Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Commentary | Aaron Aroriza

Before I saw the light, I once aspired to live that textbook 1-2-3-4 dream of the average Ugandan corporate; 1 wife, 2 children, 3 bedroom house and a 4-wheel drive SUV, partly because many in our generation seem to have been conditioned to live that way.

Every University alumni you meet a few years after campus will ask the same questions;


"Olina abaana?"

"Have you bought some ka land somewhere (Fat-Boy calls it "in the middle of nowhere")?"


We'll soon raise a generation of robots, at this rate. People who do things just because everyone else around them is doing the same.

Now, one of the people supposed to mastermind the "3" in my then blueprint was Aaron Aroriza, a fine Architect with the brains and experience to match.

Once, I casually asked him how much I needed to put up a basic house. He had set up something cost-effective and decent that I felt I could ape and "live happily ever after".

"10 million and you should be good to start. Then you take one step at a time", he said.

Every time I took a stroll around my suburbia with family, I showed them one of his projects and remind them about how the brains behind that project will soon be camping at mine.

Nature, lady luck or "hard work" (like those mystery Pakasa tycoons want us to believe) soon handed me what I thought was enough to tickle Aaron’s fancy, only to discover that my friend had moved on (from small projects, not the profession).

He now rolled with the big boys, and my fantasy house now looked like the equivalent of a servant’s quarter’s extension that probably did not deserve his full attention.
The man I had last seen pushing a humble Kikumi now moved around in a mini-monster of an SUV that roars and the rest of the road users listen.

Aaron turns 30-something today (Is men’s age supposed to be kept confidential as well?) in what should be a merry-filled day for the unassuming Architect.

Happy birthday, chief. When I grow up, I want to be like you.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Commentary | Sauti Ya Africa finally coming of age?

When I first heard about them, seven years ago, Sauti Ya Africa were doing renditions of classic and opera music, with a few staggered original compositions of their own.

They were doing this kind of genre you would never see advertised for shows like Ekiggunda, where every homosapien that has been to a Ugandan music studio gets a chance to arouse the weed in the crowd; from wannabe satirists like Mathias Walukagga to musical slay queens like Winnie Nwagi and Irene Ntale.

I was mulling over an artiste that would perform at my impending wedding and I had failed to get Silver Kyagulanyi’s contact. So we settled for this relatively unknown bunch of talented upstarts as our plan B.

A friend had recommended them, and my mind was like "why not?" We set about hunting for them in a fruitful search that ended with myself at one end of the negotiating table and Ben Katumba at the other.

Ben is one quarter of the singing quartet that is Sauti Ya Africa. They were supposed to have been our version of Sauti Sol, but they got lots of swag before actually becoming famous. And that is how they ended up where they are.

Calm and collected, he looks you in the eye with the valor of a heavyweight boxer and the guile of a Mossad operative. He makes you imagine he is even listening to things you are about to say. I finally thought I had interacted with an artiste who would note down every detail of our agreement.

A deal was struck, and they were to do five songs. Two of them were to be of their choice while the other two would be my own. The fifth was supposed to be a surprise composition to my wife in, largely, a choice and tone of my words, done in pop genre.

Come D-Day, and one of my choices was been ditched. Of course I couldn’t run off the dais to remind them of our agreement, though they delivered on the surprise song for the bride.

Those who knew their type of music had fun, while those who didn’t went to sleep every time they stepped on stage.

"Bano abantu abaatwebasa otulo ku mbaga yo wali obajje wa?", asked one of my friends a few weeks after the wedding.

A couple of years down the road, and they were doing shows in almost every country that appreciates music, and had transformed into a pricier outfit.

The latest release from their music repertoire is "Amaalo", a song that has had music critiques like Timothy Kalyegira (who probably considers himself too sophisticated to review Ugandan music) and Dennis Asiimwe wax lyrical about their talent.

The transformation, of course, extended to their lifestyle. A phalanx of musical hopefuls that once hauled themselves in a tired Mitsubishi Challenger now moves in a fleet of Pearl White Toyota Mark Xs.

One day, I should accost them and demand for my song.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Tribute | Daily Monitor @25!

"Hi. I like your writing style. This is superb", read an email from Dora Barungi, the then editor of Sunday Life, a weekend pullout that came out every Sunday, almost a decade ago.

It was her response to an article I had written about School times, a series that was eventually aped by The Observer.

Barely out of campus with an IT background and an old school belief that mainstream writing had no business being my favorite pastime, here I was, getting endorsed by a doyen in the profession.

This was the spark that subliminally ignited my passion. My confidence shot through the roof. And thus I cut my writing teeth, eventually going on to start my first blog shortly after.

Today, Daily Monitor turns 25, and what a ride it’s been for the guys in Namuwongo. While I certainly wouldn’t be the right person to tell their tale, I’ve had my fair share of memories.

I won’t go much into press and other freedoms they might have battled along the way, for I probably know only a fraction of what they went through.

Nonetheless, this should be a toast to this feat, to all the excellent stories they’ve churned out, and to everything else that has been great about them.

Charles Onyango-Obbo’s "Ear to the ground" (that article in which he likened Burundi's Pierre Buyoya to Gustave, the menacing crocodile on the Burundi side of Lake Tanganyika remains my all-time favorite), Fulham fan Kevin Patrick O'Connor’s "Roving Eye", Austin Ejiet’s captivating satire in "Take it or leave it" and Muniini K Mulera’s remain some of the best columns I have read to-date.

I cannot forget Harry Sagara’s humorous tales from Panyimur, complete with that cartoon that had an upward-pointing Winklepicker.

There was always something gripping about John Abimanyi Kiggundu Zedekiah’s features and his writing style, a guy I first knew as an exuberant Christian hip-hop fanatic we called Chilly Willy/Sting in high-school many years ago.

These, and some of our recent favorites like Daniel Kalinaki are the reason we continue to support Daily Monitor.

I'll sign off with special shout-outs to recent "veterans" like Jacobs O Seaman (who has since found greener pastures elsewhere), Andrew Bagala(current favorite Investigative journalist), Andrew Mwanguhya and Atukwasize Chris Ogon (my current favorite cartoonist).

Bon Anniversaire, Daily Monitor. May you continue to thrive for many more years!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Society | Face to face with Kifeesi: A tale of one stolen phone!

"Ku Wilson osanga banyumye, naye nga basiba kiwaani" (On Wilson Road, you’ll oft find them all neat and spruced up, but theirs is a life of deceitful trickery), sang Bobi Wine in "Kiwaani", arguably one of his greatest hits, in 2007. 

10 years since I first came across this jargon, I find myself silently humming to the song on one tepid morning, right in the middle of our beloved metropolis.

The subject of my expedition is an iPhone, a pricey handset that had been snatched from a Caucasian colleague during peak traffic hours on Kiira Road the previous evening, before taking off on a boda. 

The assailant is a dark-skinned slender male with bloodshot eyes, probably between late 20s to 30 years of age, that we shall call X. 

Now, iPhones come with that security feature that allows the user to report the phone as having been stolen or lost.  It then flashes a message on the screen, notifying whoever is in possession of the phone to return it to its rightful owner (I am still Android, unfortunately, so I don’t exactly know how this works). 

X, having possibly tried to unlock the phone in vain, chooses to call the contact. But his rather "charitable" act won’t come cheap. He wants a ransom of sorts, a cool 500K UGX before he can release his catch. A deal is struck, and the phone is to be collected from Pioneer Mall.

My Caucasian buddy is not familiar with this part of town, and that is how an apprehensive me gets sucked into the recovery process (you just do not go to meet a guy who violently wrestled away your phone, in Ugandan speak, "fwaa"). 

Minutes later, we set off for the mission. 

Having mentioned Pioneer Mall, X now asks the person on the other end to find him at Wilson Street before changing to Mutaasa Kafeero at the third time of interaction. 

It’s at Mutaasa Kafeero that a light-skinned, neat and burly chap accosts us, inquiring to confirm if we had indeed come for the phone. 

We had seen him skirt around the initially agreed meeting point but hadn’t really taken note of his movements, for he could have been just another City dweller scouring for his next meal. 

"I have worked with security circles before", says he, switching to a Nkore dialect once we are done with the pleasantries. "Once in a while, I run a few errands for police when they need me", he adds, before the topic changes to our subject of interest. 

It was at this point that he says he is going to hand over the phone, but not in the presence of my buddy. 


What if he chooses some dungeon as the handover venue before asking for more ransom, this time from my own family? I ponder. 

More nerves.

I then wear that veneer I usually assume when I am not sure of the person I am talking to. "So, boss, where do we go from here", I ask. It would be the next street, just below Wilson (the name skips my mind). Like a normal business transaction, he checks the ransom and confirms the amount.

He beckons one of his boys, another slender guy who emerges from the opposite side of the street, left hand seemingly girded. 

A couple of interactions between the two, later, I have the phone in my hands before handing over the ransom. 

"We sometimes help you people to recover your phones – if you cooperate", he says. "I have a group of boys running this, and most times I have no idea where the phone could have been stolen from. The other day we helped some Mzungu woman get her S6 back", he adds.

It turns out that the phone theft business is run by a racket of well organized gangs who choose what to do with every new acquisition, depending on the brand, perceived value or the victim’s attitude. 

If you show up with some security detail of sorts because you want to show your might, chances are that you’ll never meet these gangs or their representative. So you simply forget the phone. 

By changing location, the guys are actually monitoring your movements, just so they are sure you are either alone or they are safe. 

"How about the other items in the wallet – the Credit Cards et al", I ask. He says he would help track them, trying not to show assurance he knows where they were being kept. 

I pretend to believe him. Contacts are exchanged. "0752 xxx xxx. You can call me Hashim London", he signs off before we go separate ways. 

Barely 24 hours later, "Hashim" calls. He has traced the items. And he wants an additional 200K UGX!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Tech | Ransomware: Technology’s most devastating cyber-attack, and one man’s accidental break

If you’ve been following recent happenings in the technology world, you must have come across this. You must have heard about some "virus" that attacked and disabled health systems in the UK, leaving thousands of patients stuck in limbo.

Running under the name "WanaCrypt0r" or WannaCry, the ransomware demanded that users pay $300 worth of cryptocurrency Bitcoin to retrieve their files, though it warned that the “payment would be raised” after a certain amount of time.

The orchestraters of this malware were creative enough to craft translations of this ransom message in at least 28 languages.

Ransonmware, for the uninitiated, is a type of malicious software that carries out the (cryptoviral) extortion attack from cryptovirology that blocks access to data until a ransom is paid.

It displays a message requesting payment before it can be unlocked. Simple ransomware may lock the system in a manner that is not difficult for a knowledgeable person to reverse (Wikipedia).

Around the globe, Wannacry continued to wreak havoc in many a system, harvesting estimated hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process.

This was until one security expert inadvertently stopped the malware in its tracks. The tech world’s latest hero, a 22-year old reclusive security specialist who chooses to hide behind his tech blog – Malware Tech – is as a security researcher at Los Angeles-based Kryptos Logic.

Malware Tech studied the malware’s behavior and noticed that as soon as it installed itself on a new machine, it tried to send a message to an unregistered Internet address, or domain name.

The malware contained code that pinged an unregistered web address, and if it didn't get back a message saying the address didn't exist, it would turn itself off.

The bulk of his work was done as soon as he had identified this. His next step was to register the domain and see what would follow. Little did he know that by doing so, he had inadvertently stopped what is believed to be one of the world’s biggest cyber-attacks in recent times.

Computers that were already infected with the ransomware weren't protected but the ransomware stopped spreading except in isolated systems, said Craig Williams, a senior technical leader at American security company Cisco Talos.

Are we out of the woods yet?

Not yet, Malware Tech warns. “This is not over. The attackers will realize how we stopped it. they’ll change the code and then they’ll start again. Enable windows update, update and then reboot”, he adds.

Obviously the guys that did the first code aren’t - in Ugandan speak - “sleeping”. One slight modification of the code and the world’s rear will be on fire again.

The folks at Microsoft certainly foresaw this when they released a security patch a couple of months back – March 14, 2017 – to be exact, though computers that have not installed the security update remain vulnerable.

I had stubbornly procrastinated patching my Windows (because I was trying to avoid the several restarts that come with these), but I have finally been cornered after the VPNs I use got locked until I have the required fixes in place.

Is your system patched and protected?