young Ugandans are doing great things out there


ON the day of the ‘Expats In Uganda’ cocktail issuing the ‘Amateur Photography Awards 2016’, the young man in charge of marketing GEMS Cambridge International School asked me, “How come you are here?”
I wasn’t sure whether he was asking me because he knew my discomfort with evening events away from my headquarters or whether I was inappropriately present since I was neither an expatriate nor an award-deserving amateur photographer.
At that very point he was interrupting my silent admiration for the young lady behind the little booklet ‘Expats In Uganda’ and http://ugandaexpatsguide.com, who was making her remarks at the podium. The first time I met her, I honestly believed she was doing work at a clerical level but quizzed her with caution that I thanked God for when she revealed all.
Grace Atuhaire, young as she was, was walking the streets and approaching people with courage to get her project underway and seemed to be doing quite well at it by the time we met.
So I told the gentleman from GEMS, Solomon Rachkara, why I was at the event: I enjoy seeing young Ugandans doing great things with a passion – whether they succeed at it or not. Grace has succeeded so far, and with her energy and passion she is bound to go much further.
As we were chatting, another young fellow joined us at my earlier behest. This young fellow is one of my most hardworking cousins and we had unsuccessfully been trying to meet for weeks over an idea he had.
Hours later, we were eating roadside chicken (heated up a little extra to avoid anatomical interferences to our discussion) and reflecting on how surprised the chicken roaster was when we gave him a tip of Ushs2,000. The tip was because the chicken roaster had graciously accepted our demand for extra heat and also because he didn’t have change and the process of finding it would have taken more time than the value of Ushs2,000 when compared to what we needed to discuss.
We talked over many things that night and I marvelled, again, at how enterprising young Ugandans are. This cousin of mine, Arthur Luwuge, had just returned from a self-funded trip to Kigali where he had gone to attend a launch event and see that city he had heard so much about.
Hearing that he had taken official leave from work and drawn money from his bank for such a trip was different from what I normally hear about urban young people and their proclivity for spending money on partying and retail shopping. More astonishing for me, though, were the details of the event he had gone to attend.
I had heard and read a little about the Kigali Heights project and was impressed by the images and details around it, but this was the first I was hearing that there was a Ugandan involved. One of the magazine reports read, “Kigali Heights is the result of a dream born in 2010 to build a state of the art retail and office development in the heart of Africa. Denis Karera, Managing Director of Kigali Heights Development Company, and partner Michael Idusso, knew where they could turn this dream into reality.”
Arthur told me how many years ago Michael kept talking about such big projects and tried to find a way of implementing them here in Kampala City. The closed-mindedness of certain people in positions of authority made it difficult, and one thing led to another till Arthur was sitting at the launch and watching his age mate taking the President of the country round the US$36million facility.
Arthur had gone there for inspiration, and he certainly found it. He himself, as I mentioned, is highly enterprising – we were eating our roadside chicken inside a small design studio he runs, and which is equipped with furniture made inside a workshop he owns. He started the workshop when he left home to buy his lovely daughters a set of bicycles and found some second hand carpentry equipment on sale.
He bought that instead, and now has a brand of furniture I will tell you about another day, made exclusively out of used wooden pallets.
We need to support more of these young people so that we celebrate more ventures of different heights; and eventually get even the roadside chicken sellers operating restaurant-type outlets, making sure the food is hot and receiving tips as a matter of course.

improve your sales – lessons from saalongo mukiibi, the sugar cane guy


LAST Saturday after a brief discussion about urban poverty and the seeming hopeless of many of our very numerous youth in this country, I drove past Bugolobi and spotted my sugar cane guy there back at his station. I had noticed on some days over the last couple of weeks that he was not always at this point, and twice I had stopped to ask why but the boda men at the stage never seemed to know or care.
I had lost interest in him as a supplier a while back because he is located at a very busy spot right in front of the market where the parking is tight or scarce, and many a time one can’t catch his attention quickly enough to avoid road rage from other users whose interest in roadside sugar cane doesn’t match mine.
At any rate, his sugar cane is much more expensive than other suppliers I have found elsewhere, even though his product (the green stems called something like ‘gowa’) is superior to most other thin stems, being more fleshy and therefore juicy.
This Saturday the traffic was a little light so I took the opportunity to address a few irritations he presents, and as I was holding the seminar with him I realized that some boda men and one or two muchomo grillers (those that do sausages and chicken) were keenly eavesdropping. What I was telling the chap was useful to them as well – and, it would turn out, to anyone doing any sort of business.
First of all, he had a habit of facing the market rather than the road, so he constantly has his back to the considerable traffic going up into Bugolobi. Explaining to him that his location was prime for retail, I told him to re-position himself so he faced the traffic directly. That way, he would make eye contact with potential and actual customers and sell much more; even without making a sale, it would be easier for him to market his product if he smiled at all the cars driving slowly past, and gestured to them politely to try out his product.
But having done that, I told him, he needed to clean up his appearance. Like most of the roadside sugar cane guys who normally sell the stuff off of the back of a bicycle or wheelbarrow, his clothes were as filthy as the sugar cane itself. He, individually, was worse than most as his style of clothing was urban grunge – torn jeans, wrinkled clothing and basically dirty and messy, all the way through to his unkempt hair.
This, I told him, would not attract more customers especially if he judged them by the vehicles they drove and their concerns of the hygiene involved in his ‘processed’ product. One reason he stood facing away from the road was he was busy peeling and chopping up sugar cane into bits to put into buveera for those who wanted it already peeled – he didn’t have gloves but at least he had covered his hands with buveera while doing so, because sugar cane is so white you can’t hide grime even though bacteria is invisible.
We stood there and counted the Range Rovers, Land Cruisers and Mercedes Benzes going by and he agreed that those were certainly potential high value customers but they would be unlikely to hold a conversation with him, let alone allow him to lean against their vehicles if he were so shabbily turned out.
When I pointed to one of the muchomo guys and explained that the white coats they wore were to project the hygiene expectations that would give a customer comfort that they wouldn’t fall ill from eating that roadside meat, they all nodded.
Then, I told the fellow, get a piece of cardboard and neatly but clearly write the price of the sugar cane then prop it up so that everybody driving by can see it – display pricing will make some of these potential customers stop and think, “Hey! I can afford that quite easily…” and even if they don’t stop to buy right then, they can send a maid running down the road after they get home.
In fact, we agreed, even the sugar cane itself should be propped up in a manner that makes it call out to the potential customer, rather than laid out on the road out of sight. Actually, the people driving past get to see more of the sugar cane peelings than the sugar cane itself, making that spot appear to be a garbage collection point rather than a sugar cane point of sale.
He nodded as more of the boda men came closer and worked their auricles harder.
Even better, I suggested humbly, how about adding your name to that piece of cardboard so you brand your sugarcane and make it distinct from all the others in the village, division or district?
He smiled. His name is Mukiibi Saalongo.
Fantastic! I exclaimed; use Saalongo rather than Mukiibi, so that customers believe that they are helping to support the livelihood of a man who is looking after a couple of twins – in fact, thinking about it now I should go back and tell him to get involved the next time there is a Twins Festival organized by The New Vision, as that would be the perfect marketing opportunity for him and his products.
At this point in our seminar, though, I couldn’t resist pointing out that his current appearance made one worry that all the money he receives goes straight into habits that keep law enforcement officials busy at night and very early in the morning.
He laughed, but agreed with the opinion – also because a couple of boda chaps were also chuckling on the fringes of our roadside workshop.
And then he expressed his thanks and introduced a “But the problem is…” – Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) demands license fees that make it difficult for him to operate. This is a serious problem for these fellows, and keeps them ready to up and disappear at the sight of the KCCA enforcement colours turning a corner.
But I wasn’t done yet, and detailed to him how if he faced the road and did all the above he could easily set up a sugar cane delivery system right into the homes of those 1,200 apartments in Bugolobi and more than 500 residents living there – using his bicycle.
And, if it all worked out well then he would increase sales exponentially (I did not use this very word with Saalongo Mukiibi) and sell much more than the 40 sugar canes he ferries on his bicycle every day.
I think.
We’ll find out when we do a review – in about a month’s time.

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: https://angodaemma.wordpress.com/
If we had a hub like Angoda’s in every district, imagine how many times we would hear the exclamation, “I love Uganda, allo!”

dancing with my daughter


The Luther Vandross song, ‘Dance With My Father’ has made my eyes moist every time I have heard it play since my first daughter came forth into this world, right into my very hands; and that’s when I truly began understanding why my wife always got maudlin over it.

This evening it will play at the Serena and my daughters will still be too young to join me on that type of dance floor but I will dance with them at home in tandem with the charity event at the Serena, because of two hundred and two (202) daughters of other people.

The first two of those 202 are part of the organisers of the event; two girls who are fascinating representatives of Ugandan youths, like the ‘40 Days and 40 Smiles Foundation‘ kids who are slowly by slowly one tweet and Facebook post at a time building up and equipping a school for disadvantaged children in Luwero.

In my days as a youth, not many of us spent too much time outside of bars, nightclubs, and other such light-hearted, light-headed pursuits; if you only read the newspapers, watched TV and kept a distance from projects such as today’s dance, you’d think the same of today’s youth. Alternatively, you’d believe that they spend all their time queuing up for sacks of cash, attending rallies with government ministers talking about rape, or hopping about saying, “Tusaba gavumenti etuyambe.” (“We are asking the government to help us.”).

These latter youth are despicable, annoying, and yet get all the attention from the government and media.

Yet there are the serious ones like the ones organising this Father-Daughter Dance; when one called me to ask for help I almost dismissed her down the path of myriad organisers of beauty contests, award ceremonies and other catchphrase fundraisers; but this is December, the month of good cheer, so I let her talk some more over the phone as I dispatched emails.

One thing led to another and eventually there were two of them puzzling me with their eager, sober vim and vigour, and almost making me choke on my breakfast as they explained their concept. They’re inviting fathers to take their daughters out to a polite dance to help them bond, because too many men aren’t ‘involved’ in their little girls’ lives, which leaves many girls open to the machinations of young men when they eventually cross their paths.

My struggle with the food was not because of that – I already consider men who leave their daughters to be raised generally by women to be as stupid as farmers that rely on rainfall for good crops without weeding, fertiliser and so on and so forth. Or, put more simply, motor vehicle operators who use only one driving gear and expect to go long distances; the analogies abound, all leading to one word about their intelligence.

These girls confounded me; one of them had began this journey back in secondary school, changing the ‘ABC’ (Abstain, Be Faithful, use a Condom) anti-HIV/AIDS campaign concept to ‘Abstain, Be Faithful, focus on your Career’ because she felt it resonated better with her peers; and ran anti-HIV/AIDS awareness events as a student, using music and dance because, again, it was their language; and, on finishing school, joined up with a group of others to start up a Non-Governmental Organisation.

Registered? Yes. The Haven Anti-AIDS Foundation.

Then, because of the jiggers stories and one group mate having originated from Busoga, the group decided to go over and check it out, and eventually found themselves involved in supporting a school – Seven Hills Primary School, in Buikwe. I looked incredulous as they told me they used pocket money, earnings and savings to make weekly trips to Jinja to do their charitable works.

I couldn’t help interject to re-confirm their ages (both less than 25) when they arrived at the 200 other girls who are the focus of today’s event:

After a number of visits to the school, run by a rather committed community member there, these youngsters realised that besides the great amount of need amongst pupils there due to poverty, there was a deeper problem that affected the girls in Buikwe. The girls there all started school late, and so were beginning menstruation while in the lower primary school classes; because they are so poor, though, they have neither sanitary pads nor underwear, and so miss about a week of school every month. That leads to them generally performing much worse than the boys, besides locking them down to do housework or hang about their homes a bit extra as tends to happen.

The combination results in their poor examination results proving to their backward or misguided parents that they aren’t good enough for education, and they therefore get married off as soon as the schooling adventure ends. Or, as also happens, they get caught up in relationships on the village that get them knocked up and they end up married or otherwise but with no further education in sight.

Worse, because the school is in such dire need, there is no space on the curriculum or structure for a female counsellor to speak with the girls about the facts of life, and they don’t get that at home either.

And so besides the bonding opportunity for father’s and their girls this evening, the proceeds from today’s Father-Daughter-Dance will go towards buying a year’s supply of sanitary pads and underwear for 200 girls in Seven Hills Primary School in Buikwe, and take counsellors over to talk to the girls on occasion.

The story doesn’t end just like that; the cost of keeping each of these 200 girls in school by way of pads and panties, at a rate of about Ushs2,000 per panty and Ushs2,000 per pack of pads, for twelve (12) panties a year and two (2) packs of pads per month, is Ushs96,000. Per girl. That’s less than two crates of beer, four boxes of corn flakes, lunch for two at the Serena, a Saturday family jaunt anywhere in the city…I know people who lose that in change every time their clothes go for washing or dry cleaning.

And we go on with our lives unaware.

While these two young ladies and their friends spend their pocket money and savings driving to Buikwe every other weekend to interact with those 200 young girls and try to give them a better chance at life. Actually, not just their pocket money; one of them quit her job two months ago (earning Ushs2million monthly) to focus on this NGO because she believes that organising events such as today’s will be more meaningful than just coasting through life as a trendy Kampala-ite.

Every so often I meet youngsters who restore my faith in the future of this country, and I throw my little in with them just in case I have in the past made anyone lose faith in us.

So I’ll be dancing to my own carefully prepared soundtrack at home, but I am sending sanitary pads and panties for a couple of Buikwe girls whose fathers can neither imagine dancing with them nor afford to buy them the essentials of life. And I’ll toast to the two girls who brought me into this initiative, and to their own fathers, who passed on long ago and won’t be dancing with their own daughters this evening, but should be proud of what they are doing for many, many other fathers and daughters; Jamilah Mayanja and Agnes Ninsiima, may you live long!

using social media to over-run poverty


The reason social media is important is because it is having a major impact on the way we live our lives – even here in Uganda.

Social media is not just Facebook and Twitter even though those are two of the most popularly known platforms in Uganda. It’s what we do with those platforms and many more, and how we use them to relate with each other.

Last weekend I interacted with some Rotarians over this, and one of them said quite resolutely that he simply did not have any time for or interest in Facebook. Two minutes later, after he heard that there were 1million Ugandans on Facebook alone today and that he could reach them in some way or another for his benefit, he changed his mind.

Another Rotarian perked up more when he heard about crowdsourcing – which is really an old concept that has just become much more powerful because of social media. It’s harnessing the power of numbers to achieve a goal or task quicker – and most Ugandans would recognise this through a fund-raiser.

A couple of months ago the Rotary Club organised a charity run to raise funds for the Cancer Institute. Lots of resources were expended over many weeks to get this done and eventually a good many people with big public names and heavy corporate and government jobs responded to the letters and newspaper ads, turned up and about Ushs100million was raised.

Good. That’s what Rotary is about – service about self, contributing to social causes and networking among well-heeled and influential people to do this.

A month after that, a small group of youths started mobilising amongst themselves for a charity to raise funds to build a dormitory for some school in Luwero. After a couple of weeks of tweeting and Facebooking about their event, code-named #Hoops4Grace4, the youths pitched a tent in a field on Lugogo By-Pass, sold home-made juice, t-shirts and wristbands, and played some basketball – all in all raising Ushs8million.

None of these youths is the usual big-name type and all of them threw a few shillings into the kitty to get to the Ushs8million.

I’m not following the lines of the Bible story about the donations by the rich man and the poor widow, instead, I was fascinated that a small group of little known youths with no corporate, church or political backing whatsoever had deviated from the path of consuming alcohol, partying hard and general recalcitrance, to collect money for some school in Luweero.

I rounded up the ringleaders and demanded an explanation, and they hit me with more shocking news – they all had ordinary jobs doing ordinary things, and this was just a side thing they had gotten into. Plus, they had identified a serious need at that Luweero school (the name doesn’t matter because there are many of these around us) and decided to address it themselves.

These kids had even mobilised their friends to go down to the school and physically do some work there, and all done via Twitter, Facebook and their mobile phones!

And while I was interrogating them, I was a bit dazzled by the sparkle in their faces as they said things like, “We felt that, surely WE can also do something” and “We thought that maybe we could make a small contribution”.

Their small contribution will certainly result in a dormitory building in Luweero because this week, as Uganda celebrates 51 years of Independence, these youths are mobilising again – campaigning among their friends and contacts to either buy a bag of cement (about Ushs30,000) or a brick (Ushs500) for the cause.

Just that – harnessing the power of the crowd by getting each of us to buy one bag of cement or one brick and turning that into a dormitory.

In 2011, the Arab Spring revolutions used Social Media to mobilise protests that eventually overran entire governments; here, today, if these efforts catch on perhaps some of our youths might be using Social Media to mobilise and…overrun poverty and shortfalls in social services?

We should certainly hope so.

And we should hope that the next generation of our societal managers is drawn from these types of eager, socially aware, and technologically networked Ugandan youths.