the parking lot chap and the five year old IT expert



Last week I returned from a trip out-of-country to a comedic reception at the Entebbe Airport Long-Term Parking Terminal.

I found myself starring in a comedy of errors so deep that I suspected someone had paid actors to stage it. For a panicky while after I got there, the chaps managing the parking system couldn’t find my receipt and therefore car keys. Eventually, though, we discovered them after working out that the fellow who had taken my keys on the morning I left had registered HIS name on the system instead of mine.

Too tired to properly psycho-analyse him in front of his colleagues, and eager to get to a dinner arrangement in Kampala, I politely swept up my keys and walked over to where I had parked – in the furthermost corner of the parking lot.

There, I found that a vehicle had been parked right behind mine and was blocking my exit. I could not understand how this had escaped the notice of the parking lot attendants, since my car was not the common type, or why they had let me walk all this way with my luggage without even a word of warning.

I stood there amazed that they hadn’t followed me all this way to unblock the car, and noticed that a colleague of mine was also having a bit of a struggle. So I went over to see if I could be of help.

His car, not blocked by any other, had refused to respond to his key remote fob. It was clear to me that his car battery was dead, but to confirm this we had to go through a couple of hours filled with high-level comedy during which ‘the man with the key went’ and someone else even licked a dry cell to test whether it was functional.

In the background of the comic action, I caught a story over my car radio that slapped me with irony.

It was about a five-year old child called Ayan Qureshi, who is now the world’s youngest Microsoft Certified Professional.

Microsoft IT certification has not become any easier – this five-year old child just knows his computers so well that he passed the IT Exam.

As the BBC people marvelled over this computer-savvy toddler, we discovered in the parking lot that the reason my colleague’s car battery had run out was whoever parked it had left the interior lights on for four days or so. You would imagine that a fellow working at a parking lot would know this basic rule of car management, even if he didn’t stand any mental risk of earning Microsoft IT Certification as a young child.

To make matters worse, when we finally got the bonnet open, one of the parking lot employees exclaimed that he had been right all along because when my colleague was parking his car there had been someone else there whose vehicle had suffered a similar mishap.

“Don’t you remember that guy you found here? It was the same problem…!” the chap said with misplaced triumph in his voice.

So I chose not to be unfair to the fellows in that parking lot by comparing them to young Ayan Qureshi, since not every five-year old in the UK is like him anyway; especially after I heard him say, over the radio, “My plan is to set up an e-valley in London…”

It would be grossly unfair, I reasoned, to compare these parking lot attendants who had so little of a plan for managing their few square metres of space that they could register you wrongly, block you in by parking awkwardly, and then allow your battery to run out by simply forgetting to flick a light switch off.

dear supermarket guy; please make us all buy Ugandan?

From the Private Sector Foundation of Uganda

From the Private Sector Foundation of Uganda

Dear Supermarket Guy who was bemused and puzzled at my kids checking products to see whether they were made in Uganda before placing them in our trolley:

They are very young, my little ones, and I don’t want them to get too old before they undergo this basic lesson in economics.

You see, if they join the army of shoppers that concentrates spending fire on products manufactured in Uganda then they will eventually win us the economic war of building Ugandan industry – cottage, small, medium and large together.

Unlike you and I, supermarket guy, these children are being raised in an age when there are actually good, respectable, competitive Ugandan products on the shelves.

Of course you are younger than I am, or  came to Kampala long after I did, so you cannot possibly recall a time when there were no supermarkets besides Ugantico  (run by Nasser Ntege Sebaggala) or outlets such as the confectionary of Mrs. Ofungi in Kisementi and Bimbo Ice Cream Parlour of the Mukulas (Mike and Gladys).

You might have no clear idea of an environment where scarce products were called “England” as evidence of quality and ‘authenticity’ as opposed to “China” for cheapness and potential fraudulence. That’s why you probably don’t get confused when you walk round your home today and find that most things are actually made in China but are not really disintegrating on impact every time you touch them.

And right now you might not be aware that all those decades of this “England-China” identification form what sociologists might call “normalisation”, which is why you cannot understand the product-inspecting actions of my children.

That was one of the lessons of my university days that stuck – “normalisation” and the cementing of certain ideas as believable facts that we grow up with and cannot break away from.

It’s also why we generally think toothpaste is synonymous with Colgate, cereal with Kellogg’s, and coffee – we are so stupid – with Nescafe.

My children know different and will continue to be told different. Which is why, Supermarket guy, I bring them shopping and make them check labels before we buy anything.

Actually, it is only one of many reasons. I also need them to know how much stuff costs so that they work out what it means for us to buy them supermarket food. But it is a major reason – the ‘Made in Uganda’ one – because we need them to understand that if we buy products made in Uganda then the bulk of the money we spend will stay in Uganda, with people working in Uganda.

If we bought honey made in Australia, for instance, you would still earn your wages; but when we buy honey made in Uganda then some bee-keeper in Bulindi, Hoima or or Mutolere, Kisoro might soon be shopping with you as well and your wages might increase.

If that bee-keeper also buys his or her raw materials and tools of production strictly Ugandan…I’m sure you catch the drift?

So these kids of mine who appeared to irritate you by their inspection of every packet of everything, are actively protecting your job tenure.

Rather than brush them off, my supermarket friend, you should make yourself an authority on where the products made in Uganda are. If your supermarket and the Ministry of Trade and Industry are too short-sighted to create a ‘Proudly Ugandan’ campaign with dedicated shelves for products and staff assigned to chaperone money back into the economy in this way, then YOU do it yourself.

If you make it your business to know and promote Ugandan products while the

vast, ignorant majority push for foreign exports then you will stand out and be more valuable than the rest. It won’t be long, I assure you, before one of these Ugandan companies sweeps you up to join their marketing or sales or product development departments.

And in any case, which is easier – for a French Coffee or Egyptian juice company to spot and employ you, or one of our Ugandan ones whose owners and managers actually meet you on the shop floor?

I’m telling you the truth, my friend, focusing on foreign imports rather than pushing our local products will keep you down there shuffling boxes for a long, long time.

So when these little kids and their parents approach the shelves to choose biscuits or juice or crisps or pencils, point them in the right direction. A direction in which even your own progress and prosperity might lie.

Make them buy Ugandan.

irritation warning: parking attendants on duty

Friday night I arrived at Entebbe Airport mentally prepared to crawl through the traffic to make it for a very important personal dinner with family.

Within minutes of arriving at the long-term parking office a sense of foreboding began to come over me as the two chaps there searched high and low with that puzzled look on their faces of “Oba what…?”<—said properly, this is the classical Ugandan version of WTF.

They couldn’t find a ticket with my name on it, and eventually I dug through my luggage to find my own copy, which revealed where the problem was.

The fellow who I had handed my car to the morning I arrived there, a man called Male, had registered the ticket in his own names rather than mine! This, in spite of the fact that I had handed him my driving permit and patiently allowed him to hold on to it for as long as he wanted, doing the registration.

No problem, I said, and paid up then got sent on my way.

I walked all the way to the farthest corner of the parking lot with my luggage, only to find a Mercedes Benz parked right behind me. I hooted a little bit then realised I had to walk all the way back to the Administrator’s cubicle.

I did so while wondering why the hell the chaps hadn’t alerted me to the possibility that I would be blocked and feeling quite sure that since there were only two cars of my make in the entire parking lot they should surely have known.

My irritated musings were interrupted when I encountered my pal Richard fretting because his remote key fob wouldn’t work, and neither would his Prado key.

He had left the car with the chaps and agreed that they would park it, so he was very unsure what could have possibly happened. We tried a couple of tricks with the remote key and the ordinary key, attacking all doors and pressing buttons while pointing at all parts of the vehicle but nothing worked.

We eventually sent for some dry cells to slot into his remote key, with the askari who had said with heavy confidence as he pointed at the airport terminal building in the distance: “The batteries are sold in the airport, there!”

As we waited for him to return, the Mercedes Benz blocking me was moved but by now, it was obvious that I wasn’t going to make it to the dinner, so I tried to order for a drink for us as we waited.

“You have go to the restaurant,” I was told.

The small ensuing discussion about how good an idea it would be to have a few soft drinks sold at the parking lot was interrupted by the return of the confident askari, with the cocksure update that even if the cells weren’t actually available at the airport, he could get them from somewhere else nearby.

We waited afresh, and secured phone numbers to summon mechanics to bring solutions and the restaurant operator to deliver drinks to us in the parking lot. The latter arrived within minutes, while the former eventually confessed, hours later, that it was raining and they couldn’t make it over.

Without explaining the walking pace of the askari, as we waited for him to get to where he was going, let alone return, we convinced the fellows there to open up some other key fobs available so we could test with their batteries, and in the process one of the chaps licked the dry cells to confirm that they were indeed functional.

Based on the saliva action, we all agreed that the problem must be the car battery. I remembered that some time in my distant past we often conducted this lick-the-dry-cell test and even then I wasn’t sure about it (but now you can google it).

We started a fresh discussion about how wise it would be for the parking lot management to open up a shop selling car accessories like batteries for remote control keys or fobs, air freshener kits, insect traps, and so on and so forth. The fellows kept saying how “The problem is” and explaining why it wouldn’t work, so we just left the ideas there amidst the cars.

Then, while discussing how the car battery could have run out, Richard reminded the fellows that he had left the car with them to park – most probably with the gentleman called Male, since we left on the same morning.

At one point, an attendant said, “Remember that car that refused to start when you had arrived here?”

Richard affirmed the memory, and even recounted that he had been assured that his Prado would be parked in the spot of the failed car when it was eventually moved.

We talked through the various scenarios, my irritation rising every minute, and the askari returned unsuccessful to join us in discussions as we waited for mechanics to respond to our phone summons.

Eventually, though, we found a taxi driver who had exceptional car opening skills, got the bonnet open, and charged the battery up.

Immediately, the interior lights of the car came on – which explained why the battery had run out. The lights had probably been on the whole damn week, draining the battery.

And that’s when I really felt like being a little violent. What kind of car parking attendants are these who aren’t proficient enough to tell that you have to switch off the interior lights? How often do they (not) patrol the parking lot in order not to have noticed the lights were on? Why were they incapable of managing parking so we don’t get blocked in?

But before I could erupt in angry commentary, the askari declared with quite some triumph in his voice:

“Yeah! I knew it! Don’t you remember that guy you found here that morning, whose car had also failed to start? It was the same problem…!”

unveiling the ultimate christmas gift for urban planners

IF you have a relative or friend or contact working closely or remotely with an organisation involved in urban planning, I now bring it to your attention that Christmas is around the corner and I have the perfect gift in mind.

It’s a computer game called ‘Sim City’ – or any of ’The Sims’ games.SimCity Deluxe Edition

Yes! This year, get your relative, friend or contact in urban planning to erase Solitaire and Candy Crush. Have their supervisors cancel all workshops and meetings for the foreseeable future so that they spend their working hours playing ‘Sim City’ for even just a few days, and you will have done some national service for Uganda.

This game puts the player in the seat of ‘Mayor’ and allows them to plan a city from scratch. It forces them to build up communities in grids that are easy and logical to manage, so that they don’t have roads winding as if they were both designed and built by teams of people under the heavy influence of alcohol or mind-debilitating medication.

Within a short time of play, Sim City will show a player the sense in laying out housing structures in an order that fits purposes such as the deployment of utilities and creation of employment. If the player is greedy for rent and rates and sets up too many houses without commercial buildings nearby, for instance, the houses will remain unoccupied because tenants won’t have jobs from which to earn to pay the rents.

And if the player builds up high-end housing but only creates low-end commercial areas nearby, again the houses will remain empty and the low-end Catan-Jul. 18, 761415475137commercial areas will also fail because the commute from the residential areas of the workers will be too long for them to seek employment there.

Your relative, friend or contact in urban planning will benefit from the lessons regarding road placement and construction as they play this game, and realise that the increase in population of a residential area will always necessitate a change in road use and traffic planning.

Luckily, in the game, this only requires a few clicks of the mouse (or trackpad) but must be accompanied by some budget planning that the computer forces you to keep an eye on as you progress. It is so easy, however, that the player quickly learns how to turn some roads into one-way streets to ease congestion and movement, and to upgrade other roads to increase the number of lanes and therefore traffic flow.

If the person planning my side of Kampala, the south-eastern end, knew how to play ‘Sim City’, for instance, the irritation we suffer when the road turns into an angry parking lot every morning and evening for a couple of hours, would fade away.Parking in Kampala

My urban planners would benefit greatly from learning that before granting building permissions to people putting up more apartment blocks and housing estates, the road networks must be addressed as well. They would learn how to calculate ratios so that a neighbourhood such as mine, with narrow roads designed logically for bicycles and small domestic pets unaccompanied by shoe-wearing pedestrians, does not suddenly see two thousand apartments coming up within one year – especially where each apartment will accommodate couples owning two vehicles each!

They would also hesitate before allowing a shopping mall to go up with one entrance way located at an odd angle right at a petrol station, and another just off not one, but TWO, small roads that are already congested with traffic from a school whose parents all own vehicles, en route to an Industrial Area that constantly receives containerised trucks.

Sim City is so sensible in its configuration that when the player insists on illogical structure placement, the citizens burst into angry riots bred from frustration, and the game logic advises the player to deploy more police stations, fire engines and health centres – but all depending on the budget and funds one has available.

At points, the player gets forced to demolish a poorly conceived structure, at some cost to the city but with the benefit of easing tensions, creating comfort, and increasing revenues from the continued business and tenancies.

It also limits the player mayor from creating neighbourhoods in which residents find themselves in the awkward position of sitting on their verandahs facing outward onto a next door neighbour whose verandah is facing left onto another neighbour facing right while presenting the back of his house to the front of another neighbour in what we call, in some vernacular, “okukunamira”.

It is a little odd that this game was launched way back in 1989 and runs principles that many urban planners here seem largely unaware of, but then perhaps that is our fault since we aren’t giving them the right gifts at Christmas and on their birthdays.

‘Sim City’ only costs US$20 (Ushs52,000) on the Apple Store and in the United States, and ZAR300 (Ushs72,000) in South Africa – much less than the fuel each of us wastes every day in those morning and evening main road parking lots.

By the way, the ‘Sim’ in this does NOT stand for Simon, so I have no conflict of interest to declare; but on that note, if you’re a Ugandan architect or urban planner with any initiative whatsoever, here’s an opportunity: create a localised Ugandan version of ‘Sim City’ but without our localised version of ‘urban planning’, and rake in the shillings from a desperate public that needs to see a change in the organisation of our urban spaces.

Believe me, the urban planning recipient of these gifts will thank you profusely; I don’t think they are proud right now of what they see when they are driving to and from work every day, and would certainly appreciate your contribution to their delivering a much higher quality of service and work to their nation, Uganda. 

the ‘ebola is Africa’ bullshit needs to be stopped BEFORE the disease itself

Earlier today you must have seen this map:

Ebola In Africa

Please share it with anyone and everyone in THE WORLD so that they begin to understand that this continent is not one big tent under which lives this big, close-knit family called Africans.

And kindly go over to people like the professionals who run and make them replace their entire philosophy with this map.

This evening, while checking on a couple of ideas I had in the middle of handling my four-year old’s feverish cough (NO – she does NOT have Ebola!), I landed on this page ( and was surprised to see the section titled ‘Ebola’.

Ebola 1

Do you see what they are doing there? This is a website that communicates DIRECTLY to children, with a clear focus on the ones in the United States of America, and their idea of Ebola has it linked to the continent of Africa in our white entirety.

Don’t think, by the way, that the purveyors of this website information are so stupid that they show you a picture of the full human body to depict a headache:

Ebola 5

They understand the idea that the body is made up of different parts, and, presumably, that an ache in the head is called headache and so on and so forth. The idea that the continent of Africa does not have Ebola across the entire landmass, therefore, should be easy for them.

Luckily, on one level, this is not the type of page that a medical researcher will visit for information on Ebola, judging from entries such as:

Ebola 2

But the children who read this, I fear, will be traumatised for life with the thought that these “many people in Africa” are sick.

And one cannot therefore fully blame American children or their ignorant parents for all manner of silly reactions such as:

1. The teacher who had to resign her job because she had returned from a visit to Kenya and parents of her school in Lousville, I-Can’t-Be-Bothered-To-Find-Out-Which-State – which is probably closer to the Ebola case in the United States than Kenya is to any case of Ebola in West Africa this year. (

2. The two children from Senegal who were beaten and shouted at for being African and therefore probably having Ebola.  (—-school-beatings/)

And many other stories besides.

Isn’t there a high possibility that these students and their parents had sought some high quality information from the likes of

You see, their editorial policy…actually, read it yourself:

Ebola 3


“extensive review”

“by medical professionals”

Okay, they don’t know geography or communication, obviously, and need help in that field – thus the need for them to refer to the map above.

Ebola 4

Showing them the map above would help them in their ’18-step process’ that has hitherto failed to notice that the VAST MAJORITY OF THE CONTINENT OF AFRICA DOES NOT HAVE EBOLA.

I’ve done my bit, and gone to their ‘Contact Us’ page where, politely, I have suggested: “You should not spread the stereotypical error that Ebola is linked to the entire continent of Africa, as the map you have presented for the disease indicates. Be clear in your communication so that the children of the United States of America don’t grow up associating everyone from Africa with this disease. You might also wish to mention that some people in the United States and also Europe have contracted Ebola…”

I know that on its own this is a weak blow.

So, please, join me, go over and submit your own suggestion?


Help the American child to NOT be mis-educated so?