Holding on to your Gold

The news of discovery of gold in the town of Bifunna was greeted by almost everyone with drumming and clapping. Long after the coffee boom days when Bifunna boasted of the highest number of Mercedes Benz owners in the Central region of the country, courtesy of coffee sales, she had faced hard times as global coffee prices went south. Suddenly Bifunna looked like an abandoned ghost town as traders disappeared, with folks in the district giving up on their ageless coffee planting, which they now called Tebiffunna, in search of a new cash cow.

Unemployed, now, Bifunna was a dusty ghost town where villagers came and sat most of the days on vacant verandah, looking at once thriving but empty stores. Many would cling to lonely bottles in the few open bars around where they shared wistful memories of gone days when folks had their pockets ever bulging with cash, from coffee sales and, could order a spree of drinks. “We were the talk of everyone,” reminisced Mpewo, an old bald headed man, whose once thriving coffee farm was now desolate with a bush full of thorns and thistle.

But this was not the case with Lengela, one man who decided not to abandon coffee growing, a crop which he had grown up with, and pretty knew about everything. “I can’t learn new tricks late in life,” he would push off those who urged him to give up on coffee growing because of bad prices. Indeed he kept at it, though the earnings were far much less, something which made some of his neighbors pour scorn at him. “Look at this fool still pouring money in coffee growing! Cant he use his head to attempt on new promising cash crops like say plant eucalyptus trees or maybe ginger.”

Lengela listened to the criticism but he was not moved. He sought out the help of Agricultural extension workers. They confirmed that the Bifunna soils and weather patterns were best suited to coffee plants, unlike the new exotic crops, some from temperate climates, quick to whither and fall prey to local pest attacks. “Just stay on with what you know,” advised an extension worker. “Instead of getting scattered into new unknown areas.”

As a result of modernizing coffee growing Legela started realizing higher yields from an acreage.  However, he was just making enough to survive as the situation on the global market remained grim and his earnings were uncertain. Sometimes he thought of converting his farmland to something else as many around him had done, like planting eucalyptus trees too. But he held on to the crop he loved.

Then suddenly, when Bifunna had all but been deserted; someone discovered gold here. All of a sudden gold hunting hordes descended upon the nearly vacant town and quickly went about in the villages looking for land to purchase, lease or rent, and start scooping out gold.

“Lease to us your land,” one of the gold hunters came up and approached Lengela. “We hear there is gold down there.” Lengela waved him off. “I have better plans for my land.”

The gold diggers were not short of those willing to sell them land. Prices were low as most of the land had been rendered into disuse after folks had given up on coffee farming. The gold hunters would offer ridiculous low prices to the natives, who after happily selling, quickly set off on to a jolly ride from their land sale bonanza.

“The good days are back again,” said Mpewo, the old bald headed man after dispensing off a square mile. “I can now marry a third wife and purchase a Boxer motorcycle. I am hot!”

When he heard of the sales going on, Lengela, paused with a mixture of bemusement and inescapable indignation. He shook his head as his neighbors all around gave up on their land, which had been passed on to them for generations. Once the gold hunters took possession of the land they quickly curved it into plots and started digging underneath where every now and then gold muds would be found. You could hear ululations of joy once a digging party hit a gold mud. Pails came flying from underneath full of gold to the owners jubilation.

However, no one had taken trouble to first research on the extent of the gold. So, after a year of gold rush the yields from most of the pits that now littered all over Bifunna, had all but dried up. The gold had been exhausted. Those that had sold out their land where now empty handed.

“I want my land back,” Mpewo walked up to a gold digger. He was a land speculator, he had sold to his square mile for a third of its current market price.

“If you come up with this money,” said the land speculator giving him a mind boggling price, “you can get back the land title.” Mpewo had spent all the money from his sale on booze and merry making. He walked away sullen.

And it is then that the coffee prices started gradually recovering. There was a shortage of supply on the global market. Suddenly Lengela who had never given up on coffee was back in business. He was now the largest landowner around Bifunna as he had never given in to the gold hunters. Lorries started driving up to his farm, park and stay overnight, waiting to be loaded with coffee sacks.

Once loaded, having paid off Lengela at premium prices,  the Tata lorries cruised off, leaving behind a happy man. “If I had given up on coffee growing,” he mused. “ I would now be like those villagers who are now squatters on their land.”

As long as there is life there will never be short of quick to get rich schemes. For those in farming cyclical changes in the economy might mean that once their favorite cash crops are no longer as profitable as before. But should they then abandon them and rush to embrace the latest fancy crop!

The challenge with this path is that enduring success is often after years of skills that one has horned and stands to lose all that generational knowledge in favor of the latest gold wand. Here, in this story, success smiled to Lengela because he had the staying power and kept plowing at his age old trade even against all new gold bagging schemes. He didn’t fall prey to them. For he knew he already had the gold.

The Power of Friends

“What’s wrong with you sending Atuuse to camp for play when he has school homework!” wondered Manyi,”“I have told my Ayite to forget attending those time-wasting camps when he has tests coming up!”

“But I told you I believe children learn more out of classroom than behind those walls,” Mutufu, crisply explained. Manyi and Mutufu were childhood friends. But after school, having married, once they started raising families, soon discovered they would never see eye to eye on how to raise children. Manyi expected her son Ayite to walk in her footsteps. She always recalled how she had made it to Engineering school through hard work. “If I had loused around in clueless games like those other failures where would I be!”

Meanwhile Mutufu held an opposing view. When she started looking for a school for her son Atuuse, one aspect she kept looking for was if the school had a huge play field, covering all sorts of games.

“What games do kids here play?” she pressed a principal in one famous school, she approached.

“Here children are always in class studying to pass exams and this is why we are ranked the best school,” reported the principal.  Almost immediately Mutufu got up and started looking elsewhere. However, when Manyi called on the same school and the principal showed her how many first grades they had in the last national exams, she was immediately sold on. “I want my son Ayite to end up at the top with his name mentioned in the newspaper.”

Ayite was promptly admitted. Being the youngest in class, he was cheeky, though, eager to spend time out playing in the field. At the end of the year he was graded at the bottom of class.

“You are not going to shame me boy!” Manyi screamed, once she got hold of his report card. “You will now be getting up at 4 am in the morning to cram letters and numbers!” Under this regime, Ayite, with the belt ever looming on top of his head, had his grades improved. Soon he was topping his class to Manyi’s joy. And when he reached P6, Manyi asked if the school could have him sit P7. “My boy is a genius and has no time to waste.”

Some of Ayite’s teachers thought it wouldn’t do him good to skip a class. “Yes, we have no doubt he will pass,” his maths teacher pleaded. “I fear he will lose his friends.”

“You want my child to stick behind with looser friends!” roared back Manyi, in disgust. “I will take him to another school.” She threatened. The private school feared losing kids because it would affect its profit margins. Ayite sat and excelled. Manyi took a picture with her son which she sent to the newspapers to plant on front page with a caption, “We made it!”

Thereafter Ayite joined one of the best secondary school in the country. Whenever he got back home Manyi would ask one question, “I want to see your grades, don’t tell me anything about games and stuff!” If Ayite had a poor showing, then she would explode. “It is because you were out playing and yet these poor grades will take you nowhere!”

Meanwhile, after Mutufu rejected a school without a playing field she came across one which impressed her. “Here every child must enroll in a club of some interest,” the principal reported. “For every lesson we arrange kids to go out in the field so that they can pick up real life lessons. We place strong emphasis on games because they help kids pick up social skills. We encourage kids to use their local languages since they will need them to get around the country. Every child is appointed to lead something. On weekday we hold debates and quizzes so as to help kids overcome shyness and learn articulate themselves before crowds. Ours are not traditional kids because they spend more time outside class, visiting zoos, parliament, plantations, factories, etc, to supplement their book knowledge.”

“This is exactly what I have been looking for,” Mutufu brightened, and immediately enrolled Atuuse. Almost with every single opportunity she was at school cheering Atuuse, through his many games. Once, Atuuse happened to be lumbering behind in a 200M dash, she cheered him to race faster. Encouraged, he speeded up and won. “Atuuse now I want you to go and lift up all those you raced with,” Mutufu counseled.

Maybe because he was so busy into games, for his P7 Atuuse didn’t score a first grade. A concerned friend approached Mutufu. “If you get me some money I know someone important to get him admitted to an elite school.”

Mutufu rejected the idea right away. “If my boy wants to get to that school let him repeat P7, work hard and earn his way up there,” she said. “Is he going to cheat his way through life whenever he comes across a road bloc?”

Having had him repeat, Atuuse suspended some of his game activities, worked hard and this time passed with flying colors. He ended up in the same school with Ayite. The two rarely crossed paths. Ayite was always locked up in the library cramming to pass exams. But Ayite was out playing or participating in a club activity.

For his hard work, Ayite excelled and made it to Engineering school, which Manyi had chosen for him. Atuuse also joined the same university but with average grades. He was offered to do a social sciences course that because it was less academically demanding had been baptized as “General happiness”. However, Atuuse enjoyed it thoroughly for it gave him as much time to meet people from all over the country whom he made fast friends. He really enjoyed his time at university for he was always up and about in some interesting activity, like going for cross country runs and acting in plays.

In fact, Atuuse merely scrapped through to get a Lower honors degree.  Soon after one of those friends he had met during cross country runs tapped on him that there was a vacancy for young graduates in a new telecommunications company. Atuuse promptly showed up for the interview. He found that he had already met a number of those interviewing him during his multiple games and extracurricular activities. “This is the kind of person we need here who can help our business expand contacts,” said the CEO, whom Atuuse already knew as a Rotarian, having once invited him to give his Rotaract club a talk, where he was then President.

Once he joined Atuuse was involved in most company activities, which he found exciting. Before long, he had been promoted to head an influential business expansion unit. Early one day he was invited to chair an interview panel. After interviewing several candidates, then whom does he see entering? In walked Ayite. He suddenly recalled that while at university Ayite had dropped out, preferring to pass hours fraternizing campus bars, where he would push off any who dared pull him back to class, insisting, “I am sick and tired of this school business. Let me chill.”

When Manyi called him, with a sudden alcohol-fueled boldness, he told her to give him a break. Eventually, after losing a couple of years, he came around, got back to university. But this time switched to a business degree course. And so here was looking for a job.

Throughout the interview, Atuuse pretended he had never met Ayite. But he gave him near perfect scores on all questions, strongly recommending his appointment. The committee agreed.

On day, soon after Ayite had reported to work, Atuuse, met him at the company cafeteria. “My old friend,” he pulled him aside. “I know back in school you were hardly out on the games field playing with us. But if you want to get ahead here my tip is get involved and make as many friends. You will need them all the way. Good luck!”

Lessons from the Olympics: The Importance of a Focused Strategy

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics have just concluded. There are a number of facts which followers of the world’s greatest show of athletic prowess have come to expect. One is that the dominant industrialized nations are perennially at the top. The three nations with the leading GDP- USA, China and Japan- have come out at the top in the same succession order, as long before.

Perhaps it is only expected that because of their advanced resources they have invested in building a competitive athletic programme. Indeed, there are a number of games, like golf and swimming, which require certain critical capital investments, which poorer countries can’t afford. As a matter of fact, some of the best athletes from Africa have been known to migrate to the more advanced nations because of their better well-funded programs.

There is though one less obvious aspect we find out of these Olympics. Some nations like Kenya ( #19) have outrivaled far richer nations like Spain ( # 22) or Belgium ( # 29). This is not new. Why Kenya is normally is at the top of far more advanced nations can be explained by a simple observation worth commenting.

The dominance of Kenyan athletes in track and field is universally acknowledged. Her runners perennially dominate the Marathon circuit. It came as no surprise to many that Kenyan runners scooped both men and women’s marathon gold.

Incidentally Kenya, just like Uganda, which equally performed spectacularly well ( # 36) did not send as large a contingent. India sent 127 athletes but came out ranking lower at 48. Kenya sent 85 athletes to compete in just 6 events who bagged 4 gold. Contrast this with South Africa that sent 179 athletes to compete in 19 events but ended up with just one gold and ranking 52!

Perhaps here we may ask how Kenya with her 53 million people happen to outperform countries with far advanced economies or those with bigger populations like India with her 1.3 billion people! One reason has to do with management of their athletic programme, which is a source of great national pride. But also more, is focus. Other than extending herself in events where she has no history, like equestrian and rowing, Kenya has long concentrated on track and field. And even here she has narrowed more on to long distance, as opposed to shorter distance sprints long dominated by US and the amazingly swift Jamaicans.

Kenya knows that to win numbers is not everything! More so, the size of your bank account is not what makes you a winner. Rather, if out of many events you pick on a few where you are better at, concentrate and perfect on those, chances of success are far higher.

This lesson is equally important to businesses and any organizations. Many businesses and organizations at large underperform because of the weakness of over extending. They seek to be everything to everyone only to end up as “jack of everything but master of none!”

The next time you are developing your business or organization strategy, learn from the winners. Examine your strengths and choose to specialize in a few areas where you can focus your strengths than over extending yourself!

Why some change initiatives fail

Upon moving to a new rural-based parish, Rev Mukasa noticed that church attendance was sparse compared to his old posting in the urban center. There the church was bursting with numbers as young people were actively involved. In fact, sometimes they even led services. But here, the church doors only opened to a much older congregation that was limited in numbers. Rev Mukasa sensed trouble, especially as within the first month of his arrival he had to preside over two funerals from that age group.

“Where are the young people?” he asked the Assistant Vicar, alarmed.

“They say church is not exciting for them,” revealed the Assistant Vicar. “This is unlike the old people who feel very comfortable.”

“Then we need to find a way to start attracting young people to church,” Rev Mukasa brightened, with an idea. “Back in the city we were faced with similar problem. However, what we did was to introduce the things that young people are interested in. We started services where guitars and drums were playing instead of the traditional organ. We dropped hymns for quick praise songs which the youth were more pleased with. Sometimes I led services in casuals and jeans!”

“What!” the Assistant Vicar exclaimed. “If you attempt any of that here the old folks would throw you out.”

Assured of his plan and good intentions, Rev Mukasa, quickly moved to implement a programme of change. The following week he directed the church choir to do away with old hymns in favor of new songs of praise played to guitar and drums. He started leading services dressed in jeans and sneakers. He went to a nearby high school and brought over a crowd of young people, whom he asked to lead the service.

At first, the old people who formed the core of the church leadership structure ignored the changes. But when they started seeing their role declining, opposition broke out. “This new priest wants young people to take over our church,” complained the chair of elder Board who hadn’t been consulted. “I now see young poorly dressed kids taking up collection basket and they can’t be trusted.”

“For me I don’t think these new songs are spiritual enough!” added an old choir member. “Some of these guitar sounds remind me of bars. We can’t play devil music in the house of God.”

Soon there was uproar in the church. The Chair of the Elder Board called for a meeting. Rev Mukasa was tasked to explain why all these new changes. “The church is now losing its old members who don’t know what is going on,” he queried. “And these young people I don’t see them contributing any meaningful funds to run the church.”

Rev Mukasa tried to explain that the changes were for the good of the church, mentioning that it was because “the church was dying and needed new oil!”

“Who told you we were dying!” the older members rose up in protest. After the meeting, they reported him to the Bishop. On realizing church funds were dwindling because the older members were opposed to the new priest, he decided to recall him back to the city.

Perhaps you are wondering why Rev Mukasa failed to transform this church into a modern lively one with its pews filled. The first thing you may note here is that he moved too first, and moreover without sharing his vision to the old guard, who still held the levers of power. When managers want change it is important for them not to just explain their vision, but also win the support of the important stakeholders first. Plunging into an immediate crush programme of change is bound to provoke opposition, especially from those who fill threatened at the loss of power. The best of change initiatives are bound to be opposed but if they have the support of key stakeholders the likelihood of success rises.

The Power of Networks

“Why not take the children to any of the old traditional schools!” my mother expressed concern, once she heard I had different ideas. I did not commit but offered I would think about it. As my kids reached school going age, I started thinking of a school which had children not just from Uganda, but from all over the world, a sort of global village. But this was not something easy to explain to my mother who considered Catholic boarding schools as the ultimate choice. A longtime ago at an early age my folks had gathered me through a number of parochial schools, where morning chapel was compulsory and the stick was amply used to wire us into super pupils with astonishing grades. Well, I had since outgrown all that, and looked at life with a wider span.

Upon graduation with a Masters degree in one leading US state university, I started going around looking for a job. I happened to be attending a church with a number of influential people: state representatives in the Senate, leading business personalities, attorneys, physicians, academicians and senior managers. So, I approached one old gentleman who ran a successful financial firm. Immediately, he took up my case. “I see you have just graduated from my university,” he smiled, warmly. He called up a number of his old mates, and I could hear him chuckle, “I have a chap here just graduated from our old school!”

Easily, I found that in this state, one ticket a person needed was the university you attended. They were two prominent universities famous as rivals, particularly when it came to basketball and football games. Both boasted of a roaring passionate alumni who would buy yearlong tickets for any of those games. But that passion extended beyond university campus gates. Graduates shared a camaraderie, like kindred souls. Their cars and trucks bore mascots of their old schools. And, in fact, there was almost an immediate obligation to help out an old schoolmate, once one chanced upon any.

This was my first real experience how the school you go to matters. Here, in this state, it was not just the degree certificate that mattered, which of course counted, but also what school you went to. It was like once you came out then you were brothers ( or sisters). Yes, it has been years since I left that university and state, but tell you what even as of now whenever I bump into someone who went there and we discover a common origin, our eyes light up. “So, you too, are a Sooners!”

Once, in one of my graduate classes, a professor of public administration introduced to our class a book authored by Thomas R Dye, “Who is Running America?” I still have it on the shelf even after moving through different addresses. Once in a while I thumb through its pages. Why I found it so intriguing, to this day, was its central argument that power in the world’s most powerful nation was concentrated in a network of individuals who all but went to particular Ivy League schools. Yes, it looked like they all took out of their universities more than a conventional degree. Out of school they also came with friends who would go on to support each other through life, including ascending to the most important office in the world. How else do you start explaining how a son of an African student gets into White House? Well, among others, he happened to have gone to Harvard university!

Years ago I called up a retired Permanent Secretary, F D Gureme, who in his sunset years had taken to scribbling a popular column, “Old Man of the Town” He had just written something about his classmate while at King’s College Budo, Professor Senteza- Kajubi, the former Vice Chancellor of Makerere and Nkumba universities. He was a bit lonely as in his “Trojan –class” which had included a former Prime Minister, Eng Abraham Waligo, he was apparently the only one now living. “There was a time when we used to run this country,” he mused. “Everywhere you went you found an old schoolmate running the office. You could get any door open for you!”

I think schools give us more than certificates or degrees. They also gift us with friendship that open doors, once out of school gates. There was once a case in which I happen to be involved that made this so obvious to me. I had been hired as a Consultant to help one organization locate a CEO. We failed to find the right fit through normal processes. So I was tasked with head hunting. Now, one day, soon after, almost out of nowhere I came across an old boy, who just happened to be looking for his next post. Immediately I connected him to the Board. All I remember was unanimous assent. “After all he is from our school.”

So you can see why I didn’t know how to explain to my mother that my children were going to live in a globalized world, and if they could pick up friends from different nationalities, sooner but not later, it was all the better for them. In her world it was still grades that counted after faith. In my case I thought it was friends you made that counted more. Of course they could pick them from any of the old schools, as I had, but I thought theirs was going to be a less localized world than mine.

Well, in Uganda, national exams have just returned and I see a lot of anxiety about grades. Not much talk about networks the kids have built in their school journey and must continue. What I know and want to share a person can have a powerful degree with stars, but if they do not know someone to pass it along to the right decision maker, it might well end up with just a lot of dust. It is one of those things you get to know how the world works, along the way.