right now, being a Ugandan is the DEAL!

LIKE any boy in any part of the world, I once had dreams of representing my country in sport on the world stage; specifically playing in the World Cup where I would score fantastic goals by way of a series of volleys, bicycle kicks and flash-speed dribbling footwork conjured up by an imagination that was ignited every four years by visions of soccer players from everywhere else in the world.

I started giving up on this dream only when I joined the university, and put all hopes finally to rest when I realised during one recent World Cup tournament that I had not physically kicked a ball with any sort of skill in more than three years.

The consolation I took, though, was in the hope that I would be supporting my own team one day in the World Cup finals. When a group of enthusiasts started the Uganda Cranes Initiative I even believedUganda Ball 2014 would be the year of the Uganda Cranes mixing up their yellow shirts and even lingo a la Samba (which means “kick” in my languages). 

I fantasised that some magic would have erupted from the Cranes gliding down gracefully into the World Cup stadiums and thereafter Ugandans of all shapes and sizes would be called up to join tournaments from Amsterdam to Zambia.

All fantasy, sadly. 

But the reality, I am realising, is not too bad either.

We’re increasingly occupying a certain stage well enough to change the Ugandan narrative.

A couple of weeks ago I was invited a few thousand kilometres out of my comfort zone to join a panel at the World Village Festival alongside Finland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs to discuss human rights in Africa. Our panel of four included a Kenyan, Dommie Yambo-Odotte; a Namibian, Robin Tyson; the Finnish Cabinet Minister Erkki Tuomioja, and my besuited self. 

The panel was only part of a whole week during which our group, including an Ethiopian, Meskerem Lemma, talked about our countries and mostly media and development-related issues.

Being there in general wasn’t the big news; the big news was us representing our countries in intellectual stadia and dribbling ideas and concepts around while blocking opposing teams from scoring into our national esteem. We showed off some tactful mental moves in a midfield full of swift players many of whom we hadn’t met before or whose play we had never studied.

And we did well; I did well enough to get a few more people interested in coming over to visit, invest and work with more Ugandans. Idi Amin was only mentioned once, in jest, by another of our group tickling me for a sharp witty reaction.

And that mention was in line with the movie The Last King of Scotland, which I told them I had refused to watch because too many people believed it to be a true story and defined Ugandans by one man rather than the millions who are much more sensible, passionate, intelligent, smart, eloquent, innovative, hard working, brave, victorious and so much more.

I made sure that if I were the only Ugandan any of the Finns ever met in their lives they would know Ugandans for being intelligent, well-spoken, focussed, time-conscious, neat, generous, patient, innovative, helpful…and none of it acted.

The number of Ugandans standing out and genuinely doing well at what they do is impressive; from the soldiers in Somalia and South Sudan to the Presidency of the United Nations General Assembly.

I hope The New Vision series on Ugandans in the diaspora resumes soon so we pay attention to this.

Two months ago the South African Broadcasting Corporation announced that a Ugandan, James Aguma, had been appointed Chief Financial Officer, replacing someone who left the job in less than ideal circumstances.

Aguma’s track record was cited and his proficiency exhibited over years of experience highlighted. I thought back to how many times that story used to be the reverse, and applauded the man.

After that, Betty Bigombe was called up to head a Directorate at the World Bank, where she has held a big job before and made us proud. She is brave, hard-working, peace-loving, intelligent, committed and sharp in style, delivery and focus. She certainly won’t be the last Ugandan to get called up, because she has done so well in going ahead of us. Betty Bigombe

Then last week another Ugandan, Jimmy (not sure if that’s really his first name) Mugerwa was announced as new Chief Executive Officer of Shelter Afrique – his predecessor going off to join the list of possible candidates for President of the Africa Development Bank.

And speaking of Presidents, Kutesa’s accession to the Presidency of the United Nations General Assembly is neither a private achievement nor individual privilege. It is ours nationally to use and enjoy.

Sweep all local controversies aside for this one and focus on Kutesa’s sharp intellect, astute politics, competent management, dapper turnout, regal bearing and wise counsel. All these, if identified as Ugandan, will apply to us wherever we go.

So even if we haven’t gone to the World Cup this week and we may not be known as some of the best soccer players in the World, we are going to be known as World Leaders in many other respects.

Sam Kutesa

promoting and buying Ugandan: we need to walk our talk

Ladies and gentlemen, we have to start walking our talk.

The Friday before last, the Uganda Communications Commission hosted us to the Annual Communications Innovation Awards (ACIA) 2014 themed ‘ICT Innovation for National Development’.

I skipped lunch that day, for an unrelated reason, eventually changed into one of my nice Ugandan-made shirts, and made my way to the exhibition preceding the main event. I was full of hope because an innovation I was involved in had been nominated for an award.

A sharp kick of hunger stopped me short at a supermarket where I proceeded to implement this difficult personal policy of buying Ugandan if the item available is of a quality approaching close-to the imported equivalent I needed. My pals laugh at me but I always explain that, for instance, Uganda does not make Land Rovers so my choice of car is left untouched.

This time all I wanted was a small packet of crisps to tide me by till dinner. I was clearly not going to buy the ones in see-through kaveera because while walking through a slum with a well-meaning Pastor some years ago, I found out how those are made. He was showing me round his labour of love slum project when we turned a sharp corner and almost fell over a little boy engaged in some public toilet activity. This, a few metres from a woman, presumably his mother, deep frying crisps in a pan on a sigiri next to a small table with the buveera awaiting to be filled. 

Health and safety issues aside, I generally don’t eat too many crisps but on this day found a brand called Emondi, that stood as proudly on those shelves as the Tropical Heat and Pringles ranges did. I swiped them and drove to the exhibition, and by the time I had arrived had only managed to chew through a couple of handfuls and to this day cannot understand why they were so tasteless in packaging so promising.

Walking through the exhibition, however, lifted my spirits and distracted me from the hunger as I quickly browsed the Ugandan offerings of innovation in ICT and gained hope once again that not all is lost. Sticking with the theme, the keynote speaker was not some imported talent or celebrity, but a Ugandan working at Microsoft in a senior capacity – Ivan Lumala.

I pulled at my Ugandan-made collar a little bit and applauded the fellow for being what he was and representing me wherever he goes. All seemed to flow smoothly – except for some flies in the honey: Ignoring the suggestion at my table that the Serena Kampala had imported waiting staff from Kenya for the night, I applauded lead entertainer Myko Ouma for his fantastic guitar work but stopped short when I realised that his repertoire consisted of Sade, Jonathan Butler, Phil Collins…WHY? 

ImageBut that was not as bad as the performance of a one Eddie Kenzo (pictured being a pain on the stage elsewhere) whose Sitya Loss presented some infants gyrating on-stage in a disturbingly adult manner. As I said, go Ugandan only if the item is of a quality good enough.   

Someone at my table laughed at my murmuring and asked me if the menu was even Ugandan; and I made a resolution there and then to suggest that all government events when I am ever put in charge would promote strictly national offerings!

As-if to goad the ire within us at that point, the award nomination call-ups began and the music played when nominations were called up was…South African. Pan Africa, you say?

Okay, a quick Google search using the phrase ‘buy South African procurement rules’ returns the top result “General Procurement Guidelines -2 from the Republic of South Africa Treasury Department ” which contained the simply written paragraph:

“The government has implemented the Preferential Procurement Policy Framework Act as the foundation on which all procurement activities are to be based. Its aim is to:   (a) advance development of SMMEs and HDIs; …(d) promote local enterprises in specific provinces, in a particular region, in a specific local authority, or in rural areas; and (e) support the local product.

I don’t expect Eddie Kenzo’s music to ever play at a South African national or government event.

Another quick Google search with the phrase ‘buy Ugandan procurement rules’ got me to the Public Procurement Disposal of Public Assets Act two clicks later where the twelve (12) mentions of “local” referred to ‘Local Government’ except for three occasions in 59B. (Reservation schemes) that read ‘local expertise’,’local communities’ and ‘local organisations’.

Reservation schemes? Read the Act and work it out – but obviously it’s easier for the South Africans to buy and promote local.