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Posted on May 24, 2015
Now that the Pioneer Bus Service is back on the roads of Kampala City, we could hope that a step is being taken in the direction of ridding Uganda of the business of boda-boda as a mode of transport, but that would be displaying naivety.
It has taken me a while but I am now finally resigned to the reality that the boda-boda will be part of our lives here for a long time to come, because of our general ‘Boda-Boda Mentality’.
You see, even reading this there will be some people arguing that boda-bodas are extremely necessary because without them we would be “incapable” of getting around – especially because of the manner in which our roads and residential areas are laid out. Plus, the arguments will go, if we got rid of boda-bodas there would be an “employment crisis” in this country!
I call that the ‘Boda-Boda Mentality’ because it is a mindset that is characteristic of boda-boda operations themselves.
The reasons boda-bodas took over in the first place were: 1. the public transportation system of taxis was disorganised, uncomfortable and so haphazard that you never knew how long a trip would take you if you boarded a taxi to anywhere, since they would jerk to a stop every two seconds or so; 2. Most of our residences are embedded in places that have awkward access roads that make the walk from the house to the nearest ’stage’ uncomfortable, ungainly and downright risky; 3. It’s really the fastest way to get from one point to another without suffering a road rage heart attack due to impatient, mentally disorganised drivers and a traffic management system seemingly managed by people with large amounts of shares in the motor vehicle scrap industry.
Boda-bodas were therefore a compromise position that we arrived at to solve the problems above, and THAT itself is ‘Boda-Boda Mentality’ – taking a short term compromise position and allowing it to become a long-term response (not solution) to a major problem, rather than establishing the solution itself.
See, the poor taxi system should have been fixed by firmly establishing a proper timed service with designated stages; the lousy access roads to residences fixed by determined urban planning forcing everyone to respect road reserves and drainage systems; and traffic management by being professional at traffic management right from the point of issuing driving permits.
But because of a ‘Boda-Boda Mentality’, we can’t even invest sensibly in transport such as a bus system that runs on time and stops at pre-designated points in 2015, even though a country like Hungary built its underground train system in 1896.
For instance you and I, educated, well-heeled, knowledgeable elites though we may be, see an ‘opportunity’ in buying a boda-boda and monitoring proceeds from it over a six-month period till the ‘investment’ has ‘paid off’ and even given us ‘profits’ – even if they collectively account for the bulk of hospital admission cases due to accidents.
Whereas THAT is an investment opportunity by the very definition of the words, it is only so because of our ‘Boda-Boda Mentality’, otherwise we would have identified the bigger opportunity in pooling our money together to invest in an urban train or bus service.
In fact, were it not for the ‘Boda-Boda Mentality’, the educated elite of this country would have identified opportunities in the boda-boda transport industry such as helmets made in Uganda, or more comfortable boda-boda seats designed in Uganda out of Ugandan materials, and maybe even reflective aprons made out of local materials. But none of the tens of thousands of economists, engineers, designers and what not that we have churned out of universities in Kampala and elsewhere since 1922 have gotten to this point yet.
Boda-bodas even provide an opportunity for spare parts manufacturing if somebody stops to count the number of side mirrors they destroy when they whizz past our cars in our gridlocked traffic (do a snap survey and see for yourself the gravity of this particular problem).
We have a ‘Boda-Boda Mentality’ because we tend to think just like our relatives who operate those contraptions, whose operational mannerisms we should highlight at this point:
They tend to take shortcuts even going down the wrong side of the road into oncoming traffic – the same way many of us approach business, taking those short cuts that put everything at unnecessary risk, like condoning corruption, but for short-term gain and getting to the other end having left behind us hundreds of people jeering and cursing at us.
They don’t bother with helmets even when they have them, and ride with them placed on the handlebars – the way we don’t do the ordinarily necessary and sensible things available to us, like insurance, preventive medicine, or even having smoke detectors or fire extinguishers in our own homes!
In fact, many believe that no rules apply to them, and will gather in a mob to deal with anyone who even shouts an insult at one of their kind – exactly like some people do on social media platforms should you say anything they don’t agree with.
Plus, your regular boda-boda chap, like the special hire fellow, will only fuel up enough for their next trip or two – I dare you to step outside and check your fuel gauge or prove that you fuel up on a regular schedule. But besides that, our ‘Boda-Boda Mentality’ in this regard covers the way we are so unprepared for eventualities – including not having an umbrella on hand in the rainy season…
And until we see boda-boda riders graduating to buses with designated stages running on timed schedules, we are all just boda-boda riders masquerading as serious people.
Posted on May 16, 2015
ABOUT five years ago the trailer for the movie ‘Who Killed Captain Alex’ was posted to YouTube.com.
Many of us suffered physical injuries caused by laughing when we were first introduced to that two minute trailer, and we sought out the full movie with both caution and relish, but zero success – until about a month ago when it was actually ‘released’.
The danger of additional physical injury due to uncontrollable laughter was real and almost life-threatening right from when the film opened up. The hilarity of ‘Who Killed Captain Alex?’ runs non-stop from the opening credits stating, “This film is lost and all that survives is a low-resolution DVD master. This is due, in part, to the harsh working conditions, but Nabwana IGG also erased his computer to be able to make his next action film, Tebaatusasula. He never imagined anyone outside his own village would see this film.”
From there on, the viewer is subjected to over one hour’s footage of ludicrously comedic proportions in terms of presentation, plot, production, and everything possible and impossible on screen.
Many of us watched the trailer on its own and never got round to catching the full movie, and many more dismissed it as inferior to the quality that they are accustomed to, from Hollywood and such other lofty heights.
But this week the man behind ‘Who Killed Captain Alex?’ has made it to the mainstream global news and given Uganda positive media coverage while the rest of the region is engulfed in floods right in the middle of their cities, and coup d’etats.
It turns out that after that first trailer was released back in 2010, a young fellow in the United States, in New York, spotted it and within forty seconds of viewing had made the decision to come to Uganda.
The American, Alan ‘Ssali’ Hofmanis, didn’t even call the number at the end of the trailer – 0712921775 – or do a background check on this ‘Ramon Productions’. He processed himself, bought a ticket and came straight on down to Uganda, and then somehow made his way to Wakaliga, the village where Isaac Nabwana (I interchangeably call him Nabwana and Nabwaana because one is more likely the accurate one and the other has been assumed) lives and shoots his movies.
Yes – movies! Nabwaana didn’t stop at ‘Who Killed Captain Alex?’; he has also produced or shot trailers for ‘Tebaatusasula’, ‘Return of Uncle Benon’, ‘Bad Black’ and ‘Rescue Team’, among others!
Ergo the term ‘Wakaliwood’ – a merger between Wakaliga and Hollywood (visit http://watch.wakaliwood.com/ for the high profile version).
The number of YouTube views the young man has garnered are in the millions, and should be immediately taken up by the Uganda Tourism Board, the Uganda Investment Authority and any commercial entity in Uganda that is interested in international exposure. Seriously! Those are millions of eyes of people whose cognitive association with Uganda is happily full of mirth – not Idi Amin, Ebola, Politics or any of the usual stupidity!
Plus, the comments of the viewers tell you everything there is to know about the power of creating content and posting it onto the internet.
The fact that Hofmanis needed only forty seconds of film to make the decision to leave the United States for a life in Uganda is proof that we can move millions of people’s dollars, euros, pounds, yuan, yen and even Zim dollars if we create the right content and use it wisely on the internet.
You see, platforms such as YouTube are incredible tools for countries like Uganda if we learn how to harness them properly. This week Uganda also won the award for Best African Exhibitor 2015 at the Indaba Tourism Fair in South Africa, thanks to the hard work of our Tourism sector and the people at the helm there.
That stand cost us lots of sweat, money and additional hard work doing sales and marketing, and was probably visited by thousands of people whose primary function in life is directing monied tourists to the countries they should spend their time and money in. It was VERY important.
But consider that with about US$200 per film, Isaac Nabwaana and Wakaliwood has the potential on YouTube of reaching 1,000,000,000 (one billion) users, and that every day people watch hundreds of millions of hours on YouTube. This website is localised in 75 countries and is available in 61 languages – so films like ‘Who Killed Captain Alex?’ with its amateur but extremely funny expressive comedy, could be replicated 61 times if our Department of Languages put some work into it – probably getting us 61,000,000 views in the process!
If just one percent of each view got us one visitor here within forty seconds the way Hofmanis was snared (or forty minutes), that would be … US$30million in visa fees alone at US$50 per visa payable at Entebbe Airport!
US$30million revenue to the Republic of Uganda from the selfless creative efforts of an uncelebrated slum-dweller called Isaac Nabwaana of Wakaliga who never features in any of our celebrity pages and never gets mentioned on Twitter and Facebook and certainly won’t be on any of our national medal lists any time soon…except mine, now, because this young man has definitely made my week as a proud Ugandan!
If you are online and savvy enough to join the crowdsourcing initiative, you could visit their Kickstarter page and throw in your offering.
If you are in Uganda and can’t be bothered to do such things as transfer money online, perhaps you will visit that page and see how Nabwaana and company have converted bits of old vehicles into film-making equipment. If you do make that observation, and have a couple of old hard drives, computers, and other stuff that could be useful to a film-maker, donate it to Nabwaana and team.
I haven’t asked for their permission to say this, but I am sure the clothes they wear as props come from some wardrobe somewhere that could do with replenishing with whatever the rest of us can come up with.
Unlike many other people of self-importance, the man even has his own documentary selling on Amazon! See here: http://www.amazon.com/Wakaliwood-Nabwana-I-G-G/dp/B00F4CNEXE – putting Uganda on the map for much better reasons than fraud, theft, embezzlement, wars and what not!
I just wish I could translate this into the commentary language that the Wakaliwood guys use in their movies – complete with a translation of the volleys of bullets (“Wololololo!”); and THAT’S another thing Nabwaana and company are doing for us – putting us out there for that innovative translation of movies into our local vernacular.
Nabwaana is a good Ugandan!
Posted on May 10, 2015
EVERY so often one falls upon a random story that carries no excitement until one exercises the brain a little bit.
This week it’s about ‘Fred’s Bicycles’, which has further delayed my treatise on the boda-boda mentality that plagues my people and I.
‘Fred’s Bicycles’ was started a few years ago by Jonny Coppel and Tom Davenport, in London, after Davenport visited Uganda on holiday one year and “…saw the ‘beautiful’ bikes used by farmers in Uganda to ferry cattle…”, at which point “he immediately saw the appeal they might have back home.”
Four years later, the story continues, “the 26-year old strategy consultant and his school friend Jonny Coppel, 25, are selling their own bicycles based on those in Uganda, as well as giving back to the place where it all started.”
I have issues with the “giving back” part of the story because it fits comfortably into the lazy narrative that Europeans have of countries like Uganda, but we will talk about that later in life.
More importantly, this story underscored to me once again the importance of a good education, rather than the instructive one-plus-one-equals-two type of schooling many of us got.
This is not to say that all British young men who visit Uganda are well educated enough to do what Davenport and Coppel did, but the fact that they came over here and identified opportunity out of an item that we actually despise as a sign of poverty and backwardness, means they are well educated.
The two young men also reminded me how much we have around us that we take for granted and yet could be very highly valued elsewhere (Their bikes go for £249 each – about Ushs1.1million each).
The bicycles they talk about were not even designed or made in Uganda; from the photos on the website, these are what we used to call Hero bicycles, which eventually gave way to Roadmaster Cycles.
One other website containing a research paper by United States university Professor Jason A. Morris, even states that the Hero Bicycle was “originally built in 1913 for the British military, and it has not changed since”.
This researcher came all the way from the US to Hoima to design a bicycle for Ugandan use to replace the Hero and Roadmaster bicycles. His efforts are available in that research paper but I, personally, know nothing of the results being on the road.
Instead, I know Roadmaster Cycles started assembling bicycles here at some point at a US$6million facility (press reports say) in Nalukolongo in 1993, after seeing the opportunity in a populace that had poor roads then, lots of agricultural activity, and incomes too limited to fund car manufacturing or even assembly.
Surprisingly, to me, their website displays a wide range of products including bicycles for children! And yet, somehow, most monied people are riding mostly second hand bicycles coming in from the same England that Davenport and Coppel are selling their bikes, inspired by Uganda, or bicycles imported from South Africa and further afield.
What about the realisation that on the day I fell upon this story of Uganda’s inspiration, I saw three stories in one newspaper talking about sums of money being earned by Ugandans -Ushs100billion, Ushs15billion and Ushs400million – yet none of these will ever be converted into bicycle manufacture, assembly or anything similar anywhere in the country.
Wait! Wait! What is the most notable bicycle story YOU can think of…? Yes! The one in which Permanent Secretary John Kashaka was convicted over the sham importation of bicycles worth Ushs4billion, right?
You would probably have been less confused about it if the 70,000 bicycles in question there had been ordered direct from the Roadmaster Assembly Plant in Nalukolongo, wouldn’t you?
But according to the Public Procurement and Disposal Authority (PPDA) Investigation Report into the matter, Roadmaster was not even one of the bidders that successfully submitted bids – which list included names such as “Nile Fishing Company Limited and Shinyanga Emporium”.
I swear – go to this link for the full report and see for yourself!
Yet, in March 2011, Roadmaster Cycles appeared in press reports alongside John Kashaka as he officiated at the distribution of 5,200 bicycles to Parish Chiefs (LCs). The bicycles, read the report, were worth Ushs669million (each just over Ushs128,000 – about a tenth of the cost of Fred’s Bicycles…) – and were distributed at the Roadmaster premises.
Exactly one year later, Roadmaster Cycles registered a complaint with the PPDA because the company had reportedly submitted the lowest bid of Ushs5.2billion for the supply of 30,000 bicycles, but the tender had gone to the wrongly named (for this purpose) Nile Fishing Company Limited who had won the tender to supply the bikes at Ushs6.4billion…
According to press reports, the Permanent Secretary who had replaced Kashaka, Patrick Mutabwire, said Roadmaster had no basis for complaint; see, under the winning bid: “Each bicycle would be delivered here at about US$85 (about Ushs200,000) yet on the open market they go for Ushs400,000 each…” (yet just a year prior to that, they had cost Ushs128,000 each!)
Bicycles can really make you go dizzy…
Posted on May 2, 2015
THERE is a group of people out there, prominent among whom are Tourism aficionados Amos Wekesa and Stephen Asiimwe, who have offered themselves up to be walking advertisements for Uganda to the international community in the simplest way possible.
These are people who travel frequently outside of Uganda through airports and other such communication hubs that are frequented by large numbers of other people who are likely tourists or, at the very least, travellers.
They are also people who by nature gain public attention merely by virtue of their presence alone.
Their simple activity: Wearing a Uganda t-shirt.
Amos’ rationale makes sense and if you try it out you will find that it works out just fine: turn up in your Uganda t-shirt in front of anyone who hasn’t heard of Uganda before and they will ask, “What’s that?”
That gives you an opportunity to deliver a well-rehearsed marketing pitch for your country that could drive up tourism or investment:
“Uganda is my country; it’s called the Pearl of Africa because it’s gifted by nature in terms of flora and fauna, and is located in the heart of Africa, mostly on the Equator, which means we have the best weather in the world all year round, which makes us the happiest, most polite and hospitable people ever. You’ve probably heard about Uganda because we’re one of the few countries in the world with Mountain Gorillas, Chimpanzees, Lions, Giraffes, Rhinos, and more than half the world’s bird species all viewable within hours of landing at our main airport, Entebbe.”
Practice saying that and see how easy it is.
Even where people out there have heard of Uganda before, you will find they probably heard something odd and negative about the country and they will be a bit surprised, “Uganda? You mean you can proudly wear that t-shirt out in public?!”
And the response is simple: “Yes…(followed by the other paragraph above).
I joined this group long ago and have a large array of Uganda shirts with me whenever I travel, but even take it a notch higher sometimes.
At an airport in Los Angeles a few weeks ago, I realised that the cafe my group and I were seated at was quite crowded and jumped up with my Uganda t-shirt on full display (body girth helps), then kicked off.
Rather than just walking around and hoping someone would ask a question, I contrived to take a phone call from someone asking me about the best place to visit on holiday.
“A good holiday destination? You want a place where you can have loads of fun whether you’re with family or just friends or on your own?” I started, quite loudly, in my best American accent (speaking slowly, just in case any of them were slow to follow),
“Uganda. I can’t think of anywhere else, man. Uganda… (insert the other paragraph above).”
The reaction was positive; at first I might have been mildly irritating, but being a good performer I threw in some interesting gestures and a couple of dance moves (it’s easy to not be shy in foreign lands). Before long I had their attention and sold Uganda enough to get a couple of thumbs-ups, smiles and nods as I returned to my seat.
Earlier on in my trip, I often got stopped and asked about Uganda with the usual appendage of “Uganda? Idi Amin, right?”, to which I always responded with, “No! Uganda! Simon Kaheru!”
By the time that conversation ended, the person asking would be set right about Uganda (see the other paragraph above).
And right now, I am toying with the idea of designing a tee-shirt with that paragraph above boldly printed on the front, especially because someone my size could certainly pull it off!
Posted on April 26, 2015
I HAVE just returned from a couple of weeks of standing in lines, aka queuing up, and I have no complaints to make.
There were times when I stood in a queue to be let into a restaurant even though I could clearly see empty tables in front of me; then when I chose to take a break during the meal I’d find myself in a queue to get into the washrooms where I learned not to be surprised to find even three queues – one for the urinals, the other for the cubicles, and a third for the wash basins (aka sink).
My event was the type for which we were allocated shuttle buses, so we got to queue up for these as well, while other people queued up for taxis.
Regardless of how busy one was, the queue was always in effect and formed so naturally that I was astounded to see fellows queuing up to witness some drama. A suspect had been apprehended outside the convention centre we were at and as the police went through their protocols of placing him under arrest, we gathered in a small group (those who were idle enough) to witness events.
I didn’t understand how I found myself right at the front of the small crowd at some point, but thought that some people had had their fill and moved on, and just as I contemplated doing so someone nudged me a little bit.
Afraid it was a pickpocket – a rarity in the city I was in – I turned back quickly only to find that an orderly array of people was neatly arranged behind me waiting their turn to view the drama ahead!
The possibility was too much to contemplate, and I had to ask, “Is this a queue?!”
Laughter ensued because normally this question was politely spoken when one arrived at a fast food counter or entrance to something or the other, and the words then were, “Is this the queue?”
Later on I realised that they might have thought that to be a taxi line but still, the fact is that they are mentally configured to fall in line and be orderly.
Being the type of person who craves the type of orderliness that we see in societies that queue, I enjoyed this aspect of my trip thoroughly the entire time.
The reality of change began to hit me when we got to Dubai and, still in a queue, witnessed a fellow breaking ranks with his suitcase to get it into the airport shuttle ahead of many people who had arrived before him. The indignation was silent but profound, and the shuttle operator calmly but firmly pointed him back to his place in the line.
We all breathed normally after that and went on doing so till we got to Entebbe Airport. Right there at the arrivals, before we had even processed ourselves into the country, some fellow tried to squeeze past me on the right just after I had compromised mentally with myself and agreed not to raise complaint about the family that had squeezed past us on the left.
“Yes?” I asked the chap, as I moved to block him even more, while a
police person observed with a bored look.
“Let me pass?” he said, not even bothering to add any justification to gain my sympathy – no faked heart attack, no wife in labour, no burial to get to, not even a cramped leg from the flight. He was just trying to jump the queue, such as it was.
“No! Let’s go together. Get in line like everybody else!” I said, firmly.
Only to look around me and realise that we were a crowd of people trying desperately to get ahead of one another before we got to that point where we “had to” queue. The actual queue only formed where there were cordon straps indicating where orderliness was expected.
Anywhere outside of that is a free-for-all.