR Queen.

#oscarssowhite is not the issue when you’re in a kazigo

Chris Rock at the Oscars
Courtesy Photo:

I MADE a decision to stop watching the Oscars and Grammies back in the late 90s when, one night as we were gathering to watch the glitzy ceremony, Paul Busharizi burst into a typically uncontrollable fit of laughter at me.

Our viewing station was the kazigo next to mine, and as we walked past my door I smoothly inserted and turned the key in the door lock, unlocked the padlock, threw back the bolt, pushed the door open and quickly tossed my notebook into the dark room where I was certain my bed was located, almost without breaking a step.

Bush was impressed at the fluidity of my movements, but that quickly broke down into his fits of laughter when my notebook landed onto the edge of what sounded like a plate with crockery on it, bouncing it into the air to crash land into some other items of an indeterminate but loud, clattering nature – muffled as I shut the door within seconds of having opened it.

This was muzigo life.

As usual, I endured his ribbing and it didn’t hurt my feelings because it was really funny. But I became alive to the idea that I was putting aside these hours to watch the glittering world of Hollywood’s richest and finest in their splendid clothes at expensive hotels, from the comfort of a squalid one-room muzigo off a very fair sized colour TV.

So I have tried over the years to bring some glitz and glamour into my own little life in whatever small measure, even if there are no lights and cameras involved.

Part of that has been supporting stages for our own entertainment industry to claim some of the prominence and attention the Oscars and other such shows seem to own.

Further opportunity to do so showed itself when, for the last couple of weeks on the international scene an uproar erupted over racism in the world of entertainment, under the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite.

#OscarsSoWhite rocked social media almost as much as #BlackLivesMatter – which came up because of all those killings that involved white (police)men and dead black men – also racism.

#OscarsSoWhite arose because people were indignant that ALL the nominees for the Oscars this year were white – no blacks were deemed good enough to be nominated for these prized awards, and social mediaratti lost its collective control.

This was just weeks after Ugandan model Aamito Lagum was the subject of racist comments from ignorant and angry seemingly ‘white’ people, indignant over her inclusion in an ad for some high-end cosmetics – and that resulted in the social media campaign #PrettyLipsPeriod.

As all that was happening on the global scene I paid a visit to my daughter’s school and noticed once again that there were many posters, motivational messages and text book pages that feature non-Ugandans (their being white should not be the central issue).

As we waited to chat with her teacher, I received a couple of those ‘Good Morning’ and ‘Have a nice day’ WhatsApp messages with images of non-Ugandan (let’s not say ‘white’) babies, and my irritation bubbled over.

I immediately resolved to create my own WhatsApp greeting images using my own children (coming soon to a phone near you), in order to right the global imbalance between black and white. I am also creating for my daughter’s school motivational posters and messaging using images of ordinary, local Ugandans.

Even before vying for Oscar-winning roles, I am certain that creating more Ugandan content will right any so-called racial injustice and counter #OscarsSoWhite more effectively than a hashtag campaign.

If we allow our children to settle for a muzigo with a TV on which to watch the Oscars they will never get to the damn show either, let alone believe that they can create their own respectable alternative.