keep an eye on exceptional Ugandans made in Uganda – and bring them back if they’re away

Photo by James M. Dobson for the Garden City Telegram - Isaya Kisekka
Photo by James M. Dobson for the Garden City Telegram – Isaya Kisekka
AT THE end of the first day of presidential election nominations this week I caught up with my emails and found a notification with a link to this article titled, “Ugandan engineer works to save Kansas aquifer”.
I could understand the words well but the day had been long so I took a while to unravel the confusion; the service that sent me this link normally updates me about white Americans, Australians and Britons saving Ugandan villages with shoes, compassion, brassieres, and very many other such items.
For the very same service to suddenly be declaring that a Ugandan was out there “saving” Kansas was odd – unless Kansas was short for Kansanga.
But it turned out to be a true story; a chap called Isaya Kisekka was working at Garden City, the story read, as an irrigation engineer for the Kansas State University Research and Extension’s Southwest Experiment Station.
Not Garden City in Kampala, Garden City in Kansas, the United States of America.
The entire story is a good, refreshingly surprising read. Kisekka studied agricultural engineering at Makerere University, having arrived at the course without the combination of professional career guidance and personal passion that normally helps people fashion paths to successful, enjoyable careers.
But he liked the course and eventually worked with a private company and also the Ugandan government. It was as a government employee that he opened his mind and eventually pursued further studies well enough to get employed in the United States and achieve such veritable mention online.
But now, I think it is important that Uganda keeps tabs on this guy (and others like him).
It is obvious right now that Uganda needs engineers of his kind to channel El Nino to stem the effects of drought in places like Karamoja.
But more long-term, people like Kisekka should be appointed inspirational ambassadors for Uganda to both Ugandans and the rest of the world. All government employees should strive to be as good as Kisekka at what they do, not so they get jobs in the United States, but so that they are good enough to do so.
The Kisekka’s of this world should be used to inspire other Ugandans to realise that even if you do study and live and work in Uganda, moreover in a government job, you can be good enough to stand out for doing your job well even without being submitted for an Award or a Medal.
The young man studied in Kampala and was good enough to go and work in the United States NOT doing kyeyo – that’s the type of image our children need to see.
Plus, the government needs to get such fellows back into employment over here, to sort out the aforementioned link between El Nino and droughts elsewhere.
Rather than continue being the butt of internet memes and snide remarks by people wishing to take over the management of the country, this government should attract all the efficient, useful and committed people like Kisekka into its employ and retain them there so that they save Ugandans rather than Americans.
In the article about him, he said a number of significant things, but one of my favourite quotes was:
“If you have opportunity, it’s up to you to work hard and use those opportunities. Education for me was very important. A lot of people without work look to America as this idea that you can make it regardless of your background if you just take the opportunity.”
Right now, today, we have the opportunity to be like Kisekka, to make our children follow the path Kisekka followed, to employ people like Kisekka, and to attract the Kisekka’s back to Uganda to save Ugandans rather than leave them in America saving Americans while Americans come here to save Ugandans.

Farewell, Spain, we are now very much both World Cup-less even though #SpainIsNotUganda

Dear Spain,

No hard feelings, right? If there are any, then tough. We are not the ones who scored those goals or failed to stop them going into the nets.

But at least you guys have photos with the World Cup in your cabinet, so kudos (clap, clap).

And since there must be space in your album, here are a few more photos to throw into the mix – kind of like making a Spanish Omelette…speaking of which:

Spanish Omelette

But if you’re not that hungry, then perhaps you can eat Ugandan (I sense a sneer on the face of the Spanish Prime Minister, but he would be pleasantly surprised after the first bite into this):

Spanish Rolex

He’d look a lot less grumpy after one of these, I’m sure; and hopefully he’ll share it with Vicente, del Bosque, who as he reads this blog must be thinking:

del Bosque & Rajoy


He probably didn’t get audience with the Prime Minister earlier otherwise like many other Spaniards:

Just Apologise


Anyway, last night we watched the game on channels such as UBC.



It wasn’t an easy game at all for our ‘brothers’ and we felt genuinely sorry even though we ribbed them to no end…all unnecessary if Rajoy had only apologised as frequently advised from all corners.

Mama Fiina

We talked about a lot while watching the game, but kept a certain focus running.



And also made it clear where we stood:

Spain Supporter...Not


So the inevitable happened, for reasons that had nothing to do with #SpainIsNotUganda – it was all practical:


Before long:

Waiting for Casillas



The options began to open up:

Visa Application

Either way, there was just one option left (besides the apology for saying #SpainIsNotUganda):





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

the daily dose of a certain type of chap

There is a lot to report under this category, but I will stick with the unusual yet common one; the one that stood out more than the rest, and who is very unlikely to ever interact with me, personally, again.

He was in Bunamwaya, perched atop his boda-boda and either a: doing absolutely nothing or; b) mentally solving calculus equations or; c) using his brain for anything in between a) and b).

I was a little lost, trying to get to one Dr. Mutesasira’s residence, and had been given the instruction: “Ask any boda-boda man – they all know the way.”

This fellow was, to all intents and purposes, a boda-boda man. He was sitting on a boda-boda. The boda-boda was at a ‘siteegi‘ (aka stage). I slowed down as I approached, wore that face of uncertainty coupled with politeness that we have to wear when seeking this type of help.

Boda?” I asked, having slowed to a complete halt right in front of him.


Oli wa wano? Are you from here?”


Phew! Problem solved. I’d be at my destination shortly and out in time for my next meeting.

In Luganda, I continued:

‘Can you direct me? Do you know where Dr. Mutesasira’s place is?’


That one word, and the tone of voice he used, was confirmation enough that he did not.

But he went on anyway, “Perhaps…(Oba…)”

And he didn’t do that thing that we sometimes do of pretending to think about it, or trying to recall the directions. He just didn’t know – but that was not going to stop him trying to ‘help’.

And this is where I gave him his label.

“I think I have heard his name,” the fellow began.

“But do you know him? Do you know where he lives?”

“Hah. Maybe I know him by another name. If I see him I might find that I know him.”

We looked at each other for a moment as I hoped that what I was thinking at that time would be sinking into his mind.

Did he: a) think I was driving around trying to establish whether people on boda-bodas generally knew a Dr. Mutesasira? b) expect me to begin suggesting other names by which he might know Dr. Mutesasira, and if b) then c) how would I know which name he would know Dr. Mutesasira by? How long did he think we had to spend playing that particular guessing game? And; d) did he expect me to whip out photos of this Dr. Mutesasira so he identifies him, or to arrange a mini-identification parade?

I took my dose in full measure, thanked him and drove on.

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.