Thursday, August 24, 2017

Commentary | Of Angola’s Dos Santos, cronyism and an impoverished citizenry

For the first time in 38 years, many an Angolan will finally get a chance to vote a new president after Jose Eduardo Dos Santos chose not to contest in today’s election.

Dos Santos’ move leaves Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA) with a new flag bearer in Joao Lourenco, the current minister of defense and his long time crony.

It’s a move that critics believe will still leave Dos Santos with as much influence as he’s always had, seeing as he’ll remain MPLA party president.

Dos Santos leaves at a time Angola’s oil reserves are still estimated to be in excess of seven billion barrels, perhaps enough to last the nation another twenty years.

The 74-year old has probably had enough, having allowed his relatives, cronies and political allies considerable leeway to plunder one of the country’s major resources (oil overtook Agriculture as the leading export since 1973).

Isabel dos Santos, his daughter and firstborn with an estimated net worth of over $3.5 billion, was appointed as head of the state oil company – Sonangol – in 2016, while Jose Filomeno – his son – is the chairman of Angola's sovereign wealth fund.

Despite its oil wealth, most of Angola's 22 million people still live in abject poverty. The gulf between the two classes is best epitomized by the largely unoccupied Nova Cidade de Kilamba, a residential estate consisting of 750 eight-storey apartment buildings and sitting on 5,000 acres.

Kilamba has since been christened the ghost city because majority of the Angolan populace simply cannot afford the property rates in the area. This was worsened by credit access complexities in the former Portuguese colony.

It’s a situation Dos Santos tried to manage in 2013, when he launched a state-backed mortgage scheme to help middle class Angolans access credit to buy their own homes and prompt price drops in the empty city. The properties range from $100,000 - $200,000.

Such a gulf, perhaps, is one of the biggest reasons many of the impoverished Angolans living beyond the confines of country’s elite will be rooting for UNITA, formerly a rebel outfit founded by Jonas Savimbi and now headed by Isaias Samakuva.

Whereas Dos Santos may have reached his satiety point at 74, a certain peer of his to the far North East restively awaits the start of commercial production of "his" (thick) oil before he can call it a day.

After 38 years, the country that gave the world Sam Mangwana, Cabo Snoop (music), William Carvalho, Rio Mavuba, Manucho (football) will finally give its people a new president.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Commentary | Aaron Aroriza, the birthday boy & the Ugandan Corporate dream

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.