Of bad investments and long waits

Every time I hear or read anything about the National Social Security Fund, my hackles rise. It is something I am very interested in but at the same time, I know it is the cause of so much stress to many people.

Tales of how the company is sitting on a goldmine worth $1.1 billion get us excited thinking of how much that means. Or maybe we do not really think about what that means.

A little while ago, I was on the other side fielding complaints from people who were being ‘tossed’ over their retirement benefits of money the organization should have remitted to them. I always tried to keep attentive but the whole business with the delays was beyond me.

Now the tables have turned and I am the one in the shoes of that old man who treks from Ibulanku to Kampala to get his retirement benefits. The Jajja with dust covered shoes who, once in a while, finds his way to the Monitor offices in Namuwongo in hopes that his plight will force NSSF to have some mercy before Jajja dies.

The reassuring stories from NSSF are enough to make one save their entire fortune with them if they decided to become a bank. “You will get you money in only 10 days,” they say in their documents. And it all sounds too sweet.

I guess I need to hanker down and wait until someone does what they are supposed to do. Having witnessed the agony of friends who had to wait six months and more before their emigration benefits were remitted, I guess it is still early days for me.

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What makes the man

Not a question. What makes a man is different from one society to the next. This should have been strongly brought to the fore in recent weeks after news of the Chinese billionaire who supposedly said people who get to their mid thirties still poor are dumb. Not those exact words but that’s the impression I got.

Maybe that’s the case where he is. It is said China’s history has contributed to the current situation where majority have savings from decades of thrift and the government is trying to encourage them to spend some of that money.

Where I come from, I have seen men toil for years, from as early as 12 years old to fend for a family. The different catastrophes that were visited upon my country – mad men with guns and the willingness to use said guns, plus a healthy helping of disease – forced many of Uganda’s children to grow up too fast.

I wouldn’t describe a guy as dumb if he wakes up at 5 a.m. to fetch water for paying clients before he can dash to school, after which he needs to get back home to prepare ugali for his siblings since his parents have since died and he is the one everyone is looking at for survival.

That guy has all the raw materials to become a billionaire but fate will not let him. In some places it is called karma. There was no way Oedipus could have avoided the tragedy that was written into his future. Many times you can run all you want but you can’t hide from your fate.

Sometimes, it is easy to generalize and paint strangers with a wide brush but we must understand that we do not know half of what the next guy is going through.

I stopped criticizing drunkards, who society blames for the failure of their homes.I need to understand what motivates a man to turn away from ideals he held dearly a few short years ago before I rain down fire and brimstone.

A man who works hard the whole day making strategies for the government then ends up on the bar stool after he knocks off work is an easy target. How can he be swigging all those beers when there’s no food at home?

Many times, what makes a man is his history. No matter how bright someone is, sometimes if you are born in the deepest end of Ibulanku, you will grow up and die there having never come close to your full potential.

Sometimes, a man is made by those who come along and hold his hand and he tries to find the stepping stones in the rushing river.

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The type of man who’s always on the road

IMG_20141017_163848There are a number of these statues in this little town I live in. They are innocent and all seem to point to a certain goodness of heart that the people do not even know they have.

Coming from a background where there is a lot of vitriol in the air, where you wouldn’t want to shout about your successes because the trolls are probably just itching to steal your blessings, this all seems new to me.

In the village, when you build a house or when your son gets lucky to get a big city job, it is probably wiser to shut the hell up about it since you don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night in a Udomo situation.

Now, I know someone will shake their head and wonder what kind of village this could be. Well, some people are lucky to come from communities that are supportive of their sons. They want them to win at all costs and they contribute whatever they can to that effort.

But hateration is real in many parts of Uganda. You cannot run away from that fact.

I have been shocked by the willingness of people here to share the most private details of their lives with strangers…on the bus or at the Post Office as they wait in line for their turn to be served.

This small town serenades its residents on Main Street every hour. If you look closely, you’ll notice the speakers on the pole – they are on all the poles on the street, belting out Say You/Say Me or some such sweet tune as you wait to cross to the other side. Today, I had to wait to cross as Nesta broke into I’ll play your favorite song/ dahhhlen’

IMG_20141017_163709It could be that I am just still going through a culture shock – in a strangely positive way as most people go through culture shock in devastating fashion. I am not complaining though.

This is not necessarily the final stage of the journey, I am not naive to believe it is. Already, I am hearing calls from hundreds of miles away asking me about my next move. They should have taken a good look at my background a bit more carefully, I say.

You don’t ask a staying guy what their next move is when they’ve just put down their hat. I am laughing a lot these days at the avalanche of job offers from back home. It is like they all suddenly came out of the woodwork on cue.

Until I pick up my hat, there’s no moving from here.

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Heart strings

In an ideal world, there are no greys in life. Everything is straight forward and there is no point in stopping to quizzically ponder the ramifications of every single chess move. The world is a deft player, mind but in the ideal world, there are no uncertainties.

Instead, we live at variance with the ideal; everything goes wrong and we are always advised to pack an extra pair of underwear.

But there are days when the stars are perfectly aligned. It’s not always beginner’s luck, mind. Arguments for the world conspiring to see you win the first time you cast a die are all good and noble but the truth is sometimes you will hit a run. And you never walk out on a good luck run.

Living away from home brings a certain clarity with it. Yeah, people have said for eons that you need to walk in the shoes of a ‘summer’ for just one month to understand why they act the way they act. You might even have close family that have lived that life but you just cannot comprehend until it is your turn to turn the wheel.

Being so many miles from home makes the heart grow fond…more than just moving from Kampala to Kigali or Nairobi. You get to follow everything about home like a hawk. You don’t want to blink.

You get to recognize a good luck run when it comes. You get to differentiate between certain wins and uncertain losses. You learn to count your money under the table.

This amiable gentleman I met today, for instance. He’s got an interesting story to tell; his father was born in Ethiopia and he then moved to Sicily then ended up in the USA. He was a citizen of the world and there was a fire that drove him.

Strangely, the Ethiopian’s son has a hunger he cannot explain for Sicily and Ethiopia. He never really lived there for any considerable amount of time, only visiting, but he wants to go there when he has the chance.

I have family in other parts of the world. I have always wondered what it feels like to have to make your home far away from home. Now I think I am beginning to understand.

The hunger for home just doesn’t quit.

But there’s a way to win. As others try to work the year round to go to some place without a soul, we can work towards going home at least every once in a while, just to smell the earth and run our fingers through the red dust. Just to hear the happy laugh at random roadside tables set up so the guys can while the hours away over nyama choma and Nile Special as the traffic jam subsides.

Even that terrible jam on Entebbe Road, made worse on  days the Big Man is going to be traveling to or from State House.


Yes, even that hustle becomes desirable when the clarity hits. It all sounds like something out of a Bob Marley song.

That picture, held in the deepest recesses of our hearts, makes the toil worth it.

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I am Sam…Sam I am

In Dr. Seuss’ best selling book, a strange looking creature is hounded around to kingdom come by Sam, who wants him to try his green eggs and ham. Of course the character refuses. I mean, who would look on green eggs and ham and readily accept?

It brings to mind the troubles of the day. Today I read a rambling if strangely worded indictment of the able Katikkiro of Buganda by the Balangira, who accuse him of a list of atrocities. I had to keep on going back to those first heady days when he was the toast of the town to check if this was the same person.

But then again, what do I know; I am just a Mukopi and here are the Balangira, the divine custodians of ennono za Buganda.

We are told to try out new things. We are told to be adventurous as this is the way of the world today. If we do not go out of our comfort zones, we shall remain stagnant. There is a whole library of books written on the subject of stagnation. Cue Who Moved My Cheese?

The problem is that the voices that actually believe in change; in the power of a new idea, are in the minority. We read the paper or listen to the powerful lectures from world renown speakers and nod in agreement. But should we be next in line to take our serving of green eggs and ham, because we have never tasted it, we crinkle our nose and move on.

The point is to understand that when we move from home, we are going to meet new people and we must interact with them. We must push the childish thoughts that only our mothers know how to prepare a dish of pillau; there are women from the Coast who kick ass when it comes to pillau.

It is funny the things that are being said about Katikkiro Mayiga. That he’s not a Muganda and that his ancestors came from some far off land and camped in Buganda. It is Besweri Mulondo versus Buganda all over again…same script different cast.

Or not. This may all be a figment of some hothead’s imagination. I hope it is.

From the very start, we all knew this Katikkiro was going to be different. He was polished and he was outspoken. He had swag and he knew it.

Mayiga. Culled from Daily Monitor

Mayiga. Culled from Daily Monitor

The Kabaka chose to go down this road with eyes wide open so, what bee has entered the Balangira’s bonnet now.

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In a rush

IMG_20141007_141552Sometimes, when the pressure of work mounts and everything goes by in a flash, one can’t help but stop in the middle of it all to ask if this is not a raw deal. It is a heady feeling, agreed but still, there’s that niggling feeling that this is not the whole picture.

Towards the end of the year, depression sets in. It is a feeling I cannot explain because one year when I think I have figured it out, it returns the next year in a different form. Only I unmask it in no time to be the same old blues I first noticed in 2003.

So I try to immerse myself in work. I try to dwell on the good things; the 5th birthday celebration of a little girl, the wide-eyed wonder in her eyes as she’s told her day wasn’t forgotten, we were just pulling her leg; the musical laughter of the little people as they go about living their unblemished life.

IMG_20141013_184608But there’s always a cloud somewhere and experience has taught me that eventually it rears its head. Something goes wrong; a story doesn’t come off right and the boss is livid, or I come home to find someone not so dandy after all, then the depression sets in.

Those who have studied this kind of thing say 1 in 4 people have some sort of mental illness, we just don’t acknowledge it. Depression is a serious mental disease.

Today I was in court to cover the resentencing of a young man who killed a girl he was infatuated with. He was only 17 when he became a murderer.

As he went by in his green uniform and orange socks and sandals, he flicked his hair out of his eyes and for a split second, I looked into his eyes.

There was defiance and hate. There was a certain bravado in there that indicated he was not altogether empty. But I think I saw mostly a sadness in there.

Even if somehow he is released into the open world; if by some weird chance his defense gets the judicial system to reverse the life sentence he was given, he will never really be happy. He will never be normal again.

And then it comes back to me, this depression. There are many such cases wandering across the face of the world waiting for some fate to put us out of our misery.

Where do we go from here? What do we do with our lives if we choose not to be here in this place at this time? What is the point of all this?

Yesterday, my daughter asked me to play with her but I was too busy. I had to make her bed and I had to prepare a bath for her. I had to take out the trash and I had to finish off a story that was way past deadline.

She cocked her head and looked me in the eye then asked, “So does that mean you are going to work until it is time to go to heaven?”

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Independence Day

Today is Independence Day. That could have elicited a wave of euphoria once upon a time but these days understandably, many Ugandans would instead roll their eyes and ask what’s so great about independence. Or click ‘Like’ on some random post.

Oh happy day.  Getty Images

Oh happy day. Getty Images

But stay with me. Independence means throwing off the yoke of slavery. That’s what those first heroes of the nation did. They threw off the yoke. In other words, they got tired of being treated like Museveni’s pets chattels and they brought the fire.

The heroes of the revolution, it has been said in many voices, did not really deserve our respect. They did not have to go through what the Kenyans did. Uganda, it is said, did not have to spill blood to get self-determination.

I disagree.

What we are not told by the history teachers, (except Kube in History I), of course is the backstage politics that went into the deal Uganda got. How Dr Obote outsmarted the Mzungus and how people like Ignatius Kangavve Musaazi took it to the chin like real rock stars.

We might not have had Maruge but we had Benedicto Kiwanuka. When Janani Luwum died a few years after independence, I want to believe it was all tied into the same thing. The Mzungu’s lackey was wrecking havoc and heroes like Luwum wanted to take back their country.

Every village has a bard. Bards are not meant to go to war; they are good for documenting history and telling the people where to pass as they go to war. They must be preserved if victory is to be achieved.

Emancipation of the spirit calls for hard decisions. We must stare without blinking at the options we have in our hands. Are we comfortable with the way we are running our country? After so many years, we cannot keep on saying the desecration of the country is the fault of someone else; we are in this together.

Many years on, when we are old and gray, those who will come after us will listen to our sorry tales of being oppressed by military men in suits and ask what we did about it.

Our independence celebrations should not be overshadowed by disease and hunger and discontent brought about by politicians who do not understand why they have been given the grace to stand in their positions. We should not allow our independence to be described by what went wrong in the past.

Independence Day is when we should take back our country. We should start doing things that people like this have told us to do. We should stop saying, “why don’t you do it yourself?”

We should celebrate the captains of the future of our country. Peter Mwesige, Daniel Kalinaki, John Abimanyi, Revence Kalibwani, Solomon Benge, Joseph Rwabose, Loyola Karobwa, David Tumusiime…and those are just a few that I can list here. I could go on till the cows come home.

We should give these people in our midst a chance to fly; if they fly too close to the sun, time has provided man with the means to stay the course since the days of Icarus.

When young people shout on the rooftops about something they have produced, it does no one any good to shoot them down even before they can come down off of the roof to try out their invention.

When you think of independence, it should be a sweet melody that lingers in your mind’s ear. It should prompt you to think of the possibilities that lie at your feet begging to be lifted up.

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