let’s identify and use our icons to promote Uganda more


THE first time I visited South Africa (the Republic) was in 1999, and the guys at the airport were still heady with the end end of apartheid – and to be frank, so was I.

Unlike myself, they couldn’t help bringing up Idi Amin when they read my Passport, even though I felt I deserved better as a Ugandan.

That entire visit I found that most people, including some random Zambian I met atop of Table Mountain, only linked the word “Uganda” to “Idi Amin” even though on interrogation I found that the Zambian HAD been to Uganda and met with serious Ugandans in the medical profession with no link whatsoever to our former President.

This is not about Idi Amin.

For about five years I found South Africans using different icons to relate to Uganda, but this week I was met by a Customs chap who responded to my being Ugandan (seeing the t-shirt) with, “Matooke! Did you bring Matooke?!”

The excitement of his exclamation could have been linked to the expectation that he would catch me bringing in this agricultural contraband and therefore earn some commission or bonus, but after I calmly denied he slapped my suitcase and smiled.

“Matooke tastes good, braa!”

I smiled and went along my merry way since it was late in the night, but the memory came back to me the next morning.

Through the years these icons have included enseenene (delicious tasting fried grasshoppers), which a number of South Africans find entertaining even though they and their cousins in Zimbabwe eat stuff like mopane worms; and Anne Kansiime who came up last year, proving the power and reach of our continental media.

“She’s a funny one, that one! Tell her I said hi!” said the Immigration chap that night.

At one point the icon they recognised most was our President, and I was relieved when instead of “Idi Amin!” they’d go, “Museveni!” This was about the time they seemed to learn about Uganda’s contribution to the apartheid struggle in the past.

Most Ugandans don’t know about this even now. I recall meeting some young South Africans back in my much younger days in some dark place in Kyambogo. A few hours in we realised they were complicated characters when they introduced knives into an equation that involved liquids of a potent nature.

The night ended without too much mayhem, and we didn’t become friends. Years later, I woke up in a dormitory somewhere and found myself face-to-face with one of those South Africans. He was back in the country to continue receiving the type of support that eventually led to these exclamations of “Museveni!” from his compatriots when I introduce myself as Ugandan.

When I was leaving South Africa the last guy at the security checkpoint asked me about David Obua. I smiled and we chatted briefly about this Ugandan.

This week’s declaration of “Matooke!” pleased me, and along the way I asked a few other South Africans about their knowledge or liking of the foodstuff – at least three of them confirmed it.

This is not about Matooke.

It is about icons – our national icons, and how much more we can do to identify and use them for diplomacy, tourism, investment and even our individual self-esteem. An ‘icon’ is “a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration.”

The fact that we have positive sounds about ordinary things like enseenene and Matooke means we have lots more to offer the world than we realise or make use of.

Our Ambassadors and Tourism afficionados could keep us notified what these icons are so we take advantage of them at every turn and corner. If Matooke is the big thing from Uganda in South Africa in 2017 then every Ugandan flying down there could go with a recipe book and a sample packet of matooke crisps or something even more innovative, and sell more Uganda out there.

If.

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.