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.

why are so many of us scared of technology yet it should make l

Photo from

Waiting for an Uber at my office the other day in frustration at how long the driver was taking to figure out the Uber technology, I was distracted by five fully grown men struggling to fit some office furniture onto the back of a medium-size pick up truck.

The first bit of furniture was brought down and placed immediately onto the centre of the truck bed. I thought the truck would leave there and then but the men went upstairs and returned with more – all of which found its way onto the bed, with adjustments.

At some point, they had to stop.

As they stood looking at a couple of obstinate pieces of furniture, I was distracted by my Uber driver who was on the phone and failing to read his map. The way Uber works that makes it revolutionary includes the use of technology. Unlike your usual special hire driver who needed to be given directions by way of fenne trees and other landmarks, the Uber driver has a smartphone and internet access.

Using that phone you connect with your driver, indicate on a map where you are and where you plan to go, and you even get an estimate of the cost of the trip. That map is so complete that it identifies some surprising land marks.

For weeks now, I have been using Uber or walking rather than drive a personal vehicle. The experience is very fitting for my harsh microeconomic circumstances, and it is healthier (when I walk). My only frustration with most Uber drivers, however, is their refusal to use the technology the way it should be used.

Like my driver at the time the five fully-grown men were being baffled by the size of their pick up truck bed and the quantity of furniture that needed to go onto it.

He was so confused that he thought the blue blinking dot on his map was an indicator of where I was, rather than where he was. So he kept going round in circles. I lost thirty minutes waiting for the fellow to finally figure out how the maps work, and was confounded at how we sometimes reject technology yet its right there for us to use.

That includes technology such as the screwdriver. If those five fully-grown furniture carrying fellows on the roadside at my office had applied a screwdriver onto five screws in total to some parts of that furniture they could have stacked it neatly on the truck bed. The entire moving process would have been cut short by at least fifteen minutes, as the furniture was the fabricated screw-on type.

I pointed this out to them, and saw the light of realisation blinking ‘On’. But they figured they had gone so far into the process that they struggled on. They lifted the biggest desk, turned it onto its back and placed the smaller bits on its underside. Things worked somehow, and they left.

Before my Uber guy had arrived. I blasted him quite a bit for the delay he was occasioning by not using his technology. He was a little bit worse than a few other chaps – and I have had many encounters with them over technology. Just the week before, after hearing another driver claim that his map wasn’t working, I grabbed his phone and activated the map with voice directions.

Being unaccustomed to the technology he kept turning to me for affirmation that the lady’s voice was not misleading him. I don’t know who hurt him in his earlier life but he must have had a bad experience around these technologies, which made my ride uncomfortable because I now had to spend the journey directing him over the voice on the smartphone app.

Having to direct the driver verbally erodes another benefit of my using Uber – the ability to get some extra work done in the back seat of the vehicle, or to catch up on some entertainment (TV programmes and podcasts). Which means that the Uber drivers’ refusal to use the technology properly loses me time doing more useful work.

That is what technology is for – simplifying things and freeing up resources to be more productive. In fact, as my Uber guy was getting lost I took the time to type out this article on my phone, and sent a few emails, while standing under the heat on the verandah being lightly entertained by the five fully-grown men lacking a screwdriver.

If those fellows had used a screwdriver, turning it ten revolutions each per screw, they could have saved enough time to do more work in their new offices and earn more money to invest in more technology.

They might even have had a screwdriver in the glove box of their truck, but without the mindset required to make use of it, it was useless. As @like_a_gem said, on Twitter, “Omutwe omunafu gukooya bigere.”

new technology in buliisa, uganda!

A FEW days ago I received a short video clip via WhatsApp that I inadvertently opened almost as soon as it arrived. Normally I let these videos pile up till I have enough time to watch and delete them in a pile.
I was very pleased with this one. In the clip, a young fellow was manipulating a ‘wire car’. I put the phrase in quotes because when we were children we had a knack for finding bits of loose metallic wires either from clothes hangers (discarded or stolen) or broken up bits of fencing material, and we made wire cars.
There was always one boy in the neighbourhood who taught the rest of us and kept making modifications every so often without explaining where he had learnt them.
The first wire cars we made used ‘chokolos’ (soda bottle tops – I still don’t know why they were called that) for wheels and we had to squat to push them along. The upgraded wheels were cut out of bits of sapatu (rubber or foam slippers), then the ones above those had chokolo rims inserted into the rubber or foam sapatu.
The next level of tyres were made of metallic wire rims and had rubber tyres made from strips cut from the rubber inners of actual car tyres, wrapped around cuttings of buveera for the off-road variety.
It took us about an hour to fashion a good car complete with steering wheels to drive it as you walked along, axles and even side mirrors and number plates if the materials were available.
In my case that was thirty years before what I saw in this WhatsApp video.
The teenager in the video was operating a ‘wire car’ that was a fully operational excavator! Standing at one end of the truck, he actually had a boom arm lifting the soil carrying bucket an the other end, and drove it round picking and dropping soil!
The amazed onlookers made various exclamations in Runyoro and Luganda, proving its authenticity, and one fellow in overalls walked round the young technician to marvel at his creation.
Eno yagikola nga tatunulidde bu lad bwo!” (He made this without looking at your instructions/manual/readings!) exclaimed one fellow.
The commentators even knew the parts of the excavator such as the “boom” and “circle drive” (I had to google to learn them).
“New technology in Ngwedo, Buliisa!” another declared, before my favourite by one who was as overwhelmed as I was: “Eh! I love Uganda, allo!”
I can only guess that the young man had probably spent time observing some road construction for a while and worked out a way of replicating the truck.
Sadly, I am not sure if there is a village called Ngwedo (thats what it sounded like) in Buliisa, and whereas I will ask people at the district to find the young fellow, I fear success may be limited.
This is the type of chap that needs to be located, nurtured and supported to take his technical prowess to a level of global commercial proportions. Not only could he set up an entire industry of local toy manufacturing, if a wise entrepreneur funded him, but perhaps he could enhance technical education by becoming a trainer (NOT a student) at our institutions.
The automatic steps some would take would be to place him into a school or university, but without proper planning there is a high chance that his creativity and innovation would be stifled there.
How else can you explain the existence of so many qualified Engineers, some with Masters Degrees and Doctorates, with so few wire truck excavators of this nature?
In fact, this chap would most likely be the type to create a host of technical solutions in agriculture, manufacturing…you name it!
Simply by observing and trying things out.
And rather than pick him up and out of his village in Buliisa, we (you, me, an entrepreneur, a university, the government…) should pick up from people like Emmanuel Angoda and implement what he is seeking Ushs65million for.
Emmanuel Angoda is a teacher of ICT who has been at work in Lira Town College for the last five years teaching, training and mentoring young people in his chosen field of ICT.
I have not spoken with him yet but find him heroic for many reasons: over the years I have noticed his name popping up quite humbly in professionally elevated circles because of his noble work. His students have won Awards at the Annual Communication Innovation Awards, they have stood out during ICT and Academic events and also Science Fairs.
This week, he sent out an email unveiling his dream of setting up an ICT innovation hub in Lira Town, called Walktrack Innovation Hub, in which his partners are some of the said students. The cost of setting up that dream is only Ushs65million. That is 1,000 times less than the cost of tarmacking one kilometre of road, which process probably spurred the innovation of the Buliisa technician.
Seriously, people, read his blogpost here:
If we had a hub like Angoda’s in every district, imagine how many times we would hear the exclamation, “I love Uganda, allo!”

iParliamentarians and iPads and spilt milk

I only got to learn that Ugandan MPs had received their long-discussed iPads when KFM Radio (93.3FM) called me up for a comment this evening and put me right on the spot to make it there and then.

For a split-second after the caller explained what he wanted me to comment on, I was alarmed that someone was reading my mind, because I had been thinking about sanitary pads.

Not that I wear them, or was purchasing them, or anything so intimate – sanitary pads for girls have been a daily subject for me this week because of a charity event I am hoping will be successful this Sunday – the Father Daughter Dance (#FATHERDaughterDANCE on twitter with @jamwiltshire and @luvsherlyf) that will be raising funds to buy sanitary pads and underwear for 200 girls in Buikwe District’s Seven Hills Primary School. The calculation for each girl to be stocked with enough pads and underwear to last the year comes up to Ushs96,000. Again: Ushs96,000 is enough for sanitary pads and underwear for a girl for a full year.

But this is about iPads. Much more important, obviously, after parking space.

And my position is that whereas this is not the most important thing in Uganda for MPs or any government official to be spending money on, and clearly should not have been put on the tax-payer’s bill, and is most definitely just another example of selfish spending by the privileged-at-public-expense, it has been done.

There’s no use crying over spilt milk, the adage goes, but this isn’t spilt milk. It’s milk bought for the privileged few in a land where the majority are dying of thirst from lack of water, and we still shouldn’t cry over it.

Instead, let’s make it useful; and I have a few ideas for doing so.

But before I lay those out, please let’s be clear that I do NOT think we should sweep aside issues such as:

a) the outrageous cost of purchasing the iPads: said to be about US$377,000 (about Ushs980million – enough for sanitary pads and underwear for those 10,000 girls – and I will talk about this some more much, much later because today’s pads are more high-tech and important than the sanitary pads for girls who want to go to school when they are in their monthly periods but can’t because they can’t afford pads).

That means each Parliamentary iPad cost US$1,000. Of course, that is fair. Ignorant people will argue that iPads only cost US$200-US$400 but that’s ignoring the type and capacity of the iPad, the features it comes with, and the cost of transportation and taxes. On the Apple website you find that they range from US$499 to US$929 and that’s without taxes, the Apple protection plan (insurance, kind-of), and even apps that one might want to buy to use on the iPad. Microsoft Office for Mac, for instance, costs US$219.95 (again, without taxes and transport!).

Never mind that if you are buying a personal iPad you somehow find ways of getting it from wherever into your hands at the cheapest possible cost or, if you are like me, you just keep using the first iPad you ever owned since not much changes with these things anyway and once you’ve worked out the best use for all your gadgets, efficiency occurs on its own:

My iPad 1
My iPad 1: Perfect for watching stuff like Shark Tank and more, anywhere in the world!

b) the fact that, seriously, we (Ugandan tax-payers) should be spending money on much more seriously needed, developmental matters: and I’m not talking about sanitary pads for high school girls in rural areas who miss school for one week out of every month due to lack of these simple items – we could provide for those girls by cutting on many other MPs costs before getting to iPads. And of course the US$377,000 is far less than the Ushs36billion spent on that parking lot (have I mentioned that already?), which a Parliamentary spokesperson referred to as “critical”.

“This is a modern state-of-the-art facility, the first of its kind in Uganda. It is not a wastage of funds. When plans for this project were being drawn, the Parliamentary Commission assumed as it ideally should be, that all Members of Parliament attending Plenary would be parked at Parliament, which is at times the case…” wrote the senior information officer in October.

Of course the general public, consisting of mostly ordinary mortals with an abnormally simple perspective on life, does not appreciate the importance of such matters, and by this time had forgotten that just months before stories had abounded about absenteeism in the Ugandan Parliament – which was most probably caused by a lack of parking space. The lack of parking space could be blamed on our (tax-payers) giving the MPs cars in the first place but let’s not be mean.

The list of what other, much more important things we could spend our money on could very well be written by the MPs themselves, on our behalf of course.

c) MPs are surely paid well-enough already that they can afford their own bloody iPads, especially in a land where girls can’t bloody afford (I wouldn’t dare interchange words here) sanitary pads! This point does not need belabouring.

So, I say, the iPads have been distributed and we should get over ourselves. These MPs are OUR representatives. WE send them to the House by choosing them ourselves. To continue complaining and agonising about the cost of the iPads and pointing out all of the above while trying to appeal to some sense of shame or piety is to waste another precious resource – time.

Image Thanks for this.

Plus, in many ways it would just be hypocrisy because we all know that placed in the shoes of the MPs we would also drive back from the village to collect our ‘free’ iPad. In fact, many of us in private business are toting the newest Samsung Galaxy and iPhone on offer courtesy of money that could otherwise be shareholder profits if allocated differently…

And again, these damn iPads only cost US$1,000! How about raising a furore over the cost of all these four-wheel-drive cars that go for fifty (50) times that and which is spent every five years?

Does anyone know about the fuel costs of MPs – Ushs43million a year (that was in 2011, by the way)?

As Kinkinzi East MP and Parliamentary Commissioner Chris Baryomunsi said last year when asked about the denied teachers’ pay rises vis-a-vis the increase in MP fuel allowances and other costs, “The issue of teachers’ pay should not be mixed with MPs’ facilitation because the two are very different yet they are both very important.” 

So, ignore the spilt milk; the glass wasn’t knocked over by an idiotically wasteful child or a clumsy housegirl somewhere; and it’s still right there, you are hungry and malnourished so …

Here are a few ways of licking it up, or making good of a bad situation:

1. Make all MPs configure their ‘Find My iPad’ settings so that their constituents can locate them during the hours that they are supposed to be in Parliament. Since there is now a lot of parking space…you get the idea?

Find My MP

2. Better still, I know youngsters who can come up with an app called ‘Find My MP’ which will zero in on the exact location of your MP provided they have their iPad on them at any one time.

3. But of course, an MP might leave his iPad in Parliament and then go off to Kinshasa for some specialised treatment (which brings me to a one Tony Nsubuga Kipoi – what the hell with this guy?! Did he say both this and this and why is he always in so much trouble and who are the people of Bubulo West who vote for such a man?! More importantly, where is his iPad right now?)

As I was saying, an MP might leave his iPad behind so that you think he is in the House when you do a ‘Find My MP or iPad’, so if the app shows that (s)he is in Parliament, immediately send them an email. Every MP has an email address and they are all listed here.

Send your MP an email and because they have an iPad, surely they should respond almost to the minute.

4. A clever MP will avoid having to receive and respond to numerous emails the entire afternoon, and will instead open a Twitter account and use the iPad to tweet proceedings as they roll out. That way, the MP can even take views from constituents LIVE as debates take place!

5. This will be fantastic especially during the newly-introduced Prime Minister’s Questions segment, because we will now be in a position to help Parliamentarians avoid asking inane questions such as “How old is President Museveni?” and instead furnish our MPs with questions that address REAL issues.

6. Now, with this new technology in their hands, perhaps MPs won’t find themselves delaying with the delivery of work as has happened all too frequently in the past. If anything, they will be much, much more clever. YOUR role in this is to send them as many links to intelligent material as possible so that they are rendered much, much more useful and far less ignorant than they sometimes may appear to be if you only read about them in some of our newspapers or watch local TV.

There are many more ways of making good of this iPad situation than I can singularly come up with, so please feel free to suggest more – send them to your MP or to the Speaker, or to the person in charge of training MPs on the use of iPads, which was provided for in the bidding document “under item 20; that ICT officers’ training “should include travel subsistence and per diem (of the officers) at Parliament of Uganda rates.”

Of course if YOU don’t remember who trained YOU on how to use your iPad, TYS – YOU are clearly not a Member of Parliament in Uganda.