from outer space to your rolex stand – there are many ways to open the mind

Kiira EV car
A Kiira EV Car (Photo from

BACK in 2012, Ghana launched it’s Ghana Space Science and Technology Centre and Ghana Space Agency. Two weeks ago the West African nation launched its first satellite into outer space.

In Uganda, it’s been a few years since the Kiira EV solar-powered car project was first started, and I have never had any doubts over its necessity for us.

I know we are not going to be selling cars in competition with the Japanese or the other usual suspects any time soon. But there is a logic behind such projects and ventures that glues other bits of the economy together.

Those of us who scoff at the Kiira vehicles as White Elephants before retiring to our cubicles by way of little white second hand Japanese imports could do with a jolt.

I got one watching a television programme last week that was explaining how Pizza ovens are made.

Disclaimer: I don’t like pizzas as much as I do the Rolex, for obvious reasons (yes – taste, as well as the Uganda factor). The programme just happened to roll up as I was immobile in my seat sans remote control.

I discovered that Americans in the United States eat approximately 100 acres of pizza each day, which is about 3billion Pizzas a year, or 350 slices of them per second. Pizza, as a food is a $32 billion per year industry. Across the United States there are about 70,000 pizzerias – not to mention restaurants and hotels that also make and serve the stuff.

With that in mind, the TV documentary told me, some oven manufacturing people realized that if they developed ovens that cooked pizzas faster, they would sell more ovens to more pizzerias. 

Somebody in the industry asked how the people who go to outer space manage to cook their food under those conditions, and then realized that NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United States) had a solution. NASA kept sending people into outer space for long periods in spaceships with small, confined spaces and little time to cook. 

How did they do it?

NASA had developed some form of cooking using a hot air system (“impingement”) that speed-cooks food – four times faster than normal. The oven manufacturer took that technology and applied it to their ovens on the ground and…voila!

There are other technologies that came from NASA to the catering industry in the United States; one of them arose because one of NASA’s suppliers of natural gas realized he worked late hours and didn’t have time to get home to cook dinner.

He decided to create an oven that would allow you to cook dinner while driving home. How? Using the internet and the remote control technology that runs space equipment, and starting up the oven using using a cell phone or other device over the internet.

The reasons the United States goes into outer space are many, just as are the benefits.

The Kiira EV solar project can provide this very trigger, if we pay more attention to it than the light-headed assumption that we are going to be exporting cars to Japan.

Last week I spoke with an old man I deeply revere who told me about an assembly plant he intends to invest in. Among the benefits of this assembly plant, he explained, would be providing employment for people manufacturing seat belts, seats, seat covers, and other bits that we already make in Uganda to a certain extent. The list included the fabrication of exhaust pipes – a product we actually CAN make even using recycled materials that normally go as ‘scrap’.

As he was talking my mind was on the pizza cooking technology and another product that we have paid little attention to and yet has arisen in this very market we are in.

On the road where my main office is located I smile every day when I spot a ‘Musana Cart’. The ‘Musana Cart’ is a Rolex stand but with a big difference. It is powered by solar energy employed quite simply – a couple of panels on top of the stand that provides the energy needed to fry the chapati and eggs.

That solar energy replaces the need for charcoal, which is an additional operational cost and comes with health risks, storage issues and so on and so forth. The story about the Musana Carts needs to be told fully on its own – it is very uplifting.

But the fact that projects like Kiira EV Solar can lead to so many other applications and innovations spurs the imagination. And that’s why we need to welcome and celebrate all initiatives of this nature.

Next stop – outer space.

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.

all hail the queen of Katwe

IF you don’t know Frozen, you either have no children, no TV, a very low media appetite, or all of the above.

That makes you commercially unimportant in the global scheme that the promoters of that movie designed and implemented well enough to take over the world of entertainment and commerce so decisively that the movie is reported to have grossed more in revenue in one year than some countries do in decades.

Your irrelevance to the global economic equations of the world’s premier businesspeople aside, you must – at least – have heard of Disney. The Walt Disney Company? Again, if you haven’t, then even your ability to read (especially in the English language) is a miracle you should be proud of.
Disney has been behind the world’s biggest entertainment projects for years and years; besides their amusement parks, we can focus on only their movies to get to the point here:
Their animated movie The Lion King made US$313million in the first few years after its release, while the musical (performed on stage) made US$6.2billion (BILLION!) in three years from ticket sales alone, and was seen by 75million people! Toy Story 3 grossed US$1.063 billion in 2010. Frozen earned $398.4 million in the United States and $674 million internationally to take the title. By March 2014 it had grossed US$1.072 billion in revenue after opening in Japan – and has continued earning since.
Disney knows how to make money out of entertainment. Let’s not even talk in detail about their amusement parks and merchandising, because there is too much information out there.
One Frozen statistic that flummoxed me was to do with a dress of one of the Elsa dolls; this dress that had retailed at US$150 sold out and started going for US$1,000 on eBay…secondhand, in some cases!
Then also, in one day in 2014 in the United States, Frozen sold 3.2 Million DVD and Blu-ray Discs. In one day.
Much more importantly, they make massive amounts from franchises. One US authority reveals that: Mickey Mouse brings in $4 billion in sales a year; the Disney Princesses (Jasmine, Snow White, Cinderella, Ariel, Mulan, etc. – I name them for a reason that will become apparent shortly) $4 billion; the “Cars” and “Winnie the Pooh” each $2 billion a year; and “Toy Story” brings in $1 billion a year.
Still with me?
This is one of Disney’s releases of 2016, about Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi, who rose from Kampala’s slums to international chess stardom.
The movie will be released in April and will star Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo (that black agent in Spooks) – and also feature Madina Nalwanga playing Phiona Mutesi, Ntare Mwine, and Maurice Kirya.
You guys!
Disney is going to feature a movie about Uganda (go back up a few paragraphs and read those figures again).
That means they are likely to make good amounts of money doing so while giving us – the entire nation – free publicity to make what we will with it.
Even if we just found a way of squeezing one of our promotional phrases onto the DVD covers, we would benefit greatly.
But let’s go to Katwe, first. Not many of us – you reading this – spend time in Katwe or can identify it apart from the tarmac bit we drive through on the way from Entebbe.
Now that it is going to get Disneyfied, the people at the Kampala Capital City Authority, Uganda Tourism Board and Uganda Investment Authority need to look up quickly and do some work there.
Create some Katwe trails so tourists enthralled by the movie can come visit and walk through Mutesi’s home(s), eat the food she ate, and jump over the dirty bits of road she skipped through as a child.
Speaking of food, does the Rolex appear in the movie? Luwombo? Katogo? Spiced tea with Cassava and gnuts? All Uganda’s restaurants and hotels should introduce a ‘Katwe Option’ onto their menus. This is the time to officialise Ugandan cuisine onto the world market and sell it in a big way so we have Rolex stands in New York, London, and at Disneyland!
That same Disneyland is where a lot of the merchandising rakes in the dollars, but let’s be clever over here and create Queen of Katwe chess boards, gomesis, bags and other merchandising.
Speaking of which, remember those Disney princesses named above? I have detested having to buy them for my daughters and nieces, and seeing the adulation beaming out of their eyes, but I will LOVE doing so for a doll named Mutesi…
Kudos to that young lady for putting Uganda on the map so well by usurping great odds to excel in a field so unexpected.
Phiona Mutesi! The Presidential Awards Committee should take that name and spell it correctly.
So should the media; our biggest celebrities and heroines are in the slums and villages, not in nightclubs and cities.
Phiona Mutesi: Our Queen of Katwe – Photo from

the rolex and the pizza

I HAVE never really liked pizza, in spite of what American television claims it represents. I do like cheese, though, in some of its various forms and presentation formats, but I generally would not choose pizza ahead of most other meals available to me.
For years, the pizza in Kampala has been presented as special in some way, as if only capable of being produced by persons of a sacred training and anointment, using rare equipment that the ordinary Ugandan would find hard to own, let alone manufacture.
When it was brought to my attention, therefore, that a Pizzeria had in recent months opened up across the road from one of the small, ordinary offices I occupy, I was surprised because I hadn’t realised that pizzas had become so easily available in Kampala.
I need to stress, at this point, that I am not politically against the pizza as a form of nourishment. I just don’t rate them highly over other forms of food in which I have a culinary and economic interest.
So when two weeks ago I was trapped by hunger at a crucial hour of the day and had to place an order at the Pizzeria across the road, I was a bit sceptical. An hour later, I was surprisingly pleased with the experience so much so that I was a repeat customer within the week.
I even mentioned this to my children, later that first evening, since they are prone to suggest pizza as an option when we approach dining out in a democratic manner. Luckily for me, our domestic democracy only gives them nomination rights until they have jobs of their own even if they accumulate wealth through savings, so pizzas are not a frequent hazard in my home.
Even as I notified them of the new development up my office street, I was mindful that I had not yet made them queue up at any roadside rolex guy’s stand, for obvious reasons – and I was to blame for something there.
Photo courtesy of

My office neighbourhood had a couple of roadside Rolex stands whose popularity was disturbing for the distraction they caused when the hunger of their customers overcame their fear of irresponsible drivers speeding up our narrow street.

Then last week as I was whizzing past my favourite pork joint, that also serves up a traditional buffet on working days, I was flabbergasted to see that they, too, had opened up a Pizzeria and were advertising it heavily with very specific branding!
For a few seconds, my mind linked the rise of Italian food places in my part of Africa to the recent rise in disastrous incidents of African migrants in the Mediterranean Sea near Italy.
It was discombobulating!
Worse, it is a little sad that we have more pizza joints cropping up, with their own branding and advertising, instead of Rolex (or Rolleggs) stands upgrading to that next level. (Again, I feel a little guilty here, as I will tell you shortly.)
Sadder still, the Rolex guy on my street is no more, which I coincidentally noticed after ordering the first few slices from the pizza place across the road.
Perhaps he didn’t secure the right licensing, or premises, but he sure had the clientele wrapped up from what I saw over the months he was in operation.
Thus my guilt, because I have had the opportunity before of branding this product properly and professionalising this food product to rival the Pizza of Italian origin so efficiently that we could have been opening up Rolex joints in Venice rather than Pizzerias in Kampala – but I haven’t grasped it.
On a related side-note, I suspect that the origin of the Ugandan Rolex as a street food offering dates back to a hungover weekend morning at work when I – yes, me – walked across to the chapati guy near my then-office and bought two eggs from a kiosk nearby to liven up my breakfast meal.
I didn’t pay much attention to what I was doing then, and every time I see a Rolex stand I see lost opportunity for myself; but today, every time I see a Pizzeria in Kampala I see an economy heading the way of those Mediterranean migrant boats!
Pizzas are even made in ovens apparently imported from some other country, whereas Rolex are made on pans fabricated locally from materials recycled here. Even the ingredients that go into the Pizza are reportedly imported, for some reason!
This coming week you guys have an event happening in Kampala called the ‘Kampala Restaurant Week’ – let’s see how many Rolexes are on menus over there, as opposed to Pizzas and other foreign dishes, and then we’ll have a discussion about food, tourism and building local economy.

developing uganda one rolex at a time

AWAY from the positive and negative excitement around the Kampala Mayorship, I have always contended that a person equipped with education can become wealthy doing anything – even selling tomatoes, mangoes and entula – if the people who set up roadside tables along upcountry roads selling this stuff make any sort of living.

Say a peasant woman in the village can eke out a living in her mud-and-wattle house, with her children under Universal Primary and Secondary Education, and no worries buying fuel for cars or paying DSTV; if you added just a bit of mathematics, a few history essays, and some knowledge of geography to her equation, she could turn the stall into a thriving chain of two stalls covering both sides of the road.

Photo Credit:

That’s theory.

In practice, she sits by the roadside waiting for our convoys to slow down and purchase her wares en route back from weddings, burials and weekend visits, us believing they’re cheaper than we find on Saturday morning market visits to Nakasero, Nakawa, Kalerwe or even supermarket vegetable stands. Our education doesn’t seem to stretch enough to make us calculate the cost of driving our vehicles 200 kilometres down the road for a day, with two people per vehicle, vis-a-vis the saving we make buying these tomatoes, entula and mangoes.

It’s as confounding as a Ushs36billion parking lot for 300 people. Sorry – this is an unfair juxtaposition of conundrums; also because the parking lot one is QED if you consider that it caters for staff of the House as well as the MPs – and maybe visitors, too, so it’s not as ridiculous as it first sounds (but is still quite ridiculous). 

While the Ushs36billion angst was growing this week, I bumped into the Rolex for three days straight.

Day One: an unnamed but highly placed government official confessed her puzzlement to me over the Rolex, having never eaten one. She knew about the general excitement around the things, the recipe involved, and their ubiquity in Kampala and beyond. She even knew that anyone’s political survival in the city is linked to their not disrupting, or being seen to disrupt any element of the Rolex business.

“I don’t think they will start riots now…” part of our discussion went, but we were wrong – even though I later realised that the running battles between the rioters and police were not in Rolex-heavy locations.

Day Two: I came across a fellow  promoting The Sound Cup, a new eatery run by musician Maurice Kirya (disclaimer: he is my cousin, Maurice is, but that’s not why this is here), and in particular it’s Rolex edition.

As far as this chap was concerned, this is the first upmarket place in Kampala with the Rolex. It is not – I’ve met them at Endiro Coffee, the Sheraton, the Hub at Nakumatt, and some other place – but Maurice reportedly adds panache (no pun, surprisingly, as the other one is spelt with a ‘k’!) to it, as to everything else. He talks it up like it is a romantic tryst you don’t want people to know about yet that feels so good you can’t help but take it public. He has a theory about how a Rolex is eaten: not with knife and fork, but with bare hands; looking it straight in the eye with an intimacy only a Ugandan dish can share with its devourer, giving up large, moist, decisive bites at a time.

Day Three: Over lunch with banker Mark Bitarabeho, he had me speechless with his tales of poultry farming and its successes and potential. I’ve heard many people tell me about this poultry business and how it has flared up in recent years, and this week I put a finger on it.

Mark told me about a mutual acquaintance who works in a telecom firm who drops off about 100 trays of eggs every morning by 7:00am to a different customer each day on her way to work.

They all pay her hard cash and she goes about her day with about Ushs700,000 in her handbag. Every day. And those customers want 300 trays a day!

Then I remembered seeing a number of Noah’s and other ordinary vehicles clogged up with eggs in the morning traffic, being driven by city-employee type people.

Photo Credit:

Where do those eggs go? 


And why did the price of eggs go up?

Again – Rolex.

But that’s not all.

Have you noticed the boiled eggs? No? People walking around with plastic tubs or baskets full of eggs and a small canister of salt? Each egg is Ushs500 – which immediately makes a tray Ushs15,000 – more than 100% profit!

And there are more people selling boiled eggs in Kampala than there are Rolex stands.

(Pause for thought here – especially if you are with the Private Sector Foundation of Uganda, Enterprise Uganda, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, Kampala Capital City Authority, the Uganda Revenue Authority, the Uganda Investment Authority, the Uganda National Farmers Federation…ah! the Republic of Uganda!)

The people making money from the Rolex and the boiled egg include the Rolex seller, the likes of Maurice Kirya and Endiro, the flour and cooking oil suppliers, the manufacturers of the flat Rolex frying pans and sigiris, the charcoal sellers, the corporate people hatching eggs in their compounds, and the chicken suppliers like Biyinzika, et al.

But the senior government official above and some more like her don’t spend their money on Rolex – they eat at Fang Fang, the Serena and…I don’t know where else;  

that’s why Ushs36billion doesn’t get spent on getting more eggs rolled out onto the market (pun on Roll-eggs?) and maybe into Rwanda, Congo and Southern Sudan…and money is not put into branding the Rolex concept and sell franchises into those territories and beyond (was there a Rolex stand at the UNAA Convention?)

It all sounds so simple that it seemed to me that if a political party were set up with a manifesto that involved getting more people to eat more eggs, it would quickly mop up both massive support and funding; and using the benefit of education, spend more on hatcheries and better chicken rearing methods than on parking lots, and less time mobilising rioters and more mobilising chickens.

And it would work on developing Uganda one rolex at a time.