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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*


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.


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}


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?

Let’s export more medics

Our beloved leader has many times spoken of how on close examination, we are the donors. In the eloquence we’ve grown to expect, even demand, from him, he’s many times said that in exporting raw, unprocessed goods and eventually buying them back at a higher price, we are, and have been, funding several nations for a while now. I think in an effort to step up this benevolence of ours (because how can we be anything but benevolent yet we have a strong, visionary, generous leader), we exported a few medics to the Caribbean. We are sending 263 health professionals for work in Trinidad and Tobago.

If you aren’t informed, you’ll immediately think that, like Dr. Hilderman, these medics are going into the music industry (because who makes greater music than people from the Caribbean? A day there and you’ll have a hit album out. Jah man!). They’ll trade the stethoscope for a microphone, grow some dreadlocks and then find some vegetables to get them energized enough to perform before the thronging crowds that they’ll undoubtedly draw on their return. They’ll still cure people, but the healing they’ll bring will now be through music. Jah!

If you are in the dark, you’ll also think that Uganda has too many medical professionals. You’ll think that we had so many, some had taken to riding boda bodas from lack of work as medics. You’ll believe that chances are very high that that person serving you drinks at the bar is a doctor.

If you are uninformed, you’ll grumble about their destination. Trinidad and Tobago? Really? They could offer our medics better conditions? Really?

The truth is even in our time of dire need, when hospitals lack not just medicine but personnel, when mothers give birth, unattended, on hospital floors, when people die from being ‘operated’ on by askaris stepping in to fill a gap, when the few doctors we have must do 20-hour work days juggling their private and government work to keep gnawing poverty at bay, when sick people have to walk for miles to the nearest health center, that even in all this, we chose, as benevolent people, to give. Precious lives in the Caribbean need to be saved, how come the uninformed can’t see that?

It gets even more interesting – after completing their two-year service in the Caribbean, we’ll send another contingent of medics to replace them – a cycle the ministry of foreign affairs promises will continue for as long as there is demand in Trinidad and Tobago. Our generosity knows no bounds.

When the Police get high

In the Daily Monitor, it was reported last week that police in Gulu district had arrested a police officer for smoking and being in possession of marijuana. The high officer (that should have been high-ranking) was arrested after his colleagues tipped-off their bosses of his strange behavior during working hours. In the story though, we didn’t tell you what that strange behavior was; that bit was intentionally left out for By The Way to fill in. So, how did these men of the law detect that their colleague was serving other forces, and not just the police force? What gave afande away? It was very hard to get in touch with all the officers in this story so I did due diligence and made a few (intelligent?) guesses on what might have transpired.

Afande was flagging down animals instead of cars. His colleagues first became suspicious when he motioned for a stray dog to stop. He then asked for its driving license. Naturally, the dog didn’t stop (or have a driving permit for that matter); if anything, it seemed to move away from what it probably perceived as an attacker. Afande saw this as dissent; how could a driver refuse to stop when commanded by the outstretched arm of the law? A heated pursuit ensued (much like the ones in movies where cars hurtle down streets, knocking over food stalls and surprisingly not killing anyone in the process) but this chase involved a lanky figure running in zig zag and a yelping dog running for its life.


Afande’s colleagues murmured a few things but eventually brushed it off – maybe he was just happy. The next thing though was that at parade, afande would suddenly break out in dance. He’d energetically motion for his friends to join in, asking whether they couldn’t hear that great Lingala song playing.

It seems though what eventually pushed his colleagues over was when he started to walk away from them to take calls from Obama. He’d talk for a number of minutes, laughing heartily, punctuating the call with “Yes President Obama”, before finally hanging up. It didn’t help that many times during these ‘calls’, his phone was off, from not being charged.

Not wanting to find out how high this road would go, afande’s colleagues finally turned him in.

This stormy walk

In my head, Christianity is this nice, cushy place where you chill with the Lord Jesus, safe from all life’s randomness. Brokeness, brokenness, debt, indecision, loss, waves, crazy storms that toss you, lift you and carry you off and when they finally set you down (as you breathe a sigh of relief), you realise you’ve been dropped in a den of lions. That have been fasting. That stuff, those things, in my head, are for those who don’t know our Lord. That was one of my expectations getting into this.

Come with your poverty, Lord Jesus will make you rich. Come. Just come. Yes, you there at your computer, writing code. Come. The message of striking a gold mine, of all problems going away, sounds pretty attractive. On Sunday though, the message we received had this as the take-out:

The life of the godly is not a straight line to glory, but God sees that they get there.

Wait? What? *murmurs in my head*

The message re-affirms what I’ve been learning on this walk. It isn’t a straight line. *face drops.* Now that I’m here, what do I do with all these expectations? What do I do with this list of things I’d come with for Lord Jesus to give me?

One of the most widely known passage from the Bible was written by giant-slaying David. Psalms 23.

The Lord is my Shepherd,

I shall not want

That’s it David. That’s exactly what I want – not to want. Hence my list….

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

All on my list. Still waters, peace, calm. If those still waters are in Hawaii, or Brazil, or Seychelles, I’m totally in for that too. You, David, are a man who knows my list. Lying down in green pastures, especially in a lush field, with some mellow music playing, a lovely breeze blowing and my wife next to me, I’m sold. Lord Jesus, I’m in.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

Wait, what?! There must be a mistake here. Lord, if you truly are my Shepherd (as I confidently pronounced, remember), why is there even a remote possibility of me walking through the valley of the shadow of death? If I need to go to a valley, take me to Silicon Valley, that’s what good shepherds do no?

But David continues, unfazed…

I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

And that’s what I’m learning. In Jesus’s words:

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”                                                                                                     Matthew 7:24-27

I’m learning exactly that; that with or without Jesus, storms come, so do the valleys (of the shadow of death and of Silicon, I’m still waiting Lord!). I’m learning though to recognize God’s rod and staff in the storms. A rod, from what I know, is for discipline (spare the rod, spoil the child). Staffs are for guidance (Shepherds use them to herd). I’m learning, rather slowly, to look for his comfort, his grounding through everything.

When MPs blow it

Do you read some stories in the news and immediately think that all that’s lacking is some good actors, a great soundtrack and a deep-voiced narrator to turn the story into a blockbuster movie? You do? I do too. Last week, well after I’d submitted an article for publishing, one such story came up. One so interesting, it walked in and demanded that ‘By The Way’ be about it. See, it was reported that two Members of Parliament got into a fist fight. Two female MPs, it is alleged, took the phrase ‘the power is in your hands’ literally by swinging that power at each other. I can’t give a blow by blow account (heavy pause) but here’s an account of the events, adapted for a movie.

The setting: The ruling party’s MPs are at a week-long retreat in Kyankwanzi, resplendent in yellow, discussing important national matters, only taking time off to breathe. The sun’s shining, a gentle breeze is blowing, lulling some to sleep, but only for a few minutes at a time.

Characters: Ms Ann Nankabirwa, the Kyankwanzi District MP aka AnDistracable and Ms Florence Nebanda ,Butaleja Woman MP aka Flo

Conflict: Both AnDistracable and Flo are peace-loving, patriotic citizens, diligently serving the country. But something in their food, some experimental drug dropped in by an evil NRM scientist that can’t be named here lest the newspaper be shut down, changed all that.

Flo, tired from the day’s activities, heads back to the dormitory to turn in. Her bed though has been given away to someone else by AnDistracable. Flo investigates and discovers what happened. She confronts AnDistracable about it. Then the drug kicks in and the events that follow aren’t suitable for the family section of the newspaper like this. Suffice to say they did not shake hands and have a civil conversation about it, one punctuated with laughter and a few sips of tea.

The MP's debate

The MP’s debate

For the sake of the movie, while the above ‘discussions’ take place, a crowd mills around the discussants, cheering them on and placing bets on who’ll win. An ambulance also rushes to the scene, ready to whisk away any by-stander injured by any stray word used by the discussants. The evil scientist behind all this stands by, grinning at his success.

Moral: Don’t just give out people’s beds