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Hon. Anite, you’re a Minister. Get out of your Slumber

Abraham Lincoln once said, “it’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

I could hardly believe my ears and eyes when I read and heard allegations that the State Minister for Investment and Privatisation, a one Hon. Evelyn Anite had blurted out statements in line with the fact that all Ugandans shall be required to have a simcard of the rabied Uganda Telecom.

Before I start on Uganda Telecom, I would like to register my disappointment in the level of intellectual ability depicted by some of the ministers in our government. I now realise why a minimum education requirement was put in place for anyone who wants to be a member of the Parliament. However, today, I propose that the education requirements for Ministers be elevated even much higher than a Senior 6 certificate.

This is not the first time I have been uneasy about the kind of chit chat this Hon. Anite turns into public speeches. Matters are even made worse when one learns that she holds a sensitive docket whose aim is to promote investment in this country.

Why should Ugandans be forced or required to have UTL Sim Cards? In her wisdom, she calls upon our nationalism as a way of reviving the ailing entity. Now here are some questions for her in this regard:

  • Where was Nationalism when the top four managers were earning a combined salary of US$ 95,500 (UGX 343 Million) monthly?

  • Where was Nationalism when a one Emmanuel Kasule was paid UGX 50 Million before he even begun working for UTL?

  • Where was Nationalism when the Uganda Police and lots of other Government agencies raked up unpaid bills in billions?

  • Where was Nationalism when a decision was hurriedly made to sell shares to UCOM without following due process?

  • Where was nationalism when the share holding structure was further altered to favour UCOM by reducing on that of the government?

  • Where was nationalism when UCOM continued having lee way over management issues in the business despite the expiry of an earlier agreement?

  • Where was Nationalism when Lap Green acquired the UCOM shareholding under unclear circumstances?

Hon Anite, your simplistic trend of thought is inexcusable for someone who has had a parliamentary stint. You have since enjoyed the perks of not only being a parliamentarian but also a ruling party member only for this to be later followed up with a ministerial position. Most of what you seem to share in this docket is either extracts from peers you relate with or smatterings of information that you collide with.

Hon Anite, if you want to appeal to our sense of nationalism, you need to present a package not these one off requests. We need to see you in government as being practising nationalists before we can kowtow.

As a UTL sim card holder, I have a lot of frustrations that I can share which will just show you that the entity, while being in the 21st century is actually being run with a 20th century mindset. During Sim Card registration, as Africell, Airtel and MTN were using electronic methods to register us, I walked to the UTL outlet at Game and the first thing they asked me was to go photocopy my National ID, write my number on the same paper and then wait till the photocopy is taken to the head quarters. I refused and as a result abandoned my line. I cant allow to be associated with such incompetence under the guise of nationalism.

It is now over two months since the Hon Nandala Mafabi probe into UTL, a lot of wrongs were unearthed but to-date, no action has been taken against the culprits. So much for nationalism.

While I may want UTL to continue existing for sentimental and nationalistic reasons, your very government’s inaction towards wanting to see it succeed has made me and many others give up on that side of things. Truth be told, we now don’t care afterall we are having some decent services from the other players. I do enjoy my data with Africell, Voice with MTN and occasionally Airtel’s Pakalast.

By the way, even if you legislated that we own UTL simcards, will you force us to use them? Does UTL have the capacity to support over 20 million users in its current derelict state?

Like a glutton who after puking calls upon others to clean his vomit, we are being rallied to support a cause for a mess others deliberately created.

#Temutukooya (Don’t make us tired)

As it is, the hussle in our economy is so real that the last thing on our mind should be dealing with such dreams that are devoid of a serious thought process.

For God and My Country

Wire James

Twitter: @wirejames

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He Died!! Where did his Mobile Money go?

On his way home from work, he hired a bodaboda to help him swiftly navigate the traffic jam only to get involved in a nasty accident that saw him lose his life. Charlie (name not real), was an ambitious young man who was out to curve a better world for himself. In his business, he used a lot of Mobile Money (MM) transactions since they offered a lot of flexibility and security. When he died, no one knew about the financial status of his MM account nor his pin code. Not even his wife!!!

Such scenarios are common in Uganda. People die, lose phones with their simcards or travel out of the country only to return years later and the Mobile Money is no longer available.

Where does this Mobile Money go? This is the key question.

It is typical of the telecom companies in Uganda to reassign phone numbers that have not been in use for a while. This re-assignment is done in such a manner that any Mobile Money that was on that account gets erased too. I have a sim card from Airtel and once, due to a long period of inactivity, it was deactivated. Before the deactivation, I had deposited UGX 20,000/= on the Moble Money. Upon reactivation, when I inquired about the MM, all I was told was that I had to register afresh. No explanation was given for the absence of my MM previously deposited.

Imagine a telecom deactivating at least 300 sim cards per day. Of those, let’s say 50% have Mobile Money leftovers that average out to UGX 20,000/= on their individual accounts. This gives a total of UGX 3,000,000/= (Three Million) daily being taken over by the Telecoms company. In a month, this works out to UGX 90,000,000/= (Ninety Million) and a year, that adds up to a conservative estimate of UGX 1,080,000,000/= (One billion, eighty million).

This may not look like much money to the telecom company but a quick analysis reveals that it can pay the annual salaries of at least ten middle level managers with each earning in the region of Eight to Nine Million shillings. This same amount can be used to pay up for the lease on the cars used by the telecom.

While appearing as a small loss on the part of the customer, this money when aggregated becomes massive and this is where the telecom companies benefit unscrupulously.

In another scenario, someone deposits UGX 1,000,000/= (One Million) onto the MM account and does not use it for a period of two weeks. The telecom company earns interest off that money but the customer is only entitled to the principal amount deposited. This is another ugly scar rearing its head in the MM field. Every day, you have Billions of Shillings deposited onto the Mobile Money systems and they earn a hefty sum for the Telecoms companies even if they remain unused for a mere few days. Is it fair that the status-quo continues? Isn’t it time the consumer was given their due?

Well, some telecoms have come up with a spinoff savings scheme using MM but that is like dragging wool over our eyes as clients. Whether I enroll for the savings scheme or not, for as long as I have my Mobile Money on the phone, it is prudent that any interest earned by the telco be passed on to me too (at least a fraction).

Currently there is no serious modality when it comes to regulation of Mobile Money. Like loan sharks, the players set their rules and determine how the game is played. Apart from the requirement by the Central Bank for the Telcos to have bank accounts that backup the electronic money with actual cash reserves, there is nothing more. When MTN suffered an internal MM fraud setback some years back, it was a result of system manipulation that led to issuing of more electronic money than the actual bank reserves had.

In this era as we transition from paper to digital money, it is prudent that the Bank of Uganda wakes up to its responsibility. They need to move swiftly with the times, work with the Uganda Communications Commission and any other parties to ensure that we have a fair and forward looking environment that will see a greater adoption of MM.

Digital Money is a reality we are faced with and have to ready ourselves to embrace it fully.

James Wire is a Small Business and Technology Consultant based in Kampala, Uganda

Follow @wirejames on Twitter

I’ve been Retired. How do I invest my money?

“Dear James, I have been working with a known brand name in Uganda for many years. Recently, I was retired under mutual consent and given a severance package. However, I do not know exactly what to do in order to ensure that my money does not fade away. I still have a young family and need to continue earning somehow. Please help!!”

The tone of the email vividly showed me that Gusaga (name not real) was crying out for help. As opposed to most cries I get of people who lack money, this time round, he has the money but is scared about losing it all.

You too are probably having a time of your life in that job guaranteeing you certain basics as well as promising you much more in future. However, one fate that awaits you for sure is retirement. One day, as sure as night follows day, you will be sent packing. What do you do when that time comes?

Gusaga is an accomplished professional who has put in a great effort in his career and is now at crossroads. Faced with the scenario of a lifestyle change from the 8am to 5pm job routine, the frequent meetings and travel, the corporate hobnobbing that has seen him mingle with the crème de la crème, the feeling of power and importance managing a team, company supported holidays to exotic destinations for his entire family, guaranteed education for his children in elite international schools among others, he begins to wonder what lies ahead. However, in this article, we shall stick to his concern, the money. How can he keep it and ensure that it multiplies?

First and foremost, for the money to multiply, Gusaga needs to seriously consider becoming an investor of sorts. It is only by sowing that money in various opportunities that he will realise the growth he yearns for.

He needs to establish his personality for starters. Is he a risk taker or risk averse? Investment ventures are driven by that foundation in individuals. In most instances, carefully thought out but risky ventures tend to pay significantly more than their non risky alternatives. Money lending is one of those slippery businesses where you swing to either extremes, from a good kill to a total loss. With a personality portfolio in place, he can then start considering opportunities accordingly.

In Uganda, some of the safe investment opportunities are;

Fixed Deposit: This is a financial instrument provided by banks which gives investors a higher rate of interest than a regular savings account, until the given maturity date. You might have UGX 10,000,000/= (Ten Million) and choose to fix it in a bank for a year at an interest rate of 10%. This will guarantee you UGX 11,000,000/= (Eleven Million) by the end of the transaction period. You get to make a profit above the average rate offered for savings accounts. This kind of opportunity is good if you are in a situation where you do not have a clear plan of action for the money you’ve acquired. The time it spends away from you should allow for a more sober assessment of opportunities.

Company Stock: Uganda has a vibrant stock exchange called the Uganda Securities Exchange (USE). It is basically a market area where investors can buy and sell shares of companies. You might be a great admirer of a leading business brand that happens to have listed on the Stock Exchange. Your dream of part ownership can easily be realised through this market. Two benefits for holding company stock are; first, as a part owner of the company whose shares you bought, you are entitled to a share of the profits which come in the form of dividends. Secondly, your share value is also likely to increase in financial value over time. A share you probably bought for UGX 500/= might go for UGX 750/= within a year or two. However, some care is needed when choosing the companies to invest in as the possibility of losses also exists.

Government Securities: It is normal procedure for the Government of Uganda to borrow money from the public (Public Debt) in order to fund its activities. This is done through the issuance of Treasury Bills and Bonds. What about them?

Treasury Bills are issued when Government is borrowing money for the short term i.e. not lasting more than one year. They are issued for periods of 91, 182 and 364 days.

Treasury Bonds are issued when Government is borrowing money for the long term i.e over one year. They are issued for periods of 2, 5, 10 or 15 years.

Depending on the targets you have, you can settle for the most appropriate security. By offering a predictable interest payment, these securities are risk free and hence very ideal for the risk averse. The Bank of Uganda is responsible for issuing these securities on behalf of the Government.

Other investment options do however exist especially if you are ready for the risk involved. You can consider either starting up from scratch or buying equity in an existing concern. Some business opportunities commonly pursued in Uganda include;

Real Estate: This entails property, which consists of land and the buildings on it. You can opt to invest some of your benefits in purchasing of land and selling it off after a while for a profit.

Alternatively, construct rental structures on the purchased land. This requires studying the location where the land is situated in order to put the appropriate structure that will easily win over customers. Many make the mistake of setting up large bungalows targeting high end tenants who are very limited as opposed to small apartments or units (trains) that target the medium and low end market that is much more readily available. When completed, rentals guarantee you a steady flow of cash on a monthly basis. While at it, do not forget that Uganda Revenue Authority has begun taxing landlords.

Consulting: You have worked for a good number of years and have a skill that has been perfected over this period of time. This is your chance to get into the consulting arena and sell your skillset as a speciality. Take the example of someone who has been handling tax matters for a company and got to know the intricacies involved, why shouldn’t they consider becoming a Tax Consultant upon being retired? Now that you do not have an employer expecting to take up your time from 8am to 5pm daily, you can partition that time among many smaller customers whose aggregate pay leaves you smiling your way to the bank.

Building a client base is usually the challenge here. However, if marketing is your problem, then consider joining an existing consulting firm as a partner.

Farming: Yeah right!!!! I know this is the buzzword for the average corporate in Uganda lately. No talk of achievements is complete without one saying, “I built a house and have a farm!” The rapid urbanisation coupled by an ever increasing demand for food is a great sign about the future of farming. This profession requires love, patience and honesty with yourself. Many have jumped into it and come out crying foul. As the owner, you need to be ready to love the farming activities and thereafter be active (telephone farming has messed up many due to the unprofessional conduct of most farm hands). Patience is also key because while a crop my fail you in one season, you could very easily register a bumper harvest in the subsequent season.

However, it is also worth noting that some enterprising people have come up with a cooperative approach to farming where you contribute money to a pool and this pool is utilised by someone to actually do the farming (e.g. chicken rearing) only for them to remit an agreed upon interest at the end of the season cycle. The principal amount is again ploughed back into the next farming cycle until a time when you choose to pull out of the initiative.

Technology: The technology field has generated many business opportunities over the last decade. From hardware provision, supply and installation to software development. Many Ugandans are active in the development of applications with the aim of getting a slice of the market. It is worth considering getting into this field even when you are not technically skilled. There are a number of youths out there with brilliant ideas that lack resources to pursue them. Teaming up with them could lead to a win-win.

The biggest danger I have noticed with these youthful entrepreneur wannabes is their lack of professionalism, consistency and vision. They tend to dwell so much on the belief that they are too good and everything in the business rotates around them. So, a good understanding of how to deal with them is crucial prior to committing resources.

Tourism: Uganda over the past few years has consistently topped the charts in the tourism realm globally. At one point we are being praised for being the best destination and on another note, for being the most hospitable country among many other accolades. All these are indications of how pregnant the country is to embrace tourists. You want to be able to tap into this market before it gets saturated.

One of the key challenges for this business venture is the initial investment required. Depending on the level you want to start at, it can be significantly high.

Education: Schools are a worthy investment. If you assess the demand for decent schools in the central region alone, you’re most likely not going to hesitate setting up one. While chatting with an Ex Member of Parliament who happens to be a teacher and school owner, he told me that Primary schools are some of the easiest to set up and yet also have a very fast pay back. Since they do not need exorbitant facilities like Science Laboratories, they are a safe bet when joining this industry. I would also include Nursery schools or day care centres in this category of quick pay back.

In case you do not have prior experience in the industry, it is advisable you piggy back on existing industry experts.

Supermarket: The era of small shops has been overtaken by supermarkets. Nearly each residential area has some sort of supermarket lately. This is one easy to set up business considering that the largest investment is in renting the building, branding, setting up shelves, installing Point of Sale system and hiring staff. Products to be sold are usually got on credit from the suppliers who are then paid after sales are done.

You however need to be aware of the pitfalls that come in through product pilferage. Workers and sometimes customers tend to steal from supermarkets hence creating income shortfalls.

There are many other possible business ventures for you to attempt. Take time and do your own assessment of the environment you are in. The trick is to always look out for the problems afflicting people, there-in lies a business opportunity.

Finally, I advise you to invest in multiple opportunities, something we usually term as balancing your business portfolio. There are investments that give you returns within a month or two, others a year or two and some five to ten years. Each category of business has its merits and demerits. Since you do have a substantial sum of money, identify two to three business ventures and invest not more than 40% of your severance package. This is aimed at ensuring that incase you backfired in any of them, the loss will not send you under.

What advice do you have for Gusaga?

James Wire is a Small Business and Technology Consultant based in Kampala, Uganda

Follow @wirejames on Twitter

Advice to my son joining boarding Secondary School

It has been a journey getting thus far. From the time you were born, the joy you brought to us your parents was unfathomable. We proudly took it upon ourselves to ensure that we were always there to raise you. When you started Primary School, we made it clear that you would have to leave home for boarding school upon joining Secondary School.

Now that the time has come, as you read this, you are already at your new school, enjoying your new found life. We have talked about many things over and over again as I drove you to and from school each morning and evening over the past ten years. However, as a departure from my forefathers, I prefer to pen down what we’ve been sharing for posterity’s sake. Listen to me.

You’ve gone to grow. Secondary school is a very interesting phase in life in that you leave the innocence of childhood behind and get initiated into the world. You find all sorts of characters, get introduced to all sorts of habits, hobbies and pass times. It is the time when you get awakened to the good and filth that society has to offer. This helps you to grow since in the process, you get a great opportunity to exercise your human sieve. Now that you’re out of the protective eye of Mom and Dad, the values we’ve shared over the past 12 years are going to be tested to the limit.

Learn all you can but don’t partake of it all. Learning is a good thing. It doesn’t matter whether you’re learning the bad or good things people do around you. However, as you learn, it doesn’t mean you have to engage in what you have learnt. When I joined Senior One, I was shocked when I got wind of the fact that homosexuals, alcohol and drug users were existent in my school. However, over time, I realised that such people will always be there, I just didn’t have to succumb to their advances. I must say that while I steered clear of homosexuality and drug use, as I was concluding my Senior 4, I succumbed to alcohol and cigarette smoking (you know this already). My advice to you? Never try it out, however romantically they may present it to you. Always recall what the Bible says about these things.

Leviticus 20:13 – If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable.

Proverbs 20:1 – Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.

However, there are also many good things, if you for example come across sports lovers, Bible reading believers among others, I urge you to partake of such activities without haste.

Romans 12:2 – “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Be careful who you make friends with. Your friends define you. If you team up with lazy people, you become lazy, if you team up with focused chaps, you will without doubt be focused. It’s very hard for one to do the opposite of what his gang of friends are doing. You and I have time and again discussed the priorities, I urge you to base on these priorities to determine who you bring into your inner circle of friends.

Go slow on intimacy with women. You’ve not gone to school on a dating spree. I know yours is a mixed school (a fact I really like) but let the presence of the fairer sex as well as your testosterone levels not supercede your mental judgement of what is good for you at your current stage of development. Sex, you will always have with your marriage partner when you’re an adult, so, go slow.

Do not abuse your freedom. I am definitely sure that you are celebrating your new found freedom. Freedom to do what you want without Mom or Dad giving you instructions. Congratulations!!! However, with freedom, comes responsibility. The decisions you make are definitely going to affect others around you either positively or negatively. So, exercise caution.

Remember your humble background. You know too well that you haven’t been born into a superstar family. We are a simple down to earth family. Always remember that while at school. I know you might get gripped by the star studded lineup of some of the students at school who might be coming from big name families BUT always remember your humble background.

Not all fingers are equal. Just like the fingers on our hands aren’t equal in size so are people. You will come across students gifted in different aspects. For some it is swimming, football, badminton, chess etc while others may be gifted academically. You also have those who by virtue of their privileged backgrounds can afford to dangle all sorts of toys around that you probably only see on Tv. Yes, such is life, do not get distraught. Instead, use these observations to work yourself hard enough to close that gap and become a long finger in future too.

Live within your means. While I was at school, I used to see some students leading lives that made me quickly conclude that they were from very rich families. Fortunately or unfortunately, as time went by, I learnt that some of them were choking on debts in order to lead those lifestyles. You do not have to spend your life living a lie. Be yourself, and let people love or hate you for who you are.

Books first, the rest follow. Remember, books are the reason you have gone to that school. Academic knowledge is key because it complements the other abilities we have in us. I for example love farming but the fact that I studied Agriculture even makes me execute this passion more than I could have. As your parents we want you to receive an education not merely to pass exams but to learn and solve problems in society.

As you get a good grip on your academics, you’re free to engage in any extra curricula activity. The school you’ve joined has such a diversity of activities that I am confident you’ll come out a much better and rounded individual by the time you’re done. So, do not let down opportunities to engage in drama, music, swimming, football, farming, work internships and all the other stuff that the rich menu at that school provides.

Self Education. In our days (30 years ago), self education was in the form of going to the library and reading books written twenty years earlier. Today, you have the internet as a massive library. Use it to accumulate as much knowledge as possible. If the syllabus introduces you to Compost Manure and only expects you to be able to define it, get onto the internet and arm yourself with more information (even when it may not be examinable) like; How compost is made, types of compost bins, Good and Bad materials for composting, etc. That is the learning that will make me genuinely proud of you. The average parent in Uganda may be purely keen on how many points their child scores in the national exams but I extend my expectations beyond that. Of what use is a student who scores distinctions yet he cannot repair a spoilt power plug?

Respect for Others. Always, Always Always take it upon yourself to respect others in your community. It does not matter what vice you know about them. You’ll most likely have the sickly, alcoholics, smokers, sexual deviants among others in your community but do not demonise them. Deal with them in a manner that shows respect and pray for them to change for the better (that is what a true christian does).

Avoid Alcohol and Drugs. Those two pass times are some of the leading causes of instability among students in school. There are many tales of young lives that have either been lost or gone to ruin as a result of engaging in these vices. Steer clear of them my son. I did share with you how I drank alcohol for many years and eventually quit. I am speaking from experience and whenever you feel the temptation is rising, call me and we’ll talk about it. Please do not take that first beer or smoke that first cigarette before talking to me.

Set a Vision. I know this is something even adults struggle with, but as a young man, I want you to start early. Set a vision for your life or if that is too much to fathom, set one for your school life. A vision will help you have a yardstick for measuring progress in your life. Each day you wake up, you will be able to gauge yourself and tell whether you’re going forward or not.

Be a problem solver. Many youths are being raised to be great employees but I have always told you that I’m not raising paper pushing employees in my family. I am raising problem solvers. The future is not going to be favourable to those that are merely waiting for instructions from above. It will favour those that can steer the ship even amidst a lot of uncertainty.

Take time to engage in critical thinking, problem solving, leadership, debate, conflict resolution among others. By the time you’re done, you will be an amazing product ready to steer this country to the next level.

I wish you the best in your new setup. I am excited as a parent to begin your teenage journey with you.

I’ll always Love you. Dad.

Follow @wirejames on Twitter

Budo, SMACK, Gayaza etal Stop digging your graves

All through his primary school studies, the young man had his eyes on Kings College Budo (herein referred to as Budo) as his school of choice for secondary education. His parents always reminded him that the only obstacle between him and Budo was obtaining Aggregate 4 in his Primary Leaving Examinations. He promised himself to get those grades and read like his whole world depended on it.

When the results came out, like the adage says, hard work pays, he had the required aggregate 4 to enter Budo as a star pupil. Celebrations ensued at his home with relatives, friends and neighbours congratulating him. His gait even changed to one befitting a Budonian (we all know how they be). After the school selections hat taken place, the young man wasn’t considered for a place at his most highly coveted school.

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I know of pupils that got Aggregate 8 and above who have already secured admission

This led him to stage a campaign of defiance that has seen him refuse to leave the confines of Budo until he’s given a satisfactory reason why he wasn’t admitted.

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Pupils at Buganda Road Primary School studying hard to join the much coveted traditional secondary schools like Budo, SMACK, Gayaza among others.

Reading that story in the Daily Monitor brought tears to my eyes. This is yet another injustice being meted upon the powerless. Having been born in a modest family without the trappings of political or economic power, the young man is being denied what is rightfully his. As anger welled up inside me, I recalled myself exactly thirty years ago, having passed with similar grades, I had chosen St Mary’s College Kisubi (SMACK) as my first choice and without any underhand dealings, was duly selected to join the school. What is it that has changed between then and now?

Towards the end of the academic year, many school head teachers in the so called big name Church, Government and Private schools rub their palms with glee as they fathom the upcoming windfall of money that is likely to exchange hands as parents venture as far as the moon to ensure their children join these highly coveted schools. In an earlier post on this issue, I indicated how the few available places in some of these schools are already over subscribed by allocations dedicated to various interest groups. Let’s take Kings College Budo as an example, the interest groups I know of are; Church of Uganda, Buganda Kingdom, State House, Ministry of Education and the Old Students Association. Their lists of students are the first to be approved even before considering the genuine cases of high achievers. This is what must have led to the scenario of that young man.

As a result, Budo and schools of its kind have become hotspots for those with technical-know-who as well as the moneyed elite. Budo is what it is because of the one hundred plus years it has been around churning out highly brilliant merit laden students who have gone ahead to change this nation and the world we live in. By going against the ethos that has seen them select students on merit, they are merrily digging their own grave, albeit in the manner of a slow killing poison. I keep hearing some pedestrian commentators trying to chest thump asking where students of the lesser known schools are and which sectors of the economy they are managing but my assurance to you is that most of these lesser known schools are hardly two decades old and their graduates are probably at best 38 – 40 years old. Using the law of probabilities, one might need to wait another couple of years before you see them swamp the economy. Their numbers are growing slowly but surely.

Back to Budo, with all this injustice they are meting upon brilliant students in order to please the selfish desires of a few who do not care about the school’s long term survival, I guarantee you the grave being dug will definitel be more than six feet. An analysis of the overall performance of schools nationwide reveals that those in Western Uganda are catching up very fast and shall definitely overtake the traditional Central Uganda big guns within the next five to eight years. They are achieving this by concentrating on the core issues while taking advantage of not being under pressure. Take time and ask State House, Church of Uganda and the Ministry of Education how many lists they send to schools like Ntare in Western Uganda and you’ll be hard pressed to find any worth talking about. That very Ntare is however one of the leading schools today according to the metrics in place. Don’t you really think there is a sinister plot to swamp the school with more students than it can handle, hence leading to a poorer learning environment which eventually yields half baked graduates? Think about it.

Another trait of bad manners these high sounding traditional schools have come up with is financially burdening parents. Look at the case of SMACK that is requesting for UGX 500,000/= as Special Development Fees to each Senior One student joining on top of an already hefty school fees sum of UGX 1,900,000/=.

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How is a low income parent expected to cope with such?

In Gayaza High School(Gayaza), a generator maintenance surcharge is required and a quick count indicates that the school can afford to buy a brand new generator each term at this rate. When will all this nonsense stop? Have parents been turned into cash cows? Should poor or modest family heads be made to slave away just to maintain a child in Gayaza?

The era of training 21st century students with a 20th century mindset has to cease. I am a proud old student of SMACK but one thing I can admit is that the prioritisation of quantity over quality has put me off totally to the extent that I wouldn’t recommend anyone with a radical mindset like mine to take their child to those traditional big guns. It is time they rethought their strategy otherwise today’s perceived minnows will eclipse them tomorrow when their products excel where it matters, THE WORK PLACE.

Are you a parent? Remember, it’s your actions among other factors that are greatly contributing to this nonsense going on in our schools. If you and me say NO to bribing for places, NO to seeking special consideration, NO to depriving legitimate qualified candidates a place, NO to paying incomprehensible extra fees, NO to grilling our children merely to pass exams, NO to high teacher to student ratios, then we shall have begun our journey of making Uganda’s education system great again. Let’s fight from within.

To the student and parent that have staged a sit down strike at Kings College Buddo, thank you for that stand of defiance. I’m with you 100%. You’ve kindled the light that just might lead to a tsunami whose wake of destruction might actually save our schools from heading into oblivion.

In Bunyole, we have a proverb, “esoŋera ehugwa mwibwa nj’ehwenda (The fly that lands on your wound is the one that loves you)“.

To the likes of Budo, SMACK, Gayaza, Namagunga, Namilyango among others, I may be that fly today, irritating you with my dooms day talk but take it from me, if you don’t wake up, a decade from now, you’ll be history. It’s because I pride in your continued existence that I have taken time off to share my observations.

DUC IN ALTUM.

A blog reader who prefers to remain anonymous did contribute this article titled “Is Uganda’s Education System going to the dogs?” Read on, interesting analysis they’ve got.

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Bird Flu – A lesson for income diversity

The day begun just like any other. Namusabi (name not real), headed straight to the chicken coop as is her routine each morning. As she went through her motions, she eagerly anticipated the upcoming delivery of birds to one of her large customers. With the anticipated income, she had plans to pay up the school fees dues for her three children.

As the day progressed, a call came through from a friend who proceeded to ask her if she had read the news about Bird Flu. Namusabi had no clue and asked for details, only to be told that the deadly disease had been detected in Uganda. The news hit her like a lightning bolt.

Within days, orders were cancelled and it dawned upon her that she was headed for a financial crash. Rearing chicken has been her sole job and indeed all she can boast of in life has come from that business. Today, she is faced with the prospect of losing what she has worked for all this time. Basic survival is being threatened and she seems to have no where to turn.

This lady’s experience is reflective of many. We usually have single income streams and for as long as they run smoothly, we bask in comfort. Often times this works out well until disaster strikes. In today’s business environment, survival can be so fickle that loss of customers can be stimulated by seemingly minute incidents. The spread of social media has only made matters worse in this regard.

Something else we have to deal with is the seasonality of business. Most opportunities have seasons when they flourish and this essentially means that off season periods bring forth lower income. This is covered well in this article I wrote a while back. Most people that make it through life have always ensured that they set up multiple streams of income from diverse sources.

Are you running a business? Do you have a job? Is that your only income source? Have you ever asked yourself what could happen if that opportunity fizzled away? Does the thought of such an occurrence send chills down your spine?

You’re not alone. Do not sit back and merely hope or pray that it doesn’t happen. You have to do something about it.

It’s usually advisable to consider pursuing a secondary or tertiary business opportunity once you have secured your primary business (income stream). By having a secure primary income stream, you guarantee that you have relatively enough to cater for your current daily needs. This gives you the impetus to take on new frontiers with ease.

Going back to Namusabi’s case, once she weathers this bird flu scare, she should consider investing in additional business opportunities like; a Mobile Money stand, a retail shop, raising pigs, vegetable growing among others. She could take advantage of opportunities that are comlementary to her primary chicken business. Vegetable growing for example can benefit a lot from chicken manure, a waste product of her primary business. With a steady supply of vegetables from her garden she can set up a vegetable stand in the market to sell her homegrown vegetables. More ideas on small scale easy to setup business opportunities can be found here.

In case you aren’t interested in the active income opportunities, consider investing in passive ones. The Stock Exchange is a good example. Buying shares of listed companies can go a long way in helping you achieve your goal. Another passive opportunity is dealing in the relatively safer government securities.

Essentially, do not put all your eggs in one basked if your aspiration is financial security. Spread out your risk and without doubt, the net effect will be improved financial stability.

What is your view?

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Sala Puleesa – Your Child isn’t a Failure

While talking to a friend on phone, she narrated to me how someone she knew wept in her presence because her daughter had scored ten (10) aggregates in the Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE). She was all too furious and preparing to launch an assault of ISIS proportions upon her daughter. To her, the young girl had failed. She had let her down despite all the money that was spent giving her extra studies as well as taking her to a top school.

I keep hearing such stories on a daily and they depress me so much. As a parent of a 2016 PLE candidate, I too went through a lot especially in the last term as documented in this article. Uganda’s national examination system has become one that favours techniques as opposed to knowledgeability. Many of the candidates left the examinations clearly convinced that they were easier than the ones they had been accustomed to. However, they too had a problem reconciling the grades they got when the results came out. My son spent some time kinda depressed, his classmate spent an entire day crying out to his mother wondering how he got the marks he got, while an Old Boy of mine narrated the same about his daughter.

For as long as you are educating your child in the local Ugandan Curriculum, you need to ready yourself to appreciate two things;

  1. The examination of the students encourages more of cram work as well as toeing a pre-set line of thinking as opposed to giving candidates adequate breadth to contribute unique ideas and ways of thinking to the global knowledge bank. Why for example would you mark a child wrong for stating that Light bends when it is widely known today that under intense gravity, indeed light bends? The notion that light travels in a straight line has been surpassed by the studies in Astronomy that prove otherwise.

  2. You can never use the exam results of UNEB to gauge your child’s abilities especially when it comes to soft/survival skills. Some of the parents wailing and showing a lot of grief about the failure of their children are the very ones who have in the past praised them for being outspoken, go-getters, critical thinkers etc. Show me which UNEB exam tests such attributes?

Let us analyse my son’s results for example. He got Ten (10) aggregates and the points were spread out as follows;

  • Mathematics – D2

  • English – D2

  • Social Studies – C3

  • Science – C3

Under normal circumstances, a pedestrian parent will rush to shed a tear and wonder why he never got Aggregate 4. However, let us look at the results in detail. It is very clear that the grading was way up there.

Basing on the information I have from some UNEB examiners, I learnt that a Distinction 1 in Social Studies (which was the best done subject) started at 96%. This clearly means that with a Credit 3, my boy scored in the region of 85% to 90%.

A look at English implies that with his Distinction 2, he definitely scored more than 89%, same with Mathematics. The Credit 3 in Science could very easily have translated to marks between 83% and 89%.

After analysing this, I looked around at the pass marks for most of the professional qualifications that we pursue and this is when I realised that even the much revered CPA exams that professional accountants sit to become chartered accountants have their pass mark as 50%. One of the parents that was so disappointed with their child has sat these exams on two occasions and failed to pass. What moral authority do they have to declare that their child is a failure? Are they trying to imply that they too are failures?

It is an established fact that the level of scrutiny, marking and grading for urban schools especially in Central Uganda is so stringent that pupils who would readily have earned Aggregate 4 are condemned to twice that.

Another issue disturbing parents too is the desire for their children to go to the traditional Giant schools. Most of these are religio-centered schools with over forty years of existence. They are ready to bribe even the gatemen to ensure that their children get slotted into those schools. This is sapping a lot of their energy and lowering the chances for legitimately qualified pupils to access those schools. Imagine a school having to cater for the following interest groups; The Founding Church, State House, Ministry of Education, Old Students, Cultural Affiliation …. the list goes on and on. After those interest groups have taken up more than 75% of the slots available, then the legitimately qualified candidates are considered. Huh!!!!

My son out of peer influence had chosen one of those traditional religio-centered schools and I chose to let him have his way. However, despite being told that he could still get there using other channels, I bailed out when I learnt that it has class streams with upto 100 students, the dormitory setting is no different from sardines in a can, there is no more effort put into extra curricula activities among other things.

I woke up upon this realisation and decided that I will not allow him to kill his sports talent as well as other life skills all in the name of having the privilege to join a top name school. I am glad we are in agreement on this (Mom, Dad and Son) and have already made a decision to take him to a school we regard as offering a holistic package of education under the local curriculum. You want to know the school?

Anyway, back to my point, YOUR CHILD IS NOT A FAILURE !!!!!!!

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Stop the Selfishness, become Socially Responsible!!

Its that time of the year when most of us look forward to the Christmas/New Year holiday. Plans are diverse and usually dictated by which age-group you belong to. While in my mid 20s, I always looked forward to engaging in some serious liquor and entertainment related activities as a way of bidding farewell to the year and welcoming the new one. Today, the story is different.

The average individual is most likely engrossed in planning for a cross-section of activities largely pertaining towards the family’s enjoyment. While it’s important to ensure that family is well catered for during such times, I have grown up enough to realise that the tendency to only think about self is one of the worst habits humanity has gotten into.

Social Responsibility is an ethical framework that suggests that an organisation or individual has an obligation to act for the benefit of society at large. As individuals, we have a duty to perform social responsibility in order to maintain a balance within the societies we exist.

In Uganda for example, the typical middle class family is going to spend this holiday in at least one of the following ways; attend parties hosted at high class venues like the five star hotels everyone who is somebody wants to be seen hobnobbing at, organise parties at home or attend a string of parties at friends’ homes, take a trip with family to a holiday destination (local or international) or undertake a trip to the village with the family.

All these activities aren’t bad at all. However, when they focus on self then there is a big problem. While you’re out there spending UGX 350,000/= (USD 100) each night enjoying yourself;

upe_pupils

Pupils of a UPE School in Adjumani District, Uganda

  • Someone lacks UGX 100,000/= (USD 30) to pay school fees for their child who is getting into a candidate class.

  • A Universal Primary Education (UPE) School in your village needs just UGX 500,000/= (USD 150) to buy a full set of syllabus books to be used by the teachers.

  • Some students who have struggled through school are stuck at making carer choices and need a simple pep talk to show them the opportunities that lie yonder.

  • An elderly widow is struggling to shelter herself from weather elements in her structure worse than a chicken house.

  • A water well in your neighborhood needs basic protective works to ensure that nearby residents have better drinking water.

  • A health centre lacks basic cleaning tools like a scrubber, jerrycans, liquid soap all costing less than UGX 150,000 (USD 40)

The issues are immense, all it takes is looking around you and endeavoring to pick just one to act upon. You see, we do not live in a vacuum. Individual prosperity is not sustainable in a sea of poverty. If you have been blessed to have something, just know there are many that do not have at all. By exercising social responsibility during this festive season, you will have begun your journey towards being a socially responsible citizen.

You might say, well, am a tax paying citizen. The government should play its role. Just take it from me, we have cried for years without end to get the government to sort out some of the now chronic problems we are faced with but nothing seems to get done. As a responsible citizen, are you going to just look on? Imagine this, the fees of a pupil in a high end national curriculum school in Kampala is at least UGX 1.2 Million. Once I was in West Nile and came across a UPE school with 2000 pupils that received UGX 3 million per quarter. In other words, what you pay for two of your children a term in school is what the government assigns for 2000 pupils. It’s mind boggling and shocking at the same time to the extent that shouting yourself hoarse for change in this regard will be more strenuous than you mobilising friends to address some of that school’s challenges.

Stop being inward looking. Make your family happy but you too need to realise that putting a smile on others outside your nuclear family is a pre-requisite for a proper balance of social harmony.

As you do your thing this festive season, take time off to address a public need. I already have one lined up for me in Butaleja on the 28th of December 2016. A group of concerned Talejaz is launching Tree Planting and Education initiatives under our umbrella association of Naanghirisa Development Association.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

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Are Kampala’s Elite juicing their way to Cancer?

If there is one thing I have respect for Kampala’s middle class, it’s their quick adoption of anything regarding healthy living. There was a time when the social status of someone was directly proportional to their weight. The bulkier you were, the higher the social standing you had.

We then got introduced to the world of Gym, Sauna and Steam bath. It became the rage around town. Someone worthy their corporate pedigree had to be seen to have a sauna/steam bath as part of their daily programme. The consciousness of weight loss begun at this stage. However, most of the disciples thought that they would still maintain their beer swigging, chicken and pork eating habits expecting the sauna to automagically take away the weight.

The sauna era then paved way for Jogging. To-date, jogging is still taken seriously with groups of drinking buddies or even corporates coming together once or twice a week to jog a couple of kilometers.

While this was going on, we were ushered into the era of Juicing !!!!.

What is Juicing? Juicing involves a process where the natural liquids, vitamins, and minerals are extracted from raw fruits and vegetables, this process strips away any solid matter from the fruits and vegetables and you’re left with liquid only.

Everywhere I turn lately, a friend or two are talking about juicing. They share marvelous stories of how it has changed their lives, how they’ve lost weight, the elderly have seen their ailments reduce, alcohol filled bodies have been successfully detoxed etc.

While I’m in awe of all these testimonies, I want to share a few pointers on the likely dangers a juicer would expose themselves to in Kampala.

The average urban shopper will purchase their vegetables and fruits from the traditional local markets, Supermarkets as well as roadside sellers. Often times the presentation of these products is so attractive that one can hardly question their origin.

However, a few disturbing issues are rife in Uganda’s farming communities and unless urgent attention is given to them, the consumers will bear the brunt through unintended food poisoning as well as disease accumulation.

Issue 1:

It is a fact that the presence of banned pesticides is rife in this country. This was in part brought about by the liberalisation of agro-chemical inputs which weakened quality control. Chemicals are banned for various reasons, majority of which are health side effects on humans. More insights on this can be got in this article.

Issue 2:

There is widespread indiscriminate use of pesticides. Once I went to the market and out of curiosity asked the tomato seller why the tomatoes had a whitish substance on them. She confidently told me that the substance was a pesticide sprayed after harvest to increase the shelf life of the tomatoes as well as prevent pest attacks during storage. I did corroborate this assertion with a friend that operates a retail shop.

tomatoesStandard agricultural practice does not recommend applying any pesticides to crops due for harvest within two weeks. This is due to the time it takes for the chemicals to breakdown and avoid entry into the human body. A 2013 Study among tomato farmers in Uganda found that no farmer was applying the recommended concentration of Dithane M-45. Their application varied from 3-7 times the recommended levels. This same Dithane is the one sprayed on the tomatoes after harvest. Its widely used on other crops like lettuce, onions and potatoes. Its active ingredient mancozeb is a known hazardous air pollutant and could cause cancer. It is known to have thyroid effects and when ingested by pregnant women can lead to impaired cognitive function and motor development in children.

Issue 3:

Storage of Fruits and Vegetables by most vendors is questionable. On an early morning trip to Buikwe district, I once found some vegetable vendors retrieving their greens from the irrigation canals of the Lugazi Sugar plantations where they had been stored overnight. As an avid user of this route through the plantation, I know how intense the use of chemicals when growing these sugarcanes is. For someone to keep vegetables there implies that they get into contact with these chemicals and the unsuspecting public become the victims of any health side effects.

It is also common knowledge that some vendors of fruits and vegetables in Kampala often store them overnight in water bodies like the Nakivubo channel among others. These are the very fruits you will gladly ingest raw after being nicely spliced and strategically positioned by the road side on a hot day.

Issue 4:

The relevant government agencies lack the ability to monitor pesticide residues in agricultural products. This is one of the reasons why we always wake up late when the EU is banning our produce. Farmers and agro chemical dealers are operating in an unregulated environment and it has become a dog eat dog world. They don’t seem to bear concern for the wellbeing of the food consumers.

What does all this mean to a Juicer?

Since juicing largely involves consumption of raw fruits and vegetables, the chances of one ingesting harmful chemicals while at it is high if they do not have knowledge of the source of the foods they are consuming. Take it from me, you can shop from the trending supermarkets or grocery shops and the agents there may convince you that their suppliers are carefully selected and regulated to ensure you get top notch products. As an individual that knows quite abit about the agriculture value chain, those are mere lies. Many of these retailers have no idea about the practices of their suppliers when growing the produce. All they see are clean vegetables and fruits presented to them.

As you juice, I advise that you consider growing your own stuff. Most of these vegetables and fruits can be grown in your backyard (if you’re serious) and the beauty is that there are groups like the Backyard Gardeners that have a good support network on WhatsApp.

If you aren’t ready to grow your stuff, then start today and scout for a good vegetable/fruit grower who is ethical enough to meet your expectations.

Otherwise, in the pursuit of great health, many are risking even worse ailments by merely jumping onto the bandwagon without assessing the dangers.

Happy Juicing.

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Transacting Online? Uganda’s Laws protect you

Nalule ordered for a TV set on one of Uganda’s e-commerce sites after being offered an attracitve deal. She went ahead to pay fully and wait for its delivery. From a two day delivery promise, it turned out to be a 7 day delivery. To make matters worse, she noticed that the product delivered had some slight variations from what was advertised online. Her attempts to question the variations were silenced by the smooth speaking delivery guy.

It eventually took a visit by a tech savvy friend for her to come to the realisation that she had been offered a previous model of the advertised TV set. Cursing herself, she just vowed never to buy stuff online and always go to the shops instead.

Nalule’s tale is not new at all. You might already have been a victim or know someone that has been. The bigger problem here is the failure of the victims to know their rights under the law. Uganda has laws that cater for such occurrences.

So, you ask;

  • How do I know that the online supplier is legitimate?

Whenever you reach any Ugandan e-commerce site, some of the basic information you should expect to find as a consumer is;

  1. full name and legal status of the person (company).

  2. the physical address and telephone number of the person (company).

  3. the registration number, names of directors and place of registration.

  4. the full price of the goods or services, including transport costs, taxes and any other fees or costs.

  5. the return, exchange and refund policy of the person.

  6. where appropriate, the minimum duration of the agreement in the case of agreements for the sale, hire, exchange or supply of products or services to be performed on an ongoing basis or recurrently.

Failure to locate such key information should trigger your alerts.

  • What precautions are in place to ensure I do not make mistakes while purchasing online?

Ugandan e-commerce sites need to offer you the opportunity to;

(a) review the entire electronic transaction;
(b) correct any mistakes; and
(c) withdraw from the transaction before placing an order.

  • In case I have already transacted (paid up) online and I realise that the e-commerce site did not give me adequate information to make the right decision. Can I cancel?

As a consumer you may cancel the transaction within fourteen days (2 Weeks) after receiving the goods or services under the transaction.

  • From the time I used the online services of [company X] I keep getting spam (unsolicited0 messages on email and my phone. What can I do?

Your rights in this case are;

  1. The messages should not be sent to you at a cost.
  2. You should be given an option to cancel the subscription to that mailing list at no cost.
  • I have problems with delivery. The supplier never delivers on time.
  1. Unless there is specific agreement between you and the supplier, you are expected to receive your goods or services within thirty (30) days. Failure to do so, you are entitled to cancel the order by giving a seven (7) day notice.
  2. If the supplier realises for one reason or another that they cannot supply you with the goods or services, they should inform you before the expiry of the agreed time and make any refunds for payments made within thirty (30) days.

Uganda’s legal system is steadily being upgraded to become compliant with the advancements in technology. As we consume technology enabled products and services, we shouldn’t do so in ignorance of our legal rights as consumers. Take time and inform yourself more about the relevant laws and regulations. Find more about them archived here.

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