non-Ugandans are out here loving uganda more than YOU


A while back I spotted a little boy vending colourful cloth rucksacks and shoulder bags in the environs of Kkungu, in Kira District and I bought one up with glee. I used it so hard that it got stolen at the Village Mall in Bugolobi but not before I had spread the word about his grandmother Rose Nakitto, who makes the bags (she was on 0777 460 854).

In the same breath I mentioned another discovery – a little shop called Ricci Everyday operating out of Prunes Cafe on Wampewo Avenue.

Ricci Everyday sells the same type of Kitenge or ‘African cloth’ bags of varying styles and quality levels, at vastly different prices. Nakitto’s were going for about Ushs35,000 a bag while Ricci Everyday sold theirs ranging from Ushs200,000 to more than Ushs1million!

Two weeks ago I chanced upon an article online about Ricci Everyday in Japan, and my heart applauded them. This outfit had taken Uganda to the first world whole sale and was bringing money here to pay the people, presumably women, who do the actual work stitching the bags!

And they’ve been doing so for YEARS! In 2016 they exhibited these Ugandan-made bags at a premier fashion show in London and have done so consistently ever since.

Three weeks ago the Ricci Everyday proprieter, Chizu Nakamoto, was featured in the Business section of The Japan Times in a story titled, “Startup’s colorful Ugandan bags take off in Japan, lifting the women who make them”. In Japan the popular Akello bag goes for about US$93 – and the entire range is doing extremely well.

I haven’t yet stopped Chizu or her mother, Ritsue, to thank them for the great work they are doing for this country. Even when I do, my word of appreciation won’t be as valuable as a medal from a national authority or some big incentive from the Uganda Export Promotion Board, Uganda Investment Authority or one of our Ministries of Trade, Investment and so on and so forth.

I was full of wist over this many days later when an email came to me promoting a Mother’s Day online purchase.

The day I signed up for updates from ‘Rose & Fitzgerald (Est. 2013)’ has long faded out of my memory, so when I saw their offer I had to stop and think.

“Win the Ultimate Mother’s Day Ethical Gift Pack – valued at more than US$1,000!” read the banner.

I love my mother more than US$1,000 but I don’t normally have that amount of money on hand to prove the point, so who were these Rose & Fitzgerald who believed this kind of email warranted an exclamation mark?

Besides, I wondered, what kind of “Ethical Gift Pack” was this and how did it link to my beloved mother?

I read the email further, past the pretty images, and one word stood out: “Mugave”. One of the gifts was described as a “Mugave Geometric Bottle Stopper from Rose & Fitzgerald”.

This isn’t the one, but I found that they have made and sold many other such pieces in the years they have been in business:

Rose-Fitz-Design-02
Photo from: http://www.coolhunting.com/design/uganda-rose-fitzgerald-design

Those two are not Ugandan names but it was difficult to imagine that Mugave was a word in common use outside of Uganda.

So I headed to their base site and found that their main outfit is called ‘Thirty One Bits’ (www.31bits.com), offering many nice-looking items that I couldn’t recognise from my many years in Uganda.

So I went to read their story under ‘About Us’.

These three white women, from the photograph, included one Kallie Dovel who came to Uganda for a bit as a university student and went back with stories that blew her friends away.

“She met women who grew up in a war and had nothing. They were single moms with no education and no job, and they were our age. OUR AGE. Our lives couldn’t look more different,” they write.

And then, they continue writing with a perspective totally lacking among US – the Ugandans who live right here with and amongst our fellow Ugandans:

“The women may not have had an education, but their skills and resourcefulness were astounding. They were making incredible jewelry out of old posters. Kallie brought a box of jewelry back, and we fell in love instantly!”

These were Caucasian women from America who met Acholi women in Gulu and created an enterprise.

They sold out within a short time and voila! There a business was born selling small pieces of jewelry and decor at pops of anywhere from US$15 upwards of US$80.

The girls came to Uganda and spent time with six ladies developing products and living together in their homes as they built up Thirty One Bits. Today, they are in “hundreds of stores across the United States” and have endorsements from names such as Sophia Bush, Candace Cameron Bure, Jessica Alba, and magazines like Forbes, Harper’s Bazaar and Elle.

PLUS, they built an entrepreneurship training element into their business so that the ladies creating these jewelry and art pieces don’t rely on just being suppliers, but develop their own businesses.

The girls of Thirty One Bits have graduated 100 artisans over five years, says their website, who have started additional businesses doing poultry, tailoring, agriculture and “One woman even opened her very own restaurant, called none other than ’31 Bits’!”

Not only that – using this experience they found themselves doing the same in Indonesia (which is why I couldn’t recognise many of the items on their online store).

That Indonesia bit is what worries me now. If we don’t have more and more Chizu Nakamoto’s and Kallie Dovel’s coming in from Japan and the United States to discover highly creative and hard working women in Uganda like Rose Nakitto and those unnamed jewelry designers in Northern Uganda, are we ever going to have more superb, high quality products than the Indonesians filling up shelves in foreign countries?

Besides that, how many of us in our twenties (that’s how old Chizu and Kallie were when they started) and thirties and forties are out there creating businesses like this or, at the very least, supporting them by buying their products?

Sadly, not enough to change an entire economy just yet; even more sadly, so few that the Nakamoto’s and Dovel’s will deservedly continue standing out. Thankfully, they do so while putting quality Ugandan products on international shelves to great acclaim, and for that they will be greatly applauded.

good Ugandans are orderly…can be more orderly and organised


SOME people consider the compulsion to keep things orderly to be a personal disorder and they use that connotation to intimidate people within our society who insist on having things done properly.

Wikipedia confirms this by saying of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), “In English, the phrase obsessive–compulsive is often used in an informal manner unrelated to OCD to describe someone who is excessively meticulous, perfectionistic, absorbed, or otherwise fixated.”

OCD from buzzfeed.jpg
Photo from buzzfeed.com

I don’t encourage the intimidation and often find reasons to highlight the value of ordering things a certain way. My children now being old enough to get sent to my wallet, for instance, approach it with repeated warnings that the privilege will be withdrawn if they don’t order the notes therein following the pre-set rules.

Whereas we are used to seeing that predilection for disorder in ordinary places, it is particularly disturbing when it shows up where people are educated and carrying out activities for which they are paid serious money.

For instance, when the person in a shop is handing me back my change (or balance) and places the notes in any order facing different directions and upside down and with some of them folded two ways, one folded three ways and the fourth with an ear bit bent back, I show little surprise.

The habit I have of then slowly making a show of unfolding and flattening the notes, then re-organising them so they are in order from the largest to the smallest note could be considered to be “Passive Aggressiveness” but I take it to be a brief practical demonstration or orderliness the shop attendant might benefit from.

There are other instances where I can’t do this because it is impractical and because I freeze up in horror – like when a financial institution or an educational one pays tens of millions of shillings for newspaper advertising to publish lists of names and numbers.

I share this pet peeve with, among others, Paul Bagyenda, an ICT Guru with a penchant for orderliness that he hides from the general public. There was a time when we’d act as a support group for each other on the days such publications interfered with an otherwise good tropical day in the sun, because he is as avid a reader as I am.

We once called up a Kampala bank that kept doing this – publishing pages upon pages of names arranged in no specific manner even though they had the option of alphabetically using Surnames (most logical), Forenames (harder but do-able), or numerically using Account Numbers (well…).

Our wrath once got directed to another financial institution for listing defaulters alphabetically by district, but then using some randomly illogical method underneath the district title – not even attempting to list them using an ascending or descending order based on the amount by which they had defaulted.

This week I found a lesson in patience when I experienced first-hand in person the time-wasting result of this lack of orderliness.

Back in November last year I made a decision to quit using the Gaz petrol station nearest to my home because the attendants refused to discourage people from driving in using the ‘Out’ side of the station – which always caused exit angst when one wanted to drive out having entered through the ‘In’ side in an orderly manner.

Gaz
The Gaz at Seeta – taken from http://www.nileenergy.co.ug

Worse, they had no problem using the first pump when a single car drove in, even though that blocked access to the second pump ahead – causing delays in the fueling process as one had to wait while two pumps with pump attendants in front of you stood idle.

By the time I quit I had signed up for their loyalty card service using a phone app and was accumulating points as I awaited the card itself. So for months now I’ve been getting notification messages that my card was ready for pick-up but was too pre-occupied and disinterested.

Until I had ten minutes to spare this week and had a Christian urge to forgive and forget.

I was asked to park my car and go into the office for a few minutes to sign for my card, which was fair enough so I complied knowing I would be telling a manager that day about how to improve their service.

The young man in the office had clearly had a long day and didn’t mind making this obvious to me but I kept my cool and watched as he commandeered a lackey to sift through a box of plastic cards wrapped up in bundles of 200 each.

At the start of this process I hoped to myself that these were thousands of people who had also quit the station on the same premises or principles as I had.

After many minutes of observing the process my optimism gave way to despair. They had identified my card number using the details I gave them and now needed to physically go through each stack of cards to find the individual one assigned to me.

A third person had been added to the list and, because the office was too small to hold many more people than the four of us and six other people doing similarly tiresome paper-laden tasks, nobody else could join the assignment.

To make matters worse, the fellows were ripping the rubber bands off the stacks, shuffling through the cards to identify my number, and then putting the rubber band back and placing the stack in another box – without placing the cards in better order, following their numbering.

“They are all mixed!” complained the manager, which the other two fellows echoed verbatim.

“They are all mixed!” they said.

I could believe that, watching them mixing the cards up even further as they sought my single card, and had to take matters into my own hands.

Sifting quickly through two batches of cards told me the numbering sequence of each batch of 200 within two minutes and I tested two others to confirm it, then simply checked the top card in two other batches to find the one that most probably held my own.

I found it.

The manager was somewhat astonished, because at first he had watched me and seemed to roll his eyes at how I was too lazy to go through each and every card in each batch I had held up.

By that time I didn’t feel generous enough to launch into a session of lugezi-gezi and just signed documents in a couple of places but insisted on walking him out to the forecourt to explain the reason I had left the station in November last year – hoping that at least that simple level of orderliness would one day be enforced.

He politely appreciated my issue, and promised to effect change. Right there and then, the fellow who should have taken up my first fuel purchase using the loyalty card attempted to exhibit his deep-seated disorganisation but the manager was on hand to set him right.

For the next five minutes, at least, I observed utmost organisation at play, and I kept hope alive.

One day, we will all be organised, orderly and we will all stop thinking that it is a disorder. ‘We’ being Good Ugandans!

what 2018 will be in Uganda


Meme New Year 2018

IN talking about what to expect in 2018, let’s start from the bottom and go upwards, since Age has proven to be such a factor in Uganda during 2017, what with the Age Limit debates dominating everything we’ve seen and talked about in all settings for the last so many weeks.

I know for sure that in 2018 we will see a record number of births in Uganda because this appears to have been the trend that has over the years led to our population being so generally youthful.

It’s going to be worse this year because not only do we have more educated people filling the space within our borders, but the doctors are now being paid much more money than before, and the nurses and midwives have also brokered a good salary deal for themselves.

Using simple logic, that means they will work much, much harder at ensuring that people stay alive from the time they are born till the time they really have to die. 

Newborn infants will therefore live till their old age, ill-raised toddlers will not die due to the carelessness of their ignorant parents who let them cross the road willy-nilly or chew on dry cells imported from China; teenagers won’t be expiring due to drug abuse because there will be doctors on hand to plunge syringes into their chests…

The list goes on and on – just like the lives of many more of the little babies that will be born this year. 

Besides doctors being motivated by increased salaries, the science also bears this thought out: infant mortality dropped from 54 per 1,000 newborn children in 2011 to 43 in 2016. Imagine that! In 2018 we might be below 30!

The clever people will have already realised this and invested in stuff that will take advantage of the existence of so many young people – besides big ticket items like electricity out of massive dams – ranging from more schools to more toy imports and local toy manufacturing.

2018 is going to be the year of all manner of things that our parents – those of us old enough to actually be reading this article – would never have dreamed of.

When you speak with primary school children, for instance, and ask them what they want to be when they grow up, they will say stuff like: “NeuroAtomic Scientist” and “Robotologist” and “Life Tone Adjuster”.

Those jobs will not be in actual existence yet, but the kids will have their sights on them and so will the academicians. See, the future is already here, we are being told, and it will not require lawyers and doctors and people with other regular jobs.

A colleague of mine told me how her multinational employer (soft drink beverages) had this year started to do away with their big, global Audit Firm because of the concept of big data and computer-generated robotic analytics.

Because the computers of today are so clever, apparently, they only need to have more information fed into them and they will think and analyse just like a human being does but in the millionth of time we do.

The Audit Firm is flabbergasted right now but considering that in the developed world supermarkets are employing robots to carry shopping and manage the payment tills, think how many jobs we will have left soon.

Of course, we don’t have that problem in such a big way yet but technology is wiping out some of our regular jobs – “Nanti Google yajja!” (“Google came, so…”) is already pushing out jobs that used to be so knowledge based that some people were gods – Doctors, Lawyers, Economists…

Today before you take the Doctor’s word for it from Abim to Zombo, everyone will have first done a quick google to check the symptoms, making the conversation with the doctor a kind-of “I dare you to get this right” guessing game.

This lugezi gezi will increase almost tenfold in 2018, since we will have more smartphones in circulation and bundles (properly pronounced ‘bandwidth’) will be much, much cheaper and easier to access – not to mention the number of apps that are going to continually be rolled out by thousands of innovative ICT-nurtured youth. 

We ordinary mortals can only imagine the irritation by comparing it to the times we are doing homework with the children and trying not to google the right answers, only for the whippersnappers to challenge us – having googled the stuff themselves earlier in the day!

But we won’t break out into violent parenting methods, thank God. There are enough threats of violence around us without our adding to the pile – from the United States to North Korea and even some regional sabre rattling over here.

Luckily, none of these will come to fruition – most of 2018 will be like that time Kiiza Besigye and Kale Kayihura shook hands and smiled at each other just weeks after one of them had been let out of a police cell.

Speaking of politicians, after all this excitement of #Togikwatako we will have at least one surprise in 2018 – a young (REALLY YOUNG) politician with charisma, eloquence, poise and even serious local backing, stepping forward to declare his (not her) interest in the Presidential seat.

The name and identity of the candidate won’t be as much of a surprise as the fact that he (or she) puts themselves forward – and I am not talking about any popular musician here!

The youthfulness of the candidate is to be expected, what with our demographics, and we will then have to address ourselves to any other factors that come into play with these young new people.

That youthful politician will talk about cryptocurrencies as if they are about to be introduced in Amolatar and Isingiro, but again that will not surprise us either.

See, in 2018 there will be more cryptocurrency-genic people living and working outside of Kampala. One major advantage of all the internet connectivity we are seeing these days is the ability it gives people to work from anywhere they please.

Rather than live and work in Kampala, more young and upcoming professionals are going to move out of the capital city to take up residence in rural settings with less stress.

Because Kampala can cause you to have a nervous breakdown. All the traffic, bad driving, erratic road works and phone snatching roadside thieves will push many impatient and imaginative young people to take up cheaper accommodation well outside of the city and even Wakiso.

These young people won’t be employed by the big multinational companies – small and medium scale companies are going to be as flexible as their larger cousins, providing the internet access for their younger staff to be able to perform money-earning tasks from remote districts.

Some of these youngsters, unfortunately, will be the ones responsible for some high level crime as seen on TV. Not corruption related crime as such – that will still be in plenty since as a people and a society we have gone down that path quite consistently for many years now – but that terrible crime that makes us wince when we see it on TV.

The kidnappings we are going to deal with this year, and serial killers, and blackmailers are going to be much, much more serious than what we have talked about in 2017 – mostly in ignorance.

Now that we are binge-watching crime thrillers by way of pirated DVDs and subscribing to pay TV packages that are cheaper than the price of a litre of milk daily, there are going to be many more twisted criminal minds out within these borders. It will not be pretty.

Provided we don’t grow the type of gun culture that countries like the United States has developed, we will be fine. 

See, we will continue to be optimistic during 2018 and we will continue chant things like “Hakuna Mchezo” and “Buy Uganda, Build Uganda”.  We MUST.

I know – a lot of this sounds like a dream. 

But we should dream – provided we spend less time sleeping in order to have those dreams, and more time actually putting them into practice.

stop living a life of selfish mediocrity


THIS week I caught an interview on the radio in which an Iranian-born Professor and defender of human rights used a phrase that hit me right in the gut when it landed.

I knew both words in that phrase and have used them before, but the power of the combination of those word  s was stronger than most others I encounter on a normal day.

The interviewee told his life story and explained how he got from being a fairly comfortable young immigrant in Canada to pursuing a life fighting for the rights of people suffering as a result of war crimes.

He was hanging out with his young adult peers doing the cosmopolitan things that such people do, but kept hearing about people back home in Iran being persecuted and worse.

The day he heard that one of his close childhood friends had been arrested, jailed, tortured and then executed for writing a poem that was critical of the government, he made a realisation.

“I was living a life of Selfish Mediocrity,” he told his interviewer.

Selfish Mediocrity.

He was selfishly enjoying a life of mediocrity yet his peers back in Iran were risking their lives to make life right for millions of others.

That was how he quit a life of chilling and made it to a most prestigious law school in the United States and then went into Human Rights Law rather than a large, high-paying law firm and a comfortable future.

He has spent years since working in war zones and facing up to difficult people such as the European warlords in Bosnia.

Selfish Mediocrity.

That’s a phrase that’s been in existence somewhere in my mind but that I couldn’t coin even though it tickles me daily.

Just last week I found myself in Bwaise and Kyebando visiting some projects run by and for youth and women there, and making comparisons that were uncomfortable at some level.

In one of the projects I met a young man who runs a Community Based Organisation and had to ask him at one point in his little, cramped office, why he was doing that particular job with his education tucked away in his mind.

Ronald Kavuma gave me the right answer in the right order – he grew up there and wanted to help change Bwaise, and he needed to earn a living even if the money wasn’t really great.

I applauded him and thanked him after he had shown us round the projects – where they teach Bwaise youth skills like tailoring and craft-making, and collect recyclable waste, and in which they run a savings programme that helps the youth set up their own small businesses besides learning financial skills.

After that we went to Kyebando and met some other hard working young Ugandans walking around in dusty and muddy and sludgy environs.

These young people, most of them with university degrees, were elbow deep into various substances and materials but all focused on imparting skills to their country mates from less fortunate backgrounds.

One group was learning how to make sandals, another how to bake cakes using sand-heated charcoal ovens, and a third how to make oven and stove briquettes out of organic materials and clay.

They all said the same thing about their calling, and they were serious about it. There was no parking lot with nice, sleek cars nearby and the air conditioning was all natural.

This were their day jobs – what they had chosen to do for a living in their most productive and aspirational years.

They presented a challenge for many of us out here who are living a life of mediocrity and not doing much to change the lives of the less fortunate in our society.

And in their settings most of what they consume and utilise is local material, meaning that even their meagre spending goes straight to another Ugandan – whereas the well-heeled in this society continue to consume and utilise mostly imported products and send resources right past those in this community called Uganda that need it, and to other lands.

Selfish Mediocrity. That phrase will be on my mind for a while.

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


IMG_6470
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.

IMG_6323
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!