Just do the right thing

In the days when Uganda Airlines was in operation, before being shut down in 2001, a friend of mine, a senior accountant, was driving back home, exhausted from work. It had been a long day and he just couldn’t wait to get home. But just after winding down the corner descending after Kisubi town from Entebbe, famous for a Catholic mission that hosts several institutions including a hospital, he had to slow down. Ahead, he noticed a girl down in the middle of the road. She had been knocked by a speeding car. There was a small group of people milling around her slithered body. He pulled his car aside and got out.  The girl was bleeding profusely.

“Who can take her to the hospital!” He heard someone ask. He looked around. The hit-car had since vanished. There was no indication of police or an ambulance approaching in the dead of the night. Maybe they were asleep; yet life was ebbing away.

At first he hesitated. But after a second look he, decided to pitch in, for he knew Kisubi hospital was just a short distance away. Hands lifted and got the girl into his car and off to the hospital. Now once there, things took on a different turn. Thinking his part was done, and time to continue his journey back home, he was pulled back.

“You must first record a police statement,” a hospital official directed him. The police had just shown up.

“But I am a Good Samaritan who has just delivered an injured person I found on the wayside,” he explained. “I have no idea what took place.”

“No, Sir,” the officer insisted. “We must know what exactly happened and who knocked her.”

Suddenly, he realized, he had got himself into some ugly situation, he would rather have avoided, had he known.  He ended up losing the whole night detained at the hospital, till common sense prevailed, and he was let go. The good news is that the wounded girl survived after receiving emergency care.

My friend had done the right thing, but that experience left him circumspect, as he would years later share to me that story. “If I ever come across such a situation you wouldn’t see me lift a finger,” he shook his head. “You may want to help, and know it is the right thing to do, but too much trouble.”

This leads me to another story. Along the Kampala- Jinja highway, approaching Seta, a certain humongous pothole settled in the middle of the road. As it kept expanding without any attempt to fix it, speeding cars, having missed sight of it, would suddenly crush into it. On several occasions this would cause an accident and the loss of life.

Now fixing potholes along highways is the preserve of Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA). As villagers saw lives perishing due to this life eating pothole, they wrote and pleaded with UNRA to come to their rescue, but no response was coming forth. This was not on top of their schedule.

So one day, a spirited citizen called George Kisakye, just decided to get out his hoe, and plant a banana tree in the middle of the pot hole. It is not clear if UNRA acted, as this story made its way in mainline press. Yet one could imagine an irritated official approaching George Kisakye, eager to know, “Who gave you the permission to deface a public highway with a banana stem!”

Doing the right thing can at time get you into trouble. There is a parking lot, where I often shop, that once almost disintegrated like a mine filled yard. There were lots of shop owners eager to help out, do the right thing, but they didn’t want to run into trouble.  You see, no one is supposed to fix public parking lots other than Kampala Capital City Authority.

And listen to this. On a number of occasions I have found myself fixed and lost in an ugly traffic jam, the kind where before you realize three lanes or four have formed. There are no policemen anywhere  to be seen and it gets crazier as the more reckless drivers now join in. Soon the whole traffic has come to a standstill. No car is moving. This can go on and on, not until one person suddenly jumps out of his vehicle, rolls up his sleeves and starts directing traffic. He becomes the police officer. On occasions I have found pedestrian youths actually taking up that role. They start directing traffic till the clog eases up.

After being freed I have often wondered, besides showing appreciation, if the law will come up and ask these people who “gave you the right to direct traffic?” I suspect there are many people who too would like to do as much, but maybe they had once a bad experience, and like my Uganda Airlines friend, just sit back still, waiting for the police to turn up.

I am not sure if everything in life requires us to wait for the government that is nowhere to be seen to do the right thing. As I write I know schools in Uganda are still under lock, waiting for government to lift Covid-19 restrictions. But just wait, there are also many communities, unable to endure the sight of their children aimlessly loitering around, long decided to open up community schooling.

You may accuse such these of being lawless. But you know what, let me tell you something. I have been to places where within seconds of a call to a police, they do show up, polite and eager, ready to assist. There are cities I have been to where if you complained the garbage hasn’t been picked up for days, in a moment the trucks will show up. Some places you don’t need to worry about deforestation for there is someone monitoring and replacing those disappearing trees.

But there are places, in this world, I have also come across, if you just sit by, waiting for government or fearful not to intervene in someone’s job, which he long lost focus of, you are going to wait, brother, sister, for a really loooong time!

Friend, just go out and do the right thing, once you size up the situation well. The powers once they discover may yell and scream at you, hit and curse, drag you down to the law, mad for you daring at their jobs. Well, all I know, speaking from certain experiences, you will not lose a moment of sleep. Instead you will experience a certain and sweet peace.


@ Turning Point is authored by Dr Martin M. Lwanga with the purpose to inspire by reflecting on life through personal experiences and life observations. The first collection of “Turning Point” is finally out, titled “Who is my Friend?” You can order a copy at only UGX 30,000 ( extra costs for delivery). Send/ Call Whatsup message 0772401774/ 0752921386.

Manage by Walking Around

St Joseph Technical College was one of the largest private vocational institutions in the country. It had a teaching department, administration department, a boarding section, an ICT laboratory, an in-house clinic, along with a school farm. Initially the college chose a principal promoted from within its ranks to lead her. But the principal was unable to pull himself from classroom instruction, leaving paperwork unattended. After a series of embarrassing incidents, where payments for supplies were not met leading to lack of delivery of stationery affecting teaching, the Board decided to look for a professional manager.

After a quick search, a former Bursar of a university, Mr Walugembe emerged the best candidate. The Board picked him as he came with a good financial background which it felt was needed, given that the former Principal had failed to submit timely financial reports. The college had been fined also due to late tax filings because the Principal was more preoccupied with teaching and did not prioritize desk work.

In his prior job as a university bursar, Mr Walugembe, was secluded in his office, waiting to receive fees, reconcile payments and file reports. He had found this management style quite effective, and he decided to use it here too. “After all they need someone to help them push paper,” he reasoned.

Mr Walugembe’s day began with getting to office by 8am, where he would sit still, receive and clear paper work, with clockwork efficiency, till 5pm sharp, when he left for home. St Joseph’s College soon observed the difference. Paperwork that used to delay in the inbox tray was cleared without delay. Any person who came to visit the school Principal would find him seated in office, unlike the past head who was everywhere, going about supervising staff.

Because Mr Walugembe hardly moved out of office, he received structured information in meetings with his top management. He would pepper his managers with questions if there was a matter he need clarity. “Everything is under control,” he was always told. Assured all was well, he settled on responding to reports that sailed up his desk. Based on these he would make decisions.

One day Mr Walugembe while leaving for home overheard two staff standing in a corridor, engaged in animated conversation.

“Do you know those computers that were just procured for the ICT laboratory  have all failed to work,” said one staff.

“Yes,” agreed his colleague. “Moreover they were just half of what was ordered and wish you had seen the bill.”

“But what could be wrong?” asked one staff.

“We have a manager who sits in office all day and has no idea what is going on,” went on his colleague.

As he drove home Mr Walugembe felt this was just loose talk by idle employees without facts. On his desk was a detailed report of the computers procured, their brand and warranty. However, nerved by the negative comment of a “a manager who sits in office all day”, he decided the next day to deviate from his 8- 5 sit in office schedule, and drop by the ICT laboratory, if only to make sure. He also decided he would not alert the store manager or ICT head.

When he dropped by the ICT laboratory around midday, Mr Walugembe was shocked to find that not only was the number of computers in operation half of what had been secured, but also not the Dell brand. He called on the store manager who, surprised to see him, muffled something like, “we are waiting for more!” On calling up the head of ICT laboratory he offered that he thought these were the computers they had ordered.

Mr Walugembe quickly realized there was fraud. While the reports he was receiving read one thing, the facts on the ground were far different. After ordering a thorough investigation which later found the store manager had been falsifying reports, he decided to adjust his working style. To ensure that what he signed corresponded with the facts on the ground, he would now on divide his time between office hours and unscheduled field tours. This way he would be able to compare and contrast the official information he received from what was happening.

There are certain managers who just sit in office all day waiting on official reports, pointing that out as an indication of a good system. Whereas such paper flow is useful, it is only part of the story. As this case shows an effective manager needs to balance his time between office and the field, just for purposes of double checking.

The Power of focus!

As a new CEO of Mutobero Christian Hospital, Dr. Bagadawa had a pretty long to-do list. After settling in office, he took a tour and noticed the hospital which had been founded by a missionary in 1929 needed a new coating, as the old paint had since worn off leaving a grim shade. Then he also discovered equipment in the two hospital theaters had since aged and there was a definite need to refurbish both with modern instruments.

Dr Bagadawa also noted the accounts department was using outdated software making it hard to track income and expenditures. However, he was aware of a new system that could do wonders. Lately, the hospital had lost a number of senior medical staff to a competing private hospital. He decided to review and upgrade hospital salaries.

In brief, Dr. Bagadawa was not short of what to do.  When he met with his top management team, he drew their attention to this mile-long list. “I intend to refurbish the hospital by overhauling its look to make it attractive and appealing,” he declared. “I will also purchase a new accounting software system to track our finances. The two theaters not only need overhaul but given the trends, we need to add on a new one.”

“This seems a long list,” observed one senior doctor, who was about to retire. “Where shall you get all the time and resources!”

“We shall manage,” Dr. Bagadawa quipped back, sensing a bit of resistance. The meeting ended abruptly.

Immediately Dr. Bagadawa set out to accomplish the dozen tasks, on his list. However, the list kept growing. Dr. Bagadawa discovered that the hospital fleet was ageing and he resolved to order new trucks. Then he also noticed that staff houses had caged in and he started engaging a developer to build a new staff housing bloc.

Dr. Bagadawa was running everywhere while supervising his list, except that work was moving too slowly. There was always the issue of finances. Every now and then his accountant would tell him that there wasn’t enough money. “The problem sir you keep adding on to the list!”

Midway through his five-year term Dr. Bagadawa noticed that of all the dozen things on his list, he had hardly seen any to maturity. One day during a meeting with his Board, a member expressed concern. “All we hear from you is talk and talk but nothing gets accomplished!”

When Top management team met, Dr. Bagadawa wondered why nothing was being realized. “Is it because of sabotage!”

“I don’t think it is sabotage,” said the senior doctor who, being close to retirement was quite free in his expression. “The problem is lack of focus. If out of all these good things you have in mind we prioritize and start on the most urgent and important few before moving on to the rest, chances are high for us to accomplish much.”

Dr Bagadawa thought through the suggestion. He recalled a time when he failed to pass his A’level exams because he was everywhere, taking on all sorts of extracurricular activities, at the expense of his school work. “You need to start focusing on a few things to excel,” said the headmaster, giving him another chance. He took that advice, repeated and with focused concentration on his studies, passed highly.

Dr. Bagadawa, therefore, decided to concentrate on a few priority areas, which he aligned the budget with. This made it easier for him to oversee and ensure results. It was only after one task had been accomplished that he would move to the next. If he came up with a new idea, he would add it at the bottom, for it to wait its turn.

Focus is one of the most powerful tools for managers to be effective. Unless so, the manager may spread himself thin and end up achieving far less, if any.

A Sense of Urgency

I had not met with a good friend of mine, Sande Kizito, for a while. Born in 1948 he was far much older than I, for he had started to work in the early seventies, when I was just beginning school. Sande had been to Budo, where initially all kids where housed on the same hilly campus, close to Nagalabi. The story goes that in 1958 when a decision was made to split the Primary and Secondary school section, with primary moving down at Kabinja, Sande was so excited that he took off fast to the new location, without waiting to be bussed, ever to claim the record as the first Kabinja!

For A’level, he joined Namilyango College, the first Secondary school in Uganda founded by the Mill Hill fathers in 1902, and from there on to Makerere University. There he not only excelled as a wicked batsman, and made it to the National Cricket team, but was also a javelin champion.

Our friendship started at the Nook club which founded in the late 1960s to bring together Old Boy and Girls from historical schools, then located along George Street, where he was a fixture. He normally came driving over in his ageing pick – up. There, we caught up on the happenings around us: I discovered he was quite familiar, if not close to the Kenyan-Muthaiga ruling class, and he would extol me with intimate stories of their ways, and the vast property they had accumulated since independence.

About Uganda Sande, whose ancestry originated from England, he often ruefully shared that the 60s were the golden age, here, but after 70s, things had gone south to such a shame. Now retired, after years of working with Uganda Electricity Board as a Business Development manager, he had a lot to say, and I was an eager listener of his past exploits on the cricket field and elsewhere.

But most of his stories were about Budo, a school which was in his veins and he was a constant feature at every school event, always calling me up to attend. If I happened to miss an event the day after he would call chiding me, “how come we did not see you!” On one memorable day Kabaka Mutebi visited, and he donned on some shorts, just as back when a school boy. He was never so happy and of course came the boisterous call, the following day, pronouncing in his husky voice, “we had such a great time!”

But life can move fast. At a certain stage, I got quite busy elsewhere and we sort of lost touch. Then one day I was attending the funeral of a mutual friend, Professor Richard Kanyerezi when, there he was. But the crowds at the funeral made it only possible for us to catch a glimpse of each other.  I could see Sande was a bit gaunt, having lost some of his flesh. One day he called me. He told me his eyesight was a bit poor. “Lets meet for lunch to catch up!” We agreed.

I was still trying to figure out when, only for one afternoon, while going through mail. I was shocked to notice on one Budo forum that Sande had been admitted for an operation at Rubaga hospital. “But we were supposed to have lunch!” a thought crossed my mind. Feeling guilty, immediately I got in touch with his family to keep me informed of the progress.

The operation seemed to go well, for once he was out, a call came through from a son that he was out. I shared to all concerned with relief. “As soon as he gets back to normal we shall go out for lunch,” I decided. “There would be no wasting this time!”

But in less than 12 hours another call came from his son. Out of the theater his condition had taken on a turn for the worse. He was rushed back to the operation table, and from there everything  went down hill. On 7th March, 2020, Sande, at 72, breathed his last.

Once I got the news, feeling so bad about our missed lunch appointment, I drove to Rubaga hospital. There I found a small crowd of relatives and friends, gathered in the corridor and all grief stricken. It was all difficult to take in and we felt Sande had cheated us. While his health had been frail lately, none of us had seen this coming. Sande had left us all in suspense.

Now over a year I have had time to reflect on that incident. My sense of loss and subsequent guilt was compounded because of a missed opportunity to go out with an old friend for lunch, an appointment which I had kept postponing, somehow convinced all was well and we had all the time. But time was never in our control, actually.

It is then that the truth dawned on me that you suspend doing the right thing at your peril. I picked from that incident that if there is someone who comes to your mind and have taken so long seeing, other than demur, just pick up a phone and call or send a message. At its peak Covid 19 would suddenly snap up a life that was so full, so suddenly, revealing an old truth, the essence of time.

My old man who had a thriving real estate company had a certain wise saying, that went like: “Do it yesterday!” Later, in my  professional work, as a teacher of management, I would find that a certain principle holding true of most of the greatest and productive companies in the world, and even nations, that which separates them from the chaff is the “sense of urgency!” Go out and study any of a great company or first income nation, and you will struggle to find the habit of procrastination as a way of life. Once these decide on a certain matter they move on with deliberate speed.

So, now that the year is about to close, friend, look back at all your plans, and ask yourself if the reason why the dust has settled on some of them, is because of that lack of urgency. And perhaps there is an old friend you think you have all the time to catch up with, or a matter you long decided you must conclude, but keep demurring. All I can say is that it will be such an awful feeling to wake up one day and the opportunity is no more, gone forever, because you procrastinated, as I discovered when that call came through, “Sande has gone!” May he Rest in peace!  ———————————————————————————————————————

@ Turning Point is authored by Dr Martin M. Lwanga with the purpose to inspire by reflecting on life through personal experiences and life observations. The first collection will be out in the last quarter of 2021 under the title of “Who is my Friend!” Those interested can book for an early copy on Whatsup # 0772401774 @ 30,000 UGX ONLY !

How crisis led to accept change!

The doctor’s appointment hadn’t gone well. Mr. Mutumba, the CEO of Global finance, a micro-credit outfit had just been diagnosed as diabetic and hypertensive. He recalled this was the same condition that had taken his father just after his 70th birthday. Seeing his patient devastated by the news, the doctor tried to calm him down. “You shouldn’t be so worried because this is a manageable condition!” he advised.

“But how!” Mutumba wondered.

“Start by cutting down your sugar and salt intake,” the doctor suggested. “You should also limit your office hours for more exercise and rest.”

Mr. Mutumba agreed and drove back to office ready to implement a new regime to help restore back his health. However, the Covid -19 pandemic had battered his company which he knew desperately needed change. For example, as a result of lockdown most customers had ceased calling upon branches for credit. Mr. Mutumba had already decided on a strategy to cut down on branches and invest in an app where customers would access financial services. The doctor’s prescription now made it even more urgent since he wanted to stabilize the company and have more time looking after his health.

However, when Mr. Mutumba presented his proposal to his top management team there was resistance. Cutting back on branches would mean loss of staff job, which most were not ready to consider. “This storm will go and people will get back to visiting branches,” said the head of business development.

“If we lay off all those staff whom we know as our brothers and sisters they will sue us for their benefits further eroding our poor cash position,” argued both the Human Resource and Finance Chief.

Faced with opposition, Mr. Mutumba decided to put his plans for restructuring on hold. But as Covid -19 effects lingered the company’s financial performance continued to worsen.

Mutumba was now having sleepless nights. As he worried over his company’s fate, somewhere he also forgot following the doctor’s prescription to change his lifestyle. He had a taste for rich oily foods which he loved washing down with beer pints. One day he awoke paralyzed with a stroke. He had to stay in bed for three months undergoing recuperation. Upon release Mutumba reflected and decided to resign his CEO job. “I need to take drastic actions to look after my health,” he wrote to the board. “Otherwise there is no way I will change while here.”

The Board scouted around for his replacement and brought in a new CEO, from an outside company. Mr Mugisha found his predecessor’s plan for business revival still gathering dust, and yet the company was hemorrhaging and quickly running out of cash. “I must quickly implement my predecessor’s change strategy if we are to survive.”

Two things happened. Being new to the company the Board did not resist as they wanted to give the new CEO a chance. And for those within the staff ranks who resisted, unlike Mr Mutumba who had a lot of attachment with the very staff he had hired and found it hard laying off, he wasn’t as much bothered. The new CEO looked at things from a pure business perspective without being affected by old lenses and quickly started carrying out the restructuring exercise.

These measures bore fruit as Global finance re strategized and emerged as a digital credit finance company, with just half of its original staff. The savings from the downsized payroll were then re invested in improving the digital infrastructure which spearheaded her to increase her market share and return to profitability.

The Covid -19 pandemic has left many companies without much alternative but to change. Unfortunately even as the facts show that to survive organizations must take a health check and change, there can be resistance until the crisis rises to a point where the organization has either to shut down or embrace change. Where change is resisted because of internal dynamics sometimes the organization may resort to an outside change agent as we see in this particular case.

When the rule of law breaks down!

Born a year after Uganda had been declared independent, from the Brits who had casually lumped it together into some African nation, I grew up restless and concerned why some of my relatives then somewhere after decided to flee out for a life of exile. One happened to be a man Ugandans would hear a lot about since he had a big role in crafting the laws of modern Uganda, writing the 1962 and 1966 constitution- Godfrey L Binaisa, QC.

Now one day while at home I was delighted to learn he was back in Kampala. His first exile had just ended in 1979, soon after the fall of Amin government. As we all gathered for a family reunion, suddenly came news of his abrupt appointment as the fifth President of Uganda, after a palace coup he had no hand in.

Unfortunately hardly a year passed and he was pushed back to exile, after another palace coup in 1980. He hated living out of his country. In 1986 he returned to Uganda, once NRA took power, and went and boarded in the dream house he had left unfinished upon Mutundwe hill. By then I had progressed to Makerere university, and on weekends would occasionally visit with him, trying to catch up with a famous uncle I missed growing up under his wings. I realized he talked nothing but politics which consummated his whole life, but I had no interest there. All I wanted was to hear beautiful family stories.

Living in an unguarded house, one day, in 1987, he heard an old colleague of his in the struggle to remove Amin back in the US as members of the Uganda Freedom Movement, Dr. Andrew Kayira, lately a Minister of Energy, who had just been released from jail on treason charges, had been assassinated and he was next on the hit list. He fled, in the night, to New York, US, back again for the third stretch in exile. There he resumed his law practice, arguing various landmark cases, till he retired.

Always he dreamed of returning to Uganda. In 2001, then aged 81, he was persuaded to return to Uganda because he heard the country was safe. The rule of law had returned and there was no need to fear, for an ex-President to languish away in exile.

Settled in a government-rented house in Muyenga, I would again spend long hours visiting with him. But this time I was more alert to the politics of Uganda. Once I asked him why he fled the country in 1972. “It was because the rule of law had broken down,” he said. “I was not going to wait to be abducted and then be butchered, by an Amin kijambiya (matchete) man, as others were.”

His escape came when as President of Uganda Law Society; he walked directly to President Amin and tricked him to fund a trip for a Commonwealth Conference in London, to “defend Uganda’s rule of law!” It was a cynical plot but Idi Amin fell for the ruse. That was it. After the conference, he did not return, but decided to start a law practice as a Barrister in UK. This was quite common with many Ugandan professionals who disgusted with the breakdown of law at home, elected not to return.

Yet exile came at a cost! For while away his mother, Nalongo Binaisa, the family pillar, passed on. He was the first born son, but he could not return to bury his mother.

These thoughts came crushing my mind when I read that yet another Member of Parliament, Mohammed Ssegirinya, Kawempe North just released on bail by a High Court judge, had been abducted and thrown like a carcass into a wickedly speeding van (New Vision, September 29th 2021, pp 9). This coming in the very month of September, 49 years since Chief Justice Ben Kiwanuka was abducted, never to be seen again, hit me like a cruel joke.

In the 1980s Prof Yoweri Kyesimira, a developmental government critic and Hon Balak Kirya, once Cabinet Minister turned President Obote foe ( Kirya had been kidnapped from Kenya where he had fled after Obote who had prior to his fall in 1971 detained him for five years), after being released on bail, were also one day after court release, abducted and whisked back to Luzira jail. From what I gather it is these injustices, among others, that led to the heroic NRA insurrection based in Bulemezi, which at the end left a once peaceful province scattered with maimed skulls and charred bodies all over.

If a sanctioned High court releases a suspect on bail, then hooded armed men come speeding, in a van, not in any uniform, kidnap and whisk him away to an unknown destination, then one must wonder if we are back to the jungle law of the gruesome 1970s and 1980s! I paused to ask myself where are the lawyers, clergy, legislators, opinion leaders, intellectuals to wonder at what this means to the rule of law in the country upon which all sustainable development sits! Nothing but a chilling silence…

My apprehension is because I know history has a crude way of repeating itself. Years back, in the 1930s, Rev Martin Niemollar, was a Lutheran priest who supported Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, aggrieved as were many Germans by the loss of World War 11 and the penalties imposed on her by the Allied powers. In power Adolf Hitler started exhibiting a reckless disregard of the rule of law, as he centralized all power unto himself, to begin the execution of minorities, especially the Jews. Rev Martin Niemollar  started speaking against this excess. But it was a bit late. In 1937 he was arrested and placed in solitary confinement.  He was only released in 1945 by the victorious Allies.

After he was out, reflecting on what had just passed, six million Jews gassed to death and an atrocious war that left over 75 million lives lost, this is what he said: “First they came for the Communists. And I did not speak out!  Because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Socialists. And I did not speak out! Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists. And I did not speak out! Because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews. And I did not speak out! Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me! And there was no one left to speak out for me!”

The writer is Assoc Prof of Management, Uganda Christian University, Mukono. He is the author of “Things Fall Apart in Uganda” (Kampala: 2013).

The small town of rivals!

Zikusooka was excited as he jumped into the car, ready for boarding school. Tucked inside the boot was his new suitcase which was laden with goodies and an assortment of school requirements, including extras. But most to his joy were new clothing that his father, a senior government official based at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, had just bought for him. This had eased the terror he felt on being whisked away from home on to this far-off boarding school. Just the day before he had gone out shopping at a mall wherewith his mother they snapped a new pair of sheets, colorful pajamas, sneakers, shoes, josses, shirts, vests, and slacks. Zikusooka was excited to bag all the new things to himself. Once back home his younger siblings circled around him quite jealous.

On the day the family got to school Zikusooka was led to a queue where they found a schoolmaster on duty. He beckoned him to open the suitcase for inspection before clearing it for admission to the dormitories.

“Show me a pair of shoes!” he boomed.

Zikusooka had come with actually four.

“Keep only two, and the rest will be sent back home!” the teachers thundered. “Show me a pair of shirts!”

Zikusooka had come with two short-sleeved shirts and three long-sleeved shirts. “Keep only two short-sleeved shirts and the rest must be sent back home,” ordered the teacher.

“But why are you sending back my son’s things?” Zikusooka’s mother perturbed, started protesting. “We bought all these new things for him to enjoy while at school! He needs them.”

“Mum, it’s a school policy,” explained the teacher. “No child is allowed to come with anything beyond what they need. What has brought them here is to focus on their studies and not display what they have.”

Zikusooka felt low as his parent’s sauntered off back home with a bag in which were almost half of all the new things he had brought along. But he didn’t dwell long on that. Just every kid had the same number of items as him. They all dressed alike in similar shirts and shoe types. The only difference that seemed to separate was height and also school work where different grades were given based on one’s work.  Zikusooka soon forgot all about his bagful of things as he concentrated on school work. This is how he excelled and was admitted to St Joseph’s College, a famous school known especially for taking kids from elite families.

On joining there his parents thought the school applied the same policy of no extras other than formal school requirements. However, once dropped at school, no sooner had Zikusooka settled in than he found a good number of his classmates had come with suitcases packed with a range of assortments, including all manner of designer clothing.  In fact, several had even hauled in multiple suitcases. He noticed these boys were changing clothing and shoes every other day.

Suddenly Zikusoks started feeling small. He had come along with just the minimum school requirements and now he felt terribly disadvantaged as he compared himself to these powerful boys, as everyone called them. St Joseph was a mixed school and Zikusooka became aware the girls preferred the company of these boys, which made him feel put out.

When the first term came to an end, and he got back home, Zikusooka had an urgent matter.

“Mom,” he pleaded. “I need to go back with all my clothing and shoes. Please, also buy me more!”

“But why!  Zikusooka’s mother surprised asked. “Don’t you remember when we first got admitted back in primary and had to go back with all those extras!”

“No, mother this school is different,” Zikusooka pleaded. “Everyone comes with their extra, except me! They think I am poor and laugh at me!”

“But you know you are not poor,” his mother countered. “You have all those things and why not just take what you need.”

“Those boys and girls won’t believe I am also rich unless I take and show them what I have!” he argued.

Realizing that he was so unsettled, Zikusooka’s mother went out and bought him two new suitcases which she packed with designer clothes and shoes. When he showed up the next term, Zikusooka promptly put out his possessions on display. Every other day he changed shoes and donned on a cool shirt. The girls noticed and started showing interest in him. He breathed an air of satisfaction as he was now respected.

But just as he felt he had earned the respect of everyone, the boys who had ignored him hurried home and flew back to catch up. This time their display was of far superior quality. For those in doubt they started displaying luxury brand labels they donned. Zikusooka now realized that it was no longer quantity that mattered. He too rushed back home and told his mother to buy only certain labels. But each time he got a new expensive label, yet he found another boy had found a far more expensive. He frowned wondering how to convince his mother to beat the new rival coasting a far more expensive label.

Now, as this war of labels was going on, there was another camp in school that had come from less affluent families. These knew this war of labels was beyond them. But to earn their respect they decided to concentrate on studies and extra-curricular activities.  Because of this, most excelled, and were called back for A’levels.  Meanwhile, the majority of Zikusooka’s competitors, including him, perhaps for lack of concentration, failed to make the right grades. They were not recalled.

Zikusooka was fortunate that his father who had just been posted to the UK as a diplomat secured him a place in a public school.  There he too found a camp of boys from affluent families, just like in his old college. However, here, when it came to display of wealth the rich kids talked of going for vacations in exotic places like ski resorts. It was a world Zikusooka had no idea of and rather than lock himself in a hopeless competition, he decided to pour himself in his studies.

It all paid off! His good grades earned him a scholarship to an Ivy League College. After his graduation he returned home to take up a job in one of the best paying multinational bank. But as he worked his way up he found a new war going on. This one involved staff purchasing cars of the latest design, which were eagerly put on display in the company parking lot. Also, at the cafeteria, there was boisterous talk, of who had vacationed in some exotic place, as proof of having means.

Zikusooka decided he would have none of that. The life of playing catch up was not for him. He had seen it all. Rather, he decided to focus on his work for which he excelled. This earned him quick promotion.

One day the CEO called him for a chat. “After your latest promotion I know what you earn, why haven’t you bought a brand new SUV like everyone else here! People may think we are paying you poorly. Where is all the money you earn going? Are you in debt? Do you need help!”

“Sir!” Zikusooka coughed. “The money I earn I save some and do develop process by process. I have no need for some of those things, right now!”

“Why!” the CEO gazed at him incredulously. “Everyone in this town will respect you if you drive around a big car and talk big!”

“And that is why it is a small town,” said Zikusooka. “Everyone is looking over his shoulder. But my focus just happens now to be elsewhere. There are bigger things I am thinking of.”


@ Turning Point is authored by Dr Martin M. Lwanga with the purpose to inspire by reflecting on life through personal experiences and life observations. The first collection will be out in the last quarter of 2021 under the title of “Who is my Friend!” Those interested can book for an early copy on Whatsup # 0772401774 @ 30,000 UGX ONLY !