Tag Archives: Uganda

HOW TO – Start a Supermarket

A Supermarket is a large self-service shop selling foods and household goods, according to the English Oxford Living Dictionary. In Uganda, you might want to avoid sticking to that definition by erasing the term large.

We have supermarkets that cover over 5000 Sq. Metres while those in most residential neighborhoods are as small as 20 Sq. Metres. It’s important that we have a similar appreciation of what a supermarket means in the Ugandan context before going ahead with this article.

One of the businesses Ugandans have given attention in the last ten years is the Supermarket business. As a supplier of products to supermarkets, I have an eye for locating the new ones considering that the wider I cast my net, the more sales I make.

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A typical neighborhood supermarket in Kampala, Uganda

From my observation, this is one of the easiest businesses to set up and yet potentially challenging to run. You could choose to directly manage its operations or hire a team to do so. The former option is likely to reduce on the operational headaches by far.

What do you have to consider when setting one up?

  1. Location: The biggest success factor for this business is location. Where you put your supermarket will clearly determine not only the category of clients you attract but also their numbers and frequency of shopping. A supermarket located by the roadside with little or no parking slots for cars had better be near a busy public transport stage. You could also locate it in an affluent suburb or on the road leading to such a suburb from a busy work area of the town. However, in this case, having good parking is a big advantage considering the likely transport mode for most of the middle class families. One of the best locations also is residential areas. Setting up one within an estate or its environs offers a much bigger market guarantee especially if the estate is big in size.

  2. Ground Floor: Wherever the location you settle for, always insist on having the supermarket on the ground floor. Anything short of that will lead you to failure right from the word go. Most Ugandans are not into the habit of climbing stairs just to get stuff done. It is the reason you find most of the storeyed buildings in the city having tenants occupying only the first three floors with the rest being empty. Suppliers also have an easy time when delivering products since having to lift them to higher levels might involve much more labour and time.

  3. Parking: Availability of parking for cars is crucial if you want to reach out to an affluent or mixed client base. Depending on your location, you might want to insist on having parking space near or at the front of the supermarket.

  4. Branding: This can be a complex matter but in the most basic way, simply ensure that you come up with an appealing name and graphics for the business. This process needs to put into consideration your likely target customers and long term plan for the business.

  5. Fittings: Get your internal fittings right. The shelves, cold storage facilities, tables, security among others. The extent of these fittings is determined by the spread of services and products you intend to provide. A basic no frills supermarket intent on merely retailing basic household goods would focus on shelves, a cashier’s table and one or two fridges.

  6. Supply Chain: Supermarkets need suppliers in order to serve their customers. Supplier X brings her baked Cakes, the supermarket displays them on the shelves and customers buy. After sale, the supermarket notifies the supplier to restock as well as receive payment for the previous consignment. The beauty with this is that as you set up the supermarket, suppliers start flocking the venue asking to be registered. So, it is among the easiest to handle.

  7. Human Resource: You need people to run the supermarket. Even when you choose to manage it directly, depending on your scale of operation, there is always that need for a few extra hands to help in:

    • Attending to customers

    • Receiving products from suppliers

    • Security

    • Cleaning the supermarket

    • Managing books of accounts, e.t.c.

  1. License: Get a trading license from the local authorities. This trading license is paid for annually and has to be factored in as one of the recurrent costs.

  2. Business Registration: With things getting tighter in Uganda today, you can hardly open up such a business without having some form of registration. Identify whether you want to register a Private Limited Company, Sole Proprietorship, Partnership or any other mode. This is a pre-requisite in order to get a Tax Identification Number from the Uganda Revenue Authority.

  3. Business Plan: Try to have some form of written business plan. I know, when I talk about this, you’re probably imagining a one hundred page document filled with all sorts of academic brouhaha!!! No. A business plan can be as simple as a three page document listing the key issues and how you plan to deal with or achieve them. In the case of a supermarket, one of the issues you need to address is the products and their pricing.

    • What mark-up do you place on your products and how does the eventual price affect the ability of your target market to purchase?

    • What type of products do you stock? You have no need stocking electronics like Televisions in a supermarket located in a housing estate. That shelf space is better used stocking washing detergents.

    • What product sizes or packaging do you opt for? Detergents like Ariel or Omo are on high demand and purchased by most households. However, the purchase quantities vary from one market segment to another. The affluent moneyed class prefers to buy the One Kilogram or even Five Kilogram packs while the low income households prefer to buy the smaller 100 gram packs. Study your market and stock the right product sizes.

  1. Return Policy: Set a clear policy on product returns. Often times supplied products get expired, damaged or might be defective right from the factory. As a supermarket, you do not have to bear that as a loss, it should be clear to the suppliers that they replace any products that cannot be sold to customers for one reason or another.

  2. Supplier Payments: Most suppliers offer credit to supermarkets save for a very few like Milk and bread suppliers who tend to collect their money upon delivery. However, for those that extend credit, it’s crucial that you have a very organised system of managing them. Some supermarkets settle outstanding invoices every two weeks, thirty days or even forty five days. Others clear each pending invoice upon product depletion on the shelf. Setting up a predictable payment system for the suppliers not only endears you to them but also ensures that you manage your cashflow better. This particular point is the reason Uchumi Supermarket closed operations in Uganda and Nakumatt Supermarket too is currently struggling to remain in business.

  3. Point of Sale System: This is an electronic system used to record transactions at the point of payment in a shop or supermarket. It could be crucial or not depending on your scale of operation. If it’s a small Mom & Pop neighbourhood supermarket that you directly manage, you may start without it. However, for a business you aren’t actively managing, this system will help you so much as it allows you to make daily audits of sales by recording all transactions.

  4. Theft: For as long as you get into this business, expect this to be a sticking issue. Globally, supermarkets put a 3% mark-up on their product pricing to cater for just this. While you can employ technology and other means to reduce its prevalence, theft will always occur. How does it happen?

    • Walk-in customers. There is always an army of people who have made it their livelihood to steal products from supermarket shelves and find their way out without paying. This is one of the reasons you need an extra hand to run the supermarket. They can keep watch over such activities. However, what happens if they collude?

    • Crooked Suppliers. There are cases of suppliers who deliver less than what has been indicated on the invoice. It implies that you pay them for goods that were never supplied in the first case. Matters are made worse when they collude with your staff to make these false declarations.

    • Staff. Internal supermarket staff could also be a source of illicit product loss. They tend to take advantage of the trust bestowed upon them to engage in theft. In bigger supermarkets, they are known to form networks that ensure the untraceability of their illegal activities. The closed Uchumi Supermarket was a glaring example that suffered from internal staff theft.

  1. Money: Finally, have money. While I cannot give you financial estimates, by perusing through the list of issues presented so far, you can get a good idea of what to prioritise and hence determine how much you need to set up the business. The best thing about it all is the fact that product stocking which tends to cost a lot is largely on credit hence reducing the overall initial financial burden.

I hope you are now ready to start that supermarket business. Do not waste any more time. Get at it right away.

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

Follow @wirejames on Twitter

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President Museveni, avoid Knee Jerk reactions on Installing Security Cameras

The death of Afande Felix Kaweesi (RIP) took us all by surprise and matters were worsened by the brutal and professionally executed hit. In the aftermath of this occurrence, President Yoweri Museveni was quoted by various media houses as having stated that installation of cameras along public roads should be done as soon as possible.

In the run up to the 20th Common Wealth Head of Governments’ Meeting (CHOGM) held in Kampala, Uganda in 2007, installation of security cameras was on the To Do list. One of the reasons given was that they would continue providing surveillance long after the event. Apart from seeing remnants of poles and housing units for cameras, that project died as fast as it was birthed. Money was spent procuring these cameras, installation was probably done but that is as far as things went.

Mr President, before you embark on another spending spree to procure new cameras, I have a humble appeal. Please do not follow the knee jerk reaction on this matter. Many of your people may be looking at this need merely as a procurement opportunity without internalising its overarching importance towards facilitating crime management in the city of Kampala.

As steps are taken towards implementing your directive, it is crucial that certain things are kept in mind. These include;

  • Needs Assessment and Budgeting – Apart from equipment costs, time and labour required can also be intensive. Product quality is also key as opting for low cost products without considering their abilities could lead to challenges like low quality images hence creating challenges during evidence collection, poor visibility at night or during the rain among others.

  • Planning for Infrastructure, Maintenance and other recurrent costs – In Uganda, we have a tendency to believe that initial costs are all that matters when acquiring technology. Plan ahead for costs of maintaining infrastructure eg Wireless connections to the data centre may require servicing, obstructions could occur near the cameras and have to be removed, cameras may have to be replaced and even outright vandalism of some cameras could occur. In cases of non networked cameras, there might be a need for a team of people to physically collect data from them periodically among other activities. This is where probably the CHOGM camera project went wrong.

  • Technology Integration – Our security forces already have different technologies in use. The Police for example has license plate recognition software which is used a lot to get ticket defaulters. The camera system installed should be able to integrate this and other technologies including facial recognition, gunshot detection, incident mapping, video analytic among others. That way, we shall avoid having silos of technologies that are not interoperable, a waste of tax payers money.

  • Policy Development – There needs to be policies in place to manage this surveillance. It is crucial to achieve a balance between protecting citizens’ privacy rights and enabling law enforcement officers utilise the technology in an effective manner.

  • Active Monitoring Vs Passive Monitoring – Active monitoring is real time monitoring where locations are observed continuously while passive is the opposite. The former approach is a lot more resource intensive but allows the security agencies achieve much more especially when it comes to preventing crime. However, does Uganda’s force have the capacity to actively monitor a widespread camera system covering the entire Kampala city? Maybe a mix of Active and Passive would work best. Certain areas considered hot spots could be monitored actively while for those that are less dangerous, a passive approach can be undertaken. This decision will also inform on the type of technology to be deployed where.

  • Integrating Camera systems with current practices – There are procedures and practices that the security systems are utilising to monitor and manage crime. These do not have to work in isolation with the Camera systems. Could there be a need to mount cameras on all Police Patrol cars for example? In danger spots, can patrol teams be deployed in areas where the camera coverage is poor or where they expect criminals to seek refuge from the cameras?

  • Cameras are not a replacement to normal security duties – It is important to ensure that there is no sloppiness that develops on the part of the security officials as a result of camera installations. The old school physical engagements of investigating, tracking and preventing crime still apply. These cameras should be viewed as the icing on the cake. Footage can be used to corroborate information, identify culprits and witnesses to be interviewed among others.

Any eventual decision on the kind of Cameras to use should not restrict itself to a particular model of cameras but instead opt for a variety of camera models with different abilities. There will however be a need to get assurances from the vendors about their interoperability with other vendors’ equipment.

Technologies that need to be integrated in the procured system should include among others;

Gunshot Detection Systems: They work by utilising a system of sound sensors installed all over the target area. By scanning sounds in the area, these sensors are able to decode whether it is from a gun or not and through a triangulation approach offer an approximate location where the shot was fired from. Integrate this with crime mapping software and you will easily know theneighborhood in question.

License Plate Recognition: This scans number plates of cars and can verify with any database to determine whether the car in question has uncleared tickets, has been reported stolen or any other issue as brought to the attention of the authorities.

Facial Recognition: Advances in technology now allow computer software to be able to match faces when compared with database entries. By integrating this software with the cameras, one should be able to quickly track offenders especially the repeat offenders.

There is a lot more to share on this but it is my hope that this time round, the Government of Uganda manages this project the right way in order to achieve its intended goals without financially haemorrhaging the public coffers.

For God and My Country !!!!

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

Follow @wirejames on Twitter

Other Articles of interest:

Additional material from Using Public Surveillance Systems for Crime Control and Prevention by Nancy G LaVigne, Samantha S Lowry and others.

HOW TO – Start a Home Business

The signs of a struggling economy are allover us. Everywhere you turn, businesses are closing and the new ones that open can hardly last six months. The spending power of Ugandans has greatly reduced thereby affecting many an entrepreneur.

When you take a walk through most of the shopping centres and office buildings in Kampala today, you’re likely to find many closed shops and business premises. The spiralling rent charges under a climate of reduced business are leading many to abandon city operations or if not business altogether.

Despite these grim signs, we Ugandans are known for our entrepreneurial spirit. We always want to have something on the side. Recently, while having lunch with a friend that had just been registered by the Architects body, the first thing he told me was, “I want to register my own Architectural firm now.”

I however want to share with you the idea of doing business from your home. This is a concept many are not aware about or feel inclined not to embrace due to various perceptions. However, if you really want to continue being an entrepreneur under these tough economic times, you need to seriously consider starting a Home Business.

As I understand it, a home business is one that you operate from the confines of your residence. It involves producing your products or offering your services from the confines of your residence only going out to either prospect for customers, deliver a service or make deliveries in the case of products. As someone that has dabbled in home business for eight years now, I can say that it’s worth the inconvenience.

Some of the benefits of a home business include;

  • Lower Business Start-up costs: By operating from your residence, there are a number of shared costs that you can share with the pre-existing dispensation. Electricity, Rent, Water can all be initially utilised from the home bills.

  • Ease of working: For those that are trying to earn an extra buck outside their official jobs, working from home during the evenings and weekends can help them grow their dreams in business.

  • Flexibility: Home business saves you the daily routine morning and evening traffic jams that you mandatorily go through in order to head to a remote work place. This implies that you can start work at convenient times without a hussle. Working mothers would appreciate this more than the men because they usually have to divide their attention between work and the children.

  • Business Validation: By operating from home and avoiding certain overheads, you are able to get time to not only understand the business better but also verify its potential for success. I covered more on this in this article.

How do you go about starting a Home Business?

Passion: First and foremost, identify where your passion lies. Due to the kind of inconvenience a home business is likely to have on your personal life and space, it had better be something you are so passionate about and do not mind doing any time of the day. Short of that, you might back off before maturity due to flimsy reasons not worth noting here.

Skills: Now that you know what you want to do, ensure that you have the requisite skills to see it through. These skills could be acquired by you or hired. I do all my home business with my family. We do not hire external labour at all. However, there might be cases where you need to hire external skills sets. Ensure that you plan well on how to embrace external people in your residence.

Minimum Viable Product/Service: Assess the opportunity you want to pursue and establish what is required at a bare minimum for you to offer a service or product on the market. Even when the product/service is not what you eventually envisage it to be, focus more on getting into the market and letting the market shape your eventual decisions on the product or service. I do package products for supply to supermarkets. Initially we started by packing only 100 gram products, however, due to customers’ demands, we now added packs of 250 and 500 grams.

Market Access: Getting to the market is another crucial consideration while working from home. You need to study your target market and establish the most convenient and cost effective modes of accessing them. Supermarkets are one good avenue for products. I also know of a young man who sells second hand clothes from home. He reaches out to most of his clients on phone and through hawking visits to recreation centres in the evening hours as well as over the weekends. This guarantees him regular sales.

Working Space: Remember you’re operating from your home. For some, you might be having an empty room somewhere that you can put to use. In other cases, this free space is not there and you just have to create the space. I begun the home business while renting a house, so, space was an issue. What I opted for was to have a portion of the sitting room turn into a production area for a limited time and upon completion, it reverted to its original setting. If you came home while we were producing our products, you would think it was a 24 hour factory.

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My then 5 year old son helping with the product display at a tradeshow

Cooperation: For the married or if you’re sharing a residence, you need to win the cooperation of your family members. Do not force some of these activities upon them as they are likely to get very negative about the entire project, eventually working against you to its detriment.

Do I hear you asking, what kind of business you can do from home?

In a series of articles titled Business You can start with less than 100,000/=, I covered a number of possible business opportunities. Reading through will give you a good idea of what to try out.

However, Snacks, Mushroom growing, Decoration, Online Work like Transcription, Software Development among others are some of the easy to start home businesses.

Off you go. Get started and feel free to share your experiences.

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

Follow @wirejames on Twitter

Other Articles of Interest:

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.

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Has Uganda’s Education system gone to the dogs? #GuestPost

I have read James Wire’s blog post on how Budo, SMACK, Gayaza et. al. are digging their graves and thought I should take the time to share my thoughts.

Before I do, I’d like to establish my bona fides, since what I have to say may strike some as pretty radical. I am a product in part of the Ugandan school system. I sat for P.L.E some time in the late eighties. I knew my place at Kings College Budo was guaranteed, seeing as I had heard my name announced on radio as one of the best performers that year. After Budo, I won a scholarship to attend a leading Ivy League university. After four years there, I won another scholarship to attend one of the Oxbridge universities for a post-graduate degree. I have taught for many years at a local university and also been active in consulting and business. In short, I have been through the Ugandan education system, been through (what many rightly see as) the gold standard in education systems, taught in the Ugandan system, interacted closely with the products of P.L.E/U.C.E/U.A.C.E and for years employed them as well. I would tentatively suggest that I am as qualified as the next man to critique the system in broad terms, and to offer possible solutions to parents seeking to give their children the best they can.

James, though a careful and honest thinker, is dancing around a core truth: That the education system is fundamentally broken. That it makes no sense at all for a middle class parent of means to put their child through the current P.L.E/U.C.E/U.A.C.E system, and that those who are making money off the fiction are happy that no one is examining this system closely. The underlying, often unspoken, myth of this system is that top grades lead to success in life. Parents as a result are stampeded into doing everything to try and ensure their children attain those high grades: soul-crushing school hours, creativity-sapping rote learning, buying of places in top schools, etc. The result, in my modest experience, is a lost generation, unsuited to the world they will experience as adults. The problem is of course that the parents are as lost as their children. For some reason they don’t try to honestly assess current world trends (in terms of what those mean for future employment or work opportunities) or are too afraid to deviate from the norm.

First, let me restate the obvious. Given current trends, Uganda’s formal sector cannot possibly generate enough jobs over the next ten or twenty years to match the number of graduates (or indeed post-secondary leavers) the education system is putting out. The results are everywhere you look. The implied promise of the current education system is that if you get good grades, then you will get a good job. The jobs are not only few, with the current pressure on the grading system (where a 1 in a PLE subject may mean scoring above 96%), those good grades have become as elusive as the American Dream. The only people who benefit from this edifice are the schools, extracting ever-growing fees, and the education management bureaucracy.

Secondly, and again to restate what must surely be obvious, Uganda and Africa are brimming with opportunity and promise, just not so much in the regular, formal sector. I despair when I meet one of my former students, all shirt-and-tie-and-clerical-job, whose father is still struggling to run their family farm in Kiruhura District as he has for the last twenty or so years to educate his children. I despair because on close questioning, it soon emerges that his family is still making quite a good income living off the cattle. The son, if he went back, could improve the farm’s earnings even more, and have a vastly richer life (and experience) for it. Yet both father and son will not hear of it; success means Kampala and a Kampala life! I understand of course that this is borne of a system that was created by the colonialists to train city types, karani class, and that we haven’t taken the time to examine it and reform it for a new era. The city needs its workers, but it is surely not optimal that all our best and brightest are jostling for a piece of city life, and ignoring vastly richer pickings out in the wilds.

To put my money where my mouth is, I can confidently say I will not put my children through this system. I have no intention of raising their hopes, only for them to walk from one office to the next, CV in hand, begging for non-existent jobs. I have no intention of wilfully training karani. Africa’s future requires a cadre of widely educated men and women. Men and women who, whatever their formal schooling (doctor, lawyer, etc.), are able to quickly interpret new environments and make the right decisions. The ideal well-educated African of the next twenty years should be perfectly capable of earning a law degree and after that going off to Karamoja to establish a new game reserve on long-disused ancestral land. (Yes, the earnings, in twenty years, from a modest game reserve will far exceed those from lawyering away in apartments in Ntinda.) We have focussed too much on schooling and not enough on education.

And so, you might ask, what does this education of such a future African look like? Let me tentatively offer a random selection of my thoughts on this:

  1. Walk away from the P.L.E/U.C.E/U.A.C.E track. No half measures. You can’t put your child in that system and still protect them from its creativity-sapping, soul-crushing effects. The imperatives of this system are to generate top grades. That means long hours, masses of homework, cheating and all other vices. Instead, I recommend home schooling or (better) putting your child into one of several smaller institutions that follow ‘international’ curricula (typically A.C.E but there are other good ones). Most of these have grown out of home schooling arrangements. And they are growing in number. A key advantage of these schools is that the curriculum is much more focussed on your child understanding concepts rather than rote learning them. The pace is also a lot less soul crushing; kids get to play a lot more, which is great for mind development. I am not a huge fan of your run-of-the-mill international school; you know, the one charging thousands of dollars ostensibly to deliver a result our local system will not. First, because such schools tend to attract a certain type of parent (typically more money than time or indeed sense – see below) and so apart from breaking the bank, your child tends to grow up in a surreal world, second because I believe fundamentally that delivering an outstanding education is incompatible with the profit motive. Any time you are unjustifiably asked to pay huge sums for education, take a step back. That said I accept that some of these schools may in fact provide a good alternative for some parents.

  2. Education is not something you simply throw money at. A parent needs to be actively involved in educating their child. A parent needs to have time for their child. This means not only supplementing where the school may fall short – for instance I believe strongly that where the alternative system may not have a Ugandan or African History (or Geography) syllabus, the parent must step in and ensure the child is educated in these important contextual issues. Education is not merely about that which will be examined. While all children need to be given a strong foundation in Literature, Mathematics and the physical sciences, a good education is not about just these subject areas. Ensure your child picks up knowledge in lots of other subject areas as well (local/regional history, literature, etc.) Provide the exposure even simply by making key books available to them.

  3. Education is about learning your environment and what it takes to live and work with it. How often do you take your five-year-old child to market day at Nakawa with you? And if not, how will they learn about some of the realities of the country in which they live? How will they learn to parse local slang, learn to weave through Ugandan crowds, avoiding a boda boda here, a charcoal carrier there? Does your seven-year-old child sweep and scrub the floor, wash dishes or wash their clothes? Or are these considered jobs for workers? Does your twelve-year-old know how to prepare a full meal? Children must learn early to work with their hands, and consider it absolutely normal performing even the lowliest of tasks. Any child who grows up with lunkulu will find it hard to prosper in Africa. When his/her farm workers tell him it is impossible to trim a small bush, he will go hire a tractor, instead of picking up a panga and shaming them into action by doing it himself. The best leaders (and leaders is what you want to create) are those who don’t just tell others what to do but can show them what to do. That’s where the premium lies.

  4. Related to the above, education is about exposure. Allow the child to encounter (in a deftly controlled manner of course) a diverse array of people and settings. The Baganda had it all figured out: a future Kabaka never grows up in the palace. He grows up in the provinces as a commoner, interacting with his future subjects as one of them. Take your child to a rural uncle’s home and leave them there. Let them learn to overcome challenges their modern lifestyle would not ordinarily throw at them. Learning to navigate the modern world (iPads, Social Media, Dubai malls, etc.) they can learn later in life. What they will have difficulty learning at an advanced age is how to immerse easily in their own country, across social classes and across the myriad cultures of this land. Train your child for Africa. Not for Europe or America. They represent the past, not the future. Ensure your child speaks a local language well. Luganda is a must. (Yes, way!)

  5. Teach them patient self-application. I do not believe in giving your five-year-old child an iPad. That’s just stupid. (Yes, really.) I also don’t believe in TV, but I understand that a little bit of it may be acceptable. Instant gratification is the best way to destroy your child’s future.

  6. Expect to spend money on your child’s university education. A degree is still important, and will be important for years to come. I have met a lot of very smart, very capable people who don’t have a degree. They struggle. Not for lack of ability, but because the world demands that third-party validation that a degree provides. A degree essentially certifies that this person is educated. I know that this is increasingly not true in our country, but don’t start fights you can’t win; find the money, and send your child to a decent university. In Uganda, I rather like UCU and Nkozi. The rest, I am not so sure; many of them seem to have been overwhelmed by UPE products. Standards have suffered as a result. If you can afford it, and careful saving over ten or so years means for a lot of parents can, send your child to a decent university abroad.

  7. Stop trying to turn your child into a bog-standard ‘professional’. You know, lawyer, doctor, and engineer. Especially if that child is of above average intelligence. What no one tells you is that you don’t have to be that intelligent to make it in most of those standard professions. Allow your children to dream while at the same time having their feet firmly planted on solid ground. Teach them to measure success not in terms of ‘prestige’ but in terms of real value: How they improve society, what they build/create, etc. Teach them to find always seek to make/find a way, and not to accept defeat easily.

  8. Controversial as it may seem, ensure they have a knowledge of and fear of God. The arguments are long, but for now trust me on this one. While at it, do not allow them to become so narrow-minded in their beliefs that they are too quick to dismiss our traditional ways without first examining them intelligently.

Enjoy the journey. And try and overlook my failings in this article. Instead focus on the broader message.

PS: I don’t wish to become the story; rather I would like you, dear reader, to focus on what I have to say. To that end, James agrees not to reveal my identity, since it is not central to what I have written.

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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I sat for PLE at 42 Years

The year 2016 begun in an uneventful manner, just like the previous years of my life save for the fact that it would culminate in a life changing exam, the Primary Leaving Examination. The last time I had sat for this exam was in 1986 (30 years ago to be precise). Here I was, once again, faced with the daunting task. This time round though, I was doing it by proxy through my fist born son, Walter.

I hope my experience will offer other parents vital guidance on how to help their children go through the candidate year of Primary 7.

First we begun by training the young man how to read on his own in the night (usually from 8pm till 10pm in the night) and this started off in Primary 6 first term. All through P.6, with my wife, we made a great effort at ensuring that he plugged the gaps in his knowledge of various topics. Our emphasis was not to have him cram but understand and actually appreciate the topics from a broad and practical perspective. This definitely made our work more painful but we figured that the earlier we made him develop a broad databank of knowledge, the better.

Fast forward to P7, we begun the tortuous year. However, we didn’t want to make it a dreaded year for him. Actually, our goal was to make it as life changing as possible in all ways while also ensuring that he looked forward with anxiety to his right of passage to Secondary School.

The usual self study in the evening after doing homework was maintained albeit ending an hour later than what he was used to, with an addition of short tests that we set for him at least twice a week during the first term. We would then review his weak areas and help him out.

One discovery at this stage was the Youtube learning videos. We were able to find a lot of videos that taught crucial topics and by watching them on the home TV, not only did the learning style change but it turned out to be more impactful. From someone who had issues Converting Bases, calculating Square Roots among other weaknesses, the young man was able to up his game in no time. That is when I went on a spree and downloaded numerous videos addressing the various topical areas in English, Maths, Science and Social Studies.

Come end of the first term, we still had a challenge of getting him to appreciate that he was a candidate and therefore needed to start acting like one. Being the boy he was, the same old playfulness hadn’t yet left him. He only read in our presence and once we left, he would switch to other activities.

By the close of the first term, we had borrowed a stash of past papers from a close family friend whose daughter had completed P7 two years earlier. Revising these papers complemented those that we set for him. The journey continued through the Second term with a rundown to Mock Examinations. Walter begun showing some bit of response towards his candidature but a lot was still lacking.

When the second term ended, we cooked up an idea of taking him for some holiday studies (a move I have always detested). The major reason for this was our observation that while he was knowledgeable enough to sit for the exams, he lacked in areas like answering techniques, question comprehension (lately, lots of tricks are used to twist questions around), handwriting, among others. Unfortunately or is it fortunately, his school is one that doesn’t believe in using the rod against children even when they persist in not showing improvement in certain areas of weakness.

I then called up a cousin of mine who tutors a small little known school in Mukono Town that registers a high success rate at PLE. After chatting with him, a decision was made to enroll him there for holiday classes. This is when the real tuning for PLE begun. Not only are they meticulous at grilling kids to pass exams (cram work inclusive) but they happen to be disciplinarians who believe in the power of the rod to change children.

Within a week at Good Hope Primary School, Walter was able to realise that he is privileged enough by virtue of where he studies from. The benches at Good Hope were not only too uncomfortable but so was the lunch served which was standard Posho and Beans or porridge, a far cry from the burgers, chips and biryani at his school. He also got to appreciate the seriousness with which other pupils take PLE. The laid back attitude that he and his schoolmates had for PLE was all of a sudden exposed.

By the end of the second term holiday, I could see a change in the young man for the better. However, I realised that he needed to polish up a lot when it came to techniques. Besides, the harsh approach to marking of tests at Good Hope helped him also realise that if he was to pass UNEB well, he needed to stick to certain guidelines while answering questions. The teachers in this neighborhood school seemed to understand this well. After all, they train their pupils largely to purely pass exams; as to how they fare years down the road, only God knows. I then decided that he continues studies at this school for some more time during the third term before returning to his official candidate school.

Now for the grueling part. During the third term, Good Hope P.7 children have a programme that sees them start class at 3:30am ending at 10:00pm in the evening from Monday to Saturday. Sunday is the only rest day. I had to ferry the young man daily as early as 3am to school, get back home, prepare myself for the day and then take the younger ones at 6am on the one hour trip to their school. Upon return in the evening, I had to then pick up the candidate at 10pm in the night. Over the past two decades, I have not had such a stressful, tiring period like those two weeks in third term that my boy spent at that school. During all this, we always had open talks and I noticed that he appreciated the extra mile that was being taken by us to ensure he passes PLE.

Eventually, he returned to his candidate school and resumednormal studies albeit with a much more mature and changed mindset. He now knew the goal he had to attain and used to read on his own till late in the night. At this point, we concentrated on question answering techniques like interpretation, organisation of work, handwriting among others. I am more than convinced that most children fail PLE due to poor techniques.

The message I continuously shared withWalter was; “We are reading like this because PLE demands that you do so if you are to go to your first choice school. The way exams are marked lately is less about rewarding knowledgeability and more about encouraging cram work. So, let us gather the right techniques to help you pass, after all you are already knowledgeable.

Are you a parent with children in Primary school? These are some of the tips I have to share with you:

  • Start engaging your child and taking keen interest in their academics at least as early as Primary Four, if possible, even much earlier. Ensure they learn as much as possible while not yet under pressure of national exams like PLE.

  • Expose your child to other school settings in order to gauge their abilities. You see, different schools have different strengths and weaknesses. When I took my son to that local neighbourhood school, the weaknesses that had been perpetuated by his school were exposed in no time.

  • Actively play a role in your child’s learning. Show them you are interested and genuinely care. You might want to replace some of those trips to the swimming pool with visits to the Wildlife Education Center, a farm (if you have one or know who has one), village retreats etc. They learn a lot from such experiences. I do not for example have to teach my kids about mulching and various farming practices because we do practise that at home in the garden on a daily.

  • Get the child to realise that while studying is fun, its also a serious engagement that demands very serious attention from the pupil. This is one challenge many middle class parents are likely to face due to the comfort zone their children are always in. I always urged my son to Read Like an Orphan.

  • Start preparing for PLE as early as Primary Six first term. Ensure the child does a lot of study especially in topical areas of their weakness. Do not subcontract this because some coaching teachers are merely money makers. By perusing through their assessment tests, you can identify these weak areas easily. Keep increasing the heat of preparation slowly but significantly for every subsequent school term.

  • Past papers. Gather as many past papers from different schools as possible. Right from P5 to P7. The final PLE usually consists of at least 75% from the P5 and P6 curriculum. Examine your child with them and revise jointly if need be. It is a sacrifice you have to make. Do not put your trust entirely in those coaching teachers.

  • Try utilising modern forms of delivery like multi-media. I found it much easier to teach my children about Mountain and River formations using Youtube Videos. During the pre-PLE week, watching Science videos on the Eye, the teeth as well as mathematical videos on Volume of cylinders, prisms and the like helped the young man a lot. When he met the questions in the final exam, it was just a roll over for him.

  • Motivation. Work out ways of motivating your child to read hard. You know them best (in case you do not, then better find out what drives them). Show them the Holy Grail and give them a reason to yearn for it. In my case, the Holy Grail was, qualifying for the first choice school.

  • Last but most important is Prayer. In life these days, one ought to go spiritual otherwise “tojja malako” (you won’t achieve much). Teach your children how to pray and then join them in the exercise regularly. Get the child to appreciate that above all the physical preparation you have engaged in for the exams, there is a spiritual layer that can only be handled spiritually.

My focus now turns to Nina. She is in Primary Six. We’ll touch base at the end of 2018.

Wishing you luck.

Follow @wirejames on Twitter

Free MyUG WiFi? Kifeesi to go Online

Kifeesi is a renowned criminal gang in Kampala city that has baffled the minds of many. Their daring moves at carrying out broad day light robberies in the busy downtown spots without fear of the law enforcement officers have raised many eye brows. Like the ruthless Mungiki of Kenya, Kifeesi could easily be rated as a younger sibling or rather a Mungiki wannabe. NBS Tv did a good investigation on this gang here.

kifeesi

Kifeesi Criminals arrested. Courtesy picture from Eagle Online

Crime is crime. A criminal mind is always ready to operate anywhere for as long as the terrain is conducive. The recent announcement by the Minister of Information Communication Technology and National Guidance about the free offer of WiFi internet access in Kampala has been met with mixed opinions. Many urban dwelling Ugandans have taken on the use of the internet with a lot of zeal over the past five years. Facebook and WhatsApp seem to have the lion’s share of activity. Free WiFi is seen as “manna from heaven.”

unnamed-2Accessing the free WiFi in Kampala entails being within an area that has the signal hence allowing your phone or mobile gadget to connect. The hotspots have been spread in certain locations for starters with others to follow suit later. As a first time user, you are expected to submit some profile information and then get access thereafter. In keeping with the expectations of Hon. Father Lokodo the State Minister for Ethics and Integrity, no pornography shall be accessible.

Now to Kifeesi. I foresee a re-invention of Kifeesi as this WiFi takes root. A Kifeesi that will no longer be content about merely stealing your phone or robbing you of that pocket change. This Kifeesi is IT savvy. Their goal is to either;

  • Steal your online identity or

  • Con your online friends or

  • Rob your bank account or

  • Blackmail you or

  • Settle scores

How is the new Kifeesi likely to do it?

By identifying a public area that people frequent to access free WiFi, all they need to do is set up rogue WiFi hotspots that have eerily similar names like those of the official HotSpot provider. If the HotSpots by NITA-U are named MyUG (for example’s sake), Kifeesi can setup MyUG1 and then link that hotspot to the internet.

The unsuspecting public will innocently hook onto that hotspot and start chatting away using all sorts of social media utilities (encrypted and unencrypted). Before you know it, you’re availing Kifeesi a lot of information about yourself and others you interact with. What they do with that information is dependent on how much they are willing to go after you. Your login credentials to access various online services can easily be harvested and either sold on the online blackmarket or even used to rob you or endanger others.

Kifeesi Victim

Let us take the case of a one Natabo. She works for a leading bank and is a top level manager. She gets duped into using the Kifeesi WiFi. She quickly gets into her Facebook account, Instagram, Twitter and WhatsApp. As she interacts with her online community of friends, the Kifeesi hotspot is logging all her traffic to and from the internet while diverting it to a separate location for further analysis. After a “nice” time chatting online, she chooses to check her bank email before leaving and this involves logging into the system. Again, her information is logged.

This is phase one for Kifeesi and so far, some success has been registered. Now is the time to go to the next step.

Kifeesi in Action

With basic tools got online, the Kifeesi crew sifts through Natabo’s data and extracts all sorts of unencrypted information that it uses to build a profile of who she is. With sniffed logins and passwords, they are able to undertake further access to her numerous online accounts. The killer comes in when they access her bank email. There-in lies confidential corporate data on various key client accounts as well as the internal workings of the bank.

Kifeesi Next Steps

With the gathered credentials so far, Kifeesi can choose to trade the confidential bank information got from her email to the competition. This is one of the ways industrial espionage takes place of late.

Natabo’s friends can be duped using the various social media accounts into undertaking certain financial transactions under the guise of dealing with her.

Natabo’s secret chats, photo exchanges among others could easily be used to blackmail her into paying a ransom to Kifeesi or else she faces tabloid exposure.

Natabo’s friends could be lured into appointments that could endanger them. The end result would be robbery or even physical harm like rape.

And much more.

Exercise Caution

As you spring out to partake of the free MyUG WiFi, exercise caution. Do not just log onto any hotspot that remotely resembles the official hotspots in name. Ensure that you carefully study the WiFi to be connected to. This will reduce on your level of susceptibility to fraud.

By doing that, you and me can manage the emerging online Kifeesi.

Follow @wirejames on Twitter