Monday, December 8, 2008

On Obama and Kamapala's middle class...

On Obama and Kampala’s middle class.
The epic victory by the former Illinois senator Barrack Obama to the helm of the American presidency has since sank in well for many folks, supporters, admirers and haters all around the world and Uganda in particular. Everything seems to back to normal; people are back to their obama-less days and schedules. The USA president- elect himself is busy forming government. And oh boy, he is really doing his thing. Apparently, he is the fastest president to name government in recent history. I guess the son of a Kenyan student and an American gal is serious with business, and he ought to be.
In more ways than one, the American presidential election 2008 and Obama in particular, has been part of and/or shaped the Kampala middle class lifestyle for the last twelve (12) months, a feat no other personality or celebrity or event has managed to achieve in our recent history. World famous musicians that come for shows here are usually forgotten even before they check out of their suite in Serena Hotel, the Uganda Cranes that had attempted to be a household name with their antics in World Cup qualifiers are now in oblivion, the overrated Sudhir Ruparelia Royal Ascot Goat races never appear anywhere in the socialites life save for the few days to the fanatical event, the annual MTN marathon gets so hyped up but soon, every one forgets it ever took place, not even the progress of the projects for which the proceeds are intended for is ever mentioned anywhere in the main stream media. Obama has managed to stay on every ones lips and/or mind more than any personality or event in this country. Even Temangalo couldn’t keep people’s eyes and minds off the phenomenon that Obama is.
For starters, it is/ was fashionable to talk Obama, know his roots, what he stands for, what the polls say about him, his values, his favorite designers, his chances etc. This became the talk in bars, radio talk shows, Sunday lunch brunch etc. The quality of conversations, chats and discussions among pals, workmates, colleagues etc improved a lot. This is because it was based on media reports, TV shows, international magazines, internet etc and thus was more enlightened, informative, comprehensive and intellectually sophisticated. Many people turned to global media entities and the internet in search and exchange of information, analysis on Obama and the presidential election t large.
Conversations and tea/lunch breaks at the office/workplace that were previously characterized with gossip on which employee is having an affair with the boss, cheating husbands, loose talk on FC Arsenal’s woos etc were now punctuated with watching CNN, BBC etc to get the latest updates on the USA presidential election. Cosy and intimate coffee dates between new lovers in uptown restaurants weren’t spared. It would be incomplete for the guy not to talk about Obama’s lovely daughters to impress on the lady as one who loves and cherishes children and family at large.
However, for me Obama offers a far broader picture. Despite his historic win and ascendance to the top political office in world politics, Obama will never be bigger than the American picture. America will continue fighting proxy wars for resources, minerals and oil. America will continue its ruthless campaign against terrorism, sometimes with complete disregard of UN charters and rules of international diplomacy. No personality is too big to have a single or individual influence on the American way of life. This ought to be a lesson to Kampala’s middle class to work towards building institutions and organizational frame works in their workplaces, political corridors, business entities etc that are far bigger than individuals and mere personalities. The talk of Kaguta’s son being bigger than the NRM- the ruling party is an uncomfortable precedence.
The other lesson that Obama offers to Kampala’s middle class is that success in life is built on hard work, honesty, trust, courage, determination, resolve and commitment – the values exhibited by the president-elect. From very humble backgrounds to being raised by loving grandparents who taught him the most important lessons in life and values that build strong and humble characters, he has been able to succeed in life against some odds here and there.
There are very few families in Uganda that have had more than two generations where their children have been exposed to money and wealth. They could have had big farms, many cows, vast acres of land but few had large bank accounts or money at their disposal. Most of Kampala’s middle class, are from humble backgrounds, went to local Christian schools, their parents lived peasant lifestyles but managed to put their kids through school by selling coffee, tea and cows. Many middle class folks didn’t grow up in the luxury and affluence that comes with riches, wealth and money. However, through hard work, discipline and patience, many have managed to attain education using their parents’ meager resources and thus built careers and fortunes of their own. In a way, they relate to Obama, when they look back to their childhoods that included fetching water, working on family gardens and walking or riding 5km to school. Obama is their hero; he is a mirror reflection of their own backgrounds that were characterized by hardship, challenges and toil. There was no ice cream or cartoon network in their toddler days; however, today they can afford all this for their kids.
So in many ways than one, obama has had a wave of influence on the way of life here. His bailout plan for the US economy will undoubtedly have an effect on many elite folks that work for blue chip companies and multi-national entities here in Kampala and Uganda at large. Obama still has a lot to do with Kampala’s middle class lifestyle.

Agaba Rugaba Nicholas
Social Commmentator.

Monday, September 29, 2008



The NSSF saga that has since degenerated into an NRM fight amongst its army generals and big wigs ought to teach Kampala’s middle class/ yuppies a few practical lessons.
NSSF has a clientele of close to 300,000 people each contributing 15% of their gross monthly salary to this scheme. Reports have it that NSSF is currently sitting on a portfolio of close to U$700 million (1.2 trillion Uganda shillings).
NSSF contributions though forced saving, are a true hall mark of the power of saving.
Personal Finance Managers and Advisors, recommend that one saves at least 10 or 15% of their monthly income. Your average employee in a private sector firm in Kampala earns Ugx. 800,000 as a monthly salary. So if one is saving 15% of this sum per month that is Ugx. 120,000. Now, ten guys (working class professionals) each saving Ugx. 120,000 per month for twelve months would raise Ugx. 14.4 million. This is enough money to buy half an acre of land in Temangalo or a virgin chunk of land in Kampala’s out skirts.

Half an acre of land is enough for an apartment block of ten (10) units/ homes and on average, this may cost, may be One billion shillings (Ugx. 1,000,000,000).
Now, a group of 10 professionals will probably consist of may be two engineers, an IT guy, accountant, doctor, banker, and journalist. Furthermore, this group will most likely consist of other professionals with expert/specialist knowledge in procurement/logistics human resource management/administration, and environmental management.
Such a group has wide, vast and comprehensive knowledge, opinion, views and ideas on many sectors ranging from entrepreneurship, real estate, democracy, home ownership, environmental conservation etc.

I am confident such a group would be able to devise a way of developing a concept/ idea towards noble home ownership that is every young professional’s dream.

Your average professional in Kampala would have finished university/undergraduate studies at 23 or 24 yrs of age. The dream is to own their own home between the age of 30 and 40 yrs, when they are probably married, with young children. A house of their own at this time would be pertinent towards raising a credible family and stable income. So let us say home ownership at 35 years. So they have 12 years to work on and implement a home ownership plan/proposal.

I have checked the mortgage calculators provided by prominent mortgage banks in Uganda- DFCU Uganda and Housing finance, Uganda and I can guarantee you, the figures desired to service a mortgage are astronomical. Not many middle class/working class professional can afford these mortgages.
A mortgage scheme for a house worth Ugx. 120 million (Akright, NHCC, Kensington etc) will require one to pay 30% of the price as down payment. This is equivalent to Ugx. 36 million. I don’t know many folks with Ugx. 36 million below the age of 25 years.
The balance of 84 million (70% of Ugx. 120 million to be financed under a mortgage scheme for 15 years, will require monthly payments of just over Ugx. One (1) million. Again, I don’t know many people below 25 yrs willing to pay Ugx. One (1) million shillings in rent/ monthly mortgage payments). It is close to impossible for many young professionals to acquire homes and service them under the mortgage scheme now. Ntinda, Namugongo, Kira, Najeera, Nalumunye, Entebbe, Seguku, Gayaza, Mutungo, Bugolobi, Lubowa etc, the kind of neighborhoods where many professionals would like to own homes are so expensive for them. The future lies in the Temangalos of this world. NSSF with its mode of operation may never deliver these cherished homes to their clientele.

So it is pertinent that Kampala’s middle class adopts a strong and robust saving culture as hallmarked by NSSF, and put their minds together to come up with creative and innovative ideas towards home ownership. It is a journey that many ought to start now, not tomorrow. The best time to have started a strong saving culture was yesterday, the second best time is today. The debate and discussion towards creative and innovative proposals towards home ownership has to begin today. It starts with me and you. It is undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges that me and you will face in the near future alongside global warming, escalating food and fuel prices, inflation, high cost of living and environmental degradation.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

On Andrew Mwenda's take on the NSSF Saga...

On Andrew Mwenda’s take on the NSSF Saga…
Andrew Mwenda the CEO of The Independent magazine is arguably Uganda’s top journalist and media personality. He is a complete package- well connected (globally and locally), well read and informed, smart and assertive, rich and suave. He has graced international conferences and global discussion forums, traveled the best cities and business hubs of the world, he has mingled with world leaders and top executives of multinational entities, attended the world’s crème de la crème colleges and educational centres. He is everything your average Kampala uptown professional would want to be. Many elites with a keen interest in democracy, human rights, media freedom and government accountability etc have always followed Andrew Mwenda since his days at The Daily Monitor and K-FM Andrew Mwenda Live radio talk show, where he cut his niche in Uganda’s journalism and media industry. I think Andrew’s target audience has always been the budding middle-class, elites, corporate employees/uptown professionals and the NSSF saga was always going to be fodder for him. I have followed with keen interest his analysis/commentary in the NSSF-Amama Temangalo land deal in his column-The Last Word, The Independent magazine for the last month or so. His magazine, the independent is a favorite with Kampala’s elite class and professionals/working class in upcountry urban centres, politicians, private sector gurus, corporate entities etc. Its circulation is slightly over 10,000 copies per issue. The Independent undoubtedly owns the NSSF story, it broke it close to two weeks before The Daily Monitor and other local dailies picked interest.

It has been quite puzzling why Andrew wishes to down play the flouting of procurement guidelines on NSSF’s part, Amama’s possible conflict of interest, price inflation and looks forward to the 5000 neat apartments in Temangalo. If Amama & Co were in dire need of money to buy shares, I think this put NSSF in a better negotiating position. They would be like, “Look, we are offering you 16 million per acre. (average of their independent valuers) or even 14 million (lowest price quoted by one of their valuers), we are buying in bulk (500 acres) and you will get paid immediately”. With the position Amama and Nzeyi were in (urgent need to buy shares in the National Bank of Commerce) and considering NSSF’s ability to pay them immediately, they would have probably agreed for even 20 million per acre. NSSF didn’t expedite an opening bidding process in their endeavor to acquire land; we will never know whether they would have got a better deal anywhere else. Did they want this land in the first place? How did they run into two cash trapped men- a city tycoon and a powerful minister?

To construct these houses/apartments, NSSF must engage a Construction/Engineering firm through an open bidding procedure. What happens if the firm offering the most competitive tender is reported to have a soft spot for the opposition? Do we throw it through the window so that a firm aligned to an NRM stalwart gets the deal at an inflated contract sum. I can guarantee, mid-way through the Temangalo Project we will have proposals to pump more money in the works/project because the soil conditions will be deemed unfavorable, the sewage treatment ponds and water system will need a re-design etc. The unit cost per apartment may exceed the average market construction price by over 500%.
NSSF must learn to transact within the set procedures and guidelines enshrined in the NSSF Act, PPDA and constitution. That is the only way they will be assured of value for money and thus build credible accountability mechanisms appreciated by their clients. An entity whose management makes the same fatal mistakes over and over again in complete disregard of the law and procedures is chronically sick not haunted and hated by politicians and the public as Andrew suggests.
We can’t afford the NSSF management to learn from their mistakes. The price is too costly on our part. If they can’t follow the guidelines and procedures as they embark on the Fund’s Investment plans, they have to give way. Any entity without a strong institutional tradition and independence will not deliver however noble their intentions are and in this regard i subscribe to Andrew’s argument that political pressure has frustrated NSSF’s attempt to develop institutional culture, competence and independence at large. For that matter, we need to have the debate shifted to reforms and new policy in the Pension sector. Mr. Simon Rutega, the CEO Uganda Securities Exchange says, “Unless you have a liberalized sector, where competition drives efficiency, you will always have problems”. The Government, parliament, technocrats, corporate entities, the general citizenry and the media at large should be at the centre of the debate and attempt to formulate reforms and policy for a liberal pensions sector. It is high time it ceased to be government’s business whether a Pension Fund Manager is buying Miria Obote’s land or Bidandi Ssali’s apartments.

Open Letter to Andrew Mwenda

Open Letter to Mr. Andrew Mwenda.
Dear Andrew, warm regards.
I have followed with keen interest your take on the NSSF-Temangalo saga. The analysis/commentary has been undoubtedly insightful, rich in detail, educative, inspirational, but sometimes offensive and insulting. From the comparative analysis of land prices around Kampala, the benefits of home ownership, the need for increased investment in real estate to the call for us to cut the NSSF guys some slack it has undoubtedly been a master piece of consistent and logical analysis.
However, I have been puzzled by your willingness to ignore the flouting of procurement guidelines on NSSF’s part and look forward to the 5000 neat apartments in Temangalo. To construct these, NSSF will undoubtedly need to engage Construction/Engineering firms to construct and supervise the project. If these guys don’t learn to transact within the PPDA, NSSF Act and constitution, these homes will never be a reality. These guidelines and procedures are meant to ensure transparency, accountability and value for money. You claim that our commentary is made on the assumption that NSSF management breaches procedures because of corruption. An entity that keeps making the same mistakes again and again in complete disregard of the law and procedures is chronically sick not haunted and hated by politicians and the public as you suggest. I wish to think that this chronic sickness stems from institutional instability thus undermining internal organizational growth as you have rightfully noted.
Iam equally perturbed by your assertion that the NSSF reputation is battered by ignorant and uninformed public debate. This is an insult to the thousands that forcefully save with the Fund. It is well known that NSSF is poorly managed. Many a worker, whether retired or not, in need of their pension money or financial statement have been frustrated by the way the NSSF staff go about their business. The employees seem uninterested, the bureaucratic tendencies are nauseating. The faults are endless, the network is always off, and thus it is always a tall order to get your statement or check your details. Their website has been off for the last two months. Imagine a huge Pension Fund; with all the resources at its disposal, in this modern ICT age, they are not online for two months. How do they expect their clientele to stay abreast with the vision, goals, investment plans and new developments at the fund? And you say we are ignorant and uninformed? Come on Andrew, give me a break!
Iam fascinated and mesmerized by idea of a Venture Capital Fund and proposals for development and investment in the real estate industry. But am sure, you will never run it the way the NSSF guys run our money, you will be rest assured to loose your partners and colleagues in this venture at the slightest inconsistency. Why you expect us to let the NSSF management off the hook with their irregularities and incompetence, I will never know.
Finally, on your argument that the Fund’s institutional integrity that has been compromised by political pressure, I wish to echo your message a few months ago in the midst of harassment by security operatives towards your team and the media at large. Intimidation, undue political influence, not even death should make the NSSF management tread off the rightful path as they build institutional competence and better accountability mechanisms, for they should prefer to die building a credible and sound institution, than live by irregularity, incompetence and absurd attempts to massage our politicians. The latter will always be costly for them and their clientele at large.

Rugaba Agaba
Construction Engineer with an International Humanitarian Agency in Gulu Northern Uganda.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


The use of Internet, Information and computing technologies to communicate, interact and share pictures, videos etc is on the rise amongst Kampala’s budding middle class. At the centre of this is FaceBook, an online forum that allows users/members to interact and communicate with colleagues and friends through chat, sharing photos and videos, messaging etc all with open and interactive features. All your typical uptown professionals, bankers, IT specialists, corporate employees etc have since embraced this online forum.
There are groups where people meet their former school mates, fellow fans of a popular TV show, friends and fans of a popular musician, and even similar sexual orientations. It is undoubtedly an impressive and interactive forum for friends, colleagues and family at large.
However, for me, it brings to the fore the irony that our society offers. You see, with Facebook, you open yourself to friends, colleagues and the global village at large. You allow people to know what you are doing or how you are feeling. You allow people to view and comment on your photos, videos, notes, up-coming events, birthday anniversaries etc. It also allows one to let the world know about their favorite pastimes and passions e.g. music, movies, books etc, their occupation and place of work, email address and telephone numbers etc. The long and short of it, is that one opens up to the world and the global village with a view to communicate, interact and share with friends, colleagues, family, workmates etc.
This is in contrast to how we live our every day lives (real lives I mean).
We are increasingly living individual lives with a strong resentment torwards intrusion from friends, colleagues and family at large. The brick wall fences that sorround our residences are a case in point. People dont care and dont want to know what the "neighbour" next door is going through or up-to. Even innocent, sweet and cheerful kids/children are not allowed to visit or play with their kind in the neighbourhood.
Once in a while, on a cool Sunday afternoon, you may decide to pay your friend, colleague or even family member a visit and instead of engaging in hearty conversation and communication, your host plays you the latest episodes of a popular American soap on DVD. There is no room for sensible conversation and interaction to share a good laugh or inspiration.
In real life, we never want people to know when we are unhappy, sad or feeling down.The unwritten rule is that we must potray that things are ok or undercontrol.In most cases, we are breaking and hurting inside. With FACEBOOK, I see a large number of people openly expressing their genuine feelings and sentiments.
I have failed to make sense of the irony that FaceBook throws in our faces. It appears the internet/online interactive forum seems to bring us closer together than we are willing to communicate, interact and share with our friends and colleagues in real day-to-day living.
This is what globalisation has done to our day-to-day relations.
Rugaba Agaba
Constrcution Engineer with a humanitarian agency in Northern Uganda.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


The NSSF land saga is arguably the biggest story our main stream media will cover this year and may be for a long time to come. This story brings to the fore many aspects/dimensions that define our society and country at large today. The nature of our multi-party politics, the fight against corruption and fraud by government/public workers, capitalism and free trade, run-away land prices in Kampala and its suburbs, lack of affordable and decent housing in our city etc. More importantly, for me it brings to the fore our media and its role in building democracy, good governance and economic growth at large.
There has always been talk of a poor reading culture in our people and the African continent at large. However, with the development of internet based news coverage and innovative products offered by the media houses, we could say the tide is changing and many a citizen are interested in the contents of our local dailies, TV and radio news bulletins etc. Furthermore, the budding middle class with its access to Internet, Information and Computing technologies- the desire to read, write and gather information is on the rise. So the media in Uganda has an uphill task to report and cover stories, give informative and educative products desired by their readership and general citizenry at large. Undoubtedly, the media to a great extent has an integral role in shaping our politics, media freedom, economic growth and global trade/commerce since it also tells our story to the other readers on the global village.

However, the NSSF Temangalo land saga is threatening to bring the independence and reputation of our media into question. Major stories, scandals and sagas in this country have stayed on the lips of the public for as long as the media both print and electronic is interested or allowed to cover the story. (There have been reports of the Amama camp calling for a media cease-fire on this issue.) The media to a large extent will influence the direction of debate, discussion and even conclusion on this matter in one way or the other. The coverage of this NSSF saga has been wide and varied and sometimes inconsistent. Some media houses/dailies, will drop it off their front page only to pick it up the following day with gusto, others are covering it as battle within the NRM amongst the party heavyweights/bigwigs. Furthermore, some reporters/journalists covering this story have apparently been threatened and their movements tracked by unknown men. Recently the Parliamentary Committee on State Enterprises and Statutory Organs conducted business under tight security because apparently the day before, some men, armed with guns had gained access to the premises unchecked.
The media has to stay sober, professional, resilient and focused as it reports and covers this story in a credible, accurate and non-partisan way.
A few years ago, one Nelson Hernandez (21), of the Washington Post, at a memorial service for his colleague Salih Saif Aldin (20) who had died on duty in Iraq where he was a correspondent in the Washington Post’s Baghdad Bureau, eulogised his colleague by reminding us of the Greek word for truth, aletheia. It means the truth as it is revealed or uncovered, but also unforgotten, and unforgettable.
This is what our media ought to deliver and that is what their readership and citizenry expects of them despite the challenges and circumstances at hand. Any thing but the truth will bring to question the independence of the media and doubt whether they are worth their ink.

Amama has a case to answer...

The NSSF-Amama Temangalo land saga rages on.
Amama on his part continues to argue he didn’t do any thing wrong, he sold on willing seller and willing buyer basis to NSSF. Besides, he gave his friend and business partner Amos Nzeyi full authority to negotiate, deal and transact on his behalf. He says as a seller/business man he is not obliged by law to make sure that the government entity or department that is dealing with him is following the procurement guidelines enshrined in the PPDA.
For me, this is where he misses the point and will eventually loose the battle.
You see when he was giving city tycoon Nzeyi the power of attorney to act on his behalf with NSSF and or Akright, he should have concerned or interested himself on whether NSSF had advertised for this land purchase or had engaged the right procurement and investment guidelines in their attempt to acquire land. Nzeyi, as a businessman may not care but Mbabazi cannot afford to make the same mistake. Why? Amama is not your ordinary businessman or city tycoon. He is a senior citizen, leader, professional lawyer and former Attorney General. Furthermore he is a Secretary General of the ruling party-NRM and a Security minister in the current regime. If there ought to be guy who knows the implications of dealing with government and public enterprises outside the confines of the law, it’s Amama. So it is unacceptable for him to deal with a public enterprise or government entity well knowing it not following the established rules and guidelines. By virtue of his status and position in the nation, ruling party and regime, the dealings of many a government entity or public enterprise should be of interest to him because this has effects on how and whether or not his party(NRM) delivers to the citizenry across the political divide.
You see, when you regularly send your four-year old kid to the neighbourhood shop to get a sweet or ice cream for him/herself with a five hundred shilling coin, the day the kid arrives at the shop with a twenty thousand shilling note and asks for five (5) ice cream corns and a dozen sweets, the good shop attendant will receive the money, close shop temporarily and escort your kid to your house to inquire whether you have really sent the kid for all the above mentioned. He doesn’t rush to give the kid the ice cream because he knows that may be the last time he is doing business with anyone in your home. That is what we call a responsible trader, businessman and citizen. Amama Mbabazi has let us down on this front. By virtue of his status and position in the regime and ruling party, he ought to care that government and public entities are doing the right thing. When he ignores or feigns ignorance of the irregularities on NSSF’s part for his personal benefit, he has to pay the price because Ugandans and his party NRM will wonder whether he is a credible and worthy leader.
Amama claims the issue has since degenerated into a political fight and alleged witch-hunt from within the NRM. But you cannot divorce the political dimension from this saga. Because:
The supervisor of NSSF, Minister of Finance is a political appointee.
The board of NSSF is appointed by the President-the top politician in this country.
A sizable number of NSSF board members are former MPS, ministers and active NRM cadres.
The proceeds from the Temangalo land sale were invested in a private bank owned by some of the top politicians in this country.
The NSSF investment plans are included in the President’s 2006 Manifesto-to develop real estate and increase access to modern housing for the budding middle class.
So any attempt to divorce politics from this matter is redundant.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

NSSF Saga and Tribal/Ethnic Sentiments...

The NSSF saga continues to unfold before us like a horror movie. The twists and turns are so intense, like the proverbial village road. From the encumbrances on the land (squatters and wetland), Jamwa's Ugx 1.2BN mansion in Kololo, alleged forgery of bank documents to pin Mbabazi and finally to tribal sentiments traded at the NRM Central Executive meeting. Ladies and Gentlemen, we haven't arrived yet, but soon or later we will get there. The NRM is undoubtedly on the verge of swallowing its self and at worst swallowing me and you.

Globalisation is undoubtedly Africa's poisoned chalice in the 21st century. The challenge is that in the midst of this global village and cosmopolitan culture, tribal and ethnic sentiments are still very much held close to the heart especially in Africa. We have “elite” folks who have even graced the most illustrious schools and colleges, international conferences, visited global business and commerce centres but still prefer to identify themselves as Banyankole, Alur, Bakinga, Itesot etc. This is unfortunate. There is no question about the need to love and appreciate our cultures and heritages, but to front tribal and ethnic tendencies in the modern era of global politics, international trade and business is redundant.

For me, more than ever before, the NRM is before me and you to judge whether it is the party to lead us on the path to the promised land. (good governance, economic prosperity and infrastructure development, media freedom etc).

Recently, Maj.Gen.Jim Muhwezi at a funeral service for Brig Tumukunde's mum, insinuated that his court case over GAVI funds was an attack on the Bahororo- an ethnic entity in South Western Uganda. Amama Mbabazi now claims the NSSF saga is meant to attack him and fellow NRM henchmen from Kigezi. (Bakinga).

Folks, we cannot be diverted from the main points in this saga. Any attempt to shift the debate from the anomalies in the land deal, flouting of procurement guidelines, inflated price, Amama's conflict of interest to tribal and ethnic sentiments is unacceptable. If we attempt to take this course, we shall loose the battle immediately. We must elevate ourselves above this tribal nonsense or else we will loose credibility even when our arguments are worthy. We must stick to the points. If Amama and his confidants have decided to take it native, that is their tactic. To allow to be saddled into this tribal talk is suicidal for me and you.

The media equally has an uphill task to report and cover this saga in a professional and non-partisan manner. It must stick to the crust of the matter or else it will let down its readership and country at large. There is no doubt that to a great extent, the media dictates the direction of the debate and discussion on this saga. They equally need to stay sober and not be pulled into these backward tribal and ethnic fights.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

NSSF-Mbabazi saga: NRM and Media before the public court.

The NSSF-Mbabazi Land saga that is threatening to swallow the political life of Honorable Amama Mbabazi-Minister of Security and Secretary General of the ruling party has undoubtedly dragged the NRM and the media at large to the public court. There is no doubt that the hullabaloo in the wake of this contentious land sale will soon or later come down and we will get back to business as usual simply because, the NRM-National Resistance Movement is the least interested in fighting corruption and/or financial fraud. The UPDF choppers and undersized garments saga, GAVI funds etc have all raised dust with the media going in frenzy over these fraudulent deals for some time only to die a natural death. Apparently, Mbabazi’s confidants in the NRM have been calling many media houses for a cease-fire on the story as it unfolds before the Parliamentary Commission on state enterprises and statutory organs. The New Vision seems to have already closed shop on this story, fiery Andrew Mwenda-CEO of The Independent has been so academic with the issue, Red Pepper doesn’t seem so enthusiastic about it and the Daily Monitor is struggling to credibly present to the public the defects in this land deal in a professional and non-partisan manner. With the NRM Central Executive meeting on Tuesday 10th September 2008, there is no doubt that the media will shift the debate and coverage to Museveni’s comments and reactions to this issue instead of the encumbrances, anomalies in procurement and investment that that define Temangalo land purchase.

For me, the big picture is that this issue has brought this regime openly to the public court for me and you to judge it harshly but fairly. Furthermore, it brings to the fore that our media is not independent and worth its ink at large. No media house has clearly guided the public on the procurement rules flouted, the disregard of the independent valuers and their perceived roles, the distance of the proposed estate from Kampala and the condition of the surroundings etc.

It is clear NSSF didn’t have its clients at heart in this deal. How did they get to know that Amama and Nzeyi are selling land? Or how did Amama and Nzeyi get to know that NSSF wants to buy land? The guy who supervises NSSF- Hon. Ezra Suruma, Minister of Finance is a shareholder of the bank for which the proceeds from the land deal went to. The acreage that NSSF bought is not clear; they have refused to make public the contract details with the sellers. Apparently, Amama transferred his power of attorney to Nzeyi, then how did NSSF come to pay him not the guy he legally appointed to negotiate and transact on his behalf?
Jim Muhwezi-arguably the most vocal historical in this saga owns land adjacent to the Temangalo land which he apparently wants to sell to Akright Projects LTD which initially wanted to buy the contentious land. Further more, he owns shares in the National Bank of Commerce where a large chunk of this money was deposited and invested. The bank’s other share holders include Ruhakana Rugunda, Ezra Suruma, Amama Mbabazi, and Amos Nzeyi. All these are NRM henchmen but with an insatiable appetite for riches. Hon. Banyezaki-the so called rebel MP also has a chunk of land near the Temangalo land. It is clear many a cadre had and/or has interest in this deal and the proposed estate. The estate would elevate the neighbourhood and guess who cashes in? -The NRM guys who are on Mbabazi’s neck. Akright Projects LTD claim they want to buy the land at 25m per acre, one million above what NSSF paid Amama & Nzeyi with a loan from National Bank of Commerce. This is mind boggling stuff, whom are they fooling? At least not me. It’s a web of deals closely related to the Italian Mafia gangs in years gone by. For me, the public is being duped, and in the end, the President and his cohorts will sit to accord the culprits a soft landing. The NRM has always played games with the rural folks by distributing sugar, soap etc and blackmailing them with the history of past regimes or at best awarding them a village district. Today, it is attempting to engage the middle class and elites with fickle anti-corruption fights and fraudulent public infrastructure projects. The sooner I and you see through his facade of anti-corruption, PPDA and NRM Caucus the better. The in-fighting in the NRM is to get to the eating table not to deliver services to the people. Today, more than ever before the NRM is before us to critically assess and judge whether it is the party that will lead us on the path to the promised land- for me, they don’t look any bit fit, ready and morally upright to lead us.
They are bent on amassing personal riches and fortune at the expense of public service delivery, good governance and economic development.

Agaba Rugaba Nicholas K
Civil Engineer with a humanitarian agency in Northern Uganda.

Monday, August 25, 2008



For the last two weeks, Professor Ali A. Mazrui in his Saturday Monitor article has attempted to look at Makerere University on the global scene and trace its roots and roles in the globalisation culture. It made interesting reading- a masterly piece, the kind you would expect from the distinguished academician. Well, the Professor’s notes have got me thinking...
The Faculty of Computing and Information Technology, Makerere University will play a significant role in shaping of our politics and economy in the next decade or so.
Before you shrug me off for bordering on the insane, hear me out. Let us start with a few basics and facts.

Faculty of IT has the most spacious, modern and architecturally glamorous buildings on the famous hill. The newly constructed six-storeyed block has over 300 square meters of office space, Six large computer labs (arguably the largest in Africa) each of 800 square meters- 1000 seat capacity, twelve (12) lecture theatres, conference rooms, lecture rooms, office rooms, 1800 square meters of circulation space etc. The building is equally a symbol of power, grace and sophistication.

The CIT faculty with over 4500 students constitutes close to twenty five percent(25%) of the total university student population at Makerere. In Africa you can never undermine the power of numbers. Furthermore, more than thirty percent of the annual applications for entry at Makerere are for a programme/course at this faculty.

It is the only faculty that runs/operates 24/7 programmes in Uganda and arguably in East Africa at large. There are programs and lectures conducted at night and all day long, this is the first of its kind in Uganda's university education sector.

The faculty has the highest faculty budget ahead of Engineering, Medicine and Law faculties. With an annual budget of close to Ugx 10 billion, the faculty, has a budget bigger than more than half the Districts in Uganda. It also has a vast number of donors and partners at its disposal. These include but not restricted to European and Asian IT entities, Corporations, Software giants e.g Micro Soft, Cisco Systems Inc., Google Inc., IBM, Rockefeller etc.

The Faculty Dean, Professor Venansius Baryamureeba was recently voted the top ICT Educator/Academician in Sub-Saharan last year 2007. In him they have an astute manager, gentleman, organiser, and result-oriented leader.

Now, let us get to the crust of the matter.
It is clear that IT and Computer technologies will shape the way of life and culture for the next generation (it has already shaped today way of life-globalisation). Banks, Businesses, Government corporations and entities, Education and Learning centres, Health and Insurance providers, Law enforcement agencies etc. have embraced or are embracing the Information superhighway technologies. Uganda Police recently entered into a partnership with the faculty (ICT Makerere) to train a good number of the law enforcers in Information technology and Computing. Uganda Revenue Authority is in advanced stages of making the border posts in Malaba, Katuna, Nimule etc. interconnected through IT and thus operational 24/7. The Land Registry Department is planning to computerise its systems and records, the Electoral Commission once flirted with the idea of creating a computerised National Register using IT and finger print technologies. With a sober leadership at the commission, this idea could be revived. All banks and financial instiutions have since embraced the IT and Computer technologies- ATMs, e-banking etc.

So, the faculty of ICT-Makerere, has the world and Uganda in particular at its feet. Annually, the faculty churns out thousands of professionals and technologists that innovate and develop programs and work on IT systems and networks that are integral to today's work place.

Computing and Information Technology will soon or later be at the centre of the mode of operations in many sectors of our economy and politics at large. Yes, politics! Recently two issues came to the fore in the mainstream media. The Dean of the Faculty IT-MUK, Prof. Baryamureeba claimed that some top administrators at MUK are witch-hunting him (New Vision-unconfirmed date). He seems to have firmly set his eyes on the Vice-Chancellorship contest later this year or early 2009. Secondly, it has been indicated in some sections of the media that he has a soft spot for the opposition- specifically the FDC. Considering the bickering going on at the hill between NRM leaning lecturers/moderates and their extremist colleagues, Makerere is slowly but surely courting an explosive political dimension.

Furthermore, the accomplished Professor, harbours dreams of being a Head of state/President of Uganda. Now, imagine he becomes the next Vice-Chancellor (very likely) and leads MUK back to its “Africa's Harvard” status and glory (he undoubtedly has that ability), and continues to flirt with the opposition, he will undoubtedly have a legion of admirers and an ever growing middle class that may prefer their kind(an elite) for a president. During his tenure, Makerere may become an independent entity, have government sponsorship swiftly abolished and academic standards improved. Furthermore, you will have research and innovation in major fields of IT, Engineering, Agriculture, Medicine etc. taking root at the mighty university as Uganda braces itself for economic take-off. President Museveni and his historical comrades will be retired at their country-side ranches/farms, and today's NRM Youth League will be in charge because they are the only ones who can be at the same footing with their elite colleagues considering the ever increasing elite and middle class opposition.

Andrew Mwenda- the CEO Independent Magazine, once wondered why the NRM with its vast resources, access to Information and communication tools e.g TV, Radio, Talk shows, Internet etc. is reluctant to engage the opposition in debate on policy issues, economy and political reforms at these fora instead of unleashing paramilitary outfits to clamp down on opposition and media houses. The young and elite section of NRM which appreciates free debate and discussion on national issues doesn’t pull any strings (at least for now). They are equally frustrated with the old guard that doesn’t seem to be throwing in the towel any time soon.

So, soon or later, they will find solace in their fellow elites-so enter the professor, and a growing number of professionals, workers and middle class that sees him as a mentor, gentleman, organiser, astute manager and leader, sophisticated to be on the same footing with Gordon Brown, Barrack Obama etc. Imagine a man, whom, all your bankers, corporates, business community, security agencies, western agencies, donors, multi-national organisations, NGOS, regional trade blocs, middle class, professionals etc. respect for his abilities to lead and transform society. President Museveni has continuously shunned the Kampala elites and middle class , he seems to prefer the up-country rural folks. So grace your self for a script scribbled in paradise, finally, the elites may have their man as head of state.

Someone once said, “When Makerere sneezes, Uganda catches a cold.”

Look out for the next time the mighty university sneezes.

Rugaba Nicholas.
Social Commentator based in Gulu, Uganda.
+256(0)701 382 492

Monday, August 18, 2008

Kampala- The Epitome of Disorganisation

A story is told of a certain European ambassador, who after serving his term in Uganda/Kampala, before going to West Africa on another diplomatic mission, one evening while having coffee at Nandos with his new-found African belle, attempted to describe Kampala and our economy at large. Apparently, he said, if you stand in the middle of Kampala (may be Nandos along Kampala road) and you jog in any direction for twenty minutes you will find yourself in a slum. Whether, in his description, he did justice to our CHOGM City is a debate for another time. We don't know whether he said this in an attempt to convince his Ugandan belle to go along with him and say bye to the pot-holed and dusty city, but one true thing is that Kampala is one huge mass of organised confusion.

In Kampala, you have guys putting up storeyed buildings without proper parking spaces, water and sewerage systems,lifts, air conditioning and ventilation facilities. In Kampala, your favourite muchomo joint is between a Computer accessories shop and a lunch-time prayer house, and opposite a new banking hall. There is no proper planning and zoning in Hon.Ssebagala's city. It is in Kampala where affluence kisses extreme poverty. You probably know that friend of yours who stays in a posh uptown apartment, but the neighbourhood is a filthy ghetto with malnourished children, overflowing sewage, plastic and wood shacks for houses. It is in Kampala where you have illiterate folks selling tomatoes, cabbages, mangoes, jack fruit etc on the tarmac/floor(Nankasero market). You could argue that they are the most shrewd entrepreneurs and the informal sector can't be ignored but the thing is they don't have a place in global commerce,business and trade that Uganda intends to embrace, they wont help Uganda take off - short and clear.

Kawempe, Wandegeya, Katanga, Kalerwe, Kinawataka, Katwe etc are all within easy rich of the CHOGM city but they are the true definition of confusion. A majority of people who work and/or reside in these ares have no or limited access to social infrastructure e.g access roads, water and sewerage lines,toilets, parking spaces. These areas are chronically congested and most of the buildings are ram shackled, old,filthy, dirty etc. Some are even made of mud and wattle! Yes mud and wattle in Kampala City.

Strangely, the price of land in these areas has since gone through the roof, so Kampala's middle class may not afford to buy these plots. It's majorly top politicians and Kikuubo traders who can afford to pay the exorbitant prices-they are the ones who have the money or businesses to help them secure loans to purchase such plots and put up commercial buildings. Unfortunately, it is this same class that dreams big but thinks small (all the pun intended), they are okay with putting up shopping malls and storeyed office blocks without parking space, water and sewerage systems, lifts, ventilation, lighting etc. The guys with the money have the least knowledge of how best to design, create and implement environmentally friendly developments, and they don't want to engage professionals who are best suited to handle these projects.

So the middle class, in this dilemma-they cant afford the run-away land prices and they don't like the congested and noisy slums that come with the neighbourhood in the above mentioned areas. What have they decided to do? They are buying prime properties and land in the outskirts of the city, where the estates and shopping centers are organised. Private developers are turning vast virgin acres of land into organised housing estates and shopping/trading centers with access roads, water, power, parking spaces, recreation centers. All over Kira, Gayaza, Namugongo, Seguku, Nalumunye, Najera etc- Urban estates and centers are developing far from the confusion and disorganization that Kawempe, Wandegeya, Katanga, Katwe and Kalerwe have to offer.

In future, (if not now)Information Technology, will undoubtedly shape the way we do business, trade, work, study and communicate,so in future we will have a lot of e-banking, e-commerce, e-learning etc defining our economy. You will have guys doing their work at home in the calm and quiet estate outside town and just sending it to their boss in Nairobi, New York, Seoul etc. A lot of work will be done online as we embrace Information and Computer technologies,so ladies and gentlemen, don't stress, you may not need to travel to Ssebagala's city every day to do your work, compile reports, design and create projects etc.May be once or twice a week-that shouldn't be bad for you to go through the congestion and madness.
Rugaba Nicholas- Social Commentator.

Friday, August 8, 2008



Kampala is fast growing into East Africa's top entertainment hub and top musicians' favourite destination. All the big guys have been here- UB40, Akon, Wycliff Jean, Shaggy and Collie buddiz. With the local musicians soon going into a frenzy of album launches in the near future, we can be rest assured to receive at least three more world re-knowned Jamaican reggae artists/ musicians between now and early 2009 ,to grace their shows. My Kenyan neighbour here in Gulu, has put me to task to explain why Ugandans apparently have a lot of money to throw around in music shows, rugby games, beach parties, beer binges and endless bar hopping. It is a complex phenomenon-it is equally complex to make sense of it all. I have failed to give her a credible explanation.

It is no doubt that this Kampala middle class and/or wannabes (read- Campusers, Bafeele, mid-corporates) grace these social events religiously. But you wonder, where do they get all the time and money spent on these morally compromising and hugely overrated shows and events.
You have guys who go to rugby matches but can't tell, the difference between a scrum and a line out. Hordes attended Wycliffe Jean's show in Kampala recently, but just a handful know when the guy learnt how to play the guitar, later on his last album title. What do you love about the game or the musician if you cant know the intricate details about your so called passion?

The moral bit- I have been in some circles where it has been indicated to me that if you want the easiest casual and reckless sex binges, try the mushrooming Kampala house parties and a certain rugby club on Jinja road. Apparently young ladies and/or campusers are easy pick for all and sundry, young men are willing to bed as many as their car can carry. So, the so called middle class in Uganda/Kampala that is supposed to innovate, generate ideas, engage the politicians etc has taken the immorality scale a notch higher. House parties that are characterized by excessive alcohol consumption, sex binges, nudity etc are now common in uptown neighbourhoods that are inhabited by the “sophisticated” middle class.

I tell you what! Its a slice of Las Vegas in our humble Uganda. You may say, am adamant to embrace modernity and global trends, (or even backward) but I think we can still embrace modernity and globalisation without compromising our values, morals and traditions.

A cold beer after a hard day's work has never been wrong in our society- the problem is when one consumes gallons of the frothy drink to appalling levels. Theatre, dance and drama are richly enshrined in our cultures, not passa passa that is known worldwide for its nudity content- women and men dancing half naked. You haven't seen anything yet- next year the dance show will explode into its true being.
Nicholas Rugaba.
Construction Engineer with a humanitarian agency in Northern Uganda.
+256 772 382 492

Thursday, May 15, 2008



In the recent past, there has been a loud public outcry in the main stream media concerning gruesome murders and crime in the middle class/ uptown neighbourhoods of Najera, Kira, Namungongo, etc.
The Police have been up in arms to combat this urban crime. This brings to mind tales of high crime levels in Africa’s developing cities for example Nairobi, Kenya and Cities of arguably Africa’s model democracy and economy-South Africa.

However, unfortunately the Police, crime experts, Media Agencies, Opinion Leaders or even Social Workers, have not come out to clearly explain, debate and engage on what could be the root cause of this sudden increased urban crime at a time when there are soaring food prices, high fuel prices thus high transport costs, run-away land prices vis-avis the contentious land debate, minimal media freedoms etc. This is undoubtedly a matter that is threatening Kampala’s reputation as one of the safest and most peaceful cities in sub-Saharan Africa.

Most of Kampala’s middle class, consider buying a plot of land in any of the above mentioned suburbs and other prime locations as a priority either as an investment or as a step towards home ownership or security to access a bank loan. This demand for plots or land in these prime locations has continuously pushed the urban poor into congested slams usually in the outskirts of peri-urban centres/ town centres around these prime locations. These slams are characterised by poor housing, poor sanitation, disease, immorality, drug abuse etc and biting poverty at large. Thus, with the high fuel prices/transport costs, high food prices, load shedding, high cost of living etc these are really desperate and tough times for this poor urban population as it competes for the same food stuffs, milk, bread, oil etc at the local market stall with the middle class that resides in these neighbourhoods.
The middle class are building/ constructing rental houses, residences, wall fences etc employing some of these unskilled people as porters, labourers etc. in effect, with there ability to spend/consumerism, build, drive posh cars and reside in wall fenced residences, the poor urban population sees them as the “haves”, and themselves as the “have-nots”, thus making this middle class a target for the poor and desperate urban population that is increasingly challenged by the high cost of living.

You have probably had an instance when you are stuck in a traffic jam, and the conductor asks you in fluent local dialect to allow him pass or give access. ”Boss, lwaki tonzikiliza nepitwo. Sente mwe ab’azitutuma” literally meaning, Boss, why don’t you allow me access, you are the ones who send us for the money? - To him you appear as a potential taxi owner/ proprietor or potential owner of a business.
Or you are driving past or through a car washing bay and one of the attendants asks you whether you want your car washed, to which you answer negatively. The guy goes on to plead, “Kati Boss, bwe mutatuwe sente, abanna banfe banalyaki?” Meaning, if you ‘rich guys’ don’t give us some work/money, what will our children eat?
You will be shocked at what the majority of Low income earners, unemployed, unskilled workers and jobless urban population thinks of this middle class. Always look out for comments or statements made by your local mechanic, sales lady at the market, attendant at your local supermarket etc.

Uganda’s middle class has been conspicuously silent on many issues in this country, corruption, harassment of opposition groups and leaders, land give-aways, Mabira forest debate, media harassment, poor state of social infrastructure e.g. roads, health centres, universities etc, poor service delivery in government institutions e.g. immigration office, lands registry. The poor urban population, continuously stifled by the high cost of living doesn’t view this middle class as comrades amidst the challenges faced by our country and economy at large. The middle class has continued to shun elections, choosing to stay at home on voting day- watching movies, reading foreign magazines while sipping at a beer or juice. They consider voting too dirty for them and leave it to the lower class urban population who bravely line up all day long in the hot sun and/ or rain, to participate in this process that is important to democracy. It is quite strange that this middle class, with its access to knowledge, information, internet, global trends etc continues to be silent at all these issues ‘eating away’ at our society.

Now with this increased crime targeting the budding middle class, its high time we all realised that Uganda is for all Ugandans irrespective of positive difference in political ideology, ethnicity and socio-economic class. Issues of national interest e.g.
Social-economic infrastructure, democracy and accountability, good governance, media freedom etc ought to be of concern to all of us, lest Kampala degenerates into a city where its inhabitants are not at peace but thugs and crime kings prevail like the tale of our brothers in Nairobi and South Africa.

Agaba Rugaba Nicholas.
Construction Engineer with a Humanitarian Agency in Gulu, Uganda.