The limbo of hashtags

Beloved,

Here rests yet another

Whose life briefly trended

The short impact reached and touched many at heart

Raised a number of issues

And as well helped bring to life quietened accounts

We are gathered here because of the late

Who brought us together to talk about this topic

Through whom our hearts revealed how affected we are by silence

Our sheltered vast wisdom came out wholly

Out of the cages of unknown caves

The battle might have been long but it came to a stop

The deceased goes to join others

And just as one comes and goes,

So will the next

And soon we shall be back for another vigilhashtag

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Hey, yo’ there?

How have you been? Been a while without checking on each other.
And it does not seem like it’s been a smooth sail. There seems to have been a lot of tumbling there and here. But through it all, we emerge stronger. We sink but don’t drown. We fall and rise again. It darkens before it can brighten.
What matters most is keeping hope alive. Knowing and believing that tomorrow will be better. Trusting the process. That’s what it takes. That’s all that is involved.
I know, maybe like me, at times you go through stuff and you don’t have someone to talk to. When everything looks like a threat. When your actions are not matching up to those of the people around you. When you are tailing in everything that you do. When nothing seems to yield fruit. There within that moment, you hold your breath and breathe.  They say good days lay ahead of us. Our work is to believe. Our work is to hold it together, to ask God for better health but most importantly to heal from within, looking at ourselves and finding comfort that in us, the answer is. Hope is. Life is. For whatever that saddens your heart, remember, you are not alone but most importantly, soon, the clouds will be clear. Stay Strong. We are Alive in Grace.

Review: ON WRITING BY Paul KISAKYE

When I first read of the book online, I thought it was another of the typical how to guide books. The kind that goes straight to the point. One question that always finds its way in a writing related conversation is the how to question. How do I write? I Know what I want to say but I do not know how to write it.

My mind rushed off to the Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr, a book that the author references in his work as a guide of going about the writing business and all its details. William’s book comes off as a general book that does not address a beginner’s writing interests directly. Here, Paul labours to paint a picture of the entire writing process. This is key especially in a market where people want to see immediate returns on their book investments.

People write books for different reasons. Some want to tell a certain story while others want another stream of income. In either way, it is important to pay maximum attention to what you are putting on the market. Some books stay long in the reader’s mind while others, they have to be reminded that they read them that is, if indeed they did. When one writes a book for the monetary bit of it, it is such a heartbreak when they do not get the returns as they quickly expected. Why? It is simply because books create their own demand. A good book paves its own path.

Publishing being a free world for all, some authors and publishers underscore the importance of given stages that ought to be followed. As a result, you have a number of half-baked books hitting the market. It is such books that have validated the argument that Ugandan books are not well written. That is what the author of this book is advocating for; better writing.

The writing process should not be influenced by the fact that one has the will to pay for their work to be published or that they have good story. There should be a substance, an identity, value for which the reader should get in exchange of reading a given text. Good books do not have to be shoved down people’s throats to have them bought.

The author should be willing to pay handsomely for handsome work to be produced. Paying peanuts to the editors and expecting a good book in return does not hold up. Invest the money and time not one of the two and you will be grateful for the outcome.

In trying to talk about the entire writing process, the author misses (or intentionally leaves out) key details that could be of significant help to both the writer and the editor. How I wish the author could come up with an advanced style guide for editors and proof readers in particular.

The middle part of the book could, in itself, make a book of its own. It handles the primary tenets of writing not only for a book but writing in general. Subjects like language, theme and characterization bring out the details of any writing assignment better.

By the time one is done reading the 122 pages of this guide, one realizes how biased opinionated facts on writing are. Every book should be treated as an independent entity with a distinction that makes it stand out.

This book is so timely. It comes when there are so many people with writing ambitions but without a guide on where to begin. Now, here is one. Get a copy from Turn The Page

 

Enough of the Broken Hearts

Today is the World No Tobacco Day.

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Time Up!

Celebrations should be taking place somewhere where a government official will speak accompanied by a number of other officials. Since I will not be there and I am sure yourself won’t, let’s have a go at it here.

A few days ago, a troubled musician allegedly caught in the act of theft was accused of using drugs that had since taken a toll on his life. One thing that stood out, for me, was a comment on social media where he was accused of being heavy on substance abuse to the point that his face had been disfigured. How true that is, I cannot tell. Two days later, a picture of another, once acclaimed Uganda musician, also made rounds, this time with a hashtag to help him. His case was not any different. Only that, it was worse than the former. It was hurting.

Growing up, tobacco consumption was not every man’s achievement, those who could be able to consume it presented it as a selective act of pomp for the bold and distinguished. Dr. William Nyakojo tells a story of how, in their school, tobacco use was such an enviable act that it qualified one to belong to a certain group within school.

One time during the long third term holidays, I was at my uncle’s. My cousin, Joze, then in his early twenties had started tobacco consumption mainly smoking cigarettes. One particular evening, we sat chatting in the compound, it was quite a big number of young men. The elder ones told the stories as we listened with abandoned thought of anything happening. Out of nowhere, our uncle’s voice called out. It was coming towards our side. Joze was smoking along with two other elder brothers. For them, they were known to be smokers. He had not yet had the confidence to be seen by his father smoking. He immediately hid the half-smoked-burning-cigarette stick in his back pocket. Unknown to him, it had not burnt out when he fixed it. Unfortunately for him, his father was not in a rush to leave. He stuck around. A few moments later, Joze was not stable as he kept twisting and turning. The cigarette was burning him. Uncle, standing behind him, saw the burning cigarette stick peep. That’s when he reached out for him. The night was not any good for Joze.

Tobacco consumption is not new in our land. It is one of those habits that have tagged along with the masses for some time. Joze took to smoking after his brothers who had taken after their father.

Today, tobacco consumption has gone beyond just the known traditional means of using the pipe or smoking the paper rolled stick to a number of alternatives. The e-cigarette being one of the recent innovations. Tobacco is scented and no longer a big threat to breath save for those who still smoke the traditional stick. Instead, the biggest harm goes on the inside of the body. There is a rise of heart related diseases of which tobacco is a big contributor.

We have a mandate to protect ourselves from tobacco consumption either as active or passive consumers. Often, we do not pay much attention to active smokers as they smoke in our presence but we equally get affected. With the 2015 Tobacco Act, smoking in public spaces is completely outlawed. No one is supposed to be smoking in public at all. It is that much that we take tobacco casually.

Tobacco cases at the Heart Institute (HI) have increasingly grown with 20% of the patient population being smokers. Much as there are mechanisms to help with the treatment of the related diseases, there are fewer specialists. Worse of it all, tobacco contains nicotine and carbon monoxide. Nicotine causes addiction to the user while carbon monoxide sucks out oxygen from the body resulting into blood clotting. With the clotting, the patient’s chances for survival are reduced. Tobacco has been known to kill half of its users.

We need to speak to smokers into giving up on the habit rather than condemnation. There are rehabilitation centres that can be of great help. Today we can choose to start to stop tobacco consumption in whatever form it is.  It is believed that if one has not smoked by the age of 21, chances are they may not be active smokers for the rest of their life. We should open up and tell the young ones about the dangers of this “pompous” habit. It begins with us.

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Enough of the broken hearts

In a situation where the HI can only handle three cases a week, in a country where heart related issues are rated at number four after malaria, infectious diseases and diabetes in claiming lives, we have more to do in addressing the challenge. Tobacco breaks hearts. Let us save those still alive.

Let’s Talk Tax

There is a thin line (if any) between a political related discussion and that on taxation. It goes without mention that the two have a parasitic relationship, however distant one may choose to look at it. Wherever there is political discussion, you should be surprised if the conversation goes without opinionated facts defensively presented in raised voices wielded in concrete emphatic tones. Faces twitch with bulging eyes as seasonal wrinkles easily fade and rise on a face where they may not be traceable once the conversation is done. One thing though about political discussions is the way in which, often times, the participants are smartly dressed like they won’t be believed were they not to be. Much as the discussion may rage on for hours without end, usually, you have no winner. Everyone wins and everyone loses. As such are discussions related to tax.

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Tax is a burden we must all endure

Tones are leveled, endless gesture expressions of points that are failing to sink in. Endless scribbling down of figures for emphasis and more. With tax related conversation, there is always that one lead discussant whose role is to explain the details, the difficult terms and how they come about. To a lay person, this person’s role is to confuse you till you can understand no more and consequently lose interest in the conversation.

Thanks to the World Bank Uganda team who knew these difficulties beforehand and decided to address them in our meeting with them. In growing economies like ours, we tend to find it hard to commit to paying taxes. We always have that one other reason as to why this tax is inappropriate and that tax is uncalled for.  Rarely does it come out of will to have the taxes filed. Those who do deserve a pat on the back. Last year, Uganda Revenue Authority released a list of faith based organizations paying tax and you could tell that even among the men of God, paying back what belongs to Caesar was not coming with much ease. But why be judgmental? We are all human struggling to swallow this bitter pill.

As a nation, there is a lot of subsistence living within both the rural and the urban and it is done in such a way that it goes without record keeping. It cannot be traced. Growing a tax paying culture may (and will) take some time.

One thing about a conversation on tax is that it is first individual before it gets to a whole. An individual needs to find out how their paying tax will be of help to them. “I stay in Kira and my road has not been worked on for the last five years I have been there.” Such deeply seated sentiments ought to be addressed before one can talk of how the entire national tax collected only contributes 13% to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Common in the news today is the latest update from URA of where next they are going to raise the tax. The tax pool has been growing wider since the year began and many people are not happy about it, partly because not much explanation is made as to why. No one is coming out to say that only one million of the forty plus population actively pays their tax. It goes without mention that a number of professional firms are not paying tax and neither is there a format of how they should be taxed. And yet a number of emerging firms are suffocating because of too much tax, also at times, unexplained. That a lot of tax is on income yet a lot goes untaxed under the consumption bracket.

There is need to have an organized system where tax collection is known, where the pools are defined and clearly labeled. Maybe then and there, there will be fewer numbers of people fidgeting with the tax payment process to survive. Maybe then, we shall all take part in the celebration of a growing tax base that currently stands at only 55%. By closing the leakages in the current instruments of tax collection and improving online platforms like PIN acquisition will enable many to take part in the process.

That if we could have the government deliberately declare what the tax does, where it goes and who is responsible for what, there will be fewer questions and more answers. Until then, the design remains so good on paper and yet poorly implemented.

Like Racheal Sebudde emphasizes, tax is a burden that should be put in place but with ways that make its payment a welcome gesture other than a runaway factor. Until then, we may never know that in countries like Denmark, the government takes away 50% of one’s income and they make sure that public services are duly provided.

Abstaining from having conversations on tax will only distance many from making their contribution towards tax payment. Let’s talk tax, shall we?

Into this world

It is a few minutes past three o’clock in the afternoon and the coaster is roaring through the Kinyara Sugar Plantation negotiating a hill. Inside the coaster, silence screams all over the place. Some passengers are asleep with helpless bodies tilting along to every turn the coaster makes. Others have since woken up and listened on to the quarrel of the engine limping upwards the rugged surface of the potholed road. Conversations have since died out. Books loosely held in hands half open with no more motivation of reading on. Everyone looks on. This is the third day on the road driving from one forest stop to another learning about the work of the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) in the communities neighboring Budongo Forest in Masindi and Hoima districts in Western Uganda.

27 years ago,JGI launched out to do its work in Ugnada in a bid to promote primate conservation around forest neighbouring communities. This came as a result of decreasing number of chimpanzees believed to, once, have been around one million but have fallen to less than three hundred thousand in Africa. Jane Goodall, a conservationist and primatologist took it upon herself to promote the conservation of these endangered species in the 1960s.

In Uganda, JGI established its services in areas in the Albertine Rift. These are known for having the highest accommodation rates of primates. This region covers twelve districts mainly in Western Uganda.

In three days we could not exhaust all the projects JGI is involved in in Masindi and Hoima alone given that the places are far apart and yet the organization runs very many activities. The institute is fully involved with established offices that take care of the various activities. Robert Atugonza, the Natural Resources and Livelihood Officer of JGI in this region leads us on a very interesting, adventurous, exciting and yet excruciating journey.

On the very first day of the trip after making a soft landing in Masindi, we set off for Kapeeka communities to see what the communities are doing in line with promoting conservation in the outskirts of Budongo Forest. Kapeeka is a one hour drive through the overly layered green hills and plains of Kinyara Sugar Plantation punctuated with small pockets of forest reserves lying low in the valleys where baboons find accommodation. It is a common sight along this route to see baboons crossing the road to find sugarcanes to eat. Kapeeka is a small trading centre north of Kinyara town. It is a home for working people. At 4pm when we get there, men and women carry their farm equipment on their shoulders as they make way home. The day has come to an end. Old men sit by round tables sipping on local gin with eyes cast to the road. Children run around in a chase screaming at trucks dropping off plantation workers from the fields.

The evening comes with its daily routine of small meetings, the wet path from the borehole and the dust hanging in the air all living signs of a day coming to an end but not on our side. We are interested to learn about the works of the people of Kapeeka. And we are glad to spend the rest of the hour with Arii Emily touring his projects. He is one of the beneficiaries of JGI. Soon we make our way out of this active and vibrant trading centre tracing our way back to the hotel to plan for the following day.

On our second day, we drive east of Masindi Town. This time round, we are headed to the Budongo Eco Forest. We make a stopover at the Budongo Eco Forest Lodge which is run by Uganda Lodges Limited. Here, we meet Evelyn Bingi, a guide who is to lead us to a chimpanzee trek. At the lodge, we meet Peter Oyet, the lodge custodian. Peter tells us the facility at the lodge was constructed by JGI with help from USAID. It was then handed over to Uganda Lodges for management. The team takes a break as it tours around the magnificent wooden piece of art that harbors all the freshness of the forest. Evelyn is a super guide. She has the details of the forest on her fingertips. She has been on the job for the last ten years. For this reason we are safe and set to begin the trek not before we tuck in our trousers in the socks should the red ants choose to feast on these forest strangers.

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Peter Oyet shares details about Budongo Eco Forest Lodge. Photo by Ninno Jack Jr

We walk 7 kilometres into the forest with the minimum noise ever before we can find a mating chimpanzee couple romancing up the tree. I lose track of Evelyn’s guidance. Her word, I lose. Her command, I forget. I miss out on the details of the couple’s names. Every chimpanzee has a name. In the 1960s, Jane Goodall through her research at Gombe in Tanzania, she realized the close resemblance of mannerisms and character between chimpanzees and human beings, and she thought that chimps too should be called by name other than numbers as was the case with all wildlife. Since then, chimpanzees have had a privilege of being addressed by name or rather by the pronoun of their gender.

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The chimpanzee couple before a massage session. Photo by Ninno Jack Jr

The search for other chimpanzees yields no fruits as the team is already rowdy and silence has since been forgotten. After an hour of extra tracking, we decide to call it a day. We drag our tired bodies out of the forest, at a pace half that we had while walking in. Jackets and hoodies that were covering faces have since been pulled off, tied in the waist to let sweat have some breathing space. Our lady friends have since lost all their makeup and neither are they willing to remake up their faces at this time of the afternoon. The rule had been clear; not to carry food to the forest. The drums of hunger and thirst are beating loudly. We jump onto the coaster rich with a chimpanzee trek gone well. We reserve our experiences for ourselves and only marvel at the EVELYN. She is so adorable in the way she does her work but most importantly her vast knowledge of the forest. We bid our endless farewells to her. She waves back at us with a very wide smile.

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After the chimp trek with Evelyn Bingi, our guide. Photo by Ninno Jack Jr

 

The changing story of Kapeeka

When you meet him in his brown threadbare shirt and sandals that are yet to give way, you may not be able to tell that there is such a powerful story.

At the age of 51, Arii Emily is one of the happiest men you will meet in Kapeeka. His life has had a U-turn of sorts. A former hunter, Ari is one of the outstanding bee keepers registered in the Kapeeka Integrated Community Development Association (KACODA) an initiative that has been running for the last 7 years. His, is an interesting story.

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Sign post of KACODA photo by Ninno Jack

Born to hunting parents in Kapeeka, a community within the Budongo Forest conservation area, Arii did not get a chance of going to school. He took to his parent’s instruction of hunting game in the forest. He was not the only one. A number of people his age were like him. They looked up to the forest for their daily survival. They learnt early in life to set traps and also gather fruits at the same time. They began their day running to the forest and ended it by walking back home with game.

Unknown to them this was directly affecting the game population in Budongo forest. The number of animals was reducing by day.

Ten years ago, Arii’s life had a drastic change when the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) came to work among the communities of Kapeeka. JGI had one mandate; to interest the residents in giving up on relying on forests for their daily survival but rather take on means of generating revenue for themselves.

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Arii Emily tends to his nursery bed

In this community, JGI introduced the bee keeping and nursery bed preparation and tree growing. Arii picked a lot of interest in bee keeping and nursery bed management which is something he has done for the past four years. He is one of the leading tree seedling suppliers in the Kapeeka community. He is a bee keeper with 12 bee hives. There are two bee harvesting seasons in (March- April) and (August- September). Last season, he was able to harvest 30 liters of honey selling off 20. This earned him a profit if 300,000. He sells his honey to the cooperative. This also earns him savings to his account.

Today, he is able to take his three children to school and also meet their medical bills. This has improved his livelihood. On top of that, he is able to sell the seedlings to various farmers.

Arii is one among other stories of people whose life has changed within the area of Kapeeka and  Budongo at large. This has been the work of the Jane Goodall Institute working with the communities in close partnership with the National Forestry Authority.

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Robert Atugonza explains the work  of JGI in Kapeeka. Photo by Ninno Jack

The JGI took it upon itself to restore and conserve the population of chimpanzees that was quickly wearing out. This was to be done mainly by teaching the communities that shared the forest with the primates.

To have this addressed, JGI came up with alternative training to equip the people who wholly depended on the forest for their survival. They started seven years ago and today the story is different.