Innovating for Survival, Uganda’s young Teargas Expert

The year was 1992, a young lady in Rukungiri had met the man of her dreams and decided to have him as a life mate. She quickly conceived and they both were too happy and expectant. Unfortunately, three months into her pregnancy, the lady’s dreams were shattered when her husband died. Seeing herself through this pregnancy was just the start of a long and grinding journey that saw her struggle to raise the son she eventually gave birth to.

The hardships this boy went through while growing taught him to always fight for his right of passage to the next level in life. His mother wanted him to take on Arts studies with the belief that they gave him a higher chance of passing and entering the University but he had a different view. From his Senior One, he had been fascinated by sciences and Chemistry in particular. He always loved the experiments and read a lot about chemicals and how they can be used formulate various products. This led him to pursue Science Studies at his Advanced Level (Senior Five and Six) where he was able to pass and get admitted for a degree in Botany.

The futuristic thinker that he is, this young man realised that a degree in Botany would not easily guarantee him a job. So he begun thinking about what next after leaving the university. Since childhood, he’s always admired the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) and always dreams of working for them. He pictures himself adorned in those army fatigues with the Uganda Flag and emblem as well as a corresponding cap on the head. The day this happens, he believes he’ll have arrived.

Being the go getter that he is, he appreciated that his major weaknesses were having a background from a no-name family and lacking the relevant connections to navigate his way into the armed forces (any Ugandan mature enough knows what I am talking about here). So, he decides to create value such that based on that value proposition, the Army will not resist taking him on.

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Mr. Mugarura Samuel

Ladies and Gentlemen, the young man am talking about is Mr. Samuel Mugarura, a 23 year old university student who has lately hit the limelight for his skills in making tear gas and bombs. One day, while strolling in the city, he came across a tear gas canister and the scientist in him got curious. He studied the ingredients on the package and decided to reverse engineer it using Secondary School knowledge of chemistry. That is how he got this idea. He is self taught in this area and believes a lot more can be done if only he is given an opportunity by the Government of Uganda to further his abilities.

I see Mugarura as an innovative individual whose values are a league above his peers. While the average youth today believes being given a job is their birth right, he believes that creating value should be the basis for getting a job.

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The rudimentary Smoke Bomb being demonstrated

In an interview I had with him, he boasts of his ability to make explosives of all kinds with his ultimate ambition being an atomic bomb. When asked about where he gets the components to make these explosives, he is quick to share that most of these ingredients are locally available and all that one needs is to know the formulas to mix them. He uses readily available ingredients like Sucrose, Sodium Hydrogen Carbonate, Potassium Nitrate among others.

 

Having read his story in this article by the Daily Monitor, I was immediately disturbed by the attitude the University dons quoted exhibited when interviewed by the reporter. It is this antagonistic and negative attitude that tends to turn the would be centres of academic excellence into white elephants. Priding in rolling out PHDs that do nothing to address issues in society is akin to manufacturing toys for hapless refugees that lack food to eat. The mismatch in expectations is what has made many shun these academic institutions and only go there to get papers that will allow them get into a job.

To Quote:

Mugarura is a student of botany, and not chemistry. He cannot claim to be making bombs,” Dr John Wasswa the head of the Chemistry department, a unit under the College of Natural Science (CONAS) said.

Is this a medieval mindset that Dr. Wasswa is exhibiting? In which century is he living in? Gone are the days when innovations were confined to professionals. How many youths today are developing Mobile Applications yet they hardly stepped in a Computer Science class? Are you going to trash them using the same pedestrian argument? With all due respect, this don needs to wake up from his slumber. The young man indicated that making tear gas is as simple as utilising Secondary School chemistry knowledge and with the internet, identifying formulas is the easiest of things. A quick google search gave me much more than I bargained for right from videos to tutorials on how to make tear gas.

Prof Muhammad Ntale, a former head of the Chemistry department at Makerere University, said although teargas is easy to make, the university is not into such business and “Mugarura could be out for cheap publicity” or “doing such things on his own”.

Time has taught me that sometimes there is no correlation between academic accomplishments and the right attitude. To find a highly acclaimed professor with such a demeaning attitude regarding an effort that a youth is trying to make without even taking time to understand his mindset makes me fear for this nation. I even ask myself, how many students during his career, has he pulled down from dreaming big?

As for the Kampala Metropolitan Police Spokesperson’s comments, those didn’t surprise me and they aren’t worth quoting on this page. You guessed right, the key words are; confiscate, interrogate and arrest. They unfortunately reflect what we have come to know as our police lately.

Observations

What do we pick out of this effort though?

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Local materials have been largely used

Mugarura laments, “I have studied Chemistry for many years. These are normal things that can be done by anyone. You don’t have to be an Industrial Chemist to make a bomb. A Senior Four student can easily make tear gas. Formulas are readily available. I understand the fear some people in Makerere may have… If I am funded, the country stands to save foreign exchange on the importation of some of these products. I am apolitical and only look forward to working for this nation.

This young man has read the times and seen how hopeless his peers feel when after graduating with honors from the university, they are subjected to endless months and years of joblessness. The University could consider harnessing his ambition and skills by including him in any of the various research projects that they already have. He is likely to bring on board a new wave of research that can lead to interesting breakthroughs.

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A futuristic UPDF needs such innovators.

As for the UPDF, you have a factory (probably factories) that is into weapons manufacture. Can this young man be taken on as a cadet attached to one of the research facilities? He could save us the pain of having to perpetually spend on buying explosives that we badly need for our military voyeurism. The young man is simply looking for survival and has impressively expressed what he’s got up-stairs.

On the flip-side, I did ask him if there is anything else apart from Explosives that he can do and his response was; Fireworks, Tissue Culture and Plant Research among others. Let us stop the politicking, it is time to help this young man realise his dream of inventing for the benefit of society.

Life is hard, can government come out and work with me?” he concluded.

Follow Mugarura @mugarurasamuel on Twitter

Follow me @wirejames on Twitter

Earth and Space studies in Uganda’s O Level Curriculum

When you look at your house and compare it with the city you live in, it pales in comparison. Compare that city with your country and the city becomes a dwarf. Compare your country to the entire earth and you struggle to find something smaller to define the comparison. The sun is at least 100 times bigger than the earth in diameter. The sun and all the planets that rotate around it form the Solar System with the Sun being one of the 200 -400 billion stars in the Milky way Galaxy. A galaxy is a large group of stars, dust, gas and dark matter held together by gravity. The Solar system is part of the Milky way galaxy which is 100,000 light years wide.

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Milky Way Galaxy. Photo courtesy of Frankfurter Rundschau 

Why light years? Due to the astronomical distances between planets and stars, the kind of numeracy required to keep track of Kilometres and miles gets crazy. So, scientists came up with the measure of Light years which is the distance covered by light in one year. Light moves at a speed of 300,000 Km per second giving us 9,500,000,000,000 kilometers per year. So, when we say the Milky Way Galaxy is 100,000 Light years wide, we mean it is 950,000,000,000,000,000 Km across.

Wow!!! Do you realise how much we pale in comparison to the universe? Remember we have not yet dealt with the other galaxies that populate the universe like Andromeda among others. Phew !!!

If you’ve read this far, congratulations. Now to the subject matter.

We have complained and continue to do so about the falling education standards in Uganda. We keep demonising the government for not doing enough to turn around the situation. When Universal Primary and Secondary Education came up, the corruption that dogged it become the hallmark of such a well intentioned initiative. Over the past decade, the National Curriculum Development Centre has been painstakingly working on curriculum reviews that already saw the Primary Schools convert to a thematic guided curriculum and next is the Ordinary Level (Senior 1 -4).

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New O Level Thematic Curriculum

My biggest excitement about the O Level curriculum is not only the thematic approach that allows students to pursue their competencies from the word go but also the inclusion of a futuristic subject called Astronomy (referred to as Earth and Space in the image).

A young man Ghazali Mohammed has been foresighted enough to already have begun outreach in rural Ugandan schools teaching children the marvels of Astronomy. It is guys like him and the Fundi Bots honcho Solomon King doing similar outreach in Robotics that will show the way to those of us who are content with mere criticism.

Take it or leave it, within the next 30 years, we shall have human colonies on Mars and the moon. Space tourism is likely to be the next big thing (Shiyaya stand warned). Those that have excelled at attracting tourists to Gorillas will now have to compete with man’s curiosity with Space travel. Our children or grand children are likely to be part of expeditions to other planets and solar systems. Comets are seen as a likely source of mineral matter for us to utilise. The moon is already allegedly being mined of Helium 3. Elon Musk has indicated his strong desire to retire to Mars for the rest of his life. We already have probes currently billions of kilometres away from earth sending back updates of what space is like. Technology is advancing so fast that in the not so distant future, we shall cover millions of kilometres in a matter of minutes if Faster than Light (FTL) or Light Speed travel is achieved. That, is where we are headed.

For any curriculum to make sense in Uganda today, we need to look at the future of this world of ours. To be competitive, a good understanding of where we are headed as well as preparing our future inhabitants to harness the opportunities will be the best thing we shall have done for them. Every child today needs to learn about Astronomy. It is not enough for you to know how many Square miles of land are occupied by Uganda. Horizons are expanding, new states are likely to be formed. Like the europeans who ventured out across the oceans and founded colonies in North America, we shall have new countries or even stateless cities and countries on various planets while others could be floating in space above planets like Venus. While this may look far fetched, incremental improvements on knowledge are what will most likely get us there and this is the time to start.

Currently, the moon is slowly but surely moving further away from the earth at a rate of 4cm per year. [I see you laughing] What does that imply? If it ever leaves us, disastrous weather related consequences are expected since for example it has an effect on the tide in the oceans. However, it is believed that before the moon does this to us, the sun will have taken care of the destruction of our earth after achieving the red giant phase.

While such predictions of earth’s demise are billions of years away, the time is now to start enriching our interplanetary knowledge and make it as basic as the operation of a mobile phone. As a specie, we are going to have to migrate from this planet one time for it definitely will eventually become inhospitable. Who better to prepare for that eventuality than our school going children today?

My question though is, how ready are our teachers to teach such subjects like Astronomy? Can they tell what a Star, Black Hole, Pulsar, Quasar, meteorite, Galaxy or Dwarf star is?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Follow @wirejames on Twitter

Small Business? Beware of Conmen

“Two Hundred trays of eggs needed per week by a leading hotel in Kampala. Please call 0772345678. Competitive price is expected.”

That was the WhatsApp advert that jolted Tadeo into action. He had been looking for market for his eggs and here was a chance to not only sell his own eggs but also other farmers’ eggs. He quckly called the number listed and proceeded to negotiate for the offer. After some haggling, he was given a go ahead to supply the eggs starting the following week.

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My Local Chicken at home sitting on its eggs

With his little savings, Tadeo embarked upon looking for farmers that could supply him 100 trays consistently, since his capacity met only half of the demand. He committed himself and bought the extra 100 trays in time for the Monday morning supply.

On the D-Day, Tadeo hires a car to take his produce to the client. They meet in the parking lot of a busy hotel in Kampala where the transaction is completed. However, there is a catch, the buyer indicates that as is standard procedure, the hotel only pays 25% of the invoiced amount upon delivery with the balance being cleared on the next supply.

Already convinced that this was the start of a long term relationship with a big client, Tadeo gives in and leaves with the 25% pay. He then proceeds to prepare for the next delivery as promised. A day to the planned second delivery, the contact number of the client is not available and this goes on for the subsequent days. A visit to the hotel in question reveals that there has never been any such employee on their payroll.

Tadeo realised he had been conned !!!!

Starting a business is never something easy. Keeping it running is an even harder task. This is further complicated by the ever increasing complexity of getting customers. When someone poses as a customer for your product or service, you always trip over yourself to ensure that you give them the red carpet treatment. In most cases this involves throwing all caution to the wind. That is what Tadeo did and now is in losses he had never anticipated.

On my part, I’ve had a fair share of such incidents and they continue to-date. Having a product on the Supermarket shelves exposes you so much to these conmen/women. They traverse these shelves picking up contact numbers from products and will call you under the guise of placing a big order. They even try to make the matter so urgent and tend to offer money that is above your expectations.

Other conmen come in form of companies. Uchumi is one such company that conned us suppliers of millions on its way down the drain. Due to their branding, they always gave this impression of “We are too big to fail”. This led many of us SME suppliers to blindly continue supplying well knowing that when they pay, we shall get one fat cheque. The day they closed, I believe some suppliers closed shop.

In essence, while you’re out there struggling so hard to come up with a presentable product or service that can rake you some money, someone else is working so hard to con you of the money you are desperately trying to make. As a result, over the years, I have gained some sixth sense ability that helps me sense conmen (at least the unsophisticated) from afar. These are some of the flags that should always trigger you off;

  • Unprofessional Conduct: For someone that wants to do serious business with you, they had better exude some sense of professionalism. I agree there are those cases where the people you are dealing with are purely unprofessional by nature but with the large undertakings, if the prospective customer is making attempts to do things in a manner that doesn’t augur well with basic business processes and principles that is a flag right there in your face. Why for example should I meet you in a car park to supply a hotel food products? Why should first design for you a website before you can pay me even a commitment fee? Why should I undertake that research you need before we have a contract signed?

  • Rushed Approach: Most conmen will want to rush you into their proposition. A few days back we had someone who called and asked about our fish products. A day later he followed up the call with another and this time he was making an order to a good amount of the product. He then requested that we meet in the city centre at a place he would confirm later. At this point, I detected him as a conman and the next time we received a call, I told him to try sourcing our products from the supermarkets. He’s not called back ever since.

  • Changing of Numbers: Most conmen will use different numbers to call you up. This helps them to try and conceal their identity. Sometimes when you call back, you realise that he/she used a public phone to raise you. Another flag right there.

  • Clarity: Conmen are hardly clear in their communication. They will ask you one thing then later alter their request without any particular reason. Before you know it, when they learn of another product or service that you have, they go ahead to quickly express interest in that one too. That is a flag.

  • Talk Big: These conmen usually talk big. They will paint this picture of you getting a lot of business through their contacts. They will lead you on and depending on your appetite for quick gain, in a matter of hours or days, their plan comes to fruition. Thereafter, they disappear into thin air.

As a small business, take care in your search for the ever elusive customer. Be content with the few you have got so far and do the best you can to keep them on board. The mass numbers will eventually come your way if you lay the right strategies. Overnight success is a preserve of Hollywood movies. The tried and tested approach is one of slow but steady progress.

Watch out for conmen/women.

Follow @wirejames on Twitter

President Museveni, Stop the Doho Rice Scheme Land Grab

During my Senior 4 vacation in 1991, as my fellow vacists were following Operation Desert Storm on CNN marveling at the remote controlled missiles that were roaming the streets of Baghdad, I was holed up in rural Butaleja (then part of Tororo district). My mother had given me a quarter acre to try my luck at rice growing. As a hardworking young man, by the end of my vacation, I had harvested rice to raise that earned me more than enough money for my first term school fees in Senior 5. That piece of land was and still is in the Doho Rice Scheme, Uganda’s largest irrigation scheme.

Dear President Museveni,

You definitely do not know me but I have know you for over thirty years, ever since I first heard about you in the mythical tales that were shared during your bush days. We used to be told that you could turn into a pussycat and escape arrest by the then Government soldiers of UNLA. However, when you came to power, I was taken up by your passion towards developing the masses of this country. Your resolve to fight injustice was never in doubt and this endeared many of us to you.

About me, I am a Ugandan citizen who hails from Nambale Parish, Naweyo Sub-County in Butaleja District.

Close to two weeks ago, I was alarmed by the news that appeared on NTV as well as in the Monitor Newspaper about a fracas between the rice farmers of the Doho Rice Scheme and the District Chairman LCV, a one Mr. Waya Richard. He narrowly survived lynching for trying to impose upon the farmers Cooperative a mysterious, yet to be known investor to take over management of the rice Scheme which is being ably managed by the Doho Irrigation Scheme Farmers’ Cooperative Society (DIFACOS). Despite the fracas, Mr. Waya went ahead to boastfully state that the investor was sent by State House and in lay man’s terms, this directly means President Museveni. This is the reason I am writing this letter to you.

About Doho Rice Scheme

The scheme is a 2500 Hectares irrigation scheme that sustains not less than 10,000 farmers that actively grow rice in it. A further 30,000 labourers are engaged in offering services to the farmers like ground clearing, laying nursery beds, weeding, transplanting, harvesting, scare crow services among others. The environs of this scheme have not less than thirty rice mills including ultra modern ones at Nabiganda and Nampologoma that not only mill but also thresh, destone and grade the rice ready for packaging. The 40,000 farmers and labourers have households averaging 6 people thereby implying that at least 240,000 direct beneficiaries do exist.

If you extend the impact further to the shop keepers, rice traders, transporters, agro-input dealers, etc, you realise that this rice scheme has created a well lubricated market led rice industry that extends beyond the confines of Butaleja with an impact on markets as far as Kampala.

The income earned from this scheme has helped create a lot of stability in the village communities with many being able to bring food to the table, educate children, set up other business ventures among other things. This could probably be the main reason why our district hardly clamors for a Ministerial position. People have some source of income that keeps them busy.

Butaleja district is one of the few Ugandan districts where you can comfortably find over 5000 farmers who earn at least UGX 2 Million per annum from their farming activities. Therefore, in terms of achieving Middle income status, this district is one of those that can get you that critical mass needed much sooner than letter. The rice scheme has therefore greatly facilitated the economic inclusiveness of most households in the district.

The farmers’ cooperative, DIFACOS of which I am member number 0336, has registered much progress ever since being handed the reigns of managing the scheme after it’s renovation using a badly managed 22 Billion World Bank grant (this is a story for another day).

Some of the achievements which stand out are:

  • Capacity building of the leadership and administrative staff of the SACCO both locally and internationally.
  • Capacity building of the farmers through avenues like trainings and study tours both locally and internationally.
  • Fully functional cooperative society processing plant that adds value through rice grading and packaging for onward re-sale in supermarkets.
  • Management of a savings scheme for farmers that enables them get access to loans thereby greatly improving on the financial security of the farmers.
  • Availing farming inputs on time to the farmers to ensure uninterrupted farming hence allowing the farmers to have less stress as well as avoid resorting to loan sharks who charge upto 100% interest over a 3 months’ period.

The gains I have shared and much more are about to be washed away by a plan fronted by the LCV Chairman of Butaleja District in which he has vowed to steamroll over every stakeholder to bring on board an investor to take over the Doho Rice Scheme. It gets even more interesting when this investor is a safely guarded secret only known to him for now.

The District Chairman has reportedly stated that the investor will;

  • Buy farmers’ rice at a price no less than UGX 5000/= per Kilogram hence increasing their incomes significantly. I see this as a naked lie considering that the price offering is even much higher than the market cost of the product.
  • Bring new rice farming methods like planting in lines and mechanisation. This is not news to the rice scheme. Already farmers have been empowered with knowledge on System for Rice Intensification approaches towards rice farming through the various trainings as well as study tours. All this is known to them and one does not have to take over the scheme to teach this.
  • Add value to the rice so that more revenue can be got. DIFACOS as mentioned earlier is actively packaging rice. There are also private packaging companies in the district. They didnt need to take over the running of the rice scheme to be able to add value.
  • Buy out the rice farmers from the scheme and grow the rice directly. What will the fate of the over 10,000 farmers and their support staff be? The loss of income is likely to create a lot of socio-economic turbulence in the district and beyond all because of one investor.
  • Mandate the rice growers in the area to sell their husked rice to the investor strictly. This will definitely lead to much lower incomes for these farmers hence contradicting the earlier promise of increased revenues. Not only is husked rice sold at a much cheaper rate but the creation of a monopoly buyer in what is supposed to be a free market economy will lead farmers to dance to the tunes of the investor.

DIFACOS’ position is that no investment is required in the area of processing rice as-is. The cooperative wants investors who can;

  • Add value to the waste like using the rice husks to make charcoal briquettes or ceiling boards
  • Add value to rice by making upscale niche products like Spaghetti, alcohol, glue among others.

Your excellency, we have a good reason to believe that the mysterious investor is either non-existent or is a group of sleek background operating Mafis using the district leadership and the good name of your office (State House) to acquire public property for peanuts while disregarding the eventual economic imbalance such a move is likely to have on the local Butaleja residents.

As I conclude, I want to let you know that your Resident District Commissioner, a one Gulume Balyainho seems to be in bed with the plans of the District Chairman that are totally against the will of the masses. He has already been conscripted to be part of the negotiations committee that has been hurriedly set up to negotiate with the mysterious Investor. Is he really representing your interests? Has he briefed you about this saga?

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Butaleja District Councillors’ Contacts. Call them and urge them to choose the society over individual businesses by saving Doho from the mysterious Investor come 22nd September 2016 when they meet on this issue.

The battle lines have been drawn, locals are already agitated with many vowing not to see their only source of livelihood slip through their hands.

It is in line with these issues that I seek an appointment with you to brief you with much more clarity following an on-ground assessment I did last week on this unfolding saga. It is definitely pitting the masses against the land grabbing, moneyed and influential elite who always stop at nothing to illicitly acquire whatever resources there are.

While using channels like our area Members of Parliament is an option, the speed at which the District LCV Chairman is pushing this initiative leaves us no choice but to run to the highest office of the land for refuge. After-all, he claims the investor was sent by StateHouse.

I respectfully await your call, your Excellency.

Yours Sincerely,

James Wire

On behalf of the Save Doho Rice Scheme Pressure Group

Follow @wirejames on Twitter

Follow @savedoho on Twitter

Email savedoho [at] gmail.com

Starting a Business isn’t only about Money

So it was early this year when I decided to Google some thing I can do with less capital of not exceeding, 100,000 UGX and thanks to Allah, I landed on your article about home production stuff. Being a Muslim helped me so much because we are told to act upon what you have heard or read.

After reading I selected things I can do and thought of how I would start this, a week passed, another one passed because I was so shy. After realising that shame will do nothing for me, I just woke up in the morning and went to Naalya housing estate and started knocking people’s gates looking for jobs which included laundry stuffs trimming flowers and car wash as you stated in the article.

Lucky enough, for the first time, I got a chance to wash some one’s car in the apartment and there happened to be five houses each with a car. At first I washed that of house number three, remember I didn’t have Omo [Soap] I only had a sponge and a brush as you said. I asked her to help me with something which can provide foam and she provided me with liquid soap and I did a job that I think was great.

So this lady asked for my contact. After two days, she called and told me that I did a very great job for her and she gave me the car to wash it very after one day.”

That is the story of a young man who is an ardent reader of my blog. I had a chance to delve further into his experience and while all can’t be shared here, I can authoritatively say that he is now comfortably earning a decent income from his car washing after realising that he could do it as a business. From one apartment, he now washes cars for all the apartments in that complex on a daily.

Higenyi is a school drop out who failed to complete studies due to lack of school fees. After migrating from the village to the city, he begun scavenging around for survival and despite the hard times he has faced, Higenyi never loses focus of his ultimate ambition, to become a journalist. Now that his earnings have taken a turn for the better, this young man is planning to return to school and complete the Journalism course he dropped out from.

Are you out there struggling with not only identifying that something you can do but also getting started? Reading through his message, I noticed the following attributes that are very key for anyone who has an intention of improving their lives especially through business;

  • No amount of money is too small to start business. We have always paraded money as the pre-condition for business success. While it is important, it isn’t everything. Depending on the opportunity being pursued, there are numerous non financial approaches one can used to get where they want. Higenyi begun his car washing career armed with a mere brush and sponge.

  • Seek knowledge always. Learning never ceases. There is always this mentality that after school, one dumps all books away and starts a new chapter of working. This is a total lie since there are always new opportunities and challenges that we keep getting exposed hence the need to ensure that we arm ourselves with the knowledge to address them. Through online research, this young man was able to address his challenge of joblessness and lack of adequate academic papers for the average office job.

  • Beliefs. We all have beliefs whether religious or non religious. The beauty of some of these beliefs is that they arm us with foundational mindsets needed to survive in life. Do not separate your beliefs from your endeavour to pursue success in life. To quote Higenyi, “Being a Muslim helped me so much because we are told to act upon what you have heard or read.” I have occasionally had to battle with my set of beliefs when presented with seemingly lucrative opportunities.

  • Identify what you can/want to do. Everyone has that thing that they can do well or at least better than others. It is always crucial to go through a self discovery assessment to match your abilities with the identified opportunities. This young man upon reading the article online decided to establish which of the listed opportunities he could pursue. You too need to be honest with yourself.

  • Procrastination. We all suffer from this at one time or another. What we do not know though is that procrastination is the little devil that always tries to ensure we cannot accomplish what is likely the most obvious opportunity for us to pursue. I once heard of this guy who had a stellar idea to organise some Social Media awards. He discussed the idea months without end with his buddies in bars and wherever they met. Unfortunately, due to procrastination, he always gave one reason or another for delayed execution. One day, he was shocked when he woke up only to find the media filled with a starkly similar awards event. Much as he cried out to whoever cared to listen about his idea being stolen, I didn’t sympathise with him.

  • Shame blocks progress. How many times have you feared to pursue an opportunity due to fear of what others will think? Shame is one thing that tends to enslave us hence keeping us from achieving our goals. A young man who was making a living as a taxi tout once had to scamper for safety after seeing his University girlfriend approach the taxi he was helping get passengers. Am told he never surfaced at his workplace again. I know of a gentleman who had been retired by his employer after a high flying professional career and when his wife proposed that they set up a wholesale goods shop, he frowned upon her idea claiming, “How will people see me?” Higenyi too had his moment of shamefully looking at the opportunities but gladly, he overcame it.

  • Take action. For any opportunity to materialise, you need to move from talk to action. It doesn’t matter what the challenges are ahead. The most crucial thing is to move from point A to B. There is never a perfect timing for any opportunity and preparation can never be full. Often times, you learn along the way. This young man decided to walk to a residential neighborhood in Naalya and begin soliciting for work. You too need to start walking NOW !!!!

  • Luck. This has occasionally been defined as “When Opportunity meets preparation.” Luck usually manifests itself for the prepared. Now that you have been able to overcome fear, identified your abilities and zeroed in on an opportunity, chances are high that once you start moving, lady luck will smile upon you. To his credit, Higenyi got lucky upon approaching the very first apartment he went to. Sometimes the luck may take a while to manifest but it always does.

  • You’re never fully ready to start a business. It is highly unlikely that you will be fully ready to start a business. There is always something that you feel you need to do before opening those doors for business. However, do not be tempted to cave in to such expectations. Just kickstart your venture. Am sure that day when Higebyi woke up with a resolve, he looked at what he had (a sponge and brush), and without hesitation begun looking for cars to wash even when he didn’t have the soap.

  • Good Work speaks for itself. When you get a chance to do a job for a customer, do it to your level best. The best business is one that is repeat or comes through a client recommendation. Having started off washing for one apartment, this young man now washes all the cars of the other apartments in the same complex on a daily.

  • Happy customers mean more business. This does not need explanation. It is as obvious as it gets. Higenyi made his first client happy and that was the secret towards getting other customers.

You might be in a similar situation like Higenyi and while the circumstances are kind of different, I do believe that we can learn a thing or two from this young man. His decision to take charge of his future is very encouraging and shows that today’s youth are not all out there waiting to be baby sat.

Follow @wirejames on Twitter

The Middle Aged Ugandan Sell Outs

She is bold, blunt, unconventional, open minded, no nonsense and above all articulate with her words. She has mastered the art of pushing her points across in a manner that leaves many scampering for shelter. She is the one and only Stella Nyanzi who took on the world renowned Professor Mahmood Mamdani to the extent of publicly undressing herself to get her grievances addressed.

While rummaging through my Facebook feeds, I came across her post as depicted in the snapshot below.

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Stella, you do regard your generation as a total sell out and I do agree with that statement only if it is devoid of the word “Total.” I am a 1974 kid too and lived to see some of the toughest times this country has been through. When the NRM came into power in 1986, I was among the then Primary kids moving around with the “Liberators” showing them where soldiers of the fallen government and their sympathisers stayed. After all we had been through for nearly two decades, I, like many Ugandans was like a child rescued from captivity. In hindsight, I must say that like a jilted lover looking for comfort, we gave our hearts to the “Liberators” wholesale and jumped in bed with the next best thing that appeared on our radar.

I recall the idealistic mindsets we had while in school. Debates on how Pan Africanism can be advanced and why Africa is still under-developed. We exuded a lot of optimism back then for this nation and its people. I always loved the straight thinking that my colleagues manifested including the first son Major General Muhoozi Kainerugaba who was incidentally a class behind me at St. Mary’s College Kisubi. Today I can list not less than fifteen chaps that I studied with who could have done more politically for this nation than resort to only feeding their families.

Things started changing when we reached the University and begun politicking at a slightly higher level than before. This is when the dilution of the original ideals begun. The blunt exposure we got to capitalism and its side effects took its toll on us. On one hand you wanted to experience life like it is in the movies (go to the discotheques, drink alcohol till you drop, smoke your lungs away, drive a car, date a hot babe, be a big spender etc) while on the other hand you wanted to see the corruption in the nation reduce to a bare minimum, see a change of guard politically, reduce the poverty levels among other socially conscious achievements. The mistake we made at this point was to expect someone else to do all the social good while we lived life in the fast lane. This is starkly similar to the current habit of vibrant energetic Ugandans who have the audacity to congregate daily in a pub, guzzle alcoholic beverages worth two months’ salary of a teacher on a daily basis but spend all their time complaining about how the rural school in their village has no benches, tables and chalk. It has become a ritual and led to most resorting to self seeking pursuits.

My University (Campus) generation had the likes of Erias Lukwago the Lord Mayor of Kampala City, Hon. Mike Mabikke (Ex Member of Parliament), Hon. Godfrey Ekanya (Ex Member of Parliament), George Mutabazi (LC V Chairman Lwengo District), Hon. Elijah Okupa (Member of Parliament), Hon. Dennis Galabuzi (Member of Parliament and Minister), Hon. Mukasa Mbidde (Member of Parliament EALA) to mention but a few. These guys made a great effort to stamp their mark on the political setup of this country of ours with the hope that they would be able to influence matters positively. While I cant authoritatively tell you how much they achieved, I can say that some successes were registered and probably that is why we aren’t yet a basket case like South Sudan or Somalia.

However, all that aside, I felt riled by the blanket accusation that we have all let the country down in totality. You need to take time off your now busy schedule in South Africa and I take you for a tour around Uganda. Alot has gone wrong, TRUE. However, there are people out there, in ours and other generations that are doing something to positively influence the communities they are a part of. They may not have the privilege of being covered by the large media houses but they are moving things and influencing lives one day at a time. While others prefer to gather for pity parties where lamentations about what is going wrong are common, a few have decided to effect the change they want to see.

I have taken such steps in Butaleja (my home district) and while it is not an easy task, I can see the goodwill among people from my locale who believe that change can come in their lives if they choose to positively influence issues that affect them. Now, my prayer is that people like you Stella Nyanzi also start similar society transforming initiatives in whichever locale you originate from with the hope that as more and more Generation 1970s kids tread a similar script, we can eventually coalesce our efforts and create a ripple effect nationwide.

The corruption and many other vices you see on a daily in Uganda are propagated by people like me and you. These are our brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, aunties, friends, clan mates etc. To stem the rot, we need to start by positively influencing those in our environs and the rest will eventually fall in place.

So, Stella, when you say “Foolish, impotent, middle-aged Ugandans! Sellouts, just,” you’re talking about yourself and I.

Even impotence can be cured. Let us do something about it.

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The Blackhole mentality of some of Uganda’s Leading Schools

They always feature among the top ten best schools in the country in terms of passing national exams. As a result they have created a brand for being schools that make students “pass exams.To them, the end justifies the means. How do they achieve this?

They cage up our children in four walled prisons called class for longer than they should be. Students or pupils arrive at school as early as 6:30 am and some leave as late as 7:00 pm. In between, they justify all sorts of activities like Morning Prep, Morning Test, Lunch Test, Afternoon Tests and finally Homework (of not less than 40 questions daily). I hope you realise I have not included the actual lessons that have to be taught.

Syllabuses are forcefully completed in a fraction of the time that they are meant to be. A Primary 7 syllabus is usually done in one and a half terms as opposed to the entire three terms. Reason advanced is to allow the students time to cram for the final National exams. Huh!!!

Others have taken it a step ahead, by identifying the national examiners (who happen to be teachers already), they are able to spot exams (an attempt at second guessing what will appear) for their students. In the process, they part with large sums of money to benefit from this privilege. Afterall, a good performance guarantees more parents bringing their children to their school hence more money earned.

However, one of the worst vices I have noticed is the tendency of some schools to jealously guard their academic content in form of notes, lectures and even internal exam papers. Without mentioning names, one of the most prominent primary schools in Kampala today will dismiss any staff member who is found sharing their exam papers with ‘outsiders.’ This is why I chose the term Black Hole Mentality.

A black hole is a place in space where the gravity pull is so strong that all matter and even light that gets into it’s vicinity is sucked in with no hope of ever getting out. As you may recall, gravity is the force that attracts one body towards another that has mass, akin to what makes us always naturally stay on the ground as opposed to floating all over the place. Due to the intense gravitational force that blackholes have, whatever criss crosses their path is always devoured, unless of course if it can travel at a speed faster than light. In other words, Blackholes are always consuming without giving anything out.

The schools that have the practices I just shared previously are basically Academic Blackholes. They specialise in cannibalising whatever academic content is out there for their own purpose and interest but fall way too short when it comes to sharing with others in the industry. This doesn’t bode well for Uganda’s education industry. As a one Meghan Blistinsky once said, Education these days is making youths suffer like mental patients, but no one has anything to say about it because there is no other option to be given.”

However, on the brighter side, earlier this week while attending the 7th IDLELO Free and Open Source Software conference that brought together participants from all over Africa to meet at Munyonyo in Kampala, Uganda, I was very impressed by what I uncovered in the area of Academic Open Content. An OB of mine Mr. Ronald Ddungu who happens to be the Deputy Head Teacher of Gayaza High School, one of the best performing schools in the country shared with me their efforts in Open Content and the vision they have for it.

Essentially, this senior of mine summarised the aim of this initiative as one that will ensure that teachers will eventually go beyond the confines of their schools and become national teachers that teach students all over the country through the use of technology. The Gayaza Open Education Portal is already populated with student and teacher generated content that is really impressive. It is this culture of sharing that shall enable the seepage of knowledge across the board leading to uniformity in academic standards nationally if encouraged. Gayaza High School may be pioneering in Uganda what the likes of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) did over a decade ago in the USA only to be followed by numerous other institutions, I believe it is just a matter of time before other schools worth their salt realise that there is always more to be achieved through sharing than hoarding.

Such content sharing can help students as far as Butaleja to access material that their ill prepared teachers are unlikely to ever avail them. Since some of it is student generated, it is presented in a manner that students understand best and who better than their very own to pass on such knowledge?

Join me in talking to your school about the need to start sharing content especially with the less fortunate (third world) schools. Only then can we guarantee uniformity in prosperity and hopefully live to see our dream of becoming a Middle Income country in the near future.

Do your part this time round.

Follow @wirejames on Twitter.

Say NO to that customer

Lubanga (Name not real) wanted a machine to use on his small farm and he approached an engineer who came highly recommended by a friend. After making an assessment of the work, the Engineer quoted UGX 1,500,000/= (One and a half million shillings). However, Lubanga opted to bargain and eventually the two parties settled for a cost price of UGX 750,000/= (Seven hundred and fifty thousand shillings).

Having agreed on a time frame for the works to be executed, Lubanga fully paid up and waited for the delivery of his machine. It eventually arrived but failed to work. That is when the problems begun. One excuse after another was availed by the engineer eventually leading to a frustrated Lubanga. The cat and mouse game went on for more than six months until Lubanga decided to let the cat out of the bag and publicly shame the Engineer on a WhatsApp group.

Upon arbitration, the Engineer first gave the excuse of low electricity as the reason for the machine failing to work. When pinned further, he confessed that the low pay would not give him room to make adjustments on the machine design. Hence, he was stuck with a non functional client’s machine.

As Small Business owners, we are usually too desperate to get business and impress at the same time that we fail to make objective assessments. Since we never usually undertake thorough analysis of our cost structures, sometimes our pricing is temperamental and largely based upon the circumstances we are going through. I know of some artisans who will charge you twice the going rate for a particular job simply because they have to clear a LandLord’s debt.

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A Basket Weaver in Adjumani District – Northern Uganda

Since every service or product to be offered has overhead costs, it is always crucial to make a proper breakdown of the costs involved before committing oneself to a job. Sometimes the temporal smile you put on a customer due to the low price quoted could turn out to be the worst decision you ever made. Imagine the effect of an angry customer maligning you among your network of friends and associates who were considering the use of your services?

There is this tendency we have sometimes of trying to offer a product or service that fits within the budget of the customer. This isn’t such a bad idea but it shouldn’t be stretched too far. Often times, you can quickly sense a customer who wants to get a Mercedes Benz at the cost of a Toyota. Be very wary of such because if you accept their bait, the end result might bot be good for both parties. That is what must have happened to Lubanga. Bargaining is my favourite pass time but if someone is ready to discount a product by 50%, I would be very scared and most likely not partake of that transaction. It automatically means that there shall be some form of compromise which could affect the customer experience am looking for.

I know there are situations that arise, you have offie rent pending, multiple customers are yet to pay up for services already provided, you have a wage bill to sort out, your own livelihood is at stake and hardly have enough to transport yourself from home to work and back, your child has been sent away from school due to lack of school fees and so on and so forth. With all this baggage, you do not really want to let this money go. My brother/sister, I advise that you spend more time trying to convince the customer to embrace a payment structure that will enable you break even at worst. Alternatively, have then scale down their expectations and ensure that whatever is agreed upon is written down for the record.

In case no agreement can be reached, do not compromise. Say NO to that job. If it is the exposure you’re looking for, then probably offer a free service and make it clear to the customer.

Saying yes all the time and failing to live up to the promises made only serves the purpose of making you look greedy. Reputation is key.

Go say NO. You wont die.

Follow @wirejames on Twitter.

The Space Age is upon us. Don’t say I never told you so.

Friday is one of those days that many look forward to. From pupils/students to the employed. Programmes vary with the kids looking forward to watching their favourite TV shows, going out for a birthday party over the weekend or even heading to church for sunday school. The adults are probably looking forward to linking up with buddies at their favourite pub or restaurant, dancing away the night in the discotheque or even roasting a pig or goat in the open air. The more religious may be gearing up for an overnight service eventually culminating in a power filled sunday church service.

Enter the time machine with me and we fast forward to 2040. The proggies might be similar albeit with a difference in how they are executed. It is friday morning and through WhatsApp (I hope it will still exist) Dr. Onenkan sends a message on Wawa List inviting us for lunch. Jancobo quickly proposes a meet up at the SkyPort Restaurant. Departure time is set for noon. Using our flying cars, we link up at the Spaceport (No longer Airport) somewhere in Kajjansi (a suburb of Kampala) and take the vertical Space Elevator to space, covering a distance of 300Km in under 20 minutes (never mind the technology being used). On arrival at the Spaceport, we settle in comfortably and commence discussions in full view of the Earth miles away from us. We admire the moon that appears more vivid and while at it, Mars pops up too. Low Earth Orbiting satellites wheez past us and it all seems as normal as that bodaboda that races past you today.

Upon completion of lunch, Humble DB suggests that we go for a space race. We quickly board Alien Reproduction Vehicles (ARV) and embark on faster than light travel by bending space and time. The first target is to see who reaches Venus first. Our trail begins and Neri beats us to it by covering the 40 million Km distance in 2.5 seconds.planets_image

You think this is impossible? Imagine this, if the speed of light is 299.8 million metres per second and our ARVs are comfortably moving at the speed of light, in under three seconds we should be in the environs of Venus.

Yen then challenges us to a much longer race from Venus to Saturn a journey of 1,316,400,000Km. We all agree that this is one race that will test us better. Off we go, crisscrossing space, avoiding stray meteorites here and there, observing all sorts of alien activity going on in a vast sea of space. We by-pass Earth and Do-Blade is in the lead at this point. Zo seems to be hot on his heels having exceeded the speed of light. We are heading for Mars and it seems like all our ARVs are gaining speed. Dono takes the lead as we get into the environs of Jupiter. The pressure is mounting as we all want to win. Then suddenly out of the blue, Onenkan’s ARV makes a joke of ours by gracefully bypassing us traveling at almost Light2 (twice the speed of light). Before we know it, he’s hovering in the rings of Saturn, a sign he’s won the race. Time check, 80 Seconds and we are all admiring the beautiful rings of saturn, a giant gas planet.

t2iEBowxv24VqercCap3xwLoWe are in awe of the numerous moons that it has (official count is 150 moons and moonlets). Named after the Roman God of war, Galileo discovered Saturn in 1610. One year on Saturn equals 29.5 Earth Years. Had I been born there, I would now be close to 1.5 years old. While Galileo only saw it through the telescope, here we are chilling right in it’s environs because of technology.

At this point we agree that work is pending back home on earth. The fly back to Sky Port Restaurant takes us under 5 minutes where we descend with the Space elevator back to Kajjansi. Time check, 2:30pm and we are back in our offices after an exciting cosmic journey.

I bet you’re thinking these are insane thoughts. No they aren’t. Whilst most folks are focusing on making their existence better on earth, a section of mankind aided by technology is working on the possibility of colonising space. I envisage a future where we shall have floating cities, entire nations on Mars and possible military outposts on the Moon. Tourism currently being focused on Africa is likely to shift to space within 50 years from now. Elon Musk’s efforts at SpaceX are commendable in making space travel cheaper.

Without doubt, we shall soon have picnics, church services, discotheques, offices and other pass times in space while retreating occasionally to earth just to catch up with family and friends the way some buddies resident in Europe and America like traveling back home to re-connect with their families.

Before I die, I would love to see the first church service conducted in Space. I wonder how the spirit slayed christians will fall in the gravity-free floating environment of outer space.

Welcome back to 2016.

Follow @wirejames on twitter

Image Credits

Saturn – https://www.thinglink.com/scene/662855196417720322

Solar System – http://www.planetsforkids.org/images/planets_image.jpg

IDLELO 7 – Uganda’s Open Source Moment

The year was 1997 when as a student at Makerere University, I had the privilege of hobnobbing with a select group of ‘internet techies.’ One of them whom I later got to know was Kiggundu Mukasa had just returned from the USA after spending some time there studying and working. He was the first local advocate of Linux (an Open Source Operating System) and using the software CDs he had returned with, he very willingly shared with those who were already technically astute. Individuals like Paul Bagyenda and Terah Kaggwa are some of the very first I know of that toyed around with Linux in this country.

Our meet-ups used to be in Baghdad (Wandegeya) at the site of the current KCCA market and that is where the first unofficial Linux User Group (LUG) meetings took place. The inspiration that some of us got as a result of the open sharing that used to take place skewed our minds into embracing Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) as the future for this nation and Africa at large.

Being convinced about a cause is one thing while having others buy into the same cause is another. The resistance faced while spreading the FOSS gospel then was so stiff that hadn’t it taken firm determination, Uganda would not be the Open Source beacon of hope that it is today. From Government to the private sector, IT professionals were sceptical of anything Open Source and while some of their reasons were valid, others bordered on mere fear for change of the status-quo.

Over the years, numerous developments have gradually altered local perceptions about FOSS and these include;

  • The increasing clout of FOSS products/companies like Fedora, SuSe, MySQL among others in the IT world.

  • Exposure by many IT professionals to FOSS systems starting with those that got a chance to pursue their studies out of the country.

  • Increasing grip that Proprietary Software companies were having on Software Licensing compliance.

  • The enactment of laws that rendered activities like software piracy illegal.

  • The growth of e-government

  • The limited operational budgets at the disposal of many Government organisations.

  • The Internet Service providers that majorly offered firewall and mail server systems based on FOSS.

  • The existence of a vibrant Linux User group that at one point used to carry out school outreach programmes.

  • Coordinated efforts of FOSS promotion with other African countries through the pan African FOSSFA organisation.

In November 2002, during an ICT Policy and Civil Society Workshop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, it was agreed that a framework for Open Source Solutions be developed. This process later led to the formation of the Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA) a year later. Come 2004, the first ever African Conference on the Digital Commons was held in South Africa where it was later dubbed IDLELO (meaning common grazing ground). This event is carried out every two years and attracts participants who are actively participating or interested in the FOSS world. IDLELO is to Africa what OSCON is to the USA.

Twelve years later, from the 22nd to 24th of August 2016, Uganda will proudly host IDLELO 7. What makes it even more interesting is the level of Government involvement. After shouting ourselves hoarse for nearly a decade, the local FOSS community had given up on ever seeing the Government of Uganda play an active role in promoting FOSS. However, over the last two years, the National IT Authority of Uganda has warmed up to the idea of integrating FOSS in the Government plans for e-government. A FOSS policy is in advanced stages of being approved thanks to this same organisation pursuing the matter. The financial and logistical support NITA-U has extended to the event clearly shows that this time round, the Government is serious about going in bed with Free Software.

It is therefore a very exciting and emotional moment for many that have seen the baby strides FOSS has taken to gain a foothold in Uganda. Hosting the Who is Who of Africa’s FOSS world is likely to alter our path for the better and for good.

To the delegates coming over, Ugandans are known for their hospitality and we are certain that you will leave a piece of your life in Kampala.

Hubasangaliye

Tubaaniriza

Twabashemererwa

Wajoli i Uganda 

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