This week, I had the honor and privilege of listening in on the Grand Citizen’s Debate, a local forum where the Ugandan society’s leaders sat down to discuss the political state of the nation and the way forward for our nation. This was through headphones and my phone’s FM radio. It was lovely listening to the articulation of national political issues and listening to ideas on how to continue with the calm state of affairs the country is in in the face of a change in political affairs. Government officials also took part and it was nice listening in to most importantly the different contexts adapted by the speakers.
Context is developed by an understanding of history and an understanding of the current state of affairs in the face of future aspirations. Each of those affects the context. Without history we are unlikely to understand the basis of the present but despite an understanding of all the past and the present, we are only likely to push for actions basing on our aspirations as individuals, corporations and as societies.
I have had the honor of living in different parts of Africa. If I lived in Kenya for five years continuously, I would be able to legally take up dual citizenship. I find it easy to interact and associate with most people on the continent and I make it my responsibility to understand the context of their reality by taking time to read and understand their past and their present and work with those to build a foundation for future success. Without a doubt, I have my own opinions but in any place what matters most is the present reign that will affect my success or failure.
The Busoga region is one that always amazes me. This is the region you get into once you cross the Owen Falls Dam into Jinja town. It is a very peaceful region and Uganda’s biggest sugar source, with three large sugar factories whose operations spread over five or six districts. It’s also the region where co2balance Uganda had it’s first cookstove VPA, in Iganga district and where we were based for our first two years in Uganda, a place I still look to fondly. The people of this region are known for being very froward and opinionated and even they find it funny when we say “Basoga balina empuutu” literally meaning “Basoga are big headed”. This region has been affected by a widespread scourge of poverty partly due to the 90s industrial collapse and at present is the focus of many of the government’s poverty eradication initiatives. This region is well endowed with agricultural land so if well managed, these initiatives should bear adequate fruit.
A calm mid-morning Jinja street
I have worked with the leadership in Busoga. My first district contacts were in Iganga. One thing that struck me most about them was how eager they always were to get things done. At some point, a district staffer left his office to help me organize a baseline survey and this really eased my operation a lot. During meetings we had as much participation from the women leadership as we did the male leadership and they were always honest in their deliberations. It always stood out though, that they had a heart to be seen different. They no longer wanted to be seen as the leaders of the poverty stricken area and they were willing to work with whoever could make a difference in the lives of their people. They took the unfortunate context the area is looked at to attract support from both the government and non-governmental bodies. Instead of choosing to fight PR wars, they chose to work to change their image through real impact. One thing I am sure of is that while working here, we are bound to have the full participation of the communities and support of their leaders.
A cross section of local leaders in at a stakeholder meeting in Iganga
Over the years, the sugar industry has been blamed for the widespread poverty in the area. However, their positive context of their operations can be seen. The human and infrastructural development in Kakira is almost unrivalled, and in Kaliro, the newest sugar industry, the energy self sufficiency and farm development and agricultural science support to the farmers speaks volumes about their sustainability focus. Looking at the profit driven industry, it is amazing how they have applied a twenty first century development context. By improving livelihoods whilst ensuring environmental sanity and promoting renewable energy, they are surely adapting a green mode of development. These may be small steps and only two examples but the message of sustainable development is not being ignored. In this , Africa’s century, whether in the chaotic streets of Douala or the calm avenues of Harare, innovators all over are taking time to care for the long term as much as the bottom-line using the widely agrarian and natural state of affairs as a baseline, and taking care not to upset the delicate and crucial balance of nature.