introducing…and BANISHING ‘Corplatitudes’ henceforth, due to reasons beyond our control

A GROUP of us have agreed to coin the term Corplatitudes to combine two elements of life in Uganda today that people such as myself have in recent years become irritatingly mired in.
‘Corplatitudes’ is made up of two words – ‘Corporate’ and ‘Platitudes’, but inside it there is a clever insertion of the word ‘Attitude’, which is a central issue here.
‘Corporate’ in the sense that we use it in Uganda, referring to seemingly well-employed individuals whose employment makes them dress, speak, and presumably think differently from people such as employees of the government, NGOs, small and medium enterprises, and other such places. The expected promise presented by ‘Corporates’ is one of seriousness, excellence, high business value, quality work delivery, and so on and so forth.
‘Platitudes’ are just that – those statements that have been used so often that they begin to mean absolutely nothing to both the speaker and listener.
Corplatitudes, therefore, should be obvious to all of us since we hear them all the time – especially those of us who deal with so-called ‘Corporates’ – which term encompasses almost anyone in any form of formal employment these days – from a customer or management perspective.
There are phrases such as ‘We apologise for the inconvenience caused’ and ‘Your call is being attended to’, which could fall in this category but don’t. An apology is an apology however insincere, and the fact that your call has been answered, albeit by a machine, could be interpreted as attention.
But Corplatitudes are mostly proferred in response to demands for work accountability. I hear them most when I ask a question such as, “What are you doing?”
And as of this week, I will not be accepting Nobody Got TimeCorplatitudes from anyone anymore.
The ones I am classifying as Corplatitudes and rejecting outright are those such as, “I am/ We are handling it (your issue).” I can’t explain how we began accepting this statement within our offices, but as I have told my colleagues in various places, “handling” doesn’t mean anything sensible to getting actual work done.
Even literally, your “handling” of a matter could keep it in limbo for years on end while it doesn’t actually get resolved. I have been foolish to turn away when told someone is handling something, and I will be foolish no more. Instead, I will demand to know EXACTLY what the person is doing SPECIFICALLY to solve the problem or deliver the required task at hand.
Handle that.
Then there is the delivery “by close of business”, which phrase is frequently used to manage one’s expectation of delivery of things like reports or actual work, and even has the official abbreviation COB.
“Close of business” is not a universal measure of time any more, even for banks! And whose close of business would that be – yours or mine?
Plus, does that mean you will dispatch whatever that is “by close of business” or I will have it in my possession “by COB”? And if I do get it just before COB, then am I really expected to close business for the day and let that report or work task sit on ice overnight or something?
And it is in this last point that one finds the real reason for the Corplatitude “COB” – they promise that knowing that you will most likely be leaving work or business in the hope that you will actually find the report or work task on your desk the next morning. The promise of “COB”, therefore, comes with an automatic buffer that stretches it to “opening of business the next day”. Meanwhile, you can start ‘handling’ it…
With me, that nonsense has ended. We will schedule things using universally accepted timelines and in a manner that allows me also to do work within working hours.
Then there is the classic “we are doing our best to” solve your problem, finish a work task given, find the cause of the fault and so on and so forth.
You are certainly NOT doing your best if the problem is NOT solved, the work task is NOT finished, and the cause of the problem is still NOT known! You are making a mockery of the definition of the word “best”, and that is the worst thing you could do to “best”.
The next rung lower of that wobbly ladder of non-delivery is “we are trying to” do something. As Nike says, “Just Do It!” That’s supposedly why you are employed in the position you are in – because you were tested and found competent to do the work assigned to you. I think.
“Trying” to do something is to admit that you are going about your job like it is guesswork. Pilots shouldn’t just try to fly planes; surgeons shouldn’t just try to conduct operations; soldiers shouldn’t just try to defend the country. DO YOUR JOB!
All these and more, which we will continue to identify with time, represent an attitude of complacency because some people believe that work must be seen to be done without necessarily being done, unlike that saying about justice.
Underlying these Corplatitudes is an attitude of laziness, irresponsibility and, I daresay, childishness – because it’s the corporate equivalent of, “I am sorry, teacher; the dog ate my homework” – the unintelligent version of this was the Abim District Administrator who told fellow adults a few weeks ago that termites had eaten his accountability the vouchers…
From today, I am offering everyone a one-month Corplatitude flushing period during which we should all identify and get rid of the damn things. After that, business and work in general should move faster, better and more sensibly, and “we will achieve economic growth”.
(Give yourself bonus points if you correctly identify the Corplatitude hidden in plain sight there.)

let’s make small sacrifices for small people during these rains

This being the end of the Holy Week, and the end of a period in which we have been engaging in prayerful fasting and thoughts of Jesus Christ and his ultimate sacrifice for humankind, perhaps it is a good time to introduce the idea of a small sacrifice some of us can make for fellow man without shedding even a drop of blood.
From driving around in Kampala on rainy mornings, I am sure we need to have a national discussion about the people who walk in the rain.
This discussion should be amongst us – the car drivers and owners, including operators of taxis and minibuses, and even boda-bodas – rather than amongst them, those cold, wet, sad-looking pedestrians out there.
Just to be clear, this discussion should not be about them. The discussion should not, for instance, pay any attention to that annoying propensity they have of walking so close to puddles by the roadside that we can’t escape splashing water all over them as we drive past. We

Uganda Street Children


should acknowledge, though, that the experience is very discomfiting since we drive off feeling quite unhappy about having made them suffer so badly. They need to stop doing this to us.

Neither should it focus on their habit of speedily attempting to cross roads almost always at the same time we are driving through. Yet that is another characteristic that inconveniences us heavily with the anxiety that comes with the thought of knocking them dead.
This discussion should be about us and how we deal with the people who walk in the rain.
They could do with our sympathetic consideration – not enough of it, of course, that we would stop and let them into our vehicles, because that would be plain silly.
Anti, you see, by the time we get onto the road and begin encountering them, they are so dripping wet that within minutes of entering our cars they will have drenched the seats and carpets of the vehicles; and we all know that irritation aside, it is downright impossible to rid the car of that smell of wet carpet, especially during the rainy season.
Many times, these people who walk in the rain don’t even bother to avoid muddy patches or even more questionable dirty stuff, so letting them into our vehicles brings more than just smelly wetness!
And here is where we find the crux of this discussion of national importance; since we can’t let them into our cars in spite of the amount of space we have on the seats beside and behind us as we drop off our own children and proceed to work, let’s make a few sacrifices:
First of all, every time we come across a person walking in the rain and waiting to cross the road, WE should be the ones to stop our vehicles and let THEM go across the road first. Whizzing past them is almost always useless if these are the people with the keys to the offices, or the cleaners or tea persons, because we will get to the office but then have to wait for them to arrive before the day can properly begin.
Then, where the person walking in the rain is a school child, absolutely STOP and let them go first in ALL instances. They have school to attend and life is already wretched enough that they have to walk through the rain in soggy shoes, while we are encased in vehicles that even have carpeting!
Rather than hooting them off the road or brushing dangerously close to them while muttering impatient obscenities under our breaths, perhaps we could even offer them a lift every so often?
Small sacrifices.
How about slowing down every time we get to those puddles that are inevitable given the state of terrain we operate in? Most of us, in any case, are not speeding to a job where our time of arrival is crucial to world peace and development, so slowing down a little bit so that pedestrian humankind can also get to work clean and decent is a small sacrifice.
Small sacrifices for small people.

Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes in Uganda: his pearls of wisdom on day one here

Ivan Menezes, CEO of Diageo plc. - Photo by Simon Kaheru

Ivan Menezes, CEO of Diageo plc. – Photo by Simon Kaheru

The fact that the Global Chief Executive Officer of Diageo plc. is in Uganda should not be treated lightly by any measure, and I am duty-bound to share the following with you.

Ultimately, I have transcribed the comments he made on Friday at the residence of the British High Commissioner to Uganda, Alison Blackburne, who hosted a cocktail in his honour.

If you know protocol you will understand why she did this and how important he therefore is as an individual, even though he is not British by origin. You see, Diageo is a British company, and as the head of the company he is more or less entitled to that kind of near-royal, and state-like treatment.

Menezes was cornered to deliver ‘Words of Wisdom’ to those present, mostly top-notch Ugandan business leaders and influencers, besides those at work at the event in one way or another.

He did so quite neatly, and I won’t force you to take the lessons and thoughts I did; instead, read for yourself and take what you will, regardless of how big or small your own business enterprise (or employer) is:

Alternatively, you can catch the full recording here:

It starts with the UK High Commissioner stating why Uganda is such a superb destination for tourism and investment, and Menezes himself declaring why he chose Uganda as a holiday destination, and ends just after the Minister of State for Industry, Dr. James Shinyabulo Mutende, begins his own set of remarks, but that was a result of a recording snafu.


Ivan Menezes:

I am thrilled to be here. This has been one of my dreams – to visit Uganda. I am delighted because I get here before my family, so I can brag that I got to Uganda before them!

A few words on Diageo and how we view East Africa and Uganda:

The future of our company is going to be determined to a huge extent by Africa. We are very privileged because we have an amazing history, tradition and business in this region. Within Africa, East Africa is a real jewel for us, and within East Africa, Uganda is an amazing market for us.

We’ve been here a long time. Bell Lager was introduced in 1950 and is an absolute jewel of a brand. It’s the market leader in the premium beer market. Another jewel, my personal favourite, is Uganda Waragi, UG, and we are celebrating 50 years of UG.

So when I think about our business here, we have an amazing tradition, long heritage, strong commitment to this beautiful country. We have been investing here substantially in the last few years and we will continue to invest.

Someone asked me in Singapore yesterday, ‘What is it that concerns or worries you?’

I have been in business 34-35 years, worked all over the world, seen all the ups and downs, seen companies and corporations, and economies develop and grow.

I think we are at a point in time in the world where business has a huge role to play in building its reputation around building for the long term, building a business in a sustainable way and being a force for good in society.

The days of just coming, making money satisfying your shareholders, and that’s what you are about, I am convinced, are over. You will get no trust, no respect, and you will be out of business if your model is all about just making money

And at Diageo I am proud we passionately believe that, ‘Yes! We have got to perform and do well’, but we have to earn trust and respect from communities and stakeholders at large where we operate.

I can use what we are doing in Uganda to bring this to life. I take a lot of inspiration from the direction we are setting in a market like this.
The starting point is that it’s really important to have good values and codes of conduct in organisations. In today’s world there are so many pressures and so many places you can take short cuts.

But I am proud that the culture we building across the company – we have about 36,000 people around the world – is that ‘Do business the right way, there is no right way to do a wrong thing.’

It doesn’t matter if you can’t get your business done because we will be around, just like Bell has been around for 65 years; Johnnie Walker has been around since 1820. We have faced revolutions, we have faced famines, we have faced World Wars, and we are still around.

That’s what I say to my colleagues in the business: ‘Always do things the right way; never feel under short-term pressure to cut corners. Live your values.’

There are four or five things I am proud of our team at Uganda for. It is not about our business performance which is strong and continues to grow.

The first is the impact we can and will have on having alcohol play a more positive role in society, and indeed reducing the harm that alcohol plays in society. Underage drinking and drink driving are real in Uganda.

People ask me, ‘Can you have a successful business and reduce misuse of alcohol?’ And the answer for me is that there is no trade-off. We are here to build a sustainable business; we are a strong company with good talent. We can be a force for having alcohol play a responsible, positive role in society through some of the programmes Nyimpini (Mabunda – Uganda Breweries Managing Director) and team are doing around drink driving and underage drinking.

We have got to stop underage drinking; i know we can’t eliminate it but we have to play a force to really reduce it. Responsible drinking is really an important element for me.

The other component is what are doing around local sourcing of raw materials. It wasn’t too long ago we had been importing most of our cereals and grain; now 70% of our cereal requirements come through small farmers here in Uganda.

We are working with 17,000 farmers in Uganda.

From grain to bottle we want to build value chains that will enrich local communities!

If you asked me five or ten years ago could I ever see this happen, I would have probably say I couldn’t imagine we would have gotten this far. Today, 70% of our needs come through local materials.

We have a programme called Water of Life in Africa, which is all about providing drinking water to communities and people who don’t have clean water.

Nyimpini and the team here last year did well. ONE MILLION Ugandans got access to water because of the work that our team did here, in one year!

I was astounded!

On average every year we have been doing about 400,000 people a year but last year we did a million in Uganda These water programmes are essential but are just an example of how business in the future needs to build sustainability.

We are in the top five of the tax contributors and I hope we can get back to the top three or two but we have other industries ahead of us.
When I look at the contribution we make to the exchequer and indirectly to the economy – we employ over 300 directly at the brewery and about 500 total employees, but the multiplicative effect of this employment is far, far greater.

The final thing I would say is that we really want to be one of the star employers in Uganda. A company that grows talent, exports talent, provides a great place to work, provides an opportunity to learn, builds skills, provides good economic support to individuals and talent in this country.

We have had great success in exporting wonderful people in this country to other parts of Diageo and I hope we can continue to make Uganda a great source of talent for the company.

I don’t know how wise this wisdom is but we are a lot more than selling beer and making profits; that stuff is boring, quite frankly. It is!
Because I think our impact needs to be much bigger because I always say that the only job I have is to come in and make a brand like this greater when I leave

The only way that happens is if you truly build a sustainable businesses and your contribution goes much beyond the economic value you create for your shareholders; it’s about how you do that sustainably.

That’s my ‘pearl of wisdom’ in the pearl of Africa!

the rain and the children

There is a certain number of children beyond which one is not guaranteed that continuous deep sleep under heavy rain and thunder.
Study that statement carefully.
Basically, the logic is that if you have one child then you have a 50:50 chance of having your heavy rain deep sleep interrupted; anything more than just that one child decreases your chances of sleeping drastically.
In general, most of the children will take advantage of the rains to also enjoy some deep sleep, but there will always be one who departs from the script under ordinary circumstances. In a worse case scenario, you might even have more than one doing so, taking turns to send you for water, toilet tours, entertainment and so on and so forth.
Last night after the first major peal of thunder, I was summoned to the presence of only one of my brood and presented with a classic heavy rain problem:
“I can’t sleep. The rain is too loud.”
She was quite right about the volume of the rain, and I immediately acknowledged so then told her to just close her eyes and try to sleep.
“I did that and it didn’t work,” she responded, in a tone of voice that signalled frustration and anger at science in general.
As usual, I started a discussion about the science of rain and lightning and thunder, hoping the dullness of the topic and depth of my voice would bore her to sleep. Failure was complete, as I started nodding off in mid-sentence myself and she had to wake me with:
“I still can’t sleep. It’s really too loud.” This time in a tone of voice so hard that I realised I had to be more careful approaching the problem.
I suggested prayer, story-telling, and a couple of other tactics but she had tried some and rejected the rest.
Eventually, looking out of the window at the torrents of rain, my mind went to the Bobi Wine song ‘Singa’ (“Singa, nze Museveni…Singa, nze Sudhir omugagga…”) and I tried to imagine what those two would do in these circumstances.
We would have fallen draw-draw, as some would say.
This was a problem no money or power could solve.
But I needed to look on the bright side of the issue and, first and foremost, stop the conversation from going any further. You see, the problem statement was one that I could possibly tackle: “I can’t sleep. The rain is too loud.”
If we went on talking there was a chance that we would get to a demand such as, “Make the rain stop” or “Decrease the volume of the rain.”
These are fatherhood nightmare statements, in these situations, because they put our hero-status to a direct test held under stressful conditions invigilated by a hyper-alert young one with very high expectations.
Those are the kind of demands that make fathers create entire dramatic productions backed by nonsensical stories that they pray will be forgotten before the children enter into their teenage years. Acceptably embarrassing options in these extreme circumstances include phonecalls to so-called ‘Rain Offices’; the use of imaginary remote control devices to decrease the rain volume; and even positioning oneself before windows and using some mind-force energy to push the rain away.
It is very embarrassing but can be highly effective if timed right and the elements of nature comply within reasonable measure. The only problem is that eventually you get asked to “decrease the heat” during the hot dry seasons and whereas the solution is switching on a fan, the act is not as heroic…
So “I can’t sleep. The rain is too loud”, needed to be managed and for the moment I was the man for the job.
If she had been of age, this problem would have been fixed by a double measure of a wide range of tonics from various bottles kept in the relevant cabinet.
Sadly she was above the age where moving to our bed was a solution to any problem from “My stomach is hurting” to “I had a bad dream”, and so my options narrowed down even further.
I couldn’t dare, meanwhile, curse the rain; we’ve waited for it long enough and will be forever grateful for it.
The solution: wait out the rain in her room while ensuring conversation does not get to “Make the rain stop” or “Decrease the volume of the rain” levels.
So I transferred the failure to sleep and took it on in full measure. That’s me here. Being an insomniac on behalf of my daughter so that she can get enough sleep to manage a few hours of school tomorrow.
See; all I have to do during the day is go out to work so I can afford their school fees, the mortgage, their food, clothes and so on and so forth.
I will sleep when they are old enough to get their own house.

Social Media & Radio Katwe: what’s your source and how seriously do you take it?

THIS week two ‘stories’ filled up the online conversation on Twitter and Facebook in Uganda, and both made me think of the Katwe area at the start of Entebbe road.
Actually, referring to the two as ’stories’ is to elevate them to a level that used to be respectable, reliable and trustworthy.
Back in the days when we relied only on traditional media, a story was something you read in a newspaper or heard on radio or watched on TV and had the confidence to discuss, analyse or even repeat.
If we heard about a story from a third-party we tried our best to go and read it ourselves, or to catch the next radio or TV bulletin. Such was our need for story validation that libraries stocked newspapers for people to go and refer to, and there was even a thriving business enterprise behind Uganda House that sold old newspapers.
I remember checking with that business enterprise to establish whether the old newspapers were mostly being sold as kabalagala and mandazi wrapping, and the proprietor telling me they weren’t. Many of them were bought by people who had missed their personal copies or needed to double-check one story or another.
That was then.
Back then, you were respected if you could hold a conversation about current affairs or a topic on which you had knowledge and withstood any challenges to your quantity of knowledge. I even recall quiz games played in school corridors in which people showed off their knowledge of different topics and current affairs – one such game was called ‘Bwino’, which in some vernacular means “ink”, further testimony to the level of respect we had for print as a concept. The participants, school children, took themselves quite seriously and dreaded taunts such as ‘Radio Katwe!’
The term ‘Radio Katwe’ meant you had just made up a fact in your head; it originated in the days when the official media was forced to go underground due to the politics of the day, and we relied on unofficial information – the grapevine or rumour mill – ‘akatwe‘.
The name was a play on the Katwe area of Kampala where ingenious artisans fabricated things locally out of metal and other materials. In those days of scarcity and shortage, it was impossible to find new Katwe Workersdevices, gadgets or implements such as we needed in homes and even offices, and that led to the rise of Katwe. Similarly, with official news sources being scarce, we were forced to rely on word-of-mouth as a medium, ergo Radio Katwe.
And in Katwe they fabricated these things quite well without any professional training, it seemed, but just by looking at or studying an original and then copying its parts or altering it.
But that absence of professional training is an important factor, because whereas you could get a locally fabricated machine that did the basics of what it was intended to do, because of a small omission such as earthing you could kill yourself while making popcorn or ironing a handkerchief…
And that’s why I was thinking of Katwe, because that absence of professional training is what differentiates a journalist from any character with access to a Facebook, Twitter or blogging account. Professional training that gives a journalist the ability and skill to double check facts and present information in a clear, lucid, accurate manner, for instance.
Which is why anybody who gets their news from only social media sources should be as careful with it as the person who buys a popcorn machine fabricated in Katwe. A nail could come loose and shatter your teeth while you munch away at your salty snacks.
It may be accurate, and might work just fine, but there is a high likelihood that it’s not all safe.
Both of the stories that caused excitement this week contained major inaccuracies that didn’t make sense right under the surface, but the chatter on social media was torrid, angry and spread like a wildfire amongst people who didn’t even read them fully but just took the headlines and developed strong opinions.
And this is not about the media; rather, it’s about the consumers of media. Radio Katwe should continue fabricating stuff, but when you buy a device fabricated there, please use it carefully.