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Tourism does an Oliver Twist

The news this week reported that our tourism sector, despite bringing in about 10% of our GDP, usually has almost no funding in the national budget (less than 1%). In the report, a number of individuals in the sector were interviewed; they had a few choice words to say about the government’s priorities. Let’s put ourselves in government’s shoes though (and this does not in any way mean we are eyeing the top seat; that usually has repercussions). So, let’s say you, as an individual, are government and you are dispensing money. Here are a few decisions you’ll have to make.

Great pictures of lions and other wildlife vs gear for police

This is a hard one. While looking at that excel spreadsheet you’ll be using to allocate the nation’s funds, you’ll wonder whether it’s a good idea to doll out a few millions to have some photos of lions taken for an ad campaign. Lions asleep, dreaming of a land where they don’t chase food, the food walks to them and asks to be eaten. Lions basking in the sun. Lions having dinner.

On the other hand, you’ll have the police that needs gear for the upcoming elections (and for crime-fighting activity).

Tourism Advert Vs Office of the president

Should you make a flashy 60-second ad showing smiley faces of Ugandans, beautiful shots of nature and then ending in a shot of our beloved leader giving a thumbs-up sign, signalling to all those watching that Uganda is the place to be if tourism is your thing? You’d need to run that ad on CNN and BBC.

Or should you send more money to the office of our beloved leader? This is an easy one.

Upgrade national parks infrastructure Vs Give out sack of money

Do you invest in tourism infrastructure – accommodation facilities, transport to the areas, etc.? Or do you instead give out sacks of money? You do know that we, the people need those sacks.

While the powers that be dilly dally, one way we can draw people here is to train even one lion to live life as a vegetarian. We’d feed it healthy alternatives like soya and nkeje. Wouldn’t people travel all the way to take pictures with it? Lady Gaga would adopt it and it’d curtain-raise at her concerts, letting out a mighty roar that’d excite and scare revellers in equal measure. We’d call it Simba from Uganda.

Unrelated KB: I run Kanzu Code, an entity that builds digital products ( websites, mobile applications, custom digital solutions ) that solve various issues. We are currently working on one to address youth apathy to elections. We are currently running a brief survey on why youth shun elections; the results will inform our app development. Would you like to take part? Kindly share your view in the 3-question survey here: Londa Survey. For more details on the app, please check this out: Londa Media Advisory. Thanks!!

The MP beating all odds

At the rate our MPs are making headlines, we ought to have a newspaper dedicated to reporting only about them. You know that things aren’t ok when your beloved leader isn’t getting as much space on the front page as your MPs. The MP confidential – bringing you MP news every day. What did your MP have for dinner? Why is he asleep in parliament? Why is her contribution to the debate totally unrelated to the topic of discussion? Why doesn’t his suit fit? Why does he duck when he sees some guys who claim he owes them money? Is she honestly defending that proposal? Is she really kneeling to make a point? Does he know the microphone is on or are we listening to what should be his private musings?

Actually, a newspaper may not be enough; we might need an entire series – the MP. We’d start it off very dramatically with the star delivering a passionate speech about rule of law and how the current debate on the floor goes against everything that Benedicto Kiwanuka and all our political forefathers fought for. We’d have close-ups to show a vein popping on his neck with every word, sweat collecting on his brow and his moustache shaking violently, as though seized by some need to make a point of its own. The series, episode by episode, would go on to explore political mafia, loan sharks, learning how to use iPads, tailors who sell ill-fitting suits, and constituents who present the most interesting needs. We’d tastefully cram this into season one and end with a twist I can’t reveal here. Season two would then be entirely about the campaign race – drawing the manifesto, calculated distribution of sugar, salt, soap and mobile money. We’d cover the MPs late nights and early mornings and the tension that arises from this nomadic lifestyle. We’d look at the strain our MP is under – personal, emotional, and financial. You’d see your MP in a light those humour and satire writers don’t show.

That series and newspaper aside, our MP this time was in papers for demanding for a 40% pay rise. One of the major reasons fronted for the increment is the high cost of covering different costs on behalf of their constituents. I guess that seals it; if doctors and teachers need that pay rise they’ve been asking for for a while, a good place to start is by asking constituents to take their problems to them.

MPs demand for pound of flesh

MPs in our ruling party recently supported an unchallenged re-election run for our beloved leader. He, our star, was signed-off as the party’s sole candidate. We received the news the same way we receive all news of gallant acts of servitude to the nation – with beaming smiles and popping imaginary bottles of champagne. The real bottles cost too much. If we still had goats, we’d slaughter them and eat in celebration. Sadly, we ate all of them during the Easter festivities and the kids they left behind are still too young.

This week though, our celebrations were cut short when it was reported that our dear MPs have now asked for Shs 300 million each as a reward for that act. Talk about party poopers. What will it take to get uninterrupted celebrations around here? We’d already made orders for more food than we can eat or afford and then this? *sigh*

So, the MPs (no longer ‘our dear MPS’ or even ‘our MPs’) want the money for their own re-election campaigns. For 260 MPs, this, altogether, translates to almost 80 billion shillings. We aren’t sure where this sum will come from ( or whether our beloved leader will agree to the demand ) but if the tax payer ends up carrying the burden, he/she can take comfort in the fact that the money will, going by statistics, most likely end up as salt/sugar/soap for the rest of the populace. At its core, the MPs are probably being patriotic and using this as a wealth re-distribution technique.

You’ve got to hand it to our leader though – how do you deal with MPs making such wanton demands? Do you call in the circus to distract them? Do you let some loan sharks into the room to scare them? Do you give them an Oyo handshake to shake them off? Do you surround yourself with some mean-looking individuals from the army and then invite the MPs in for discussions? Do you use some proverbs in your mother tongue to confound them?

The bigger question though is, why are they doing this to our friend and leader? Don’t they know there’s a lot more on his plate (and we aren’t talking rolex)?

Bringing wayward termites to book

The chief administrative officer of Abim district told members of parliament recently that termites had eaten vouchers accounting for 900 million shillings. I think it was unfair to drop such information on the MPs unceremoniously; for news like that, a press conference followed by a huge feast are in order. These were clearly well-read termites that knew, probably from poring over Chinua Achebe’s No Longer At Ease, that “If you want to eat a toad (or vouchers) you look for a fat and juicy one”. No one’s taking time to investigate the termites (maybe because they have big heads so they won’t come in for questioning) but I’ll save the police some work by using some rudimentary crime-solving skills acquired from Google searches.

First off, to get away with that much loot, these termites had to have had someone on the inside. This person fed them information on where the loot was and then found creative ways to distract his (or her) colleagues over the days that the lawless insects were at work. I’m not sure how they distracted everyone but if I were forced to guess, I’d say they asked everyone at work to participate in a talent show. While everyone showed off their talents in one room, The Mandible Gang (that’s the code name for the termites in this case file) bit their way through those vouchers.

The villain, playing dead

The villain, playing dead

How do we identify this person who aided and abated The Mandible Gang? You are looking for someone who usually hangs out near mounds (or ant hills). Also, they usually have conversations with themselves (in reality though, they are speaking to termites but we just don’t see them).

Some bits of this case are still a mystery, even for me. Why did The Mandible Gang only go after vouchers and stay away from other equally delectable pieces of paper like termination letters and letters communicating salary deductions?

Why did they do it? Was it some form of protest? Was it Christmas in termite land and they were feasting? Do they have something against civil servants? Were they paid by someone?

It is my earnest hope that this information will be used to bring these pirates to book otherwise it may become a trend. They should be locked up in bottles in prison for a while then released for our scientists to study them and see if we can deploy them against our enemies.

Why you should sign-up for the MTN App Challenge

The MTN App Challenge will take place from 29th-31st May, 2015. One weekend of all-out geekery. Fast internet, no sleep, free food and the Mobile Money API! Seems like Ug geek heaven – all that’s missing is probably TV chicken and performances by Radio & Weasel. *cough* Tusaba ba organizer *cough*

geek_at_work

Anha, what is it?

It is an opportunity for you to start something built on top of MTN’s architecture.

How does it work?

You, in your ninja costume, waltz in on Friday 29th with your laptop and an idea. After you wolf down some food (and put some in your laptop bag for later), you pitch your idea. Your idea is of course so hot, 3 other people will gravitate towards you even without knowing it. They’ll just find themselves drawn to you. You are now a team of 4: a developer, marketer, project manager & designer.
You get to work – planning, executing, fighting, silent treatment, back to planning, then executing…repeat.

You don’t notice the sun go down or come up. You only look up to eat food (and put some in your laptop bag for later).

Sunday’s here. You present your app to the judges (and the audience that can’t believe that awesome lives here here in Uganda). They are wowed. They, collectively, say “Wooowe, that’s going to blow up the Ug mobile space. Ayayayaya”. Your team wins. You smile for the cameras and give a speech thanking God and your team that’s lucky to have you. You’ll also thank your mentor throughout the app challenge, Peter Kakoma, for being such a profound help by  constantly showing you funny YouTube clips whenever you got stuck as a team.

Why should you join?

I did some research this morning on the costs of getting access to some of this stuff on your own.

SMS channel

  1. Apply for short code from UCC                 $250
  2. UCC Annual license fees for short code  $2,000
  3. Set-up fee for one telecom company    ~$3,500

USSD Channel

  1. Apply for service code from UCC                     $250
  2. UCC Annual license fee for service code        $10,000
  3. Set-up fee for one telecom company           ~ $350

Source: UCC Short code requirements

Android/IOS mobile applications

Deployment costs are negligible but integration to the telecom charging system to charge users’ airtime  (as one avenue of commercialization) requires a number of approvals (as you can imagine).

The challenge avails you all these channels. I think that all factors considered, it is a great opportunity for any start-up hoping to solve the commercialization puzzle.

Details of the challenge, in more serious lingo, can be found here: MTN App Challenge Details

If you want to go straight to registration, here’s the App Challenge Registration Form

Unrelated, I’m running a very very brief survey. 2 questions. It’ll take you less than a minute. Kindly fill it in here: Kakoma Survey

When your faith takes some blows

I wrote this shortly after the Fight of the Century. My schedule though has sent a few blows my way since. Here it is though:

Watching boxing only featured on my to-do list on the nights I felt I needed to prepare for an alien invasion; I’m sure no alien can take an uppercut and stay standing. Since alien invasions only take place in the US, my to-do list never, ever featured watching the sport. That’s until MayWeather Promotions carefully injected a cool video into my Facebook newsfeed and I was sucked into the global ‘Fight of the century’ buzz. Several days later, I emerged from the darkest parts of the internet with a full-grown beard, a gruff voice and red eyes struggling to stay open – the interwebs had only let me out because my body was shutting down after going so long without food.

From all the stuff I’d watched and read, my contributions to the lunchtime pre-fight debates generally rose above the when and where. I had a few whys under my belt too. And from the stuff I’d seen, I loved Pacman’s 500 blows per second; they make for great YouTube viewing. Mayweather though, seemed billed to take the day and up till a few hours to the fight, I was in his corner. My preference wasn’t based in any way on boxing statistics or any of that stuff I suppose ardent fans use – I don’t think any late-comer to the bout, like me, can comfortably say that their choice of whom they were backing was based on anything beyond emotions.

Power tip: You can tell a late-comer to the sport from how they refer to the fight. “Let’s go watch the match” vs “Let’s go watch the fight”.

My backing changed during the pre-fight interviews. With Mayweather flashing money and bragging while Pacquiao, a believer, flashing his Jesus T-shirt, cheerful and just seeming like a nice person to be around, I crossed the ring. There and then, for me, the fight quickly escalated to God vs Money. It wasn’t physical anymore; it went spiritual -David vs Goliath. Surely, God would show this money-trusting showman what’s up. One blow, delivered early, to later be referred to as the “Blow of God”, much like the “hand of God”, would put Mayweather in his place – on the canvas.

The fight starts. And I wait for that blow. Of the 6 of us watching the fight, only 2 are with Pacman. Just like Mayweather, his fans are loud (that’s my story). Round 1. 2. 3. Nothing yet. In round 4, Pacman delivers some heavy stuff that leaves Mayweather momentarily dazed. In that instant, Mayweather tries to think happy thoughts. Round 5. 6. More spurts of brilliance but still no blow of God. If I had a room to myself, I’d probably have broken out in prayer at that point, calling God to swoop down and deliver the blow Himself. With 5 people around, it isn’t an option. Round 7. 8. 9. Mayweather’s loud fans now mellow down; a deep respect for Pacman has walked into the room and hushed all the bad things they were saying initially. We now wait with bated breath on the outcome. 10. 11. Pacman has done quite a bit of chasing; Mayweather is giving Usain Bolt a run for his money.

mayweather_vs_pacmanAnd then it is over. May had weathered the storm and come out on top. And suddenly, my relationship with God was shaken. It didn’t take much to rock my faith boat very fiercely. Why had such a good evangelism opportunity gone unused? Why had Pacman, who’d stuck his head and heart out very boldly for God gone out like that? Why should I trust God if someone like that, on a platform that big, can be left hanging? What would everyone now say about my God? Why hadn’t we (It wasn’t just Pacman anymore, it was we now) won? At that instant, I was scared to keep trusting – Pacman had done everything right.

In my head, 2015 is the year of God showing off; LeCrae, a Christian rapper, for the first time in history, topping Gospel and Billboard charts was just act one. This global showdown was supposed to be act two.

I was quite low. I went to church a few hours later but the storm was still raging; that one result had managed to shake loose all those things He’d done for me. All from a fight I didn’t care about a few months prior. *sigh*

In all this, I kept thinking that God cared about the Mayweather whose ways I didn’t think highly of. That Christ died for him too; that Christ loved and cared for him too. And that Christ could be reaching out to him. I used a right hook to get rid of that thought.

Wisdom though came from my wife when she reminded broody me that at the cross, the bystanders were probably just as angry and confused as I was; probably angrier. They asked why Christ had done all those miracles but He didn’t save himself. “Come on Jesus, come off the cross, save yourself, show these naysayers!” the believers must have pleaded. “Deliver the blow of God!” I pleaded. They, like me, didn’t see that victory had indeed come – though not in the form they wanted.

I still don’t know what the victory here is. I do know that Pacman showed up; he didn’t skip training and wait on the blow of God like I might have. He showed up and gave a very spirited performance. He was a great sportsman about it and embodied a lot of humility. He smiled through everything, took selfies with fans and was the kind of bold believer I will be when I grow up (and get boxing gloves, and have to fight).

I have a new respect for Mayweather though. He was, Usain Bolt antics aside, very, very smart about the way he went about the fight. I’ll definitely stay up to watch his next fight- and I’ll be in his corner this time.

The MP’s super vehicle

You know you live in a truly blessed nation when a week doesn’t go by without a new story popping up of how your leaders are pushing the envelope. For one, we’ve been pushing brown envelopes for so long and with such zeal, we have very few peers globally. We’ve done it so well, we switched to using sacks to ensure sustainability.

A few weeks ago, we pushed the innovation envelope by choosing to address local manpower problems in the health sector by sending some medical personnel abroad. Only truly gifted people can see that this move will result in more medical personnel coming back since the ones we send will reproduce while there.

To show just how much we own this innovation envelope, a few weeks ago, former Government Chief Whip Justine Kasule Lumumba, unveiled to the world our latest innovation – she shared that 80 NRM MPs work from their vehicles. These forward-thinking leaders have led the way in cutting government expenditure by doing all their work, every single thing, from their cars. She merely let us in on an innovation that’s been many years in planning.

The plan started in 2012 when each MP, fresh into Parliament, received over 100 million for a new vehicle. The blind made a lot of fuss about it, not knowing that it was a huge saving in office space. Considering that there’d be no additional bills for utilities or stationary, 5 years’ worth of office space at that give-away price was a steal.

Phase two happened a year later, in 2013, when each MP was handed an iPad. While we went red with fury, we lost sight of the fact that iPads meant that each ‘office’ now had a computer.

Finally, phase three, last year, Shs. 36 billion was spent on a new parking lot for Parliament. While everyone went up in arms at the price tag, they didn’t know that this lot was no ordinary lot – it would ‘house’ the offices that would drive in and out at will.

We really need to find a way of packaging and commercializing this model quickly before an opportunistic nation steals it.  We’ll then methodically roll it out to other countries starting with developing nations since we know firsthand how they feel about always getting good innovations last.

Are blacks in danger?

It has been about 3 weeks since the last update; that thing where the words you write aren’t worth sharing hit. Thank God those hard days seem to be gone…back to regular (weekly) programming. Here’s something to think about

Kenyan authorities have closed a Chinese restaurant in Nairobi after social media informed us that the place doesn’t allow African patrons to eat there after 5PM. I guess this means that a black person who finds himself still eating at 4:45PM would really have to rush through their sweet and sour pork to beat the impending curfew. My guess is that at 5PM exactly, Jet Li emerges from under the rotating table next to you, levitates to where you are and gestures towards the door. That’s your cue to pay the bill and make a hasty retreat without turning your back to him. If you don’t comply, you get to know what it’s like to be one of the extras in Shaolin temple – you get a beating while the people watching get entertained.

When questioned, the restaurant owner is quoted to have said that they don’t admit Africans they don’t know because they can’t tell who is Al-Shabaab and who isn’t. You cannot argue with that since as any learned owner of an establishment worth talking about will tell you, you cannot trust people walking around with all that melanin in their skins – that stuff can explode at any moment. Your patrons need to enjoy your exquisite stir-fried beef and black bean sauce without being scared for their lives.

Sadly, we’ve heard of blacks being treated different here too. Stories abound of bars (the story usually stars one bar or another along Acacia avenue) that have on a number of occasions made their rounds on the internets for mistreating a Kato, Mbabazi or Okot because they are black. One bar reportedly had (has?) a policy that required black people to pay to enter (while the rest don’t). The motivation for such an interesting policy could be anything; maybe we’ll enter the bar and our dance moves will break furniture so the entrance fee is really us paying for broken furniture upfront. Maybe we’ll be cheapskates and drink one bottle of water all night so they need to make sure the bar bill is paid somehow. Maybe we’ll get too excited at the music playing and become such a nuisance, the other patrons will need therapy. Maybe we are incapable of holding a beer and a conversation; when the beer inevitably pours to the ground, someone will need to clean it up. Maybe we’ll want to pay for our beer with cowrie shells.

Maybe we need the army to look into this too; why do cases of racial discrimination keep dropping bombs on us?

Is racism something we see often enough to worry about here in Uganda? What are your thoughts? Do share in the comments

Beating up the hero

This year started on a high for ‘By The Way’; the first article of the year was a call for every reader to be a ‘Batambuze’ this year. Mubarak Batambuze is a resident of Kaliro district who became a hero after killing a crocodile that had allegedly killed his wife and several other villagers. Batambuze’s story, in another place, would make for silver screen gold. Jason Statham, with his kicks and mean look, has nothing on a villager who bravely took on a crocodile that weighed almost a tonne with a spear and an axe.

This week is extra special – Batambuze did it again! A friend of his went fishing and got attacked by a crocodile. The friend promptly made a phone call to Batambuze who showed up a few minutes later, captured and locked up the crocodile for Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to pick up. This felt like that moment you listen to a new song from an artist whose first song you loved so much, you were worried they’d never release anything as good-and then they did! Such exciting stuff. Batambuze is the wonder who went beyond his one hit (because he actually used multiple hits to subdue the crocodiles).

The story isn’t without some evil villain trying to steal our hero’s shine; in our case, it’s Oswald Tumanya, a senior UWA officer. He is quoted to have said, “We have over and again warned him (our hero, Batambuze) but he is adamant but he should be ready for the repercussions…The Police should trail and arrest him red-handed capturing a crocodile and be charged in court, otherwise, his being a celebrity may cost him his life.”

Our nefarious villain argues that he’s concerned that Batambuze is endangering his own life and he should be arrested. If you followed the story from the beginning, residents and their leaders are reported to have made several attempts to contact UWA to capture the crocodiles. UWA allegedly, didn’t intervene, citing a lack of fuel. Interestingly, in the second case, Batambuze didn’t kill the crocodile – he captured it and handed it over to UWA, the guys whose job he’s doing (while they plot his arrest).

Wouldn’t it be easier, Mr. Tumanya, to train Batambuze in better ways of capturing the reptiles? He’s already doing it anyway and the community now calls him, not UWA (since it wasn’t there when they needed it). Capture the crocs, not Batambuze. It brings to mind several other instances where we arrest people we should be nurturing.

One thing that changes all

This week, something magical happened. If you ignored how hot it was, closed your eyes and listened –really listened – you’d hear an unmistakable sound of joy slowly rising to the sky. This sound, still discernible right now if you are reading this less than a week from when it was first published, is actually Ugandans making merry.

Initially, it was hard to make out the source of all that joy but I decided to employ the investigative skills I’ve picked-up from observing our policemen. In a few hours, I was able to establish, with certainty that the happiness was because finally, we as Ugandans could reach our beloved leader directly! For you hearing this for the first time, I apologize for not asking you to sit down first so that the news doesn’t knock you off your feet.

So, a group of young, visionary developers came up with a mobile application that allows you, dear citizen, to reach our benevolent leader directly. All you do is download the app (called “Reach the President”) and right there and then, you can start sending messages to the president. What’s more amazing than that? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Think of all the things you could say to our leader.

reach_the_president

The ‘Reach the President’ app

To put this in perspective for you who’s still failing to see how ground-breaking this is (it’s up there on the list, next to the moon landing), think back on all the things that distinguish our leader.

First, he gives out money in sacks. With this brilliant app, you can request for a sack of your own! Here’s a sample message to get you closer to your sack.

“Dear Mr. President, I adore/like/admire you. I’m currently going through {insert financial woes, summarized. Two sentences at the most}. Could you please help me? {OPTIONAL: You could specify how many sacks you need. Don’t be greedy and ask for too many since the cake needs to be spread to many other people}

Sincerely,

Your loving fan and guaranteed vote next year

{Your name}”

Do you have a function you need him to grace? Do you need recommendations on what to read? Do you have a great joke you want to share with someone who’ll understand it? Do you want business advice? Most importantly, do you need advice on where to put your vote?