Imagine darkness. Then, see the light.

#CancerUG

Oh, Jenny. Did Five Years Fly By?

by on Apr.27, 2016, under #CancerUG, Governance, Observations, Workforce and Work Ethics

In an extensive interview in New Vision on Monday 25th April 2016, ED KCCA has given us her view of the achievements of KCCA in the past five years.

KCCA staff some time in March 2016 digging up potholes on Kanjokya street for repair. Potholes are still gaping open end of April 2016. Meanwhile they were breaking their own law - buying food on the street from a vendor.

KCCA staff some time early March 2016 digging up potholes on Kanjokya Street for repair. Potholes are still gaping open end of April 2016. Meanwhile they were breaking their own law – buying food on the street from a vendor.

Sitting here at Kanjokya Street, looking at that clogged water drain and the potholes carved out over a month ago by KCCA team, I can’t help but wonder why this otherwise smart lady doesn’t see the world through Kampalans’ eyes.

I agree, five years ago she was put into an organisation that was hugely corrupt. Today, comments I hear are that it isn’t so bad any more. She implemented some fantastic solutions like eCitie – which I praised endlessly during the judging of the last ACIA awards because it was one of the most complex and innovative (in our Ugandan terms) application of the year. Also, the train we waited for five years since the first promise, happened! It is allegedly still operating – I haven’t been so can’t confirm, though I want to make a round trip one of these days, just for the nostalgic experience of travelling by train.

Then, mentions of proper systems being put in place to run the KCCA administration; audit to list the assets, improvement in revenue collection, developing schools and hospitals together with partners, increase in revenue collection, increase in garbage collection, arresting non-compliant citizens, investing in youth groups, developing markets etc. All said in the interview is positive and excellent – but is it enough?

On reading the interview the second and the third time, I understood where Jenny draws the sense of achievement. Indeed, administratively and internally, KCCA must have transformed in some sense. I hear there are daily prayers, the place is very clean (although two cleaners asked me for a job), security is checking visitors, there are even a few places to sit. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to sit on a bench in the courtyard because the bench was planted on grass and we all know how touchy KCCA is about stepping on grass – so I stood on the walkway until I was assured by an elderly employee it’s okay to sit on the bench.

You can see things are looking up at KCCA by glancing at the parking yard – all spots are full. Gone are the days you could park at the side parking to go to DFCU, also gone are the days your RAV4 looked decent among he buddies – now it looks shabby and old among all the spanking shiny wheels. So indeed things are better.

Let me not miss to say that everyone is looking so smart, especially if they follow Jenny to a meeting or a presentation to donors: You can easily mistake the team for the cast of LA Law or something, walking confidently, boldly, one step behind Jenny, one person carrying her documents, another with the handbag and the third with phones and tablets, while at least one is circling around the group with a good-sized digital camera, zoom and stuff in tow. That’s how we be, all sassy and all documented for posterity.

Also mentioned in the interview is the City Festival where businesses and partners put together some 1 billion shillings to make it happen for Kampala. A real cool party where everyone is invited but only a few benefit from.

 

5 years of KCCA. Is it really spectacular?

5 years of KCCA. Is it really spectacular?

About two weeks before the KCCA interview, I tweeted this photo. My humble evaluation of Jenny’s 5 years in office. Or – what has KCCA done to change Kampalans’ pain points and what are the respective results. Here’s what I was thinking: let me list what pains us the most and let me express a sincere opinion – is it now better, worse or the same as five years ago?

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My favourite slum, Kamwokya. Only a kilometre away from Acacia Mall.

My favourite slum, Kamwokya. Only a kilometre away from Acacia Mall.

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Slums are continuously growing and getting more populated. Not one of our slums was identified as a pilot project for resettlement, urbanisation, infrastructure improvement, build of planned sanitation system, relocation, paving or anything of the sort. Most densely populated areas in Kampala remain filthy and hopeless and – there is no hint that anything good will ever happen to them. On the issue of slums, it’s a fail.

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Heaps of garbage in Kamwokya do not differ much from heaps of grbage on Kanjokya Street.

Heaps of garbage in Kamwokya do not differ much from heaps of garbage on Kanjokya Street.

Garbage is overflowing where it never used to. Burning of garbage happens daily from Mukono to Kololo, irrespective of whether the residence is posh or poor. Everyone trying to save the little money by polluting the already heavily polluted air in Kampala. This is directly connected to education – actually the lack of it. KCCA had no communication plan or campaign that will address the issue of educating residents of Kampala on how to sort and dispose their garbage. Besides, garbage collectors should be the ones to make money from sales of recyclable materials. Regarding recycling – KCCA had made zero effort to sensitise, publicise or enable citizens to participate in caring for their environment. Shortlisting and zoning garbage collectors is simply not enough and does not equal to service delivery.

Bodas. Everywhere. What are we doing with these guys?

Bodas. Everywhere. What are we doing with these guys?

We registered boda-bodas and then? What? Did we ascertain their riding capabilities? Did we ensure they have two helmets? Did we issue them with stages and areas where they can operate? Did we inspect their bikes for safety features? Did we create a call and despatch centre to enable customers call professionally trained and licensed boda-bodas? Did we mark the lanes for boda-bodas? Did we mark the no-boda zones? Did we train boda-bodas not to drive against the traffic, not to turn or stop abruptly in front of vehicles, not to stop in corners or on zebra crossings, not to block gates, roads and passages? Yet this is the most-efficient mode of transport we have in Kampala. Now, a total failure associated with road accidents, deaths, mugging, rape and many other negative things that happen in our city.

Having a market block one lane on Entebber Road at Kibuye does not help the traffic buildup that starts from 5.30 am.

Having a market block one lane on Entebbe Road at Kibuye does not help the traffic buildup that starts from 5.30 am.

Traffic, ah traffic. Does it come as a surprise that a thousand or more new cars that monthly arrive to Uganda will hit our roads in Kampala? Some of our old Kampala cars will be sold to run as specials in villages but most will stay here. The man needs a car, his madam needs a car, his side dish(es) needs a car and so on. Gone are the days when a reasonably-to-do family will have a family car, period. Have our roads widened, multiplied, self-healed in the past five years? What about escape routes? Northern Bypass is as slow as DeWinton Road. Till now, all roads lead to city centre – which you almost always have to travel through, no matter where you’re going.

Enforcer at Jinja Road junction. Waiting for me to give money to beggars so he can pounce and arrest me. Luckily I know the laws!

Enforcer. Waiting for me to give money to beggars so he can pounce and arrest me. Luckily I know the laws!

Enforcement of laws is done only by the principle of the stronger. If it’s a woman selling mivumba or a child selling bananas, let’s send them to Luzira or push them under a moving car. But if it’s a mogul grabbing school land or keeping the hoarding around his hotel construction site for ten years, let’s leave them. If it’s kafunda and boutique owners grabbing the only green park in the city, we love them! If it’s a construction site that collapses and kills people – ‘We told them!’ Enforcement is non-existent and we all know what happens to a city where laws are not respected. No wonder street vendors sell more and more toilet paper these days as we are sinking deeper into it.

Roads and pavements – I scored this with a hint of improvement. Indeed there is one new road I enjoyed a few times and it came with a pavement – that one from Wankulukuku to Nateete. Drainage was done as an afterthought but at least the road is there and it’s really nice, a good diversion out of town towards Entebbe when Clog Tower is impassable. But Lugogo Bypass has remnants of pavements eaten by grass, bushes and erosion yet it is a pathway for thousands of schoolchildren that have no option but to walk on this fast and busy road, hoping that boda-bodas and the rest of the traffic will have mercy and miss them. Priorities are not in place, there is no maintenance of pavements and walkways in these specific areas around schools, hospitals etc.

For the number of cars that have to come into the city, there is no improvement in the parking system or increase in the number of parking spaces. There is no education about parking – why you should park the car and not double-park and block the street. This compared to the need – the number of cars that need to park, is another poor performance mark. Even though we will soon get our first parking house opposite Blacklines House where Mugisha Barbers used to be, I doubt this will solve the deeper parking problem in Kampala. Leave aside I had to park in the bowels of Mabirizi Plaza the other day and I am still deeply scarred by that experience. So a long way to go.

Jenny looking lovely, as always. Photo credit: The Kampala Steward Magazine

Jenny looking lovely, as always. Photo credit: The Kampala Steward Magazine

Jenny, darling, seems you were focused on internal KCCA issues and cosmetics (first thing you did was to rebrand, last think you did was to run a contest in New Vision for designing your Carnival dress). You have grown an impressive PR machinery that eats well and writes very nice tweets and Facebook posts. Photos are stunning. You are also the Editor in Chief of the Kampala Steward Magazine where you also appear in some very nice pictures. So PR is not new to you but you need to understand it is used as support, not as the main act.

To quote you, Jenny: “Transformation is a journey, not an event. Step-by-step, day-by-day, working with you, Kampala is being transformed.” You block all your critics on social media, depriving yourself and your entire team of the opportunity to hear a different opinion. I say entire team because the guy who handles your Twitter accounts goes blocking people on all of them at once. So no point in saying you work with people because you don’t. You work with your team, the hand-picked ‘yes, ma’am’ crew who don’t care about this city. See your main PR guy sitting comfortably on the commemoration stone – a thing you wouldn’t do anywhere in the world, going to show the level of respect for our past.

Whatever was commemorated on that plaque doesn't matter. All things, people and means serve to relieve the heavy burden of KCCA PR job. Photo credit: The Kampala Steward Magazine

Whatever was commemorated on that plaque doesn’t matter. All things, people and means serve to relieve the heavy burden of KCCA PR job. Photo credit: The Kampala Steward Magazine

What do we get? More floods, more garbage, more pollution, more traffic, More theft, more insecurity, more diseases, and indeed more of every single catastrophe that is mounting on Kampala on a daily basis. For that, I profusely thank you but – NO, THANK YOU Jenny.

**** Images refused to place themselves in proper orientation so forgive me if you get a stiff neck.****

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#CancerUG Alex Mulamba dies

by on Aug.03, 2015, under #CancerUG, Advertising, Observations, Workforce and Work Ethics

I’m hash-tagging this story with #CancerUG because this is another death that could have been prevented, even though it wasn’t cancer. Yet it is cancer of our society that we don’t try to give our all to find meaningful solutions in advance, before disease strikes and before life is critical, then lost.

Alex was a graphic designer. I remember interacting with him ages ago, when he still worked with Graphic Systems. I met him a few times, that’s all. But his story is painful and is a story of many.

I was told that Alex made some poor decisions in life. Drinking and getting on people’s nerves because of it was one such poor decision. Starting a family where three kids are now orphans is another poor decision, as he knew well he won’t be able to manage with his habits and salary.

Not looking after his health was another poor decision. Finding out about the kidney problem way too late was another poor decision. All these things would have been avoided if Alex had more focus on his own life and wellbeing.

I don’t know much more but this is miserable enough. It is, also, in a society of ours, a very common thing to abandon ship when it finally starts sinking. So when Alex started dying, his family, friends began building some distance.

Please – I’m not naming names and I don’t care who did what and for what reasons. I hope the guy gets a good, clean, quick burial and I know he left nothing behind so there won’t be any fights over property and money. Maybe the little NSSF money but I hope wife gets that, she’ll need it with three kids.

I’m calling you to think. About our future. Look at this society. How can a guy just die of kidney failure yet the efforts were put in place to fundraise and help him make it? What can we do, as an industry (advertising) to ensure we have a buffer that will cater to these cases in the future?

I suggest we start a fund, under the Uganda Advertising Association. If each person employed in the industry or related to it (suppliers, clients) contributes $100, we are going to have a healthy start. Further contributions will be based on good will and periodic fundraising activities.

Fund should be invested for sustainable growth and administered by trustees who will have a difficult task – to say no to cases that are not critical or can be managed in other ways. But should anyone need a kidney transplant again, the money would be there.

We can not hope to grow Uganda’s capacity to perform complex lifesaving medical procedures but one of the things trustees can do is to investigate all improvements in provision of medical services in the country so we can know who is capable of doing what kind of procedure and at what cost. Keeping our options open at home and abroad.

This, I hope, inspires thinking in a positive, proactive direction. We have the power to decide should we continue mourning lives lost or should we do something about it, joining hands to save lives. I’d much appreciate comments and Ideas as I believe this is the topic worth discussing further. Thanks for reading.

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Time to rethink the things we do #CancerUG

by on May.12, 2015, under #CancerUG

Continuing the #CancerUG conversation, time now for some stupid things women do that can cause cancer. Ranked in my personal order of preference.

1/9  Skin bleaching – causes skin cancer, mercury poisoning, liver damage, besides permanent skin and pigmentation damage.
2/9 Hair relaxer and other hair chemicals are linked to reproductive effects and birth defects, breast cancer, heart disease, cognitive disorders, premature puberty and altered immune function.
3/9 Smoking – even though I used to – will make you smell like an ashtray, wrinkle your skin and can give you lung and vast variety of other cancers.
4/9 Ill-fitting bras. Please, please, please – you’d rather have no bra then go around with wires and spikes poking into your flesh.
5/9 Tampons that are not changed/removed on time. Dioxin used in manufacture of tampons is linked to cancer.
6/9 Synthetic, nylon, polyester clothing, apart from being uncomfortable, can cause a variety of cancers besides allergies and other health problems.
7/9 Junk food leads to a variety of cancers, from breast cancer to all sorts of cancers of gastrointestinal tract.
8/9 Cheap lipstick and makeup is linked to breast cancer. Looks cheap and can kill you in a costly and painful way.
9/9 Cheap costume jewellery contains heavy metals that can cause a variety of cancers.

Bonus message: bannyabo, please use natural materials for clothing, leave your face and hair alone – you are beautiful ALIVE!

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#CancerUG – simple thoughts but let us start

by on May.05, 2015, under #CancerUG

A lot has been said about cancer around the time Rosamary Nankabirwa passed. We had the momentum but now we don’t. Besides the hurt some of us went through as we lost dear ones to cancer and the hurt people are currently going through with the friends and family members who are waiting for death or salvation – there is one more hurt that we need to consider regarding cancer, something that will pain us dearly.

It is the hurt of shame. Shame that we sat, talked, tweeted, facebooked but in the end, did nothing. I hope that hurt will become evident, soonest, so we can try to convert it into meaningful, creative energy. I hope someone will provide clearer guidance, proactive and positive direction so we can channel the momentum and energy towards a common citizen goal.

Goals are many: providing monthly support for Uganda Cancer Institute to cater to medicine, food, necessities for the patients; raising funds to purchase specific pieces of equipment currently absent; providing funds for testing; sensitisation, prevention work. All are viable and necessary goals. All are perfectly open to citizens to get involved. Let us choose one goal at the time and focus on achieving it.

I am going to revive the Lights for Cancer facebook page and try to source opinions from there. It would help if everyone with a good idea leaves a comment here. We are looking for the very first goal that we, as able and healthy citizens, can tackle. Let’s try together to make a move, however small, to help the fight against cancer.

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A tribute to Rosemary and the legacy her passing has the opportunity to create

by on Apr.20, 2015, under #CancerUG

It started with a humble Indiegogo call for donations towards her medical bills. I was still struggling between the PayPal and the debit card and wondering why there are only a few people contributing. I started reading online stories and realized that there was a long time between then and now. It seemed to me that the battle is over and the funds are needed to cater for accumulated bills for palliative care.

Then the carwash PR hijack turned up. I wondered what could have changed? How is she going to be saved when we pronounced her dead several times already? And why a whole well-to-do TV Station has to organize a carwash fundraiser when all it takes is to put her on the flight to Nairobi immediately, if help and surviving adrenal cancer stage four is possible?

She started there, together with them. She brought the English. She brought the accuracy and fairness and dignity in reporting. She set standards, not by her beauty because she was not our typical African beauty on the outside. She set standards by her professionalism, style, poise, correctness – everything that she was, every day, on our TV screens.

Then she was gone for a while, then stories of sickness started trickling in. I did not personally know her but on hearing she is a cancer patient, I felt sad because I saw my own sister disintegrating over a couple of years and I understood how hard it must be for Rose, her family and friends to see her suffer.

I did what I could do – called on NTV to stop the fundraiser and write a cheque. I did this thinking of the urgency of a cancer condition of someone in Intensive Care Unit and why her friends at NTV can’t simply push for evacuation and fundraise later, as much as they want? I asked NTV to give her life.

I opened the can of worms.

The reaction of NTV was strange – we are proceeding with a carwash, you are de-campaigning us, what have you done to help…

I simply thought that action is required now. Not after fundraisers and sponsorship deals, as I sent the following tweet:

Where it came from: I knew the rate-card, roughly. I click that NTV news is the highest-viewership programme and 30sec ads used to be around 1m. I knew that in television, you always capitalize on what good programs you have and I could estimate 12 to 15 30-second slots around the News as a norm. If I was to look for ultimate publicity for any brand, they would be sponsoring NTV news in whichever form or shape: logo on screen, squeezeback, logo on weather screen, ticker line, anything…

My mind was shouting one simple thing: why degrade her to a fun fundraiser circus at this point in time when you believe you can save her life with a mere 100 million? She used to make you daily income of 10-20 million for her two news programs over a period of four years. Why can’t you see that sometimes we need to be bigger than small? Whether she was still an employee or not, didn’t matter to me. For a name like hers, NTV should have pulled out the chequebook.

Reactions to my tweet were pretty one-sided. People I connect with on Twitter appreciated that I asked aloud what others were whispering. But in my ignorance, I pressed for reaction from NTV and I got it – I was portrayed as a heartless bitch de-campaigning their otherwise brilliant fundraiser PR stint.

When faced with what one thinks is immense stupidity, lack of tact, lack of style and so many other negative things, one tends to keep quiet. So I did. I retweeted a few enthusiastic carwash invitations on Saturday and I just felt for Rose. That her destiny is in the buckets, sponges and quickly printed t-shirts with her photo. That sponsors have brought in banners to prove they also have heart. That she must be wishing for a better and more dignified way to get over to Nairobi, to her former employer sister company hospital, in her former employer sister company med-evac aircraft, for some relief and some help that is unconditional and not attached to cost of sponsorship or barter-trade.

So the carwash happened. Amidst those thoughts of how unfair life is. How you give your best years to something that in turn forgets you quickly when you need their help. How Twitter goes abuzz with helpful souls when we need to show face. How the girl must be feeling if she isn’t well, if she is in ICU. How her face now pops up on selfies, posted to social media by duckfaces in tight leggings and platform heels. I was simply sad. But I kept quiet. I let the circus go on.

I felt awkward that Saturday. I wasn’t there for Rose. I didn’t know her but I wasn’t there for her all the same. I had shut up in order to let NTV have a peaceful PR event, have their joy of helping, contributing, driving for results where every bucket of soapy water counts.

I questioned the dignity of the event and how it correlates to the dignity of someone on her death bed. I wanted to understand why is it that I’m the only one who thinks she should have been helped then, when it became known that she’s sick. Why was all this time lost? Why wait to come out and help if you really mean to help? Why?

It’s her family who didn’t want publicity. But of course, they didn’t want publicity! They wanted assistance, care, peace, love for their daughter, not a PR event for her healing. At the end, they succumbed to pressures of a lame PR machinery that should have known better, much better.

On Sunday, she was gone. I woke up to a solemn Easter Sunday, went to the beach and lit a few candles in the sand for the departed souls of people I care for: for my dad, my sister, my lover and for Rose. Those four bee wax candles, blessed in Orthodox Church, carried to Uganda for sad moments like this, shone little light on my emotions that connected to the universe in a light, grey morning drizzle. I knew she was gone. Later, it was simply confirmed. Our society had lost her.

This society where we accept to be treated by nurses and have confidence in being doused with drips and quinine, outdated drugs that no other country uses, expensive medical treatments where one has to bribe for everything, including to be given a chance to pay for the drugs one needs, bribe to give birth, to have an x-ray, to have a wound stitched… I can go on for a long time about what is wrong with health system but what is essentially wrong with Ugandans is that we don’t ask any questions, we are just led like sheep to the pasture and fed whatever and we don’t even know how to care for ourselves… Yet we expect the government to care for us.

But Rose is not a political topic, even though it seems she was one of us, one who strangely waited for her condition to get worse and worse in order to admit she is unwell, one who did not know how to look for help until she arrived back to Uganda and was taken seriously ill, operated and never recovered.

But her passing, with all its emotions and energy, should at least start something or give us a hopeful promise. There is an opportunity for Rose to flower forever, even in the hearts and minds of those who never met her and those who are yet to be born. This is the opportunity I hope our society will not miss. It is time we make promises to ourselves and our unborn generations.

There should be no company in Uganda that will not volunteer maximum support for their staff, especially staff who were the pillars of the business, whether former or current.

There should be no month in a year that Ugandan business acumen fails to make donation towards general healthcare, where at least 70% will be spent on treatment and 30% on grassroots communication.

There should be no person, however young or old, who does not understand basic symptoms of illness and what to do in case of an illness.

There should be no waiting room in any of our private clinics without a poster that says you can pay for your own tests but also pay in advance for someone who can’t afford.

There should be no day that any one of us walks to meet another being on the street without calling ‘good morning, how are you?’

We must stop being individuals; we must start being humans. We must look at each other with love, care and need to connect and communicate in a respectful and open, truthful manner. We must pledge that another human being’s wellbeing is as important as ours.

We must teach facts and skills. We must broaden the narrow horizons of many. We must remember that we are all mortal and that any one of us can fall sick any time. We must never forget the energy of togetherness that Rose thought us exists. It is high time we join hands to do something about our own future and health is a good place to start, how do we move ahead from this solemn and sad place?

In situations like this, even those with big feet should make small steps. There are no giant leaps, solutions will not come at once. What I want for Rosemary Nankabirwa is that she is not forgotten (as she already is – Ugandan social and conventional media has zero buzz about her now). I want her to give us guidance on how to do the right thing, how to create something sustainable for cancer testing and treatment in Uganda. The rest is in our hands.

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