thanking one eva for representing Uganda so well in China – and calling on all Ugandans to wear that flag well


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The Selfie with one Yang in Beijing 

I APPLAUD a young Ugandan lady called Eva, whose second name I do not know and whose face I have never seen. All I know is that she is female, a Ugandan, and once lived in Beijing while studying something.

She now lives and works in Uganda at a location I will not reveal because I am not absolutely certain of it and have not secured her permission to do so – because I do not have her contact details.

Because she was a good Ugandan during her time in China, she saved me quite some difficulty last week by way of happenstance.

I normally go about on my travels wearing t-shirts boldly emblazoned with the Uganda flag for a number of reasons; top on the list is that this gives me an opportunity to start up a conversation about Uganda in which I get to stress the many good bits of my country.

It never fails, and during five days of travel last week I enjoyed many opportunities ranging from the hilarious to the deeply earnest.

There was the morning I was walking out of the breakfast room and a New Zealander pointed at me and shouted, “Hey! Uganda!”

He had me in a tight embrace before I could overcome my alarm, and standing together arm over shoulder he explained his excitement at seeing my tshirt with the Uganda flag right across the front.

“I am the Honorary Consul of Uganda to New Zealand!”

The odds were not high. He doesn’t spend all his time in Beijing so the opportunity to discuss Uganda with a Ugandan on a random morning in a country that was not New Zealand could not be allowed to go by.

Basil J. Morrison had many good things to say, of course, and asked about a few of his friends back home. Later in the day, atop the Great Wall of China, I bumped into Basil J. Morrison again – and with the same excitement as at breakfast, he spotted me easily in the crowd because of that t-shirt and his affinity for the Ugandan flag.

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The Selfie with Basil J. Morrison

The one involving Eva, however, was the most surprisingly pleasant.

On our way back out of the country we got a one-hour window between official events to swing by a shopping plaza. Just one hour, mind, and nothing more – including the time it took to disembark, get a meal, dislodge from the group and fight off the eager shop attendants all saying, “I give-o you good price-o, my brother! Come-o here!” The Chinese people seeking to give me merchandise in exchange for currency were ready to have me as their sibling, such is the pull of commerce in Beijing.

In the melee, one of my colleagues went off with my phone power bank. My phone being down to 2% meant I would be marooned if plans changed and nobody could reach me by phone to re-direct me to a different rendezvous point – a contingency we had agreed had to be avoided at all costs, and against which we had prepared by securing Chinese-registered SIMs.

It was on the top floor of the Plaza, at the food court, that I came across Eva’s name. Opting to pick up a quick meal to walk and eat with back to the rendezvous, I went to the food court and placed an order with the fellow there.

After taking my order, he pointed at the flag on my t-shirt and said quite confidently: “Uganda!”

I was surprised.

Some minutes before that another fellow had pointed at the very same flag and said, “Ethiopia?” I shook my head and told him, “No. Try again?”

And he went, “Ummmm…” so I said, “Read this!” pointing at the word under the flag that said ‘UGANDA’.

“Ghana?” he went, till I made him actually read it properly (vehemence without violence) and then found myself in a farcical conversation in which a Chinese man claimed all Africans looked the same and a Ugandan man informed him that all Asians looked the same, and so on and so forth till he succumbed.

Back to the food court, I later learnt the young man who so clearly identified the flag was called Yang and is from Mongolia. When I asked how he knew the Ugandan flag so well he said, “I have friend in Uganda.”

Impressed but short on time, I sent him off to complete my food purchase and picked up the conversation when he returned. His friend was Eva – and he proved it by showing me his WhatsApp conversation with her (‘Eva@Uganda’). The conversation was recent (I did NOT read the messages though!).

Sensing a window of opportunity, I asked him if he could charge my phone and he very readily said, “Yes! iPhone? I have.”

When the food arrived, I stuck around a little bit to give the phone time to charge up a bit, and eventually he joined me clearly seeking more Ugandan contact.

I asked him if Eva had been his girlfriend and he unabashedly said she wasn’t, just a good friend. They met when she was in Beijing and she was kind, helpful and generally a good friend.

“Ugandans are good people,” Yang said, and sat down with me for part of my meal, disrupting my novel-reading window somewhat and even learning a new english word (“ludicrous”) out of the first page of my Bill Bryson.

The 20% battery charge Yang gave me, because of the kindness of Eva’s gentle Ugandan heart in Beijing, went a long way in ensuring the rest of my journey went according to plan. Eva’s being a good Ugandan also made me proud to be a Ugandan wearing the Ugandan flag out in public thousands of miles away from home, and for that, I applaud her and all people like her!

See, in the early days of this t-shirt policy the first response I received was, “Idi Amin!” proclaimed proudly by people emulating half-wits recovering from a decade-long coma and doing a form of cognitive stimulation test where they had to respond to pictures. Later, the responses always followed a political path that somehow still led back to Idi Amin.

Last week, thanks to people like Eva and other good Ugandans out there, I spent five days going through Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, and in Beijing, China, and back, and not once was Idi Amin mentioned.

Even the people who couldn’t sustain a conversation in English had a way about it – like the fellow who pointed and proclaimed, “Uganda!” and responded to my, “Yeah! Beautiful country. Have you visited?” with “Kampala.”

“Er…so have you visited?” I asked, hoping this was a lead into a conversation as the lift doors opened.

It wasn’t. He pointed at himself, in his indeterminate but well-stitched suit and tie, and said, “Algeria!”

I smiled widely, knowing he didn’t have the English for this, and said, “Yeah, but we have better climate, better hospitality, and much better t-shirts! Come and visit Uganda!”

I hope when the Algerian googles the phrases he finds the last bit stands out: “Come and visit Uganda!”

Thank you, Eva!

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.

African_Children

 

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.

Spanner

 

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:

Casillas

Before long:

Waiting for Casillas

 

Taxi

The options began to open up:

Visa Application

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

KEEP CALM

Ka-Jambo

 

 

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.

“Eeeeh!”

Oli wa wano? Are you from here?”

“Yye!”

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?’

‘Hah!’

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.