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

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