Friday, December 1, 2017

Perspective | Five things we've learnt from Zimbabwe

Unless you've been living in some extraterrestrial black hole, by now you should be knowing about the new guy at the helm in Zimbabwe.

Gone with the Wind is the mercurial Robert Gabriel Mugabe, and in his place is Emerson Mnangagwa, the man who also goes by the nickname "the crocodile".

Is this all we ought to know about the country that was once known as Southern Rhodesia?

#1 Not every Zimbabwean speaks good English

Their literacy levels have been praised ad infinitum. Critics and social media "experts" waxed lyrical about how organized they were, in their celebration of Mugabe's departure.

Many hyped the populace's composure and articulation and the apparent absence of violence as many chose to quietly wish for change. Which is fine; but they didn't have to exaggerate this – or did they?

We still have Zimbabweans with their indigenous accents. Zimbabweans who still speak like part of their tongue is glued to the floor of their buccal cavity. Zimbabweans who were "heppy" to "hev" a new president.

#2 Ammara Brown

You've probably never heard of her. I hadn't, until Mugabe happened. This sultry songstress was among the hordes of people interviewed by the BBC in their quest to make the most out of the then ensuing drama in the country.

The 29-year old's style borders on Afro-pop, and calling her the Di'ja of Zimbabwe wouldn't exactly be far-fetched. If you like Di'ja, you'll love Ammara.

My pick of her collection is Akiliz, a song inspired by the legendary Greek fable about Achilles. Born destined to die in infancy, Achilles' mom – Thetis – was to cleanse him in the magical river Styx in order to avert his looming demise.

Thetis did, but did so while clutching her young son's heel – meaning the heel was never protected.

It would become the vulnerable point that eventually led to his death after he succumbed to a poisonous arrow, giving birth to the famous noun: "Achilles heel".

One's Achilles' heel symbolizes their weakness, and Zimbabwe certainly wasn't short of these.

Maybe, just maybe, Mugabe's touted eloquence and past (independence heroics) could have been Zimbabweans' Achilles' heel, blinding them into according excessive respect to their geriatric ex-president.

Ammara Brown cryptically says the song was inspired by a personal experience she won't disclose. It's a song many a Zimbabwean just may relate to.

#3 Southern Africa is still one big (Bantu) family. Largely.

It may not be the only linguistic similarity, but this is what caught my attention – Mnangagwa's nickname. Zimbabwe's new president is also known as "Ngweenya", Karanga for crocodile.

The Bemba in Zambia call it Ngw'ena, while their neighbors to the north – the Nyanja – call it Ng'ona. Peering further North, "Goonya", the reptile's native name amongst the Ganda/Nkore in Central and Western Uganda almost makes the entire stretch from South Africa to Uganda look like one big, extended family.

#4. It’s safety first, for the average Zimbabwean

They had been invited to take part in the CECAFA football tournament slated for 03/12/2017 in Machakos, Kenya, and had confirmed participation.

On the dawn of President Uhuru Kenyatta's inauguration, a stray bullet struck a 7-year old boy during opposition protests in Nairobi (63 Kilometers from Machakos), killing him instantly.

The Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) immediately declared the situation in Kenya "volatile" and withdrew its participation.

#5 Was Mugabe's resignation a case of religion being mightier than the gun?

He had been held hostage for a couple of days, and Gucci Grace initially said to be enjoying sizzling sausages in Neighboring Namibia (she was later reported to have been present, eventually, moments before Mugabe's resignation was couriered to Parliament).

The 93-year old held onto his position, refusing to give in to General Chiwenga and his collection of power-hungry schemers until he was talked into it by a Jesuit priest, a one Father Fidelis Mukonori.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Perspective | Letter to 16-year old self

A couple of weeks ago, I inched a year closer to retirement (or death – whichever way you view it, for death remains the ultimate retirement for all of us – unless you are another Prophet Elijah).

In the past, for many of us, such days passed without a whimper. We quietly went through our days, seldom pondering on a few aspects of our lives, and mostly letting this pass like “just another day”.

No pomp. No flowers. No cake. No hullabaloo.

Then we grew old and grew up and started setting annual resolutions and goals and objectives because society suggested so, struggling to avoid depression while at it.

Several years later, we are still here, still living on the edge and trying to get accustomed to (this) our new lifestyle.

Happy belated birthday? The champagne has since left its ice and found a new address elsewhere. Nonetheless, we still have a few "words of wisdom" we’d love to pass on to our virtual 16-year old selves.

Your key decisions start NOW.

Between 17 and 19, you are probably preparing for your A-levels. At this point, your focal point is the As you envisage, a course or two after, and little or no long-term focus thereafter. This is the time you choose your path. Get a mentor so you won’t end up doing things you’ll never need in future.

Kinship is overrated

Anywhere after 17, you’ll fall out with people you once deemed dearest. Your brother, uncle, sister or cousin will screw you up and you simply won’t be able to do anything about it. But you’ll soon discover bosom buddies who won’t need blood relations in order to turn out nice. That is the world, for you. And you gotta get used to it.

University is just another phase

Between 19 and 23, you are likely to be at University. The world will be your oyster. It's going to feel like a different ballgame, initially. There’ll be this newfound freedom that gets you tingly and itching to do some mischief or forge some kind of premature self-alignment – depending on your company.

You’ll take weed and get away with it. You’ll drink yourself silly and crawl to your bed without the admonishing halo of your dad hovering over your sorry self at 03:47 AM. You'll miss class as long as you eventually get the grades.

You will spurn chance after another and still have another life. You’ll make new friends. Your class will feel like family until you graduate and realize it was all a fa├žade.

You’ll never get to see some of them ever again. Some will show up every once in a while. Others will forget you, while the rest will keep tabs on you (while secretly comparing notes of their progress with yours).

Live and date right: 23-35

You’ll leave University and get eventually get a job – if lady luck smiles your way. So you’ll have the means to abuse every vice you craved when you still survived on that University allowance and handouts from your parents.

You are now in the cooperate world, living your dream. This is where you meet scheming females who’ll ask if you are circumcised, barely thirty minutes into your maiden date.

You’ll eventually find one with whom you are compatible, and after six months of bar and restaurant hopping, your friends will wake up to a flood of SMS spam reading: "Trevor and Trudy invite to the launch of their wedding preparation meetings at Casablanca […]" (usually at the behest of Trudy, because she is two-months knocked-up and her parents will be cheesed if there's no wedding in sight).

When are you building?

After 30, your peers start itching to know what you are up to. If you have no house yet, they’ll want to know where that money is going.

You’ll begin to feel like some public property where everyone feels entitled to know what is taking place in your life. Some will judge you, while others will gossip about you.

This is the stage where you start to sieve friends from acquaintances.

Death is real

From 25, you may want to get an emergency plan and let you kin know. The era of your loved ones freaking out at the mention of an insurance plan if and when you eventually meet your creator should now belong to the past. You’ll need a decent send-off. And this needn’t be a burden to your family.

Oh, and even if you don’t go soon, you are likely to lose a loved one. And you wouldn’t wish this to happen when your coffers are yawning and you have no plan B.

Plan and Invest

There’s possibly no excuse why you have no safe landing in case your career goes south, after 25. You may not have the ultimate entrepreneurship acumen, but you’ll certainly have cushioned yourself against the thud of sudden (financial) fall.

You’ll run into debt – the size of which may partly depend on your decision making and your income. At every level, there are folks surviving and living to see another day. By all means, try to avoid debt, if you can.

Join partnerships. Join an investment club. Or a SACCO. Buy land. Try treasury bills. Raid the stock exchange. Sell charcoal. Grow dodo. Anything. As long as it reduces your financial burden by a coin or two.

More discovery

After hitting 35, you want to feel you’ve got it all figured out until you repeatedly catch yourself making a schoolboy mistakes. Like investing in something that the world has since declared a bad idea. Like investing in the latest Ponzi scheme even after you’ve previously lost in ten of them.

Life is an eternal learning process in which you’ll learn new lessons every day. Like the fact that despite several Togikwatako protests, our resident leopard isn’t going anywhere.

Like eventually discovering that Cayenne Bar and Restaurant serves the best goat ribs in town, after several calamitous experiences elsewhere.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Tribute | How I joined the Telecom Industry

"Aah! So Zain is giving you job. And you are leaving?" screamed my Naija boss, hands clutched against both temples, eyes dilated in an apparent facade of surprise. The company had since rebranded to Airtel, though many – including my then boss – still called it Zain.

I’d just broken news of my impending exit after two years of protracted contract negotiations that had eventually realized a "massive" UGX 200,000 increment.

Often jolly and cordial, the incessant haggling was starting to make him behave like a parsimonious love-child of Arsene Wenger and your average corporate auditor.

On March 14, 2011, Airtel Uganda ran an advert in one of the dailies looking for "Team leader: RF Network Planning".

I didn't not have the exact qualifications, having done IT and Computing. But I had finally got one thing I had been seeking for some time – the email address where I could channel my overtures.

Getting the email address meant that I would not have to physically whore my skills looking for non-existent job openings, lugging brown envelopes in town and going through the rigorous security checks at the company’s premises.

So I sent in my application to the said address, hoping it would not be served with an express ticket to the recycle bin.

It did not, thankfully, for I would receive a call from Julie about two months later, summoning me for an interview at the company premises.

"Hello. We received your CV, and we have a role we would like to interview you for", said a silky voice at the other end of the line.

Long story short, a skills audit from Julie’s technical team gave me the nod, officially assuming my new role on May 16, 2011.

I was now set for the long-awaited switch that forms a significant part of the manuscript for my book – Diary of a corporate slave – part one of which I hope to complete once I get the necessary muscle to hire Nick Twinamatsiko’s Kisana Consults for the final edits and subsequent publishing.

As the Talent Engagement Manager, Julie was the equivalent of a talent scout in professional football. Once she was done snaring you, you would be handed over to other HR functions of the resource talent conveyor belt that was Airtel Uganda.

One of these functions was "Learning and Development" (or something similar), a department that was efficiently run by goggle-eyed Marie A Lutaaya as the resident specialist.

Marie had this never-ending catalogue of in-house and online courses that you had either had to do or forfeit part of your annual bonus – if you didn’t cut the grade (of course I always chose the former, partly because I wanted the bonus).

I particularly liked the 3G training because our lecturer had bungled this bit at University.

Marie and Julie ran HR (and their lives, to an extent) like a pair of Siamese twins in a rollercoaster professional journey that sees them run rings around one of the biggest banks in town today.

Born on the same day of the month, exactly 731 days apart, Human Resource Management’s dynamic duo turns X and X+2 years respectively, today.

So here’s to you, Julie and Marie; to a delightful and fun-filled birthday. May you live long enough to continue being the excellent professionals you’ve always been!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Perspective | On parenting and career advice

"Hello. Meet my son. He is currently doing *mentions course* at University. Please mentor him. I want him to be like you".

You’ll meet this kind of people, every once in a while. Senescent, doting parents who visit places and attend social events with their post-teen kids in tow. Caring parents in search of their kids' role models.

They track their progress, forecast the future and hope they’ll be useful to themselves once they are done with school.

Today’s parent will see this one guy who has seemingly made it and they'll want their kids to take the same career path. So they begin to draw fancy imaginations of what the children should or shouldn't do.

It's probably easier if the prospective mentee is at University and already half-aligned in their direction. You could you do your best the guy turns out better than you. Which is fine, because you become one of the family’s heroes and every time you show up at theirs, chicken breast and gizzard will end up at your platter.

For many of them, any career outside of the colonial courses (Medicine, Law or any of those Engineering disciplines) is tantamount to failure.

It becomes a different ballgame when some high school adolescent that you are supposed to groom into an Electrical Engineer ends up with a Bachelor of Arts in Arts degree.

From that moment, you'll always be viewed with suspicion. If you are feeble-minded, this is when you begin to feel your villain moment.

So the next time you bump into the parents at another gathering, you'll be given the kind of look security operatives give Bobi Wine when they suspect he's about to have another interview with Aljazeera.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Tribute | Danz Kumapeesa: A life gone too soon!

Two months ago, the cameras focused on his ailing frame on a hospital bed for a planned fundraising drive. It would be the last the world was seeing, of youthful music producer Danz Kumapeesa.


At 22, life is only beginning for an average Ugandan who has gone through our education curriculum. It’s the age where many are either in their final year at or fresh out of University, lugging those dreaded brown envelopes around town in optimistic search of corporate employment.

At this point, every contact made looks like the ultimate gateway to that white-collar dream. So we save telephone contacts of every seemingly “connected” corporate, from people wearing cheap Chris Adams deodorant sprays to those who "can't stand anything other than" Roberto Cavalli.

This is the age where every single dream still looks valid, despite having no proper meals, surviving on Rolex and those half-brick sized mandazi we used to call Drogba.

It may also be a breakthrough stage; a watershed career moment that sees one scale the first of many heights they'll scale if they maintain the momentum.

At 22, Daniel Mukisa – the producer we knew as Danz Kumapeesa – had the (music) world at his feet, churning out club bangers at will and seemingly destined for a bright future.

Once, I wondered who or what this Danz Kumapeesa was, for the byline featured in just about every Ugandan hit song. He had become that ubiquitous!

He and Nessim (23) were probably the youngest, renowned producers in the Ugandan music industry.

Danz was the brains behind songs like Musawo (Winnie Nwagi), Mbozi za Malwa (Bebe Cool ft. Sauti Sol), Tuseyeya (Grace Nakimera), Nkubanja (Lydia Jazmine) among others.

A few months back, he fell into an ambush of thugs who clobbered him to coma, sustaining head injuries that left him bedridden for over three months. The 22-year old eventually passed on yesterday, October 07, 2017.

Rest thee well, Danz Kumapeesa.